Posts Tagged ‘Chicago White Stockings’

The White Stockings

July 17, 2013
1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

All of you know the Cubs. They have a great reputation as losers. Wasn’t always so. They won, of course, in 1907 and 1908. But even before that the team won and they won a lot. There are arguably five great teams of the 19th Century professional leagues. The 1870s Red Stockings dominated the National Association. In the 1890s the Beaneaters and Orioles fought for dominance in the National League. In the 1880s the Browns ruled the American Association. The other team was the 1880s White Stockings. With a name change they are now the Cubs.

After winning the first ever National League pennant in 1876 (yes, team, the Cubs won the first pennant) Chicago slipped back into the pack for the rest of the 1870s. They were generally good, but someone else always walked away with the prize. That changed in 1880 when the White Stockings won the first of three consecutive pennants. After losses in 1883 and 1884, they picked up again winning championships in both 1885 and 1886. Although they didn’t win again for the rest of the 1880s, they remained a perennial power.

So what exactly happened in 1880 that set the Chicago team on the road to being one of the most dominant teams of the 19th Century? Well, a couple of things. Most notably, they picked up two new pitchers. In 1879 the team utilized two pitchers: Terry Larkin and Frank Hankinson. As with all of you, I asked myself, “who?”. Larkin was at the end of a career (his last season was 1880) that wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t particularly distinguished. Hankinson was essentially a third baseman that got a year in the box (no mound yet). In 1880, both men were replaced. The new guys were Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith. Both were major upgrades as pitchers. The everyday players (and in that era pitchers were close to being everyday players too) were pretty much the same as in 1879, so the change in pitchers was critical. Having said that, the everyday players saw a few significant changes also.

Those everyday players included an infield of (from first to third) Cap Anson, Joe Quest, Tom Burns, and Ned Williamson. Only Burns was new and he was a significant upgrade  over departed shortstop John Peters. The outfield remained the same in both left and center with Abner Dalrymple and George Gore continuing to hold down both positions. Gone was Orator Shafer, a decent enough hitter, but his replacement was Hall of Famer King Kelly. Silver Flint stayed on as catcher.

One of the good things about studying this era is that the small rosters make for few changes in the lineup over the years. The 1880 starting eight remained intact through 1882, changing only the second baseman in 1883 (Quest was replaced by Fred Pfeffer). There were a couple of major additions to the bench in the period with Billy Sunday  taking over the fourth outfielder duties in 1883, and John Clarkson joining the pitching staff in 1884. As Cochrane and Goldsmith both faded after 1884, Jim McCormick and later Jocko Flynn joined Clarkson as the pitching mainstays.

Chicago dominated the period in the National League winning pennants by as many as 15 games in 1880 and by as few as two in 1885, In the 1885 and 1886 they faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) in the 1880s version of the World Series. In the first Series they played to a 3-3-1 tie with most newspapers indicating the White Stockings played better ball. In 1886, the Browns won the competition four games to two.

After 1886, the White Stockings never again won a pennant (by the next pennant they were the Cubs). They stayed close for a few years but as the players aged, were traded, or jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, Chicago fell back into the pack. But for the period of the 1880s they were a truly great team.

The Other Abner

July 15, 2013
Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Mention the name Abner and baseball together and I’ll bet most people will respond with “Doubleday.” It’s part of the old myth that Doubleday invented baseball. But the good general is not the only Abner to make a name for himself in the early era of the sport. There was Abner Dalrymple, and, considering the Doubleday story didn’t come out until the 20th Century, you can argue that Dalrymple was the first important Abner is baseball history.

Dalrymple was born in Wisconsin in 1857, but his family moved to Illinois during the Civil War. He was good at baseball early on and at age 14 was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to serve as a brakeman. His real job was to play ball for the company team. He was good enough that in 1874 he started playing for local town teams in the Illinois-Wisconsin area. By 1875 he was in Milwaukee.

The year 1876 saw the formation of the National League. Two years later the NL expanded by putting a team in Milwaukee. The Grays (the team nickname) grabbed local player Dalrymple to be their left fielder. He was good, good enough to win the batting title, sort of. At the time the NL recognized Abner Dalrymple as the league batting champion. During the 1878 season, hits occurring in tie games were not counted in the official statistics. In 1968 someone noticed and when factoring them in Dalrymple lost the batting title to Paul Hines. By 1968 both men were dead, so neither ever knew.

