Clarence Algernon "Cupid" Childs (August 14, 1867 - November 8, 1912) was one of the premier baseball players of the 1890s, a leadoff hitter and second baseman renowned for his batting eye.
Aside from a two game stint with the National League Philadelphia club in 1888, in which he went 0-4 at the plate, his first major league experience was in 1890 with the Syracuse Stars, a second division club in the waning American Association. The 22-year-old Childs took the weakened league by storm, hitting .345 with 33 doubles, 14 triples, and 56 stolen bases. His .915 OPS was 81% higher than the league average, and was second only to star third baseman Denny Lyons's .992 mark.
After the Players League crisis of 1890 had been resolved, Childs jumped from the AA to the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. Despite featuring future stars George Davis and Cy Young in addition to Childs, the team struggled to a fifth place finish. Childs was not as dominant in the much-stronger NL, but his .281 batting average and 97 walks still left him among the best second basemen in baseball.
Under Patsy Tebeau (and featuring another future member of the Hall of Fame in Jesse Burkett) the Spiders were much improved in 1892; with the help of aging 300 game winner John Clarkson, acquired down the stretch, the team finished 93-56, second in the league behind the Boston Beaneaters. (In an exhibition played after the season between the two clubs, billed as a World's Championship, the Beaneaters swept the Spiders despite Childs's .409 average.) Childs asserted himself as the best player on the team that year, combing a .317 average with 117 walks for an outstanding .443 on-base percentage, which led the league.
It was, however, the team's high water mark; they would finish second twice more during Childs's tenure, but each time they were unable to overtake Hughie Jennings, Willie Keeler and the famous Baltimore Orioles, although they did emerge victorious in 1895's hotly contested Temple Cup series. Childs remained consistently excellent over the period, hitting for a batting average as high a .355 and an on-base percentage as high as .467. In 1896 he totaled a career high 106 runs batted in, good for fifth in the league.
Prior to the 1899 season, Spiders owner Frank Robison had purchased the laughingstock St. Louis Browns (the team that would later become the Cardinals, not the later AL club that would share the name); determined to build a winner in the more populous city, he renamed the team the Perfectos and stocked them with all of the best players from the Spiders teams of the 1890s, including 31-year-old Cupid Childs. Much like the team, which won 84 games but only finished fifth, Childs had a solid but unspectacular season, hitting only .265.
In 1900 an obviously declining Childs moved to an obviously declining team, Cap Anson's famed Chicago Orphans; for the first time in his career it was obvious that he had seen better days, as Childs hit only .241 and failed to get on-base more often than the league average for the first time in his career. With those skills waning his lack of power and declining speed became all the more glaring, and after a slightly-improved part-time role in 1901 he retired.
Cupid Childs' place in baseball history is hotly contested; some hold up his high peak as a reason why he needs to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, while others disagree, because of his short career and the comparitively low defensive value of turn-of-the-century second basemen. In The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract the author ranks him as the 26th best second baseman of all time, between Cubs great Johnny Evers and Junior Gilliam, best remembered for hitting behind Maury Wills in his historic season. Most consider him just barely on the outside looking in.
Because Childs, aside from his nickname--"The Little Fat Man"--was not remembered as colorfully as his peers, and because his primary skills were not well-regarded in his era, "Cupid" has largely been forgotten. However, in his peak during the rough-and-tumble 1890s he was among the best in baseball.