He grew up idolizing Cap Anson, so after Hugh Duffy signed with the Chicago White Stockings to play with his hero, he had to be discouraged by his Anson’s initial assessment of him.
“Where’s the rest of you?” Anson reportedly snarled to the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Duffy.
“This is all there is,” responded Duffy.
“We already have a bat boy,” Anson allegedly quipped.
But, in hitting over .300 in two of his three seasons with Chicago, Duffy would prove to be much more valuable than a bat boy. The diminutive outfielder jumped to the American Association’s Boston Reds after the 1891 season and then to the National League’s Boston Beaneaters in 1892, where he would establish himself as one of baseball’s best defensive centre fielders.
Far from a slap hitter, the Cranston, R. I., native led the National League in home runs twice and would knock in more than 100 runs in a season eight times in Beantown. His finest season was in 1894, when he captured the National League Triple Crown by topping the circuit with 18 homers, 145 RBIs and a remarkable .440 batting average, which still stands as the highest single-season average in big league history. As a reward for his record-breaking season, he received a raise of $12.50 a week for the 1895 campaign.
“No one thought much of averages in those days,” Duffy said 50 years after his historic campaign, in the book Cooperstown: Where the Legends Live Forever. “I didn’t realize that I had hit that much until the official averages were published four months later.”
Duffy continued to be an elite offensive and defensive player with Boston until 1900. In 1901, he landed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a player/manager, a post he would hold for three seasons, before joining the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies in a similar capacity from 1904 to 1906. He would play his final professional game in 1906, but he continued to manage, piloting Providence of the Eastern League from 1907 to 1909, prior to returning to the majors as the Chicago White Sox skipper in 1910 and 1911.
Following minor league stints as a dugout boss in Milwaukee and Portland, Duffy was appointed manager of the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1920. He would lead the Leafs to 108 wins that season and a .701 winning percentage, the highest winning percentage in the club’s history. Among the standout players on his club were Hamilton, Ont., native Frank O’Rourke, who manned shortstop and batted .327 in 148 games and Pat “Red” Shea who won 27 games. Remarkably, thanks to the Baltimore Orioles’ 25-game winning streak in the season’s final month, the Leafs didn’t win the pennant.
But the Boston Red Sox took notice of Duffy’s efforts in Toronto and hired him as their manager for the 1921 and 1922 seasons. In 1924, Duffy became a scout for the Bosox and helped organize tryout camps in New England for several years. The Rhode Island native also tutored a young Ted Williams, who he hoped would one day break his single-season batting average record. But the closest Teddy Ballgame would come was when he hit .406 in 1941.
On the strength of his .326 career batting average and 2,293 hits, Duffy was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. He continued to make the trek to Red Sox Spring Training every year until 1954, the year he passed away at the age of 87.