Posts Tagged ‘Al Reach’

Making Shortstop

April 14, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It appears that when baseball first began it didn’t use nine players. The position of shortstop didn’t exist until later. There are several stories about its creation. The most common one is that the 1840s and 1850s baseballs were too soft to throw in from the outfield unless you were a giant like Henry Polhemus. So a short fielder (much like the 10th man in a slow pitch softball game) was invented to act as a primitive cutoff man. According to tradition the Knickerbockers invented the position with Daniel “Doc” Adams being the man who took the role. Some sources credit Adams with inventing the job, but I can find no contemporary evidence to collaborate that. Whether he did or didn’t invent the position, Adams played it pretty much as described above. It was Dickey Pearce who receives most of the credit for making the modern position.

Pearce, the man in the middle of the top row in the picture above, was born in Brooklyn in 1836 and took to sports quickly. By age 20 he was recognized as a coming cricket player. The Atlantic, formed in 1855, picked him up and sent him to center field. The move from cricket to baseball was fairly common in the era (Harry Wright being an early example). By 1857 he’d taken over the short fielder (shortstop) position. By 1857 the short fielder was mobile, covering both the second-third gap and the first-second gap, taking short flies, and doing cutoff duties. Pearce began stationing himself primarily in the second-third gap in order to stop the most common path a baseball took to the outfield. As far as I can tell he’s credited with being the first to move from the outfield to the infield when plugging that gap (but don’t bet the farm on that being true). He was quick enough to continue the cutoff duties and to handle most of the short flies between second and third and cover a few just to the first base side of second. Other teams noticed and the short fielder quickly became the shortstop stationed between second and third.

As with most players of the era, Pearce played multiple positions. He took turns in the outfield and also behind the plate, where he was noted as a particularly agile catcher. He is credited with being the first (but probably was merely among the first) to use catcher’s signals for the pitcher. And he was a star. He captained the Atlantic, a much more important position in 1860 than today. The Atlantic ran off championships in the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players in 1859, 1860, and 1861.

He missed the Civil War, staying with the Atlantic through the conflict. By this time he was getting paid to play. A couple of sources indicate that he, Jim Creighton, and Al Reach were the first professionals, although that’s probably impossible to prove. As the teams were supposed to be composed strictly of amateurs, he got his money under the table so amounts are unknown.

By 1864 the Atlantic were back on top of the Association with Pearce still as captain. They maintained their run through 1865 and 1866. Pearce jumped the team in late ’66 (going to Creighton’s old team, the Excelsiors), but returned by the end of the season. It cost him his captaincy, but the team won another pennant. During this period he’s supposed to have been the first player to utilize the bunt.

He remained with the Atlantic, adding another pennant, through 1870. In that year he participated in the game than ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings undefeated run at 89 games. The next season the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the first professional league) was formed. The Atlantic decided not to participate and Pearce moved to the New York Mutual. He was 35 and on the downside of his career. He didn’t do particularly well in either ’71 or ’72 with the Mutual and went back to the Atlantic (now a part of the Association) for 1873 and 1874. He had one last decent year in ’74, then moved on to St. Louis. He stayed there through the founding of the National League and finally left the team at age 41 in 1877.

He played a little minor league ball, umpired a bit, did some semi-pro work, and managed. Frankly he wasn’t very successful at any of them. He was roundly criticized for his umpiring skills, frequently by both teams (At least he was fair in his awfulness). He clerked for the Brooklyn water board, worked at the Polo Grounds, and finally became a farmer in Massachusetts. He died of heart disease at his farm in 1908. As he has only two seasons in the National League and the National Association is not recognized as a “major league,” he is not eligible for the Hall of Fame except as some pre-professional league pioneer.

Pearce's grave at Find a Grave

Pearce’s grave at Find a Grave


My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1919

September 3, 2015

By 1919 World War I was over. The Treaty of Versailles was signed; but the United States refused to ratify it, causing a huge split in the government. There were race riots in the streets as a combination of black Americans moving into the North and rising expectations by blacks because of their support of the war effort (both at home and in France) bumping up against an economic downturn fueled by racism led to clashes in a number of towns. A lot of Americans just wanted a “return to normalcy” as future President Warren G. Harding put it. Into all of this I drop My Own Little Hall of Fame‘s class of 1919 (with commentary to follow).

Frank Leland

Frank Leland

After spending time as a player in late 19th Century Negro baseball, Frank Leland became an entrepreneur and formidable force in Negro baseball. His Leland Giants were one of the strongest teams in Chicago and helped set the standard for competition among black teams. He worked tirelessly to form a Negro league that could last and could showcase Negro baseball at the highest level.

