Posts Tagged ‘Dan Brouthers’

The Water in Philadelphia

October 29, 2018

“water, water everywhere.”–Coleridge

A couple of days ago I did a little thing on those players who hit .400 and failed to win a batting title. In 1894 there were four of them, all in Philadelphia. I commented that there must have been something in the water. So let’s take a quick look at what was going on in Philly in 1894.

First we have to acknowledge that after the 1892 season, Major League Baseball, which at that point consisted solely of the National League, moved the pitcher back to 60″ 6′ and built a mound. It changed forever the way pitchers worked and how batter could respond. It made an immediate difference in the game. As just one example, in 1892 Dan Brouthers won the batting title at .335. In 1893 Billy Hamilton (who will be one of the waterboys in Philadelphia in 1894) won the title at .380. The last time a NL batting title was won by hitting over .380 was in 1886 by King Kelly who’d hit .388 (there were American Association titles that were higher, but the AA was gone by 1894). On the other hand strikeouts by pitchers dropped from Bill Hutchinson’s 314 to Amos Rusie’s 208. It wouldn’t be until 1904 (Rube Waddell) that the 314 would be surpassed.

So acknowledging all that, what about the Phillies? In 1894 the team hit a team average of .350 and led the NL in hits. The starters were (with their batting average in parens) catcher Jack Clements (.351), and infield of (from first around to third) Jack Boyle (.300-lowest among the starters), Bill Hallman (.312), Joe Sullivan (.353), Lave Cross (.387), and an outfield of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton (.403), Ed Delahanty (.405), and Sam Thompson (.415). On the bench Tuck Turner who got into 82 games and had 347 at bats) was the backup outfielder and led the team with a .418 average. Backup catcher Mike Grady hit .363 in 61 games. From there the remainder of the reserves fell off with shortstop Tom Murray going 0 for 2 and hitting .000 (this doesn’t count pitchers who had some terrible averages also).

What did all that hitting get the Phillies? It got them a record of 71-57, good for fourth place in the NL (behind Boston, New York, and pennant winner Baltimore who went 89-39), 18 games behind the winner and 10 games out of third place. The problem? Their team had the second highest ERA (5.63) in the league, were seventh in hits (in a 12 team league), and also seventh in strikeouts.

What’s it all mean? Well, maybe good pitching does beat good hitting. Or maybe it just means that the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies could hit a lot, but didn’t pitch nearly as well. In case you’re curious, only Hamilton, Delahanty, and Thompson made the Hall of Fame. Again, thought you just might like to know.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1902

April 1, 2014

Another month, another look at My Own Little Hall of Fame. It’s time for the class of 1902. For those of you who’ve forgotten (or don’t know how to scroll down the page), the class of 1901 was: Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, and George Wright. With all appropriate bells and whistles, here’s the class of 1902.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers was arguably the finest hitter of the 19th Century. He had a career average of .342 with 2292 hits, 771 for extra bases. He led the National League in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in both triples and home runs once each. He led his league in total bases four times. In 1887 he helped his Detroit team to both a pennant and a win over the American Association champion Browns in a postseason series. His team also won the 1890 Players’ League championship and the 1894 National League championship. From 1892 through 1894 he was the all time Major League leader in batting average.

 

King Kelly

King Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly was one of baseball’s first superstars. During his career he played every field position, including pitcher, where he posted a 2-2 record. Primarily known as a hitter he hit .308 for his career with 1813 hits and 1357 runs scored. He led his league three times in runs scored, once in doubles, and twice in average, peaking at .388 in 1886. He helped Chicago to pennants in 1880 through 1882 and again in 1885 and 1886, then won pennants again with the 1891 and 1892 Beaneaters. He also managed Boston in the Players’ League to the league’s only championship. He is additionally famous for having invented the hook slide for baserunners, racking up 84 stolen bases in 1887.

 

Charles Radbourne

Charles Radbourn

Charles “Ole Hoss” Radbourn was the ace pitcher for 1884 pennant winning Providence. Won 60 games for the team, then three more in postseason series against the Gothams. He led the National League in wins twice, in ERA once, in winning percentage twice, in strikeouts twice, and in shutouts once. Never threw from a mound, but was a master of the box. Except for a stint in the Players’ League he won all his game in the National League.

