Posts Tagged ‘American Association’

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bobby Mathews

May 5, 2014
Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

1. Robert Mathews was born in Baltimore in 1851.

2. In 1869 he became both a professional and the main pitcher for the Marylands of Baltimore, one of the first professional clubs in Maryland.

3. With the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Mathews joined the Keokuk Westerns in 1871. On 4 May he threw the first pitch in a fully professional league (and to some people’s thinking, the first Major League) game. His team won 2-0 making him the first pitcher to win a game in the National Association.

4. After one season at Keokuk, he joined the Baltimore Canaries as their primary pitcher in 1872, then joined the New York Mutual where he pitched from 1873 through 1875.

5. In the NA he won 131 games, lost 112, gave up 2593 hits in 2221.2 innings, struck out 329 men while walking 196. His ERA was 2.69 with an ERA+ of 107 and a WAR of 39.7 (all stats from Baseball Reference dot-com and WAR is BR.com’s version).

6. He stayed with the Mutual in 1876 when they joined the newly formed National League. With the Mutual being tossed out of the league at the end of 1876, he joined Cincinnati in 1877.

7. In 1878 he pitched for the independent Brooklyn Chelseas until tossed from the team for public drunkenness (a recurring problem for Mathews throughout his career). He was later reinstated.

8. In 1879 he got a chance back in the National League with Providence as the backup pitcher to John Montgomery Ward. Mathews won 12 games and Providence won the pennant by five games. In  1880 he went west to play in the Pacific League (not the Pacific Coast League of later fame). The league folded before the year ended. In this period the NL was not considered, by many players, to be significantly superior to other leagues, some of which paid better. So Mathews’ actions in 1880 were not uncommon.

9. He was back in the National League in 1881 pitching for Providence and later for Boston.

10. With the establishment of the American Association, Mathews jumped to Philadelphia in 1883 where he stayed through 1887, his final season. He helped Philly to the AA pennant in 1883.

11. During the offseason Mathews, with no college education and a serious drinking problem, became an assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania. Some sources credit him as the first college pitching coach.

12. By 1895 he was working for Joe Start (Providence first baseman in the 1870s and 1880s) at a “roadhouse” near Providence. His drinking was catching up with him and he died in 1898 at age 47.

13. For his career (NA, NL, and AA combined) Mathews won 297 games, lost 248, gave up 5601 hits in 4956 innings. He walked 532, struck out 1528, had an ERA of 2.86, an ERA+ of 104, and a WAR (BR.com version) of 62.2. He’s never gotten a lot of backing for the Hall of Fame. Primarily because he is 60-75 in the National League, 106-61 in the AA, and 131-112 in the NA. The latter two leagues are almost totally forgotten today with MLB not even recognizing the NA as a Major League.

The Pride of the Association

July 29, 2013
Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

I’ve contended on this site that there are five true dynasties in the 19th Century: 1870s Boston Red Stockings, 1880s Chicago White Stockings, 1880s St. Louis Browns, 1890’s Boston Beaneaters, and 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Over the years I’ve done posts on four of them. It’s time to take a look at the last, the Browns.

First, to clarify something, this team has nothing to do with the American League St. Louis Browns who are now in Baltimore as the Orioles, which are also not the 1890s Orioles. The 1880s Browns played in the American Association, a league that no longer exists. The team is still around but it’s now the Cardinals (got all that?).

The American Association put a team in St. Louis in 1882. Owned by Chris von der Ahe, a local beer mogul, the team became a contender in 1883, finishing second. It slipped to fourth in 1884, then dominated the Association for the rest of the decade. With the small rosters of the era, much of the team remained consistent through the entire period.

