Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh
Mention the name Abner and baseball together and I’ll bet most people will respond with “Doubleday.” It’s part of the old myth that Doubleday invented baseball. But the good general is not the only Abner to make a name for himself in the early era of the sport. There was Abner Dalrymple, and, considering the Doubleday story didn’t come out until the 20th Century, you can argue that Dalrymple was the first important Abner is baseball history.
Dalrymple was born in Wisconsin in 1857, but his family moved to Illinois during the Civil War. He was good at baseball early on and at age 14 was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to serve as a brakeman. His real job was to play ball for the company team. He was good enough that in 1874 he started playing for local town teams in the Illinois-Wisconsin area. By 1875 he was in Milwaukee.
The year 1876 saw the formation of the National League. Two years later the NL expanded by putting a team in Milwaukee. The Grays (the team nickname) grabbed local player Dalrymple to be their left fielder. He was good, good enough to win the batting title, sort of. At the time the NL recognized Abner Dalrymple as the league batting champion. During the 1878 season, hits occurring in tie games were not counted in the official statistics. In 1968 someone noticed and when factoring them in Dalrymple lost the batting title to Paul Hines. By 1968 both men were dead, so neither ever knew.
With or without the batting title, Dalrymple had a heck of a year. Unfortunately Milwaukee had a terrible season and folded. Dalrymple ended up in Chicago as the starting left fielder and lead off hitter for one of the greatest 19th Century teams, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). In seven seasons the White Stockings won five pennants, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886. As lead off hitter, Dalrymple was a major factor in the team’s success. In 1880 he led the NL in both hits and runs, and was generally in the top five or ten in most major categories, twice leading in total bases. In 1885 he won a home run title. In 1883 he collected four doubles in a single game. In the 1884 season when Chicago had impossibly short fences, he managed 22 home runs, second on the team, and second all time until the 19-teens.
He is credited with one of the more infamous plays of the 19th Century. The Sox were in Buffalo (which had a NL team from 1879-1885) playing in smokey conditions. It was late, making it even more difficult to see, when a Bisons player hit a long fly with two outs and the bases loaded. Dalrymple went back to the fence, leaped, and came out of the haze with the ball to end the inning. Later he admitted the ball went over the fence and he’d hidden a ball in his shirt, pulled it out, and held it high, knowing no one would be able to tell what actually happened in the haze. Great story, right? There are several problems with it. There is no date given, no batter mentioned, the inning is left in doubt. So maybe it’s true (it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility in 19th Century ball), or maybe it’s not, but it’s still a fun story.
During Dalrymple’s time in Chicago the first “World Series” games were played. They were quite different from today’s Series, but some credit them as World Series games. Whatever you decide, they were certainly postseason games. Chicago was in both the 1885 and the 1886 postseason series. The first resulted in a disputed tie and they lost the second. Dalrymple didn’t do particularly well in either, although he had a home run in the first one.
By 1886 he was fading. He managed only 81 games that season. There was an injury, but the exact nature of it seems to be in doubt. He hit only .233 (a career low) and found himself traded to Pittsburgh. He continued to slide, but was among the middle of the pack players for the team (the Alleghenys finished sixth both seasons Dalrymple played for them). He was let go after the 1888 season. He played minor league ball in both Denver and Milwaukee. In 1891, the American Association, on its last legs and trying to expand its fan base, put a team in Milwaukee (the team in Cincinnati folded and Milwaukee was an August 1891 replacement). Dalrymple signed on as the Brewers’ left fielder. He had one last good season, becoming the only Brewers player to hit for the cycle (12 September). At the end of the season both the team and the league folded.
Dalrymple’s triple slash line reads .288/.323/.410/.732 with an OPS+ of 122. He had 1202 hits (in 951 games) for 1710 total bases (217 doubles, 81 triples, and 43 home runs). He scored 813 runs and drove in 407. His offensive WAR is 18.2. Not bad stats for a 19th Century player.
In 1883, the White Stockings scheduled an exhibition game against Toledo. When they arrived, they found Toledo was going to play catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker (generally know as Fleet Walker). Walker was black and Chicago had been led to believe Walker would not play in the game. This led White Stockings first baseman and manager Cap Anson to demand that either Walker not play or the game not be played. Eventually, the game was played (Chicago would lose a lot of money if it wasn’t) and led to Anson becoming the chief advocate for completely segregating the Major Leagues. It didn’t take long for him to get his way. I have been unable to determine Dalrymple’s stand on the matter. As far as I can tell he neither backed nor opposed Anson (at least publicly) during the controversy.
Following his big league days, Dalrymple went back to railroading, becoming a conductor for the Northern Pacific. He managed to get in minor league play during the summers of 1892-1895 when the railroad granted him 90 day leaves each year (nice of the UP, don’t you think?), then retired from professional baseball. He maintained an interest in the game, playing semipro ball as late as 1907 (age 50). He retired from the railroad in 1928 and died in Warren, Illinois in 1939.
Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois