Posts Tagged ‘Ned Williamson’

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.

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.