Posts Tagged ‘Roger Connor’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1903

May 1, 2014

After a couple of posts that I’d done earlier and saved for a rainy day, the eye is better and I’m back with new stuff finally.  So it’s time again for the newest inductions to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This is, for those of you who have forgotten, a once monthly exploration of how the Hall of Fame might look different if it had been started in 1901 rather than in the 1930s. First, a reminder of who’s in from the Class of 1901 (Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, George Wright) and the Class of 1902 (Dan Brouthers, King Kelly, Charles Radbourn, Albert Spaulding, Harry Wright). Now the latest class with commentary below.

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

Adrian “Cap” Anson was a career .300 hitter who became the first player to amass 3000 hits. He won four batting titles in his 27 year career. As manager of the Chicago National League team, he won five pennants.

Roger Connor

Roger Connor

Roger Connor is the all-time leader in home runs. In 1890 he won the Player’s League home run title but his peak was 17 in 1887. A solid first baseman, he led the Giants to consecutive pennants in 1888 and 1889, helping his team to capture both postseason matches against American Association opponents. Additionally, he won a batting title in 1885.

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Greatest catcher of the Nineteenth Century. Captain of the Giants when they won back-to-back pennants in 1888 and 1889. In 1883, became the only catcher to win a home run title. Served as manager of the Cincinnati team at the end of his career.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Considered the first “Colored” professional. Credited with inventing shin guards. Played for a number of integrated minor league teams and for many of the premier “Colored” teams of the Nineteenth Century. Helped form the first all black league.

Now to answer your questions before you ask them:

1. You did notice you only put in four, didn’t you, Dummy? Yeah, I noticed that. My feeling was that a 1903 voting group would be so overwhelmed by the numbers and legends of Anson, Connor, and Ewing that there would be a tendency to vote only for the three of them and leave off everyone else. You’ve seen this happen recently a lot and I decided it probably wouldn’t be any different back in 1903. So I went with four inductees.

2. Fowler? Really? OK, I know there is no chance that a black ball player in 1903 is going to be elected to a Hall of Fame. I’m sure that in some areas where I’ve lived he’s not even going to be allowed into the building except maybe for an hour our two every other week, but I stipulated when I set up this Hall that I would allow in black players despite the mores of the day. And Fowler is the first (expect Frank Grant when he becomes eligible). Fowler could have gone in earlier, but I put him off until 1903 for a reason. With all the fuss Anson made about playing against black players in the 1880s, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put a black player at the same time. I’d love for this to have really happened. I would love to see if Anson would even show up for the ceremony or appear on the same stage with Fowler. I call it a bit of poetic justice. I know that has no place in a real Hall of Fame, but I just couldn’t resist.

3. “Colored”? Most of the documentation of the era used “colored” more often than “Negro” “black” “African-American” or any other word to describe black Americans. The term “Ethiopian” also shows up a lot. I went with “colored” as the word most likely to be used despite my own misgivings about the use of the word. Expect to see it replaced by “Negro” as we get deeper into the 20th Century.

4. Again, the statistics are all over the place. Anson won several RBI titles but I find almost no contemporary record that acknowledges that, so the stat wasn’t mentioned. I’m not sure, from what I’ve read, that they even knew Connor had more homers than anyone else (especially Brouthers) but I listed it anyway.

5. I’ve made one change in how I categorize my Hall. I’ve lumped everyone not an everyday player or a pitcher into the contributors category. So it’s now owners (Chris von der Ahe, William Babcock), managers (Jim Mutrie, Charles Comiskey), players with a major career prior to 1870 (Jim Creighton, Candy Cummings, Bob Ferguson, Lip Pike, Joe Start), writers (Henry Chadwick), pioneers (William Wheaton, Monte Ward) umpires, etc. all in one group. I have to admit I’m woefully uninformed about very early umpires, so I’m just beginning research on them. Also, I’m finding that after compiling my initial lists, I’m only adding one or two new players each year to the list. That seems to be about on par with what the real Hall adds. I know the real Hall puts out a lot of new names, but there are really only a couple or so that have a chance at getting in. As an example in 1908 Dummy Hoy and Wilbert Robinson are the only everyday players new to the list worth even a quick list and there are no significant pitchers. But in 1907 you have Billy Hamilton, Cupid Childs, and pitchers Amos Rusie and Gus Weyhing to look over. That seems to fit in pretty well with how the real Hall works.

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.

