Until he was injured in 1906, Bill Bradley was the greatest third baseman in the short history of the American League. In his first season as a regular, with the Cubs in 1900, the 22-year-old hit .282, but he showed a bit of what was to come by leading NL third basemen in total chances per game. When the AL declared itself a major league in 1901, Bradley jumped to his hometown Cleveland Blues (later the Indians). In the first seven years of the league, he led its third basemen in at least one fielding category every year except his injury-shortened season of 1906, and his .955 fielding average in 1904 set an AL record that stood for ten years. All told, he led AL third basemen four times in fielding, three times in double plays, twice in putouts, and once each in assists and errors. His AL career 3B marks in games, putouts, assists, double plays, total chances, and errors all stood until Frank “Home Run” Baker broke them.
But what also helped place Bradley above such contemporaries as Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins was his potent bat. In the first four years of the league, Bradley was consistently among the league’s offensive leaders. His 29-game hitting streak in 1902 set an AL record that Ty Cobb broke in 1911. Bradley’s streak helped him to his best season offensively, as he reached career highs in BA (.340, sixth in the AL), runs (104, fourth), doubles (39, tied for third), and HR (11, tied for second). On July 28, 1903 he hit three triples in a game, tying a still-standing AL record, and he hit for the cycle that September 24.
His hitting declined starting in 1905, and after 1907 his fielding slipped a bit; he hit .186 in 1909 and .196 in 1910, which cut down on his playing time. Managing the Brooklyn franchise in the Federal League in 1914, he hit .500 using himself as pinch hitter (3-for-6). The following season, 37 years old, he played 66 games for the FL’s Kansas City team despite hitting .187.