 

Al Spaulding

Al Spaulding

Albert Spaulding was the premier pitcher in the National Association, leading the Association in wins each year of its five year existence. He also led the National League in wins its opening season. He led his league in shutouts four times and his .795 winning percentage is the highest ever. His team won four consecutive pennants in the Association and the first NL pennant in 1876. After his career ended he managed and owned the Chicago National League club. His sporting goods company published the first official Base Ball rule book.

Harry Wright

Harry Wright

Harry Wright was the premier manager from the origins of professional baseball into the 1890s. He managed and played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the founding of the National Association his teams won four consecutive pennants. In the National League he won pennants in 1877 and 1878 and finished second three more times.

And now some thoughts on this list.

1. Brouthers was the easiest choice. When I initially planned this project, I presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and either Clarkson or Keefe. Then I discovered that none of the position players would have been eligible in 1901. So as soon as Brouthers became available, he went in without a qualm. I believe he is one of the two or three best hitters in the 19th Century.

2. I didn’t realize I was putting in three members of the Players’ League Boston team until I began to look up the specifics on my preliminary list. It’s a fluke that three people from that team are on this list. It did ease any questions I had about choosing Harry Wright over John Montgomery Ward. With Ward’s association with the union and the Players’ League, I decided to put him off for another day lest this list look like nothing more nor less than an homage to the Players’ League.

3. Having said that, I was fairly sure Wright was going to be my contributor. He’s the first great manager and is credited with a number of innovations (cut off men for instance). I couldn’t find anything like definitive proof that he’d done any of those things, so they were not listed in my short comment on him.

4. Spaulding? Well, he’s a major contributor, but I’d already put Wright in that spot (although by rule I’m allowed two). But Spaulding was also a heck of a pitcher in a league where his team dominated and the pitcher wasn’t the factor he is today. But he was still the best pitcher in the Association, so he went in.

5. I found a bunch of stuff dedicated to Kelly. I don’t mean modern sites, but articles and commentary of a contemporary nature that made me believe he was easily the most well-known player of his era. He was also good, so that got him over the hump. As to whether or not he invented the hook slide, he certainly was getting credit for it in the era.

6. Which leaves Radbourn (whose name is spelled a couple of different ways). What  I could find (like Reach Guides, etc.) that actually gave him a number in 1884 gave him 60 wins. I know that number is no longer accepted, but it seems that when a number was given in 1902 it was 60. So I used it. I’ll remind you that there are plaques currently in Cooperstown that have erroneous info on them (for instance, Walter Johnson’s win total).

7. All of which brings me to two items that are unique to the era and to trying to do my Hall this way. First is the entire question of Monte Ward. The year 1902 was a year in which labor unions were looked upon with utter disdain. That means the idea of adding to a Hall of Fame a rabble rousing union organizer is about as absurd as adding a black man. But we all know Ward is terrifically important. If I’m to keep with the policy of putting in people who might reasonably get into a Hall of Fame in 1902, Ward can’t make it (and can’t get in until sometime in the 1930s, probably). The 1903 class is pretty much set in stone (Heck of a class), but 1904 is the next time I have to look at Ward and as much as I think he deserves to be remembered, I doubt he’ll get in. The other issue is what to do with Billy Sunday. A friend of mine dropped me an email asking if I’d considered Sunday as a contributor. Frankly, I hadn’t. But Sunday was one of the most well-known ball players of the era. He was instrumental in convincing people that a ballpark was a proper place to take your wife and children (although Mathewson was probably more important in this regard) for an afternoon’s entertainment. Is that enough to put him in? I still don’t think so, but it did remind me how differently people in 1902 looked at ball players and baseball than we look at them today.

Harry Stovey

March 20, 2013
Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey

If you’re clever, you’ve discovered a pattern in my last few posts. I’m looking at the guys who held the all-time home run title before Babe Ruth. According to Baseball Reference, there were six of them: Lip Pike, Charley Jones, Jim O’Rouke, Harry Stovey, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor. If you don’t count the National Association as a Major League (which MLB doesn’t, but Baseball Reference obviously does), the list changes to  add in people like George Hall. I’m sticking with the Baseball Reference list. I’ve done posts on Pike and O’Rouke previously and just added Brouthers and Connor. So today is Stovey’s turn.