Thanks, Hank

March 14, 2013
Roger Connor

Roger Connor

Way back in 1974, Hank Aaron did the impossible, he overtook Babe Ruth for the all-time Major League home run title. There were mixed feelings about it, but it led to one interesting question. “If Hammerin’ Hank just passed the Babe, who the heck did Ruth pass?” The answer, after some research, turned out to be Roger Connor.

Connor was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1857. His parents were Irish immigrants and did not understand the American fascination with baseball. Connor, on the other hand, loved the game. It led to his leaving home at age 14 to pursue his baseball interests in New York. His dad died in 1874, bringing Connor back to Waterbury. He took a job in a local factory to help support his family and played semipro baseball to supplement his income. He was good enough to get a tryout with the International League. He did poorly. Although left-handed, he hit from the right side and didn’t do it very well. A switch to hitting from the left side got him back to the International League (I wonder how common it is for a player to switch sides of the plate and go from mediocrity to stardom?) in the late 1870s. To be clear, Connor was never a switch hitter. He merely gave up hitting right handed in favor of hitting left handed.

He was also big. He stood 6′ 3″ and weighed 220 pounds. That made him a huge man for the era. It also made him relatively immobile. He started his career as a left-handed third baseman, but his lack of speed, combined with a good pair of hands, put him at first base. Once he moved to first (and started hitting lefty) he became a  star.

In 1880 he was picked up by Troy of the National League. In 83 games he hit .332, drove in 47 runs and had an OPS+ of 169. He remained at Troy through 1882 hitting .317 with 120 RBIs. In 1883 the team in Troy was in trouble. It had a small fan base, wasn’t doing well in the standings, and there was no current team in New York. So the league moved the franchise (and most of its players, including Connor) to New York as the Gothams (eventually becoming the Giants and ultimately relocating to San Francisco). With a quality team combining the Troy refugees and newly acquired talent they started winning. New York won pennants (and the 19th Century version of the World Series) in both 1888 and 1889. Connor was a major reason why. He led the National League in hits, triples, RBIs, walks, batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, OPS+, and total bases at various times during the period. He did not lead the NL in home runs during the 1880s but did establish his career high at 17.

He 1890 he joined teammate Monty Ward’s Player’s League. There he won his only home run title (he hit 14) and picked up another slugging and OPS title. With the failure of the Player’s League he moved back to the Giants. He spent 1892 in Philadelphia (where he won the doubles crown), then came back to New York in 1893. Traded to St. Louis during the 1894 season he remained there until his retirement at age 39 in 1897. His stay in St. Louis included a short managing stint in 1896. The team was terrible and he was uncomfortable as manager. He resigned the managerial position after an 8-37 record.

Connor returned to Waterbury after his retirement. He played minor league ball, managed, and ultimately owned the Waterbury team. He sold the team in 1901, bought another, and maintained his ties to baseball until 1903 when he retired from playing and sold the team. In retirement he invested his money in land, made a fortune, lost most of it, and died in 1931. To Major League baseball he slipped into total obscurity. But Hank Aaron’s run to glory brought Connor back into the spotlight and in 1976 he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.

For his career, Connor’s triple slash line is .316/.397/486/.883 for an OPS+ of 153. He had 2467 hits in 7797 at bats. That yielded 1620 runs, 1323 RBIs, and 3788 total bases. He had 441 doubles, 233 triples (still fifth ever), and the record 138 home runs (although it wasn’t until the push to find who Ruth replaced that his home run total was firmly established at 138). He was also considered an excellent, for the era, fielding first baseman.

In some ways the modern player Connor most reminds me of is Hank Aaron. Like Aaron, he seldom won many league titles, but was consistently among the best in the NL for most of his career. Remember, Aaron only won two batting titles and three home run titles (and like Connor did not win a home run title with his most prolific home run year). For much of their career, the two men were overlooked in favor of flashier, but not better, players. Both men were quiet and spoke more with their bat than their mouths. Aaron did a lot of good things when he made his run at Babe Ruth. One of the better, if more obscure, was the resurrection of Roger Connor’s memory.

And before anyone asks, the man Connor replaced as the all-time home run king was Harry Stovey.

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

The Tragedy of Dave Orr

December 18, 2012
Dave Orr about 1888

Dave Orr about 1889

Baseball is full of heroic tales; Ruth and his called shot, Gibson’s ninth inning home run, Larsen’s perfect game. It is also full of tragic stories; Clemente’s death, Gehrig’s illness, Addie Joss’ collapse on the field and  subsequent death. Few, short of those leading to death, are more tragic than the tale of Dave Orr.