Pat Deasley did the bulk of the catching in 1883 and 1884. In 1885 Doc Bushong took over as the primary backstop with Deasley going to the Giants. Bushong remained with the team through 1887, spending the first two years as the primary catcher and backing up Jack Boyle who remained the starter into the 1890 season. None of them were particularly distinguished, although Boyle did manage to crack 23 home runs over 13 years.

the infield corners consisted of Charlie Comiskey at first and Arlie Latham at third. Comiskey doubled as manager and was considered an above average fielder for is day. He wasn’t an especially good hitter. Latham led off, scored a lot of runs, stole a lot of bases (pre-1900 definition of stolen base), and was generally considered one of the more obnoxious players in the league by his opponents. For most of the era  Bill Gleason handled short. He led the Association in putouts and assists a couple of times, but also led in errors. By the end of the period (1888 and 1889) Bill White (obviously not the 1960s Cardinals first baseman) and Shorty Fuller replaced him. Neither are much remembered today and neither especially deserves to be recalled. Second base went through a series of players. George Strief, Joe Quest, and Sam Barkley all spent one season at second (1883-1885). In 1885 Yank Robinson  showed up as a utility infielder. By 1886 he had the second base job holding it to 1890. His average wasn’t all that great, but he walked a lot and scored over 100 runs four times (three with St. Louis).

There was great consistency in the outfield also. Hugh Nicol held down one corner spot from 1883 through 1886. He was another player whose average wasn’t all that high, but who scored a lot of runs and was considered a fine fielder by 1880s standards. He left for Cincinnati in 1887 and was replaced by first Bob Caruthers (see more on him in the pitcher section of this post), then by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy. The other corner slot was held down, after the 1883 season, by Tip O’Neill. O’Neill is one of the handful of players who can legitimately be called the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. He hit .326, won the triple crown in 1887 (.425 average, 14 home runs, 123 RBIs), led the Association in hits, average, and RBIs a couple of other times, and was deemed a so-so outfielder. The center fielder in 1883 was Fred Lewis, an early switch hitter who hit .296 for his career. He was replaced in 1885 by Curt Welch, who wasn’t as good at hitting, but was a better outfielder. Welch was gone by 1888, replaced by Harry Lyons in 1888. Lyons managed to hit all of a buck-94 and 1889 found Charlie Duffee in center. A rookie, Duffee managed to lead the Association in strike outs.

As usual with 1880s teams, the pitching staff showed a lot of turnover. Pitchers threw a lot of innings and many of them didn’t last all that long. The 1883 team featured Tony Mullane (who just appeared on the latest Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot). It was his only year with the team. Jumbo McGinnis Served as the two pitcher. McGinnis stood 5’10” and weighted 197 pounds, hardly a “Jumbo” by today’s standards, but a big man in 1883. He had good years in both ’83 and ’84, then his career came unglued. Dave Foutz joined the team in 1884, replacing Mullane. He remained through 1887 winning 114 games (told you these guys pitched a lot). In 1885 he was joined by Caruthers (see the outfield above). Caruthers remained through 1887 (he and Foutz both went to Brooklyn) winning 106 games, playing 86 games in the outfield (and 23 at first), and hitting .357 with eight home runs in 1887. In 1887 Silver King showed up, earning a spot in the rotation when Caruthers was in the outfield. He became the ace the next season and remained with the Browns through the 1880s. He won 203 total games, 113 with the Browns.

St. Louis finished second in 1883, fourth in 1884, then ran off four consecutive pennants, They finished second in 1889 and had two more good years, although the team changed in 1890 due to the Player’s League. The 1880s produced a proto-World Series and the Browns were involved in one each of the years they won pennants. In 1885 they faced the Chicago White Stockings. Foutz went 2-2, Caruthers 1-1, and the seventh game was a disputed tie. In an 1886 rematch, they defeated Chicago four games to two with O’Neill hitting .400 and blasting two home runs. In 1887 the Series consisted of 15 games with Detroit (a team that included newly elected Hall of Famer Deacon White) winning 10 games while St. Louis picked up only five wins (they played all 15 games, although Detroit got to eight wins quickly). Finally, in 1888 the Giants beat them six games to four. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe set a record by winning four games in postseason play.

