While conducting my ongoing historical baseball research project, I recently ran across this interesting item in the October 27, 1888 edition of Albuquerque’s Morning Democrat.
Perhaps “interesting” is misleading in that this particular item would be meaningful to only a small handful of people who would find the overall topic, well…. interesting. While I had already discovered documentation that a few of the ball players included in my research were from Bloomington, Illinois, the thought never entered my mind that any of my research subjects would have been born only a few miles from the tiny town where I grew up and traded baseball cards with my buddies before little league practice.
Having little information besides the infielders’ last name to go on, I fired off a couple of emails hoping to catch a break. Larry Lock, President of the Kewanee Historical Society, provided me with the first name of “Beldon,” and the following from the October 25, 1888 edition of the Kewanee Weekly Independent.
“ ‘Beldie’ Hill returned from the south-west last Saturday. He has for several months past been playing ball with the team of Santa Fe, and has made for himself an enviable reputation by his fine work both in the diamond and with the bat.”
It is amazing what having a person’s first name can do for a researcher, even if there is an issue with spelling. With that important clue in hand, I was able to locate the following information with a few simple Google searches.
Belden L. Hill was born on August 24, 1864 in Kewanee, Illinois. Hill got his only taste in the big leagues in 1890 just three days after his 26th birthday playing third base for the Baltimore Orioles. Hill’s final major league appearance occurred on September 4th that same year.
The 5’10” right-handed infielder played in only 9 games, hitting safely 5 times in 30 at bats including a pair of doubles and a trio of runs scored. “Beldie” swiped six bases and was hit by the pitcher three times. Playing the hot corner, Belden committed 7 errors in 49 total chances, resulting in a lackluster fielding percentage of .857.
In 1896, the Cedar Rabbits (professional baseball club of Cedar Rapids, Iowa) began playing in a brand new ballpark named Hill Park in honor of Belden Hill, then a cigar wholesaler and investor in the team. Hill took over as manager of the team in 1897 and led the Rabbits in their quest to capture the Western Association title with an impressive record of 84-41. Cedar Rapids joined the Three-I (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa) League in 1901 and immediately dominated the competition. Hill retired as manager of the Cedar Rapids club (then nicknamed the Bunnies) following the 1908 season.
Although no longer serving as the team’s skipper, Hill was obviously still heavily involved with the club as it is reported that he failed to sign future major leaguer Edmund “Bing” Miller to a minor league contract in 1911 with his offer of $70 per month. Miller would eventually spend 16 seasons in the majors, and appeared in three consecutive World Series (1929-1931) with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Kewanee Historical Society archives note that Belden’s brother Hugh, a prominent pharmacist and sports enthusiast, was president of the Kewanee Boilermakers, a team in the class D minor league Central Association from 1908 to 1911. Unfortunately, Cedar Rapids failed to organize professional baseball clubs during that period. While it is pretty clear that Belden didn’t lead a team against Kewanee, I wonder if he had anything at all to do with the Boilermakers (either in person or financially). Belden Hill came out of retirement to manage the Cedar Rapid Bunnies to sixth and forth place finishes in the Central Association in 1913 and 1914.
Belden Hill passed away on October 22, 1934, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Cedar Rapids baseball club sold Hill Park to the Cedar Rapids Community School District for $9,000. The ballpark was razed in the late 1940s.
Fifteen bonus points to anyone who can name another person from Kewanee, Illinois to have had AT LEAST one at-bat in Major League Baseball.