Posts Tagged ‘Boston Beaneaters’

The Emporer Nails It

January 24, 2013
Arthur Soden

Arthur Soden

One thing I’ve learned over a lifetime is that there is great truth to the old saw “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Consider this little gem from De Pretiis, the edict on prices promulgated by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 301 of the common era:

“The only desire of these uncontrolled madmen is to have no thought for the common welfare, for with them the immoderate and unscrupulous is almost a creed.”

Diocletian would have understood Arthur Soden.

Soden was born in Massachusetts in 1843.  He had a job in pharmaceutical supplies when the American Civil War broke out. He was drafted into the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry in 1863, rising, because of his experience with pharmaceuticals, to hospital steward in 1864.

Out of the army, Soden ran a roofing company and became a baseball fan. In 1874, a group of ball players, joined by several fans, toured Britain giving exhibitions. Soden was one of the fans and actually played in one game (This is not the more famous Spaulding tour that went around the world). Back home, Soden bought three shares in the Boston National League club (now the Atlanta Braves) for a total of $45 (or $15 a share–try that today).  With the team floundering after the 1876 season, Soden, joined by William Conant (a hoop skirt maker) and J.B. Billings (who ran a shoe factory), bought the team. Soden became team President with the other two becoming secretary and treasurer.

Initially the team did well, picking up pennants in 1877 and 1878, but problems were developing. To put it as bluntly as possible, Soden made misers look good. He rented rundown hotels for the teams on away trips, cut meal money, used the players as a grounds crew. The players were required to launder their uniforms at their expense, wives were charged full price to watch their husbands play, and the team offered incentives (I’ve been unable to find exactly what, but it must have been something odd.) if a player could make his shoelaces last two years. Then he cut salaries, going first for future Hall of Fame shortstop George Wright. That brought complaints from both team members and the shortstop’s brother, manager Harry Wright. The upshot of it all was that Harry Wright was fired and the team began to flounder.

Here’s a list I found for the period 1875-1880: clubhouse upkeep dropped from $$1626 to $551 per year; travel expenses went from $4000 a season to $2813 a year (reference is made here to the rundown hotels); and payroll dropped 20% to an average of $1377 per player. Meanwhile Soden and his two cronies were making salaries of $2500 a year. Unfortunately for the players, the penny-pinching worked. The team was turning a profit by 1880 and to be absolutely honest, Soden cared only about the profit margin. He admitted on more than one occasion he was in it for profits, not for love of the game.

This sort of attitude caught the attention of another team leader that Diocletian would have understood, National League President William Hulbert. Soden became one of Hulbert’s most trust advisors (birds of a feather, you see) and when Hulbert died in 1882 Soden was chosen interim President (he served for only a few months). While President he managed to return baseball to both New York and Philadlephia, each of which was banned under Hulbert’s Presidency (another story for another time).

Back running the Boston franchise, Soden was one of the leaders in attempting to break the first player’s union in 1890, an organization his actions had done much to help form. For one of the few times in his life he was generous, loaning money to other teams (at interest) to help them weather the Player’s League storm. He was instrumental in forming the reserve rule and ruthless in dealing with players who rocked the boat.

He also had the endearing habit of ignoring his players. He felt that owners and players were of decidedly different social class and shouldn’t mix. He didn’t travel with the team (but did attend home games). One player speculated Soden didn’t want to be seen in the flophouse hotels his players were forced to call home. Catcher Boileryard Clarke played for Boston two seasons. He once commented that he never spoke with Soden and was reasonably sure Soden never knew Clarke was on the team.

But you can’t make a profit with a losing team. By the late 1880s, the Beaneaters (Soden’s team) was making money, so he was able to invest in better quality players. He picked up Hall of Famers King Kelly and John Clarkson in the late 1880s and by the early 1890s his team was in contention. They won pennants in 1891-1893, and again in 1897 and 1898. the 1892 season was a split season with Boston winning one half and Cleveland the other. In the first split season playoff ever, Boston won the championship. In 1897 they won the last ever Temple Cup.

But Soden was in trouble. Although his team was successful, the players still hated working for him. With the arrival of Ban Johnson and the American League in 1901, the Beaneaters were decimated. The team fell off rapidly. The new team in Boston, the Americans (now the Red Sox), were drawing fans in droves and the Beaneaters were dying at the gate. In 1906, Soden sold the team for $75,000 which he split with Conant (Billings had sold out to the other two in 1904). Retired from baseball, Soden continued working (he owned, operated, or was co-owner in a number of businesses). He died while on vacation in 1925.

Because of the way he treated his players, it’s difficult to like Soden. There is a ruthless streak in him that Roman Emperors would have understood but that strikes us today as overboard. It’s fair to say of Soden that he was no worse than many of his contemporaries. It’s also fair to say that in many ways the road from him to Marvin Miller is a reasonably straight line. That Diocletian would never have understood.