Throughout its existence, the American Association was usually viewed as the weaker of the two professional major leagues (the National League being the other). that’s probably true. But that weaker league did produce one of the truly great teams of the 19th Century in the 1880s St. Louis Browns.

The Mystery Man

March 22, 2013
Charley Jones

Charley Jones

It’s a given that 19th Century ball players are obscure. Most of them are merely names on long lists of stats or on old roster sheets. But even for 19th Century ball players, Charley Jones is inordinately obscure. I’ll go so far as to admit that prior to December of last year, I’d never heard of him.

Charles Wesley Jones was born in North Carolina in 1852 as Benjamin Wesley Rippey. He is so obscure I can’t find out when or why the name change occurred. It may or may not have anything to do with his baseball career. He seems to have been the first Major Leaguer from North Carolina. He arrived in the National Association in its final year (1875), getting into 12 games with the Keokuk Westerns and a single game with Hartford. He managed to hit .255 without a walk and with only 13 hits. Six of the hits (two doubles and four triples) were for extra bases. That got people’s attention and when the National Association folded, Jones had no trouble finding a job.

He ended up with Cincinnati in the fledgling National League where he hit .286 with four homers (second in the NL). It was the last time he hit under .300 until his banishment (wait just a minute, please). He spent 1877 and 1878 with Cincinnati (with two games for Chicago). In 1879 he went to Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) where he set the single season record for home runs with nine. In 1880 he became the all-time Major League leader in home runs with 23, besting Lip Pike by two.  Along the way he’d led the NL in home runs, runs scored, walks, and RBIs once each. In 1880 he became the first Major Leaguer to hit two home runs in one inning. Then the bottom fell out.

During the last road trip of the season, Jones refused to play. He claimed he hadn’t been paid. As with most teams of the era, pay checks were issued by Boston at the end of each home stand, not at the first of the month. This kept teams from having to lug around large amounts of cash if the end of a month occurred during a road trip. Jones claimed he was paid per month and wanted his monthly salary. The team suspended him for failure to play, and withheld the next check. Jones sued and won in court. He got his money, but Boston suspended him again and this time blacklisted him. Unable to play in the National League, he spent 1881 and 1882 playing in both the minors and an outlaw league.

In 1882 the American Association was formed. They initially agreed to honor NL contracts and blacklists. By 1883 that changed and one of the new league’s first acts was to allow Jones to sign with Cincinnati. He was 31 and still good. He won an RBI and OBP title with Cincy, had his career high in home runs with 10, and had 200 or more total bases twice. In 1884 he hit three triples in a game (the third man to do so). Despite losing the two seasons to a blacklist, he held the all-time home run title through the 1884 campaign, giving up the honor in mid-1885.

His career was faltering by 1887. He began the season in Cincy, but was traded mid-season to the New York Metropolitans. He hit three final home runs and for the first time his OPS+ dropped under 100 (all the way to 88). He had one last Major League season, playing six games for the Kansas City Cowboys, then was through. He umped a little in the 1890 Player’s League and in 1891 in the last year of the American Association. His baseball career over, he dropped totally out of sight.

For his career, his triple slash numbers are .298/.345/.444/.789 with an OPS+ of 150 in 894 games. He had 1114 hits resulting in 172 doubles, 102 triples, 56 home runs, and 1658 total bases. For his career he scored 733 runs and had 552 RBIs. He was a decent enough outfielder finishing first in fielding percentage, range factor, and put outs a few times.

By the time the Hall of Fame was formed, he was totally forgotten. As late as the 2007 Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball he is listed simply as “deceased.” No one seemed to know what happened to him. He was truly a mystery man. As I said earlier,  I have to admit that I’d never heard of him before the 2012 Veteran’s Committee elected Deacon White to the Hall of Fame. That forced me to find a new candidate for my “best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame.” In doing research for that project, I ran across Jones. By then he’d gotten a death date.

