This Day in Baseball History: May 2nd, 1876

How anti-climactic for the first home run. Not even a big blast.

On May 2, 1876:

Ross Barnes hits a home run.

Ross Barnes initially starred with Albert Spalding as part of the Rockford Forest Citys (no, I didn’t spell that wrong). In 1971 with the creation of the National Association, Harry Wright signed both men to play for his team in Boston. Over the next five seasons, Barnes was absolutely dominating. He hit over .400 three times, and he won two batting titles. However, as the 1875 season drew to a close, the National Association was dying, and the National League was being born. Before the end of the season, Barnes and a few of his Boston teammates signed contracts with the Chicago White Stockings. Word of these deals leaked, and the players went from some of the most loved men in Boston to the most hated. They were called “seceders”, which was pretty intense considering it was 10 years after the Civil War.

In his first season in Chicago, Barnes would continue his dominance, but one of his greatest achievements came in the fourth game of the season. Barnes would hit the first home run in National League history by hitting the ball in the gap of the Avenue Grounds in Cincinnati and run all the way home. He had himself quite the day, adding a triple, single, two stolen bases, and scoring four times, almost hitting the first cycle. By the end of the season, he had hit .429 and won the first batting title and set a major-league record with 1.91 runs per game, a record that still stands.

Barnes’ career, however, ended abruptly. Only 27, Barnes fell ill with a fever in 1877 and would only play 22 games. Sapped of his strength and agility, Barnes would try to re-establish himself, but he never returned to the majors. Another reason for his demise is the rule change that pertained to a “fair-foul” hit. In the original rules, a player could hit the ball, and as long as it hit fair first, it was a fair ball no matter what. In 1877, the play was not allowed any longer. While apparently Bill James gives more credence to that theory, he did lead the league in slugging in a lot of his seasons. Granted, those squib hits could have turned into doubles, but the illnesses seem a better explanation. I’m not sure. Both seem pretty plausible.

Trivia Time
Who hit the first cycle in Major League Baseball history?

Yesterday’s Answer –> The Yankees, of course. It seems Mirabelli would have been at Fenway, regardless.

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One Response to “This Day in Baseball History: May 2nd, 1876”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Mark,

    I actually know this, I posted this in my DMB replay blog. Charles Foley of the unforgettable Buffalo Bisons.(1882)
    The 1st biography I did was of Ross Barnes. I agree with you, his illness contributed more to his decline than did the rule change.

    Kevin

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