Thursday, March 03, 2005

March 3rd, 1894

Ned Williamson Dies

From 1884 until 1919 and Babe Ruth, Ned Williamson held the single season home run record, with twenty-seven. Williamson seems an unlikely holder of the home run record; excluding his 1884 season, he hit just thirty-seven home runs for the rest of his career, an average of just three a year. In 1880 Williamson raked up three hundred eleven at bats without managing to hit a single home run. His 1884 season represents forty-two percent of his career home runs, a number that would make even Brady Anderson (second entry on that page) blush.

Despite the sudden jump in power, Williamson was not visiting some sort of nineteenth century Dr. Victor Conte. (Although that is an amusing image: do you seek gargantuan strength to power the balls out of the yard and to the knothole gang? Come see Dr. Victor Conte and get a bottle of his Amazing Super Duper Whiz-Bang Home Run Power Tonic!) Williamson's power spike came from an odd rule change. Williamson’s team, the Chicago White Stockings, held their home games in
Lake Front Park. The fences at LFP were extremely short, 180 feet to left, 300 to left-center, 252 to right-center and 196 to right. On account of this, any ball hit over the fence at LFP was a ground-rule double. Except, as you might have guessed, for 1884 when the rule was changed so that any ball hit over the fence was a home run. Home runs, predictably, exploded: Williamson hit twenty-seven, and three of his White Stocking teammates hit twenty or more.

The next year, the rule was restored to the 1883 standard, and Williamson's home run total dropped down to just three. Williamson would never hit more than nine in a season again but a rule change ensured his place in trivia history, the home run champ before the Babe.

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