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A Strong Arm, A Perfect Player:

 BUCK EWING

         

"The death of Buck Ewing removes from the scene of earthly activity the only absolutely perfect ball player the writer has ever seen in action in a period of thirty years. He was, in his prime, in all respects, the greatest ball player that ever wore a spiked shoe. He was perfect in all departments and had not a weakness."

Those words were written on October 27, 1906, by an unnamed editor of Sparring Life, a sports-oriented weekly newspaper that circulated throughout the East and Midwest in the early 1900s.

 

Buck Ewing, whom the writer was describing, was a former Cincinnati Reds player and manager. He was such an outstanding player that he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.

 

Ewing was born near Cincinnati in 1859 and his family moved to the city when he was two years old. He grew up on the city's East Side and played baseball as a youngster when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were being founded as the first all-professional team in the late 1860s. He signed his first professional contract for $85 in 1880.

 

Although Ewing's best days were with the New York Giants from 1883 to 1890, he continued to be an outstanding player when he was signed by Cincinnati as a player-manager in 1895. He batted .318 as the team's first baseman-manager and for years he had the Reds near the top of the National League standings as their manager.

    He was best known as a catcher. "As a catcher," the Sporting Life editor wrote, "he outclassed all we have ever seen. He was a sure catcher, quick on his feet, alert in mind, a splendid coach for a pitcher, a keen reader of batsmen and his swift, accurate throwing was simply perfect.

"In addition, he was a grand batsman, always ranking with the leaders; and as a base runner he ranked always with the best. The player of this generation nearest in calibre to Buck Ewing is Hans Wagner as a batter and base runner and John Kling as a catcher."

 

Wagner, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, is acknowledged as one of baseball's all-time great hitters while Kling is regarded as one of the best receivers.

 

Ewing's powerful right arm is said to have been one of the strongest in all of baseball. When he played, his arm was in a class by itself. Frequently, it has been written, he took no step when throwing and never threw from over his shoulder or head, but snapped the ball with a sidearmed swing that made the balls he threw "strike a baseman's hand like a lump of lead."

He had a special play and used it often, hoping to get opposing base runners to challenge his arm. He intentionally would let the pitched ball bounce away from him at the plate, hoping that the runner would try to advance. If the runner did try, most often he easily would be thrown out at second base, a victim of Ewing's sucker tactics and strong arm.

 

For one season during his playing career, Ewing bolted from the National League and joined the New York team in the Players League, a baseball circuit founded by prominent players in protest over low pay and other shortcomings in the established majors.

         
       

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