With or without the batting title, Dalrymple had a heck of a year. Unfortunately Milwaukee had a terrible season and folded. Dalrymple ended up in Chicago as the starting left fielder and lead off hitter for one of the greatest 19th Century teams, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). In seven seasons the White Stockings won five pennants, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886. As lead off hitter, Dalrymple was a major factor in the team’s success. In 1880 he led the NL in both hits and runs, and was generally in the top five or ten in most major categories, twice leading in total bases. In 1885 he won a home run title. In 1883 he collected four doubles in a single game. In the 1884 season when Chicago had impossibly short fences, he managed 22 home runs, second on the team, and second all time until the 19-teens.

He is credited with one of the more infamous plays of the 19th Century. The Sox were in Buffalo (which had a NL team from 1879-1885) playing in smokey conditions. It was late, making it even more difficult to see, when a Bisons player hit a long fly with two outs and the bases loaded. Dalrymple went back to the fence, leaped, and came out of the haze with the ball to end the inning. Later he admitted the ball went over the fence and he’d hidden a ball in his shirt, pulled it out, and held it high, knowing no one would be able to tell what actually happened in the haze. Great story, right? There are several problems with it. There is no date given, no batter mentioned, the inning is left in doubt. So maybe it’s true (it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility in 19th Century ball), or maybe it’s not, but it’s still a fun story.

During Dalrymple’s time in Chicago the first “World Series” games were played. They were quite different from today’s Series, but some credit them as World Series games. Whatever you decide, they were certainly postseason games. Chicago was in both the 1885 and the 1886 postseason series. The first resulted in a disputed tie and they lost the second. Dalrymple didn’t do particularly well in either, although he had a home run in the first one.

By 1886 he was fading. He managed only 81 games that season. There was an injury, but the exact nature of it seems to be in doubt. He hit only .233 (a career low) and found himself traded to Pittsburgh. He continued to slide, but was among the middle of the pack players for the team (the Alleghenys finished sixth both seasons Dalrymple played for them). He was let go after the 1888 season. He played minor league ball in both Denver and Milwaukee. In 1891, the American Association, on its last legs and trying to expand its fan base, put a team in Milwaukee (the team in Cincinnati folded and Milwaukee was an August 1891 replacement). Dalrymple signed on as the Brewers’ left fielder. He had one last good season, becoming the only Brewers player to hit for the cycle (12 September). At the end of the season both the team and the league folded.

Dalrymple’s triple slash line reads .288/.323/.410/.732 with an OPS+ of 122. He had 1202 hits (in 951 games) for 1710 total bases (217 doubles, 81 triples, and 43 home runs). He scored 813 runs and drove in 407. His offensive WAR is 18.2. Not bad stats for a 19th Century player.

In 1883, the White Stockings scheduled an exhibition game against Toledo. When they arrived, they found Toledo was going to play catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker (generally know as Fleet Walker). Walker was black and Chicago had been led to believe Walker would not play in the game. This led White Stockings first baseman and manager Cap Anson to demand that either Walker not play or the game not be played. Eventually, the game was played (Chicago would lose a lot of money if it wasn’t) and led to Anson becoming the chief advocate for completely segregating the Major Leagues. It didn’t take long for him to get his way. I have been unable to determine Dalrymple’s stand on the matter. As far as I can tell he neither backed nor opposed Anson (at least publicly) during the controversy.

Following his big league days, Dalrymple went back to railroading, becoming a conductor for the Northern Pacific. He managed to get in minor league play during the summers of 1892-1895 when the railroad granted him 90 day leaves each year (nice of the UP, don’t you think?), then retired from professional baseball. He maintained an interest in the game, playing semipro ball as late as 1907 (age 50). He retired from the railroad in 1928 and died in Warren, Illinois in 1939.

