by Martín Abresch
One of the biggest stars of the American Base Ball Association, Arnold Church is remembered today as the all-time stolen base king. He swiped 1,367 bags over a 17-year career and in 1895 set the single-season mark of 157. Church’s quick first step also helped him cover the left side of the infield, and he was reputed to be one of the widest-ranging shortstops in the game.
Church signed with Cincinnati at the age of 21, but a shoulder dislocation caused him to miss the first month of the 1884 season. He made up for lost time quickly, stealing an even 100 bags and leading the league in runs scored (112) and WAR (6.6). The Excellents went 75-37 and won the ABBA title. Church led the ABBA in WAR in each of his first five seasons (1884-88), and he stole 100 or more bases in each of his first eight (1884-91). On June 26, 1886, he became the second player in history to hit for the cycle, and he completed it by hitting a walk-off solo home run in the 11th inning. In 1889, he stole 157 bases, besting rival Tom Guthrie by a single bag, and setting the single-season record.
His best day at the plate came in 1894, his last season with Cincinnati. On the Fourth of July, playing at home against the Pittsburgh Weavers, Church hit a walk-off grand slam. It was his fourth hit in seven at-bats, and his line on the day included a triple, seven runs batted in, and two stolen bases.
Church injured his thumb late in 1894, causing Cincinnati to release him. In 1895, he signed with the New York Knickerbockers. They finished 94-64 and won the Eastern Division. In the World’s Championship Series, New York faced Cincinnati. Church went 8-for-20 against his old team, scoring seven runs and stealing five bases, and New York took the series in five games. After 1895, injuries took an increasing toll on Church. He ended his career playing for Brooklyn and Boston. In 1899, at the age of 36, he still managed to bat .297 and steal 39 bases.
Church led the league in hits (1890-91), doubles (1890), total bases (1890), runs scored (1884-90), stolen bases (1885-87, 1889-90), OPS (1888), and WAR (1884-88, 1890). He won Rookie of the Month twice, Player of the Week six times, and Batter of the Month twice. He won three American Base Ball Association titles with the Cincinnati Excellents (1884-86) and one National Base Ball League Championship with the New York Knickerbockers (1895). For his career, he batted .296 and accumulated 2,420 hits, including 367 doubles and 249 triples. Upon his retirement, his 1,535 runs scored ranked second all time. He was a brilliant shortstop, with a lifetime +164.7 zone rating.
In 1948, Arnold Church was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame.