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David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 6

Making do with less.

Making do with less.

This is the sixth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at:

Austerity Baseball: 1932-1945

In company with most industrialized nations, America during these years suffered the calamitous effects of a lingering economic Depression followed hard after by years of total war. In America the great Depression blighted the 1930s by creating millions of jobless workers, holding wages far below their 1929 level, slowing population growth, and, of course, drastically reducing recreational spending.

Although abetted by federal remedial programs, the national economy languished until 1940, when federal defense-spending programs spurred an economic revival. But the following year the nation faced a second ordeal, when it embarked upon four years of total war against the Axis powers.

Major league baseball felt the effects of the gathering Depression in 1931, when the AL suffered losses while the NL barely broke even.

Once engulfed by the economic storm, both major leagues were hard hit as attendance fell to 8.1 million in 1932 and hit rock bottom with an overall total of 6.3 million in 1933. Thereafter attendance improved, but not until 1940 did annual attendance totals reach 10 million. A similar sickening decline affected the minor leagues. But the minors recovered strongly after 1933 and zoomed to a record total attendance of 18 million in 1940.

Since major league baseball’s fate was at its gates, declining attendance translated into financial losses. In the AL, six previous years of domination by the Yankees and Athletics had the junior circuit trailing the NL in overall revenues. After losing a total of $156,000 in 1931, the AL suffered three desperate years during which overall losses topped $2 million. Slow improvement began with the 1935 season, but as always revenues were unevenly distributed.

St. Louis Browns stock certificate

St. Louis Browns stock certificate

Strong clubs like the Yankees and Tigers fared far better than the financially battered Athletics, Browns, and Senators. Nor were conditions much better in the NL, which also lost heavily during the years 1932-1934. In that three-year span every NL team suffered at least two seasons of red ink. A turnabout began with the 1935 season, but over the next six seasons annual profits only twice totaled $500,000. Moreover, like those of the AL, NL revenues were unevenly distributed. The Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, and Reds fared far better than did the woebegone Braves and Phillies.

Under such financial pressures, salaries of major league players were slashed. Annual salary spending in the majors fell from $4 million in 1929 to $3 million in 1933, and as late as 1940 total payrolls still lagged behind the 1929 figure. Such cuts dropped the average player’s salary to $6,000 in 1933, and the 1939 average salary of $7,300 still lagged behind the $7,500 figure of 1929. While such pay was good for those desperate times, job insecurity was rife among big league players of this era. Most players of this era needed no reminders that budget-slashing owners could easily find cheap replacements in the minor leagues. But for the time being, the great stars of the black majors, which also suffered from Depression austerities, posed no competitive threat. However, winds of change were stirring against segregated institutions in America, including major league baseball’s unwritten color bar.

Of course, owners also faced a survival-of-the-fittest struggle in this depressed decade. Better-located clubs like the Yankees, Tigers, Cubs, and Giants adapted far better than did the owners of the financially strapped Athletics, Senators, Browns, Braves, and Phillies. Caught up in a vicious cycle, these poorer owners were forced to sell players to better-heeled clubs, a policy which had the effect of worsening attendance. However, one club, the Cardinals, managed to sell players to much better advantage. Although plagued by poor attendance, including three seasons which produced an aggregate home attendance total of fewer than 900,000, and one of those a world championship season which attracted only 325,000 fans at home, the Cardinals still managed to hold their own financially. Player sales from Rickey’s well-stocked minor league farm system enabled the Cardinals to recoup financially and at the same time field strong teams.

At this time eager purchasers of players included Tom Yawkey, the wealthy new owner of the Red Sox. In this decade Yawkey spent $1 million on players. As a result Red Sox attendance rose while that of his moribund NL rival the Boston Braves worsened. Other bullish owners included the owners of the Cubs, Reds, Tigers, and Dodgers. But the well-financed Yankees emulated Rickey’s example and built an efficient farm system of their own. Directed by the ruthlessly efficient George Weiss, the Yankee farms strengthened the Yankees’ stranglehold on the AL.

Ethan Allen at bat in the first night game, May 24, 1935 at Crosley Field.

Ethan Allen at bat in the first night game, May 24, 1935 at Crosley Field.

Still, Depression-imposed austerities challenged all clubs of this era to find new ways to beef up revenues. Perhaps the most drastic of these was the plan of the owner of the St. Louis Browns to move the club to the West Coast, a strategy which was aborted by the outbreak of World War Two. But for the most part promoters tried to find ways of wringing more money from ballpark fans. Among these, expanding concession sales, utilizing promotional schemes, and staging night baseball games were tactics borrowed from minor league promoters and the black majors. But night baseball proved to be the wave of the future for the major leagues. When introduced to the majors in 1935 by Cincinnati general manager Larry MacPhail, the popularity of night baseball had most major league clubs following suit by 1940. Yet another source of profits came from the sale of local radio rights to broadcast accounts of games, a scheme which some owners had tried, but most had stubbornly resisted back in the twenties. By 1939 radio income totaled 7.3 percent of club revenues, up from a negligible 0.3 percent in 1930. Similarly, sales of World Series radio rights, a windfall shared by all major league clubs, now fetched higher prices. And at the close of the decade, the new medium of television showed promise, but the onslaught of World War Two delayed its profitable exploitation.

In the near future such innovations would profoundly alter the major league scene, but for now survival dictated sticking to more conservative measures. Thus in this era no privately financed ballparks were constructed (as, indeed, had been the case in the 1920s with the exception of Yankee Stadium), but Cleveland’s publicly financed Municipal Stadium foreshadowed a future building boom that would replace most of the aging major league parks with modern facilities financed by public monies. When that day dawned, black players at last would be playing alongside whites in organized baseball. But in this era Commissioner Landis and his supporters continued their stubborn resistance in the face of mounting public support for organized baseball’s integration. The breakthrough came, a year after Landis’ death in 1945, as the first black player in this century signed a major league contract. Ironically, the integration of the white majors dealt a death blow to the flourishing black major leagues.

Cooperstown 1939; living Hall of Famers except for Cobb

Cooperstown 1939; living Hall of Famers except for Cobb

However, such impending changes were only dimly perceived by owners of this era. On the whole the 1930s were conservative years, with no significant rule changes invoked. In these years teams continued to master the big-bang style of play, with annual homer barrages, and pitching ERAs surpassing those of the 1920s. And if Ruth’s departure in 1935 deprived the game of its most colorful hero of all time, new slugging stars like Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio proved to be worthy successors. Their accomplishments and those of this era’s teams were lavishly covered by sportswriters and by a new breed of radio sportscasters, whose ranks included some ex-players. Such coverage broadened baseball’s appeal. So did the 1939 opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, and the annual ritual of electing baseball immortals to the select circle. Indeed, the first annual election conducted in January of 1936 selected Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson as the five charter members.

Over the years the number of enshrined players swelled to over 200, including stars from the segregated black majors. And so did the numbers of fans who annually made the pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame; from a few thousand a year in this era, the number of visitors now exceeds 250,000 annually.

The Crisis of World War II

The major leagues were recovering from Depression-imposed austerities when the nation’s entry into World War Two posed a second major crisis. From 1942 until the Allied victory in 1945, the nation’s total war effort sapped baseball’s manpower and threatened to curtail the 1945 playing season. Among the 12 million Americans summoned to military service during the war years were some 500 major league players and 3,500 minor leaguers. This talent drain shrank the minor leagues to nine circuits at one point, while only President Roosevelt’s “green light” enabled the major leagues to continue playing throughout the war years.

That the major leagues continued playing the game in the face of wartime austerities owed to the resilience of its promoters and the continuing support of the fans. Although annual attendance fell from 10 million in 1941 to 8.8 million in 1942 and to a low point of 7.7 million in 1943, the numbers rebounded to 9 million in 1944 and then soared to a record 11.1 million in 1945. Indeed, baseball’s continuing popularity won the support of political figures like J. Edgar Hoover and Senator A.B. Chandler, who were convinced that the game was serving the war effort by boosting morale, both on the homefront and among the troops abroad.

Department store window in downtown St. Louis; 1944, Browns-Cardinals World Series

Department store window in downtown St. Louis; 1944, Browns-Cardinals World Series

Nevertheless, it was no easy task keeping the game of baseball afloat amidst a total war effort. In these years owners were hard-pressed to find ways of coping with a variety of shortages. Among them, a crunching transportation and hotel accommodation shortage forced promoters to cancel spring training programs in the southlands. And in 1945 the same problems forced the cancellation of that year’s All-Star Game. Meanwhile a rubber shortage forced the major leagues to go with a dead “balata” ball (with a hard plastic at the core) in 1943, and all during the war a shortage of wood affected the quality of bats. Early in the war the threat of submarine attacks on coastal shipping also curtailed night games in East Coast centers, but by 1944 the restriction was lifted. Indeed, night games came to be welcomed by government officials, who regarded them as good recreation for defense workers.

But the worst shortage of all was in manpower. Indeed, never before nor since did the major leagues face a talent shortage of such proportions as occurred then. As draft boards denuded team rosters of able players, club officials scoured the land for draft rejects and other ineligibles; at this time, overage and underaged players were welcomed along with aliens. In questing after talented alien players, scouts turned up a mother lode in Latin America. Cuba turned out to be especially rich in prospects and at this time some fifty Cuban players were recruited. Indeed, at one point a young minor league promoter Bill Veeck, proposed to buy the sickly NL Phillies franchise and stock it with black players from the Negro Leagues. Landis nixed the proposal.

For their part, owners needed stout hearts and a love of the game to keep going in the face of financial losses. In 1943 the majors lost $240,000, with the Cardinals and Tigers faring better than most other clubs. Hardest hit were the owners of the NL Phillies, who declared bankruptcy. The franchise was sold to the NL for $50,000, and after one abortive sale attempt NL officials sold the club to one of the DuPont Company heirs. Thus in the affluent hands of Bob Carpenter, this chronically weak NL franchise was soon revitalized.

At this time each owner was obliged to do his bit for the war effort. In response, clubs staged war bond sales, admitted servicemen free of charge to games, and allowed radio broadcasts of games to be transmitted free of charge to military bases. Although costly, such gestures paid off by increasing baseball’s popularity. By 1944 the worst of the financial reverses caused by the war ended, and when the 1945 season returned overall profits of $1.2 million, it was apparent that major league baseball was once again on the upswing.

Such was not the case for the players who took a financial beating in each of these years. A government edict of 1943, which was part of a general effort to halt inflation by stabilizing wages, froze player salaries. The salary freezes came at a time when player salaries, which averaged $6,400 in 1942, were already at a low point. When the freeze on salaries continued through 1946, it stirred strong unionist sentiments among grousing players that erupted in the first postwar season.

Jackie Robinson tryout, KC Royals, Oct 1945

Jackie Robinson tryout, KC Royals, Oct 1945

Other changes unleashed by the war forced far-reaching changes on major league baseball. Fair employment policies adopted by the federal government and by some states now threatened major league baseball’s long- established practice of racial segregation. Sensing the new trend toward racial integration, Branch Rickey in 1945 signed black major leaguer Jackie Robinson to a Dodger farm system contract. Rickey also sent his scouts in search of other promising talent in the black majors. This was a timely move because Judge Landis’ death in 1944 had removed a major stumbling block to the integration of the major leagues.

When the war ended in 1945 with a complete victory over the Axis powers, the prospects for major league baseball looked bright. But that year also brought news of the sale of the Yankees to a triumvirate of owners who paid $2.8 million for the club. And as it turned out, the postwar era would usher in yet another phase of Yankee domination.

Austerity Era Campaigns: AL, 1932-1945

n the Depression era of 1932-1941, the AL extended its domination over the NL by winning seven of ten World Series encounters and six of the first nine All-Star Games. The annual All-Star Game was instituted in 1933 and quickly became a popular spectacle that marked the midpoint of each seasonal campaign. Meanwhile in the seasonal campaigns of this decade, AL batters topped their NL counterparts in batting average, homers, RBI, and stolen bases, while NL hurlers posted lower ERAs than did AL pitchers. But there was an illusory quality to this apparent pattern of mastery. This was because the AL’s dominance owed most to the powerful Yankees, who captured six of the AL’s seven world titles in these years.

After a three-year hiatus, the Yankees recaptured the AL heights in 1932, crushing the Athletics by 13 games. Gehrig and Ruth combined for 75 homers and Yankee hitters batted .286. Under Manager Joe McCarthy, who was destined to become one of baseball’s most victorious managers, pitching superiority also became a Yankee hallmark. In 1932, with Lefty Gomez leading the Yankees staff with 24 wins, the Yankee mound corps led the AL in ERA with 3.98. Thus fortified, the versatile Yankees went on to sweep the Cubs in a legendary World Series matchup, highlighted by Ruth’s much-debated “called shot” homerun in the third game. And over the winter George Weiss was hired to build a Yankee farm system, a task which Weiss handled effectively. Within a few years the Yankee farm system laid the foundation for an awesome phase of Yankee domination. Meanwhile, the other AL teams enjoyed a brief respite, as the Yankees fell behind the front-running Senators and Tigers over the next three seasons. As age tolled on Yankee stars like Ruth, the Senators, now skippered by another young player-manager, shortstop Joe Cronin, defeated the Yankees by 7 games to win the 1933 pennant race.

League-leading hitting and sturdy pitching by Al Crowder and Earl Whitehill, who combined for 46 victories, carried the Senators, who went on to lose the World Series in five games to the Giants. Worse yet, in this rock-bottom Depression year, the Senators attracted only 437,000 home fans. Confronted with financial losses, owner Clark Griffith sold outfield star Goose Goslin to the Tigers. Goslin’s loss dashed the Senators’ hopes for 1934, and when the team slipped to the second division that year, Griffith sold Cronin-his son-in-law-to the Red Sox for $250,000.

Goose Goslin, 1935

Goose Goslin, 1935

As the Senators suffered, the Detroit Tigers prospered. In addition to landing Goslin in 1934, the Tigers also purchased catcher Mickey Cochrane from the Athletics. Installed as the Tigers’ player-manager, Cochrane headed a Tiger resurgence that saw the team rise from a fifth-place finish in 1933 to consecutive AL titles in 1934-1935. In 1934 Cochrane and Goslin teamed with Hank Greenberg and Charley Gehringer to spearhead a .300 team batting attack. What’s more, pitchers Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges combined for 46 wins as the Tigers defeated the Yankees by 7 games. The sprightly effort attracted 919,000 home fans, who watched Detroit land its first AL pennant since 1909. Unhappily for the fans, they also saw the Tigers extend their World Series losing streak to four as the Cardinals prevailed in a seven-game struggle. But in 1935 the Tigers repeated as AL champions, edging the runner-up Yankees by 3 games. Greenberg led the team’s .290 batting offensive by batting in 170 runs, and the purchase of Crowder from the Senators beefed up the team’s pitching staff. Although a late-season injury kept Greenberg out of action in the 1935 World Series, the Tigers downed the Cubs in five games. It was Detroit’s first World Series victory since 1887. But as it turned out, this victory was also the last World Series triumph by any AL team but the Yankees until 1945.

The second phase of Yankee domination over the AL began in 1936. The year before, Ruth’s departure had removed the club’s greatest drawing card, but this year young Joe DiMaggio appeared. Purchasing him from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League for $25,000 and five other ballplayers, the Yankees were taking a chance that DiMaggio would be able to play effectively in spite of his injured knee. Indeed, he was, although the outfielder did prove to be injury-prone. But in 1936 the highly touted DiMaggio was an immediate sensation. In his freshman year he hit .323 with 29 homers and 125 RBI.

Lou Gehrig closeup by Conlon

Lou Gehrig closeup by Conlon

That year Gehrig’s 49 homers led the league and the Yankees batted .300 as a team with 182 homers. The Yankee assault lapped the runner-up Tigers by 19.5; games and in World Series action the Yankees downed the Giants in six games. It was the first of four consecutive World Series titles by the Bronx Bombers. During this record-setting streak, Weiss’ farm system provided a steady flow of talented replacements. Included were pitchers Spud Chandler, Steve Sundra, Marius Russo, and Atley Donald; outfielders Tommy Henrich and Charley Keller; and second baseman Joe Gordon. In 1937 the Yankees repeated by topping the Tigers by 13 games; in 1938 they beat out the beefed-up Red Sox by 9.5; games; and in 1939 the Red Sox trailed the all-conquering Yankees by 17 games. In each of these seasons the Yankees blasted at least 166 homers. And in World Series play their mastery of their NL rivals increased steadily; in 1937 the Giants fell in five games, and in 1938 and 1939 the Yankees swept the Cubs and the Reds. Landing four consecutive world titles was an unprecedented achievement, but such domination also kindled an enduring wave of anti-Yankee hostility among fans and rival teams. Mercifully for the rest of the AL contenders, a year’s respite from Yankee domination came in 1940. The year before, Lou Gehrig’s tragic illness ended the career of the great first baseman, whose “iron man” record of having played in 2,130 consecutive games still stands.

