Adrian Constantine Anson
Born: April 17, 1852 in Marshalltown, Iowa
Died: April 14, 1922 in Chicago, Ill.
Debut: 1871 | Pos: 1B
Ht: 6′ | Wt: 227 | B: R | T: R
Managerial Record: 1296-947; Member of Hall of Fame
>> Visit the Cap Anson biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
By Howard W. Rosenberg
Adrian Constantine Anson was the first player to attain 3,000 hits, and probably also the first to fall below the mark, as stat fanatics continue to have a field day with his 22 National League seasons. In addition, he played in all of the seasons of the 1871-75 National Association, which some consider a big league.
For more on Cap Anson
Howard W. Rosenberg’s book, Cap Anson I, is available at www.capanson.com
If alive today, Anson, a racist while attaining all those hits, probably would not attend games not because blacks and other minorities would be playing but because he liked being physically active. In his two-plus decades of retirement, 1899 to 1922, golf was his favorite pastime. He liked driving but didn’t have much of a short game. Anson would marvel at how easy players have it today, with trainers for their various maladies, air conditioned clubhouses and aerodynamic uniforms.
The “Big Swede,” as he was sometimes called for his Nordic complexion (his ancestry was English and German), was born in an area of Iowa that had only recently been settled by whites, and seemed to develop a good work ethic because of the great demands for performing physical labor. He loved hunting and through much of his big-league career, trapshooting (shooting live birds released from a cage). That form of shooting was later outlawed.
He got the bug for being in a big city. Of his 27 seasons as a player, 26 were in Philadelphia and Chicago. Chicago was a good match for him as it allowed the club’s officials, including the second president of the National League, William Hulbert, to promote the club as having a Western flavor. Chicago was something of a model for other clubs in the National League, as it tended to make the most money and feel most strongly against selling alcohol in the ballpark or playing games on Sundays; Chicago did start playing home games on Sundays around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Anson was a great hitter and a slow runner and fielder, but managed to excel enough at catching a ball (mainly with bare hands through a majority of his career) that he managed to avoid serious injury except for a liver disorder in 1879, his first of 19 seasons as Chicago’s captain-manager.
Under him, Chicago won five pennants, but none in his final 11 years in charge. He also managed the New York Giants for a few weeks in 1898. He had success in vaudeville, starring in a skit in the 1910s, sometimes with two of his daughters. He got lots of help in writing his material, including from noted songster George M. Cohan and baseball writers Grantland Rice and Ring Lardner; his first big effort though, was a flop: in 1895, when he became the first professional baseball player to receive star billing in a play, “A Runaway Colt.”
He also had a political career in Chicago, being elected to one term as city clerk (from 1905 to 1907). He had his own semi-pro baseball team, “Anson’s Colts,” from 1907 to 1909, before he declared bankruptcy and then embarked on a vaudeville career.
While a bit too stiff for the stage, Anson did provide a commanding presence on the field and off, as ballparks used to be much smaller and attract just a few thousand fans on average. And there was usually just one umpire to put up with his gruff demeanor.
Howard W. Rosenberg is an expert on early baseball and is the author of Cap Anson I. He is working on a series of books on 19th Century baseball.