Posts Tagged ‘Washington Olympics’

Andy Leonard

April 17, 2013
Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard

One of the best overlooked players of the mid-19th Century in Andy Leonard. He starred prior to 1869, he starred for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 and 1870. He was a major player in the National Association. By the time the National League arrived, he was on the wane. Here’s a look at this interesting player.

Andrew Jackson Leonard was born in Ireland in 1846, his parents immigrating to Newark, New Jersey  shortly afterward. This begs the question is he named for the United States President Andrew Jackson? If so, is this an indication that his parents were contemplating leaving Ireland and named their son after Old Hickory?  It makes a good story, but I don’t know if it’s true.

Leonard was a prodigy on the diamond. By 1864 he was playing for Newburgh in New York. He played several infield positions, but his arm made him a natural in the outfield. Although an amateur, he was gaining national attention. In 1868 he was one of two players coaxed west to play for the Cincinnati Buckeyes, a local team. It’s unknown if he was paid to move or if he was offered a job that would pay him while he played ball. That was fairly common in the era and helped maintain the illusion of amateurism in the sport. Today, we call those guys “ringers”.

By 1869, the other Cincinnati team, the Red Stockings, were creating the first avowedly professional team. Manager Harry Wright approached Leonard offering him the left field job for $800. He took the offer and became one of the better players on the team. One source indicates that he was the third best player on the team (behind George Wright and Cal McVey). The Red Stockings were dominant in 1869 and 1870 and Leonard was part of the reason.

With the forming of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1871, Leonard moved to the Washington Olympics. The Olympics were the premier team in Washington so Leonard was joining an established team. They finished 15-15 with Leonard being their best player. In 1872 Leonard jumped to the new team in Boston, also called the Red Stockings (no idea if he brought his old Cincinnati socks with him or not). There he rejoined Harry and George Wright along with Cal McVey of the old Cincinnati team. They rolled to a pennant with Leonard hitting .349. One great statistical oddity shows up in Leonard’s 1872 campaign. He didn’t walk one time in 46 games, making his OBP also .349 (don’t see that often).

Leonard remained with Boston through the remaining life of the National Association (1873-5), putting up quality numbers and helping them to four consecutive pennants. For his Association career his triple slash numbers are .320/.324/,397/,721 (OPS+ 122). Over 286 games he had 456 hits for 60 doubles, 20 triples, and three home runs, amassing 565 total bases. He scored 326 runs, had 256 RBIs, and 74 stolen bases (28 caught stealing). He struck out 11 times and walked nine (about two strike outs per season and less than two walks a year).

With the death of the Association, Leonard and Boston joined the newly formed National League in 1876. He was already 30 and was slipping. He never hit .300 in the NL, but helped Boston to consecutive pennants in 1877 and 1878.  He retired at the end of the 1878 season claiming his eyesight was weakening and he was having trouble seeing the ball, especially in the field. He played one season at minor league Rochester, then tried to get back to the Majors in 1880. He played 33 games in Cincinnati, wasn’t very good, and was released. He worked for Wright and Ditson, a sporting goods company formed by his old teammate George Wright and died in Boston in 1903.

Leonard is given credit as the first Irish born professional. He did play in the first National Association game and repeated the feat in 1876 when he played in the first ever National League game.

The First National League Power Hitter

March 26, 2013
George Hall

George Hall

One of the great things about the start-up of a new league is that everyone is a rookie (sorta). Another great thing about it is that no matter who it is or what it is, the guy who finishes first in a category is automatically the all-time league record holder. The next season he may be relegated to the scrap heap, but for one year he is the greatest who ever was. Such is the story of George Hall.

George W. Hall was born in March 1849 in Great Britain and came to the United States with his parents. He was good at baseball and by 1871 was considered good enough to be picked up by the Washington Olympics of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He was a left-handed outfielder who also hit left-handed. He was a better than average fielder for the era, leading the Association in putouts and double plays while finishing in the upper half of the league in range and fielding percentage. But he was also a fine hitter. In 32 games he had 40 hits, three of them doubles, three triples, and two homers. He scored 31 runs and knocked in 17. His OPS+ was 114, the lowest he would have for his entire career.

The Olympics finished 15-15 (with two ties) and folded nine games into the next season. Hall, meanwhile moved to Baltimore where he played for the Canaries in both 1872 and 1873. Baltimore finished second and third those two seasons, with Hall being one of their best players. In 1874 he moved to champion Boston where he won his only pennant. The next year he was with Philadelphia. Again he did well enough with the Athletics to be considered an excellent player, but he was not in the absolute upper tier of Association players.

