Buck Ewing – Baseball Hall of Famer
Did you know the Mt. Washington Cemetery is the final resting place of a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame? William “Buck” Ewing and most of his immediate family members are buried in the cemetery. Ewing was born on Oct. 17, 1859, in Hoagland’s Crossing, Ohio and moved as a baby with his family about 60 miles west to Cincinnati.
Buck Ewing joined the National League in 1880 as a member of the Troy Trojans, but rose to stardom in 1883 as a member of the New York Gothams, later known as the Giants. That year he would hit 10 home runs while batting .303. Playing in an era when triples were more common than home runs due to the spacious parks and poor quality of the balls used, he led the league in 1884 with 20 triples, and was often among the league leaders.
Primarily a catcher, Ewing was versatile enough to play all nine positions and fast enough to steal 354 bases. He had a .303 lifetime batting average. Ewing played 1,345 games between 1880 and 1897, with 636 behind the plate as catcher. Without a chest protector, a sturdy mask or shin guards, playing catcher was a challenging position to say the least. Undeterred by the hazards of the position, he was one of the first to crouch behind the plate, standing closer to the batter than most of his contemporaries and throwing runners out at second from a crouching position to save valuable seconds. He was able to stay in a squat because his throwing arm was so strong, he could “seemingly hand the ball to whoever was playing second base.”
1888 and 1889 were the greatest Giants seasons of the nineteenth century and the high water mark of Buck Ewing’s career. The Giants won consecutive pennants and then defeated their Association counterparts, St. Louis and Brooklyn respectively, to reign as the world champions. Francis Richter, former editor of Reach’s Official Baseball Guide, wrote this of Ewing: “We have always been inclined to consider Ewing in his prime as the greatest player of the game from the standpoint of supreme excellence in all departments – batting, catching, fielding, base-running, throwing, baseball brains – a player without a weakness of any kind, physical, mental or temperamental.”
Ewing was also the older brother of major league pitcher John Ewing. Three years younger than Buck, John’s six-foot, one-inch height and slender physique earned him the nickname “Long John.” Buck and John formed a formidable battery for the Giants for two years (1890-91) before John left the game prematurely due to a string of lung ailments that led to his untimely death at the age of 30.
An injury to Ewing’s throwing arm, suffered during a cold exhibition game in Connecticut in 1892, effectively ended his catching career and forced him to finish his playing career as first baseman. In addition to playing, Ewing managed for seven seasons, some of them as a player/manager: the 1890 Giants, the 1895-1899 Cincinnati Reds and the first half of the season with the 1900 Giants. As a manager, he compiled a 489-395 record for a .553 winning percentage.
After Buck retired to Cincinnati, he coached a prep team and was considered a wealthy man from real estate investments in the western U.S. On October 20, 1906, Ewing, who had been in ill health for two years and seldom seen in public during that time, died at his modest Cincinnati home at the age of 47 on Worth Street from a combination of Bright’s disease and diabetes. In his obituary, The New York Times called him “the greatest catcher in the country.”
Buck Ewing was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, the first catcher to be so honored. In 1989, Total Baseball observed, “Very likely, Buck Ewing was the greatest all-around player of the nineteenth century.”
Sources: David Nemec’s Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871-1900, Roy Kerr’s Buck Ewing: A Baseball Biography and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.