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Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Position(s):
C, OF, 3B, SS, 1B, 2B, P
Born:
October 17, 1859
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
188 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-09-1880 with TRN
Hall of Fame:
1939

When William "Buck" Ewing signed on with the Troy Tojans in 1880, he joined a loose association of teams that was struggling to pull themselves together as a legitimate, professionally organized league.  Baseball as an entity was still in its infancy, and it suffered many growing pains during the 20 years in which Ewing participated as a player and manager.  Despite the unstable nature of the game at that time, Buck Ewing stepped up to the plate and became a major contributor to the sport, both on and off the field.  His all-around excellence as a player and manager earned him the respect and admiration of his fellow players, and his legend has transcended time.

Biography:

Buck Ewing in 1887, notice the lack of gloveBuck Ewing was born on October 7, 1859.  Born William, he acquired the nickname "Buck" after embarking on a successful hunting excursion as a young adult.  The name ended up being affixed to him throughout his professional career.  Ewing joined the National League's Troy Trojans as a 20-year-old in 1880.  During his rookie season, Ewing played in 13 games and batted a whopping .178.  Soon after, though, Ewing began to make a name for himself as a multi-faceted threat on both offense and defense.  The Trojans disbanded in 1883, and they were subsequently replaced by the New York Gothams on the National League circuit.  Many of the former Trojans players continued on as Gothams, Ewing being one of them.

Ewing became the first player ever to hit 10 home runs in a season that year, a fairly remarkable feat considering the enormous size of ballparks during that era.  Stadiums were typically built much larger in the 19th century, with many of them measuring more than 500 feet to straight away center field.  It was a time in baseball during which a player's slugging ability was judged primarily by his ability to accumulate large numbers of doubles and triples.  Ewing's name was frequently listed among the league leaders in both those categories.  He led the league with 20 triples in 1884, and he had at least 15 triples in four other years.  His power with a bat enabled him to slug three triples in one game alone on June 9, 1883.  An extremely consistent hitter, Ewing compiled a lifetime .303 batting average during his career.  He is 18th all-time in triples, with a total of 178 three-baggers to his credit.

Once Ewing was aboard the bases, his instincts generally took over enabling him to become a base running threat.  Stolen bases were not tabulated prior to 1886, six years after Ewing joined the big leagues.  Nevertheless, he is on record as having stolen 354 bases over his final 11 seasons, with his season high being the 53 thefts he compiled in 1888.  Ewing's career total of 354 swipes places him in the 100th position on the all-time stolen base leader board, a rank that would no doubt be much higher if stolen bases had been recorded for his first six seasons.

As impressive as Ewing's offensive numbers were, it was his role as a catcher that most baseball historians tend to remember.  Catching in the earliest days of baseball was even more dangerous than it is today.  Receivers used a minimal amount of protective gear, and they generally missed a significant amount of playing time as a result.  Ewing, though, was an exception.  The most durable catcher of his era, Ewing spent virtually his entire career behind the plate, appearing in the second most games of any catcher who played during the 19th century.  His throw to second base was dead on, and he led the National League in assists three times during the 1880's.  An extremely intelligent player, Ewing often deceived opposing baserunners by pretending to lose the pitcher's offering in the dirt.  Then, after enticing them to take off for second base, he fired a laser to the bag to catch them attempting to advance. 

Ewing's stellar career as a catcher was cut short in 1892.  While playing an exhibition game with the New York Giants in early spring, a throw by Ewing to second base resulted in a shoulder injury that prevented him from effectively catching for the remainder of his baseball career.  Ewing did not let this stop him, as he had proven his versatility in playing other positions in the past.  He had even started nine games as a pitcher, recording 47 innings pitched with a 3.45 ERA.  After his injury, Ewing started most of his games in right field or at first base, and his performance at the plate continued to shine.  In fact, Ewing has his greatest offensive season the year after he suffered his injury, batting .344 in 1893, hitting six home runs, driving in 122 runs, and scoring 117 times himself.  Ewing also stole 47 bases that season. 

During Ewing's 20-year career in baseball, he played and manged for a total of six different teams.  The manager of a team during Ewing's era generally had to assume other responsibilities as well.  Active players often filled this position as a result of their leadership both on and off the field.  Ewing spent seven years as a manager.  He was also an active player in five of those seasons.  Starting off with the Trojans in 1880, he became a member of the New York Gothams (later renamed the Giants) in 1883 when the team was reorganized.  In 1888 and 1889 Ewing helped the Giants in securing the world championship title against the St. Louis Browns and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, respectively.  Ewing remained with the Gothams until after the 1889 season, when labor disputes caused friction throughout the league.  Many players left  the National League in 1890 to form a new circuit known as the Players League.  Ewing was a key player in this movement, and he became the front man for the New York Giants, who dissolved their ties with the National League and became a member of the new league.  His involvement was not restricted to the field, as Ewing performed as a manager and an advocate for players' rights.  The Giants' home stadium was also redesigned for the new league during this time.  Ewing played an active role in the formation and building of the new layout.

The new league was unsuccessful, and it folded after only one season, with its members being incorporated back into the National League.  Ewing continued on with the Giants for two years after the unsuccessful Players League venture, but tensions within the organization remained.  In 1893, Ewing was traded to the Cleveland Spiders for an up-and-coming George Davis, a future Hall of Fame shortstop.  Ewing played two seasons with the Spiders, before joining the Cincinnatti Reds in 1895.  He served as player-manager for his new team until he finally retired as an active player on May 27 1897.  Ewing became strictly a manager from that point on, continuing with the Reds organization throughout the 1899 season.  The beginning of the new century found Ewing relocating to his old team, the New York Giants.  He signed on as New York's manager for the 1900 season, but he was replaced at midseason after the Giants played poorly during the season's first half.  This marked the end of Buck Ewing's 20-year career in baseball.

Baseball associations went on to establish permanent leagues and guidelines after the turn of the century, creating stability for teams and players alike.  Buck Ewing didn't live long enough to see many of the positive changes that came about as a result of this reform.  After his retirement in 1900, Ewing turned to investing in real estate, before passing away shortly after his 47th birthday in 1906 from health complications. Ewing dedicated nearly half his life to the game of baseball, and he is remembered today as one of the great defensive and offensive players in the pre-modern baseball era. His accomplishments as a clutch player in various roles earned him the nickname "Bread and Butter," and his contributions were immeasurable.  He was not only a success as a player, but he also ended up with a lifetime winning percentage of .553 as a manager, with a record of 489-395.  His contributions to baseball did not end on the ballfield.  Ewing was active in promoting better working conditions and fair contracts for all players, and he is considered one of the founding fathers of the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, one of the earliest athletes' unions that was established in 1885.  Buck Ewing was influential in many ways during the formative years of baseball as an organized sport, and his mesmerizing performance on the field has earned him a level of immortality as one of the greatest catchers of all time.

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Tagged:
1939 Hall of Fame, Baseball History, Buck Ewing, Catcher, New York Gothams, Polo Grounds, Troy Trojans

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