In 1940 Gehrig’s absence was keenly felt, and it enabled the Tigers and Indians to battle the Yankees on even terms. Cleveland’s fireballing pitching ace, Bob Feller, won 27 games to lead his team’s assault, but tensions between the Indian players and manager Oscar Vitt adversely affected the team’s morale. Such tensions enabled the hard-hitting Tigers to close the gap. Batting a league-leading .286, the Tigers were paced by future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg; the big outfielder batted .340 with a league-leading 41 homers and 150 RBI. First baseman Rudy York weighed in with a .316 batting average, and his 33 homers and 134 RBI complemented Greenberg’s production. Second baseman Charley Gehringer, another destined Hall of Famer, batted .313 and drove in 81 runs, and outfielder Barney McCosky batted .340. To top it off, portly pitcher Bobo Newsom enjoyed a vintage season with a 21-5 record. In the last week of the season the Tigers deadlocked the Indians, and on the last day of the campaign the Tigers defeated the Indians to win the hotly contested race. In the decisive game, won by the Tigers 2-0, rookie Tiger pitcher Floyd Giebell outpitched the great Feller. Ironically it was Giebell’s last major league victory. But in World Series action the Tigers lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games.

Hard after that defeat, the gathering storm of World War Two dealt the Tigers a crushing blow. After playing 19 games of the 1941 season, slugger Greenberg was drafted into the Army. As the Tigers slumped, the Yankees rebounded and romped to a runaway 17-game victory over the second-place Red Sox. But this last peacetime AL campaign was fraught with memorable events. For one, by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games, Yankee outfielder Joe DiMaggio sparked the Yankee surge and established an enduring major league record.

1941 Ted Williams

Ted Williams, 1941

For another, by batting .406 over the season, Boston outfielder Ted Williams became the last major league player to this day to top the .400 mark. And in the unforgettable World Series of 1941, by missing a third strike with two out in the ninth inning, thereby opening the floodgates for a game-winning Yankee rally in the fourth game, Dodger catcher Mickey Owen won enduring notoriety as the blamesake for the latest Yankee victory. The 1941 Series victory was the eighth straight by Yankee teams.

In 1942 the Yankees led the league in homers, fielding, and pitching to defeat the bridesmaid Red Sox by nine games. Yankee pitcher Ernie Bonham led all AL hurlers with a 21-5 mark, while Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams followed his brilliant 1941 season by notching a rare Triple Crown effort; Williams batted .356 with 36 homers and 137 RBI. However, Yankee hopes of extending their World Series winning streak came a cropper as the Cardinals downed the New Yorkers in five games.

But the resilient Yankees bounced back in 1943. League-leading slugging and pitching, the latter fronted by Spud Chandler’s 20-4, 1.64 ERA performance, carried the Yankees to a 13.5-game win over the Washington Senators. To top off the victory, in World Series action the Yankees scored an avenging victory over the Cardinals, who were beaten in five games.

In 1944 the military draft finally denuded the Yankees, who fell to third. As the Yankees sagged, the Browns and the Tigers battled for the top position, and the struggle ended with the St. Louis Browns winning their first and only AL pennant. In edging the Tigers by a single game, the Browns’ .252 team batting mark ranked near the bottom of the league. But stout pitching by Jack Kramer, Nelson Potter, and reliever George Caster, and shortstop Vern Stephens’ league-leading 109 RBI made the difference. Matched against their hometown rivals in World Series play, the Browns fell to the Cardinals in six games.

In the last wartime campaign, the 1945 Tigers eked a 1.5;-game victory over the Senators. Although the Tigers were outhit by five other teams, pitcher Hal Newhouser’s 25-9, 1.81 ERA pitching and slugger Greenberg’s timely return from military service sparked the Tigers. After missing four seasons of play, Greenberg returned to play in 78 games, during which he batted .311 and drove in 60 runs. In World Series play Greenberg’s .304 batting and his two homers led the Tigers to victory over the Cubs in seven games, in what has been described as “the worst World Series ever played.”

Austerity Era Campaigns: NL, 1932-1945

Although offensively outclassed by the AL, the NL boasted the best pitching in these years. Indeed, pitching decided eight of the first ten NL campaigns of this era while also contributing to the senior circuit’s better competitive balance. Over the years 1932-1941 the NL campaigns featured nine close races with five different pennant winners. Thus the longest reign of any would-be dynasty was two years, a feat achieved by the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds.

In 1932 the Chicago Cubs rose to the top of the NL and continued a quirky pattern, dating back to 1929, of winning a pennant every three years. In August the embattled Cubs replaced manager Rogers Hornsby with first baseman Charlie Grimm, a timely move that rallied the Cubs. Player-manager Grimm, in company with infielder Billy Herman and outfielders Riggs Stephenson and Johnny Moore, led the .278 team batting attack, while pitcher Lon Warneke (22-6) fronted the team’s league-leading pitching staff. The Cubs went on to defeat the Pirates by four games, but were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.

1932 WS, Babe Ruth 'Called Shot' Game Ticket

1932 World Series, Ruth “Called Shot” Game Ticket

As the Cubs swooned in 1933, another player-manager, first baseman Bill Terry, led the Giants to their first NL pennant since 1924. They did it by scoring a five-game victory over the Pirates. Terry batted .322, and outfielder Mel Ott’s 23 homers keyed the Giants’ league-leading homer assault. The pitching staff, fronted by lefty Carl Hubbell’s 23 victories, was the league’s best. And in World Series action the Giants beat the Senators in five games.

The following year the Giants again boasted league-leading pitching, but the hard-hitting Cardinals overtook the New Yorkers in the final week to win by 2 games. Dubbed the “Gas House Gang,” these Cardinals symbolized the Depression austerities that affected the nation in this worst year of the economic hard times. The Cardinals drew only 325,000 home fans, but player-manager Frank Frisch, in company with Rip Collins, Ernie Orsatti, Joe Medwick, and Spud Davis, topped the .300 mark in batting to pace the team’s league-leading .288 batting effort. But the brightest star was pitcher Dizzy Dean, who won 30 games to become the last major league hurler to crack the 30-game barrier for over thirty years; moreover, Dean’s brother Paul won 19. In World Series play, the Cardinals rebounded from a 3-2 deficit in games to beat the Tigers.

The folksy Arkansas country boy Dizzy Dean won 28 games in 1935, but the Cubs trumped the Cardinal ace with their league-leading pitching staff. At the close of the campaign, the Cubs led the Cardinals by four games. Heading the Cub hurlers were Lon Warneke and Bill Lee, each a 20-game winner. Five Cub regulars topped the .300 mark, including infielders Stan Hack and Billy Herman, outfielders Frank Demaree and Augie Galan, and catcher Gabby Hartnett, to pace the team’s .288 batting offensive. And outfielder Chuck Klein, a timely acquisition from the moribund Phillies, powered 21 homers. But the Cubs were no match for the Tigers in World Series play; the Tigers defeated the Chicagoans in six games. Over the next two seasons, Cub hitters topped all NL teams in batting, but each time the team finished second behind the Giants.

Carl Hubbell

Carl Hubbell

Dominant pitching, paced by Carl Hubbell’s 26 wins and Ott’s league-leading 33 homers, led the 1936 Giants to a five-game win over the Cubs and Cardinals. In the second half of the campaign, many eyes were on lefty Hubbell, as the Giant hurler finished the season with 16 consecutive victories to threaten the record seasonal streak of 19 owned by Rube Marquard of the old Giants. Hubbell won the opener of the 1936 World Series, but the Yankees beat the lefty in the fourth game and went on to down the Giants in six games.

But postseasonal play was discounted, and Hubbell went on to add another eight victories in 1937. When the ace finally lost one on Memorial Day, his record (over two seasons) of 24 consecutive victories stood as the best by a major league pitcher. But more important to the Giants’ cause in 1937, Hubbell went on to win 22 games and rookie Cliff Melton won 20 as the Giants hung on to beat the runner-up Cubs by 3 games. It was the second straight conquest for the Giants, but in World Series action they again fell to the Yankees, this time losing in five games.

For a last time in 1938, the Cubs used their magical three-year formula to land the NL pennant. In an epic campaign that saw Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Johnny Vander Meer pitch two consecutive no-hit games, and the front-running Pirates blow a big lead, the Cubs mounted a remarkable September surge to overhaul and topple the Pirates by 2 games. In a decisive game played in late September’s gathering darkness at Wrigley Field, player-manager Gabby Hartnett hit his legendary “homer in the gloaming” as part of a three-game Cub sweep of the Pirates. Although the Cubs batted only .269 that year, the team’s pitching staff was the best in the league. Nevertheless, the well-armed Cubs were swept by the Yankees in the 1938 World Series.

As the punchless Cubs sank to fourth place in 1939, manager Bill McKechnie drove the Cincinnati Reds to their first NL pennant since 1919. Since that victory, the Reds had been remembered primarily for pioneering night baseball and for Johnny Vander Meer’s double no-hit feat. But recently the club had come under the ownership of radio tycoon Powel Crosley, whose player purchases were strengthening the team. Included were a prize pair of pitchers: Paul Derringer, who was purchased from the Cardinals, and Bucky Walters, who came via the Phillies. In 1939 this duo combined for 52 victories and headed the league’s best pitching staff. Supported by sturdy hitting from outfielder Ival Goodman, first baseman Frank McCormick, and catcher Ernie Lombardi, the Reds held off the Cardinals to win by 4.5; games. However, the Reds suffered the same fate as did the 1938 Cubs when the Yankees swept them in World Series.

Regrouping after this defeat, the Reds repeated in 1940 as they downed the rebuilt Dodgers by 12 games. For the winning Reds, mediocre hitting was overcome by league-leading pitching and fielding. And in the 1940 World Series it was the Reds who outlasted the Tigers in a seven-game struggle.

In the NL’s last peacetime campaign before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Reds fell behind the rising Dodgers and the perennially contending Cardinals. In a close race the Dodgers held on to win by 2.5 games over the Cardinals. In rebuilding the Dodgers, general manager Larry MacPhail persuaded the club’s banker trustees to bankroll the purchases of players from the Phillies and Cardinals.

Stan Musial, 1941 (right)

Stan Musial, 1941 (right)

From the Cardinals came pitcher Curt Davis, and outfielders Medwick and young Pete Reiser. Snagging Reiser from the Cardinals’ farm system was a real coup as he led the league in batting with a .34m/dark. From the Phillies, MacPhail obtained pitcher Kirby Higbe and first baseman Dolph Camilli; and in 1941 Camilli’s 34 homers and 120 RBI led the league. With additional acquisitions, the 1941 Dodgers fielded few home-grown players. Indeed, player-manager Leo Durocher was a former Cardinal hand. But the Dodger assemblage of mercenaries led the NL in pitching and homers and tied with the Cardinals in hitting. During the frenzied campaign, the Dodgers attracted a million home fans, most of whom mourned their “Bums” heart-breaking loss to the Yankees in the 1941 World Series.

As wartime exigencies riddled NL teams of playing talent, the Cardinals retained enough players to land three consecutive pennants over the years 1942-1944. Although Rickey left the Cardinals in 1942 to join the Dodgers as that team’s general manager, his efficient farm system fueled the Cardinals. In dominating the NL, the Cardinals won 316 games in these years, each time leading the league in hitting and pitching. Managed by Billy Southworth, the 1942 Cardinals needed 106 wins to edge the Dodgers by 2 games. The following year 105 victories enabled the Cardinals to romp to an 18-game win over the runner-up Reds. And in 1944 another 105 victories easily carried the Redbirds to a 14.5-game win over the second-place Pirates. In World Series play the Cardinals split with the Yankees, winning in five games in 1942 and losing by the same count in 1943. And in 1944 the Cardinals thrashed the Browns in six games. In these years young outfielder Stan Musial emerged as a superstar with the Cardinals, winning the first of what would be seven NL batting titles with a .357 mark in 1943.

It was the loss of Musial to military service in 1945 which helped the Cubs end the Cardinals’ pennant monopoly. League-leading batting, fronted by first baseman Phil Cavarretta’s major-league-leading .355 batting, and league-leading pitching carried the Cubs to a 3-game victory over the Cardinals. But the victory was soured by defeat at the hands of the Tigers in the 1945 World Series. Worse still, Cub fans to this day are still looking for another NL pennant.

Part 7 tomorrow.

David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 5

LandisKenesawThis is the fifth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at:

Baseball’s Second Golden Age: 1921-1931

Over the winter of 1920-1921, crestfallen club owners slavishly chose Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be baseball’s high commissioner and empowered him to restore the game’s scandal-sullied image. At the time few observers could have predicted that major league baseball was moving into another golden age of cash and glory that would be highlighted by the dazzling exploits of Babe Ruth, who already was enthralling fans by his mastery of the new “big-bang” offensive style.

But the sparkling turnabout in baseball’s fortunes was also buoyed by the optimistic spirit of America’s “roaring twenties.” This was a decade of booming prosperity, an expanding urban population, declining work hours, and hefty increases in recreational spending by the American people. By 1929, indeed, Americans were annually spending $4.9 billion for recreational pursuits. To be sure, much of this spending was diverted into movies, radios, and automobiles, but major sports like baseball, football, basketball, boxing, golf, and tennis were attracting millions of hero-worshipping fans. Such adulation made demigods of athletes like Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, and Bill Tilden, but all of these sporting heroes were overshadowed by Babe Ruth, who now became the most photographed American of the decade.

Babe Ruth, 1920.

Babe Ruth, 1920.

During baseball’s “guilty season” of 1920, it was the fun-loving Ruth, not the stern moralist Commissioner Landis, who diverted the attention of fans from the Black Sox Scandal. In 1920 the Babe accomplished this feat by smacking 54 homers to break his own seasonal mark, which he had set only the year before. Ruth’s latest achievement fully justified the astonishing $125,000 which the Yankees shelled out before the 1920 season to obtain the former Red Sox pitching ace, whose batting achievements caused him to be assigned to regular duty as an outfielder.

With the Yankees, the charismatic Ruth bestrode the baseball scene like a young colossus. The very embodiment of the big-bang offensive style, Ruth notched ten AL homer titles over the years 1920-1931. In the last six of those seasons, he smacked 302 homers, including a record 60 blows in 1927. At the close of the 1931 season Ruth’s homer output exceeded 600, and when he retired in 1935, he had raised his total to 714, along with a lifetime batting average of .342.

Inspired by Ruth’s example, the big-bang style dominated major league baseball offensives of this and all subsequent eras. While no other team matched the consistent power of the Yankees, in this era NL teams outslugged their AL counterparts. And if no player surpasses Ruth’s consistent power, sluggers like Cy Williams, Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Harry Heilmann, and Rogers Hornsby ably mastered the big-bang style. In 1930 Wilson hit 56 homers to set an NL seasonal mark, but for sheer all-around batting consistency Hornsby and Heilmann had no peers. Over the years 1921-1927 Tiger outfielder Heilmann topped .390 four times, hit 104 homers, and won four AL batting titles.

Incredibly Hornsby bettered this performance. Over the years 1920-1925, Hornsby won six NL batting titles, topped the .400 mark in batting three times, and won two Triple Crowns. Hornsby’s lifetime batting average of .358 is the best of any right-handed batter in major league history.

Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby

Such heroics by players of this era were the highlights of all-out seasonal offensives that dwarfed those of the deadball era. In this decade seasonal batting averages in both major leagues topped .280, with NL batters averaging a whopping .303 in 1930. At the same time, league-wide homer production, averaging 540 a season in the NL and 490 in the AL, helped raise per-game scoring to an average of five runs per team, while relegating base stealing to the status of a secondary tactic. Abetting the big-bang offensives of this era were innovations in technology and in pitching rules. Technology provided livelier balls, which were more frequently changed during games; indeed, fans were now permitted to keep balls hit into the stands. Meanwhile, rule changes of 1920-1921 barred the use of spitters and other doctored balls by all pitchers except for a few specified veterans. Such changes made for much battered pitchers with ERAs of 4.00 now regarded as an acceptable level of pitching performance.

To cope with the situation, managers now relied more heavily on relief pitchers. Nevertheless, virtuoso starting pitchers like Johnson, Alexander, Grimes, Grove, Pennock, Hoyt, and Vance ranked among the top stars of this decade.

That fans welcomed the new offensive style was evidenced by the record-setting attendance marks of this era. Despite the lurid exposes of the Black Sox Scandal, a record 9.1 million fans attended major league games in 1920. Then, after falling below that mark for three seasons, attendance soared to an average of 9.6 million a season over the years 1924-1929 and peaked at 10.1 million in 1930.

Helping to swell attendance in this era were Sunday games, which were legalized in all cities outside of Pennsylvania. Such support boosted revenues by 40 percent over the previous era and raised annual player salaries to an average of $7,000 by 1930. However, such average figures are misleading. In the NL, the Giants, Dodgers, Pirates, and Cardinals got most of the profits, and the AL Yankees alone accounted for 25 percent of that circuit’s annual attendance. Player salaries also varied widely, ranging from less than $2,000 for fringe players to Ruth’s princely $80,000 for the season of 1930; moreover, in this era the Yankee and Cub payrolls topped those of other teams.

