Posts Tagged ‘Moses Fleetwood Walker’

How Good Was Fleet Walker?

August 1, 2013
Fleet Walker

Fleet Walker

Most of you know at least a little of the story. Moses Fleetwood Walker, not Jackie Robinson, was the first black man to play Major League baseball (not counting the guy from Providence in the 1870s who got into one game and no one’s sure he was black). Fleet Walker played one season for Toledo in the American Association (1884) then both he and Toledo were dropped from the league after that single season.  He never got back to the big leagues and baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement” meant that no one else who was black was going to get there either until 1947.

This is not a biography of Fleet Walker, although his bio is fascinating. What I wondered was why no one picked him up to play Major League baseball again. Was it simply race, or was he clearly not big league caliber? As Walker was a catcher by trade, the obvious thing to do was compare him against the other Association catchers.

In 1884 there were 12 teams in the American Association. During the season Washington folded and a new team set up in Richmond, Virginia to play out the season, so a cursory look at the standing sometimes shows 13 teams. As Washington and Richmond used different catchers, I included both teams. I looked at the stats of the primary catcher for each team. And a quick caveat here: Walker only played 42 games at Toledo, so I added Toledo’s other catcher, Deacon McGuire (not to be confused with Deacon White who just made the Hall of Fame), in the mix so I’m looking at 14 total men.

I looked at a handful of stats (hits, runs, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS) only. The Association stats for 1884 are very sparse so some stats like RBIs, stolen bases, etc. are missing. Of what existed, I went with the ones listed above. I did not deal with fielding stats because the position of catcher was so different in 1884 that the stats are, to me, meaningless (no glove, no chest protector, standing back several feet from the batter, etc). Walker did lead the Association in passed balls, but much of that can be laid at the feet of Tony Mullane, a pitcher who hated the idea of throwing to a black man. Walker’s triple slash numbers are: 263/325/316/641.

If I had to rank the catchers in order of hitting ability I would place Walker in the fourth, fifth or perhaps sixth position. Someone named Jim Keenan (who I’d never heard of) is clearly the best hitting catcher in the Association. His triple slash numbers are .293/343/418/751.  All are first among catchers (actually the slugging percentage is tied for first and I didn’t work it out to four or five figures to see if it was actually first). He played for Indianapolis which finished last (he was easily their best player). Jocko Milligan (who tied with Keenan on slugging percentage) at Philadelphia, and Pop Snyder at Cincinnati were the second and third best hitting catchers (and Snyder managed the Reds). Next there’s something of a logjam that includes Walker, Sam Trott of Baltimore (and one of few left-handed catchers) and Dan Sullivan of Louisville for the fourth position. There’s not much difference between them in percentages, but because Walker plays so many fewer games, his hit and run totals are less. Because has more hits than games played (as do Keenan, Snyder, and Milligan) I’ll put Trott fourth, but Walker is probably next. You can get these stats at Baseball and compare them yourself. You might make different choices. But one thing you will surely agree with me on is that Walker was certainly better than McGuire, who played three more games at Toledo (not all games for either McGuire or Walker were behind the plate, but it was their primary position). Here’s McGuire’s triple slash numbers: 185/217/252/468. Based just on hitting, who you want?

So it seems to me that Walker was legitimately a middle of the pack hitting catcher in 1884. When the Association contracted to eight teams in 1884 a number of the survivors had weaker catchers than Walker, but none chose to pick him up. It’s very hard to see any reason for this other than his skin color. So to answer my title question, he was probably not good enough to be a real star, he was certainly good enough to play at the highest level


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 Grand Experiment

February 1, 2013
Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third ffrom left top row)

Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third from left top row)

It’s now black history month in the USA, so it’s time for my annual journey into black baseball. For this blog it’s a very successful month. I’ve noted a major uptick in hits during February. Most of the hits are on articles involving black baseball. I ascribe this to a bunch of school kids trying to find something to write about or present for black history month. So, I think I’ll oblige all those students who need the help. Don’t take it too badly, kids, you’ll survive even this.

