My list of the Atlanta Braves Franchise top ten outfielders continues with a player who finished his career with 1500 + hits, a .300+ batting average, and an unbreakable record.
Part II of the series counting down the top ten outfielders in Atlanta Braves Franchise history led off will Billie Hamilton. Coming in at number six is the player Hamilton eventually replaced at the top of the Beaneater lineup: Hugh Duffy.
Throughout this post, I'll reference Duffy's SABR biography, news articles mentioned in those biographies that may not be available online any longer, and books that may no longer be widely available.
SABR is the definitive source for player information from the beginning of organized baseball, and most content is free to view. I encourage you to spend time reading and enjoying the stories there.
Hugh Duffy spent 1887 jumping from team to team in Massachusetts as each one folded, but his bat drew the attention of several Major League teams. When the season ended, Duffy negotiated a contract with the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) that paid him more than many veterans.
"Shocked" is a fair description of White Stocking player/manager Cap Anson's first look at his new, 24-year old outfielder. as described by Bill Lamb in The Glorious Beaneaters and recounted in his SABR Bio,
Duffy told of that first meeting often, and with a smile. Looking down at the short, fresh-faced kid, Anson bellowed, "What are you doing here? We already have a batboy." Duffy had every reason to remember that day fondly, winning two batting titles and setting an all-time high for batting average in a single season.
Number six – Sir Hugh
Sir Hugh joined the Beaneaters four seasons after that meeting with Anson, having batted .320/.384/.470/.853 while leading the ill-fated Players League in hits and runs in 1890, and leading the American Association in RBI and batting .336/.408/.453/.861 in 1891.
Duffy stood the same 5'-7", 168 pounds as Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies. Coincidentally another future Hall of Fame outfielder, Tommy McCarthy, arrived at the same time as Duffy; he was also 5'-7", 168 pounds.
Like Albies and his buddy Ronald Acuna Jr. with Atlanta, Duffy and McCarthy injected fire and excitement into the Beaneaters lineup. Boston press soon dubbed the pair "The Heavenly Twins."
The pair didn't look the same, but they played the game the same way as Albies and Acuna – aggressively. Both had a high baseball IQ and recognized the problem they could cause opposing teams. Hitting at the top of the Beaneaters order, Duffy and McCarthy changed the way the game was played in the early 1890s.
Changing the game
The 1891 Beaneaters weren't chopped liver; they finished second the National League behind Brooklyn. Boston scored more runs a game while allowing fewer than the eventual NL champs, but they couldn't seem to get it all together at the end. The Heavenly Twins changed that, by solidifying the defense and energizing the attack.
Duffy's first season in 1892 was the last of what we'd call pitchers' years. Batting one-two in the order, the twins began a campaign of speed and aggressive base running to counter the pitchers' superiority, and it worked.
The pair created a hit-and-run/stolen base-oriented offense that drove pitchers nuts. Duffy stole 51 bases, McCarthy stole 53, Herman Long stole 57, Bobby Lowe had 38 and Billy Nash chipped in with 31.
Flanked by Lowe in left and McCarthy in right, the Beaneaters outfield was among the fastest in the league and played it differently than other teams.
... in the outfield the two developed defensive tactics (like close-in positioning and the trapped-ball double play) that ably supported (Boston's) exceptional pitching. . .
With Duffy and McCarthy igniting the offense, the pitching began to click too. Kid Nichols and Jack Stivetts won 35 games each, Harry Staley won 22, and the Beaneaters finished the season 102–48. Baseball-Reference credits he Beaneaters with an outright NL Championship because their overall record had then 8½ games ahead of Cleveland. At the time Cleveland disagreed.Related Story:Numbers seven and eight
The first NL expansion
Tired of arguing over players, the NL and AA agreed to a merger and four teams from the AA joined the NL; Baltimore, Louisville, St Louis, and Washington. After the merger, Sporting Life editor Francis Richter coined the term “the big league,” a reference that remained even though the NL dropped to eight teams again in 1900.