Branch Rickey, 1922

Branch Rickey, 1922

That the Cardinals ranked with the most profitable NL clubs at this time owed to the genius of General Manager Branch Rickey. One of baseball’s greatest innovators, Rickey had an impact on the game that extended far beyond this decade. At this time Rickey made a contender out of the impecunious Cardinals by reviving the farm system and using minor league farm clubs to develop and train young players. By purchasing minor league clubs and establishing working agreements with others, and by deploying scouts to sign young players at low costs, Rickey built and stocked a network of minor league farm clubs which supplied the Cardinals with a steady flow of star players. Despite opposition from Landis, Rickey’s farm network flourished and was widely imitated. By cornering the market on young talent and selling surplus players to other major league teams, the Cardinals profited despite poor attendance. For his part, Rickey profited by reaping a percentage from each player sale.

Josh Gibson, Helmar

Josh Gibson, Helmar

As a baseball innovator, Rickey had a much more enduring impact on the game than Commissioner Landis. By banishing the Black Sox, disciplining players, and presiding in watchdog fashion over annual World Series games, Landis contributed to restoring the game’s honest image. But Landis’ autocratic posturing grated on major league owners, some of whom resented his opposition to farm systems and his conservative approach to the sale of World Series radio broadcasting rights. Landis also stubbornly opposed the racial integration of organized baseball. Thus in this era outcast black players turned to their own leader, Andrew “Rube” Foster, who founded the Negro National League in 1920. In 1923 the Eastern Colored League took to the field as a second black major league, but gave way in 1928 to the Negro American League, which lasted until 1950. Such leagues fielded great black stars like future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Pop Lloyd, “Cool Papa” Bell, the slugging Josh Gibson, and Ray Dandridge. In this decade postseason exhibition games played between white and black major leaguers drew attention to the black stars, whose abilities matched and often surpassed those of white major leaguers.

But the limited exposure afforded to black stars contrasted starkly with the broad media coverage now lavished on the white majors. For this golden era of major league baseball history was gilded by newspaper coverage which touted the games and the player-heroes in romanticized style. Moreover, motion pictures and radio coverage opened new dimensions for promoting the game that suspicious owners of the age were slow to exploit. Conservative owners also took a dim view of the night baseball games which pioneer promoters were staging in the minors and in the black leagues. However, when the golden age ended amidst the worst economic depression of this century, such innovations would enable hard-pressed owners to better cope with the austerities of the 1930s.

Golden Age Campaigns: AL, 1921-1931

In this era dreams of a competitively balanced AL went for naught as three teams, the Yankees, Senators, and Athletics, dominated the eleven pennant races. Foremost among these powers, the lordly Yankees used Ruth’s explosive power to win six pennants and three world titles, while outdrawing all other AL teams by a wide margin.

Jacob Ruppert

Jacob Ruppert

Once established, the Yankee dynasty lasted for forty years, during which time no more than three seasons passed by without the Yankees hoisting another AL pennant. In laying the foundations for this awesome domination, Yankee owners Jake Ruppert and Cap Huston repeatedly took advantage of their financially strapped Boston colleague, Harry Frazee, to denude the latter’s Boston Red Sox of its ablest stars. In 1919 the Yankees pried pitcher Carl Mays from Frazee, and at the end of that year, the Yankee owners paid Frazee $125,000 up-front money and also a $300,000 loan to snag their biggest catch of all in Babe Ruth. What’s more, over the next few years Frazee paid off the loan by sending more players to New York. By then, picking the right Boston players was the job of General Manager Ed Barrow, who left his former post as Boston field manager to come to the Yankees. After joining the Yankees at the close of the 1920 season, Barrow’s dealings with Frazee over the next three seasons made Yankees of such Boston stars as pitchers Waite Hoyt, Sam Jones, Joe Bush, Herb Pennock, and George Pipgras, catcher Wally Schang, and infielders Everett Scott and Joe Dugan.

Over the years 1921-1923, these acquisitions helped to carry the Yankees to three consecutive pennants while burying the once-proud Red Sox. In 1921, with Ruth smashing 59 homers and driving in 171 runs, and Mays pitching 27 victories, the Yankees defeated the Indians by 4.5 games. The following year ex-Red Sox players Jones, Bush, and Scott were on hand to help the Yankees edge the Browns by a single game. However, consecutive World Series losses to the rival New York Giants, whose Polo Grounds the Yankees shared as tenants, blighted these victories. But in 1923 the Yankees, now owned outright by Ruppert, moved into their brand-new Yankee Stadium, where Ruth’s opening-day homer signaled a coming turnabout. With Ruth batting .393 that season, leading the league in homers, and sharing the lead in RBI, the Yankees swept to an easy 16-game romp over the runner-up Tigers. And then, after dropping two of the first three games of the 1923 World Series, the Yankees swept the Giants to land their first world title.

This initial display of Yankee dominance ended in 1924, when the team lost to the Washington Senators by two games. It was Washington’s first AL pennant. Led by their “boy manager,” second baseman Bucky Harris, the Senators went on to down the Giants in a seven-game World Series struggle. Pitching in relief, the veteran Walter Johnson notched the victory in the final game. The following year the Senators repeated, using a powerful .303 batting assault to top the Athletics by 8.5 games. But in World Series action the 1925 Senators blew a three-games-to-one lead and lost to the Pirates in seven games.

As the AL’s 1926 season began, any likelihood of a Yankee resurgence seemed a remote possibility. Only the year before, the Yankees languished in seventh place, as illness and insubordination tolled on Ruth’s performance. But a contrite Ruth came back as strong as ever, and young infielders Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Mark Koenig revitalized the team. In a close race the Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games, but lost to the Cardinals in a memorable seven-game World Series battle. Rebounding from that defeat, the 1927 Yankees mounted one of the most devastating assaults in major league history. In crushing the runner-up Athletics by 19 games, the Yankees batted .307 and led the AL in all major offensive categories. Ruth’s 60 homers set a seasonal mark that lasted for 34 years, and Gehrig weighed in with 47 homers and 175 RBI. In World Series action the Yankees easily dispatched the Pirates in four games. The following year the Yankees repeated, although they were pressed hard by the Athletics, who finished 2.5 games behind. Still the 1928 Yankees finished their season in fine fettle by scoring an avenging four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series.

Wrigley Field, 1929 World Series

Wrigley Field, 1929 World Series

The Yankees’ latest stranglehold on the AL ended in 1929, when manager Connie Mack’s power-packed Athletics captured the first of three consecutive pennants. The resurrection of the once-powerful Athletic dynasty was a triumph of patient rebuilding by Mack. After the veteran owner-manager broke up his formidable 1914 team, the Athletics spent the next seven years in the AL cellar. After quitting the depths in 1922, the team improved steadily. In 1928 the Athletics came close to dethroning the Yankees, and in 1929 the Mackmen mounted an offensive which rivaled that of the 1927 Yankees as they crushed the New Yorkers by 18 games. The team’s .296 batting average was led by outfielder Al Simmons, who batted .365 with 34 homers and a league-leading 157 RBI, and by first baseman Jimmy Foxx’s .354-33-117 performance. The pitching staff, led by Lefty Grove (20-6), George Earnshaw (24-8), and Rube Walberg (18-11), was the league’s best. In World Series play the Athletics crushed the Cubs in five games; one of the team’s victories included a devastating 10-run outburst that turned an 8-0 deficit into a 10-8 victory.

Over the next two seasons, the Athletics continued their dominance. In 1930 they defeated the Senators by 8 games, and in 1931 they crushed the runner-up Yankees by 13.5 games. In postseason action, the Athletics beat the Cardinals in six games to win the 1930 World Series, but in 1931 the team lost a seven-game struggle to the Cardinals. Indeed, the 1931 AL pennant was to be the last for manager Mack and for the Philadelphia Athletics. Financial losses caused by the nation’s deepening Depression forced the aging manager to sell star players to weather the storm. In the past such drastic measures had worked, and Mack had been able to rebuild his team. But advancing age and changing baseball fortunes now conspired against Mack.

Golden Age Campaigns, NL 1921-1931

Although upstaged by Ruth and the Yankees and bested in six of eleven World Series clashes, NL teams of this era more than held their own against AL rivals. Indeed, NL sluggers outslugged their AL counterparts in nine of these seasons, NL pitchers posted better ERAs than AL hurlers, and in the inflationary 1930 season NL batters outhit and outslugged their rivals by wide margins. That year NL batters averaged .303 to the AL’s .288, and NL sluggers powered 892 homers to 673 for the junior circuit.

And yet in this era the NL was no better balanced competitively than the AL. Of the eleven NL campaigns of this era, the Giants and Cardinals each won four, the Pirates won two, and the Cubs won the other. In 1924 manager McGraw’s Giants became the first major league team of this century to win four consecutive pennants. This was a feat matched only by Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings of the 1870s and by Charley Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns of the 1880s.

For their part, the Giants of this era turned the trick with a potent batting attack; in their four-year sway, Giant hitters averaged better than .300 and smashed 335 homers.

Casey Stengel of Giants, inside the park homer, Game One, 1923 World Series.

Casey Stengel of Giants, inside the park homer, Game One, 1923 World Series.

In stocking his first pennant winner, McGraw pulled off astute trades with the moribund Braves and Phillies to obtain pitcher Art Nehf, shortstop Dave Bancroft, and outfielders Irish Meusel and Casey Stengel. These acquisitions joined with future Hall of Famers Frank Frisch and Ross Youngs to lead the Giants to the 1921 pennant. That year the Giants edged the Pirates by 4 games, and in 1922 they repeated, beating the runner-up Reds by 7 games. In both years the Giants met and defeated the Yankees in World Series play. In 1923 the Giants won a third straight flag by edging the Reds by 4.5 games, but they lost the World Series to the Yankees. In 1924, with the addition of first baseman and future Hall of Famer Bill Terry, the Giants eked a narrow 1.5-game victory over the Dodgers. In World Series play the Giants lost to the Senators in seven games. The 1924 pennant was McGraw’s last as the Giants’ manager and the last by a Giant team in this era.

As sicknesses took their toll on McGraw, coach Hugh Jennings, and outfielder Ross Youngs, the Pirates ended the Giants’ four-year reign with an 8.5-game victory over the New Yorkers. Future Hall of Famers, third baseman Harold “Pie” Traynor, and outfielders Max Carey and Hazen “Ki Ki” Cuyler, led the Pirates, who went on to score a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Senators in the 1925 World Series.

As the squabbling Pirates faded to third place in 1926, the hitherto unsung Cardinals won their first NL pennant. It was the first of four championships in this era by this emergent new dynasty. The rise of the Cardinals was the handiwork of general manager Branch Rickey. From Rickey’s expanding farm system came stalwarts like infielders Jim Bottomley and Tom Thevenow and outfielders Chick Hafey and Taylor Douthit. In 1926 player-manager Rogers Hornsby led the team to a 2-game victory over the Cincinnati Reds. And in a classic seven-game struggle, the Cardinals went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

That fall Rickey enraged Cardinal fans by dealing the contentious Hornsby to the Giants for second baseman Frank Frisch. Frisch batted .337 to lead the 1927 Cardinals, while Hornsby batted .361 with the Giants. Nevertheless, both teams came up short, as the Pirates edged the runner-up Cardinals by 1.5 games. Pittsburgh’s .305 team batting average was sparked by future Hall of Fame outfielders Paul and Lloyd Waner; Paul’s .380 clouting led the league, and brother Lloyd batted .355. But the Pirates were crushed by the Yankees in the 1927 World Series.

Under manager Bill McKechnie, the resilient Cardinals rebounded to win the 1928 campaign by 2 games over the Giants. But like the 1927 Pirates, the Cardinals too were swept by the Yankees in the World Series. As the Cardinals slipped to fourth place in 1929, the Cubs won their only pennant of this era. Managed by Joe McCarthy, the Cub revival was powered by a .303 team batting attack. Newly acquired Rogers Hornsby, who was pried loose from the Braves in a mammoth deal, led the Cubs with a .380 batting average. Behind Hornsby the team’s power-packed outfield weighed in with Riggs Stephenson hitting .362, Hack Wilson batting .345 and driving in 159 runs, and “Ki Ki” Cuyler batting .360. The assault boosted the Cubs to a 10.5-game victory over the Pirates, but the Chicagoans were no match for the rampaging Athletics in the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals ca 1930

St. Louis Cardinals ca 1930

As the golden era ended, manager Gabby Street drove the Cardinals to consecutive pennants in 1930-1931. In 1930 the Cardinals struggled to a 2-game victory over the Cubs, who dumped manager McCarthy in the wake of the loss. In this vintage year of NL hitting, the Cardinals batted .314, but were outhit by the Giants, who smote .319 as a team! Every Cardinal starter in 1930 topped the .300 mark, and in World Series play the Cardinals outhit the Athletics.

Nevertheless, the Athletics won the World Series in six games. The following year, as NL batting mirrored the falling national economy by dropping to .277, the Cardinals coasted to a 13-game victory over the Giants. A .286 team batting average and stout pitching by “Wild Bill” Hallahan, Burleigh Grimes, Paul Derringer, and Jess Haines paced the Cardinals, who defeated the Athletics in the World Series, four games to three. But falling attendance caused by the deepening Depression marred the 1931 NL season. Indeed, the decline signaled the end of the latest golden age and the beginning of a long era of austerity in major league baseball.

Part 6 tomorrow.


David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 4

Baseball's Anthem

Baseball’s Anthem

This is the fourth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at:

Peace and Prosperity: 1903-1920

By reviving the dual major league system with World Series play, the framers of the National Agreement harked back to the successful format of the golden 1880s. To that profitable format was added a National Commission charged with keeping the peace between the two major leagues. The combination launched the major leagues on a stable course which produced no franchise changes for the next fifty years.

In the 1903-1919 era the pattern was set and the two major leagues enjoyed a silver age of popularity and prosperity.

In these years the popularity of the national pastime was buoyed by rising attendance, increased media coverage including motion pictures, and the ever-popular song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” introduced in 1908.

The game’s increasing popularity swelled annual profits, but as always these were unevenly distributed. In these years attendance at major league games increased steadily; from 4.7 million in 1903, attendance rose to 10 million in 1911, before falling under the impact of the Federal League incursion and the nation’s involvement in the First World War.

To house the growing numbers of fans, durable ballparks constructed of concrete and steel were built during the construction boom of 1909-1911. Capable of housing 30,000 or more fans, these parks served until the post-World War Two construction boom. At this time increasing profits boosted player salaries. By 1910 annual salaries ranged from $900 to $12,000, and by 1915 salaries of superstars like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson approached $20,000.Ty Cob

In this era stability also characterized the style of play. Only a few rule changes were made. Among them, a rule limited the height of pitching mounds to fifteen inches above the baseline level, the infield fly rule was invoked, a foul bunt on a third strike was ruled a strikeout, and earned run averages by pitchers were included in annual records. On the playing fields teams employed the deadball style of play that resembled the “scientific game” of the 1890s.

With new balls seldom being introduced into games, pitchers took command, using a variety of deliveries including spitballs and defacing balls with other foreign substances. In this era, earned run averages of 3.00 or below were seasonal norms, and seasonal batting averages, now affected by bigger parks and improved gloves, hovered around the .250 mark.

Offensively, teams relied heavily on bunts, hit-and-run tactics, and base stealing to produce a few runs which power pitchers protected. Not surprisingly, pitching masters like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Eddie Plank, and spitball artist Ed Walsh sparkled among the leading stars of this era. But pitted against these dominant hurlers were some of the greatest hitters of all time. The masters of the deadball offense included Detroit’s Ty Cobb, who won thirteen AL batting titles while scoring runs and stealing bases at unprecedented rates, and Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, who won eight NL batting titles and stole 722 bases. Other hitting stars included Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Sam Crawford, and the ill-fated Joe Jackson. The decline of the “deadball style” was foreshadowed by the 1910 introduction of the cork-centered ball. When widely used later in the era, it ended the conservative style of offensive play. The transformation was signaled in 1919, when Babe Ruth of the Red Sox hit 29 homers to set a new seasonal homer mark.

Official Federal League baseball

Official Federal League baseball

By 1919 the stability of the silver age had been undermined by a series of disturbing events. In 1913 interlopers launched the Federal League and vied for major league recognition. That fall President James Gilmore lined up enough wealthy backers to plant Federal League teams in Chicago, Baltimore, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Brooklyn, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Over the next two seasons, the “Feds” took to raiding major league rosters with offers of higher salaries. The surfeit of games in 1914 and 1915 lowered major league revenues, but the Federal League invaders suffered more. There were two Federal League campaigns; Indianapolis won the 1914 pennant and Chicago took honors in 1915. The 1915 season was the last gasp of the Feds. Staggered by financial losses, the Feds surrendered when the established majors paid $5 million in compensation and awarded major league franchises to two Federal owners. But an antitrust suit pressed by dissident Baltimore owners against the majors eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1922, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for a unanimous court, dismissed the suit and judged major league baseball to be mainly a sport and not a commonly accepted form of interstate commerce. But the 1922 decision did not end the controversy, and the major leagues would have to defend the reserve clause against future attacks in the courts and in the Congress of the United States. Nevertheless the FL challenge was the last full-scale incursion by a rival major league against the established majors.