He was born Harry Stowe in Philadelphia in 1856. By 1877 he was playing for the Defiance of Philadelphia and the Athletics. His mother didn’t like him playing ball, so he changed his name to Stovey to decieve her (don’t know how well it worked). By 1878 he was playing for the New Bedford Clam-Eaters (God, don’t you love old time team names?). He stayed through 1879 picking up a reputation as a good player and also picking up a wife.

In 1880 he was signed by the Worcester Ruby Legs (another great team name). He stayed with the team until it folding in 1882, winning both a home run and triples title in his rookie campaign. In 1883 he transfered, along with much of the Worcester roster to Philadelphia. With the Athletics he became a premier American Association player. He led the league in runs scored four times; in home runs three times; in triples twice; and in RBIs, stolen bases, doubles, total bases, and slugging once each. In 1883 the A’s won the American Association pennant with Stovey as their best player. The 19th Century version of the World Series didn’t begin until the next year.

In 1890 he joined most of the leading players of the day by jumping to the Player’s League. He proceeded to win the league’s only stolen base title with a career high 97. He had one final great year in 1891 leading the National Leagie in triples, home runs, total bases slugging, and in strikeouts with a career high 69. His team, the Boston Beaneaters (another great 19th Century team name), won the NL pennant that season. He hung on through 1893 playing for Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn.

Retired from the Major Leagues, he played and managed a little in the minors, then joined the New Bedford police force in 1895, rising to captain in 1915. He retired from the force in 1923 and died in 1937.

For his career he had 1771 hits and scored 1492 runs in 1486 games split between first base and the outfield (about two to one ratio in favor of the outfield). He had 347 doubles, 174 triples, 122 home runs, and 2832 total bases. His triple slash numbers are .289/.361/.461/.822 with an OPS+ of 144. He was considered an average fielder in his day. His teams won two pennants in his 14 year career.

There’s never been much of a push for Stovey to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and perhaps there shouldn’t be. He has the problem (as does a player like Pete Browning) of having played a long time ago for the American Association, which is generally considered the weaker of the two leagues. But he deserves to be remembered because between 1885 through 1894 (with a two year exception when Brouthers took the title) he was the most prolific home run hitter in Major League history.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Dan Brouthers

March 18, 2013
Big Dan Brouthers

Big Dan Brouthers

1. He was born Dennis Joseph Brouthers in Sylvan Lake, New York (not far upriver from New York City) in 1858.

2. While playing semipro ball in 1877, he had a collision at the plate with the catcher. The catcher suffered head injuries and died a month later.

3. Part of the reason Brouthers was unhurt in the collision was his size. He stood 6′ 2″ and weighed 207 pounds, a large man in his day. It got him the nickname “Big Dan..”

4. In 1879 he began playing for nearby Troy in the National League. He remained there through 1880, when the franchise was liquidated and the players disbursed to other teams. Brouthers ended up in Buffalo.

5. He played in Buffalo from 1881 through 1885 establishing himself as a premier hitter. He led the NL in hits, triples, home runs,  and RBIs at various times. He also led the Nl in batting, OBP, and total bases twice; in slugging, OPS and OPS+ four years.

6. In 1886 he went to Detroit for a salary of $4000, a massive salary for the 1880s.

7. In Detroit he led the NL in various categories including adding runs scored and doubles titles to his list of accomplishments.

8. In 1887 Detroit won the NL pennant and faced St. Louis in the 1880s version of the World Series. Brouthers played in only one game, but Detroit won anyway 10 games to 5 (it was a 15 game series and all games were played).

9. He was vice president of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, so in 1890 he jumped to the PLayer’s League (he’d been sent to Boston in 1889). where he won the OBP title.

10. After the end of the Player’s League, Brouthers won two more batting titles, an RBI title, and while playing with Baltimore helped lead them to the 1894 pennant. He also played a handful of games with the pennant winning 1895 Orioles, but spent most of the season with Louisville. He retired after the 1896 season.

