by Martín Abresch
Tim Mary was professional baseball’s first star batsman. In 1876, as a player in the newly formed National League of Professional Ball Clubs (forerunner to the National Baseball League), he won the first ever batting title and led his Chicago Haymakers to the first championship title.
When the 1876 season began, Chicago sportswriters questioned whether Mary, a 5-foot-4 farmer’s son from small town Iowa, had the build necessary for success as a professional athlete and the temperament necessary for big city celebrity. But with each bunt single, stolen base, and fly ball flagged down in the gaps, Tiny Tim turned his doubters into fans. That first season, he paced the league with 119 hits, a .355 average, 86 runs scored, and 65 stolen bases. The Haymakers went 47-23, easily winning the league’s first title.
Over the next several seasons, Mary continued to spark the Haymakers offense, though he never quite equalled his stellar 1876 performance. He led the league in runs scored in both 1877 and 1878, and he ranked among the best at baserunning thievery for a decade. In fact, he set his personal high in stolen bases in 1887, his final season in the league, when, at the age of 37, he stole 91 bases. An excellent gloveman, he began his career manning center field, where he earned a reputation for reaching fly balls hit into the gaps. By 1880, management felt that he had lost a step and moved him from center to left, and he continued there for the rest of his career.
With Mary at the plate and George Stonge on the mound, the Chicago Haymakers became professional baseball’s first dynasty. They won four of the first six championships and nearly won all six, finishing one game behind the leaders in each of the two other years.
Mary led the league in hits (1876-77), total bases (1876-77), runs scored (1876-78), stolen bases (1876, 1878), batting average (1876), on-base percentage (1876), and WAR (1876, 1878). He was once named Player of the Week and twice named Batter of the Month. He played on four Championship teams (Chicago 1876-77, 1879, 1881). Mary hit .275 for his career with 1,228 hits, 813 runs scored, and 618 stolen bases.