One of baseball’s first great slugging sensations, Freeman was a failed pitcher who returned to the Pennsylvania mines where he worked before he signed with the Washington Statesmen as a 19-year-old. Originally signed as a pitcher, Buck’s inability to find the strike zone prompted his dismissal from the Majors. He returned home to Wilkes-Barre, worked in the mines, an played semi-pro ball. He shifted to the outfield and returned to organized ball where he flourished as a slugger. Buck eventually became a two-time homerun and RBI champ at the highest level.
Freeman’s first trial in the Majors came with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen in 1891. Buck walked 33 batters in 44 innings and was sent back to the Pennsylvania mines. He transformed himself into a slugger and bashed his way through the minors en route to a return trip to the Majors. The American Association had long been disbanded by the time Buck returned in 1898. He joined the Senators of the National League and slugged at an amazing .523 clip at the end of the season. He cemented his role for the upcoming season.
Freeman enjoyed his breakout year in 1899. In 155 games, Buck led the National League with 25 homeruns. This total was a new modern record. Ned Williamson had hit 27 homeruns under different rules many years before, but when Buck blasted his 25 dingers in 1899, he did so under the modern set of rules we use today. Buck finished second in triples, RBI and slugging percentage in what was his first full Major League season. But Buck was no spring chicken when he accomplished this feat–he was already 27. Baseball would fall into disarray shortly thereafter. The National League contracted a handful of teams, one being Freeman’s Senators, and his contract was purchased by the Boston Beaneaters–who eventually became the Braves. Buck played one season under skipper Frank Selee before he jumped to the newly formed American League in 1901.
Buck didn’t jump very far. He left the Beaneaters and joined the Red Sox. He put that one off -year under Selee behind him and established himself as the American League’s first star power hitter. In the AL’s first year of existence, Buck clubbed a dozen homeruns (2nd in the league) and drove home 114 runs. The next three years Buck would see his name atop several important offensive statistical columns. In 1902, he led the league with 121 RBI and finished as the runner-up in long balls again. He boasted an uncommon offensive line, for the Deadball Era, with a .309 BA/.352 OBP/.502 SA with 38 doubles and 19 triples. He was even more productive the following year.
Freeman topped the American League in both homeruns and RBI in the Red Sox championship season of 1903. His 281 total bases also paced the junior circuit. The American and National Leagues weren’t on the best of terms, given the constant roster raiding, but they agreed, after two years of all out war, to pit their best teams against each other in a classic clash that would be called the World Series. Buck, the AL’s leading long ball swatter, helped his Red Sox defeat the Pirates. He hit .290 during the contest with three triples and a slugging average just under .500.
In the 1904 season, Buck turned 32 years old but had just spent five full seasons in the Majors. He legged out 19 triples that season, which paced the league but his slugging percentage dropped to a low of .412. Age caught up with the former miner in 1905 when his numbers dipped mightily. After slugging just .349 in 1906, the once great slugging star was on his way out. Freeman ruled the roost for about five seasons at the highest level. Buck could have put up much mightier career numbers had he settled in as an outfielder earlier.
G 1,126/R 588/H 1,235/2B 199/3B 131/HR 82/RBI 713/SB 92/BB 272/SO 388/BA 293/OBP .346/SA .462