11. After retirement, he played some minor league ball, then hooked up with the Giants as the press gate man (he was in charge of letting the press into the park and checking their credentials). While there he got into two games in 1904, playing in the field in one of them. He went 0-6.

12. He died in 1932 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

13. For his career his triple slash numbers are .342/.423/.519/942 with an OPS+ of 170.  He managed 2296 hits, 440 doubles, 205 triples, 106 home runs (fourth highest in the 19th Century), for 3484 total bases. He scored 1523 runs and had 1296 RBIs. He led his league in runs twice, hits three times, doubles three times, triples once, home runs twice, RIBs twice, in batting five times, in OBP five times, in slugging seven times, in OPS eight times, in OPS+ also eight times, and in total bases four times. He was considered a mid-range first baseman and pitched a little (he wasn’t very good at it). He gets my vote as the best hitter of the 19th Century and he also gets this great card:

Brouthers card from his Detroit years

Brouthers card from his Detroit years

I’m not certain if the card is legitimate. Brouthers was a left-handed hitter and the card has him hitting right-handed. It’s still a great little card.

Big League, Small Town

January 29, 2013
Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

That Other Detroit Team

October 22, 2012

1887 World Chammpion Detroit Wolverines

I wanted to comment on the team playoff history of the National League representative to this season’s World Series but the Cardinals and Giants are making it exceedingly difficult for me to do so. They are, however, having a heck of a series. So I’ve decided to write about Detroit baseball before the Tigers.

In 1881 Major League baseball came to Detroit. The Wolverines played in the National League and were reasonably good for much of their history. They finished fourth and fifth in 1881 and 1882, then slid back from 1883 through 1885 never finishing higher than sixth. It was too much for the owner.

In 1886 he went out and bought a team (George Steinbrenner would be pleased). What he did was to lure away a number of the stars of the era by offering big salaries (for the era) and a multi-year contract. In doing so he put together one of the better teams of the 19th Century. Although these names may be meaningless to you, in the 1880s they were household names among baseball fans. There was Hall of  Famer Dan Brouthers at first, Fred Dunlap and Jack Rowe up the middle of the infield, and Deacon White (who should be in the Hall of Fame) at third. The outfield consisted of Hardy Richardson (a borderline HoF candidate) and Hall of Famers Sam Thompson and Ned Hanlon (although Hanlon is in the Hall as a manager). Charlie Bennett (who later had the Detroit stadium named for him) was the catcher and the mainstays of the staff were Lady Baldwin and Pretzels Getzien (God, they don’t make nicknames like they used to).

They finished second in 1886, 2.5 games behind Chicago, then roared to a pennant in 1887 with Charlie Ganzel replacing Bennett as the primary catcher. There was a postseason series in the 1880s (a sort of primitive World Series) played between the National League champion (Detroit) and the winner of the American Association (St. Louis Browns–now the Cardinals). The teams were allowed to pick the number of games in the postseason and the two teams settled on an all-time high of 15 games with all 15 being played regardless of who got to 8 first. Detroit won 10 games and brought the first World’s Championship to the city.

It was a short-lived triumph. You see the team was expensive to maintain and no matter how well they did, they just couldn’t turn a profit. With Dunlap going to Pittsburgh (Richardson replaced him at second), White turning 40, and Thompson having a down year they finished 5th. It was too much and the team folded at the end of the season. It was the last Major League team in Detroit until the Tigers were formed in 1901.

So Detroit has a long history of Major League play. Not just the Tigers have been successful. The team that came before had one great run. Thought you ought to know.

1884

March 30, 2010

Most baseball seasons go along pretty much the same. Very few of them end up being particularly memorable except for a few diehard fans, bloggers like me, and antiquarians whose job it is to study them. Case in point: who won the World Series in 1933? OK, if you looked it up you know the Giants beat the Senators in five games. If you went further, you found the MVPs, the stat leaders, and maybe a bit of info like it was the first All Star Game. But almost everybody had to look it up. But 1884 is different and memorable. It is arguably the most interesting year of  19th Century baseball for five reasons.

