Buck Freeman (freembu01)
John Frank Freeman
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 9", Weight 169 lb.
- Debut June 27, 1891
- Final Game April 20, 1907
- Born October 30, 1871 in Catasauqua, PA USA
- Died June 25, 1949 in Wilkes-Barre, PA USA
Buck Freeman's record of 25 home runs in 1899 is the mark that Babe Ruth was generally credited with exceeding in 1919, when he hit his 26th home run in early September. The 1880s mark of 27, by Ned Williamson was accomplished in a different era and in a very favorable ballpark. Conditions in 1899 were much more comparable and stats from that year are as valid as any post-1900 measures. Freeman is one of four men to lead both the National and American League in home runs (the others are Sam Crawford, Fred McGriff and Mark McGwire).
Buck Freeman grew up in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where both he and his father worked in the coal mines. He played baseball in his spare time, and in 1891 earned a trial as a pitcher with the Washington Statesmen of the American Association. Significant control problems - 33 walks in 5 games - put an end to this first taste of the majors. Back in Wilkes-Barre, he turned to hitting, supposedly at the advice of African-American player Bud Fowler, who saw his left-handed swing in batting practice. In 1894, he won the New England League batting title with a .386 average, while slugging 34 home runs - including a four-homer game - and driving in 167 runs. In 1895, he moved to the Eastern League, one of the top minor leagues of the time, first with Detroit and then with Toronto. He hit 20 home runs in 1897, and then a league-record 23 in 1898. His manager with Toronto, Arthur Irwin, was named manager of the National League's Washington Senators late in 1898, and Irwin brought some of his best players with him to Washington for a try-out, including Freeman.
Freeman hit his first major league home run in his second at-bat for the 1898 Senators on September 14th, on his way to posting a .364 batting average and a .523 slugging percentage in 29 games. He had earned himself a full-time job for 1899. That season would be one of the most remarkable for a hitter in baseball's first half-century. Playing in a normal-sized stadium under rules very similar to today's, he slugged 25 home runs, the second-highest total ever (as mentioned above, Ned Williamson had hit 27 in 1884, but in a bandbox stadium that inflated his teammates' totals as much as his own). There was nothing cheap about Freeman's slugging feat, however: he swung from the heels with maximum power, looking to loft the ball over the outfield. Many of his homers were tape-measure shots, including the first ball ever hit completely out of Chicago's South Side Park. Yet, for all his power, he still managed to hit for a .318 average, and added 25 triples to his home runs, leading to 107 runs scored and 122 RBI. It was an all-around great season that made Freeman an instant star. Unfortunately, the team for which he played was about to be contracted out of the National League, and that contributed to Freeman's feat being somewhat forgotten.
With Washington going out of business, Buck Freeman's contract was sold to the Boston Beaneaters along with eight of his teammates. He hit .301 in 1900 but clashed with manager Frank Selee, who did not like Freeman's hitting style, or his lack of prowess on the defensive side of the ledger. Freeman took the bait to jump to the American League, which had just declared that it was taking the National League head-to-head as a second major league. He signed with the new Boston Americans franchise and finished third in the 1901 batting race, with a .339 average, along with 12 home runs and 114 RBI. He continued his strong hitting over the next two seasons, and in 1903 contributed to Boston's conquest of its first pennant. For the second consecutive year, he led the league in RBI with 104 (he had driven in 121 in 1902), also leading the American League in home runs with 13 and total bases with 281. He hit .290 with three triples in the inaugural World Series, helping the Americans to a 5 games to 3 triumph over the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1904, he hit a league-leading 19 triples while driving in 84 runs with 7 home runs (both good for second in the league) as Boston repeated as pennant-winners.
By 1905 however, Freeman began to show signs of age. His average slipped to .240, while his power also went down. In 1906, as Boston tumbled to last place, he hit a single home run in 436 plate appearances. Boston waived him two weeks into the 1907 season; he was picked up by Washington, but was sold to the Minneapolis Millers before he played a game with the Senators. He hit .335 with 18 home runs in the American Association, taking advantage of short fences, and then added a league-leading 10 home runs in half a season the following year, his season ending prematurely because of a separated shoulder in late July. He served as player/manager of the Scranton Miners in 1912.
Freeman umpired in the Tri-State League in 1913-1914, Canadian League in 1914, International League in 1915-1918, and American Association in 1919-1925. It is likely he umpired some Negro League games as well during this period. He had earlier worked one NL game in 1900 as a fill-in umpire. He then was a scout for the St. Louis Browns from 1926 to 1933. He retired to Wilkes-Barre, where he died in 1949.
- AL Total Bases Leader (1903)
- AL Triples Leader (1904)
- 2-time League Home Runs Leader (1899/NL & 1903/AL)
- 2-time AL RBI Leader (1902 & 1903)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1899)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 4 (1899 & 1901-1903)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1899)
- Won a World Series with the Boston Americans in 1903
- Triples, inning, 2, 7/25/1900 (tied)
- Eric Enders: "John Frank 'Buck' Freeman", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 411-414.
- Eric Enders: "Buck Freeman", in Bill Nowlin, Maurice Bouchard and Len Levin, eds.: New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2013, pp. 81-85. ISBN 978-1-933599-58-8