William Alexander Lange
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 190 lb.
- Debut April 27, 1893
- Final Game October 15, 1899
- Born June 6, 1871 in San Francisco, CA USA
- Died July 23, 1950 in San Francisco, CA USA
Minor league career
Lange played semipro baseball in Port Townsend, WA. In 1891, he broke into the professional ranks by hitting .286 for the Seattle Hustlers; he also was 4-3 with a 5.86 Ra on the mound. The next year, he batted .304 with 37 steals in 55 games for Seattle, then moved to the Oakland Colonels, where he batted .288 with another 27 stolen bases.
Major league career
Bill broke in with a .281/.358/.380 line for the 1893 Colts and 47 SB in 117 games. He played every position except first base, right field and pitcher that year and was 7th in the 1893 NL in steals as a rookie. His next year, he moved to center field, where he would remain. He batted .328/.405/.446, just average in the high-offense 1894 NL. He was fifth in the league with 65 steals.
In 1895, Lange had his best year, hitting .389/.456/.575, setting career bests in average, OBP, slugging, runs (120), doubles (27), triples (16), hits (186), homers (10) and RBI (98). He was fifth in the 1895 NL in average, 5th in OBP, 4th in slugging, 4th in OPS, 8th in total bases (275), 5th in homers, 2nd to Billy Hamilton in steals (he had 67) and 10th in extra-base hits.
The next season, the center fielder put up a .326/.414/.465 line, stole 84 (three behind leader Joe Kelley), was 8th in the 1896 NL with 16 triples and 10th with 65 walks. A poll in Chicago found that he was the most popular player on the team by a 6:1 ratio.
Before spring training in 1897, Lange asked for a $300 raise and Chicago accepted it. Lange was upset, as he had hoped to see a boxing match between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in March and wanted to avoid reporting. Bill arranged for a hoax in which a friend in the media put in a fake story that Lange was injured. Miraculously, he was "cured" after the boxing match. Bill still hit .340/.406/.480, led the 1897 NL in stolen bases (73) and tied for 8th with 14 triples.
In 1898, Lange produced at a .319/.377/.439 line. With offensive levels receding, it was his second-best year (a 133 OPS+) when considered in context. He was eighth in the 1898 NL in slugging percentage. In his last year (1899), the Chicago flyhawk batted .325/.382/.416.
Bill's baserunning was called "the greatest I ever saw" by Connie Mack. Clark Griffith said that Lange "was the toughest, roughest base runner who ever strode the bases." Frank Chance said Lange could "run the bases as good as Ty Cobb." Amos Rusie felt that a pick off he designed to get Lange ruined his arm. Griffith recounted a story where Lange "made a home run on a slow roller to shortstop" by bowling over every fielder who tried to stop him.
In addition to his contact hitting and speed, Lange was noted for his defense (Chance compared it to Tris Speaker's) and power.
It's not completely clear where the nickname "Little Eva" came from. One source claims it was derived from Lange's style of walking, but doesn't explain how. "Little Eva" was an innocent and saintly character in the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and Lange may have been called that as a joke. The term "Little Eva" also was a baseball phrase for a player who performed well in spite of having partied (see The Dickson Baseball Dictionary) but the term doesn't seem to have been in use until after Lange was retired. Sporting Life once joked that the bleachers called Lange "Little Eva" because he was so "small and graceful", in an article that described how ungraceful the 6' 2" fellow sometimes was.
Bill was known for his outgoing personality, his skill as a storyteller and his geniality. Griffith said "no one ever got mad at him" despite his ferocious baserunning.
At age 28, Lange retired. The team offered to double or triple his salary but he said no. His father-in-law said he would help him get a job in real estate. Lange and his wife were frequently part of the social scene in San Francisco, where they were noted for their dancing. Bill became a success in real estate but the marriage failed and Lange remarried, but that also did not work out. In 1912, Chicago fans bought Lange a Chalmbers car as gift. In 1924, Lange eloped and got married for a third time; his friends were upset that they were not invited.
- NL Stolen Bases Leader (1897)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1895-1897)
- 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 4 (1894-1897)
- Tony Salin: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, Masters Press, Chicago, 1999, pp. 29-40.