Chapter 2: A Ballplayer is Born - The Philadelphia Years

During the 1871 season and while still a member of the Rockford team, Adrian was approached several times by members of the Philadelphia Athletics’ management with offers to join their club at a significant raise to his current salary. His Rockford contract for the 1871 season paid him $66.00 per month. Philadelphia was offering to up his salary to $1,250 for the 1872 season. He had lots of friends in Rockford, so his loyalties leaned towards the club that had signed him. He offered to stay with the Forest Citys if they would pay him $100 per month. Rockford, the furthest west of the National Association teams, had faced financial hardships in 1871 with the cost of travel and had not made its owners a profit. Management could not afford to meet Anson’s request, and was unsure even if it would be able to field a nine the following year (Rockford did indeed drop out of the National Association after that first season). For those reasons, Adrian signed a contract with Philadelphia and headed east late in the fall of 1871.

Alone in a new town, Adrian kept himself occupied during the winter of 1871 playing billiards (a life-long hobby), practicing baseball in indoor gymnasiums, and exploring his new surroundings. In the spring, he reported to the team. He was given the starting third baseman position and played well enough to keep his spot. The 1872 Athletics team was a good hitting team, placing six of their players among the top eleven of the season’s batting average leaders. But what advantages they gained with the timber, they lost with the leather. Their poor fielding kept them from winning several key games, and they finished second to the Boston Red Stockings for the league championship. Overall, they played 46 games, winning 30 and losing 16. Boston finished 38-11. Anson was among the league leaders in several offensive categories, including hits (5th), batting average (3rd), on-base percentage (1st), total bases (6th), RBIs (2nd), and walks (2nd).

In 1873, manager McBride would move Anson to first base, using him occasionally at third, second base, catcher and outfield. Several new players joined the team, and based on talent the team was stronger than its previous year’s incarnation. Yet the talent of players throughout the league was also on the upswing. This was in part due to the rising popularity of the game, which allowed teams to raise salaries and attract a better quality of players to its legions. In this competitive landscape, Boston once again finished first in the standings. Anson and his teammates dropped to fourth place. As for individual accomplishments, Anson finished 2nd in batting average, 2nd in on-base percentage, and 5th in hits.

The 1874 season unfolded much the same as the previous campaign, with the Athletics finishing up one spot in third place and Boston finishing first for the third consecutive season. Much more interesting than the regular season was the historic exhibition trip of American baseball stars to the United Kingdom in the first international exhibition of the American pastime.

The UK tour was conceived by three of the game's biggest supporters: Boston pitcher Albert Spaulding, Boston manager Harry Wright, and baseball writer Henry Chadwick. Their goal was to introduce baseball to England and Ireland and establish it as a legitimate sport and uniquely American invention. The Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics squads were chosen to make the trip, along with a handful of American sportswriters. On July 16th, in the middle of the regular season, the two teams departed on the steamship "Ohio." Eleven days later they arrived in Liverpool, England. Matches were played in Liverpool, Manchester, London, Sheffield and Dublin. The English crowds were treated to competitive games, with Boston winning eight and Philadelphia six. Exhibition cricket matches were also arranged between the American tourists and England's most established teams. Only four of the American players had any cricket playing experience, yet the Americans proved their athletic aptitude by beating these revered English teams.

All in all, the English public was only mildly curious about the American import. Writers covering the tour had mixed reviews of the game's merit, but most agreed the American athletes were excellent fielders and good hitters. The tour did not prove profitable to its organizers, but it did serve to introduce baseball to the world. Anson always felt a special pride in having played a part in the tour and remembered fondly the fellow players with which he made the trip.

1875 proved to be Adrian Anson's last season with the Athletics. By this time, Anson had proved himself one of the best hitters of the day. His salary had risen from $1,250 in 1872 to $1,800 in 1875. Yet other teams were prepared to offer more. William Hulbert, president of the Chicago White Stockings and Albert Spalding, who had joined Chicago as player/captain, pressed Anson to join their team. Hulbert was assembling a formidable lineup and had raided the Boston team for four of its stars: Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, James White and Spalding. Spalding had recommended Anson as the team's third baseman, and Hulbert saw the wisdom of adding a player with midwestern ties to his Chicago team for increasing fan interest. Chicago offered Anson a contract of $2,000 for the 1876 season, and Anson signed.

He soon regretted his decision, however. Anson had been courting a young woman by the name of Virginia Fiegal, the only daughter of hotel and restaurant owner John Fiegal. Adrian first met Virginia when she was thirteen or fourteen. He began calling on her soon after, but had to compete for her affection with several other men, including other ball players. Virginia chose Adrian over the others, and their budding romance occupied his time away from the diamond. When Virginia learned of his intent to move to Chicago, she vehemently voiced her displeasure to the point that Anson made a special trip to see Hulbert in Chicago and attempt to nullify his contract. Hulbert and Spalding were adamant that Anson honor his contract, even when Anson made the astounding and unprecedented offer of paying the Chicago team $1,000 to release him. Being a man of his word, Anson reluctantly agreed to begin the 1876 season with the White Stockings. Thus, in baseball history's first contract dispute, Anson had lost out to management. He may have felt disappointed at the time, but this move proved to be the turning point of his career that launched Anson into the spotlight of baseball stardom.