One of the finest center fielders of The Deadball Era, George Van Haltren has been passed over for years by Hall of Fame voters because of their penchant for enshrining still living players. Van was a tremendous center fielder and great speedster – one of the finest in baseball history – not just The Deadball Era. His Hall of Fame peer Hugh Duffy had 245 fewer hits.
Van began his career in 1887 with the old Chicago White Stockings – Cap Anson’s club – as a pitcher. In his second year, George hit for a higher average than teammates Hugh Duffy and Marty Sullivan, starting outfielders. Anson decided to transfer Van to the outfield since his stickwork exceeded his work on the mound: he had the highest ERA of White Stocking pitchers.
The move worked wonders as George took Sullivan’s left field post and gave Anson two .300 hitters in the pasture: Van’s .309 average and center fielder Jimmy “Pony” Ryan’s .307 mark. Of the three outfielders on Anson’s roster, Hugh Duffy, the lone Hall of Famer, was the only one not to hit .300. George jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, joining Hall of Famer John Ward’s staff in Brooklyn. Under Ward, Van hit .335 but he had to find employment elsewhere after the season due to the Player’s League demise.
George joined the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and was the team’s only .300 hitter. Van led the Orioles in a number of offensive departments and finished second in the league in runs scored and fifth in batting. The American Association fell apart in 1892 and the Orioles were absorbed by the National League. At the end of the ’92 campaign, Van was traded straight up for Hall of Famer Joe Kelley, sending George to the Pirates and thus making Joe Kelley a Hall of Famer. The Orioles became a dynasty shortly thereafter and a number of their players have gone on to Cooperstown – a place Van might be had he not been traded to the Pirates.
The Pirates were a fine team that finished second. George hit .338 for the Bucs but was sold to the Giants after the season. he played the remainder of his career for the Giants: 1984 to 1903. The trade helped George. He posted back-to-back 100 RBI seasons for the Giants in his first two years in New York. In those two years, George scored 100 runs and drove in 100 runs. In fact, George had eleven consecutive seasons with 100+ runs scored.
In 1896, George led the league with 21 triples and hit a lusty .351. He followed that season up with a .330 batting average – making five consecutive seasons of a .330 batting average or higher. The Giants finished 7th in 1898, thanks largely to George being the only productive player in the lineup. Hall of Fame shortstop George Davis had a fine season, but other than Davis, George was the only .300 hitter in the lineup. He nevertheless finished third in the NL in runs scored.
Showcasing his wheels at the age of 34, George led the NL in stolen bases during the 1900 season and followed that season up by leading NL center fielders with a .342 batting average in 1901. 1901 would be George’s last great year. He suffered leg injuries in 1902 and 1903 which ended his career.
George Van Haltren’s career stats: G 1,979/R 1,650/H 2,558/2B 293/#B 159/HR 69/RBI 1,014/SB 564/BA .319/SA .422