Orr was born in September 1859 in Richmond Hills, a section of Queens, New York. He got through elementary school then seems to have dropped out of  school to help his dad, a stone cutter. He played baseball locally, and by 1883 had established himself locally as a good hitting player who could pitch a little. He played for a series of Minor League and semi-pro teams and was spotted while playing for Hartford. There is some dispute whether Jim Mutrie (Gothams manager) saw him personally or if he signed Orr on the advice of scout (scouting was much less formal in 1883). Either way, the Gothams (now the Giants) picked up a giant player (for the era). Orr stood 5’11” and weighed  250 pounds. He played first base and was noted, despite his bulk, as a slick fielding first baseman (again for the era).

Orr played one game for the Gothams then was sent to the Metropolitans for the remainder of the season. The same man (John Day) owned both clubs and he frequently raided one team to prop up the other. In 14 games he managed to hit .302 with an OPS+ of 175. It was a harbinger of things to come. From 1884 through 1887 Orr was the regular Metropolitans first baseman. He continued to hit over .300 and led the American Association in hits, triples, total bases, and slugging percentage twice each. He picked up a batting title, and RBI title, and led the AA in OPS+ once. During his stay in New York, the Metropolitans won a pennant in 1884 and participated in the first primitive version of the World Series. Providence beat them three games to none with Orr getting a solo single in nine at bats.

During Orr’s period with the Metropolitans, the Gothams (now the Giants) became the premier New York team and the owner kept raiding the Mets to help the Gothams. With Roger Connor at first, Orr remained with the Mets and even managed eight games (he went 3-5) in late 1887. At the end of the season, the Mets folded. Orr ended up in Brooklyn.

He did well enough in Brooklyn, putting up a .305 average, but nagging injuries held him to 99 games. Feeling they could do better, Brooklyn traded him to Columbus. He hit .327 at Columbus with a .786 OPS. But Orr was one of  a number of players who was tired of being poorly treated by management, being underpaid, and having to face the reserve clause. In 1890 he joined many of the other players in bolting to John Montgomery Ward’s Player’s League. He ended up back in Brooklyn playing for Ward’s team. Orr hit .371, and established a career high with 124 RBIs. Although the Player’s League folded after just the one season, Orr was still much in demand. This is when tragedy struck him.

In October 1890, Dave Orr suffered a massive stroke while playing an exhibition game. He was 31 and his left side was paralyzed. His baseball career was over. He managed to rehabilitate his left side enough that he could walk with some difficulty, but he could not play baseball. He did some umpiring, served as a night watchman, worked with the maintenance crew at Ebbets Field, and was a press box attendant for the Brooklyn Federal League team in 1914. In 1915 his heart gave out. He was 55 and was buried in the Bronx.

For his career, Orr hit .342 (tied with Babe Ruth), had an on base percentage of .366, slugged .502, and had an OPS of .867 (OPS+ of 162). In 791 games he had 536 hits, , 198 doubles, 108 triples, 37 home runs, 637 RBIs, and 1650 total bases. He led the AA in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage during his time in baseball.

Orr only played eight seasons, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, and what follows is not a plea to put him in, as I’m not sure he belongs. I am concerned that there are certain situations that make it possible to at least consider waiving the 10 year standard for Hall of Fame induction. They’ve already done it for Addie Joss (who only played nine seasons) who died before he could complete 10 years. Had either Clemente or Gehrig died short of 10 seasons would that diminish their contributions so much that they could not enter Cooperstown? It seems to me that in very specific circumstances that the Hall could take the ten-year rule and put it in its pocket. Those circumstances are very few, but surely death, a debilitating disease, a stroke, a war wound, are things that should be considered.

It was a great tragedy that Dave Orr only had eight seasons in the big leagues. Surely had he gotten just a few more, he would be considered a much greater player. As is, he was pretty good.

The Original Giant

October 26, 2012

Jim Mutrie

With the Giants up in the World Series, this seems like a good time to talk about the history of the team. It goes back to the 1880s, although almost no one knows anything that happened in Giants baseball prior to John McGraw. So let me introduce you to Jim Mutrie.