Diocletian (follis)

Diocletian (follis)

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Hugh Duffy

July 11, 2012

Hugh Duffy while at Boston

1. Hugh Duffy was born in Rhode Island in 1866.

2. He began playing in the New England League, a Minor League, in 1886 and remained there in 1887.

3. In 1888 he joined the National League’s Chicago team (now the Cubs) hitting .282 in 71 games. The average, along with his home run total (7), was third on the team. He had only nine walks.

4. In 1890 he jumped to the Player’s League, leading the fledgling league in both hits and runs.

5. In 1891 he won his only RBI title with Boston in the American Association.

6. With the folding of the Association, Duffy joined the Boston Beaneaters (now the Braves) in 1892. He remained there through 1900.

7. With him in the outfield (along with fellow Hall of Famers Billy Hamilton and Tommy McCarthy), Boston won four pennants (1891-92 and 1897-98), finished second in 1899, and finished third  in 1894. They participated in the 1897 Temple Cup series losing in five games. 

8. His career year was 1894. He hit .440 (still an all-time record for highest batting average for a  regular), led the National League in home runs with 18, in doubles with 51, in hits with 237, and in total bases with 374. His OPS was a league leading 1.196. As noted above the team finished third.

9. In 1901 he managed the American League’s Milwaukee Brewers (now the Baltimore Orioles). He hit well but the team finished last with a 48-89 record. He wasn’t asked back for a second year.

10. He stayed in Milwaukee in 1902 and 1903 managing the minor league team. In 1904 he took over as player-manager of the Philadelphia Phillies doing more managing than playing. The Phils finished eighth in 1904, fourth in 1905, and fourth again in 1906 his final season as manager.

11. After retirement he coached at Harvard, managed in the minors, then had short stints managing both the White Sox (1910-11) and Red Sox (1921-22). After that he turned to scouting. He remained a scout until 1953 and died in 1954.

12. His career number include a .324 average, a .386 on base percentage, a .451 slugging percentage, and a OPS of .837 (OPS+ 112). He had 2293 hits, scored 1554 runs, hit 106 home runs, had 119 doubles, and knocked in 1302 RBI all in 7044 at bats. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Veteran’s Committee.

The Antithesis of Baltimore

March 25, 2010

Kid Nichols

There were two truly great teams playing in the National League in the 1890’s. Very few teams have been more unalike. The Orioles were loud, obnoxious, rowdy, obnoxious, dirty, obnoxious, full of fight (did I mention obnoxious?). Their counterparts were the Boston Beaneaters.

Unlike Baltimore, Boston had a tradition of winning teams, at least in the 1870s. The city could claim the last four National Association pennants and two of the first three National League pennants. They’d even won the only Player’s League championship.

After spending most of the 1880s outside the rarified air of pennant contenders, Boston got back in contention in 1889, then slid back in 1890 when the Player’s League raided them. One significant change occured in 1890, they brought in Frank Selee to manage the team. Selee was a minor league manager who had been incredibly successful and was brought on board to revamp the team. It worked.

The Beaneaters (as I’ve said before, what a terrible team nickname) were the antithesis of the Orioles. They played solid, fundamental, unspectacular baseball. They didn’t brawl, they didn’t fight. They hit well, they played good defense, and they pitched really, really well. Like Baltimore, they are credited with inventing the hit and run. I don’t know which, if either, actually did it. In 1891, ’92, and ’93 they won pennants and took the 1892 split season postseason series against Cleveland by winning five straight games after a first game tie. They slipped to third in 1894, fifth in ’95, and fourth again in ’96, then roared back to the top in both 1897 and 1898. They finished second in 1899 and finished the century in fourth.

Lots of players rotated through the Beaneaters during the final decade of the 19th Century, but the core of the team consisted of 10 or so players: first baseman Tommy Tucker, second baseman (and converted outfielder) Bobby Lowe, shortstop Herman Long, third baseman Billy Nash (who was replaced late in the run by Jimmy Collins), center fielder Hugh Duffy, the two left fielders Tommy McCarthy and Billy Hamilton, and pitchers Kid Nichols, Harry Staley, and Jake Stivetts. Of that crew Duffy, McCarthy, Hamilton, Collins, and Nichols (along with Selee) later made the Hall of Fame.

If John McGraw stood as the ultimate Oriole, the centerpiece of the Boston team was Kid Nichols. Along with Cy Young he is one of the greatest pitchers of the 19th Century. During the 1891-98 run he averaged 31 wins and 14 losses for a winning percentage of .688. He made the transition to 60’6″ and a mound easily, his record going from 35-16 to 34-14 at the change. In 1896, ’97, and ’98 he led the league in wins (you aren’t going to lead often if you have Cy Young in the league). For the century he was 310-167, a .650 winning percentage.

Like Baltimore, the Beaneaters didn’t do well in Temple Cup play, losing the only series (1897) they entered. As stated in earlier posts involving the Temple Cup, first place teams tended to take the games as exhibitons and figured that winning the regular season was enough. Boston was no exception.

These were the glory days of the National League team in Boston. The American League put a team in the city in 1901 and the Beaneaters waned about the same time. The new team, now the Red Sox, won and thus became the darlings of New England. The National League team faded in both the standings and in fans. By the 1950s it was in enough trouble it moved to Milwaukee. Although the new team in Milwaukee, and later in Atlanta, returned to glory, it was a sad end to a great franchise in Boston.

