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Jake Beckley

Position: First baseman
Teams: Pittsburgh Alleghenys (Pirates), 1888-1889, 1891-1896; Pittsburgh Burghers, 1890; New York Giants, 1896-1897; Cincinnati Reds, 1897-1903; St. Louis Cardinals, 1904-1907

Jake Beckley
Jake Beckley was known as "Eagle Eye"
because of his hitting skill.

When Jake Beckley was named to the Hall of Fame, not a single member of the Veterans Committee that selected him had ever seen him play. Moreover, few knew him as anything more than the owner of the record for having played the most career games at first base (a record that has since been broken by Eddie Murray).

The first man to play 20 years in the majors without ever being on a pennant winner, Beckley had the misfortune to leave the game with 2,931 hits (just 69 short of the coveted 3,000 benchmark) and to die at age 50 on June 25, 1918. All three facts combined to keep him out of the Hall of Fame until 1971.

Born in Hannibal, Missouri, Jacob Peter Beckley (1867-1918) grew up on the Mississippi River. At age 19, he left his job in a machine shop and his place as a left-handed second baseman on the local semipro team to try his luck with the Leavenworth club of the Western League.

Although an instant success at the plate -- he debuted with three hits, including a home run -- his work at the keystone sack left much to be desired. Moved to first base, where his notoriously weak arm could do less harm, Beckley hit .401 the next year, attracting the attention of several major-league scouts.

Purchased midway through the 1888 season by Pittsburgh for $4,000 -- an eye-popping sum at the time -- Beckley quickly proved his worth, stroking a neat .343 in his rookie outing. With a year out to participate in the Players League rebellion in 1890, he remained in the Smoke City until the summer of 1896, when he was sent to New York for Harry Davis (a future four-time home run leader in the American League).

A disappointment with the Giants, Beckley was released early in the 1897 season. Signing with Cincinnati, he pumped up his average to .345, and on September 26 became the last player until 1922 to hit three home runs in a game.

Beckley remained with Cincinnati in the early 1900s despite several attractive offers from teams in the upstart American League. It was not so much loyalty as the Reds’ willingness to match rival bids that bound him.

During the Players League war in 1890, Beckley said, “I’m only in this game for the money anyway.” It was a statement he often reiterated, although his longevity as a player suggests there was a strong love for the game as well. Nicknamed “Eagle Eye” for his hitting skill, he was a memorable figure with his lean features and dashing handlebar mustache. Beckley spent the final four years of his career in St. Louis.

Here are Jake Beckley's major league totals:

.308 2,386 9,527 1,600 2,931 476 243 88 1,575 315

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