Mutrie was born in Massachusetts in 1851. He worked for his father, attended school, and played cricket. The latter got him interested in baseball. By 1867 he was catching for local clubs and making his name as a leading sportsman of the region. Besides proficiency in baseball and cricket he was known as a champion cycler (this is the old bicycle that had the giant wheel in the front and a small one at back) and won some distance races on the bicycle, including a 50 mile distance race in 1879. But baseball was where the money was and Mutrie was good enough to make it onto some minor league teams in the area. By 1880 he had quit as a player and was managing the Brockton team.

Baseball in New York City had fallen on bad times. One of the great cradles of Paleolithic baseball, New York hadn’t had a Major League team since just after the founding of the National League when the Mutuals were tossed out of the league for failing to make a late season Western (read Chicago) swing. Brooklyn, another hotbed of  early baseball also was  without a team, the Dodgers (originally called the Atlantics after a famous 1850s-60s team) weren’t formed until 1884. Mutrie saw the need and potential for a Major League team in New York. He got in contact with John B. Day, a successful tobacconist (the stories of how they met vary), convinced Day to invest in a baseball team, and found a suitable area to build a stadium, the initial Polo Grounds (not to be confused with the more famous one in Queens). He recruited players, named the team the New York Metropolitans (Mets) and joined the Eastern Championship Alliance (a minor league). They won championships in both 1881 and 1882, earning them an invitation to join the newly formed American Association (a new Major League). The team accepted and Major League baseball was back in New York in 1883.

And it was back in a big way. Not only did the Metropolitans join the Association, but Day formed a new team called the Gothams and managed to get them into the National League. So from having no teams between 1877 and 1882, New York now had a team in both Major Leagues.

The Mets won a pennant in 1884. That allowed them to participate in the first primitive World Series against the National League’s Providence Greys. It was a three game series with Providence winning all three games.  But the Gothams made more money, had more panache, and finished fourth. Day approached Mutrie about changing teams, Mutrie agreed, and in 1885 he became manager of the New York Gothams. He brought with him Tim Keefe, the Mets best pitcher. It began a steady rise for the Gothams. By the end of the 1885 season they had a second place finish and a new nickname, the Giants.

There is some debate about the origin of the name. We know that P.J. Donohue, a reporter for the New York World used the term “Giants” in an article on 14 April 1885. Later Mutrie claimed that he’d refered to his team as “My big fellas, my Giants” to Donohue and thus deserved credit for the name. Donohue never commented one way or the other as far as I can tell. This brings up an issue when dealing with Mutrie. His nickname was “Truthful James”, but it was meant in the same ironic way that a 6′ 6″ 250 pound linebacker is called “Tiny.” Apparently Mutrie liked to brag, to take credit for things whether he did them or not, and inflate his importance, and let his stories improve with age (He’d make a great “booster” in the town where I live). So you should take his assertion about the “Giants” nickname with something less than 100% confidence.

Whatever Mutrie’s veracity, his team was good. They won pennants in 1888 and 1889, then swept to “World Series” wins in both seasons. It was a great team, one of the best of the 19th Century. Hall of Famers Roger Connor, Monte Ward, Jim O’Rourke, and Buck Ewing played in the field. Keefe and Mickey Welch, both Hall of Fame members anchored the pitching staff.  Mike Tiernan and George Gore also played for the team and were household names in the era.

But all was not well with the team. The Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players was heavily represented on the team (Ward was the Brotherhood founder and leader). In 1890, fed up with low salaries and contract restrictions, the Brotherhood formed its own league (the Player’s League). It devastated the Giants. Of the 1889 starting fielders, only Tiernan remained with the team. Keefe also left the team, although Welch remained. The team finished in sixth at 63-68 (the only losing season in Mutrie’s career). They got back to third in 1891, but the team was in trouble. Day was broke and sold the team. Wanting a fresh start, the new ownership fired Mutrie.

For Mutrie it was the end. He never got back to the Major Leagues. He moved to Staten Island with his wife and daughter, survived doing odd jobs, and was largely forgotten. The Giants had an occasional reunion of the old teams and Mutrie was there. They eventually gave him a small pension, but he was never associated with the team again. He died on Staten Island in relative obscurity in 1938.

For his career, Mutrie won three pennants, two “World Series”, and finished with a losing record once. He managed nine years, won 658 games, lost 419, and ended with a winning percentage of .611. Know how many managers with 200 games have a better winning percentage? One, Joe McCarthy (.615) of the 1930s-1940s Yankees. You’d think that would get people’s attention, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Mutrie has had almost no support for the Hall of Fame.

