Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Alleghenys’

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 Little Steam Engine

July 26, 2010

Pud Galvin

The other day, prefatory to doing my post on Cy Young, I looked over the list of 300 game winners. Most of the modern ones are fairly well-known, as are most of the ones who pitched in the early part of the 20th Century. That’s not as true of the 19th Century pitchers. Most have fallen into obscurity. The recent book on 1884 has brought back Charles Radbourn and both Welch and Keefe pitched in New York for pennant winners. Clarkson pitched for the Cubs and Kid Nichols gets a lot of votes as the best 19th Century pitcher. So if I had to pick a 300 win pitcher and call him the most obscure, it would be James “Pud” Galvin, the winningest pitcher of the 19th Century.

Galvin was born Christmas day 1856 in St. Louis. In 1875 he began playing for the hometown Browns of the National Association (the only Major League at the time). He got into eight games as a pitcher, going 4-2, and played a handful of games in the outfield, hitting .130. The Association folded the next season and Galvin disappears from the Major Leagues until 1879. Between the two big league appearances he pitched for the International League team in Buffalo. In 1879, Buffalo joined the National League and Galvin stayed in the majors through 1892. Early on he picked up the nickname “The Little Steam Engine”, the first of a number of pitchers compared to trains. Walter Johnson (The Big Train), and Nolan Ryan (The Express) come immediately to mind.

He played for Buffalo into the 1885 season when he was sent to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association. In 1887, Pittsburgh moved to the National League and Galvin remained with them through 1889. In 1890 he jumped to the fledgling Player’s League (joining the new team in Pittsburgh), then returned to the Alleghenys when the Player’s League collapsed. He went back to St. Louis (now the Cardinals) toward the end of 1892, then retired. At retirment he was the winningest pitcher in Major League history. He died in March 1902 in Pittsburgh. The Wikipedia article on him indicates that the nickname “Pud” was an abbreviation for “Pudding”, which is what his pitches turned hitters into. I’ve been unable to track down a better explanation.

Galvin seems to be the first of the PED boys. Apparently he took an elixir that contained monkey testosterone to help him stay in shape and sharp. There are a lot of jokes to be made here about arm length and hair and such. I think I’ll simply mention the fact and let it go at that.

Galvin pitched far enough back that many of his numbers are in dispute. I’ve taken the newest baseball encyclopedia numbers for use here and recognize that when the next version comes out they may be different. For his career Galvin had 361 wins, 308 losses (for a .540 winning percentage), with 5941 innings pitched. He gave up 6352 hits, walked 744 and struck out 1799. For all that he had a 2.87 ERA in 697 games, 681 of them starts. His teams never won a pennant or a postseason series. In his career best seasons of 1883 and 1884 he won 46 games each year, leading the league in innings pitched in 1883 with 656, and threw a league leading 12 shutouts in 1884. In 1883 he tied the all time record (with Will White) for the most games pitched and started in a season with 76 games and 75 starts.

Galvin is very difficult to evaluate. For one thing, he never pitched a big league game at 60’6″. He’s one of only two 300 game winners to do that (Radbourn is the other). How he would have done at the modern distance is simply unknowable. Additionally, the ball and strike counts varied during his career. Sometimes there were four balls and three strikes, sometimes there were more. Throw in the differences in equipment and fields and you have a pitcher doing his job in conditions that are alien to us. Having said all that, there are still a few observations that can be made. He gave up more hits than innings pitched, which is never a good thing. His walks to strikeout rate is pretty good (2.4 strikeouts per walk) for the era without being great. He got a lot of wins (and losses) but pitched in an era when two pitchers was fairly normal and one single hurler could occasionally dominate a team’s statistics. Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract does not list him among his 100 greatest pitchers and the WAR statistic puts him 27th between Don Sutton and Curt Schilling (and two below his contemporary rival Radbourn).

“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.