1. There are three leagues. It’s the first time the country tried to deal with three major leagues. As with the other two attempts (1890 and 1914-15) it was a failure. Henry Lucas was a son of wealth in St. Louis. A fan, he decided to form a new league to compete with the existing leagues (National League and American Association). There’s some dispute about his motivation. Some works cite his anger with the reserve rule (which bound a player to a team) and others favor something akin to an ego trip. Whichever you pick (and I tend to agree with ego trip) Lucas founded the Union Association in 1884. It lasted one season, was a disaster, and floundered almost immediately. The team in St. Louis ran away with the pennant going 94-19. If you add that up, it equals 113 games. The original schedule called for 112 games (got me, coach). Other teams managed records of 69-36, 58-47, but still others were 8-4, 2-6, 6-19, and 2-16. The team in St. Paul was the 2-6 team. It was in such bad shape it folded before ever playing a home game, the only major league team to never play before a home crowd. The competition was utterly uneven, and some teams never played each other (Winner St. Louis never played Milwaukee, the 8-4 team).  St. Paul obviously played almost no one. There were teams in Wilmington, NC and Altoona, PA., both nice enough towns, but not big enough in 1884 to support a big league franchise. Atloona managed to survive 25 games and Wilmington only 18. At the end of the season, the league was gone. You could argue it gave the major leagues one very good player (Tommy McCarthy) and that’s all. Bill James in his Historical Abstract  argues that the Union Association is not really a major league. I tend to agree with him. Major League Baseball doesn’t.

2. Charles Radbourn had the greatest season ever by any pitcher in the majors. Radbourn pitched for the Providence Grays. Early in the season the team’s other pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, bolted to the Union Association. Radbourn at that point agreed, for contractual and monetary considerations, to pitch every inning of every game for the remainder of the season. Well, it didn’t work out that way, but it came close. Read the following numbers closely. For the year Radbourn was 59 (or 60)-12 with 73 complete games, 441 strikeouts, 98 walks, 11 shutouts, and an ERA of 1.38 in 679 innings (not a record. The record is 680 by Will White in 1879). In fairness to modern pitchers, Radbourn wasn’t on a mound, and wasn’t 60’6″ away. His delivery was sidearm, and he could take a short run before releasing the pitch. Still, it’s a heck of a year. About the 59 (60) business. There are differences in the way wins were determined in 1884 and the modern method. Under the old way Radboun gets 60 wins, under our contemporary method he gets 59. So the modern Major Leagues recognize 59 wins, while his colleagues saw 60. I leave it to you to determine which you prefer. Me? Well, 60 is a nice round number.   

3. The first postseason playoffs were held in 1884. Radbourn led his Grays to the NL pennant by 10.5 games. Meanwhile, the New York Metropolitans (not the modern Mets) won the American Association title by 6.5. They challenged the Grays to a three game set, all to be played in New York, to determine a champion for the year. The Grays accepted and Radbourn continued to pitch as he’d done in the regular season and Providence won all three games with Radbourn pitching complete game (what else?) victories giving up no earned runs. The first “World Series” ended with a National League victory.

4. There was a home run explosion at Chicago. The park in Chicago was a little odd. The fences were short, less than 200 feet to right field. Previous seasons balls going over the fences were ruled doubles. In 1884, the team changed the rule to make them home runs. The White Stockings put up astronomical numbers by 19th Century standards, coming up with 149 homers in 112 games. That’s a team record that lasts until 1927 and the Murder’s Row Yankees. The big winner was Ned Williamson, the third baseman, who set a 19th Century record with 27 home runs, all but two at home. Three of his teammates, second baseman Fred Pfeffer, first baseman Cap Anson, and outfielder Abner Dalrymple also posted 20 or more home runs. Dan Brouthers of Buffalo hit 14 for the most of any player outside Chicago. The next year the White Stockings moved to a new park and Dalrmyple’s league leading 11 homers were the most by any of the Chicago four. It took until Babe Ruth in 1919 to best Williamson’s record.