Jim Mutrie is one of those guys that early baseball seems to run across with frequency. Part showman, part genius, part fool. We’ve lost something with the modern ballplayer and manager. We’ve lost the Mutrie “character”. Ain’t that kind of a shame?

The Brotherhood Revolts

March 26, 2010

Sometimes you’ve just had enough. You’ve had those days, right? It’s one damn stupid thing after another. It’s one thing too many, it’s…well, you know, it’s your Howard Beale moment, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (See the movie Network). The same kind of thing happened in baseball way back in 1889. It was just one too many slaps at the players by the owners. They responded by forming a new league, the last league run by players.

During the late 1880s the leaders of both major leagues, the National League and the American Assoiciation, tried to control costs by setting the equivilent of the modern salary cap. They announced that no player could earn more than $2500 a season. It’s not a great salary in 1890, but not an awful one either.  Just prior to this announcement, John Montgomery Ward had formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union (love it or hate it). Many, but certainly not all, the players joined. Their anger at the salary cap was such that they decided to act.

The late 1880s is not a particularly good time for labor unions. They were seen as rabble rousers, as anarchists (The very idea of Monte Ward as an anarchist is laughable.), as not knowing their place, etc. There were no federal laws protecting them, no law granting a right to strike in certain circumstances, no binding arbitration. So many of the modern ways a union can attack what it perceives as an evil were not available or were illegal at the time. Ward came up with an alternative. They players would form their own league and would call it the Player’s League.

The Player’s League began operation in 1890 in the following cities: Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Every team except Buffalo was in direct competition with a National League team, and Brooklyn had three teams. With only a smattering of new players, the new league drew most of its players from the established Major Leagues. As an example of what happened here’s the starting eight for the 1889 winner of the “World Series,” the New York Giants: Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, and George Gore in the outfield; Roger Connor, Danny Richardson, Monte Ward, Art Whitney in the infield; and Buck Ewing catching. In 1890 only Tiernan was still with the Giants, who slipped all the way to sixth. Connor, Richardson, Whitney, O’Rourke, Gore, and Ewing were now all with the Player’s League team in New York, with Ewing as manager. Ward was the manager of the Player’s League Brooklyn entry.

The team from Boston, the Reds, won the pennant going 81-48 and winning by 6.5 games over Brooklyn. Hall of Fame players Dan Brouthers, King Kelly (who also managed), and Charles Radbourne played for Boston along with a number of stars of the day. Pete Browning won the batting title, Billy Shindle led in total bases, Connor in home runs, Harry Stovey in stolen bases, Mark Baldwin in pitching wins, and Silver King in ERA. King also threw the only no hitter in the league (besting Brooklyn).

In the stands, the new league did well, sort of. By June the Player’s League led in attendance by about 10,000 over the NL (and almost 20,000 over the Association). The gap, particularly with the Association continued to grow. But there was a problem developing. The United States of 1890 simply couldn’t sustain three Major Leagues. Most teams were hemorraging money, especially the bottom few teams in all three leagues. Salaries were up, especially among the Player’s League teams, and there just weren’t enough fans in the stands to pay for it. In the National League in particular, the owners had much larger sums of money to weather the storm than the players. When the season ended with a World Series between NL winner Brooklyn and Association winner Louisville, the Player’s League was shut out, thus losing another source of revenue.

The Player’s League went under 14 January 1891. The Brotherhood simply didn’t have the funds to keep going. They managed to get, everything considered, a reasonably good deal. Most of their players got back into the two established leagues (but more of the truly superior players ended up in the NL, to disastrous consequences for the Association). Brotherhood president Ward became the new manager of the NL team in Brooklyn (I guess that means he didn’t have to move). Two teams, Boston and Chicago, were not scrapped. They shifted into the Association. They were the final pieces of the Player’s League. They, like the American Association, lasted one more season.

The Player’s League was the second league formed by the players. It met the same fate as the 1870’s National Association. The  players, even with well educated men like Monte Ward leading them, simply lacked the expertise to make a league go. They also lacked financial backing to survive. Before we take too much time and criticize the players, it should be noted that there were five “Major” Leagues formed in the 19th Century: National Association, National League, American Association, Union Association, and the Player’s League. Only the National League survived. If both player organized leagues failed, so too did two of the three owner organized leagues. It was a tough business, owner or player.