Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Smith’

The Mighty Atlantic

January 14, 2011

1860 game between Atlantic and Excelsior at Excelsior Grounds

Since its beginnings, baseball has been dominated by great teams. Back in the Deadball Era there were the Cubs and Athletics. Since 1920 the Yankees have dominated. In the 1880s, there were the Browns. And before any of these, all the way back in the 1850s and 1860s there were the Atlantic.

The great hotbed of 1850s and 1860s baseball was Brooklyn. At this time Brooklyn was an independent city, not one of the boroughs of New York. It had its own civic pride, its own commercial district, and more great baseball teams than anywhere else. The best of these were the Atlantic. The singular form of the word is  correct, but as it sounds absolutely goofy to the modern ear, I’ll begin calling them the Atlantics. They were occasionally known as the Atlantic of Brooklyn and they were far and away the best of the era.

The Atlantics were founded in 1855 and joined the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players that same season. BTW Base Ball as two words is correct for this era. The modern Baseball comes later. They were a typical club of the period, all amateurs (at least officially), men who worked a day job and used baseball as a hobby and medium for exercise. I’m not sure of the initial roster, but I was able to find the following list of players for the 21 October 1855 game, so let’s celebrate them:  Caleb Sniffen (P), Willet P. Whitson (C), Thomas Powers (1B), Tice Hamilton (2B), Isaac Loper (3B), William Babcock (SS), William Bliss (LF), John Holder (CF), and Andrew Gildersleeve (RF). The Atlantic defeated the Harmony (of Brooklyn) club 24-22 that day. Can you imagine a “Harmony” team in this day and age?

The Association  was a consortium of teams and players that met to create a uniform set of rules, and ultimately to choose a winner for the league. They did not crown a champion from 1855 through 1858, but the Atlantics did well, producing a 7-1-1 record in 1857 and going 11-1 in 1858. Beginning in 1859, the Association decided to determine a champion and did so through 1869. In those 11 years, the Atlantics won seven titles: 1859, 1860, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, and 1869. No other team won more than two (Brooklyn Eckfords).

In their seven titles, the Atlantics never played more than 21 championship caliber games prior to 1868, so they are dominant over a small sample of contests and thus it’s difficult to gauge their true abilities. Another problem is the rapid turnover of players. By the first championship team of 1859, not one player from the 1855 team was still around. It seems that’s true to a great degree for most teams of the era. It’s not exactly “free agency”, after all no one is supposed to be paid, but it does appear that the clubs had very open membership and that good players tended to gravitate toward the better teams. This begins to change in the early 1860s when you begin seeing a lot of the same names on the same clubs. Here’s a picture of the 1865 Atlantcs:

1865 Atlantics

From left to right, the players are Frank Norton, Sid Smith, Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, Charlie Smith, John Chapman, Fred Crane, John Galvin, and Tom Pratt. The man in the middle in the civilian suit is manager Peter O’Brien. The association winning team of 1860 included Pearce, Charlie Smith, and Peter O’Brien as a player. In 1869 Pearce, Start, Chapman, and Charlie Smith were still around for the final championship team. Here’s another view of the 1865 team. If you click on it, it blows up so you can read who’s who:

1865 Atlantics

As the reigning league champions in 1869, the Atlantics drew the attention of the all professional Cincinnati Red Stockings team. They engaged in a match for the ages in 1870. It’s nicely detailed at Kevin’s excellent DMB Historic World Series Replay site (link in the blogroll), so I’m not going to go over it except to say the Atlantic won in 11 innings. It was their high point. In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed to play professional games. The Atlantic decided to set it out and most of the great players jumped to other teams in the new league. In 1872 the Atlantic joined the new league, but with all their good players gone, they floundered, never finishing higher than sixth (of eight). When the National League was formed in 1876, the woeful Atlantics were left out. They hung around trying to play good ball with little success. In 1882, the newly formed American Association wanted a team in Brooklyn. They chose the Bridegrooms. It was the end for the Atlantics. They folded, although the name hung around for a while as the Bridegrooms were informally know at the “Atlantics” for a number of years.

It was a sad end to a great team, but the Baseball God’s weren’t quite through with them yet. In looking for info on this team, I ran across a site dedicated to a modern team called the Atlantic that plays 1860s style Base Ball in honor of the old team. In the words of a contemporary of the old Atlantic, Abraham Lincoln, “It is altogether fitting and proper” that they do this.

Opening Day, 1910: Washington

April 22, 2010

Walter Johnson

When George Washington died in 1799, former Revolutionary War leader Lighthorse Harry Lee (who became most famous for being the father of Robert E. Lee) gave this eulogy, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” In baseball this was frequently paraphrased, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” The 1909 season ended with the Senators in last place, 56 games out and 20 games out of seventh. There was little prospect for 1910 to be significantly better. 

