America's pastime in America's Hometown: Baseball history in Hannibal

There's more baseball history in Hannibal than you might think

If you've ever been to a Hannibal Cavemen baseball game, you're probably familiar with one of the team's mascots, "Shoo-less" Joe.

Many baseball fans would tell you "Shoo-less" (or "Shoeless") Joe is an obvious tribute to baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson.

But that's not the case in Hannibal.

The Hannibal mascot is actually a reference to Joe Boyd, a character from the musical "Damn Yankees", written by George Abbott, Douglass Wallop, Richard Adler, and Jerry Ross.

Wallop penned the book on which the musical was based, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.

In the musical, Joe Boyd makes a deal with the Devil, becomes an outstanding baseball player named Joe Hardy, and helps the Washington Senators win the pennant.

During one scene, the cast sings, "Who came along in a puff of smoke? Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo! Strong as the heart of a mighty oak, Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo!"

This, of course, is all fiction, but Hannibal's biggest contribution to baseball is non-fiction in nature.

Hannibal is home to Jake Beckley, a major league baseball player born in 1867 who debuted in 1888.

His career spanned 20 years, as Beckley played for six different teams, including the Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals.

It's no exaggeration to say Beckley is one of the best hitters of all-time.

According to statistics from, Beckley ranks 4th all-time in triples with 243.

He hit 221 of those as a member of the National League, the 2nd-most in league history behind Honus Wagner.

Beckley ranks 35th all-time in career hits with 2,930.

That's 57 more career hits than Babe Ruth (though Ruth accumulated 1,446 more walks than Beckley in his career, skewing his hit total).

Beckley tallied 1,575 career RBI, good for 40th all-time.

Jake Beckley finished his career with a .308 career batting average, which happens to rank five points higher than the man some call the greatest hitter of all-time, Pete Rose.

There is one other note about Beckley's career that sticks out: he never played for a pennant-winning club.

In their 2011 book Hannibal, Missouri: A Brief History, historians Ken and Lisa Marks explain that Beckley was the first player in major league history to play 20 years without winning a pennant.

Even still, based on his numbers and long career, Beckley was a no-brainer for baseball's Hall of Fame, an election he eventually earned in 1971.

This came 53 years after he died, in 1918.

You can see Beckley's grave site at Hannibal's Riverside Cemetery.

Jake Beckley and the "Damn Yankees" connection stand out as Hannibal's biggest links to baseball, but the city has plenty more historical baseball facts that are worth reading about.

KHQA would like to thank the Hannibal Free Public Library for its assistance in this story. You can visit it at 200 S. 5th St. in Hannibal or visit its website here.

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