Joe Start (October 14, 1842 - March 27, 1927), sometimes called "Old Reliable", was one of the biggest stars of baseball's earliest era, and certainly the top first baseman of his time. He started his career before the American Civil War and continued to play professionally until 1886, when he was 43.
Born in New York City, he led the Brooklyn Atlantics, the team he joined in 1862, to undefeated seasons in 1864 and 1865. In 1871, he joined the new National Association's New York Mutuals, hitting a career-high .360 in his first season with the team, when he was age 28. When the National League was formed in 1876, the Mutuals joined, bringing Start with them. After spending 1877 with the Hartford Dark Blues and 1878 with the Chicago White Stockings, he found his next home with the Providence Grays. From 1879 until 1885, when he was 42, Start held down first base for the Grays and continued to hit well. Unfortunately, 1885 was Providence's last season in the NL, so in 1886, he moved to the Washington Nationals for what would be his last season. Start only played 31 games for the Nationals and didn't hit well, even for a 43 year-old.
1878 was probably Start's best season with the bat. He led the league with 100 hits and 125 total bases. He came close to the league lead with his 12 doubles, 5 triples, and a single home run. His 58 runs that year were second in the league. These statistics all came in only 285 at bats, and at the age of 35, long after most players have begun to decline. Start ended his career with 1418 hits, 854 runs, and 544 RBI in National League and National Association play. He had a .299 batting average, a .322 on base percentage, and a .367 slugging percentage. These numbers ignore the first 11 years of his career and, since they were achieved in much shorter seasons than today's professionals play, they only show a portion of his value to his teams. In addition, his career spanned many important rule changes that changed the game in many ways, but Start continued to play at a high level through all of them. Start's 1879 Providence team won the National League, and in 1884 they won a World Series, beating the New York Metropolitans.
Start was also regarded as an excellent fielder, although at 5'9" he was a much smaller player than would later be typical at his position. Some even say that he originated the modern positioning of the first baseman, being the first to play away from the bag. Just like every other player of his time, Start never fielded with a glove, as modern players do, making his fielding contributions more impressive.
Start died in Providence, Rhode Island at the age of 84.