Discrepency on date of Anson's 3,000th hit

The Hall of Fame plaque of Adrian "Cap" The Hall of Fame plaque of Adrian "Cap" Anson in Cooperstown, NY. in 1939. For a guy who's been dead since 1922, Anson had a great winter. During the off-season, baseball's number crunchers decided to return Anson to the 3000-hit club, which is where he thought he was all along. That was before statisticians began subtracting and adding hits to his total, searching for the right number. Photo Credit: AP

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since July 4, ...

Whenever Derek Jeter gets hit No. 3,000, the date will be stamped in baseball history -- and also on assorted memorabilia.

When he retires, Jeter's hits total, whatever it ends up being, will accompany him to Cooperstown.

The same cannot be said for the first man to get 3,000 hits.

Hall of Famer Cap Anson achieved that feat in 1897. In July. Or September. Or, as the Baseball Hall of Fame puts it on its official website: "Date: unknown."

Why the discrepancy? Certainly there were newspapers in 1897 and people knew how to count. But the answer reveals something about the nature of baseball records and the people who, to this day, are still trying to reconcile the stats with what really happened.

"Back in the 1800s, there was no uniform scoring system," said Bill Francis, a researcher with the Hall of Fame. "Each newspaper would produce their own boxscore. There were no official records, per se. That's one layer of confusion.

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"Another layer is Anson played in the National Association in the mid-1800s. Some sources just don't consider that a major league. He got about 400 hits in the National Association. MLB doesn't consider that a major league, but some sources do, some record books do. That's another reason why some of those numbers fluctuate."

But wait . . . there's more.

"Also," Francis said, "in 1887, bases on balls were counted as hits. I think he lost 60 hits if you were to go back and look at that season."

So how many hits did Anson retire with? His 1922 obituary in the New York Times is silent on the issue. The Hall of Fame, backed by the mighty Elias Sports Bureau, gives him 3,081. So that's it, right?

Not exactly.

"There are probably 10 different numbers for Cap Anson," said Lyle Spatz, the chairman of records committee for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

Baseball-Reference.com has him with 3,435 hits. A 2000 book, "The 3,000 Hit Club," lists Anson with 3,041.

The researchers at SABR credit him with 3,012.

"We only count his National League hits," Spatz said. "And we have a date for his 3,000th: Sept. 19, 1897, against Louisville. The pitcher was Dad Clarke."

So that's it, right?

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Not exactly.

"Would I bet my life on that stat?" Spatz said. "No. Those numbers have been changed around so much. Early historians added hits for him. Later historians took those away. Some were added back in."

July 18, 1897, was originally believed to be the date for Anson's 3,000th. That's what it says on his Wikipedia page. (But Wikipedia was only invented in 2001.)

At least we can all agree on the facts for the second man to reach 3,000 and everyone after that. Honus Wagner of the Pirates was No. 2; he did it on June 9, 1914, with a double off Erskine Mayer of the Phillies at the Baker Bowl.

"By the time Wagner did it, it was recognized," Francis said. "The New York Times had a headline -- 'Wagner's 3,000th Hit' -- recognizing the fact that he was the second player to reach this milestone. Baseball's record-keeping was becoming more sophisticated and they could pinpoint the actual date when Wagner was not only approaching that milestone but actually achieving it."

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Nap Lajoie was the third man to reach 3,000. He did it three months after Wagner. Old hat by then.

"By then, every time somebody was approaching that record, it was newsworthy," Francis said. "Major-league baseball had been around 40, 50 years by then, and you were starting to get a sense of what numbers were significant. When major-league baseball first started, who knew what was going to be considered a significant milestone number?"

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