5. Integration first occurred in 1884. The American Association Toledo Blue Stockings hired Moses Fleetwood Walker to be their catcher. Fleet Walker was a black American and the first to play in the Major Leagues. I’ve done a previous post on him, so will simply say here that he wasn’t well received (maybe the understatement of this blog ever) and was gone after the season ended. His brother Welday also got into five games (all in the outfield) and was gone at the end of the season. It took until 1947 for Jackie Robinson to reintegrate the big leagues.

So there’s 1884, it’s not so famous today. It is, after all, a long time ago. But it’s still one of the most important and interesting seasons in Major League history.

BTW there’s a new book out on the season that is supposed to center around Radbourn and his accomplishments. I haven’t read it, but if anyone has, I’d appreciate a quick review if possible.

The Mighty Orioles

March 24, 2010

John McGraw

There is no question that the most famous team of the 1890s is the Baltimore Orioles (not to be confused with the modern Orioles). Their fame in some ways borders on infamy. They were tough, they were colorful, they were winners. They were the brawlers who put up great numbers and had unforgetable players.

There had been a Major League team in Baltimore as far back as 1872. None of them had done particularly well. There had been a second place finish a time or two, but no pennants. When the National League was formed in 1876 it bypassed Baltimore. The same was true of the American Association when it started in 1882. In 1883, the Association added the Orioles to their league. They finished last. In 1884 they rose to fourth and finished last, last, third, fifth, fifth, sixth, and fourth in the remaining years of the Association (1885-91). In other words, they weren’t very good very often. In 1892 the National League decided the American Association was dragging down the Major Leagues and convinced four teams, including Baltimore, to change leagues. It killed the Association and set up a twelve team league. For Baltimore nothing changed. They finished last. By 1893 they were up to eighth, then things did change.

The 1894 Orioles won the National League pennant by three games, marking a 29 game improvement (60 wins vs. 89). What happened? Essentially they changed their roster. Hall of Fame manager Ned Hanlon moved to replace or reassign most of his losing team. The infield of 1893 consisted of (from first to third) Harry Taylor, Heinie Reitz, John McGraw, and Billy Shindle.  In 1894 Dan Brouthers was now at first, McGraw had moved to third, and Hughie Jennings had taken his place at short. Only Reitz remained at the same spot in the field where he led all second basemen in fielding. The 1893 outfield was (from left around to right) Jim Long, Joe Kelley, and George Treadway. In ’94 Kelley (who moved from center to left), Steve Brodie, and Willie Keeler became the standard outfield.. Wilbert Robinson remained the catcher. In 1893 three pitchers won ten or more games: Sadie MacMahon, Tony Mullane, and Bill Hawke.  All three were still there in ’94 although Millane won only nine games. Kid Gleason and Bert Inks joined the staff as ten game winners. In other words, it’s basically a new team, particularly among the hitters.

For the three year span from 1894 through 1896, the former woebegone Orioles won three straight pennants, capping the ’96 race by 9.5 games. They slipped to second in 1897, losing to Boston by two games, then coming in second again in 1898, this time by six games.  In 1899 they dropped to fourth and were disbanded when the National League contracted in 1900.

The Orioles were noted for a rough style of play, some called it downright dirty. They would trip players rounding the bases, throw at batters, go into the stands to slug it out with fans. If you were from Baltimore you loved them. The rest of baseball hated them. But in all of that they played good team ball. In 1896, 1897, and 1898 they lead, as a team, the NL in several major offensive categories (and in ’96 it was almost all of them).  Except for Reitz in 1894 no Oriole led the league in any offensive category (Reitz led in triples in ’94) until 1897 and 1898 when Keeler led in hits runs and batting in ’97 and again in hits in ’98. Additionally McGraw led the NL in runs in 1898, and new outfielder Jake Stenzel picked up a doubles title in 1897. What they did was play as a team. The invented the “Baltimore chop” (hitting down on the ball to create an infield single). They get credit for the hit and run, although that’s disputed.

The defining player was John J. McGraw, the third baseman. He was tough, pugnacious, humorless, and a great ballplayer. As mentioned above he only led the league in a single category one time (runs), but he, more than manager Hanlon, set the tone for the team.  Unofficially, he led the team, and the league, in umpire baiting, ejections, fights, and creative use of the English language. All the while he was learning how to manage and soon after the turn of the century he would take over the New York Giants and become the second winningest manager ever (including three World Series victories).