 In 2011 a researcher found information on Jones’ last days. He died in New York 6 June 1911 and was buried in Queens (his grave is mentioned on the “Find a Grave” website). There wasn’t much else, but at last baseball fans finally knew what happened to one of the early National League’s premier sluggers.

The Tragedy of Dave Orr

December 18, 2012
Dave Orr about 1888

Dave Orr about 1889

Baseball is full of heroic tales; Ruth and his called shot, Gibson’s ninth inning home run, Larsen’s perfect game. It is also full of tragic stories; Clemente’s death, Gehrig’s illness, Addie Joss’ collapse on the field and  subsequent death. Few, short of those leading to death, are more tragic than the tale of Dave Orr.

Orr was born in September 1859 in Richmond Hills, a section of Queens, New York. He got through elementary school then seems to have dropped out of  school to help his dad, a stone cutter. He played baseball locally, and by 1883 had established himself locally as a good hitting player who could pitch a little. He played for a series of Minor League and semi-pro teams and was spotted while playing for Hartford. There is some dispute whether Jim Mutrie (Gothams manager) saw him personally or if he signed Orr on the advice of scout (scouting was much less formal in 1883). Either way, the Gothams (now the Giants) picked up a giant player (for the era). Orr stood 5’11” and weighed  250 pounds. He played first base and was noted, despite his bulk, as a slick fielding first baseman (again for the era).

Orr played one game for the Gothams then was sent to the Metropolitans for the remainder of the season. The same man (John Day) owned both clubs and he frequently raided one team to prop up the other. In 14 games he managed to hit .302 with an OPS+ of 175. It was a harbinger of things to come. From 1884 through 1887 Orr was the regular Metropolitans first baseman. He continued to hit over .300 and led the American Association in hits, triples, total bases, and slugging percentage twice each. He picked up a batting title, and RBI title, and led the AA in OPS+ once. During his stay in New York, the Metropolitans won a pennant in 1884 and participated in the first primitive version of the World Series. Providence beat them three games to none with Orr getting a solo single in nine at bats.

During Orr’s period with the Metropolitans, the Gothams (now the Giants) became the premier New York team and the owner kept raiding the Mets to help the Gothams. With Roger Connor at first, Orr remained with the Mets and even managed eight games (he went 3-5) in late 1887. At the end of the season, the Mets folded. Orr ended up in Brooklyn.

He did well enough in Brooklyn, putting up a .305 average, but nagging injuries held him to 99 games. Feeling they could do better, Brooklyn traded him to Columbus. He hit .327 at Columbus with a .786 OPS. But Orr was one of  a number of players who was tired of being poorly treated by management, being underpaid, and having to face the reserve clause. In 1890 he joined many of the other players in bolting to John Montgomery Ward’s Player’s League. He ended up back in Brooklyn playing for Ward’s team. Orr hit .371, and established a career high with 124 RBIs. Although the Player’s League folded after just the one season, Orr was still much in demand. This is when tragedy struck him.

In October 1890, Dave Orr suffered a massive stroke while playing an exhibition game. He was 31 and his left side was paralyzed. His baseball career was over. He managed to rehabilitate his left side enough that he could walk with some difficulty, but he could not play baseball. He did some umpiring, served as a night watchman, worked with the maintenance crew at Ebbets Field, and was a press box attendant for the Brooklyn Federal League team in 1914. In 1915 his heart gave out. He was 55 and was buried in the Bronx.

For his career, Orr hit .342 (tied with Babe Ruth), had an on base percentage of .366, slugged .502, and had an OPS of .867 (OPS+ of 162). In 791 games he had 536 hits, , 198 doubles, 108 triples, 37 home runs, 637 RBIs, and 1650 total bases. He led the AA in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage during his time in baseball.