Soon after the Federal League war, major league baseball faced another crisis brought on by America’s entry into World War One. In supporting the nation’s total war effort, dozens of major league players entered the armed services, and clubs staged patriotic displays, donating money and equipment to troops. For all that, in 1918 the provost marshal ruled major league baseball to be nonessential to the war effort, but his ruling permitted the majors to play a shortened 1918 campaign. That year attendance sank to 3 million, prompting tremulous owners to vote to shorten the 1919 playing schedule. However, to their surprise the war ended, and the attenuated 1919 campaign attracted 6.5 million fans. Caught short by this unexpected boom, officials sought to recoup money by upping the World Series schedule to a best-of-nine-games format.

Game 1, 1919 World Series

Game 1, 1919 World Series

As it turned out the expanded 1919 World Series precipitated the final crisis that ended the commissioner system. Embittered over their low salaries, eight Chicago White Sox players accepted bribes from gamblers to throw the World Series to the NL champion Cincinnati Reds. When revelations of this “Black Sox Scandal” came to light, it destroyed the National Commission and ended the old National Agreement. Chairman Herrmann resigned early in 1920, and that fall Federal Judge Kenesaw M. Landis was named the game’s sole commissioner, an action confirmed by the new National Agreement of 1921. As the autocratic Landis defused the Black Sox Scandal by barring the eight accused Chicago players from organized baseball for life, the major league game lurched into a new golden age of cash and glory.

Deadball Dynasties: The AL, 1903-1920

Over the years 1903-1920, Ban Johnson’s “great American League” surpassed its NL rival in attendance and also took an enduring lead over its rival in World Series victories. However, such dominance was not a result of the league’s competitive balance; indeed, this dream was never realized in any era of major league history until the early 1980s. In this early phase of AL history, four teams, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, dominated all AL pennant races.

Cy Young, 1903

Cy Young, 1903

The first of the AL mini-dynasties, the Boston Pilgrims relied in 1903 on the pitching of Cy Young, Bill Dinneen, and Tom Hughes to trample the Philadelphia Athletics by 14.5 games and then go on to win the first modern World Series over Pittsburgh. The following year Boston repeated, winning a close race by 1.5 games over the New York Highlanders. That year manager John McGraw of the Giants refused to meet the Pilgrims in World Series play, but the controversy was resolved over the winter of 1904 with the establishment of a permanent World Series format.

In 1905 manager Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics got 87 victories from the pitching corps of Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Andy Coakley and Chief Bender, to edge the White Sox by 2 games. But with league-leading pitcher Waddell sidelined by an injury, the A’s fell to the Giants in the World Series.

As the A’s faded in 1906, the most impotent of all pennant winners, the weak-hitting Chicago White Sox, won a close race by 3 games over the Highlanders.

In winning, the White Sox batted .230 and scored a mere 570 runs. Yet in World Series play against the Cubs, whose 116 victories were the most ever by a team playing a 154-game schedule, the White Sox prevailed, winning four of the six games.

The next three AL pennants were captured by the Detroit Tigers, the league’s most formidable dynasty to date. Managed by Hugh Jennings and powered by outfielders Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb, the latter the Georgia sensation who won the first of a record nine consecutive AL batting titles, the 1907 Tigers defeated Mack’s Athletics by 1.5 games.

The following year the Tigers eked out a half-game win over player-manager Nap Lajoie’s Cleveland team, and in 1909 the Tigers held off the Athletics by 3.5 games. But in World Series action the Tigers resembled kittens. In 1907 and again in 1908 they fell to the Cubs, and in 1909 they lost to the Pirates.

Philadelphia Athletics 1910

Philadelphia Athletics 1910

Those three consecutive World Series losses infuriated AL president Johnson, but four straight AL victories over the years 1910-1913 restored the aplomb of the portly czar. In 1910 Mack’s revamped Athletics, newly located in Shibe Park, used the pitching of Plank, Bender, Jack Coombs, and Cy Morgan, and the offensive and defensive skills of three-quarters of his eventual “$100,000 infield” to lap the Yankees by 14.5 games and topple the Cubs in the World Series. The following year Stuffy McInnis replaced Harry Davis at first base, joining Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker, and the A’s repeated; this time they crushed the Tigers by 13.5 games and then beat the Giants in World Series play.

Mack’s A’s faded to third in 1912, but the renamed Boston Red Sox, now playing in their new Fenway Park, breezed to a 14-game win over the Senators. “Smokey Joe” Wood’s 34-5 pitching and Tris Speaker’s .383 batting led the Red Sox, who followed their league win with a victory over the Giants in the World Series. With this latest Series, the AL took a lead in this fall competition, which they hold to this day.

The Federal League war was beginning when Mack led his resurgent A’s to a 6.5-game win over the Senators and another victory over the Giants in the 1913 World Series. In 1914 the Mackmen captured their fourth AL pennant in five years as they outran the Red Sox by 8.5 games, but then they lost the World Series to the sweeping “miracle” Boston Braves who had come from last place on July 4 to take the NL flag. That fall, racked by heavy financial losses incurred by the Federal League war, Mack sought to recoup by selling some of his stars. As a result, Mack’s emasculated A’s spent the next seven seasons in the AL cellar.

As the A’s collapsed, the Red Sox and White Sox, both strengthened by player purchases from Mack, monopolized the next five AL races. By purchasing Jack Barry from Mack and snapping up minor league pitcher Babe Ruth, whom Mack had passed over, Boston was the first to cash in.

Babe Ruth, pitcher

Babe Ruth, pitcher

The Red Sox won the 1915 pennant by 2.5 games over the Tigers and went on to trounce the Phillies in World Series action. In this the last year of the Federal League war, Boston was one of only seven major league clubs to show a profit. But with the Feds out of the way in 1916, prosperity returned to the major leagues.

Despite dealing Speaker to Cleveland, where his .386 batting ended Cobb’s skein of nine straight AL batting titles, the Red Sox repeated.

Ruth’s 23 pitching victories led Boston to a 2-game victory over the White Sox and 5-game victory over the Dodgers in the World Series.

America’s entry into the First World War in 1917 sent major league attendance plummeting as manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland drove his White Sox to a 9-game win over Boston.

Shine-ball pitcher Eddie Cicotte’s 28 victories led all AL hurlers, and Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch supplied the power as the White Sox capped their victory with a win over the Giants in the World Series.

But major league profits were low in 1917, and they touched rock bottom the following year, when the war effort forced the majors to cut their playing schedules to 128 games. The Red Sox rebounded to win the 1918 campaign by 2.5 games over Cleveland. And by drubbing the Cubs in the World Series, the Red Sox notched their fifth World Series title in as many tries. However, at this point the Red Sox fell victim to their impecunious owner, Harry Frazee, whose player sales soon divested the team of its ablest stars, including Ruth. As the Red Sox faded, so did their record of World Series triumphs. To this day Red Sox fans are still waiting for a sixth World Series victory.

Boston’s collapse opened the way for the powerful White Sox to win the shortened 1919 race by 3.5 games over the surging Cleveland Indians. In the wake of the White Sox victory came the sordid World Series of 1919, which saw eight Chicago players conspire with gamblers to throw the extended Series to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1920 the much-publicized revelations of that piece of skullduggery forced owner Charles Comiskey to suspend his eight Black Sox players in the last week of the red-hot 1920 pennant campaign.

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman

Stripped of their stars, the White Sox finished second, a game ahead of the Yankees and two games behind the victorious Cleveland Indians. The gritty Indians lost their star shortstop Ray Chapman when he was fatally beaned by pitcher Carl Mays of the Yankees. To the present day, this remains the only fatality in major league history that was the direct result of a playing field accident. In the memorable World Series of 1920, Cleveland and Brooklyn were tied at two games apiece when Indian second-sacker Bill Wambsganss busted a promising Dodger rally by pulling off the first and only unassisted triple play in World Series history. And in that same game Indian outfielder Elmer Smith hit the first World Series grand-slam homerun. Such heroics, plus three pitching victories by Stan Coveleski, boosted the Indians to a five-games-to-two triumph in the 1920 fall classic. Cleveland’s victory also ended the Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago pennant monopoly of the AL’s deadball era, while Ruth’s 59 homers as a Yankee in 1920 heralded the incoming “big-bang” style of play that would characterize the coming decade of the 1920s.

Deadball Dynasties: The NL, 1903-1920

A similar pattern of competitive imbalance also marked the NL campaigns of the silver age. In this era three NL mini-dynasties, those of Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York, monopolized the first 14 NL campaigns. Moreover, even as outsiders rose up to win three consecutive pennants over the years 1914-1916, the Giants and Cubs came back to win pennants in 1917-1918 before yielding to the Reds and Dodgers in this era’s final two campaigns. Under manager John McGraw, “the Napoleonic genius” who jumped the AL in 1902 to skipper the moribund Giants, the New Yorkers won six pennants, finished second eight times, and suffered only one losing season.

Honus Wagner, 1902

Honus Wagner, 1902

In 1901 the first of this dynastic trio, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won the first of three consecutive NL pennants. Pittsburgh’s rise began in 1900, the year the NL cut back to eight teams. When his Louisville team was dropped in the NL’s cutback, owner Barney Dreyfuss purchased the Pittsburgh club, which he strengthened by adding Louisville stars Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner to his Pirate team. Powered by player-manager Clarke and Wagner, and unscathed by the disastrous roster raids by AL teams that were weakening his opponents, Pittsburgh won the 1901 NL race by 7.5 games over the Phillies; they then won the 1902 race by an awesome 27.5 games over runner-up Brooklyn, and captured the 1903 flag by 6.5 games over the Giants. In each of these campaigns, both Wagner and Clarke topped the .300 mark in batting. Moreover, Wagner’s .355 hitting won the 1903 batting title while outfielder Ginger Beaumont’s .357 batting won the 1902 batting title. The Pirate pitching staff was fronted by Deacon Phillippe, who won 66 games in these years, and by Jack Chesbro, who won 49 games in two seasons before jumping to the AL in 1903.

In postseasonal play, the 1903 Pirates lost the first modern World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

Pittsburgh sank to fourth place in 1904 as the Giants surfaced to win consecutive pennants in 1904-1905. In 1904 the Giants won 106 games to beat the runner-up Chicago Cubs by 13 games. Power pitching by “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity (35-8), Christy Mathewson (33-12), and “Dummy” Taylor (21-15) paced the light-hitting Giants to victory. But in the aftermath of the win, manager McGraw refused to meet the AL champion Boston Pilgrims in World Series play. That issue was resolved in 1905, the year McGraw drove his team to a 9-game win over the Pirates and then to an easy conquest of the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, with Mathewson tossing three shutouts.

The following year, the Chicago Cubs emerged as the third NL dynasty of the deadball era. Pennant-starved since 1886, the Chicagoans recouped with a vengeance, winning an astonishing 530 games over the years 1906-1910.

1906 Chicago Cubs

1906 Chicago Cubs

Such mastery was good enough to land four pennants in those five years. Skippered by player-manager Frank Chance, who, along with fellow infielders Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, is now immortalized in baseball folklore, the 1906 Cubs won their record 116 games. Powered by Chance and third baseman Harry Steinfeldt, and armed by Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown’s 26-6 pitching, this superb team buried the Giants by 20 games, but lost the World Series to their hometown AL rivals, the “hitless wonder” White Sox.

The Cubs made it three victories in a row by winning in 1907-1908. The 1907 Cubs crushed Pittsburgh by 17 games, and in the unforgettable season of 1908, the Cubs edged the Giants by a single game. With two weeks remaining in the 1908 season, the Giants, Cubs, and Pirates were locked in a close race. Then, in a fateful encounter with the Cubs at the Polo Grounds, Fred Merkle of the Giants blundered by failing to touch second base as his Giants were scoring what looked like the winning run. In the stormy aftermath of this play, Umpire Hank O’Day ruled Merkle out for failing to touch the base and declared the game a tie because the swirling masses of Giant fans on the field made resumption of play impossible. Later NL president Harry Pulliam supported O’Day’s decision and ruled that if necessary the game would be replayed at the close of the season. As it turned out, this was necessary because the Cubs and the Giants finished the season in a dead heat. To settle the outcome, the controversial game was replayed on October 8 at the Polo Grounds.

October 8, 1908 playoff game

October 8, 1908 playoff game

The Cubs won the sudden-death game 4-2, as Brown outpitched Mathewson. In baseball folklore the Giant defeat permanently stigmatized “Bonehead” Fred Merkle as the blamesake of the Giants’ defeat. As for the Cubs, they took full advantage of their quirky victory by defeating the Tigers for a second straight time in World Series action.

In 1909 the Cubs won 104 games, with Brown pitching 27 victories. But the Pirates won 110 that year to beat Chance’s men by 6.5 games. Wagner led the league in hitting, and pitchers Vic Willis and Howie Camnitz combined for 48 wins. In World Series action, the Pirates hung a third straight loss on the AL champion Tigers. But the Cubs rebounded in 1910, winning 104 games for a second straight year. This time it was enough to lap the Giants by 13, but the Cubs then fell to the Athletics in the World Series.

Over the years 1911-1913 the Giants dominated NL play. In winning three consecutive pennants, they piled up 303 victories; pitchers Mathewson and Rube Marquard accounted for 147 of these, while Giant hitters led the NL in batting each year. But in World Series appearances McGraw’s men repeatedly swooned, losing to the Athletics in 1911 and 1913 and to the Red Sox in 1912.

1914 Boston Braves Pennant

1914 Boston Braves Pennant

Over the years 1914-1916, a whiff of competitive balance settled over the NL as three outsiders wrested pennants from the three dynasty teams. In 1914 the “miracle” Boston Braves stormed from 10 games back in mid-July to win 60 of their last 76 games; the surge was enough to crush the Giants by 10.5 games. The following year, the Philadelphia Phillies landed their first NL pennant on the strength of 31 wins by pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander and 24 homers by Gavvy Cravath. The Phillies beat out the Boston Braves by 7 games.

And in 1916, manager Wilbert Robinson’s Dodgers got 25 victories from pitcher Ed Pfeffer as they edged the Phillies by 2.5 games. But this trio of outsiders produced only one World Series victory, which came when the Braves swept Mack’s Athletics to win the 1914 classic. As for the other interlopers, both the Phillies and Dodgers fell to the Boston Red Sox.

Like the AL’s, the NL’s wartime campaigns of 1917-1918 were plagued by poor attendance which caused some tremulous owners to sell players in hopes of recouping losses. But the pennant monopolists held firm. The Giants won the 1917 race by 10 games over the Phillies, but then fell for a fourth straight time in World Series play as the White Sox prevailed. And in 1918, after winning the attenuated NL race by 10.5 games over the Giants, the Cubs bowed to the Red Sox in the World Series.

1919 Cincinnati Game One WS ticket

1919 Cincinnati Game One WS ticket

The deadball era was drawing to a close in 1919, which was the year that manager Pat “Whiskey Face” Moran drove his Cincinnati Reds to their first NL pennant. The Reds won by 9 games over the runner-up Giants as future Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush batted .321 to lead the league. The Reds also won the World Series, but the stench of the Black Sox Scandal sullied their victory.

As breaking news stories of that scandal overshadowed stories of the 1920 pennant race, in progress when the news broke, the Brooklyn Dodgers went on to defeat the Giants by 7 games. But the Dodgers lost to an inspired Cleveland Indians team in the World Series. In the atmosphere of gloom caused by the Black Sox Scandal revelations, it was also apparent that the deadball era of stylized baseball play was ending. But a new era was unfolding in the 1920s that would launch the major leagues into new uplands of cash and glory.

This series will continue on Monday.

David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 3

Players League Guide, 1890.

Players League Guide, 1890.

This is the third installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at:

The Players’ League War: 1890

The Players’ League of 1890 arose out of the long smoldering hostilities between major league players and owners, dating back to the NL seizure of power in 1876. Under NL control, players lost money and freedom of movement, and were subjected to harsh disciplinary codes backed by threats of expulsion and blacklisting. To the list of player grievances was added the reserve clause in player contracts, which players viewed as a device for lowering salaries and a denial of one’s right to sell his services to the highest bidder. For their part, owners credited the clause for stabilizing teams and increasing profits. Although legal challenges sustained the players’ position, such victories were too limited to overturn the reserve clause. Nor were players helped when rival leagues attacked the clause because the AA soon embraced the clause and the UA was driven out of business.

Frustrated on these fronts, in 1885 the players resorted to collective action by forming the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players. Initially organized as a benevolent association, the Brotherhood, under the leadership of star player and lawyer John Ward, became a collective-bargaining agency by 1887. In confronting the major league owners, the Brotherhood sought redress on such matters as the reserve clause, the sale of players, and the threatened salary ceiling, known as the Brush classification plan.

