Posts Tagged ‘Andy Leonard’

The Original Big Red Machine

March 28, 2013

We all know “The Big Red Machine.” It played in Cincinnati in the 1970s and won the World Series twice. It featured Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and an entire slew of pitchers no one ever heard of, right? But 100 years prior to the Cincinnati team, there was another Big Red Machine that utterly dominated its league. It was the Boston Red Stockings of the 1871-1875 National Association and featured the likes of Harry and George Wright, Deacon White, Cal McVey, and the most dominant pitcher of the age, Albert Spaulding.

In the 1860s Boston was known as a decent baseball town, but not the hotbed that Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia were. It certainly hadn’t known the success of those three towns (Brooklyn was still an independent city in the 1860s). When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, Boston was included in the league, but needed talent to be able to compete at what was now the highest level. The first thing the team did was reach out to Harry Wright of the defunct Cincinnati Red Stockings. Wright agreed to join the new Boston team, also nicknamed the Red Stockings, and brought with him several members of the old Cincinnati ball club: Cal McVey, Andy Leonard, and his brother George Wright. the team was an instant success. It rolled through the 1871 season going 20-10 and finishing a disputed two games behind league leader Philadelphia. Boston claimed that a couple of games Philly played didn’t count, Philly claimed they did, and a meeting of the league leaders awarded the pennant to the Athletics. It was the last time the Red Stockings would lose anything major.

In 1872, they started strong, won 22 of 23, including 19 in a row, and won the pennant by seven and a half games. Second baseman Ross Barnes won the batting and slugging titles, and led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Spaulding was 38-8 on a team that went 39-8 (Harry Wright won the other game).

The 1873 team went 43-16 and won the pennant by four games. It may have been the best of the Boston dynasty. Hall of Famers the Wrights, Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, and Spaulding dominated the league. Good players that are forgotten today, Andy Leonard, Barnes, Harry Schafer, and Bob Addy put together a team that won 16 of 17 games down the stretch (before dropping the final two meaningless games). Barnes won the batting title, led the league in OBP, slugging, OPS, runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, and walks (heck of a year, right?). White won the RBI crown. Spaulding was 41-14 and Harry Wright led the NA in saves with four (something he never knew). Here’s a picture of the 1873 team:

1873 Boston Red Stockings

1873 Boston Red Stockings

George Wright is in the front row on the left with the cap in front of him. Harry Wright sits in the middle of the second row (the man with the beard). Deacon White is second from the right on the back row.

In 1874 they won their first 13 games and rolled to a 52-18 record. The won the pennant by seven and a half games, winning a game in October by a score of 29-0. This time Cal McVey, who had departed and returned, led the league in runs, hits, RBIs, and total bases. O’Rourke won the home run title with five and George Wright led the NA in triples. Spaulding was 52-16 and led the league in shutouts. Harry Wright had three saves (and the other two Boston losses–get that bum off the mound). So far the Red Stockings had won three of four pennants in the NA and still disputed the initial pennant.

By 1875 the Red Stockings were so dominant that the pennant race became a joke. They started the season 26-0-1 and scored in double figures in 18 of those wins (the tie was 3-3 against the Athletics). By the end of the season they were 71-8 and coasted to the pennant by 15 games. For the season they had a run differential of six and scored in double figures 46 times, including a 10-10 tie against the Athletics (bet you have it figured that the Athletics came in second). Deacon White won the batting title and O’Rourke repeated as home run champion. Barnes led the NA in runs, hits, and OBP while Cal McVey won the slugging, OPS, total bases, doubles, and RBI titles. Spaulding was 54-5 (a .915 winning percentage) and led the league in both saves and shutouts.

But success had its price. Boston was so dominant by 1875 that attendance was falling in the rest of the league. Fans weren’t coming out to see teams they knew had no chance of winning a pennant and even the arrival of Boston in town wasn’t helping attendance much as fans understood their team had little chance of winning against the Red Stockings. In the entire 1875 campaign, Boston only lost two in a row one time–5-3 on 21 August to St. Louis and 13-11 on 23 August to Chicago (both were road games).  At the end of the season the league was in trouble financially and franchises were failing. There were a lot of reasons, but Boston’s continued dominance was one of them. Prior to the 1876 season, the National Association collapsed.

That same year, the National League was formed. Boston was a first year member (and is still around, although moved to Atlanta via Milwaukee). It was expected to win, but lost to Chicago. They were back in 1877 and 1878, but were never as much a lock as they had been in the Association days.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Subs

March 20, 2010

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.

The Scandal at Louisville

March 19, 2010

I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but it’s true. The Black Sox are not completely unique. OK, they threw a World Series and no one else did, but the idea of throwing away a game or a season isn’t unique. Players have been accused of it for a long time. There have been questions of players taking money to lose games, of them playing less that 100% because the hated the owner or the manager. The Black Sox may have been the worst case, but they weren’t first.

