Monday, April 28, 2014

Old as Moses Monday: Ross Barnes

The home run.  In Major League Baseball, there is no moment more exciting than the instant one hears the familiar crack of the bat and sees the ball driven high and deep.  They say chicks dig the long ball - but so do guys; after all, who doesn't like instant runs?

While such displays of power are more associated with names like Ruth, Maris, Aaron, Bonds, etc. they certainly weren't the first men to deposit a baseball into the bleachers while wearing an MLB uniform.  That honor went to a second baseman by the name of Roscoe Barnes, way back in 1876 - during the maiden season of the National League.

Ross Barnes had already been a super star in professional baseball before the NL came to be.  In fact, so much so, that the NL might not have existed without him.  While playing with the celebrated Boston Red Stockings in the old National Association (NA), Barnes twice lead the league in batting average, three times in runs, three times in hits, twice in doubles, twice in walks and once in stolen bases.  The man was an offensive force.

The Boston Red Stockings in 1874 - Barnes is standing, upper left

It was because of his impressive skill, that he was often considered the most important cog in the Cincinatti machine (well before the Big Red Machine!).  Thus, Chicago White Stockings owner William Hulbert had to have him.

Along with three other Boston players (Albert Spalding, Deacon White & Cal McVey), "jumped" and signed contracts with Chicago, despite still being under contract with the Red Stockings.  Rather than sit and wait for the NA to void these deals, Hulbert had a plan.  Already looking to seize power in the pro baseball world, he went out and formed his own league, the National League, in order to force the NA to disband.  

138 years later, I think we know who won that battle.

Ross Barne's "Band of Brothers"

At any rate, Chicago now had a team full of stars and were well on their way to dominating the early days of the NL.  Barnes certainly did his part in that inaugural season, winning the first NL batting title (.429) while also leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples and walks.  

But, as this card celebrates, what Barnes might most be remembered for is his lone home run on the season.  On May 2nd, Barnes took one deep off of Cherokee Fisher in Cincinnati to secure his place in trivia books for the rest of history.  It was a solo shot in the top of the 5th inning and thus began our fascination with the home run.

However, while Barnes' 1876 season was simply amazing, it was to be the last productive season of his career.  First, the NL banned the fair/foul hit (originally, any ball that landed fair and then rolled over the baseline before passing the base was considered "in play") a play that Barnes was an acknowledge master of  Then, he came down with a severe case of "'the ague,' a malaria-like affliction characterized by alternating high fever and chills, along with a marked loss of strength, stamina, and vitality.”

Had this play occurred in 1876, the ball would have been fair no matter what

As a result, he played in only 22 games the next season, batting only .272, before going to the International Association (an early minor league) for 1878.  He made two brief comeback attempts in 1879 with the old Cincinnati Reds and then in 1881 with Boston, but the magic was gone.

That said, there is still a strong push to have Ross Barnes inducted into the Hall of Fame.  While most of his playing time and his feats were accomplished in the NA, Barnes offensive dominance from 1871 to 1876 has never been matched.  He certainly appears to be worthy to me.

Yet, despite all of this, most of the recognition that Barnes receives today is for that single home run he hit back in 1876.  Proof positive that baseball fans love displays of power.

As for the card itself, it comes from TriStar's Obak series in 2011.  The focal point of this set was on forgotten players and accomplishments from throughout the history of baseball, while leaning on the original 1911 Obak tobacco cards for inspiration.  It's a set I've come to love and has provided me with much help in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.

Plus, the artificially colored photograph layered over the forest background, while unorthodox, makes for a unique piece of cardboard.  The colors really pop off of the card!

That does it for this week's edition of Old as Moses Monday.  I'll be back tomorrow to brag all about my finds from the community-wide garage sale day that I attended over the weekend.  Please, try to contain your excitement!


  1. I'm an Obak fan as well --great variety and a baseball history lesson on cards.

  2. I second Mr. Hackenbush's statement.

  3. Well, I'll go ahead and third it because that is exactly what baseball cards are supposed to do!