Cedar Rapids Professional Baseball Alumni Bios – Belden Hill
Belden Hill was the fourth player to make his Major League debut from our list of 384 Cedar Rapids professional baseball alumni who have played in Cedar Rapids either before or after their MLB debut. Hill made his big league debut on August 27, 1890 at the age of 25, playing for the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .167 in 30 at bats, stole 6 bases, scored three runs and had two RBI in 9 games. Hill suffered a broken leg in 1891 and never returned to Major League baseball.
Belden Hill played 19 (1887-1905) seasons of minor league baseball playing for 16 different organizations, many in the capacity of player manager (1896-1905). Hill managed the Cedar Rapids Bunnies following his playing days from 1906-08 and then again from 1913-14. Hill only had one losing season during his Cedar Rapids tenure as a full season manager, a 59-65 mark in 1913. His team won two championships (1897 and 1906) and rarely finished lower than third place. Hill has the most career wins by any manager in Cedar Rapids club history with a career mark of 831-660 (.557). Belden Hill, along with Mike Sexton of Rock Island, formed the first Three-I League in 1901 to bring baseball back to Cedar Rapids after a one year layoff. He later organized the Mississippi Valley League in 1922 and served as its president in 1926 and from 1928 to 1931.
Beldin Hill started the 1896 season as the Cedar Rapids Rabbits third baseman. The team had compiled a 19-32 record under manager Hiram Ebright, until Ebright resigned on the morning of June 28, 1896. Ebright recommended Hill as his successor and the Cedar Rapids club found its manager for 14 of its next 15 seasons.
Beldin Hill’s 1897 Rabbits club earned the Western Association title with an 84-41 record. Hill led the 1897 squad with a .327 batting average playing third base. Following that season, the Evening Gazette ran a sketch of the team and praised Hill for his baseball acumen: “As a judge of players, Belden Hill has no superior; as a manager he is economical, careful and prudent; as a disciplinarian he cannot be excelled, ruling firmly yet with much kindness. What “Beldy” says is law and gospel, and what a player tells him must be true or there is trouble ahead…It is needless to say that the players idolize him as their pet name, ‘Pa’ will signify.”
Beldin Hill led the Cedar Rapids Rabbits to a pair of runner-up finishes in 1898 and 1899 as the Western Association struggled mightily to complete its full season each year. Cedar Rapids was left without a baseball team in 1900 when the Western Association disbanded on June 16, 1899 and was reassembled as the Western League and Beldin Hill served as the player manager for the Des Moines Hawkeyes for the 1900 season.
Belden Hill was instrumental in forming the first Three-I League in 1901 and returned to lead the Cedar Rapids Rabbits squad to a second place finish with a 69-43 record. The 1902 squad finished third with a 63-56 mark and the 1903 squad finished 60-60 in their final season being known as the Rabbits. Hill and the renamed Cedar Rapids Bunnies rebounded for a runner-up finish in 1904 with a 70-52 record. The Bunnies posted a 63-61 mark in 1905 to place fifth in Hill’s final season playing in the field at age 40.
Belden Hill and the 1906 Bunnies earned Cedar Rapids its first Three-I league championship with a 79-43 record in Hill’s first season on the bench. The 1906 championship squad featured future big leaguers Neal Ball (turned MLB baseball’s first unassisted triple play), Russ Ford (inventor of the Emery/Scuff Ball), Rebel Oakes and Doc Crandall among others. Hill led the Bunnies to 72-61 record in 1907 and a 69-63 mark in 1908 before stepping down as the team’s manager.
Belden Hill returned to pilot the squad for their first two seasons in the Central Association in 1913 and 1914. The Bunnies finished 59-65 and 65-59 respectively in Hill’s final two seasons at the helm. Belden Hill once again stepped down at the age of 49 after the 1914 season.
Belden Hill would help organize the Mississippi Valley League and served as the league president in 1926 and between 1928-31.
Belden Hill was born August 24, 1864 in Kewanee, Illinois, and died October 22, 1934, at Cedar Rapids at age 70. Old Hill Park, the predecessor of Veterans Memorial Stadium, was named in his honor. Belden Hill was a member of the inaugural class of the Cedar Rapids Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.