Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Spiders’

Truly Awful Teams

March 31, 2010

There must have been something in the air, or maybe it was the water, in the late 1880s and the 1890s, something that reached up and attacked baseball teams with poor play. The period served up over and over some truly awful teams. Almost yearly some team wasn’t within the same time zone of a pennant.

I define truly awful teams as teams that play below .300 baseball. In modern terms (a 162 game season), a team that goes 48-114 has a winning percentage of .296 and is a truly awful team. OK, I know it’s arbitrary and that a 49-113 team with a winning percentage of .302 isn’t really any better, but I need a cutoff and .300 works for me.

In 1884 the Union Association went under, the players worthy of distribution to the remaining teams got jobs and the big leagues went back to a 16 team format. From that point on there is almost always a team under .300. Remembering that the National League (NL) lasts through the entire period, that the American Association (AA) folds in 1892, and that the Player’s League (PL) only exists in 1890, here’s a brief list of them:

1885: none

1886: Kansas City NL (30-91, .248); Washington NL (28-92, .233)

1887: Indianapolis NL (37-89, .294); Cleveland AA (39-92, .298)

1888: none

1889: Louisville AA (27-111, .196)

1890:  Pittsburgh NL (23-113, .169), Brooklyn AA (26-72, .265), Buffalo PL (36-96, .273)

1891-1893: none

1894: Louisville NL (36-94, .277)

1895: St. Louis NL (39-92, .298); Louisville NL (35-96, .267)

1896: Louisville NL (38-93, .290)

1897: St Louis NL (29-102, .221)

1898: St. Louis NL (39-111, .260)

1899: Cleveland NL (20-134, .134)

1900: none

What we have is that almost yearly there is at least one team that can’t play .300 ball. In 1890 there are, with the one year advent of the Player’s League, three leagues. In 1892, the National League expands to twelve teams and the American Association goes under. In 1900, the National League drops four teams and becomes an eight team league. Those are the changes in team numbers for the period. Three of the worst teams occur in 1890, but not in either 1892 or 1900.

So why is this? Well, my guess is that several things are going on. First, the country simply doesn’t have enough quality players to sustain sixteen, and in 1890 more than sixteen, teams that play reasonably well. Second, there is simply shoddy ownership, owners who don’t have any idea how to run a team. Third the abiliy of owners to control more than one team, which peaks in the 1890’s, especially in the destruction of Cleveland in 1899, makes them place their talent on one team and leaves the other to take it on the chin. Finally, the leagues are segregated and unable to draw on a rich pool of players that could and probably would have improved the play of the teams, including those that end up on the bottom. There are probably other reasons, and if you have one feel free to add it.

Baseball works best when teams are competitive. That doesn’t mean the same team can’t win year after year, but it does mean that someone must be able to challenge them for superiority. As this season is set to begin, there are teams that have no chance of winning a pennant, and others that are locks for the playoffs (unless the unforeseen occurs, which it frequently does). We are lucky that we are in an era where the number of truly awful teams is minimal. Pity the poor 19th Century fan that had to watch the teams listed above.

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.