MLB history: Remembering Dave Orr

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 30: A broken bat of Stephen Cardullo #65 of the Colorado Rockies lies on the ground during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers at Coors Field on September 30, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 30: A broken bat of Stephen Cardullo #65 of the Colorado Rockies lies on the ground during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers at Coors Field on September 30, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Dave Orr was one of the great first basemen in the early days of MLB history before he was struck down in his prime.

Throughout the early days of MLB history, there are those players who streaked across the sky like a comet. They appeared briefly, putting together a few memorable seasons before fading away, their time in the majors having ended due to injuries or better financial opportunities.

Dave Orr was one of those players. Born on September 29, 1859, Orr played on several teams in the Northeast before getting his first look in the majors in 1883. He did not receive much action as he shuffled between the New York Metropolitans of the American Association and the New York Gothams of the National League, receiving just 53 plate appearances. However, he gave a hint as to the type of player he would become, belting two homers, four doubles, and three triples.

Installed as the Metropolitans starting first baseman in 1884, he quickly established himself as the best hitter in the league despite his hefty 5’11” 250 pound frame. Orr just missed hitting for the Triple Crown, as he put together an impressive .354/.362/.539 batting line, hitting 32 doubles, 13 triples, and nine homers, while driving in 114 runs. Orr led the league in batting average, RBI, and hits, with his nine home runs just two off of the league lead.

More from Call to the Pen

Orr followed that impressive rookie campaign with another stellar year. He produced a stellar .342/.358/.543 batting line, belting 29 doubles, 21 triples, and six homers. Orr led the league in slugging and triples, while becoming just one of four players in the history of the AA to hit for the cycle – a feat he accomplished on June 12 when he was 6-6 in the contest.

As impressive as his first two full seasons were, Orr had his best year in 1886. That year, he had .338/.363/.527 batting line, hitting 25 doubles, an incredible 31 triples, and seven homers. He led the league in hits, triples, and slugging that year, and also led AA first basemen in fielding percentage and putouts.

Unfortunately, coming off of those three stellar seasons, injuries struck. While Orr was still excellent when he was on the diamond, he appeared in just 183 games over those two seasons. The Metropolitans folded after the 1887 campaign, with Orr being sold to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Although he struggled by his standards when he was able to play in the 1888 season, he remained one of the more popular players on the team.

This began a period where Orr was a bit of a vagabond. Healthy once again, he played for the Columbus Solons in 1889, the only major league team he appeared for outside of New York. 1890 found Orr with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders of the short lived Player’s League, where he once again established himself as one of the top hitters in the game.

At just 30 years old when the season ended, Orr still appeared to have plenty of solid years ahead of him. Sadly, he suffered a stroke just days after his 31st birthday while playing in an exhibition game; the stroke left his left side completely paralyzed. Although he held out hope that he could continue his career with a strenuous rehabilitation regimen, he was unable to make it back as a player.

In just seven major league seasons, Orr made an indelible mark upon the game. He posted a lifetime .342/.366/.502 batting line, hitting 198 doubles, 108 triples, and 37 homers. Orr still ranks in the top 150 all time in OPS, slugging, and triples. Considering his career was over at just 30 years old, one has to wonder what his numbers would have looked like if he remained healthy. It is possible he would have ranked beside other 19th century luminaries at first, along side the legendary Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor.

Although he never returned to the diamond as a player, Orr still found a way to be around the game. He served as an umpire, including some major league games in Brooklyn. After working several odd jobs to support himself over the years, he returned to the Dodgers organization as a caretaker at Ebbets Field in 1913. In 1914, he was a press box attendant and gate watchman at Washington Park for the Brooklyn Tip Tops of the Federal League.

Sadly, Orr passed away the following year on June 6, 1915, from heart disease. His size, which helped him become a feared slugger during his playing days, also led to those health issues which ended his career, and eventually, his life.

Orr also set the standard for the larger power hitters that would follow. While he was not much of a home run hitter, that was due to the style of the game at the time. Triples were considered the premier power hit, something that Orr was able to produce with ease. It is thought that he was the predecessor to Babe Ruth; in fact, their identical .342 lifetime batting averages have been used to illustrate that point.

These days, Orr is forgotten in the annuls of MLB history. Yet, to his contemporaries, he was one of the best players of his time. Brouthers himself considered Orr the greatest hitter to have ever played, high praise from a player considered one of the best of his time.

Next. The three no hitter club. dark

Dave Orr has been forgotten by time. Yet, his place in MLB history is unmistakable, and one worthy of being remembered.