Al Reach

Al Reach

After leading his team to the first American Association pennant, Albert Reach became the founder of a major sporting goods company. Later he owned the Philadelphia National League team and became a major power among the league owners. His Reach Guide is a primary source for baseball statistics and information.

Vic Willis

Vic Willis

Star pitcher for several National League teams, Vic Willis amassed 249 wins over a 13 year career, gaining over 20 wins on six occasions. He led the National League in strikeouts once, and helped is team to a World’s Championship in 1909.

And now the commentary:

  1. When and where I grew up, all public accommodations came in pairs, one marked “white” and the other “colored”. I’ve always been offended by the “colored” label, but until now have used it because it seems that it was the most common word of the day. By 1919 the word “Negro” appears to supplant it a lot. Although “negro” has its own negative connotations, it seems the newly acceptable word of the day, so I will now use it in comments on Negro League players and executives. Frankly, I’m much more comfortable with it than with “colored” and am glad to make the move.
  2. Willis has taken a while to get into the mythical 1901 Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but the big numbers of the day (wins, strikeouts) aren’t as high as other pitchers and as mentioned in a previous article I think his loss total, especially the 2 years he led the NL in losses, would hurt him. I think that would have made it difficult for him to show up in a Deadball Era Hall of Fame. Additionally, he led the NL in losses twice and that, combined with the lack of 250 wins would have, in my opinion, hurt his chances. BTW, the 249 isn’t written in stone yet in 1919, but it appears to be taking hold as a consensus.
  3. Al Reach is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked people in Neolithic baseball. He was a good player, not a great one. He was a successful owner, although the Phils never won while he owned them (which is true of most Phillies teams without regard to owner). His business was successful and for years he provided official baseballs. Finally the Reach Guide was the premier baseball guide for half a century (more or less). The Guide was Reach’s baby, but he didn’t actually write it (Henry Chadwick was a primary mover in the earliest years of the Guide). Nonetheless, Reach’s sponsorship of the Guide helped his case for this mythical Hall of Fame.
  4. Leland? In an era of increasing racial tension, the election of a black man to a baseball Hall of Fame is utterly unlikely. But I also think 1919 is probably the last chance to put in a leader in Negro League baseball for the next several years. There’s really no chance he gets in in a 1919 Hall of Fame, but as I’ve stipulated I’ll be willing to elect Negro League players and executives, I’m letting him in, knowing that the next time there’s even a chance of it would be about 1924 or 1925 (give or take). And as for him as a Hall of Famer, I’m quite comfortable suggesting he should be in Cooperstown (where he isn’t).
  5. Two execs and just one player? Right now a Hall of Fame in the era is in something of a trough. There’s a long lull that lasts through 1921 when the quality of players retiring, quite frankly, isn’t all that great. In 1920 Frank Chance becomes eligible, in 1921 there’s Fred Clarke, Danny Murphy, and Roger Bresnahan. Among pitchers only Clark Griffith shows up. Griffith is perhaps better looked at as a manager and owner. Bresnahan and Chance are at best people I’m going to think long and hard about. Clarke is probably a keeper and Murphy should have no chance. That’s basically it until 1922 when we find peoples with names like Mathewson, Brown, and LaJoie. So this year (and the next two) is an opportunity for me clear out some holdovers and a number of contributors. As mentioned above, I’m quite comfortable with adding Leland (despite the obvious truth that a black man wasn’t going to get into a real Hall of Fame) and Reach.
  6. The quality of the statistics available is getting better. The 1920s see the beginning of something like a consensus about which stats were important and what specific numbers specific players put up. Remember this set of statistics is the old one that most of us grew up using, not the newer information that has become available only recently. It’s important to recall that even the so called “traditional” statistics took a while to be accepted and standardized. So don’t be surprised at the opposition to the more modern ones.

And now back to the 1963 Series.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Al Reach

September 12, 2013
Al Reach while playing with the Athletic of Philadelphia

Al Reach while playing with the Athletic of Philadelphia

1. Alfred James Reach was born in London in 1840, but came to the US as a child. He lived in New York.

2. Between 1861 and 1864 he played second base for the Eckford of Brooklyn, one of the three premier Brooklyn teams of the era (the Atlantic and Excelsior were the others).

3. In 1865 he joined the Athletic of Philadelphia as their second baseman. He was paid $25 for “expenses” when he joined the Athletic. Sources speculate that he was the first professional player (others choose different players as the first professional).