When Moses Fleetwood Walker died in 1924, the Brooklyn Eagle commented that his one year in the Major Leagues in 1884 was a “Grand Experiment.” Walker was black and played a single year in the Majors. The 19th Century was a tough century for black ball players. They were allowed to play, they were excluded, they were cheered, they were vilified. It was, in other words, a fairly standard period of black Americans.

The close of the Civil War may have changed the nature of freedom in the US, but it didn’t do much for the acceptance of Black Americans in baseball. Many universities were open to integrating teams, some not so much. The newly emerging professional teams and leagues tended to follow current trends. Some teams were integrated, others segregated. Some leagues were integrated, others segregated. The first truly professional league (and quasi-major league), the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, had no black players in its 1871-75 existence. I can find no evidence it was official policy to segregate the league, but when players the quality of Bud Fowler aren’t playing in the league you have to wonder.

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

The National League replaced the National Association in 1876 and things improved (sorta). As early as 1879 a black player may have been on a Major League team. On 21 June 1879, the Providence Grays first baseman, Joe Start, was unable to go. The team added a one-day replacement named Bill White to the team. White went one for four and scored a run. In 2003 SABR research noted that the Brown University baseball team had a player named William Edward White on its roster. White was of mixed race (which in 1879 American made him “black” regardless of his skin tone). They concluded that the two White’s were probably the same person, thus making White the first Black American (and only American born a slave) to play in the Majors. There is much speculation about this so don’t take it to the bank just yet.

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

By the mid-1880s black players like Frank Grant, a middle infielder who is in the Hall of Fame and pitcher George Stovey were excelling in minor leagues. Neither ever got a chance to play in the Majors. Fleet Walker did. He was a catcher for the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings when Toledo made the move from the Northwestern League (a minor league) to the American Association (a Major League) in 1884. Toledo finished eighth, Walker caused a great deal of controversy for not only the opposition but also within his own team. As a catcher he was supposed to be superior. If you line up his hitting stats with the other first string catchers in the 1884 American Association he ends up firmly in the middle of the pack. In 1885 Toledo, and Walker, along with his brother who played a handful of games with Toledo in 1884, were back in the minors. As a short aside, Hank O’Day, who was just elected to Cooperstown as an umpire, was a teammate of Walker’s.

After 1884 the National League (followed by the American League after its founding in 1901) became a segregated league. There was never an official written policy excluding Black Americans, but none ever showed up on either an NL or AL field during a game. Cap Anson of the Colts (now the Cubs) gets much of the blame for this. He was apparently an ardent racist and led a move to exclude blacks from the game. But it’s a little unfair to blame Anson for the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” (considering what was being agreed to the word “gentleman” certainly seems out-of-place here, doesn’t it?). It’s not like Anson was a bastion of reaction in a sea of tolerance. The mass of players, executives, owners, and fans had to acquiesce to Anson’s views or they could not have prevailed.

By 1890, segregation in both baseball and the United States in general was firmly in place. There were still a few places where a black ball player could join an integrated team, but the number of such places was dwindling. The black response was to form all black teams that would play either independently or in leagues of their own. Some of them did well, others poorly. This system was to remain in place in to the 1940s when it would be broken down gradually and a modern integrated Major Leagues would emerge.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Stovey

May 18, 2012

George Stovey about 1890 (best picture I could find)

1. He was born George Washington Stovey in 1866 in New York (or maybe Philadelphia) to an unknown father and a woman of “mixed race” which in 1860s American made both he and his mother black. There is some question whether his name was Stovey or Stover.

2. He grew up playing in integrated semi-pro leagues around Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he became a premier left-handed pitcher.

3.In 1886 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first significant black barnstorming teams.

4. In June of the same year he joined Jersey City of the Eastern League, a professional minor league. He became the league’s first black player.

5. The next year he pitched for Newark with Moses Fleetwood Walker as his battery mate. Fleet Walker was the first black player to join a Major League team (in 1884).

6. During the 1887 season the Eastern League, the International League, and other minor leagues voted to ban the signing of further black players to their leagues. Stovey, Walker, and a handful of other black players were allowed to finish the season with their teams.