After the 1875 season the Association folded. At that point Hall was a career .311 hitter with an OPB of .321, a slugging percentage of .431, and OPS of .753 and an OPS+ of 133. He had 353 hits in 244 games with 273 runs scored and 181 RBIs. He amassed 489 total bases, including 46 doubles, 33 triples, and 8 home runs.

In 1876 the National League was formed. Hall and the Athletics joined. It was here that he made his mark. He hit .366, slugged .545, had an OPS of .929, and OPS+ of 204. He also set the NL record with five home runs, none after July. No one else on the team had more than one.  Charley Jones (the subject of the post just below) was second with four homers. A number of players tied for third with two home runs (including Hall of Fame players Cap Anson and Jim O’Rourke). It was the only offensive category in which he led the league.

Philadelphia had failed to finish the last Western road swing of the season and was tossed from the league. Without a team, Hall was picked up by Louisville for the 1877 season. He hit well enough (.323), but didn’t come close to his five homer total. There is some dispute about whether he had one or zero home runs in 1877, but he didn’t repeat as home run champion (Baseball Reference lists no home runs).

But Hall had a bigger problem than his lack of power. Late in the 1877 season the Grays were in contention for the pennant, then collapsed. Boston ultimately won the championship with Louisville finishing second.  An investigation determined that at least four Grays players, including Hall, were paid $25 a game to throw games down the stretch. Hall admitted to throwing exhibition games, but not league games. Nonetheless other information implicated him in throwing league games. He was thrown off the team and later banned from Major League baseball for life.

It’s very hard to track Hall after 1877. He asked Harry Wright for a chance and was turned down, but beyond that he seems to have stayed away from baseball.  He died in New Jersey in 1923 and is buried in Brooklyn.

How good was Hall? As usual with mid-19th Century players, it’s hard to determine. He plays seven seasons but only appears in 365 games. That’s just over two modern seasons. It’s also a much different game; a game where a power hitter can win a home run title with five home runs. He is 28 when he is banned. In current baseball that’s just entering a player’s prime. In the 1870s he was already getting old. He seems to have been a good enough player, but not a true star. Because he threw games in 1877, we’ll never know how much better he might have been with a full career.

Hall's grave in Brooklyn

Hall’s grave in Brooklyn

The Original Ace

October 30, 2010

Asa Brainard

We all know how to define an ace in baseball terms. It’s the top pitcher on the team. Ever wonder where the term originated?

Asel Brainard was born in Albany, New York in 1839. His name was shortened to Asa, pronounced Ace-a (You already see where this is going, right?) as a child. He joined the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1860 as their second baseman. In 1862 he moved to the pitcher’s box (no mound yet, team) and became the top pitcher for one of the best barnstorming teams of the era. With the coming of the Civil War, baseball suffered  with players joining the army (one member of the Excelsiors even went South). Brainard wasn’t one of them. He continued to pitch for a much weakened team, and by 1867 had moved to Washington to play for the Nationals, another of the great barnstorming teams of the era and obviously not the modern team currently playing in DC.

In 1868, Harry Wright convinced him to move to Cincinnati where he became the pitcher for the Red Stockings.  The next season the Red Stockings became the first openly acknowledged all professional team in baseball. They were also very good. The team went 57-0 for the season, Brainard doing the bulk of the pitching. He appeared in 55 games, but didn’t pitch in every one of them, so his record is a little hard to pin down. Whatever it was, he was obviously undefeated. The next year the team went 66-7-1 and disbanded following the season. The success of the team helped lead to the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Brainard was in demand for the new league.

He signed with the Washington Olympics, but his great years were behind him. He was 32 and a heavy drinker. He was also something of a “ladies man” having a series of “flings” that made the papers. He had married in 1869, but abandoned the family shortly afterwards (the exact date seems to be unknown), so on top of the drinking, he was gaining something of an unsavory reputation among both players and fans. He could get away with it as long as he pitched well, but by 1871 he was slipping badly. He was 12-15 with more walks than strikeouts in 1871, 2-9 in 1872, 5-7 in 1873, and 5-22 in 1874. Each year he walked more than he struck out and had more hits than innings pitched. (All stats from ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, 2006). With those numbers there was no 1875 season for Brainard. He did a little umpiring that season, but didn’t catch on as a fulltime umpire (apparently he couldn’t be trusted to be sober on game day).

Out of baseball, Brainard ran a cigar store for a while, then a pool hall. He also got married for a second time. This time it was a banker’s daughter. He moved to Denver to run the Markham Hotel billiard room. Next next year he caught pneumonia and died 29 December 1888. He is buried in Brooklyn.

All sources agree that the abbreviation of Asa to Ace is the origin of our use of the word to describe a baseball team’s first line pitcher. I listened to the announcers call game one of the World Series. They used the term “Ace” to describe both pitchers a number of times. In doing so, they made a, probably unknowing, tip of the cap to Asa Brainard.