Ross Barnes (May 8, 1850 - February 5, 1915) was one of the stars of baseball's National Association and the early National League from 1871 to 1881, playing second base and shortstop. He played for the dominant Boston Red Stockings teams of the early 1870s, along with Albert Spalding, Cal McVey, George Wright, Harry Wright, Jim O'Rourke, and Deacon White. Despite playing for these star-studded teams, many claim that Ross was the most valuable to his teams.
From 1868 to 1870, Ross starred for the Rockford Forest Citys, along with Albert Spalding. When the National Association was formed in 1871, Harry Wright signed the two of them up for his new team in Boston. Thus Ross's professional career started when he was only 21. He split time between second base and shortstop for the Boston Red Stockings of the new National Association. The team was anchored by Harry and George Wright, who had both played with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first openly professional team. Even though the team only finished 3rd, young Barnes played very well, hitting for a .401 batting average, leading the team in triples and runs, with 9 and 66, respectively, while tying with Al Spalding for the team lead in doubles. His 66 runs led the league, as did his 91 total bases. He added to his sizeable offensive contributions with quality defense at both second base and shortstop.
Ross's 1872 was even better, as he led the league with a .432 batting average, a .585 slugging percentage, 99 hits, 134 total bases, and 28 doubles. The Red Stockings also played much better, dominating the National Association by going 39-8. 1873 went much the same way, as Boston went 43-16, and Barnes hit .425, to go with a .456 on base percentage and a .584 slugging percentage, all of which led the league. In fact, Barnes led the league in fourteen different offensive categories, and was in the top five in another five.
In 1874, Boston again finished first in the National Associtation, but Barnes didn't play quite as well as he had the previous three years. His offensive contributions were replaced by Cal McVey's, but Ross continued to play second base well. Even in this down year, though, he hit .340, which was eighth-best in the league. Barnes came back in 1875, the last year of the National Association, and a phenominal season for the Boston Red Stockings, who went 71-8. Barnes led the league in runs with 115, hits with 143, and on-base percentage with .375.
Following the 1875 season the Boston Red Stockings were disbanded. Barnes, Spalding, Deacon White, and McVey all left Boston to join the new Chicago White Stockings of the just-formed National League, along with Cap Anson and Paul Hines, while the Wright brothers headed back to Cincinnati. 1876 would be one of Ross's finest years. The White Stockings went 55-12, first in the league, which Ross led in batting (.429), on base percentage (.462), slugging (.562), runs (126), hits (138), bases (190), doubles (21), triples (14), and walks (20). However, it was to be his last dominant season. In 1877, Ross played only 22 games, and did not play well when he was in the lineup. He didn't play at all in 1878 or 1880, and was merely average in 1879, when he played for the Cincinnati Reds and 1881, with the Boston Red Caps. In his last years, he never hit better than .272, and his other totals were barely half of those from his glory days. In 1881, at age 31, Ross retired. Injuries had eroded many of his skills to the point that he simply could not play as well has he had a decade before. He finished his career with 859 hits, 698 runs, and a .359 average, in only 499 games played and 2392 at bats.
Ross has been rated as the best player of the National Association, and during his peak, from 1871 to 1876, he was a dominant offensive force. His skill at the fair-foul bunt caused rule changes, and his defensive abilities were highly regarded. On teams with multiple members of the Hall of Fame, he was the most valuable batter. He also has the distinction of having hit the first home run in National League history, on May 2, 1876.