Paul Hines, baseball’s first Triple Crown winner
By Editorial Staff
He doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown and his name isn’t likely to register with even the most passionate baseball fans, but Paul Hines will always have a place in baseball’s history books.
Hines began his playing career for the Washington Nationals of the National Association in 1872, which explains why baseball’s memory of him is hazy at best. A productive career filled with baseball firsts has kept his legacy alive though.
During his 20-year career, Hines was a part of 13 major league firsts.
The first came in 1876 when the Chicago White Stockings became the first National League champions. Hines played in Chicago from 1874 to 1877 in centerfield — the position he would play for the rest of his career — after spending the first two years of his career as an infielder in Washington with the Nationals and Blue Legs.
Hines went on to play for the Providence Grays from 1878 to 1885. His time in Providence was the prime of his career. It was also when he achieved the other 12 firsts that define his career over a century later.
He was the first player to pull off an unassisted triple play after making a running catch in shallow left center field. Hines continued running to third to step on the bag, which resulted in the other two outs because both runners had gone home.
In 1878, Hines hit .358 with four home runs and 50 RBI in 62 games. These numbers were the tops in each category, so Hines was the first Triple Crown winner in baseball history, although he was not credited with the feat until after his death. That same year, his teammates in the outfield Tom York and Dick Higham hit .300 – making them the first outfield trio to his .300 in the National League.
In 1882, he became the first player to wear sunglasses in a game. This first left a great impact on the game, as many players today wear shades to help them see on sunny days.
Other firsts include winning the batting title in consecutive years, leading the league in the “Reached First Base” statistic, which only lasted one year, playing in baseball’s first doubleheader. The other five came in the 1884 World Series – the first World Series. The Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans 3-0 to win the series.
Hines was a character who did things his way in baseball’s formative years.
In 1885, Hines was challenged to catch a ball dropped from the Washington Monument. The ball would travel over 535 feet and the speed and angle made it a dangerous risk.
Hines would have been crazy to try it, according to The Clipper, which predicted there was “a possibility that Paul is not going to fool much with a baseball around the base of the Washington Monument.”
Hines agreed and canceled the event.
The Clipper said, “The experiment of trying to catch a ball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument has proved to be a failure. The ball reaches the ground with such great speed that it indents the ground almost as much as a heavy cannon ball would dropped from a proportionate height.”
He played most of his career when seasons lasted between 60 and 85 games. This probably prevented him from reaching 3,000 hits in his career.
Over 20 years, he hit .302 with 2,133 hits and 57 home runs. He was one of the best hitters of his generation and left a lasting impression on the game.
(Sources: 19th Century Baseball, Baseball-Reference, BaseballLibrary.com)