In 1888 protracted negotiations between the Brotherhood and the owners broke down when the NL owners refused to budge on the salary ceiling issue, which had been accepted by the AA as part of the National Agreement. When the owners rejected Ward’s ultimatum on the key issues, the Brotherhood moved to field a rival major league in 1890. With most of the best players in the fold, the Players’ League attracted financial backers who accepted Ward’s plan of sharing profits and power with the players. In 1890 the eight-team PL opened play with well-stocked teams in every NL city except Cincinnati.

Faced with a head-to-head battle for survival, the NL relied upon its war committee headed by Spalding. Spalding met the PL head-on by scheduling games on the same dates as PL teams, bribing PL players to jump ranks, initiating costly lawsuits over the reserve clause, lowering ticket prices, cajoling press support by threats to withdraw advertising, and raiding the AA and minor league rosters for players.

Loyal managers like Anson, Wright, Bill McGunnigle, and Jim Mutrie persuaded good players to stay with the NL. Roster raids on AA teams lured stars like Billy Hamilton and Tommy Tucker; and promising rookies like pitchers Kid Nichols and Cy Young, infielder Bobby Lowe and outfielder Jess Burkett beefed up the NL teams.

Kid Nichols, 1889 Omaha

Kid Nichols, 1889 Omaha

Although beaten in the courts and at the turnstiles by the PL, which finished its season with Mike Kelly’s Boston team beating out Ward’s Brooklyn team by 6.5 games, the PL’s financial losses were too much for its backers to bear. In the fall of 1890, the disenchanted PL backers broke ranks and sued for peace. Magnanimous in victory, Spalding imposed no reprisals on PL players, but he gave no ground on the key issues. With the NL girding for war with the AA in the upcoming 1891 season, the salary ceiling implementation was delayed until the latest struggle was over.

The collapse of the PL afforded little relief for the stricken AA. In 1891 all-out war erupted between the NL and AA over the return of players and the relocation of franchises. When the AA’s weak Cincinnati club folded, its popular manager Mike Kelly joined the Boston AA team, but after a few days he joined the Boston Nationals. With Kelly gone, the Boston AA team won the pennant by 8.5 games over the Browns, but Boston fans flocked to watch Kelly captain the Boston Nationals to the NL pennant.

The 1891 season was the last for the AA. That fall four AA clubs, St. Louis, Louisville, Baltimore and Washington, quit the dying circuit to join the expanded twelve-club National League.

The “Big League”: The National League, 1892-1899

The defeat of the AA in 1891 saddled the NL with a $130,000 debt, which was incurred by buying out four of the defeated circuit’s clubs. The remaining four AA teams, Baltimore, Louisville, St. Louis, and Washington, were added to the NL to form the twelve-club National League and American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs.

From 1892 to 1899 this monopolistic “big league” represented major league baseball. Enthralled by their newly created baseball “trust,” the league’s owners styled themselves as magnates presiding over a million-dollar entertainment industry. The magnates fully expected their monopoly league to produce unprecedented cash and glory. But such dreams were dashed by external factors, including a chronic national recession, the 1898 war with Spain, and the league’s competitive imbalance. Eight seasons of play under the twelve-club format underscored its imbalance.

Andrew Freedman

Andrew Freedman

With Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn winning all the races, fans in other cities lost interest. As profits dwindled, owners imposed a $2,400 ceiling on player salaries and battled one another over the division of gate receipts. Lacking strong leadership, each individual owner ran his club like a feudal fiefdom. Indeed, the blustering antics of the owners often upstaged players in newspaper accounts of this time. Some magnates hatched grandiose schemes aimed at making the monopoly league work more efficiently. Thus Andrew Freedman of the Giants advocated the annual pooling and redistribution of players and profits, provided that the “strongest and most lucrative franchises” got the best players.

And another, Cincinnati owner John T. Brush, proposed harsh disciplinary measures aimed at curbing rowdy players, while also experimenting with minor league farm systems as a cheap source of talent.

Indeed, owner infighting over these and other issues damaged the big league’s image, but the biggest threat to the league’s credibility was the “syndicate” issue. The term “syndicatism” used at this time referred to interlocking club ownership schemes. Following bitter debate in 1898, two such interlocking directorates were approved by the owners. One of these schemes permitted owner Frank Robison of the Cleveland and St. Louis teams to transfer his best players to St. Louis; the other allowed owners Ferdinand Abell and Harry Vonderhorst of the Brooklyn and Baltimore teams to stock the Brooklyn team with the pick of those two squads.

These operations made a farce of the 1899 pennant race and prompted the NL to return to an eight-club format in 1900; the cutback was accomplished by dropping Cleveland, Baltimore, Washington, and Louisville from the NL.

1899 baltimore orioles

1899 Baltimore Orioles

The return to the eight-club format ended eight wayward seasons of major league baseball played under one unwieldy league format. Nevertheless, major league baseball continued to mature in the 1890s. Surprisingly enough, there were no franchise changes in these years. In 1898 the 154-game playing schedule was introduced, a format which dominated until 1961. And in 1893 a major change in playing rules fixed the pitching distance at 60’6″ from home plate and also replaced the pitching box with a rubber slab atop a mound. This permanent change was introduced that year to correct the pitching-batting imbalance, a desirable goal which to this day remains elusive. The immediate effect of the lengthened pitching distance was not to give a mild boost to batting averages, but to send them soaring.

Ed DElahanty, 1894

Ed Delahanty, 1894

Thus in 1894 the Phillies posted a .349 team batting average, with the four-man outfield of Ed Delahanty, Sam Thompson, Billy Hamilton, and Tuck Turner combining for a .400-plus batting average. Sluggers also prospered, as Thompson hit 129 homers in this era, and Washington outfielder Buck Freeman hit 25 homers in 1899; both these records endured for twenty years. (Later recounts gave the career record to Roger Connor and the single season mark to Ned Williamson who had 27 tainted homers in 1884.)

It took pitchers several seasons to adapt to the increased distance, but they did so by developing curves, changeups, and ball-doctoring trick deliveries to go with their fastballs. Meanwhile two offensive styles vied for acceptance in this era. For a brief time the “manly slugging” style feasted on pitchers, but the “scientific style” mastered by the Baltimore and Boston teams, which stressed bunting, stealing, sacrificing, and the hit-and-run, became the dominant offensive style of the next twenty years.

At this time other rule changes allowed player substitutions, established the infield fly rule, treated foul bunts as strikes, defined sacrifice flies and bunts, and introduced the pentagon-shaped home plate. On the playing fields, players wore stylized uniforms and most sported gloves, with catchers employing the big “Decker” mitt and wearing masks and chest protectors. When in action, teams played heady ball, using signals to trigger offensive and defensive movements. Defensively, infielders aligned themselves to turn double plays and outfielders coordinated their play by using backups, cutoffs and relays. Offensively, bunting, sacrificing, sliding, stealing, and hit-and-run plays were familiar tactics.

But when teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Spiders augmented their play with roughhouse tactics like spiking and jostling runners, baiting umpires, and bench jockeying, this “rowdy” brand of ball stirred the ire of reformers like Indianapolis owner John Brush.

But hard-nosed baseball survived its critics, as did Sunday baseball. Despite fervent opposition from Sabbatarians, Sunday games were permitted by local option, although eastern cities held out against such games for twenty years. By then, major league clubs had outgrown the wooden parks of this era. A spate of ballpark fires late in this era inspired tougher safety codes that soon prompted the replacement of the vulnerable old wooden parks with concrete-and-steel edifices.

NL Campaigns: 1892-1899

During the big league’s eight-year existence, pennant monopolizing was the rule as only Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn teams won pennants. Managed by Frank Selee, the powerful Boston Beaneaters won back-to-back pennants in 1892-1893 and in 1897-1898. Paced by pitcherKid Nichols (who won 297 games in this decade), Boston won the 1892 race played under a split-season format. Boston easily won the first half, but lost the second half by 3 games to manager Pat Tebeau’s Cleveland Spiders, whose ace pitcher was the great Cy Young. In the postseason playoff, after the two teams played a scoreless tie, Boston swept the rest of the games to land the 1892 pennant.

In 1893 the unprofitable split-season format was dropped and the pitching distance was increased to 60’6″. In a campaign marked by heavy hitting, Boston won by 5 games over Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s Frank Killen won 34 games to lead hurlers, and outfielder Billy Hamilton batted .380.

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

The following year saw Boston fall to the Baltimore Orioles, who rebounded from an eighth-place finish in 1893 to win the first of three consecutive pennants. Although plagued by poor pitching, the offense-minded Orioles batted .343, with every regular topping the .300 mark at the plate. Future Hall of Famers on this star-studded team includedDan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, John McGraw, Joe Kelley, Willie Keeler, and Wilbert Robinson. The Orioles won the 1894 pennant by 3 games over the Giants, but lost the first postseason Temple Cup Series, played between the first- and second-place finishers. In this inaugural Temple Cup Series, manager John Ward’s Giants swept the Orioles in four straight games.

The following year manager Ned Hanlon’s Orioles repeated as NL champions by edging the Cleveland Spiders by 3 games. A .324 team batting average and a brilliant 54-14 home won-loss record keyed the 1895 Orioles. But once again the Orioles failed in Temple Cupplay, this time falling to the Spiders by four games to one. In 1896 the Orioles won a third consecutive NL pennant by 9.5 games over the Spiders and swept their rivals in postseason Temple Cup play.

Boston 1898

Boston 1898

Bolstered by newcomers Billy Hamilton, Chick Stahl, and Jimmy Collins , Boston regained the heights in 1897-1898. Nichols won 30 games as the 1897 Beaneaters edged the Orioles by 2 games. But the Orioles won the postseasonTemple Cup four games to one, the last year of this unremunerative and “shabby spectacle” which, one observer said, no more resembled the old World Series than a “crabapple does . . . a pippin.”

Boston repeated in 1898, in a baseball campaign overshadowed by the Spanish-American War, beating the Orioles by 6 games. But by then the unprofitable “big league” was in its last throes. In a race marred by ludicrous syndicate ventures, in 1899 the Brooklyn Superbas won by 8 games over Boston. A syndicate team, the Superbas were managed by Hanlon, who stocked the Brooklyn team with the best players from the Brooklyn and Baltimore rosters.

A similar venture that season had Robison’s St. Louis-Cleveland syndicate loading the St. Louis team with the pick of these two clubs. But Robison’s venture failed miserably as St. Louis finished fifth while the Cleveland team’s 20-134 record was the worst by any major league team playing a 154-game schedule.

In the aftermath of the 1899 campaign, the owners scuttled the twelve-club big league and cut back to eight teams.Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington, and Louisville were dropped at a cost of $100,000, a buyout shared by the eight surviving teams. Born in debt, the monopoly big league died in debt, but the dawning twentieth century soon saw major league baseball prospering under a revived dual league format.

The American League War: 1901-1902

The American League’s struggle for major league recognition began in 1900, a propitious time for such an incursion. The NL owners had recently shed four teams, which left many unemployed players and some promising territories. Moreover, NL owners were distracted by an abortive attempt by other outsiders to revive theAmerican Association , and by the NL’s prosperous season of 1900. With a hefty boost from the nation’s booming economy, most NL teams made money that year. In a close race the Brooklyn Superbas repeated as NL champs by beating a strong Pittsburgh team by 4.5 games.

Such distractions favored the cause of the American League schemers.

Minneapolis Millers, AL 1900

Prior to 1900, the newly proclaimed American League had operated as the Western League, a strong minor league based in the Midwest. Since 1894 the Western League’s president, the able, dictatorial, and hard-drinking Byron “Ban” Johnson, had dreamed of making his circuit into a major league. To this end he had battled with NL owners over the drafting of his league’s players, a practice which underscored his league’s inferior status. Johnson’s opportunity to press toward his goal came in 1899, when the NL cut back to eight teams. With the backing of lieutenants like Charles Comiskey and Connie Mack, Johnson renamed his circuit the American League, his clubs snapped up surplus NL players, and Comiskey moved his team to Chicago, where his White Stockings boldly confronted the NL’s Cubs. With solid financial backing and a new ballpark, Comiskey’s team of major league castoffs and promising youngsters captured the first AL pennant in a profitable campaign.

Emboldened by the AL’s successful 1900 campaign, Johnson took note of the expiring National Agreement and unilaterally proclaimed the AL to be a major league. This 1901 declaration formally opened the American League war, and Johnson’s promoters commenced hostilities by invading the NL’s Philadelphia and Boston territories and occupying the former NL sites of Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, and Detroit. To stock their teams, Johnson’s financiers offered higher salaries to NL players, and in 1901 over a hundred NL players snapped at the bait. The jumpers included a bevy of stars, among them Cy Young , Clark Griffith, Jimmy Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Then, in a hotly contested and profitable pennant race, Comiskey’s Chicago team edged Boston by 4 games to capture the 1901 AL pennant.

The timing of the AL’s assault was excellent. In 1901-1902 the leaderless NL owners were locked in a bitter struggle over the choice of a league president. Two factions, one headed by owner Andrew Freedman of the Giants and the other by Spalding, battled to a standstill. In 1902 a temporary Control Commission headed the NL, which finally elected Henry Clay Pulliam as its president. In a complicated settlement the controversial Freedman sold his New York Giants interests for $125,000, on the condition that one of his cronies be permitted to plant an AL franchise in New York in 1903. By then, the AL had concluded another profitable season. With more NL players joining AL ranks, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics landed the 1902 AL pennant by beating the Browns by 5 games.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

In the fall of 1902, with most war-weary NL owners favoring a return to the dual major league structure, the NL sued for peace with the AL. Early in 1903 Johnson and Comiskey met with Pulliam and Cincinnati owner August “Garry” Herrmann and negotiated the National Agreement of 1903. Under its terms, the NL and AL would operate as separate but equal major leagues, bound by common playing rules, harmonized playing schedules, and mutually recognized territories and player contracts. The player contract accord restored the reserve clause and ended the AL’s roster raids. The agreement also allowed an AL franchise to be located in New York, which Johnson secured by moving the financially shaky Baltimore Orioles to Manhattan, where in time the team prospered as the New York Yankees. Among other points, the Agreement reclassified the minor leagues and set new rules for the drafting of minor league players. Indeed, in this era minor league baseball grew lustily, reaching an all-time peak in 1913, when 46 leagues started the season. But if the National Agreement stimulated the growth of organized baseball, it did little to empower major league players. Major league players were denied representation on the controlling National Commission , and over the years 1902-1913 two attempts by players to organize unions were beaten down. And if the National Agreement included no salary ceiling plank, the Agreement unequivocally embraced the reserve clause and asserted the right of the National Commission to control baseball “by its own decrees . . . enforcing them without the aid of law, and making it answerable to no power outside its own.”

The power to enforce these baseball laws came via a master stroke when the negotiators created a three-member National Commission charged with enforcing the National Agreement and keeping peace between the rival major leagues. As earlier demonstrated by the uneasy coexistence that marked the dual major league system of the 1880s, some such high-level executive and judicial body was needed to settle disputes between two independent and highly competitive major leagues. It was a challenge that the National Commission successfully met for seventeen years.

Heading the National Commission were league presidents Johnson and Pulliam and Cincinnati magnate Garry Herrmann, who served as the Commission’s permanent chairman. On the face of it, this gave the NL two votes, but Johnson and Herrmann were close friends.

August "Garry" Herrmann

August “Garry” Herrmann

Together they served during the lifetime of the National Commission, while four relatively weak presidents represented the NL, whose owners feared to empower any president. By contrast Johnson reigned as the most powerful president in major league history. As the AL’s entrenched “czar,” Johnson used his powers to safeguard his league against any NL treachery. In defending his league, Johnson personally held all AL franchise leases, ruled on ownership changes, fixed playing schedules, set basic admission prices, and imposed his standards on owners and players. Inevitably such powers incurred enmities among AL owners, but until the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, Johnson’s domination of the AL held firm.

Over the years 1903-1920, with Herrmann’s support, Johnson dominated the National Commission. In those years the Commission functioned as baseball’s Supreme Court, settling disputes between clubs (mostly involving rights to player services), supporting the interests of club owners, disciplining players, defending umpires, fending off Federal League interlopers, defusing a players’ union threat, and overseeing relations with the minor leagues. But the most important achievement of the National Commission was its profitable administration of the revived World Series. Initially revived in 1903, the World Series got off to a shaky start when the Giants refused to play the AL champion in 1904. But in 1905 the two leagues adopted a new World Series format that placed the conduct of the classic under the control of the National Commission. With 10 percent of World Series revenues set aside for financing National Commission activities, the Commission faced a stern test. By capable administration the Commission met the challenge and the annual World Series became a profitable and permanent part of each major league season. By 1910 profits from World Series games had increased tenfold over those of 1905. But the Commission was responsible for any World Series chicanery; thus the rigged World Series of 1919 precipitated the downfall of the National Commission.

Part 4 tomorrow.


