Two weeks ago, we introduced a new feature here that will be a part of the Pittsburgh Baseball History site once it has been launched as part of our Pittsburgh Baseball Network. The first Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article featured one of the best seasons in team history, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler’s 1925 season. In part two of this new series, we looked at a great season by Mike Easler that often gets overlooked. Today we focus in on one of the best rookie seasons in MLB history.
During the 1899 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a 22-year-old rookie third baseman named Jimmy Williams. He batted .343 with 54 extra-base hits in 139 games for Kansas City of the Western League in 1898. The Pirates purchased his contract over the 1898-99 off-season and he was batting fifth in the Opening Day lineup on April 15th. Williams went 0-for-3 that day. There weren’t too many more games that season where he failed to pick up a hit.
In 153 games that rookie season (the team played 155), Williams batted .354/.416/.530, with 126 runs scored, 220 hits, 28 doubles, a league leading 27 triples, nine homers, 116 RBIs, 26 stolen bases and 60 walks. The Pirates went 76-73 that season, finishing in seventh place. Williams barely led the team in average, as another rookie named Ginger Beaumont posted a .352 average.
No one else on the team came close to the offensive output of Williams, and even Beaumont fell well short of the overall numbers while compiling his high average in 111 games.
Williams put together a 26-game hitting streak in May-June, which was a team record at the time. It didn’t last long though, as he started a 27-game hit streak just two months later. The 27-game streak has never been matched in Pittsburgh Pirates history. As a side note, both streaks were snapped by Deacon Phillippe, who would become a teammate of Williams that December, then go on to win 168 games for the Pirates.
The 220 hits put up by Williams was a Pirates team record until 1927 when both Lloyd and Paul Waner topped it. Lloyd not only topped the record that season, he was a rookie in 1927, so Williams lost that honor as well.
Williams still has the 12th highest runs scored total in team history. He’s tied with Paul Waner (1928) for the 13th most total bases (329) in a season. He reached base 286 times, which was a Pirates record at the time, but now stands as the 14th highest total in team history.
Williams fell one short of the team record for triples, which was set by Harry Davis two years earlier. He now sits third on that list, behind Davis and Chief Wilson, who set a still-standing big league record with 36 in 1912.
The 1899 season by Williams was a terrific season under normal circumstances, but the fact that he did it as a 22-year-old rookie makes it much more impressive. No rookie in Pirates history has matched or exceeded the 6.9 WAR put up by Williams that season. The rest of his 11-year career failed to live up to his debut, but for one magical season he was one of the best hitters in baseball.