Orr only played eight seasons, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, and what follows is not a plea to put him in, as I’m not sure he belongs. I am concerned that there are certain situations that make it possible to at least consider waiving the 10 year standard for Hall of Fame induction. They’ve already done it for Addie Joss (who only played nine seasons) who died before he could complete 10 years. Had either Clemente or Gehrig died short of 10 seasons would that diminish their contributions so much that they could not enter Cooperstown? It seems to me that in very specific circumstances that the Hall could take the ten-year rule and put it in its pocket. Those circumstances are very few, but surely death, a debilitating disease, a stroke, a war wound, are things that should be considered.

It was a great tragedy that Dave Orr only had eight seasons in the big leagues. Surely had he gotten just a few more, he would be considered a much greater player. As is, he was pretty good.

Why 1910 Matters

October 11, 2010

Since April I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time running all over the 1910 baseball season. Part of that is simply because it was 100 years ago and a centennial is worth remembering. It’s also because the season is interesting in itself. But primarily I’ve been focusing on the 1910 season because it is a watershed season for Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons why. Here are some in no particular order.

1. The appointment of Hal Chase as manager of the Highlanders (Yankees) is not, for managerial purposes, all that important. What is important is the ability of the owners and the National Commission (which ran baseball before Judge Landis) to look the other way when it came to gambling in the big leagues. Failure to crack down on this sort of activity meant that it was going to get worse and that eventually something like the Black Sox scandal was bound to occur. The players likely to participate in this kind of thing now had proof that not only were the powers that be not going to do anything about gambling,  but might actually reward a player if the situation was right. I don’t want to compare it directly with the steroid situation of the 1990s, but it does seem that Malamud was right, we really don’t learn from our mistakes (The book “The Natural”–not the movie–has this as one of its central themes.).

2. During the 19th Century the National Association, the Union Association, the American Association, and the Player’s League had all existed, as had the National League. By 1892 they were all gone. Only the American Association survived 10 seasons, and by the tenth was on life support. By contrast the American League, founded in 1901, was now ten years old and flourishing. The 1910 season marked a decade of success both as a business and on the field. Frankly, baseball had not had this kind of stability in its history. Ban Johnson had managed to create a new Major League and made it work. By 1910 there was no question the AL was here to stay and that the National League finally had a partner co-equal to it. 

3. The Athletics had created the first successful AL dynasty. From league founding in 1901 through 1910, four teams won all the AL pennants: Chicago (1901, 1906), Philadelphia (1902, 1905, 1910), Boston (1903-1904), and Detroit (1907-1909). None of the pre-1910 teams created a dynasty. OK, Detroit won three years in a row, but was defeated in all three World Series matchups, which is kinda hard to call a dynasty. Let’s be honest, dynasties work, especially if they happen to be your team. Baseball seems to do best in attendance and popularity when there is a dynasty. They give fans both a hero and a villain (depending on whether you like the team or not) and 3500 years of drama tell us that nothing  in entertainment sells like heroes and villains. On top of that, it was easy to like the A’s. Connie Mack was a nice enough human being (except when it came to paying his players–a common problem in the era). You hear very few negative comments about Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, or Stuffy McInnis. And in the case of  Chief Bender, he was a sympathetic figure to many fans because of all the racial riding he took (he was an American Indian). All those things went together to help boost attendance and cash.

4. The Cubs dynasty had come to an end. If one dynasty was born in 1910, another died. The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” Cubs had their last fling in 1910. Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs dominated the NL. They won four of five pennants (losing in 1909 to Pittsburgh) and two World Series’ (1907-8). But 1910 was the end. In the Cubs Postmortem post I detailed what went wrong, so I don’t intend to do it again. But the loss of the Cubs dynasty is signficant because it allowed for a more wide open NL. If having a dynasty is good for baseball, having two isn’t. One league has to remain open for fans to believe their team has a chance to win. With the death of the Cubs dynasty hope could rise for other teams in the NL, notably John McGraw’s New York team, but also in the next ten years Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati would also win pennants (as would the Cubs in 1918). The end of the Cubs dynasty also ushered in the beginning of the Cubs mystique as the “loveable losers.” With only sporadic exception, the Cubs have been non-factors in the NL since.  After four pennants in five seasons, the Cubs have won the NL title exactly six times (1918, 1929, 1932, 1935. 1938, 1945). They are now a synonym for “loser”, a tradition that began with the end of the 1910 season.