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Plaque in Dalrymple's honor in Warren, Illinois (note it gives him credit for the disputed batting title)

The Man Who Never Knew

May 23, 2012

The first hitter to win baseball’s Triple Crown was Paul Hines, today a truly obscure player. Part of the reason for his obscurity (besides that he played so far back people don’t even know baseball was played then) is that he never knew he’d won the Triple Crown. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that he was given credit for the feat. Some references still don’t give him credit. What happened, you ask? Glad you asked.

Hines was born in the nation’s capital in 1852. By 1872 (age 20) he was already a pro. He joined the Washington Nationals (not the team currently in DC) of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in that season. The team wasn’t very good and folded after an 0-11 start. Hines, the regular first baseman, hit all of .224 with 11 hits (one for extra bases-a double). The next season Washington tried again. The Blue Legs still weren’t anything special, but Hines, shifted to center field, hit .331, had 29 RBIs in 39 games, and found a career. He finished his National Association career with Chicago putting up good years in both 1874 and 1875. He played mostly center, but as was usual for the era, played other positions, notably second base.

With the demise of the Association and the founding of the National League, Hines stayed with his old team, the Chicago White Stockings (obviously one of the founding members of the NL). He remained there through 1877, leading the NL in doubles in the league’s inaugural year (1876) and helping Chicago to the first ever NL pennant. By this point he was becoming a fulltime center fielder.

The 1878 season saw Hines move to Providence where he stayed through 1885. The Grays won two pennants with Hines in center and participated in the first postseason championship in 1884 (they won). Hines hit .250 with three walks, two hits, and an RBI in this primitive version of the World Series. Here’s a shot of the 1882 team with Hines on the left of the back row. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

1882 Providence Grays (Hines at left of back row)

During the regular season at Providence Hines blossomed into a formidable hitter. He averaged .309 in eight years with Providence, had an OPB of .762, and an OPS+ of 143. In 1878 he won baseball’s first Triple Crown, except that he didn’t know it. His numbers stand at .358 for a BA, 4 home runs, and 50 RBIs. There were two problems. First RBIs weren’t kept as an official statistic in 1878, so it wasn’t until later that baseball found out Hines led the NL in 1878. Acknowledgement that he’d won the batting title also came later. Milwaukee outfielder Abner Dalrymple ended the season with a higher average and was awarded the batting crown. In 1968 someone realized that hits occurring in tie games were not counted among official stats in 1878. When they were added in, Dalrymple ended up at .354 and Hines was, posthumously, awarded the batting title and a Triple Crown. The next season he again won the batting title, but didn’t know about it because the award went to Cap Anson. Subsequent reasearch awarded Hines the title. So, as far as I can tell, Hines is the only player to win back-to-back batting titles and not know it.

With the folding of the Providence franchise following the 1885 season, Hines moved back to Washington, where he had two more good seasons. Then it was on to Indianapolis for two fine years with the Hoosiers. He split 1890 between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, then moved on to Boston in 1890. His final season was 1891 with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen (is that an oxymoron?). It was also the last year for the American Association.

After his retirement he stayed on in Washington, drinking heavily and picking up a number of jobs, including a turn working in the post office at the Department of Agriculture. In 1920 (or 1922 depending on who you believe) he was arrested for pickpocketing. He died in a nursing home in Maryland in 1935.

For his career he hit .301 in the NL (.311 in the NA). His career totals include 57 home runs, 855 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 131. He led the NL in hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS once each, and in doubles, batting average, and total bases twice each. As a fielder he normally finished in the middle of the pack in most statistics, but finished as high as second in fielding percentage three times. All that in 1658 games (never more than 133 in a season).

It’s tough to know how to rate Hines. He has the same problem a lot of 19th Century players have; he plays in seasons that are much shorter than modern seasons. So his raw numbers aren’t all that impressive, but his percentages hold up pretty well. Also it’s a very different game with the pitcher closer to the batter than currently, the strike and ball counts different, the lack of gloves, and the quality of the fields. But it seems that one thing hasn’t changed. A lot of ball players, ancient and modern, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when their career ends. Hines is certainly one of those. Is he a Hall of Famer? I wouldn’t vote for him, but I note his Baseball Reference page sponsor thinks he should be enshrined. I have to admit being somewhat wistful about him because I wish he’d known about the batting titles and the Triple Crown.