David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 2

William A. Hulbert

William A. Hulbert

This is the second installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced yesterday at:

The First Stable League: The National League

President William A. Hulbert of the Chicago White Stockings was the driving force behind the coup that dethroned the National Association. Determined to field a strong team in Chicago, Hulbert in 1875 signed Boston pitcher Al Spalding to play with Chicago the following season, along with three other Boston stars: Ross Barnes, Jim White, and Cal McVey. Hulbert also signed Adrian Anson of the Athletics, who later became Chicago’s longtime player-manager and the first major league hitter to notch over 3,000 hits.

Fearing possible reprisals from the player-run National Association, Hulbert moved to create a new league run by business-minded club investors. Backed by representatives from the St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati clubs, Hulbert met with representatives of several eastern clubs, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Hartford, in February 1876. Out of this meeting came the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.

The first permanent major league embraced Hulbert’s thirteen-point plan of organization. In keeping with its title, the league emphasized the interests of member clubs over those of the players. Admitted as members were well-financed, joint-stock company clubs, each of which paid annual dues of $100 which were used to finance the league administrative body’s handling of disputes, recordkeeping, and officiating fees. The latter expense went for a staff of umpires, each to be paid $5 a game.

The eight charter clubs of the new National League were aligned on an east-west basis, and each team was granted a monopoly over its territory. For the 1876 season, each team agreed to play each rival ten times, with expulsion from the league the penalty for failing to do so. Adopting a high moral stance, NL leaders ordered member clubs to ban gambling, liquor sales, and Sunday games, and to draw up tightly written contracts aimed at preventing players from “revolving.” For the players this was tough medicine, but with the strongest teams enrolled in the new league, there was little to do but submit. Indeed, the National Association never survived the NL coup and collapsed in 1876.

Spalding's New Ball for 1876, Clipper

Spalding’s New Ball for 1876, Clipper

As the “Father of the National League,” Hulbert presided over its fortunes from 1877 until his death in 1882. However, this most powerful of NL presidents to date owed much to his chief lieutenant, Al Spalding, who retired from the field to become the NL’s most powerful advocate and defender. As a reward for his loyal support, Spalding’s fledgling sporting goods company received the contract to supply the league’s balls and to publish its annual guidebook. Beginning in 1877, Chadwick became the perennial editor of the league’s official Spalding Guide.

Although its debut was auspicious, the NL’s first four campaigns were marred by flagging profits, a major scandal, and opposition from a strong rival in the International Association. In 1876 Spalding pitched and managed the Chicago White Stockings to a 52-14 record, topping their closest pursuer by six games.

Chicago Champions of 1876

Chicago Champions of 1876

Because of this runaway, attendance tailed off, prompting two teams, the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Mutuals, to forgo playing their final games in the west. For this breach of rules, Hulbert expelled the pair, thereby depriving the NL of franchises in the populous Philadelphia and New York areas until 1883. However, Hulbert made no effort to replace the two; hence only six teams took the field in 1877, the year the NL adopted a formal schedule of games. Spalding’s decision to quit pitching that year dashed Chicago’s hopes, but Louisville’s hopes ran high until late in the season, when Wright’s Boston Reds overtook them and won by seven games.

But revelations that gamblers had bribed four Louisville players to lose key games marred Boston’s victory. Faced with a major crisis, Hulbert responded by banishing the four players (Jim Devlin, George Hall, William Craver, and Al Nichols) for life. In the wake of the scandal, Louisville dropped from the league, followed by Hartford and St. Louis. To replace them, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Providence clubs joined the league.

Meanwhile the NL also faced strong competition from the rival International Association. A loose league of mostly cooperative (gate-receipt-sharing) teams, the International Association threat prompted NL leaders to form a “League Alliance” of independent teams. By paying fees of ten dollars a year, League Alliance teams won the right to play exhibitions with NL teams, and the NL also pledged to honor their territorial rights and player contracts.

The hard-pressed NL suffered another profitless season in 1878, with Boston winning a second pennant by four games over Cincinnati. Still challenged by the International Association, the NL retaliated by raiding the circuit’s teams and playing rosters. Over the winter of 1878-1879, Syracuse and Buffalo were persuaded to quit the Association for memberships in the NL, while Milwaukee and Indianapolis were dropped from the NL. Troy and Cleveland were also admitted to bring the number of NL teams back to its original eight.

Such tactics undermined the International Association, which fielded an enfeebled minor league called the National Association in 1879.

1879 Providence Grays

1879 Providence Grays

In returning to an eight-team format in 1879, NL teams imposed rigid austerity measures. Among them, salaries were slashed and players compelled to buy their own uniforms and share the costs of meals. Moreover, player mobility was limited by the adherence to a reserve clause in player contracts. Limited to five players per team in 1879, by 1883 the reserve system was applied to most player contracts.

Thereafter the reserve clause became a major bone of contention between owners and players. Meanwhile Providence won the 1879 pennant race; managed by George Wright and paced by John M. Ward’s pitching, the Providence Grays won by 5 games over Wright’s Boston Reds.

NL Campaigns of the 1880s

As the sole major league in 1880, the NL saw its fortunes rise with those of the Chicago dynasty. Winners of three consecutive pennants over the years 1880-1882, the Chicago team was led by player-manager Cap Anson, a popular hero and the leading hitter of the nineteenth century. Fielding a nucleus of stars, including colorful Mike “King” Kelly, pitchers Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith, and catcher Frank “Silver” Flint, Chicago topped Providence by 15 games in 1880, by nine games in 1881, and by three games in 1882. In an unofficial postseason encounter with the rival American Association’s Cincinnati champs, the two teams split a pair of games before AA officials canceled this 1882 harbinger of the World Series.

1879 Chicago Team, Anson at top

1879 Chicago Team, Anson at top

The rise of the AA threatened the dominant NL, which was left leaderless by Hulbert’s death in 1882. At Spalding’s suggestion, A.G. Mills was elected president. That fall the NL strengthened its position by dropping Troy and Worcester and planting teams in New York and Philadelphia. The NL playing schedule was increased to 98 games.

In the hotly contested 1883 race, Boston ended Chicago’s reign by edging Anson’s team by four games. That fall Mills ended the AA war by negotiating the National Agreement of 1883, which conceded major league status to the rival AA. Under the agreement, the AA adopted the reserve clause, the two leagues ceased raiding each other’s players, and postseason World Series play between the two leagues was accepted. The agreement provided for major league control over lower levels of professional baseball by recognizing the territorial rights of minor league signatories.

With frequent changes, this National Agreement remained in force until the American Association war of 1891.

In 1884 the two major leagues faced competition from another major league aspirant. To combat this Union Association incursion, the NL and AA extended reserve coverage to all players and upped their playing schedules to 112 games. The surfeit of major league games contributed to lower attendance for all three embattled leagues, but the Union Association suffered more and was driven out. Least damaged was the NL, whose sprightly 1884 campaign saw pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn employ the new rule legalizing overhand pitching with telling effect. Radbourn won 60 games to lead Providence to 10.5-game victory over runner-up Boston. And in the first officially sanctioned World Series, Radbourn defeated the AA champion Mets in three straight games.

"$10,000 Beauty" Kelly

“$10,000 Beauty” Kelly

The following year Anson’s White Stockings regained the heights as they won the first of two consecutive pennants. With ace pitcher John Clarkson winning 53 games, Chicago held off the New York Giants by two games to land the 1885 NL pennant. The Giants’ surge owed to a piece of skullduggery by its owner. Having acquired a financial interest in the AA New York Mets, the Giants plucked ace pitcher Tim Keefe from them, and Keefe won 32 games for the Giants in 1885. Such trickery by the NL now had AA leaders wary of their rival, but in the World Series of 1885 AA prestige rose when the St. Louis Browns tied the powerful Chicagoans, and it soared further in 1886, when the Browns defeated Chicago in the $15,000 winner-take-all World Series of that year. The loss blighted Chicago’s gritty 2.5-game victory over Detroit in the 1886 NL campaign. Following the loss, Spalding sold King Kelly to Boston for $10,000. The sale electrified baseball fans, but it also signaled the end of the Chicago dynasty.

In the memorable 1887 campaign, Detroit won the pennant by 3.5 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. Wildly inflated batting averages resulted from rule changes that modified the third-strike rule and scored bases on balls as hits. Detroit feasted under the new rules as Sam Thompson and the “big four” of Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Hardy Richardson, and Jim White keyed a league-leading .343 (.299 when adjusted for that year’s counting of walks as hits) team batting average. In World Series play, Detroit thrashed the Browns, winning ten of the fifteen games. That fall the rules committee scuttled the average-inflating rules and the NL increased its playing schedule to 132 games.

1887 World Series Program with Detroit

1887 World Series Program

As Detroit faded, the New York Giants captured the next two NL pennants. Managed by Jim Mutrie and captained by John Ward, the well-balanced Giants defeated Chicago by 9 games and humbled the Browns in the 1888 World Series. The following year the Giants repeated, edging Boston by a single game and then trouncing the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in the World Series.

The profitable 1889 season marked the passing of the first golden age in major baseball history. Over the next two seasons the NL fought two costly interleague wars that overshadowed the pennant races. In 1890, as the NL battled the serious challenge of the Players League, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who were enticed to jump the AA for the NL, won by 6.5 games over Anson’s Chicago Colts. And in 1891, as the NL battled the AA, manager Frank Selee’s Boston Beaneaters defeated Chicago by 3.5 games. By then the interleague wars had ended with the NL the victor in both frays. Thus as the 1892 season dawned, the NL once again reigned supreme over major league baseball.

Major League Baseball’s Golden Age: 1880-1889

As the decade of the 1880s dawned, major league baseball was only a pale reflection of the enormously popular spectacle that it would soon become. In 1880 the NL reigned supreme, but the league’s financial performance was dismal. Thus far no NL club had matched the profits of Wright’s 1875 Boston Reds, player salaries barely exceeded those of the 1869 Cincinnati Reds, annual membership changes underscored the league’s instability, and the NL was unrepresented in the populous New York and Philadelphia areas.

At this point, however, a powerful stimulus came from the nation’s booming economic and urban growth, and professional baseball expanded vigorously. The first to prosper was the NL, but its rising fortunes inspired rivals like the American Association (AA), which was recognized as a major league under the 1883 National Agreement. The following year another rival, the Union Association, vied for major league status, but the NL and AA joined forces to crush the pretender and maintain the dual major league system. The dual major league system lasted from 1883 to 1891, when it was replaced by a single major league. But in its heyday the dual major league system, with its annual World Series competition between the two leagues, proved to be popular and profitable. By 1889 leading clubs from both circuits counted annual profits of over $100,000.

While most of the profits went to club owners, player salaries increased, averaging $2,000 a season, with a few stars getting as much as $5,000. Such gains by players were modest enough, but club owners still sought to limit player salaries. In opposing salary ceilings, players banded together under the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, which also opposed the unwritten reserve clause, unreasonable fines, and the sale of players from one club to another. In this decade the NL’s Chicago team received $10,000 apiece from the sale of “King” Kelly and John Clarkson to the Boston club.

1886 The Sporting News First Issue

1886 The Sporting News First Issue

The prosperity of the major league game was further evidenced by the expanded seasonal playing schedule. From 84 games a season in 1880 the NL increased its schedule to 132 games by 1889, while the AA upped its seasonal schedule to 140 games in 1889. To accommodate growing numbers of fans, including the 2 million who attended major league games in 1889, clubs erected new wooden parks with double-decked stands. To serve them, concessionaire Harry M. Stevens introduced the now classic baseball lunch of hot dogs, soda pop, and peanuts. And to sate the public’s hunger for baseball news, daily newspapers expanded their coverage of games, and two weekly journals devoted to baseball, Sporting Life and The Sporting News, sprang to vigorous life in this decade. Moreover, at the peak of baseball’s popularity, Spalding dispatched, in 1888-1889, two major league squads on a world tour in hopes of spreading the American game to other lands.

If Spalding’s mission fell short of its goal abroad, at home the professional game was spreading to all corners of the land. In 1889 some 15 minor leagues were operating. Under the National Agreement of 1883, and its subsequent revisions, minor leagues were recognized as a part of organized baseball. Territorial rights and player rosters of such teams were protected by the major leagues.

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

But black players and teams were increasingly excluded from organized baseball. In the past, gentlemen’s agreements barred black teams from the amateur National Association and the professional National Association. At this time a few blacks played briefly in the major AA and in some minor leagues, but the presence of the segregated Negro league in Pennsylvania, in 1889, plus the existence of all-black independent professional teams, signaled the trend toward segregation of black players from organized baseball. Not until 1946 would the color barrier be lifted.

In this dynamic golden age, professional baseball’s maturation as a field sport was speeded by a rash of rule changes. In 1881 the pitching distance was extended to fifty feet; in 1884 overhand pitching was legalized; in 1887 a uniform strike zone was established; in 1888 the three-strikes rule and in 1889 the four-balls rule were permanently adopted. These and other changes in playing rules resulted from pragmatic experiments by major league rules committees, whose constant tinkerings kept the game in a state of flux. Some short-lived changes, like the 1887 rule scoring bases on balls as hits and employing a modified four-strike rule, aimed at correcting the pitching-batting imbalance. But these quixotic rules inflated batting averages and produced sixteen .400 hitters before they were discarded at the close of the 1887 season.

Rival Leagues of the 1880s: AA and UA

The NL’s most formidable nineteenth-century rival, the American Association of Base Ball Clubs, was organized by promoters who opposed the NL’s monopoly. In wooing prospective clubs, the AA promoters saw an opportunity: New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis were good baseball cities that were not represented in the league. They also established a basic 25 cent admission price and allowed member clubs the option of selling booze and playing Sunday games. To entice good players, the AA promoters rejected the NL’s reserve clause; and to ensure orderly play, a salaried corps of umpires was hired, an innovation soon imitated by the NL.

In its maiden season of 1882, the AA’s six teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Baltimore) prospered.

All six finished the season, with Cincinnati winning the pennant by 11.5 games over Philadelphia. Emergent stars of the AA included pitcher Will White and second baseman Bid McPhee of Cincinnati, first baseman Charles Comiskey of St. Louis, and outfielder Pete Browning and pitcher Tony Mullane of Louisville among the contenders.

Cincinnati 1882, with each position on the field marked by its own jersey

Cincinnati 1882, with each position on the field marked by its own jersey

In 1883 the AA expanded to eight clubs by adding Columbus and the New York Mets. By opposing the NL’s reserve clause, the AA lured a number of disgruntled NL players into its ranks. Thus strengthened, the AA staged another profitable campaign, which saw the Philadelphia Athletics edge the St. Louis Browns by a single game.

The AA’s sprightly season prompted the NL to accommodate its rival. That fall NL president Mills and AA president Denny McKnight negotiated the National Agreement of 1883, which recognized the AA as a major league and instituted World Series play between the two leagues. For its part, the AA adopted the reserve clause.

The agreement between the NL and AA was barely concluded when a new league made a bid for major league recognition. The rival Union Association of Base Ball Clubs was organized in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1883. To entice players from the established majors, the UA leaders proclaimed their opposition to the reserve clause. A few major league players jumped to the new league, but most remained with the clubs out of fear of blacklisting, or in some cases because they were bought off by salary increases.

Trade card promoting UA

Trade card promoting UA

With mostly unknown players in their ranks, the eight-team UA commenced playing a 128-game schedule in 1884. From the start the league suffered from unbalanced funding and talent distribution. The UA’s principal backer, Henry V. Lucas, poured most of his money into his St. Louis Maroons, a team which won its first twenty-one games and made a shambles of the pennant race. Plagued by financial losses, only five charter teams survived the campaign. Nevertheless, the UA drained attendance from the established majors–especially the AA, which unwisely expanded to counter the threat. In the fall of 1884, the UA folded when Lucas accepted an offer to enroll his St. Louis Maroons in the NL.

The collapse of the UA left the dual major league system intact, but relations between the NL and AA were strained. AA leaders accused their NL allies of duplicity for persuading the AA to expand to twelve teams to counter the UA’s incursion. As a result the AA suffered heavier financial losses in its 1884 campaign, which the New York Mets won by 6.5 games over Columbus. The Mets’ victory was soured by their loss to Providence in the first officially sanctioned World Series. But even more damaging to the AA was the revelation the Mets had come under the ownership of the NL New York Giants.

Moreover, AA suspicions of NL duplicity were heightened by the UA peace settlement which brought the St. Louis Maroons into the NL, where they competed directly with the AA’s St. Louis Browns. As it turned out, the Maroons were no match for the Browns, whose profitable formula of cheap baseball, liquor sales, sideshows, Sunday games, and winning baseball was making a folk hero of the Browns’ colorful president, Chris Von der Ahe. Beginning in 1885, player-manager Charles Comiskey led his team to four consecutive AA pennants. In 1885 the Browns won by 16 games over Cincinnati; in 1886, by 12 over Pittsburgh; in 1887, by 14 over Cincinnati; and in 1888, by 6.5 over a beefed-up Brooklyn team. Star players like infielder Arlie Latham, outfielder Tip O’Neill, and pitchers Dave Foutz and Bob Caruthers paced the Browns to the first three pennants.