5 The AL became the dominant league. I said earlier that the reasons 1910 mattered were in no particular order, but this one is last on purpose because it’s the most important. Between 1903 and 1909 there were six World Series matchups. The NL won four (1905, 1907-09) and the AL only two (1903, 1906). By 1910, the AL hadn’t beaten the NL in four years. All that changed in 1910. Take a look at the next ten years, actually 11 because I’m going to ignore the 1919 “fixed” Series. Between 1910 and 1920 inclusive the NL wins one untainted World Series, 1914. And it took a team known as the “Miracle Braves” to do that.  The AL won everything else: Philadelphia in 1910-11, 1913; Boston in 1912, 1915-16, 1918; Chicago in 1917; and Cleveland in 1920. And that kind of dominance continues in some measure all the way to 2010. Here’s the World Series wins by league by decade since 1910 (going from the zero year to the nine year to determine a decade, thus 1920-29, 1940-49, etc.) 1910-19: AL-8, NL-2 (including 1919), 1920-29: AL-6, NL-4, 1930-9: AL-7, NL-3; 1940-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1950-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1960-9: AL-4, NL-6, 1970-9: AL-6, NL-4; 1980-9: AL-5, NL 5, 1990-9: AL-6, NL-3 (and no series in 1994): 2000-9: AL-6, NL-4. In each decade except the 1960s, when the NL actually wins more World Series championships and  1980s when the each win five, the American League has won the more often. I think this is much more significant than the results of the All Star game which saw the NL have along period of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not really impressed with winning an exhibition game. So the American League has been the superior league in most of the last 100 years, and that began in 1910.

I’ve enjoyed going over the 1910 season. I learned a lot, some significant, some trivial. I’ve begun to celebrate the players of the era more by having done this, and I consider that a good thing. Hope you enjoyed it.

The Beer and Whiskey League

March 19, 2010

William Hulbert made so many enemies as President of the National League that you begin to wonder if he simply had an aversion to friends. He managed to alienate most of the other league owners at one time or another in his tenure. Doing so in 1880 gave him a new rival for his league, the American Association.

In 1880 the Cincinnati Reds were in trouble financially, not to mention on the field. To solve their financial problem they decided to ignore three significant National Legue rules. First, they began renting out their park on off days and when they were on the road to local semipro teams. Then those teams  began selling beer in the stands. Finally, as Sunday was always an off day, the semipros began scheduling games on Sunday. It wa all too much for William Hulbert and the other owners. On 4 October 1880, the owners met in Rochester, NY and voted to “prohibit the sale of every description of malt, spiritous or vinous liquors” on league grounds. Cincinnati more or less politely told them to go to hell. On 6 October 1880, Cincinnati was expelled from the National League.

It took a year of planning and plotting, but Cincinnati struck back in 1881. On 2 November of that year a number of businessmen joined together to form the American Association. It had six clubs and six owners. Every owner was involved in the liquor business in some shape or form (brewer, distiller, saloon owner, etc). That led to the immediate nickname of “The Beer and Whiskey League.”

The Association began play in 1882 with teams located in Cincinnati (who won the initial pennant), Philadelphia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Baltimore. In 1882 they were joined by teams in New York and Columbus, Ohio. From the beginning the Association was a thorn to the NL. They raided teams, brought new teams into NL towns, they charged less for tickets, allowed beer and liquor to be sold in the stands, and were just simply a nuisance that cut deeply into NL attendance. The quality of play varied, but some of the teams were good.

In 1883, the two leagues settled their differences and created the League-Association Alliance that bound the two groups to honor each other’s contracts, create a common reserve rule, and to accept each other’s black lists. In 1884 they agreed to a postseason contest between the two league champions. This “World Series” lasted until 1890.

