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Dickey Pearce

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Richard J. Pearce (Dickey)

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[edit] Biographical Information

The man who created the position we know today as shortstop, Dickey Pearce was an important figure in the early days of the game. One might not know this by looking at his record with the National Association and National League, but he was past his prime by the time the professional leagues were started. At his peak as a member of the Brooklyn Atlantics from 1856 to 1870 (he played some games for the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1866), he may have been the greatest player in the game. Tiny Pearce was also the sparkplug of the great champion Atlantic teams of 1864 and 1865.

Before he manned the position in the mid-1850s, shortstop had the least defensive responsibilities among the positions. At that time, the outfielders played in something like their modern positions, the first, second, and third basemen played close to their respective bases, and the shortstop played a position similar to the short fielder in softball. Pearce changed that almost overnight. He aggressively positioned himself wherever the batter was most likely to hit the ball, and eventually moved the shortstop to its current position, forcing the rearrangement of the infield to something like its modern configuration.

Besides his exceptional defense, the speedy Pearce was an above-average batsman who created the fair-foul hit, which was abolished in 1877 (its cousin the bunt is still used today, however).

In the few All-Star games of that era, he was named as starting shortstop in 1858 and as starting catcher (which he performed excellently at and played many times during his long career) in 1861. So valued were his contributions to the game that he was sought out as one of baseball's first professionals in the early 1860s.

When he played in the National Association during its first season in 1871, he was already 35 years old, and by far the oldest player on the New York Mutuals.

Pearce was an umpire in the National League for a couple of seasons after he retired as a player, and also served as groundskeeper for a team in the Players League. He died in 1908, the same year that Henry Chadwick died.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Robert H. Schaefer: "Bunts and Fair-Foul Hits: Who Was First ? Dickey Pearce or Tommy Barlow ?", The National Pastime, SABR, Number 20 (2000), pp. 8-9.

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