By the middle of the 1877 season it became evident that the National League pennant was a two team race: Boston vs. the Louisville Grays. The Red Caps (Boston) was managed by Harry Wright. They had essentially the same team that won the last four National Association pennants then lost the first National League pennant by finishing fourth. Deacon White, George Wright (Harry’s brother), Ezra Sutton, and John Morrill handled the infield; Lew Brown caught; Andy Leonard, Harry Schafer, and Jim O’Rourke patrolled the outfield; and Tommy Bond did the pitching (both Wright’s and O’Rourke are Hall of Famers). Louisville finished fifth in 1876, but produced a strong contender the next season. The Grays featured Juice Latham, Joe Gerhardt, Bill Craver, and Bill Hague were the infield: the catcher was Pop Snyder; the outfield consisted of George Hall, Orator Shaffer, and Bill Crowley; and Jim Devlin pitched.

Th race was tight into late September, then Louisville lost four in a row at Boston, lost three of  four in Brooklyn (the other game was a tie), then dropped the final game of the season to Chicago. Boston won the pennant by seven games after Louisville led for most of the year. The official reason was that Devlin tired and the team just quit hitting. In an era of one pitcher teams, that sounded reasonable.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so, Joe. It seems that a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who happened to be the son of the team owner, started asking questions. Little used player Al Nichols (he played six games) was serving as a conduit for gamblers to fix games. Pitcher Devlin, outfielder Hall, and third baseman Craver were the other men accused. For money, they had thrown an unspecified number of games allowing Boston to win the pennant.

The accusations and the proof, in the form of telegrams to Nichols, landed on the desk of league president William Hulbert. The National League was Hulbert’s baby and any chance that gambling was occuring was sheer anathema to him. Any chance that games were being fixed was equally anathema. In looking at his comments, it’s as if he took it as a personal affront to his honor. He moved immediately, banning all four players from the game. None ever played a Major League game again.

As a result of the castastophe, Louisville dropped totally out of the NL the next season. St. Louis attempted to sign two of the “outlaws” and was shown the door also. So the scandal had produced a questionable pennant and cost the NL two teams (which were replaced by Milwaukee and Indianapolis). At least in 1919 the AL lost no teams.

Interestingly enough Devlin, who died in 1883, found another line of work after his banishment. He became a policeman in Philadelphia (go figure).

The Red Stockings of Boston

March 7, 2010

Boston, unlike New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington had not been a major player in the 1860s baseball world. That changed in the 1870s. The National Association had five pennant winners. Four of them were the team from Boston, the Red Stockings. The other year they finished second. They dominated this league the way the New York Yankees dominate the modern American League.

The game, as I’ve emphasized before, was different in the 1870s. Among other things the rosters were much smaller. In 1871 the Red Stockings had only 11 men on their roster for the season. In 1872 it dropped to 10, was 13 in 1873, back to 11 in 1874, and ended at 13 in the National Association’s final year. That meant that players need to be versatile. Most players could be plugged into different spots in the field, so the idea of a dominant third baseman is not something that happened in the Association. As we look at the individual players, all (except McVey who truly did utility work) were plugged into a primary position, but all were to a degree something akin to modern utility players.

In 1871 the Red Stockings ended the season with the most wins of any team, 22 (tied with Philadelphia) but had 10 losses and ended in second place (Philly had only seven losses). There was some confusion about an illegal player and forfeits involving him. So under one scenario the Stockings actually end up in first place with a record of 20-10. Modern baseball acknowledges the Philadelphia team as the winner. Obviously it was a season in which the team played few league games.

Over the next four seasons the Red Stockings were dominant, winning the pennant by 7.5 games in 1872, four in 1873, 7.5 again in 1874, and 18.5 in 1875. If you were a Boston fan, this was great, but if you were a fan of another team, well, you were just out of luck. Boston’s dominance is generally cited as one of the reasons the Association folded. The pennant races just weren’t competative enough.

So who were these guys?  Here’s a brief rundown of the major players on the Red Stockings.

Harry Wright was the manager and occasional center fielder. His major contributions come from his managerial abilities which I touched on in an earlier post.

Al Spaulding was the pitcher. During the life of the Association, the Red Stockings played 294 games, winning 227 of them (a .772 winning percentage). Spaulding won 204 of them (89.87%) while never leading the league in either strikeouts or ERA. In some ways it’s fair to say that no pitcher ever dominated a league quite like Spaulding dominated the National Association. In defense of more modern pitchers it’s fair to point out that Spaulding never pitched overhand and stood only 45′ away from the batter.

Cal McVey was one of the best hitters in the game and I’m saving him for a later post.

George Wright was the shortstop and Harry Wright’s younger brother. He was considered the premier shortstop of the era and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Ross Barnes was a second baseman who led off. He won two batting titles, was second once, and was a decent (for the era) middle infielder.

Harry Schafer was the third baseman and in the lineup primarily for his glove. OK, it was his hands, they didn’t use gloves that far back.

Deacon White came over from Cleveland after 1871 and became the catcher. He was the most prolific hitting backstop for the entire period of the National Association and a player I would support for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

Andy Leonard also came over from Washington and became the regular left fielder. He ended up becoming the all-time games played leader for the Association.

There were other players, but these were the centerpiece players. Both Wrights, McVey, and Leonard  played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the so-called first professional team making them already familiar with each others skills. That, along with great talent, made the Boston team the greatest team of the era.