Bobby Wallace made his major league debut in 1894, taking the mound for the Cleveland Spiders. In a few short years, he evolved into one of the game's best shortstops.
Wallace pitched for a starting rotation that included Cy Young – and in his first full season in 1895 he won 12 of his 26 decisions. Though his pitching wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive to the team’s management, the level of athleticism he displayed was enough for them to give him chances at other positions.
Wallace played the outfield as much as he took the mound by his third year in Cleveland, and he eventually turned into a regular infielder. The versatile player’s best season came in 1897 when he batted .335 with 173 hits in 130 games while playing third base full time. He drove in a team-leading 112 runs, scored 99 runs and hit 21 triples.
He was moved from the hot corner to the middle infield, first spending time at second base before getting a chance at shortstop, where he made a lasting impression with his teammates.
“[Bobby Wallace] is one of the greatest fielding shortstops who ever lived,” fellow St. Louis Browns player Jimmy Austin said. “It was a delight to play third base next to that fellow.”
In 1901 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Wallace led all NL shortstops in chances per game, assists and double plays and was still a threat at the plate, batting .324 with 91 RBI. He jumped to the American League's St. Louis Browns in 1902, holding down the starting shortstop job for 11 seasons. He also served as the team's manager during the 1911 and 1912 seasons.
“The Scot was not the most robust hitter that ever lived, but he was no pigeon at the plate,” sportswriter Bill Corum said. “Save for that, Bobby had one weakness as a shortstop – that was that he played in the same era as Honus Wagner.”
Wallace led his league in assists four times in his career and fielding percentage twice. He also finished in his league's Top 10 in RBI eight times in his career.
Because of his smart style of play and his remarkable defensive skills, Wallace remained in the big leagues until he was 44 years old.
Wallace was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. He passed away on Nov. 3, 1960.