The first decade of Major League baseball saw a good amount of rule changes, but that was merely a precursor to the changes that occurred in the 1880's that further tweaked the game in the direction of the one we know today. It also saw some big time offense in the early part of the 1870's but the run environment settled throughout the decade.
One of the major stars of the 1870's was Ross Barnes who had the contact abilities and the power to dominate the National Association. Who was the Ross Barnes equivalent of the 1880's? Where does Tip O'Neil's amazing season leave him in regards to the entire decade? I'll explore both of those after the jump.
The genesis of my ode to Tip O'Neil sprang from calculating wOBA's of players in the 1880's using Matt's custom yearly wOBA weights. The 1887 season I wrote about was by far the standout season of the decade. O'Neil's .522 wOBA that year was almost 50 point higher than any other wOBA. Below are the top ten individual seasons.
I told you that O'Neil's lead was almost 50 points, but it's still astonishing to me when I see it with Fred Dunlap's 1884 wOBA of .478 below it.
Dan Brouthers "only" has three seasons in the top ten but that just doesn't quite do him justice. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in around 210-pounds, Brouthers was a man amongst boys physically given the time period. Brouthers had five of the top 20 seasons in the decade and eight of the top 50 seasons - I have 1403 seasons with at least 150 PA's in my list. He was quite the offensive talent.
It's pretty easy to guess that Brouthers leads the decade in total Runs Above Average offensively, but he is above fellow Hall of Famer Cap Anson by a pretty substantial margin. The top ten for that is below.
Did I mention that Brouthers had almost a 40 run lead over Anson despite having almost 600 less plate appearances? Yeah, he's good.
Tip O'Neil pops back up on this list in the eighth spot showing he's not just a one-year wonder; he put together an elite decade. This provides some nice quantitative evidence as to why the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame hands out the annual Tip O'Neil Award to the country's player "judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball."
Harry Stovey, fifth on the list, is the trivia answer to the question of: who held the career home run record before Roger Connor? Stovey was finished playing baseball in 1893 with 122 career homers, a number Connor would pass in 1895 when he clubbed eight homers that season, pushing his total to 126 in his career. Stovey spent the bulk of his career in the American Association but led the league in homers five times. He also played 14 seasons to Connor's 18 and only hit 16 less bombs than Connor. He's not Connor's equal but Stovey's 46.8 rWAR is equal or better than Hall of Famers: Orlando Cepeda (46.8), Kirby Puckett (44.8), and Jim Rice (41.5) - among others -- while having no less than 2,000 less PA's than those three.