Then, when Von der Ahe sold Foutz and Caruthers to Brooklyn in 1888, Comiskey came up with pitcher Silver King, whose 45 victories helped land a fourth consecutive pennant. In World Series play the Browns tied Chicago in 1885 and defeated Anson’s team in 1886. But the team was drubbed by Detroit in 1887 and by the Giants in 1888.

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet card by Guerin.

1888 St. Louis Browns, cabinet card by Guerin.

Bitter rivalry between the Browns and Brooklyn Bridegrooms dominated the 1889 race, which ended with the Bridegrooms on top of the Browns by 2 games. But the Bridegrooms lost to the Giants in World Series play. Over the winter the St. Louis and Brooklyn factions battled over the choice of a new AA president, and in the stormy aftermath Brooklyn and Cincinnati joined the National League. The loss of these clubs, together with the loss of key players to the newly organized Players’ League, crippled the AA. Forced to field weak teams in 1890, the AA ran a poor third to the NL and the Players’ League. The AA’s dismal race was won by Louisville, which only the year before had finished dead last in the AA with a 27-111 record.

Part 3 tomorrow.

David Voigt’s History of Baseball

David Q. Voigt

David Q. Voigt

My old friend and illustrious colleague David Quentin Voigt died on January 16 at the age of 89. I asked him to create for the first edition of Total Baseball (1989) a section on the history of baseball for they who must run as they read; he provided an overview that was remarkably erudite and entertaining. I will serialize it over the coming days. On April 24, 1999, Albright College staged a symposium to honor Emeritus Professor Voigt, with two panel discussions in the morning followed by a baseball game between the Reading Phillies and the Erie Angels at Reading Memorial Stadium. With authors Lee Lowenfish, John Bloom, and Jules Tygiel, I served on a a panel discussing the then current state of baseball. I can recall David enjoying my remark that nostalgia was curdled history, that in baseball the real story was better. Here David Voigt tells it as it was.


Deeply embedded in the folklore of American sports is the story of baseball’s supposed invention by a young West Point cadet, Abner Doubleday, in the summer of 1839 at the village of Cooperstown, New York. The yarn originated in 1907, in the final report of a committee commissioned by major league executives to inquire into the origins of “America’s National Game.”

The claim that the game was invented by the late Doubleday, who also won enduring fame as a Union general in the Civil War, was based on the dubious testimony of Abner Graves, a retired mining engineer. Indeed, Graves claimed to have actually witnessed the long-ago event. The Graves account appealed to committeeman Albert G. Spalding, a former star player and club owner, and concurrently a famous sporting goods tycoon and a fervently patriotic American.

He persuaded his colleagues to accept the Doubleday invention account without further ado. With the release of the final version of the committee’s report, the legend of baseball’s immaculate conception began to worm its way into American mythology. Ever since then, sports historians have repeatedly and futilely assailed the Doubleday account, arguing that Abner Doubleday never visited Cooperstown in 1839, that his diaries contain no reference to the game, and that the form of baseball he supposedly invented far too closely resembled the game as it was played in the early 1900s.

Indeed, sports historians have marshaled impressive evidence showing that American baseball, far from being an independent invention, evolved out of various ball-and-stick games that had been played in many areas of the world since the beginnings of recorded history. Among many suggested precursors of baseball, a Russian ball-and-stick game called lapta was recently advanced by propagandists in the last years of the Soviet empire. But in early America, precursors of baseball included informal games of English origin such as paddleball, trap ball, one-old-cat, rounders, and town ball. The latter was a popular game in colonial New England and was played by adults and children with a bat and ball on an open field.

From Robin Carver's Book of Sports, 1834

From Robin Carver’s Book of Sports, 1834

Moreover, printed references to “base ball” in America date back to the eighteenth century. Among these accounts is one of Albigence Waldo, a surgeon with Washington’s troops at Valley Forge who poetically told of soldiers batting balls and running bases in their free time. And in the early 1820s, the grandfather of the late novelist Samuel Hopkins Adams vividly recalled playing “base ball” on Mr. Mumford’s pasture lot. Similarly in 1834 Robin Carver’s Book of Sports related that an American version of rounders called “base” or “goal ball” was rivaling cricket in popularity among Americans. Indeed, cricket played a role in the evolution of organized baseball. From this British game came umpires and innings, and early baseball writers like Henry Chadwick used cricket terminology such as “batsman,” “playing for the side,” and “excellent field” in describing early baseball games.

Likewise, the pioneer baseball innovator Harry Wright, a cricket professional turned baseball manager, drew heavily on his cricket background in promoting baseball as a professional team sport in the United States.

As an evolutionary blend of informal bat-and-ball games and the formal game of cricket, baseball needed no virgin birth to become a popular American field sport. By the 1840s various forms of baseball vied for acceptance, including the popular Massachusetts and New York versions of the game. The Massachusetts game utilized an irregular four-sided field of play, with the four bases located at fixed, asymmetrical distances from each other and the “striker’s,” or batter’s position away from the home base. “Scouts,” or fielders, put men out by fielding a batted ball on the fly or on the first bounce, or by hitting a runner with a thrown ball. But this lively version of the game was overshadowed in the late 1840s by the “New York game,” a popular version of which was devised by the members of the New York Knickerbocker Club.

Knickebockers' First Recorded Game, at Hoboken, October 6, 1845

Knickebockers’ First Recorded Game, at Hoboken, October 6, 1845

Organized in 1845 by a band of aspiring gentlemen and baseball enthusiasts, the Knickerbocker version was devised by one of their members, Alexander J. Cartwright. Cartwright prescribed a diamond-shaped infield with bases at ninety feet apart, a standard which has stood the test of time. The pitching distance was set at forty-five feet from the home base, and a pitcher was required to “pitch” a ball in a stiff-armed, underhanded fashion. The three-strikes-are-out rule was adopted, and a batter could also be put out by a fielder catching a batted ball in the air, or on the first bounce, or by throwing a fielded ball to the first baseman before the runner arrived. Other innovations included the nine-man team and three outs ending a team’s batting in their half of an inning. Thus Cartwright’s version of baseball became the basis of the game as presently played. Over the years, other innovations were added, including the nine-inning standard for games, changes in the pitching distance, and so on.

Once it was published and propagated by the Knickerbockers, the “New York game” was speedily adopted by other baseball clubs that sprang up in the New York City area and in other towns and cities of antebellum America. In the 1850s the rise of baseball clubs and team competition helped to meet the recreational needs of Americans who were caught up in an increasingly urban and industrial society. By the 1860s one of every six Americans lived in towns or cities, and by then newspapers were covering games and noting the booming popularity of baseball.

Mostly a northern and midwestern phenomenon, baseball fever ran highest in the New York City area, where in the 1850s games were being played “on every available green plot within a ten-mile circuit of the city.” Spearheading the baseball boom were formally organized clubs with officers, clubhouses and playing grounds. Among the many clubs, the Knickerbockers sought to rule the game by posing as arbiters of play, rules, and decorum. Since no leagues or playing schedules existed, formal games in the 1850s were arranged by correspondence between club secretaries. The lordly Knickerbockers resisted such overtures, preferring to play among themselves, yet insisting on their preeminence over all other clubs.

But the dynamic American game was not to be bound by gentlemanly monopolists or by arbitrary codes of amateurism. By the end of the 1850s, victories and the prospect of gate receipts were becoming more important factors. As more clubs embraced these goals, greater emphasis was placed on obtaining good players at whatever affronts to amateur standards.

In 1858 the Knickerbockers were dethroned as would-be overlords of baseball by the newly organized National Association of Base Ball Players. That year, representatives of twenty-five clubs formed the Association for the ostensible purpose of codifying rules and establishing guidelines for organized clubs and team competition. But the Association speedily established itself as the new arbiter of the game. Among its early rulings were the establishment of a pitcher’s box and the standardization of the nine-inning game. The Association also approved the practice of charging paid admissions at games and that year saw 1,500 spectators pay 50 each to watch a game played between Brooklyn and New York “all-star” teams. Although the Association established no league or formal playing schedules, its authority was accepted and it lasted until 1871, when it was replaced by a lame organization called the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players, to differentiate it from the newly founded National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.

Meanwhile, by 1860 some sixty clubs had joined the first National Association; mostly they came from the East and Midwest, but a sprinkling of college teams was included. By then, the mounting hostilities between the North and South account for the absence of southern clubs.

Union Prisoners at Salisbury, NC

Union Prisoners at Salisbury, NC

American baseball’s popularity was at high tide when the Civil War broke out, but the South was excluded from major league baseball competition for many years. Indeed, one of the smaller legacies of the war between the states was major league baseball’s east-west alignment of its franchises. And yet the war, which claimed 600,000 American lives, also popularized the game in all sections of the country, as soldiers in both armies played the game in camps and in prison compounds. This infusion of interest in the game set the stage for an even greater baseball boom which swept the North in the immediate postwar era.

Meanwhile, as the war raged toward its conclusion, baseball’s popularity diminished for a time on the northern home front. Still, strong teams like the Brooklyn Excelsiors, the Brooklyn Eckfords, and the Brooklyn Atlantics delighted fans by their spirited competition.

At the time, pitcher Jim Creighton of the Excelsiors became a popular hero by leading his team on a victorious eastern tour in 1860. In 1862 and 1863 the Eckfords laid claim to being America’s best team, and the Brooklyn Atlantics, led by Dickey Pearce, boasted consecutive unbeaten seasons in 1864 and 1865.

The game’s popularity among returning soldiers helped to inspire a major baseball boom in post-Civil War America. By 1865 the game was widely touted as America’s “national game,” and its growing popularity was evidenced by the proliferation of organized clubs. In 1865, ninety-one clubs had joined the Association; the following year membership swelled to nearly two hundred; and 1867 saw more than three hundred clubs enrolled, including more than a hundred from midwestern towns and cities. At their own expense, the powerful Washington Nationals embarked on an unprecedented midwestern tour in 1867; they were beaten in one game by the previously unheralded Rockford (Illinois) Forest City nine.Washington National Invitation_a

Although the Nationals’ tour suggested that some type of organized competition was needed, it failed to produce such reforms as an organized league or a fixed playing schedule. However, editor Frank Queen of the New York Clipper, a popular sporting journal, hit upon the idea of giving gold awards annually to the best team and the nine best players. But such judgments were arbitrary and inadequate. Meanwhile, the style of play continued to improve in the late 1860s. Pitchers became more than passive servers as one of them, Arthur “Candy” Cummings, popularized a wrist-twisting, curved-ball delivery. Moreover, fielders became more mobile, baserunners took to sliding to avoid fielders’ tags, and a rule change outlawed the one-bounce-and-out catch.

But baseball’s dynamic postwar growth also confronted the shaky National Association with vexing problems. Rampant commercialism was one of them. As more clubs charged admission to games, many took to dividing receipts among the players. This trend swelled the ranks of “professional” players, whose presence posed a serious threat to the Association’s amateur code. In 1863 Association leaders debated the problem, but vacillated by grudgingly allowing professionals to retain their memberships.

The following year the Association defined a professional player as one who “plays base ball for money, place, or emolument.” The definition embraced many players, some of whom drew straight salaries, or shared gate receipts, or occupied jobs that were awarded as a subterfuge to conceal their ball-playing activities. What’s more, some of the professionals were jumping their contracts for better offers from other clubs. Dubbed “revolvers,” they posed a major threat to the shaky authority of the National Association.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1869 

By the late 1860s baseball was becoming more of a business, and playing competitive baseball was becoming a recognized career. As baseball writer Henry Chadwick observed in 1868, a new rank ordering among ball players was evidenced by the makeup of the Brooklyn Atlantics club. At the top was the club’s elite professional team, followed by the club’s amateur nine, with the lowly “muffins,” or third-rate players, at the bottom. As baseball clubs came to be dominated by professional interests, some clubs financed their operations by selling stock shares and becoming joint stock companies, while others, which depended on shared gate receipts, operated as “cooperative nines.”

Until 1869 the professional movement in baseball was mainly a covert trend, but in that year the Cincinnati Red Stocking club boldly announced its intention of fielding an all-salaried team which would compete against the top teams in the land. This forthright move was the brainchild of club president Aaron B. Champion, a Cincinnati businessman and local booster.

The Reds were not the first professional team, nor the first all-salaried team, nor the first team to go undefeated over a season. But as the first openly announced all-salaried team, the Reds, led by player-manager Harry Wright, who became known as the “Father of Professional Baseball,” toured the country in 1869, winning some 60 games without a loss. The following year, the well-drilled Reds won another 24 before losing in June to the host Brooklyn Atlantics by an 8-7 score in eleven innings.

Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869

Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869

Although the Reds’ effort was financially unremunerative to its stockholders, who voted to return to amateur play after the 1870 season, the experiment inspired an enduring myth that professional baseball in America arose out of this episode. In truth the professional movement was already strongly entrenched. But the Reds’ example inspired imitators and brought the smouldering amateur-professional controversy to a head.

Thus when the National Association, at its annual meeting in 1870, sought to curb the professional movement, the professional delegates withdrew and formed their own organization in March 1871. This successful coup stunned the amateur National Association, which never recovered and died in 1874. It also marked the beginning of major league baseball in America. From 1871 to the present day, most changes in American baseball rules and style of play would be inspired by the professional major leagues.

The First Major League: The National Association, 1871-1875

America’s first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, was also the first major league. In its ranks were the strongest teams and the best players. The players controlled the league and enjoyed full freedom of contract and movement. Financial support came to those clubs whose stockholders or investors derived more prestige than monetary rewards from their sponsorship. And in this artist-patron relationship, player salaries had a higher priority than investor profits.

The National Association was created by a single evening’s work on March 17, 1871. Structurally the league resembled the old amateur National Association, whose constitution was modified to serve professional interests and whose playing rules were adopted. Admission to the professional league required the payment of a ten-dollar entry fee, in stark contrast to the multimillion-dollar price tag now placed on a major league franchise. Like its predecessor, the professional National Association lacked a fixed schedule of games; each team was expected to play each rival five times in a season, with playing dates to be arranged by secretarial correspondence. The championship pennant was awarded to the team with the most victories, and a championship committee was empowered to rule on any disputed claims.

Although the National Association dominated organized baseball in 1871-1875, its structural defects portended its coming demise.

Collier's Saloon (right) where NA formed March 17, 1871.

Collier’s Saloon (right) where National Association formed on March 17, 1871.

The player-run organization wielded little control over players or teams. The easy admission policy made for a chronic dropout problem as disenchanted teams found it easy to turn their backs on ten dollars. Because of the absence of a fixed playing schedule, few contending teams played their required quota of games. Disputes over officiating stemmed from a reliance on volunteer umpires. Teams also quarreled over ticket pricing and the division of gate receipts. Indeed, most teams lost money, and such losses fueled the tension between players and investors. Critics accused the player-controlled league of failing to discipline players, especially the contract jumpers, drunkards, and alleged game fixers. Unresolved problems like these sowed the seeds of the league’s eventual collapse, but while it lasted, the National Association also provided spectators with a sprightly brand of baseball.

Campaigns of the National Association

The Association’s 1871 campaign featured an exciting three-way battle between the Chicago White Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, and Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings. The Chicago team, which was housed in a new 7,000-seat wooden park and which boasted a $4,500 salaried star among its players, set a fast pace until the city’s tragic fire destroyed the park. Forced to play their remaining games on the road, the White Stockings finished third and dropped out of the league until 1874. At the season’s end, the Athletics and Red Stockings each had won 22 games, but the championship committee awarded the pennant to the Athletics, who had fewer losses.

Harry Wright’s plea that his Boston Reds had come closer to meeting their scheduled obligations was disallowed. Thus in spite of continuing controversy and a devastating fire, the National Association enjoyed an auspicious debut.

Most clubs profited, and only one dropped out of the race. At the Association’s annual meeting, the professionals tightened their hold on the league by electing one of their own, Bob Ferguson of the Brooklyn Atlantics, to serve as president.

George Wright, by Warren

George Wright, by Warren

Eleven clubs entered the lists for the 1872 campaign, but hopes for a wide-open race were crushed by Harry Wright’s powerful Boston team, which rolled to the championship on a 39-8 record. Stocked with stars like pitcher Al Spalding, infielder Ross Barnes (whose bunting prowess permitted him to take maximum advantage of the then-prevailing fair-foul hitting rule), and shortstop George Wright, the Red Stockings won the first of four consecutive pennants. They were the first of many powerful major league dynasties to come, a phenomenon which, over the course of major league baseball history, consistently made a mockery of the idea of competitive balance.

With nine teams competing in 1873, the Reds won a second pennant by staging a late-season drive to overtake the front-running Philadelphia “Phillies,” or “Whites.” Two Boston newcomers, catcher Jim White and outfielder Jim O’Rourke, contributed to the Reds’ 43-16 winning gait. Although overall league revenues were disappointing, only one club dropped from contention during the course of the season.