At the end of the 1909 season, the Senators canned manager Joe Cantillon, replacing him with Jimmy McAleer. Now there was an upgrade. McAleer was the just fired manager of the Browns who managed to finish exactly one spot ahead of Washington in the standings, seventh (OK, they were 20 games closer to first, but still ya gotta wonder). 

The infield underwent change at the corners and up the middle (except at shortstop). Former backup Bob Unglaub replaced Jiggs Donahue at first and Kid Elberfeld came over from New York to play third. Former starter Wid Conroy now became the man off the bench. George McBride stayed at short and Red Killefer (Bill’s brother) became the new second baseman. Killefer came over from Detroit late in 1909 and moved into the starting job when the new season began. Germany Schaefer, who had done a lot of the 1909 work at second, went to the bench. 

The outfield saw one new man and one change of position. Jack Lelivelt moved from right field to left and Doc Gessler, another player who came over in mid-1909 (this time from New York) took the right field slot. Lead off hitter Clyde Milan remained in center. Conroy, the backup infielder, doubled as the fourth outfielder. 

The catcher was Gabby Street. He was a standard no hit, great field catcher of the era. Much later he went on to win a World Series as a manager with the Cardinals in 1931. Rookie Eddie Ainsmith was his backup. 

The pitching staff was uneven. Walter Johnson was the ace. His 1909 was forgettable, but when you’re Walter Johnson there’s always the possibility that the next year will be great. Bob Groom, Dolly Gray, Tom Hughes, and Charlie Smith were the other 1909 starters. Groom led the American League in walks (105) and Smith was traded during the season. Johnson was back, as were Groom and Gray. Dixie Walker (not the 1940s outfielder), who had pitched four games the previous season, took over one starting slot. Doc Reisling, who pitched 10 games in 1909, took the other. Besides Johnson, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished staff. 

The Senators, like most lower division teams, did a lot of tinkering with their roster between 1909 and 1910. They managed to find a couple of players who were pretty good (Milan and Street) and then there was Johnson. Every fourth day they were guaranteed of being competitive. It was the other three days that were the problem.This concludes a team by team look at the Major Leagues in 1910.

I intend to continue looking at 1910 for the balance of the season, but will concentrate on major events (there’s another no hitter, Cy Young wins his 500th game, etc) and a once monthly review of the standings and such. That will give all of us a break from the events of 100 years ago.

Opening Day, 1910: Boston (AL)

April 16, 2010

Tris Speaker

New manager Patsy Donovan (former manager Fred Lake was now with the other Boston team) had a good enough team he could stand pat for the most part. There were two changes from the 1909 starting roster that finished 9.5 games out of first. Both were significant.

The infield had one of them. Jake Stahl remained at first base, Heinie Wagner at short, and Harry Lord at third. The new guy was Larry Gardner, a good fielding second baseman who would turn into a very good hitter for Boston. His arm was good enough that in the latter part of his career he would shift to third and Boston wouldn’t skip a beat.

The other big change was in the outfield. Duffy Lewis took over left field from Harry Niles. Tris Speaker remained the center fielder and the three hitter. Harry Hooper, who was the fourth outfielder in 1909 took on the right field post and led off. There was a time when fans, pundits, and historians refered to this trio as the greatest outfield ever. You don’t hear that much today, but it’s been recent enough that I recall a few old timers using that kind of talk about Lewis, Speaker, Hooper. Both Speaker and Hooper ultimately made the Hall of Fame.

The catcher was Bill Carrigan. He wasn’t a particularly good hitter, but was a premier defensive specialist of his day. That seems to be a common theme of the era. The best teams have catchers who are good backstops and any hitting is gravy.

There were major trades during the 1910 season that really strengthened the Boston bench, but they began the season with Niles as the backup outfielder, Tom Madden the backup catcher, and a bunch of guys who didn’t get into 20 games as the infield.

The pitching staff was also fairly stable. The 1909 staff of Frank Arellanes, Eddie Cicotte, Smoky Joe Wood, and Charlie Chech was intact except for Chech. Ray Collins, Charley Hall, Ed Karger, and Charlie Smith were new and expected to solidify the mound. The problem was that most of them were inexperienced. Collins was a rookie in 1909, getting into only 12 games. Hall had pitched only 11 games the year before. The ones with experience weren’t very good. Smith came over from Washington where he hadn’t been very good. Karger was a career National Leaguer who hadn’t been particularly distinguished.

So Boston was improved, but the pitching was a question. If it reached its potential, then the team could move up. If not, well, it was going to be a long year.

Next: the White Sox