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Anson, Adrian Constantine "Cap"
(April 11, 1852–April 14, 1922)

–professional baseball's greatest personality and superstar in its early years–remains, along with Cleveland pitching ace Bob Feller, Iowa's greatest contribution to the game. Nicknamed "Cap" for being player-captain of the Chicago White Stockings, this baseball innovator and 1939 Hall of Fame inductee was born to Henry and Jeanette (Rice) Anson of Marshalltown, Iowa. Henry Anson, Cap's father, was the first to lay out the early settlement of Marshalltown in the 1850s. Landmarks such as Anson Elementary School bear his name.

    Anson's fame derives from baseball, a sport inextricably linked with him. The sport was in its infancy when it spread to the Midwest following the Civil War, but it flourished in the ensuing years. Anson learned the game playing on local teams with his father, Henry, and brother Sturgis, and perfected his skills attending boarding school at Notre Dame. In 1866, the same year he began attending Notre Dame, a baseball club was formed in Marshalltown. An exhibition game in 1870 against a team from Rockford, Illinois, changed his life.

    Organized in 1865, the Forest Citys from Rockford had gained fame by defeating the Washington Nationals in a tournament held in Chicago in 1867, and by defeating the national champion Cincinnati Reds in 1870. In 1871 Rockford was one of nine teams in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, or National Association. Recalling the team's 1870 clash with Marshalltown, the Rockford club offered Anson a salary of $66.66 per month during the season. The 18-year-old Anson took it after securing permission from his father, who also was offered a chance to play but refused. Although Rockford was destined for the cellar and extinction that season, Anson's career in baseball had begun. The following year he moved on to Philadelphia, where he stayed until 1876, and then to Chicago, the site of his greatest triumphs.

    Anson spent 22 seasons with the Chicago White Stockings, the team now known as the Cubs. By the end of his career, Anson had set records that other stars aimed for in later years. The first player to amass 3,000 hits, he frequently hit better than.300 in his record 27 seasons as a major leaguer. A player and manager of the club, Anson not only led the team to five pennants but also won more games than any other manager in his era. Anson is said to have invented spring training and a pitching rotation, among other innovations. Author David L. Fleitz put the matter succinctly: "Anson was baseball's greatest player and its most successful manager, simultaneously."

    In myriad ways, Anson helped baseball become America's national pastime while he became a celebrity in Chicago. But he also helped exclude African Americans from organized baseball. A handful of infamous episodes in the 1880s made Anson the public face for segregation in baseball. His run-ins with and complaints about black players such as Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey are legendary. Major league baseball had no black players after 1891 until Jackie Robinson reintegrated the sport in 1947. Anson was a strong influence, but his opinions also matched the mood of the country.

    Anson explains none of this in his autobiography, A Ball Player's Career. But the volume reeks with racist and stereotypical prose. In speaking at length about his relationship with the White Stockings team mascot, a young African American named Clarence Duval, Anson refers to him variously as a "little darkey," a "little coon," and a "no-account nigger."

    Forever linked with baseball, Anson hoped his epitaph would read: "Here lies a man who batted.300."His plaque at Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, reads, in part: "[the] greatest hitter and greatest National League player-manager of [the] 19th century."
Sources For a complete account of Anson's life and career, see David L. Fleitz, Cap Anson: The Grand Old Man of Baseball (2005). Anson's autobiography is A Ball Player's Career (1900). See also Roger H. Van Bolt, "Cap Anson's First Contract," Annals of Iowa 31 (1953), 617–22. For an article on how Marshalltown remembers Anson's racist legacy, see Andrew Logue, "Hero's Shadow Gets a Bit Shorter," Des Moines Register, 1/2/2000.
Contributor: David Mcmahon