During the Orioles run the Temple Cup series was played for a few years. This was a series of games played at the end of the season between the first and second place finishers in the National League. It was never very popular nor very successful and the pennant winner tended to not take the series seriously. Frankly they’d just won the pennant and had nothing to prove, so the games were viewed as exhibitions by the winners. Consequently, the second place team won most of the Temple Cup series’. The Orioles won the thing in 1896 and 1897.

Although Hanlon, McGraw, Jennings, Keeler, Brouthers, Kelley, and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame, it’s really tough to root for the Orioles. There’s just too much thuggery going on. I have to admit, though, I like their intensity and think I’d have enjoyed seeing them play at least a handful of times.

George Didn’t Start It

March 21, 2010

One of the great things about baseball is that no matter what it is you see, the odds are overwhelming it’s been done before. I remember when George Steinbrenner got control of the Yankees and free agency hit he started buying up talent. A bunch of people complained that he was trying to buy a pennant and wasn’t that just horrible. Well, maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t. What it for sure wasn’t was brand new. Frederick Stearns had done it before.

Frederick Kimball Stearns was born in Buffalo, NY in 1854, graduated from the University of Michigan, and took over his father’s hugely successful pharmaceutical business in Detroit. He loved athletics and was instrumental in the local Amateur Athletics Union. But for our purposes, he owned the Detroit Wolverines, a National League team.

The Wolverines were formed in 1881. They were not overly successful finnishing fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth (last) between their founding and 1884. In 1885 Stearns bough the team and immediately began spending money on trying to improve the team. In 1885 they rose to sixth. Then Stearns really began to lay out the cash. In 1886 they rose to second and won the NL pennant in 1887.

So what did Stearns do? Well, frankly, he bought a pennant. He dumped most of his 1885 team and went with a group of players that were stars of the era.  From the last place 1884 team Charlie Bennent, a catcher; Ned Hanlon (a Hall of Fame manager), the center fielder; and pitchers Stump Weidman and Charlie Getzein remained. In 1885 he picked up right fielder and Hall of Famer Sam Thompson along with pitcher Lady Baldwin. The next year left fielder Hardy Richardson, and the entire infield (from first around to third) Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers, Fred Dunlap, Jack Rowe, and Deacon White were on board and Charlie Ganzel was giving Bennett a second catcher that could ease the burden behind the plate. For the era it included some of the most important players in either league: White, Rowe, Brouthers, Richardson, and Thompson.

The Wolverines rolled to the pennant winning by 3.5 games. Thompson won both the batting and RBI titles (.372 and 166) and led the league in hits with 203. Brouthers led the league in runs with 153 and in doubles with 36. The team was first in hitting at .299, slugging at .434, and had 818 RBIs to also lead the league. In fact it led in all major offensive categories except home runs, finishing second to Chicago.

In the post season series of 15 games, Detroit beat the American Association’s St. Louis Browns 10 games to 5. They clinched the series in game 11, but the rules of the day required the entire series to be played. They split the final four. Thompson, Rowe, and Bennett had a great series and both Getzein and Baldwin picked up four wins.

It shold have been a great season for Detroit, but it turned into a disaster. Stearns was putting out a lot more money than he had. The rules for gate receipts were changed during the season to deprive the team of needed revenue and Stearns and the Wolverines couldn’t maintain the pace. From a share of the gate receipts as was normal, the new rule limited the visiting team to $125 per game. It was aimed directly at Detroit and its payroll.

With massive debts and discontented players, Detroit fell to fifth in 1888. Out of money and luck, Stearns disbanded the team at the end of the season, and sold the players to other teams for $45,000 (a whole lot of money in 1888). Detroit would not see Major League baseball again until 1901 when the American League put the Tigers there.

Stearns lived to see the Tigers and to watch them in three World Series. His Wolverines had better luck the the postseason. The Tigers lost all three World Series’ Stearns saw. He died in 1924 at age 70.