Historical Hitter

Historical Hitter October 10th 1887: Tip O’Neil

Tip ONeil Baseball CardIn 1887 the season ended on the ninth so the Batter of the day for the 10th is Tip O’Neil. He played just ten seasons from 1883 to 1892, with the Gothams, Browns, Pirates and Reds. His best years were from 1885 to 1889 with the American Association St. Louis Browns. The Browns, who later became the Cardinals were the dominate team in the American Association winning three pennants in a row from 1885-1888. The 1887 team won the AA Pennant by 14 games and finished 95-40; .704. Yet in the World Series of 1887, these Browns lost to the NL Detroit Wolverines 10 games to 5, despite new uniforms of blue and brown with blue caps with brown stripes.

Winning the Triple Crown for hitters is perhaps the greatest hitting achievement in the game, as it is so rare. Since the founding of the National League, the feat has occurred only 15 times, by just 13 players. Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams accomplished the feat twice.

James “Tip” O’Neill won the award in 1887 by batting .435, 14 HR, 123 RBI. He perhaps had the greatest season of all time for a batter, he lead in ten other offensive categories: Runs (167), Hits (225), 2B (52), 3B (19), OBP (.490), SLG (.691), OPS (1.180), OPS+(213), TB(357), and finally WAR (6.9). O’Neill accomplished these feats in missing 11 games of a season 135 games long.

Tip ONeil PitchingThis just was an epic season. The Sporting Life editors at midseason in the July 6, 1887 edition wrote the following:

When “Tip” O’Neill steps up to the plate and rolls a big piece of chewing gum from one side of his month to the other, the man in the box does his best to give the great slugger a high ball. It don’t seem to make any difference to “Tip” where the ball is pitched – high or low as he seems to find it.

By late August the word was out and the bleachers were filling up for every game. And in season recap Sporting Life editors commented:

CANADIANS point with pride, to the great batting record made by Tip O’Neil, of the St. Louis Browns, and argue from it that Canucks are born ball players, lacking only the practice and experience.

He followed up the 1887 season by winning the batting title in 1888. He played in four post seasons with the Browns, yet his average was a mere .240. in the 1887 World Series against the more established Cubs, O’Neill hit .400 leading the Browns to victory. These Browns teams were the elite of the American Association, then known as the “Beer and Whiskey League,” comprised of a team of characters that included the owner, Chris Von de Ahe, Hall of Famer Charlie Comiske, Arlie Latham, known as “The Freshest Man on Earth or “the Dude,” star pitcher “Parisian” Bob Caruthers, and “Doc” Bushong, the ivy-league educated dentist.

Tip ONeil Baseball PlayerHis career numbers are just as impressive, .326 with a 144 OPS+. Despite such numbers he is not enshrined in Cooperstown. No player who spent their careers in the American Association is in the Hall of Fame. He however is enshrined in The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum as he was born in Ontario. His two nicknames were “The Woodstock Wonder,” which refers to his hometown, and the Canadian “Babe Ruth,” because he started his career as a pitcher and quickly made the transition to outfielder.

He exhibited superior bat control and was noted to hit baseballs to women in the stands in St. Louis if they asked for a souvenir. He was given the name Tip, because he would hit foul tips until he got a pitch he wanted to hit.

After his playing days, O’Neill returned to Canada where he participated in securing an Eastern League for Montreal.

In his honor the Canadian Hall of Fame gives the Tip O’Neill Award to “the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.”




Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame


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