Tip O’Neill, St. Louis’ First Triple Crown Winner


If Albert Pujols goes on to win the Triple Crown this year, it would be the fifth time in the history of the St. Louis franchise that the feat was accomplished. To find the first franchise winner, you need to go back 123 years, when James Edward O’Neill, better known by Tip, did it with the St. Louis Browns in 1887.

O’Neill made his big league debut in 1883 at the age of 24 as a left fielder for the New York Gothams. After hitting just .197 in his first 23 games, he was moved to pitcher, where his struggles continued. He finished the year with a record of 5-12 and an ERA over four, so New York decided to release him. O’Neill was then picked up by the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, where he put together an 11-4 season with a .268 ERA, while batting .276 with 54 RBI’s in 78 games.

After proving that he could contribute offensively, Tip O’Neill would never pitch another game in his career. He pitched a total of 289 innings with a record of 16-16 and an ERA of 3.39.

From there, his production would steadily increase from year to year, reaching its peak in 1887, when he won baseball’s second ever Triple Crown and the American Association’s only Triple Crown at the age of 29. He won this prestigious award by hitting .435 with 14 home runs and 123 RBI’s. That same year, he also led the league in hits, singles, doubles, triples, runs, on-base%, slugging%, on-base plus slugging%, total bases, and extra base hits. His history making year is one of the most dominant individual seasons that baseball has ever seen.

Tip O’Neill would go on to play one season each with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Pirates towards the end of his legendary 10 year career. Over the course of his career, he accumulated 1,385 hits, 52 homers, 757 RBIs, and a .326 batting average. The St. Louis Browns won four AA pennants while Tip was a member of the team.

O’Neill had many other impressive achievements other than the Triple Crown during his career. He hit for the cycle twice in his career, both in 1887 when he won the Triple Crown. However, he didn’t just hit both in one year, O’Neill hit those cycles within seven days of each other, on April 30 and May 7! Most players have a hard time getting one cycle in their entire career, let alone two in one week. Also, O’Neill is tied for third on the all-time list for consecutive games with an extra base hit with 12.

Because he was born in Springfield, Ontario, the award presented to the top Canadian baseball player each year was named the Tip O’Neill Award. O’Neill died in a streetcar accident on December 31, 1915 at the age of 57 and was later elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tip O’Neill was one of the greatest hitters of the 19th century and his remarkable Triple Crown season will never be forgotten in St. Louis.