7. For the next several seasons he played off and on with the Cuban Giants in the Mid-States League (which was still integrated). He jumped from team to team almost yearly, a common activity for a ballplayer, especially a black ballplayer, in the era.

8. He finished his career in 1897 with the X-Giants and retired to umpire.

9. He became, during the 1897 season, the second black man to umpire a game between two white teams (Jacob Francis was first). He umped off and on into his 50s.

10. Retired, he did a lot of things including help create youth league teams, run moonshine during Prohibition (which got him in trouble with the police), and work in the local sawmill.

11. He died of a heart attack in 1936.

12. By general agreement he is considered the finest black pitcher of the 19th Century, but statistics on his career are almost impossible to find. His stats for 1886, the only year for which they are at all complete (according to Baseball Reference), give him a record of 22-20 with an ERA of 1.44, 69 walks, 246 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.004. Various sources give him 60 to 100 total wins, but apparently only the 1886 season is verifiable.

The Deacon

September 16, 2011

Deacon White with the Wolverines

To be an 19th Century ballplayer is to live in obscurity. Even Hall of Famers are obscure. Ask someone to name a 19th Century ballplayer. Most people, even fans, can’t. They might, if they’re very clever, remember that Cy Young and Honus Wagner played a little in the 19th Century and a civil rights person might know the name (but not the stats) of Moses Fleetwood Walker, but most people are going to zero out. That’s a great shame because the modern players stand squarely (and sometimes a little wobbly) on their shoulders. Give me a minute here to rescue one from deepest obscurity to simply obscurity, Deacon White.

James White was born in Caton, New York on 2 December 1847. His family was farmers and he wanted to be one also. But it turned out that both he and his younger brother Will were terrific baseball players. By 1868 Jim White was with the Forest City of Cleveland (from here on the Cleveland Forest Citys). He was a catcher, a heck of a hitter, and something of an anomaly. He didn’t play cards, and worse, he went to church. The “Deacon” nickname was obvious and it stuck with him for the rest of his career.

In 1871 Cleveland joined the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league and in some ways (professionals playing at the highest level possible) the first Major League. Two games were scheduled for opening day. One was rained out; Cleveland played in the other. White led off the game with a double, was later doubled off second. If you want to consider the National Association a Major League, then White has the honor of registering the first at bat, the first hit, the first extra base hit, and be involved in the first double play. For what it’s worth, Cleveland lost 2-0. Cleveland finished 10-19 for the season, but White hit .322, had a home run, and led the team with 40 runs scored.  He did well again in 1872. That got him out of Cleveland and brought him a job with Boston, the premier Association team and 1872 champion. In 1873-1874, Boston won consecutive championships with White as the primary catcher.

In 1876, he joined the National League where he played through 1889. He won pennants with Chicago in 1876 and Boston in 1877.  Already a prime catcher, in 1882 he moved to third base becoming arguably the finest third baseman in the NL. After several years in Buffalo and Cincinnati, he ended up in Detroit in 1886. In 1887 the Wolverines won the NL pennant, then won the 19th Century version of the World Series against the American Association’s St. Louis Browns. 

During the latter part of his career, White was a staunch supporter of John Montgomery Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union of any consequence. Although almost through with his career, he joined the 1891 player’s revolt and finished his career with the Player’s Association team in Buffalo. It made him well liked by other players despite his insistence on attending church on Sundays.

After retirement he managed a series of Minor League teams in the Southwest, then settled in Buffalo where he worked for an optical company, then ran a stable on Auburn Avenue which later became a garage. When he died in 1939 he was 91 and the oldest living ballplayer. He is buried in Illinois.

Let’s start the look at his career stats with an obvious caveat. He played a few years prior to the establishment of the National Association, so the numbers we have a slightly incomplete. He is already 23 when the Association is formed and something like reliable statistics are available. For his career White hits .312, slugs .393, with an OBP of .346 for an OPS of .740 (OPS+ of 127). He plays 1540 games, a lot for the era, has 2067 hits, 1140 runs, 988 RBIs, 2605 total bases, 24 home runs, 308 walks, and 221 strikeouts. He also is a major component on five pennant winners. For the pre-1893 era, those are good numbers. He leads both the Association and the NL in batting once (1875 and 1877), leads the NL in OPS, hits, triples, total bases and RBIs in 1877. He’s also a pretty good catcher for the era, but only a so-so third baseman.