4. He led the National Association of Base Ball Players in runs scored in 1868 and finished second in 1867.

5. In 1871, the initial year of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, he hit .353 and helped lead the Athletic to the first championship.

6. His career tailed off from there, ending after 1875 with a .247 average, no home runs, 89 runs scored, and an OPS+ of 73.

7. In 1874, while still active, he opened a sporting goods store. By 1883 it was the largest sporting goods store in the US.

8. In 1883 the Worcester, Massachusetts team moved to Philadelphia. Reach purchased the team (now the Phillies) and ran it through 1899. In 1890 he served as manager for 11 games (he went 4-7).

9. He became a millionaire and sold his firm to the A.J. Spaulding Co. in 1892. Spaulding ran both companies, but kept the name of each, thus managing to monopolize the sporting goods world while not running afoul of the anti-trust laws being touted at the time.

10. After 1900, the company produced the official American League baseball while the Spaulding Company produced the official National League ball. Both were made by the same people in the same factory.

11. The Reach Guide was the official publication for the American Association from 1883 through 1892 (when the Association folded), then was semi-official until 1902, when it became the official American League publication. It remained official through 1939. Reach’s company published the Guide until 1927 when Wright and Ditson (the company run by former star and Al Reach opponent, George Wright) took up publication.

12. Al Reach’s brother Bob played a couple of years in the National Association, didn’t do much, but did invent an improved catcher’s mask that Reach marketed. Reach’s son George helped Ben and Daniel Shibe perfect the modern cork-centered baseball.

13. Al Reach died in New Jersey in 1928. In 2012, he appeared on the Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot. He was not elected.

The Original Athletics

September 5, 2013
1871 Athletic of Philadelphia team

1871 Athletic of Philadelphia team

If you follow baseball at all, you know there’s a team in Oakland called the A’s. If you’re a big fan you know A’s is short for Athletics. If you’re a true fan you know that the Athletics played in both Kansas City and Philadelphia prior to moving to Oakland. What you may not know is that “Athletic” has a long history of use for the Philadelphia baseball team.

The original Athletic (it was originally written in the singular) were formed in Philadelphia in 1860. By 1863 the team joined the National Association of Base Ball Players, becoming the dominant Philadelphia team. In 1868, with a 50 game record of 47-3, they were crowned Association champs. They dropped back to third in both 1869 and 1870. The next year they joined the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (note the addition of the word “professional”). The league lasted through 1875 with the Athletic being one of its most prominent franchises.

In 1871, the Athletic went 21-7 to capture the first Association crown. They defeated Chicago on the final day of the season to finish two games up on the White Stockings, but didn’t possess the pennant for another month. There were questions about which games counted in the standings and what to do with ties. Additionally, Boston played 30 games to Philly’s 28. Depending on what the league did with the disputed games and the ties, Boston could claim the championship by virtue of more wins (wins counted over winning percentage in 1871). Ultimately the Association awarded the title to Philadelphia.

They won with hitting. As an offensive team, they put up some of the great numbers in baseball history (but remember it’s a 28 game season). Third baseman Levi Mayerle hit .492 to lead the Association. He also picked up the OBP, Slugging, OPS, and total base titles. He tied for the home run crown with four. Second baseman Al Reach (who later ran the Phillies and a sporting goods empire) hit .353, Catcher Fergy Malone hit .343, and center fielder John “Count” Sensenderfer hit .323. Pitcher Dick McBride had an ERA over 4.50 and the team fielding percentage was good for the era despite Mayerle’s awful .646 at third.

It was the only Athletic championship. Boston absolutely dominated the remaining years of the Association with Philly finishing fourth in 1872, fifth in 1873, third in 1874, and second in 1875. The Association folded after 1875 and Philadelphia was one of the teams choosing to play in the newly formed National League. They did poorly, winning 11 and losing 45. Toward the end of the season they decided to skip the last away swing through the west. They were hemorrhaging money and felt that another road trip would bankrupt the team. This earned the ire of Chicago owner and NL founder William Hulbert. If Philly would lose money by not playing the Western swing, Chicago would lose money if the Athletics didn’t. At season’s end he managed to have Philadelphia (and New York who also refused to make their last Western swing) tossed out of the league.

It was the end for the first Association champions. They disbanded. A few years later a new team began operation in Philadelphia. It eventually entered the American Association, winning the 1883 title, but the original A’s were gone. The name was revived in 1901 for the new Philadelphia team in the American League. That team is the one still existing in Oakland.