I hate to go out on a sad note. Late in their history, the Boston NL team, now called the Braves, called up a lefty pitcher named Warren Spahn. Put him together with Nichols and you get what is surely the best left-right combination produced by a single franchise in baseball history.

The Split Season

March 14, 2010

Back in 1981 Major League Baseball decided to have a split season. There was a strike during the year and so a first and second half winner was declared in each division, playoffs occurred, and eventually the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series. To hear pundits and some fans tell it, that was the worst thing that head ever happened to baseball, if not to the entire world. For a season or two, even the worst designated hitter haters had a new villain. Turns out, of course, that it was really nothing new. It had all been tried before.

Between 1882 and 1891 there were two Major Leagues, the National League and the American Association. They existed in an uneasy truce that led eventually to a handful of postseason games that were something like a 19th Century version of the World Series. That ended in 1890 and after the 1891 season, the American Association folded leaving only the National League. The postseason series’ had been pretty haphazard in number of games and in scheduling, but they had been reasonably popular. With the demise of the Association, there were now no more postseason games, which among other things, meant less revenue for the owners. What to do?

The owners decided to split the season into two parts. The winners of each half would then meet in a postseason series. Should the same team win both halves, then the team that finished second in the last half would take on the overall winner.

The team in Boston, the Beaneaters–which gets my vote for the absolutely worst team nickname ever–went 52-22 and won the first half by 2.5 games over Brooklyn. The team consisted of Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy in the outfield, King Kelly behind the plate, with Billy Nash, Tommy Tucker, Joe Quinn, Bobby Lowe, and Herman Long holding down the rest of the positions. Hall of Fame pitcher John Clarkson started the season at Boston, but was traded to Cleveland during the season. That left Kid Nichols as the undisputed ace. Nichols had a great year going 35-26 with 187 strikouts, a 2.84 ERA, and five shutouts.

During the second half of the season, Boston continued winning, but a new team showed up to challenge them. The Cleveland Spiders finished fifth in the first half, then ran off a 53-23 record in the second half to finish three games ahead of Boston. Cleveland had future Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and George Davis leading their attack, with Cupid Childs and Jack Virtue providing the rest of the firepower. Clarkson, over from Boston went 17-10 and Nig Cuppy was 28-13 for the Spiders. But the real find was third year pitcher Cy Young. Young went 36-12, led the league in ERA at 1.93, struck out 168, and threw a league leading nine shutouts.

The postseason series was a walkover. After a tie in game one, Boston ran off five straight victories, defeating both Clarkson and Young twice, to claim the title. Duffy hit .462, had nine RBIs, twelve hits, and one of the three Boston home runs to pace the Beaneaters. Nichols and two pitcher Jake Stivetts each won two games (Harry Staley won the other). For the Spiders,shortstop Ed McKean hit well (.440), as did Childs, but the rest of the team was shut down.

The split season hadn’t been overly successful. There were allegations that because Boston had nothing to play for, the team wasn’t playing up to speed during the second half. In their defense, they came in second that half and had the best overall record in the league. The postseason games had not been either well played or well attended. The owners decided to scrap the split season and go with a single pennant winner. There would be no more postseason play until the Temple Cup games beginning in 1894. The split season was not a success and it took all the way to 1981 to try it again.

William Temple’s Cup

December 18, 2009

Temple Cup

By 1894 the National League was the sole Major League, the American League not yet formed and the American Association defunct. It was a Big League (literally) with 12 teams. Noone thought it a good idea to run the League as two divisions, and a split season had been tried once and didn’t work. That meant that when th regular season ended, a champion was crowned with no postseason play. That could make for some awfully boring last months of pennant races. If you couldn’t get enough baseball, it was just too bad. Enter William Chase Temple.

Temple owned the Pittsburgh team and decided he wanted more baseball, postseason baseball, a close pennant race. So he offered a postseason series for possession of the Temple Cup, a garrish trophy to be presented to the winner of a best of 7 series at the end of the season. But wait a minute, there’s only one league. Where do you get the two teams necessary to hold a series? Simple, Temple argued. You take the league leader and the runner up and have them face off. It took some work, but Temple finally got the League to agree (it was difficult because if you’d already won the pennant, why jeopardize it with another series).

Between 1894 and 1897 the Temple Cup series was played annually. In 3 of the 4 years the second place team defeated the league champion, indicating that the champion wasn’t taking the Series too awfully seriously. After 1897 the series was discontinued and with one exception there was no postseason play until the modern World Series began in 1903.

The Cup? Well it took a while to track it down, but it was eventually found and now rests in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Temple Cup results:

1894-second place New York Giants beat the champion Baltimore Orioles (not the current Orioles) in 4 stratight games.

1895-second place Cleveland Spiders beat the champion Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1.

1896-finally the first place team wins as the Orioles knock off the Spiders in a 4 game sweep.

1897-the second place Orioles defeat the champion Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) 4 games to 1.