In the last season of the 1800’s the Pirates were coming off a 72-76 season with a rookie centerfielder and a third baseman about to make a name for themselves. Jimmy Williams, the 3B, had played the previous season for Kansas City of the Western League. He hit .343 with 113 runs scored in 1898 and the Pirates signed him for the 1899 campaign, putting him at 3B for opening day. Ginger Beaumont was the CF. He hit .354 for Milwaukee, another team in the Western League. Both rookies were just 22 at the start of the season.
In 1898 the Pirates used Bill Gray mainly at 3B. He was a light hitting utility fielder who tore up the Western League in 1897 after spending the previous two years in the majors. With the team from Indianapolis he hit .347 with 19 homers (a very high total at the time) and 131 runs scored. The Pirates also signed his teammate Jack McCarthy for the 1898 season and got good production from him for two years. What the team didn’t get from Gray was any offense. He hit just .229 with no homers. He wasn’t fast and his defense was below average yet they still stuck with him the entire season. Basically, the young 3B Williams didn’t have high standards to live up to for 1899, he could’ve been league average and been a huge upgrade.
In centerfield for 1898 the Pirates used a trio of players including Steve Brodie who was a superstar caliber player both on offense and defense just a couple season earlier at age 26. However, by mid-1898 the Pirates decided to release him due to poor play. Brodie was acquired in a trade for superstar Jake Stenzel while Tom O’Brien was also in the deal going to Baltimore. On June 3rd O’Brien was reacquired by the Pirates to replace Brodie. He took his place in CF but he provided little offense and wasn’t quite the defender Brodie was. They also used Tom McCreery, another mid-season acquisition. He was more of a utility player and had struggled the early part of 1898 with the New York Giants, but with the Pirates he hit .311 and played good defense. Ginger Beaumont obviously had a tougher guy to replace but like Williams he had very little trouble living up to his 1898 predecessors.
The 1899 Pirates were not a strong team on paper to start the season. Their best area would have been the starting pitching with Sam Leever, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill and Bill Hoffer all in their rotation. The offense was led by Patsy Donovan who took over the managerial reins just 22 games into the season as the team struggled at 7-15 under incumbent manager Bill Watkins. The signings of both Williams and Beaumont likely turned a poor season into a year where the team topped .500 for just the fifth time in 13 seasons in the National League.
Williams had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever for that 1899 team: he hit .354 scored 126 runs while driving in 116. He led the league in triples with 27, an amount that still ranks tied for 7th all-time among single season totals and since 1899 has only been topped once. That was by another Pirate, Chief Wilson in 1912. Besides triples, he finished in the top ten in the league in hits, runs, double, home runs, RBI’s, on base percentage, batting average and slugging percentage. He led the Pirates in every single one of those categories as well. He also added 26 stolen bases and led all NL 3B in games played and putouts. His 220 hits that year was a team record at the time and still ranks 7th all-time in Pittsburgh Pirates history.
Beaumont didn’t have quite the season Williams did but his numbers were still very impressive. He batted .352 which was good for sixth in the league. He equaled William’s on base percentage total of .416 while adding 31 stolen bases and he scored 90 runs. He also played a strong centerfield with above average range and 20 outfield assists to his credit. For Beaumont it was just the start of a great Pirates career but for Williams it was a fleeting moment in his Pittsburgh career. The next season his numbers dropped greatly in every category and when the year ended he jumped to the newly formed American League signing for $2,600 with the new Baltimore Orioles team which is the same franchise that is currently the New York Yankees.
Beaumont went on to play with the Pirates until 1906 and from 1902-04 he amassed 587 hits leading the National League in that category all three seasons. For the 1903 season, when the Pirates went to the first World Series, he scored 137 runs while hitting .341 and leading the league in total bases. His run total that year still ranks 6th in team history for a single season. Over his eight seasons in Pittsburgh he batted .321 total in 989 games. In his first six seasons with the team he average 108 runs scored.
He was traded away after the 1906 season, a down year for him where he hit just .265 and only played 80 games. The Pirates got 1B Ed Abbaticchio in return, the first Italian major league league baseball player. Beaumont had one more good season left in him, batting .322 in 1907 and leading the league in hits for a fourth time. He played until 1910 but never hit .300 again finishing with a .311 lifetime average. For his career, using baseball-reference’s similarity score to find the most comparable player in baseball history, he matches up most closely to Steve Brodie, the man he replaced in centerfield for the Pirates.