At the end of 1890, the two leagues argued over the spoils of the now defunct Player’s League (see previous post). The Association was already in deep financial trouble, and when the NL managed to corral almost all the top Player’s League talent, the Association bolted from the agreement and went it alone. The decision was fatal. The Association floundered and the NL moved to kill it off. The League offered to absorb four Association teams: St. Louis (now the Cardinals), Baltimore, Washington, and Louisville. Each team accepted and the Association died.

The Association died for a number of reasons, not least of which was the loss of four of it’s strongest teams. But it also had other problems. The Association never had the funding the NL had. It’s teams were owned by magnates with smaller fortunes (that’s, of course, not universally true, but as a rule is correct) thus less money was available. The cities were smaller. The Association put teams in Columbus, Milwaukee, Toledo, Rochester, Syracuse, Kansas City and Richmond. Nice towns, but not big metropolitan centers. They each had trouble drawing crowds. Finally, the Association was, for about haf its history not particularly competitive. Of 10 pennants, St. Louis won four. The others were won by different teams, but one of them, Brooklyn, immediately bolted for the NL, and Cincinnati, which had been critical in instituting the Association, moved back to the NL at a later date. That’s not real good for stability when your pennant winners are moving out as quickly as possible.

For ten years the Beer and Whiskey League gave Major League baseball a second league to compete with the already established National League. They also ended up winning the war over beer and alcohol and Sunday games because the NL adopted both ideas as soon as the Association folded. Finally the ballpark hot dog was, according to legend, invented by the Association (specifically in St. Louis). If that’s true, then that alone guarantees the American Association an honored place in baseball. Pass the mustard.

The First Postseason Series’

March 16, 2010

Between 1882 and 1891 Major League Baseball comprised two leagues (actually in 1884 and 1890 there were three), the National League and the American Association. For seven of those years the leagues existed in an uneasy and unequal truce, the National League being the dominant partner. They did agree that their pennant winners probably ought to meet up at the end of the season to determine who was the true champion of the big leagues. They were the first version of the modern World Series, although sometimes it’s tough to tell.

These series of games were in many ways more akin to exhibitions. The two teams would meet for a specified number of games, the number varied from 3 to 15, and the team winning the most was declared the winner. One of the problems was that the teams were supposed to play all the games (although that didn’t always happen) even after it became clear which was going to win the most games. The big 15 game series ended 10-5, although eight wins was enough to determine a winner. The three games series went three, although the same team won all three. That made the latter games frequently unimportant, and this effected both the quality of play and attendance greatly. The quality of play was universally panned. It was alleged that players weren’t playing to the best of their ability since the games were postseason and the money they were getting was nothing special.  Some teams had players skip the series altogether. Finally, many of the games were road games for both teams. This was supposed to allow for more fans to see the postseason games, but tended to depress the gate when the local fans had no rooting interest in either team. So it certainly didn’t make for the spectacle and excitement we know today. Having said that, some of them could be interesting, some exciting, some almost silly. Here’s a short recap of each with the National League team listed first.

1884–Providence vs. New York (3 games). Charles Radbourne, winner of 59 games (or 60 depending on your definition of “win”) shut down New York by pitching three complete games in two days and giving up no earned runs. Although Providence took the first two games to clinch the series, game three was played anyway on the afternoon of game two. It was Providence’s only series appearance. All three games were played in New York.

1885–Chicago vs.St. Louis (7 games). One of the most controversial series. Game one was a tie, then game two was declared a forfeit with Chicago (now the Cubs, but then the White Stockings) winning 5-4. The next four games were split and the two teams agreed to count the seventh game as the decisive game (ignoring the first two games). St. Louis won 13-4. Games were played in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to go along with St. Louis and Chicago.

1886–Chicago vs. St. Louis (7 games). This series is the one that most closely resembles a modern World Series. Among other things they played three games in each city.  Chicago and St. Louis split the first four games, then St. Louis won the next two, making the seventh game unnecessary. For a change, they didn’t play it.