BTW the 2010 book by Edward Achorn, “Fifty-Nine in ’84” , although primarily about Charles Radbourn, references Hines occasionally. They were teammates that season.

The Star of the National Association

October 29, 2010

Major League baseball is in denial about a lot of things. Things like drugs and gambling and corked bats make a little sense. but strangely enough it is at odds with its own beginnings. MLB says that the National Association, which flourished from 1871-1875, wasn’t really a major league. Now let me see if I have this straight. Professional ball players are playing ball at the highest available professional level, right? That sounds to me like a “Major League”. Does it to you? As long as they refuse to admit the National Association into the fraternity of major leagues the players of that era are going to be even more obscure than they would otherwise be. That includes the undeniable star of the National Association, Ross Barnes.

Ross Barnes

Barnes was born in New York in 1850. He played league baseball beginning in 1868, becoming a professional in 1869. In 1871 with the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Barnes joined the Boston Red Stockings, splitting time between second base and shortstop. He settled in at second base and became the dominant player in the league for the rest of its existence. In the five years Barnes played for Boston, the team finished a contested second in 1871, then rolled to four consecutive pennants.

With the collapse of the Association after the 1875 season, Barnes joined the Chicago White Stockings of the fledgling National League. As usual for his team, it won the pennant in 1876. So far so good for Barnes. Then came 1877.

 There are two versions of what happened to Barnes. In 1877 the NL changed the rule that allowed a bunted ball to be declared fair or foul depending on where it first landed. Barnes was a master of chopping the ball so that it landed fair, then slid foul. By the time the fielder caught up to it, Barnes had a hit. If the fielder played to take away the fair-four bunt, then Barnes would swing away. With this play now being simply a foul ball, Barnes’ ability to use it caused his career to crash. The second story is that in 1877 Barnes caught a fever (type undetermined) and simply never recovered. I’m not sure which is true. The first presupposes that Barnes simply couldn’t adapt to a new style of hitting, the second that he couldn’t recover his health enough to play. Both are a little far-fetched. Most good hitters (especially in the era before home run specialization) can do more than one thing well, and if the fever weakened him that much he still managed to live another 38 years. My best guess, and that’s all it is, is that his problem was a combination of the two. Physically weakened and without his best hitting weapon, his career sagged.

Barnes hung on through 1881, missing all of 1878 and 1880, then retired. He did some umpiring between 1874 and 1890. I’m not sure how you ump when you’re an active player, but it seems to have been considered acceptable in the earliest years of Major League baseball. Several people other than Barnes also do it. After retirement he spent time working in Chicago. He died in 1915 and is buried in Rockford, Illinois (later home of the Peaches).

Between 1871 and 1876 Ross Barnes’ numbers are astounding. Even in an era of high hitting stats, his are over the top. In five years in the Association, he hits above .400 three times and hits in the .360s and .340s the other two. He leads the league in on base percentage (OBP) twice, in slugging twice, and in total bases three times. He leads the league in hits and runs three times; in doubles twice; and in triples, stolen bases, walks and singles once each. In the NL’s rookie campaign he leads the league in hits, runs, doubles, triples, walks, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases (add Al Spaulding on the mound and you see why Chicago won the first NL pennant). For his career he hits .391 in the Association and .319 in the NL with OBPs of  .415 and .356. His OPS (on base plus slugging) is .933 and .757.  There are all sorts of variation in the numbers for Barnes’ era. The stats above are from Baseball Reference.com.

Barnes played a total of four years in the NL, making him ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Even if you add in his Association numbers he only has nine years. I’m going to argue that for guys who were in at the beginning of professional baseball the ten year rule should be waived. Barnes played prior to the formation of the NL and those years have to count for something. In my opinion the Association is a Major League and in the years prior to 1871 Barnes is a productive player for the teams of the era. I know it won’t happen, but it should.

“And I Have Put My Words in Thy Mouth…

March 22, 2010

Billy Sunday

…and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand.” Isaiah 51:16 (KJV)

In an earlier post I mentioned that my family always used to say there were three things you didn’t debate, you argued: sports, politics, and religion. And that you never, ever combined any two. I combined sports and politics earlier, now I’d like to combine sports and religion and introduce you to Billy Sunday.

