Meet Ed Delahanty, who hit .404 in 1894 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945, "Sliding" Billy Hamilton, who hit .403 that year and was inducted into the Hall in 1961 and Sam Thompson, who topped them both with a .415 average. For some reason, it took until 1974 to induct Thompson, 52 years after he died.
Thompson played for the Phillies from 1889 through 1898, after starting his career in the National League with the Detroit Wolverines from 1885-88. Following the 1888 season, the Wolverines finished fifth, folded and sold their players. The Phillies paid $5,000 in cash for Thompson. Sitting out seven seasons after his time with the Phillies, he came back and ended his career with eight games with the 1906 Detroit Tigers.
During his time, the left-handed-hitting Thompson was one of the game's premier power hitters.
While with the Phillies he led the National League in homers twice, 1889 (20) and 1895 (18). He was the first left-handed hitter to reach 20 homers and he was the game's first player with 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season.
He also led the league in doubles, RBIs and slugging percentage, twice and hits, three times. A right fielder, Thompson led NL outfielders in assists twice. With Detroit, he was the 1887 batting champion (.372) and RBI leader (166), a record that stood until Babe Ruth's 171 in 1921.
During his 15-year career, Thompson drove in 100 or more runs eight times and scored over 100 runs in 10 different seasons.
His career high of 166 RBIs came in 1887. He drove in 61 of those runs in August of that season. By contrast, Ryan Howard holds the team's modern RBI record for the month, 41, in 2008.
Thompson's RBI high was a Phillies record until 1930 when Chuck Klein drove in 170 runs. Howard's 149 RBIs in 2006 ranks third.
During his Phillies career, Thompson hit .334 in 1,034 games with 930 runs, 963 RBIs, 275 doubles, 107 triples, 95 home runs and 192 stolen bases. At the time of his retirement in 1906, his 126 home runs were second only to Roger Connor's 138. Connor retired in 1897.
Before baseball, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Thompson was a carpenter by trade. According to SABR's Don Thompson (no relation), Thompson was working on a neighbor's roof for $2.50 when he was coaxed to come down and play in a baseball game. He refused until he was paid $2.50 to play in the game.
Following his career, Thompson worked as a U. S. Marshal and a bailiff for federal courts in Detroit. While working as an election official in 1922, he was stricken by a heart attack and died at age 62.
Larry Shenk is the vice president of alumni relations for the Philadelphia Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.