The 1887 Kimball Champions set is a multi-sport issue featuring only four baseball players. Unlike the Hall of Famers found in similar multi-sport sets produced around the same time (i.e. Allen & Ginter’s sets, N162 Goodwin Champions set), this set doesn’t feature Hall of Famers.
Here’s a look at the four players and their Kimball Champions cards, cataloged by Jefferson Burdick as the N184 set.
E.A. Burch – Champion Fielder
Burch didn’t have a long career, entering the game in 1884 and his final season, 1887, ironically was the year of release for this set. He probably had the least notable career of all of the players. Burch had a career batting average of .260 in his three seasons with the Cleveland Blues and Brooklyn in the National League and American Association. While called a champion fielder on his card, there’s nothing to really indicate that was a specialty. Burch’s inclusion here seems the most curious of the four players. He was a well-known minor league player, suiting up for several teams and managing the Peoria Canaries to a 1st place finish in 1890 as a player/manager.
He would pass away shortly after his 36th birthday in 1892. His Kimball Champions card starts around $300-$400 in decent condition.
Dell Darling – Ultimate Utility Player
Dell Darling had one of the more interesting lives of the four players included in the Goodwin Champions set. As a ballplayer, he was known for playing just about everywhere. Darling was most known for being a catcher, playing about half his career there. His Kimball Champions card calls him a “Champion Base Ball Catcher.”
But he also was seen all over the diamond as he played all four infield positions and also in the outfield. A career .240 hitter, his real value was his role in the field as the ultimate utility man. Off the field, Darling was involved in a few interesting circumstances.
First, while a player, he was linked to a series of train robberies and named as ‘complicit’ in those activities, though his exact involvement was unclear. After his playing career, he worked as a painter and blacksmith while also owning a restaurant. He also died young at the age of 42 (causes unknown) with his widowed wife marrying one of his ex-teammates a few years later. When you can find it, his card is usually starting in the $200-$300 range.
Hardie Henderson – Pitcher Turned Umpire
Like Burch and Darling, Hardie Henderson had a modest playing career. To his credit, he did last six years in the majors. Despite his card touting him as a ‘Champion Base Ball Pitcher’, he isn’t nearly as well known for his winning as he was his losing.
A career 81-120 pitcher, he did a great deal of the latter. In his first season, he had an astounding 10-33 record with the Philadelphia Quakers and Baltimore Orioles. By 1884, he was much better. He still lost 23 games but won 27 in a remarkable turnaround. That would be the sole winning year of his career, though, and Henderson would lose a league-best 35 games in 1885. Henderson’s 1885 season was remarkably bad. He not only led the league in losses, but also in walks, wild pitches, earned runs, and hits given up.
Henderson would go on to become an umpire after his playing career before an untimely death at the age of 40 when he was run over by a train. His card starts around $300-$400 in decent shape.
Tip O’Neill – A Legendary Season
Rounding out the players in the Kimball Champions set was Tip O’Neill. This wasn’t the politician Tip O’Neill, obviously. Instead, this one was an outfielder lasting ten years in the majors.
While there are no Hall of Famers in this group, O’Neill easily had the best playing career. He helped the St. Louis Browns to the 1886 World Series, won two batting titles, and won the 1887 Triple Crown, leading the league in virtually every offensive category, including hits, average, home runs, runs, doubles, triples, RBI, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases.
More than 125 years later, it remains one of baseball’s greatest seasons of all time. O’Neill’s card, recognizing his offensive prowess that season, called him a “Champion Base Ball Batter.” O’Neill’s cards usually begin in the $300-$400 range for mid-grade cards at the lower end of the scale.