If I had to pick one player and call him the most overlooked great player of the 19th Century, it would be White. He’s a heck of a hitter. At a position where the game is totally different today than in the 19th Century (catcher), he excels. It’s a weak enough position (along with second base) to make the argument that there are no truly great catchers in the 19th Century (Buck Ewing’s presence in the Hall of Fame not withstanding), but I think that misses the point that it was a very different job to be a catcher in 1880 than it was in 1980. There are no gloves to speak of, no catching equipment we’d recognize, and pitchers were much closer to home than today. To excel there in those conditions is worth comment (frankly, to be brave enough to play the postion in those circumstances is worth noting). Is White a Hall of Famer? In my opinion yes, although I won’t be surprised if he never gets invited inside.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Frank Grant

June 27, 2011

Frank Grant while at Buffalo

1. He was born in 1865 in Massachusetts and named Ulysses Franklin Grant. Being black and born immediately after the Civil War, it is possible he was named for Union General U.S. Grant, but that can’t be confirmed, at least as far as I can determine.

2. His parents were both from Massachusetts and freemen, an unusual combination for 1860s America. Both were alleged to be of mixed race, which in 1860s American made them “colored” (bet you can guess which color).

3. He was 5’7″ and weighed 155 pounds, making him big for a middle infielder of the era.

4. He joined the Eastern League’s Meriden, Connecticut team in 1886, one of three black players in the league (Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey were the other two). He hit .316 over 44 games, most at second base (although he pitched three times going 0-1). The team disbanded in July and Grant ended up with Buffalo, playing in Olympic Park at the Northeast corner of Richmond and Summer Streets (I know some people in Buffalo and thought they might like to know the location of the park.).

5. Race was already becoming an issue. He was refered to by his own team as either “Spanish” or “Italian” in order to lessen the problem. As an aside this seems to be a subterfuge as late as the early 20th Century when John McGraw hired at least one black player and called him an “Indian.”

6. In May 1887, Grant hit for the cycle. That same season, the International League (Grant’s league) voted to ban the hiring of more black ball players, but “grandfathered” Grant and the handful of blacks already in the league. Most leagues began banning black players about the same time and didn’t bother with the “grandfather clause.”

7. In 1888 Grant held out for a salary of $250 per month (not bad pay in 1888), which is great chutzpah considering the just completed vote on race. He got the money and ended up playing 84 games and hit .346.

8. In 1889 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first Negro League teams. The Giants wandered in and out of the minor leagues for the next several seasons. Grant stayed with the Cuban Giants off and on into 1891, when he signed with the Gothams, another black team. He went back to the Cuban Giants in 1892 and remained there through 1897. This kind of team jumping was fairly common among Negro League players of the era. And here I’m using “negro league” in a more generic sense, rather than refering to the more well established leagues that begin in the 1920s.

9. The end came at age 38 after the 1903 season. At the end of the season he participated in what some refer to as the first Negro League World Series (it isn’t generally credited as such). His team lost.

10. He’s credited with inventing shin guards in order to keep white players from ripping up his legs when they slid into second base. Unfortunately, a couple of other black players (Bud Fowler is one) are also credited with the invention. I have no idea who really did it.

11. He died in 1937.

12. The Hall of Fame selected him for enshrinement in 2006, one of several Negro League players brought in at the same time.

As is usual with black ballplayer who spent their careers in the Negro Leagues, stats are hard to come by. That’s especially true for 19th Century players who only had options in the black leagues or the minors. There’s not much in the way of statistical information on Grant, but there seems to be a consensus that he was among the finest black players of the century, if not the finest (it’s usually a fight between supporters of Grant and supporters of Fowler with a smattering of Walker fans thrown in). Second base was a weak enough position in the 19th Century anyway (except for Nap LaJoie at the very end of the century), so some people make the case for Grant as the best second baseman of the century. Maybe, but I’d like to see a little more statistical information before I buy off on that.


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.