William Ashley Sunday was born in Iowa in November 1862. His father died shortly afterward of illness while on campaign in the American Civil War. When his mother went broke in 1872 and couldn’t care for Sunday and his older brother, she sent both to an orphan’s home. The home provided Sunday with an education and began honing his baseball skills. After a sojourn in Nevada, he was playing with the Middletown, Iowa fire department team by 1880. In 1882, he caught the attention of Cap Anson, native of Middletown and leader of the Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs). Sunday joined the Cubs in 1883 playing 14 games, all in the outfield. He hit .241 with four doubles. By 1884 he was up to 43 games in the outfield hitting .222.  The 1885 season brought the White Stockings a pennant and Sunday became the primary man off the bench. He hit .256 in the season and .273 in six games in the postseason, all in center field. He was on the bench again in 1886 and missed the postseason altogether. His speed was beginning to make him a more valuable player to Anson and in 1887 he took over as the regular right fielder and leadoff man. He hit .291 in 1887, but the Cubs lost and Sunday was sent to Pittsburgh in 1888. He spent three years with the Alleghenys hitting .236, .240, and .257. Late in the 1890 season he was traded to Philadelphia where he played 31 games hitting .261. It was the end of this period of his life.

For his career, Billy Sunday hit .248 over 499 games with 339 runs scored, 246 stolen bases (the number is incomplete for 1883-85), 170 RBIs and 12 home runs. He pitched to one batter in 1890, gave up a hit, and left the mound. The man didn’t score so he had no ERA. Not a great career. He found himself a substitute most of it. Somewhere along the line he also found God.

There are a number of stories relating to Sunday’s religious conversion. According to Sunday’s own account, which I’ll accept as genuine, he had been something of a carouser (a word you don’t hear much anymore) while playing ball, but never one of the worst offenders. In 1886, he attended a service at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. The mission was a combination church, homeless shelter, drunk tank, and rescue mission in Chicago which claims, with its founding in 1877, to be the oldest continuously operating main street mission in the US. I remember my hometown had an organization like this when I was growing up. It specialized in getting drunks off the streets, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep and adding on a good dose of fundamentalist Christianity. I knew one fellow who claimed to have been “saved” six times, and that every one was worth the good meal and the warm bed that followed. This experience led to Sunday’s conversion and ultimately to the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church where he met and married one of congregation.

Between 1891 and 1896 Sunday spent time in Chicago working for the YMCA and other religious and charitable organizations. By 1896 he was ready to strike out on his own and became a more or less fulltime evangelist. It would consume the rest of his life.

Now let me take a minute and clear up a couple of points here. Sunday was neither a Pentecostal nor a faith healer. He professed a fundamentalist Christianity that was extremely common in his day, but is less so today. He is more akin in his theology to William Jennings Bryan than he is to Oral Roberts, or Jim Bakker, or any other modern television preacher. If forced to compare him to a modern American evangelist, I’d reluctantly pick Billy Graham, and put the emphasis heavily on reluctantly.

What Sunday was, apparently, was a heck of a preacher. His sermons were called spellbinding and uplifting and God-sent. He went from tent to tabernacle to church and back to tent and never missed a beat. His message was a simple version of sin and conversion and he would frequently throw in one of his baseball stories for emphasis. Without trying to compare the men, take a look at Bert Lancaster’s sermons in the movie Elmer Gantry. He’s supposed to have patterned his style on Sunday.

His message suffered in the aftermath of World War I. The Great War destroyed much in Western Civilization, including a belief in a benevolent God who cared about the average individual (And by that statement I take no stand on whether I agree or not. I merely state a reality). His audiences waned, but he continued preaching his message until his death in 1935.

When I first mentioned to some people I was going to do this post, I was asked a fairly obvious question, “You think Sunday would have seen ‘the light’ if he’d been hitting .348 instead of .248?” To be absolutely truthful, I have no idea. I’d like to think that Billy Sunday was an honest man and saw some need in his life that brought him to God via a Christian conversion experience, but I don’t know for sure. I am willing to take him at his word that he didn’t find God so much as God found him.

