Wednesday, February 14, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #84: Buck Freeman

Buck Freeman, OF, (Boston Braves (1900), Boston Red Sox (1901-1907))

820 g, 879 h, 158 2b, 903b, 48 hr, 54 sb, .286 avg, .332 obp, .442 slg

John Frank "Buck" Freeman, born October 30th 1871, was one of the premier sluggers of his era and without doubt the most feared power hitter pre Babe Ruth. He was famous for smacking the long ball at a time when the ball itself was very heavy and hitting it must have felt like trying to hit a large brick with a wiffle ball bat.

When Babe Ruth finally came along and broke Freeman's home run records he was doing so with a completely different ball, one referred to at the time as a 'lively ball'.

One of Freeman's greatest achievements was slugging a whopping 25 four baggers in 1899. One can only imagine how many he would hit today with the current ball against the current level of expansion-diluted pitching.

Interestingly Freeman actually did not start out swinging the bat at all. Born in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, Freeman showed talent as a pitcher from a very young age. He made his major league debut as a left-handed starter with the 'Washington Statesmen' on June 27, 1891, registering the loss in a 4-5 defeat to the Philadelphia Athletics. Freeman played in a further 4 games during the seasons, finishing up with a pretty decent 3-2 record and an earned run average of 3.89.

Despite showing promise on the hill 1891 would be Freeman's only season as a pitcher in the majors, and indeed he then took a seven year sabbatical from Major League Baseball altogether. In his time away he played in the Eastern League with Toronto from 1896 to 1898 but then finally returned to play for Washington midway through the 1898 season.

Freeman's career and indeed life changed forever when he came back and showed that he had learnt to use the bat while he had been away. Washington recognised this immediately and converted Freeman to a right fielder. In the final part of the 1898 season Freeman hit .364 and slugged.523. On the back of this performance he was named the Washington Senators starting right fielder for the 1899 season.

In his first season as a hitter Freeman slugged an amazing 25 home runs. To put that in perspective the second highest total that year was Bobby Wallace's 12. Although Freeman actually hit less than Ned Williamson's record of 27 home runs in a season, recorded in 1884, Freeman's total is widely regarded as the greater achievement because of the home run friendly dimensions of Williamson's home ballpark of Lakeshore Park (of Williamson's 27 homers, only 2 were hit away from home). Freeman's tally was not surpassed until 1919, when Babe Ruth smashed 29 home runs while with the Boston Red Sox.

Freeman was paid $225 a month in '99, putting everything in perspective. At that time the average annual salary of skilled labourers in the United States was $780, roughly $2 a day. Freeman, by contrast, earned $3000 a year.

The Washington Senators disbanded at the end of the 1899 season, so Freeman, looking for a job, spent the 1900 season with the Boston Beaneaters. His offensive numbers for the year were down on the year before, he hit only the 6 home runs and knocked in 66 runs. At the end of the season he and teammate Jimmy Collins moved across town to the Boston Americans, who decided to convert him into a first baseman. In 1901 Freeman hit his way back into the form he was capable of: he finished second overall in home runs (12), RBIs (114), and slugging percentage (.520), finishing behind Nap Lajoie in all categories. In 1901, however, Freeman hit his way back into the news.

Headlines from the period;

May 8, 1901: In their long-delayed AL home opener, Boston defeats Philadelphia's Bill Bernhard, 12-4, behind Cy Young, who has jumped from the St. Louis NL team. Boston is led by Buck Freeman, who has a single, triple and homer.

June 17, 1901: Bosox sweep a Bunker Hill day double-header, 11-1 and 10-4, part of five game sweep over the White Sox. The Sox relinquish 1st place to Boston. Buck Freeman has a homer and triple in the two games to back Mitchell and Cy Young.

Come the 1902 season and in his second year with the Boston Americans Freeman returned to playing right field, which most regarded as his better position. Freeman must have enjoyed the transition as he led the American League with 121 RBIs. In 1903 he helped Boston to the inaugural World Series, the first ever modern version of the great event, by leading the league in both home runs (13), and RBIs (104); in doing so Freeman became the first player ever to have completed an odd double and to have lead both the National League and the American League in home runs.

All season long Freeman was in the headlines:

June 21, 1903: In a Sunday match in Canton, Ohio, Boston outslugs Cleveland to win 12-7. Buck Freeman is 5-for-6, including the cycle, with six RBIs, while Nap Lajoie is 3-for-5 for Cleveland.

August 20, 1903: At Chicago, Boston's Buck Freeman is the first to hit a ball over the RF score board, but the (Boston) Pilgrims lose to the White Sox, 9-5.

The 1903 World Series was the only World Series Freeman ever played in, and after the marvelous preceding season he had, it proved to be lacklustre by his own standards - he hit a reasonable .281 but only knocked in 4 runs and hit no home runs in the eight games.

After Boston's World Series success Buck Freeman's offensive figures took a little bit of a dip. In 1906 he hit .250 with only 1 home run and just 30 RBIs. At the end of the disappointing season Freeman decided to play just one more year. Boston tried to speed that process up by releasing him after only four games in 1907 but Freeman moved on and finished the season with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, hitting a fantastic .335 and smacking 18 home runs. Freeman had come back with a bang. He couldn't walk away and he decided to spend a further season with the Millers.

The 1908 season was Freeman's last in professional baseball,he hit a very respectable 10 home runs albeit with an average of .218. Buck Freeman passed away June 25, 1949 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at the grand old age of 78.

Freeman retired with a major league career batting average of .293, OBP of .346, a slugging percentage of .462, 82 home runs, and 713 RBIs.

This Top 100 Red Sox of all time profile was written by Cormac Eklof @ ''I didn't know there was baseball in Ireland?!''

7 comments:

Emily said...

Freeman was paid $225 a month in '99, putting everything in perspective. At that time the average annual salary of skilled labourers in the United States was $780, roughly $2 a day. Freeman, by contrast, earned $3000 a day.

I think this should be $3000 a year. :)

Wonderful article, though; very interesting! It's good to be reminded that these early sluggers really were that, because those balls were NOT light or easy to hit, so his batting average is even more impressive.

Eklof 22 said...

Oooops...my bad
:o)

(Thanks, though!)

I have to admit I had never heard of Freeman before, and really enjoyed reading about him..glad you did too!

Brian Martin said...

Here's a guy who should be ranked higher. He was the team's best slugger for four years in its early days. He played in a deadball era, but still managed some decent offensive numbers.

Eklof 22 said...

Decent number? He was the best before íl Bambino!

(amazing how you get attached to these guys after researching them a little!)

SoxFan said...

So Freeman made maybe 3 or 4 times a skilled labourer's wages. Hmm if you said an average salary were 40,000 a year today...how many ballplayer make $160,000. Maybe a few rookies??!!

Another great job, I never heard of Freeman before.

Eklof 22 said...

I am guessing 3k a year kept you in beers and pizzas pretty nicely in 1900!

tom said...

i am 13 and bucky freeman is my great,great,etc cousin. I have a baseball article about him and it says all the same information but it also says he will be submitted for consideration by the hall of fame committee.The paaper was written in 1991. i don not know if he is in the hall of fame. and it say he managed Scranton in the New York state league in 1912 and managed bloomsburg in 1934 and 1935.He was also a scout for the st.louis browns for 10 years. if anyone has any other information plaese let me know