I wonder how modern managers would handle old time rosters. Tony LaRussa seems to think a 25 man roster ought to include 19 pitchers and six others (I guess two pitchers go in the corners of the outfield.). But way back when rosters were much smaller, the 1927 Yankees had 25 men total on their roster for the entire year. The prize here has to go to the 1878 Boston Red Caps who managed to win a pennant with a ten man roster. With appropriate apologies to Alfonso Bedoya, their motto might have been “We don’t need no stinkin’ subs.”
The Red Caps won the National Association pennant by four games over Cincinnati going 41-19 in a 60 game season. They loaded up on the bottom teams winning eight of 12 against Chicago, 10 of 12 against Indianapolis, and all but one against Milwaukee. As mentioned in the post on Louisville’s 1877 scandal, both Indianapolis and Milwaukee were new to the league. They included a number of players from the defunct Louisville and St.. Louis teams, but hadn’t spent time working the pieces together. A further group of their players were NL rookies. Against the stronger teams, Providence and Cincinnati, Boston went 6-6.
They did it all with ten men. Harry Wright managing his last pennant winner, pulled all the right levers and won without substituting. Imagine that today. Here’s the roster.
John Morrill played at first (and one game at third and in the outfield) hitting .240 with 23 RBIs and 26 runs scored.
Jack Burdock was at second for every inning of every game. He hit .260 with 25 RBIs and 37 runs.
George Wright was Harry’s younger brother and a future Hall of Famer. He played shortstop for 59 games hitting .225 with 12 RBIs and 35 runs. He was one of two players who “wimped out” and sat out a game.
Ezra Sutton played third for 59 games (and short the day George Wright sat out) going .226, with 29 RBIs, and 31 runs.
Andy Leonard was in left every game hitting .260 with 16 RBIs and 41 runs.
Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke played center field (plus one game at first and caught two more). He led the team with a .278 average, and in runs scored with 44. He tied with Sutton for the team lead in RBIs with 29.
Jack Manning was in right except for pitching three games (only one of which he started). He was a .254 hitter, with 23 RBIs, and 41 runs scored. Pitching he went 1-0 in 11.33 innings with two strikeouts, five walks, and an ERA of 14.29.
Pop Snyder was the catcher. He hit .212 with 14 RBIs and 21 runs scored. He spent two games in the outfield.
Tommy Bond was the workhorse pitcher. He hit .212 with 23 RBIs and scored 22 runs. In the field he was 40-19 with a 2.06 ERA, 33 walks, and led the league in strikeouts with 182 and 9 shutouts. The 40 wins also led the league. He, like George Wright, took a day off. Both times he was relieved from pitching duties, he went to the outfield.
Which brings me to the tenth man. Drum roll please for substitute Harry Schafer. The supersub played in two (count ‘em) games, both in the outfield. He was one for eight ( a .125 batting average) with no RBIs or runs scored. The hit was a single. I’ve always wondered if Schafer travelled around with the team or if Harry Wright just called him up a couple of times and asked him to come to the park so he could give someone a rest.
A couple of things to notice here. First, there are a lot more runs than RBIs. It was an era of small or non-existent gloves and terrible fields so there were a lot of errors and unearned runs. Second, the batting averages are pretty low, O’Rourke’s .278 leading the team. Boston finished fourth in hitting in the league (six teams), but was second in pitching with a 2.32 ERA. Obviously they were winning a lot of close games. Additionally, Burdock, George Wright, Snyder, and Bond all led the league in fielding at their position. The fielding numbers aren’t great by modern standards, but are very good for the era.
I’ve always been fascinated by this team since I first discovered it years ago. I wondered how you won with only one sub (playing only two games). I’d like to see the least number of players a modern (21st Century) team used over a sixty game period.