These days Cap Anson is merely a name from the past, usually only seen on the all-hit hit list. Like Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie, few fans know much of Anson. More is known of hit king Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, he of the most valuable baseball card. What is most amazing about Anson is his total of 27 seasons played, from the age of 19 as a rookie to his last season at 45.
Playing before the turn of the century (1871-1897), Adrian Constantine Anson's teams played far fewer games than MLB did even before the season was expanded to 162 games decades later. Anson only averaged 93 games played per year, though he did play at least 134 games for five seasons from 1888-1892. By playing so many years Anson was able to become the all-time MLB hit leader in 1880, a title he held until the Georgia Peach broke the record in 1923 – 41 years later. Pete Rose broke Cobb's record 61 years later, in 1985.
Early this year Ichiro Suzuki collected his four thousandth professional hit. While looking at Ichiro's numbers I noticed Anson's 27 seasons played. While Ichiro has averaged 158 games played per MLB season, Anson's average was a whopping 65 games per year less. Over 27 seasons those 1755 games represent over eleven 154 game seasons – an entire career. How many hits would Cap Anson have collected had he played even close to Ichiro's rate?
Despite their large difference in games played per year, Ichiro and Anson had almost identical plate appearances per game (4.5) and at bats per game (Ichiro = 4.2 / Anson = 4.1). For comparison, I figured on Anson playing in only 140 games per year. At this rate, Anson's stats why fly off the charts. He would have broken the 5000 hit barrier, and would remain today the all-time hit leader.
Anson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 as one of the first 19th-century players voted in by the Old Timer's Committee. It was not until this past summer that Anson was included in the HOF induction ceremony. Cap was no saint: as a rowdy youth he was sent off to a boarding school in northern Indiana called Notre Dame for a short time. Later he was kicked out of the University of Iowa after one semester. As a prominent major leaguer Anson refused to play against blacks, most probably personally pushing back baseball's integration for decades. At age 24 Anson married a 17 year old. They had seven children, though three died as infants.
While Anson only led the majors in hits one time, Ichiro led the league in seven of his first ten seasons – including when Ichiro was 36 years old. In 2004 Ichiro's 262 hits broke the MLB single-season record.
Willie Mays became the active career hit leader in 1966, but in 1969 Hank Aaron passed Mays on the list. The Hammer remained the active leader until he retired in 1976.
Hit Kings over the years, with seasons played:
1989-2010…22…2781…Ken Griffey Jr