Rarely would a ballplayer who accomplished such things as 3,000 hits lifetime (the first to do so), a .300 batting average in twenty-four of twenty-seven seasons played and five pennants won as a manager, be known just as much for his off the field doings. But such is the case of Cap Anson, baseball's first superstar, who was the premier player of the 19th century but has drawn equal amount of attention through the years for his innovativeness and unique personality.
After spending one year at the University of Notre Dame, Anson began his professional career in 1871 with Rockford of the National Association (NA). The following season he went to the Philadelphia Athletics where he spent four years. During his five year NA stint Anson batted more than .350 four times. When the National League (NL) began play in 1876 he signed with the Chicago White Stockings where, as their captain, he led them to the circuits' first pennant batting .356. Anson went on to bat .300 or better in nineteen of his twenty-two NL seasons, winning batting titles in 1881 and 1888, and fell just shy of the coveted .400 mark with a .399 average in 1881. Although he hit for little power (ninety-seven career home runs) his line drive hitting style produced five-hundred eighty-one doubles, and he led the league in runs batted in eight times. Anson drove in one-hundred runs or more seven times in his career, a remarkable feat considering he played fewer than one-hundred forty games every season.
As a manager, Cap Anson enjoyed similar success, leading the White Stockings to three consecutive pennants 1880-82 and first place finishes in 1885 and 1886. As a manager Anson devised and is responsible for many elements of the game that have become an integral part of the way it is played and managed. He was the first to implement a pitching rotation, use the hit and run, stress base stealing, and lead the way in raiding other leagues for talent which helped the National League evolve into a stronger league. Anson also initiated spring training as we know it today, taking his team south to take advantage of the warmer weather, and overseeing a diversified workout routine that included swinging Indian clubs (according to Anson "very good for the wrists, arms and shoulders"), skipping rope ("very good for the ankles, legs and wind", he said), punching a heavy bag and playing handball.
Along with his genius Anson is defined by his rigid and crude personality. He ran his team with an iron hand disciplining his players for drinking, missing curfews and being overweight. He himself practiced what he preached. "I have not burned the candle at both ends. I have not drank and I have not smoked since I was convinced it was not well for me to do so", said Anson in an 1898 Chicago Times-Herald feature. It was a style that won him few friends but won him respect and brought out the best effort and abilities of his team. He was known for an explosive temper and for being a ruthless bench jockey berating opponents as well as umpires. He was a bigot and is blamed for the banning of black players from baseball (this has long been debated) that didn't end until 1947. He once pulled his team off the field when the opposition insisted on starting a black pitcher in an exhibition game, but prior to this incident a minor league had already formally voted to exclude blacks from the game. Anson was one of baseball's first ambassadors taking part in tours of the world to promote and teach the game. He helped developed a top brand of baseball and increased the games popularity. He helped right the direction of the National League and breathe life into it by popularizing baseball in the important market of Chicago.
Anson won no more pennants after 1886. He became a part owner of the White Stockings in 1888 and continued his association with them until 1897. He briefly managed the Giants in 1898 and then left the game. He finished his playing career with a .333 batting average, 3,418 hits (seventh all-time) and 2,076 RBI (third all-time). As a manager he ended with a .578 winning percentage. Following his exit from the game he was beset by financial problems but refused the National Leagues help. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He died in 1922.