One of the top sluggers during the Deadball Era, Charley “Piano Legs” Hickman was a star in the batter’s box but a train wreck on the field. As a member of the 1900 Giants, Hickman set a record for most errors by a third baseman but he also was a league leader in hits and total bases. The classic definition of a designated hitter, Piano Legs played about six decades before his natural position was adopted.
Charley played off and on for the Boston Beaneaters of the late 1890s before he caught on with the Giants, who used him far more than the Beaneaters. The Giants bought his contract from Boston just before the start of the 1900 season and Piano Legs led the Giants in numerous offensive stats. He topped the club in homeruns, RBI, triples and slugging average. It was his first year playing regularly and it showed on the field, where he made 86 errors–good for an .842 fielding percentage. His shortcomings with the leather were the reason for his rather nomadic career.
Due to his poor glovework, the Giants shifted him all over the diamond in 1901 and his offensive numbers tumbled. Disenfranchised with the New York club, Piano Legs jumped the Giants and signed with Boston of the American League. Although Hickman began the 1902 season with Boston, he spent the bulk of the year as the Indians (then known as the Bronchos) first baseman. Piano Legs wore two uniforms during the season but nevertheless led the American League in base hits and total bases. Piano Legs was the only Major League first baseman to slug over .445–his mark was a healthy .539.
With Nap Lajoie teaming with Hickman in the Cleveland lineup, they easily had the best heart-of-the-order combo in the Majors. The teammates were the only two American League players to slug over .500 in 1903. In a class by himself among first basemen, Piano Legs led AL initial sackers in hits, triples, homeruns (2nd in the American League), RBI (also 2nd in the league), batting average and slugging average. Although Cleveland had shifted Hickman to first base, he was still a substandard fielder.
Cleveland grew tired of Hickman’s poor fielding in 1904 and traded him to the Tigers for the much more reliable–but far weaker hitting–Charlie Carr. Piano Legs struggled mightily in Detroit as his batting tapered off until he had his contract sold to the Senators in 1905. In Washington Hickman had his last good year. Rotated between the outfield and first base in 1906, Hickman finished second in the AL in the homerun department for Jake Stahl’s club.
Piano Legs split the 1907 season between the Senators and White Sox before latching on with his old Cleveland club for a final go in the Majors in 1908. Out of the Bigs by the age 33, Piano Legs went west and played several years with the Toledo Mud Hens of the minor American Association.
G 1,081/R 478/H 1,176/2B 217/3B 91/HR 59/RBI 614/SB 72/BA .295/SA .440/OBP .331