The Man Who Never Knew

The first hitter to win baseball’s Triple Crown was Paul Hines, today a truly obscure player. Part of the reason for his obscurity (besides that he played so far back people don’t even know baseball was played then) is that he never knew he’d won the Triple Crown. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that he was given credit for the feat. Some references still don’t give him credit. What happened, you ask? Glad you asked.

Hines was born in the nation’s capital in 1852. By 1872 (age 20) he was already a pro. He joined the Washington Nationals (not the team currently in DC) of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in that season. The team wasn’t very good and folded after an 0-11 start. Hines, the regular first baseman, hit all of .224 with 11 hits (one for extra bases-a double). The next season Washington tried again. The Blue Legs still weren’t anything special, but Hines, shifted to center field, hit .331, had 29 RBIs in 39 games, and found a career. He finished his National Association career with Chicago putting up good years in both 1874 and 1875. He played mostly center, but as was usual for the era, played other positions, notably second base.

With the demise of the Association and the founding of the National League, Hines stayed with his old team, the Chicago White Stockings (obviously one of the founding members of the NL). He remained there through 1877, leading the NL in doubles in the league’s inaugural year (1876) and helping Chicago to the first ever NL pennant. By this point he was becoming a fulltime center fielder.

The 1878 season saw Hines move to Providence where he stayed through 1885. The Grays won two pennants with Hines in center and participated in the first postseason championship in 1884 (they won). Hines hit .250 with three walks, two hits, and an RBI in this primitive version of the World Series. Here’s a shot of the 1882 team with Hines on the left of the back row. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

1882 Providence Grays (Hines at left of back row)

During the regular season at Providence Hines blossomed into a formidable hitter. He averaged .309 in eight years with Providence, had an OPB of .762, and an OPS+ of 143. In 1878 he won baseball’s first Triple Crown, except that he didn’t know it. His numbers stand at .358 for a BA, 4 home runs, and 50 RBIs. There were two problems. First RBIs weren’t kept as an official statistic in 1878, so it wasn’t until later that baseball found out Hines led the NL in 1878. Acknowledgement that he’d won the batting title also came later. Milwaukee outfielder Abner Dalrymple ended the season with a higher average and was awarded the batting crown. In 1968 someone realized that hits occurring in tie games were not counted among official stats in 1878. When they were added in, Dalrymple ended up at .354 and Hines was, posthumously, awarded the batting title and a Triple Crown. The next season he again won the batting title, but didn’t know about it because the award went to Cap Anson. Subsequent reasearch awarded Hines the title. So, as far as I can tell, Hines is the only player to win back-to-back batting titles and not know it.

With the folding of the Providence franchise following the 1885 season, Hines moved back to Washington, where he had two more good seasons. Then it was on to Indianapolis for two fine years with the Hoosiers. He split 1890 between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, then moved on to Boston in 1890. His final season was 1891 with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen (is that an oxymoron?). It was also the last year for the American Association.

After his retirement he stayed on in Washington, drinking heavily and picking up a number of jobs, including a turn working in the post office at the Department of Agriculture. In 1920 (or 1922 depending on who you believe) he was arrested for pickpocketing. He died in a nursing home in Maryland in 1935.

For his career he hit .301 in the NL (.311 in the NA). His career totals include 57 home runs, 855 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 131. He led the NL in hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS once each, and in doubles, batting average, and total bases twice each. As a fielder he normally finished in the middle of the pack in most statistics, but finished as high as second in fielding percentage three times. All that in 1658 games (never more than 133 in a season).

It’s tough to know how to rate Hines. He has the same problem a lot of 19th Century players have; he plays in seasons that are much shorter than modern seasons. So his raw numbers aren’t all that impressive, but his percentages hold up pretty well. Also it’s a very different game with the pitcher closer to the batter than currently, the strike and ball counts different, the lack of gloves, and the quality of the fields. But it seems that one thing hasn’t changed. A lot of ball players, ancient and modern, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when their career ends. Hines is certainly one of those. Is he a Hall of Famer? I wouldn’t vote for him, but I note his Baseball Reference page sponsor thinks he should be enshrined. I have to admit being somewhat wistful about him because I wish he’d known about the batting titles and the Triple Crown.

BTW the 2010 book by Edward Achorn, “Fifty-Nine in ’84” , although primarily about Charles Radbourn, references Hines occasionally. They were teammates that season.

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3 Responses to “The Man Who Never Knew”

  1. Kevin Graham Says:

    Some accounts have Hines executing the 1st unassisted triple play, and if it did occur he would be the only outfielder to perform that feat. Some historians also claim that he might have been the 1st player to wear sunglasses on the field. A real trendsetter.
    And he loved dogs.
    Kevin G

    • verdun2 Says:

      I saw the triple play info but couldn’t find the specifics. Hines played a number of games at 2nd and 1st early in his career, so it’s possible the triple play occured while he was an infielder. As I couldn’t pin it down, I left it out.
      v

  2. William Miller Says:

    19th century baseball always intrigues me. I still find it fascinating that the game pre-dates Babe Ruth by several decades. People like to think of him as an old-timer, but baseball was already an old game long before he came along.
    Very nicely researched,
    Bill

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