When the doors of the Baseball Hall of Fame were first opened, in 1939, Buck Ewing’s plaque was ready to go up on the wall. Elected by the Committee on Baseball Veterans, Ewing had simply been baseball’s best catcher and, according to his contemporaries, was unequaled as an all-around player in the 19th century. Until Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett came along, Ewing was listed as the catcher on virtually everyone’s all-time team.
A lifetime .303 hitter with a high of .344 in 1893, Ewing was also a dead-ball-era NL home run champ, hitting 10 for New York in 1883. He topped the NL with 20 triples in 1884, and hit 15 triples four other times. In a June 9, 1883 game, he hit three triples. When stolen bases started being tallied, Ewing averaged 37 a season, with a high of 53 for the 1888 Giants.
Ewing played during a time when catchers did not catch every day. He never caught more than 97 games a season, and only once caught more than 80. He was said to have been a master at throwing out baserunners; he led NL catchers in assists three times in the 1880s, and in double plays twice. He spent few games behind the plate after 1890. Instead, he was stationed mostly in the outfield and at first base. He also pitched 47 innings.
Buck’s brother John, a pitcher, compiled a 53-63 career record. He pitched for Buck in the 1890 Players’ League, when Buck caught for and managed New York. John led the NL with a .724 winning percentage (21-8) and a 2.27 ERA as Buck’s batterymate with the 1891 Giants. John then retired, and Buck went on to Cleveland in 1893. Buck returned to his hometown of Cincinnati as a first baseman-manager in 1895, and played one final game in 1897. Managing the Reds through 1899, he never finished higher than third. He piloted the Giants for part of 1900, and died six years later.