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 Father of the National League

March 12, 2010

There’s a lot of dispute about who invented baseball. There’s the old Abner Doubleday story which is mostly debunked as a myth today. There are those who pick Alexander Cartwright and those that say all he did was write down what was already being done. Whoever you pick, and there are other choices, it gets simpler when you move forward in time. The National League was formed 2 February 1876 and the man who put it tgether was William A. Hulbert.

Hulbert was born in New York in 1832 and the family moved to Chicago in 1834. He married into money, or at least into a successful grocery business, then used the profits to make considerable cash in coal. He was also a huge baseball fan, backing the local club, the White Stockings, when it entered the fledgling National Association in 1871. The club lost its park in the Great Chicago Fire (Hulbert’s holdings in town seem to have been spared) and Hulbert provided a lot of the funding to restore the team to its status in the Association after it had to regroup following the fire. That got him a job wth the club and in 1875 he took over as team President.

The National Association floundered in 1875. There were problems with gambling, scheduling, salaries, competitiveness, rules. Well, there were a lot of problems and the league simply was in the process of collapsing.  By the end of 1875 Hulbert was convinced that the Association was failing, although some of the fault lay with him and his own contract practices. He decided to abandon the Association and establish a new league. Prior to the end of 1875 he had gotten agreements with the major western teams to form a new league. In the baseball language of the day “western” meant west of about Harrisburg, Pennsylvania not west of Albuquerque, so we’re talking teams in Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis.

In February 1876, Hulbert met with teams from Boston, Hartford, New York, and Philadelphia in a hotel in New York City (I’m informed that the hotel no longer exists-pity) to pitch the idea of a new league. According to legend, Hulbert locked the door to the room, pocketed the key, and wouldn’t let the other team presidents out of the room until they had an agreement. He got the agreement and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed. It still exists.

It’s important to look at the title of the first two professional leagues for a second. There is the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. I’ve highlighted the last word in each name for a reason. It marked the real difference between the leagues. The players ran the Association but the owners ran the League. In a comment on the Pike case  post, Bill Miller noted that there was a baseball cabal that organized together for their mutual benefit. He’s right. That’s the most fundamental change that occured in February 1876. Now the clubs would run the show, not the players.

The National League worked and did so for a number of reasons. It was run on solid business principles, which meant it could turn a profit. It cut down on gambling. The money belonged to the owners and they could, and did, parcel it out as they wanted. Ultimately this became a huge problem that led to the Black Sox when owners became more parsimonious with their cash (Having just written that I can’t believe that there were owners more parsimonious than Hulbert, but there were.). Finally, the League made baseball respectable. Beer and whiskey were banned from games, there were no games on Sundays, cursing on the field was fined, as was public drunkenness. That put wealthier patrons in the stands and put more money in the pockets of the owners, some of which trickled down to the players.

Frankly, nobody liked Hulbert (well, maybe Mrs. Hulbert) so the owners drew straws (literally) to determine the first President of the National League. Morgan Bulkeley of Hartford won, but Hulbert remained the power that ran the league. In 1877 Hulbert followed Bulkeley as President (Bulkeley didn’t like the job and wasn’t all that good at it, so he didn’t even bother to attend the meeting to elect a President for 1877.) and remained the man in charge until 1882.

Hulbert ran the National League the same way Judge Landis ran the Commissioner’s office later on. Things were done his way and woe to the villain who crossed him. He tossed both New York and Philadelphia out of the league for refusing to make a western swing after they were eliminated from a possible pennant. The western teams lost gate revenue because of this and lost revenue was something akin to sin in Hulbert’s eyes. He established the idea that the National League office would set up schedules, not the teams. He handled the Louisville scandal quickly (another post for another time). He set up the first reserve rule for players to prevent contract jumping, and in 1881 expelled Cincinnati from the league for playing games on Sunday and selling beer in the stands. In 1882 he had a heart attack, dying the same day. In 1995, 58 years after Bulkeley, Hulbert was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To be honest, I don’t think I would have liked Hulbert. I admire his desire to establish a league that would last, but he’s just not my cup of tea. It seems to me he spent most of his life looking for a fight and generally found one. But we baseball fans owe him.