The season jumped from 140 to 154 scheduled games in a split-season format much like the one later used in the strike-year of 1981. The first half officially ended on July 15 and the second in October. The league also hoped different teams would win each half and tentatively planned a postseason “world championship series.”
On July 15, the Beaneaters won the first half with a 52-22 record, 2½ games in front of Brooklyn, with Cleveland in fifth-place six games back. The Beaneaters started the second half slowly but led by Duffy and Kid Nichols, bounced back to finish the second half 50-26. The Spiders roared into the second half, grabbing the lead at the end of July and holding on to finish 53-23, one game ahead of Boston. The web-spinners also did a lot of trash-talking.
Cleveland’s playermanager, Patsy Tebeau, suggested that “the Beaneaters fear the humiliation of possible defeat.
Boston manager Frank Selee . . . responded that “the Boston players are willing to go for broke on their ability to beat the club that has been ‘easy’ for [us] all year.”
Slated for nine games, but after game one went 11 shutout innings, the Beaneaters crushed the Spiders in the next four games to win the the 1892 equivalent of the NLCS. Duffy led the Boston attack, batting .462/.481/.846/1.328.
Back pitchers! Back I say!
In 1893 the league wanted more offense, so they moved the pitcher's plate from 45' to 60' 6", and offense returned as they hoped. Duffy batted .363/.416/.461/.876 and posted a 126 OPS+ to win his first NL batting title. Fangraphs says that was good for a .418 wOBA, 124 wRC+, and his second consecutive season posting 3.8 fWAR.
McCarthy chipped in with a .346/.429/.465/.894 season, and although they won only 84 games, they finished five games ahead of Pittsburgh and claimed their second straight NL pennant.
Duffy and McCarthy lead an 1894 Beaneater lineup that featured four batters with an OPS over .900 and two with an OPS over 1.000; catcher Fred Tenney (1.039), and Duffy.
Duffy had a monster season, winning his second straight batting title with a .440/.502/.694/1.196 line, posted a 173 OPS+, stealing 48 bases, and leading the league with 251 hits, including 51 doubles and 18 home runs, 374 total bases.
The Beaneaters slipped to third the following year, and sixth the year after that, as McCarthy came in overweight and complaining and lost his job. Duffy continued to rake, batting .353/.427/.482/.909, delivering 188 hits and stealing 42 bases.
Billy Hamilton joined the team in 1896 and added some of the spark lost without McCarthy, but Duffy slumped, and the club finished fourth.
In 1897, a resurgent Duffy batted .340/.403/.482/.885 and supported the new catalyst on the team (Hamilton) as the Beaneaters won 93 games to reclaim the NL championship. The club lost The Temple Cup (a postseason matchup with Baltimore), but Duffy went 11-21 (.524) and drove in seven runs.
After the game
Sir Hugh left the Beaneaters and the National League after the 1900 season. He later successfully managed in the minors, including the Milwaukee Brewers in 1912, his only losing season as a minor-league skipper.
In 1920, Duffy managed the Boston Red Sox, but after the sale of Ruth, the team didn't contend. They relieved him as manager, but he remained with the Red Sox through the 1953 season and passed away in October 1954 at the age of 87.
Thanks to the Veteran's committee, Hugh Duffy joined the Hall of Fame in 1945. His .440 single-season batting average, in 1894, remains a record, and one that probably stands forever.
That's a wrap
Hugh Duffy's story reminded me of Jose Altuve's quest to land a job; The electricity he and his pal McCarthy added to the Boston lineup mirrors the impact of Albies and Acuna with Atlanta.
I understand the dead-ball era and the way the game changed over time, but a .440 batting average was never easy to do. Twenty-five players had single seasons over .400, 17 of them didn't get higher than .410, six of them hit at least .420, but only Tip O; Neill's .435 in 1887 got close to Duffy's .440.
We're down to one player a day now. The stories are too interesting to cut short. Next up is a 5'10" Irishman from Brooklyn.