1887–Detroit vs. St. Louis (15 games). Having seen sense prevail in 1886, the leages returned to silliness in 1887.  The series saw games played in not just St. Louis and Detroit, but also in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore.  Detroit won it’s eighth game, and the series, in game 11, but the final four games were played anyway. For what it’s worth, the teams split them.

1888–New York vs. St. Louis (10 games). With games in Brooklyn and Philadelphia to go along with home games in each city, the series was scheduled for an even number of games. That was the idea of the St. Louis owner (he ran a brewery and I’m not going to speculate on how sober he was when he proposed an even number of games). New York won five of the first six, then took game eight to wrap up the series. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe won four of the games to tie the record for a single postseason series (Three pitchers in the 15 game series each won four). 

1889–New York vs. Brooklyn (11 games). Another series that stopped when one team got to six wins. New York repeated as champions six games to three.  This time Cannonball Crane won four games for New York.

1890–Brooklyn vs. Louisville (7 games). The last 19th Century World Series between the National League and the American Association. Brooklyn (the team that is now the Los Angeles Dodgers) jumped to the National League and won a watered down championship. The Player’s League joined to create a third league, but was frozen out of the postseason.  Brooklyn became the first team to participate in consecutive postseasons for different leagues. All games were played in Brooklyn and Louisville.  Game three was a tie and the teams split the other six. Because of the late date (October 28 for game seven) and the weather, the teams agreed to play a game at the beginning of the next season to determine the season champion. Things changed during the offseason when the Player’s League collapsed. The NL and the AA split and the series was never completed. 

Following the 1890 season the two leagues went their separate ways, as mentoned above. The American Association collapsed after the 1891 race concluded (it got a lot of help from the NL, but that’s also a story for another time). There were other attempts to create a postseason after 1890. None were successful until 1903 ushered in the first modern World Series.

The First Integration

December 24, 2009

Fleet Walker

We all know Jackie Robinson and we justly celebrate his life, his achievements, and his courage. But he isn’t the first black American to play Major League Baseball. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Moses Fleetwood Walker.

Fleet Walker was born in Ohio in 1857. He played college baseball for both Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, then signed with Toledo in the Northwestern League (a minor league) in 1883. Some teams, notably Cap Anson’s Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) refused to play against a team with a black player, but Walker became the team’s regular catcher. In 1884 the team joined the American Association, then a Major League, with Walker remaining their catcher. He met with indifferent success. One of his pitchers, Tony Mullane, is reported to have refused to accept Walker’s signs when he (Walker) called for a pitch. Mullane’s also supposed to have declared Walker was the  best catcher he worked with. In July 1884 Walker suffered a season-ending injury. It also proved to be the end of his big league career. Toledo went bust at the end of the season and no one else was willing to pick him up. He caught on with Newark of the minor league International League (the same league that saw Robinson’s first game–also in Newark). He lasted the season when the league voted to exclude black Americans from its rosters. The league rescinded the ban the next year and Walker again served as a catcher, this time for Syracuse. He was ultimately released in July 1889, his career over. He died in 1924 after a lifetime working for black causes. His brother Welday also briefly played for Toledo in 1884.

How to assess Walker? His career is, of course, always tainted with racism. If you look at his stats he’s not a bad player, but unfortunately he’s nothing special. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s really nothing special. As a catcher he ranks in the middle of the pack among American Association catchers. His hitting stats aren’t expecially strong, but they’re better than about half the other regular catcher’s in the league. But he couldn’t be just average. Because he was black he had to be better, a lot better, than the other catchers to make it worthwhile for teams to take a chance on playing him. Why risk it for a mediocre player? Part of why Jackie Robinson works is because he’s a heckuva player and you simply couldn’t afford to ignore his ability or leave him out of the lineup. Walker? Well, you could do that with him. So he doesn’t become “The Chosen One” to tear down racial barriers and bring black Americans along with him. It seems he never gave up trying. RIP, Fleet.