In 1874, Wright’s Reds posted a 52-18 record, to lap the New York Mutuals by 7.5 games. That year Wright’s team was the only one to play its full schedule of games, an impressive feat considering that Wright’s team, in company with the Philadelphia Athletics, embarked upon a six-week baseball tour of Britain in hopes of persuading English sportsmen to adopt America’s “national game.” Like this first baseball mission, the Association’s 1874 season was a financial bust.

Although only one club dropped out of the race, accusations of gambling and fixed games clouded the league’s reputation.

The 1875 season was the last campaign of the National Association. Thirteen teams entered the fray, but Boston’s juggernaut, headed by Spalding, Barnes, O’Rourke, White, and George Wright, buried all rivals. With four Boston men topping the league’s hitters, the Reds posted a 71-8 record to finish 15 games up on their nearest pursuers. Of the thirteen contenders, seven failed to finish the 1875 season.

Now in full disarray, the sullied National Association reeled under problems of competitive imbalance, financial losses, and excessive player freedom. The time was ripe for a reformist coup, and a new breed of club directors, headed by William A. Hulbert of the Chicago White Stockings, moved to raise a rival major league that would better serve the interests of the club owners.

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

But the pioneering National Association was by no means a failure. For all its weaknesses, the Association had popularized professional baseball. Supporters like Henry Chadwick, the innovative sportswriter who now wore the title of “Father of Base Ball,” publicized the league by his coverage of games and by his statistics-laden guidebooks. Chadwick’s game coverage provided detailed accounts of games with box scores, including a lasting version which he devised in 1876. Such coverage enhanced the game’s popularity and inspired widespread coverage by leading newspapers. Chadwick also served on the Association’s rules committee, which approved a pitching change that allowed the underhanded pitchers to utilize wrist-snapping curveballs. But Chadwick’s quixotic proposal to make baseball a ten-man game failed.

The Association’s most solid innovator was Harry Wright, who set high standards for professional promotion. Wright’s Boston payroll was baseball’s highest until the early 1880s. As Boston’s manager, Wright presided over a $35,000 annual budget and dealt creatively with such problems as proper groundskeeping, equipment design and procurement, advertising, and the recruiting and training of players. Wright’s mastery paid off in his team’s astonishing success. He was honored in these years as the “Father of Professional Base Ball,” and his envious colleagues also referred to the National Association as “Harry Wright’s League.”

Part 2 tomorrow.

The Shoeless One

Boston Red Sox logo_aStop me if you’ve heard this one before. The newspaper account reported that he “found the shoes lent him were too irritating and he deliberately took them off after the first inning,” playing the “last eight innings in his stocking feet.” But the phenom in question was not Joe Jackson (or Joe Hardy, of Damn Yankees) but instead Michael Joseph Landmann, whose shoelessness was the least startling thing about his professional baseball debut.

You are not likely to have heard of Shoeless Mike for he never cracked a big-league box score. But all he did in this first game in Organized Baseball was to toss a no-hitter, a feat never accomplished before and, to my knowledge, only once since. [See bracketed comment below.] The New York Tribune reported, on the day after the contest of August 30, 1888:

The game at Oakland Park, Jersey City, yesterday was remarkable for the discovery of an apparently genuine baseball phenomenon, in the shape of a big-raw boned individual who … is about twenty years old, six feet high and carries around a pair of genuine Chicago feet. This young man was full of baseball ambition, and he hunted up manager [Pat] Powers and said he wanted to pitch for the Jersey City club [in the Central League]. Manager Powers thought his visitor a “crank,” but told him to put on a uniform and he would see what was in him.

The stranger did so well that Powers told him to get ready and he would pitch him against the Allentown team later in the afternoon. When the game started, Landmann, the phenomenon, was put in to pitch, although Manager Powers had seen him but two hours before. Landmann’s first appearance was a remarkable one. Not a base hit was made against his curves, and his opponents did not score a run. In fact, the Allentown players succeeded in getting but two balls past the infield, and both of these were easily caught by [left fielder Pat] Friel.

1888 Jersey City Ball Club

1888 Jersey City Ball Club

More information may be gleaned from other accounts of this game, and from the box score. Landmann’s Jersey City Skeeters won by 3-0 over the Allentown Peanuts, before some 200 spectators. Rival pitcher Harry Zell allowed only one earned run and seven hits, two of them by Landmann himself. The barefoot neophyte struck out three, walked one, and hit another: Frank “Piggy” Ward, who would play many years in baseball, six of them in the majors. The Jersey Journal reported:

In the fifth inning Ward, unable to hit Landmann, tried the baby act of holding his bat to be struck by the ball. “Chick” [Hofford, the catcher] put on the mask and concluded to spoil his game. A ball from the pitcher struck Ward on the head and he managed to get his base, where he was left.

The game account in the New York Evening Sun told us more about Landmann and his amateur or semipro experience in Brooklyn.

NY Tribune box score of Landmann's debut game

NY Tribune box score of Landmann’s debut game

Mr. Landmann was hampered in the first inning by shoes which cramped his well-developed toes. Taking his penknife from his pocket he ruthlessly cut the leather, but this afforded him little relief, as the jagged leather cut his toes cruelly.

Impatient of this annoyance he removed his shoes and threw them far beyond first base. Then unhampered and unrestrained, he sent the outshoot, the inshoot, the up-curve, the down-curve at those Allentown chaps and they sought for the ball in vain.

He swept through the lineup “as a scythe cuts a hay field.” (Why don’t they write like this today?) For some time the six-foot, 185-pounder—“forty inches around the chest and his legs are like the cedars of Lebanon”—had been connected with amateur clubs in Brooklyn. He had recently starred with the Park Baseball Club: in a game against the Cypress Club he had struck out eighteen men in the first six innings.

Romping quickly past fact and into hooey, the Sun reporter declared that Landmann wore a modest suit of blue flannel, topped by a dilapidated derby. He did not drink, except for an occasional glass of beer—his favorite drink being soda water. “He says this keeps his nerves steady.”

No records survive for the Central League of 1888, though it was written in mid-October that Landsmann had won all of his games. In addition to Jersey City, four of the Central League’s other clubs had played in the International League in the momentous season of 1887, when the color line was drawn: Binghamton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Newark. The last named club featured pitcher George Stovey and catcher Fleet Walker, who famously and profanely were ordered from the field before an exhibition contest against Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings.

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

Fleet Walker (Helmar)

On the same day that Anson succeeded in removing the “colored battery,” the directors of the International League met in Buffalo to transfer the ailing Utica fran­chise to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It must have pleased Anson to read in the next day’s Newark Daily Journal:

THE COLOR LINE DRAWN IN BASEBALL. The International League directors held a secret meeting at the Genesee House yesterday, and the question of colored players was freely discussed. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve of no more contracts with colored men. 

After the 1887 campaign Skeeters owner John B. Day, who also owned the New York Giants of the National League, transferred the Jersey City club to the Central League, declaring to the New York Times that he would “run it as a reserve for the New-York club,” i.e. as a farm team. “He thinks that the only way to secure a club in a minor league and develop young men.”

This intent would explain a brief notice spotted in the New York Herald on September 22, 1888: “Pitcher Landman [sic; both spellings are common], of Jersey City, may play with New York next season.”

Pat Powers

Pat Powers

He did not, however, instead returning to pitch for Jersey City until July 27, 1889, when the franchise, relocated to the Atlantic Association, blew up. Pat Powers returned to the International League, finding a job as manager of the Rochester club.  The Jersey City players were sold piecemeal, and Landmann returned to Brooklyn, where he pitched for the Brooklyn Ls (the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad team of 1889, which played at Dexter Park). On August 12 the Brooklyn Eagle placed outcasts Landmann and Stovey on the same playing field:

On Wednesday the Brooklyn L Base Ball Club will cross bats with the (colored) All Americans at the Brooklyn Athletic Association Grounds. The L boys are going to do their utmost to win and will have Landmann and Healey in the points against Stovey and Collins for the All Americans.

In the next year Landmann was at liberty once more. From the Eagle of January 5, 1890: “Michael Landman, the ex-Jersey City pitcher, is now open for an engagement. His address is 105 Central avenue.” He landed with the Greenpoint Athletics, but any pitching exploits thereafter are lost in the sands of time.

Michael Joseph Landmann, virtually unknown to baseball fans until now, was born in Brooklyn on November 7, 1867, and died there of myocarditis on January 28, 1920. In between he married Lizzie Delany [Delaney] on December 24, 1891, and divorced her in December 1897, winning custody of their son. Landmann was married again, to the former Ernestine Heisinger. Landmann had been a Brooklyn policeman.

Michael Landmann, NYPD

Michael Landmann, NYPD

Where does his no-hit debut fit into baseball history? Attempts to document equivalent firsts might include Pud Galvin’s perfect game (history’s first) of August 17, 1876 at a tournament in Ionia, Michigan. He pitched for the St. Louis Red Stockings, a professional club not admitted into the National League. But the eighteen-year-old Galvin had pitched to a 4-2 record for the same club when it was in the National Association of 1875, and his perfecto in 1876 was not his first start of that year.

Joe Borden, who in 1876 won the first game played in the National League, had thrown a no-hitter in 1875, but not in his first start. Lee Richmond, nominally an amateur pitcher for Brown University, threw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Chicago White Stockings in an exhibition game for which he had been invited to pitch for the minor-league club from Worcester, but he had moonlighted previously as a pro with the Rhode Islands of Providence in the League Alliance of 1877.

Myles Thomas

Myles Thomas

Bumpus Jones pitched a no-hitter in his first big-league game, on October 15, 1892, and like Landmann it was said of him that he was signed “off the sandlots”—but he had gone 24-3 for the Joliet club in the Illinois-Iowa League earlier that year, and had played for four professional clubs in two leagues in 1891.

Ted Breitenstein in 1891 and Bobo Holloman in 1953 pitched no-hitters in their first big-league starts but these were not their first big-league, let alone minor-league, games.

The only other pitcher besides Landmann whom I know to have tossed a no-hit game in his first professional game–though I know my readers will help me if I have missed any!–is Myles Thomas, a spot starter with the 1927 Yankees. Signed by New York in June 1921 after graduating from Penn State, Thomas was optioned to the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League (where Lou Gehrig had been playing first base under the name “Lou Lewis,” trying to preserve his collegiate eligibility at Columbia). On July 5, 1921, in his first professional game, Thomas threw a no-hitter against the Springfield Ponies, winning 3-0. [After initial publication of this story, estimable researcher and old pal Bill Deane alerted me to another such game: Denny McLain’s no-hitter on June 28, 1962. Pitching for Harlan, KY of the Class-D Appalachian League, McLain beat Salem, 3-0, striking out 17.]

But Myles Thomas–whom Babe Ruth nicknamed “Duck Eyes”–was not the first. For that, all hail Shoeless Mike Landmann.

Old Fashioned SABR Metrics

Facebook blankYou all know about sabermetrics, Bill James’s neologism for an analytical approach to baseball. Bill honored SABR with this coinage because SABR represented intellectual traits he admired: a dedication to research (it is, after all the Society for American Baseball Research), a conviction that significant aspects of the game are invisible to the naked eye, and a skepticism about received wisdom. In the early days of SABR many of its most skilled researchers concerned themselves not only with the relative merits of men who played in different eras but with determining who the players WERE. Hundreds of players were absolute ciphers, about whom nothing but a last name was known–a box score entry, that was all. Lee Allen and Bill Haber hunted for headstones; Vern Luse and Bill Carle scoured the squibs in Sporting Life. Today the number of major leaguers about whom absolutely nothing is known has been reduced to a relative handful, and for most men we even have a photographic or woodcut portrait. One player who resisted all efforts to go beyond a last name has been “Stine” or “Stein,” a one-gamer with the Philadelphia Athletics of 1890. 

Sabermetrics is great, but this is old-fashioned SABR metrics, hard work and enormously gratifying. Richard Malatzky, a brilliant researcher, posted this to the Nineteenth Century Base Ball Research listserv on January 6. 

It seems that half of the missing players found by the Biographical Research Committee in the last ten to fifteen years are corrections to misidentified players in the original Turkin and Thompson from 1951.

As is my habit, I was checking another 19th century one-gamer, this time Harry C. Stine, listed for July 22, 1890 with the Philadelphia Athletics. I was surprised that the box score had the spelling as Stein. A search of Sporting Life said that Stein was a left handed pitcher from the Interstate League.

It turned out that Baseball Reference had a Stein, no first name, who pitched for Dover, Delaware and Wilmington, Delaware. This turned out to be our man. He appeared in box scores in 1889 and 1890 and when he was signed by Dover it was said that he played near Trenton in 1888.

So that was 2010 and the listing eliminated Harry C. Stine and replace him with Stein, no first name. I recently subscribed to and checked the Philadelphia Times for the game story. It said he came from the Lebanon, PA team. A search came up with his signing with Lebanon and it said he had been with Wilmington. His name is William Stein. So we finally had his first name.

Yesterday I was searching for an amateur in Philadelphia from the 1892 one-gamers and turned up an article about John Deasley. the manager of the Defiance baseball club, which mentioned that he signed pitcher Stein of the Hartfords. Baseball Reference had a Stein with Hartford of the Connecticut State League.

I thought that an amateur club would most likely have local players. So I checked the Philadelphia City Directory for William Stein and found five of them, including a William H., William J., and William W. A search of the 1900 census showed William H. who was born in Pennsylvania in April 1868 and two other Williams born in 1870 and 1872.

William H. was a bartender so that was the most likely one being 20 in his first year and a very common profession for a ball player.

I searched the Philadelphia Times for William H. Stein and found a 1903 article that said that the William H. Stein Base ball team of Nicetown can be reached at William H Stein, Bristol Street, Nicetown . This was a great clue.

I searched the census for our man born 1867 to 1869. He turns up in Plattsburgh, NY in the 1940 census with his daughter Isabelle Fisk and son in law Morgan Burleigh Fisk. They are in the local city directory up to 1941 and then are in Philadelphia in Fisk’s World War II draft registration.

Our man’s wife Anna died in 1933, with her husband listed as William H. Stein, and was buried in Philadelphia’s Holy Redeemer Cemetery. William Henry Stein, it turns out, was born on April 9, 1868 in Telford, PA and died November 11, 1945 in Philadelphia. He is buried with his wife.

Many missing players have been found but have taken 10 to 20 years to be verified, as their obituaries don’t mention baseball. I hope that the baseball connection here is enough.


A Tip to Teddy

May 1908

This epistle to President Theodore Roosevelt appeared in the very first issue of the great Baseball Magazine, in May of 1908. Teddy had just entered upon his final year in the White House, having forsworn another term despite his entitlement to take another run at the Presidency: he had served only one full term and part of another, taking the nation’s helm after the death of President McKinley in 1901. What was our leader, the hero of San Juan Hill, the trust buster and safari hunter, to do next? Grantland Rice had an idea. If President Obama is uncertain about his next steps, this might pique his interest.

Teddy, when your work is through in the presidential chair,

When another takes the shift where you’ve learned to do and dare,

You will need another job—one that’s a monstrosity,

That will soak up, day by day, all your strenuosity.

It must be a husky job—full of smoke and fire to boot,

And in looking ’round I’ve found only one I know will suit.

Only one where your Big Stick will be needed day by day;

Only one to fit in, Ted, with your rough-and-tumble way;

Only one where in the end you will someday long for rest,

Where your energy will wane and your spirit be depressed.


You will find it diff’rent from any nature-faking fuss;

You will find it harder than mauling up the octopus;

It will a rougher job than a charge up San Juan Hill,

Or a battle with the trusts—it will take a stronger will.

Fighting predatory wealth or the kings of high finance,

Culling railroad moguls down will not be a circumstance.

All in all ’twill suit you fine, never having been afraid

Of aught else upon this earth—you should be an umpire, Ted!


That’s the only job for you—take your tip now, Theodore;

Think of how your pulse will leap when you hear the angry roar

Of the bleacher gods enraged; you will find the action there

Which you’ve hunted for in vain in the presidential chair.

Chasing mountain lions and such, catching grizzlies will seem tame

Lined up with the jolt you’ll get in the thick of some close game.

Choking angry wolves to death as a sport will stack up raw

When you see Kid Elberfeld[1] swinging for your jaw.


When you hear Hugh Jennings[2] roar, “Call them strikes—you lump of cheese!”

Or McGraw[3] comes rushing in, kicking at your shins and knees;

When the bleachers rise and shout, “Robber—Liar—Thief and Dub!”

You’ll be sorry for the gents in your Ananias Club.

You’ll find it’s a diff’rent thing making peace with old Japan

Than when you have called a strike on O’Connor[4] or McGann[5].

Holding California down isn’t quite the same, I’ll state,

As is calling Devlin[6] out on a close-out at the plate.


Teddy Roosevelt, 'What's the score' 1907

“What’s the score?” October 5, 1907

Though I’ve hunted far and near, there is nothing else to do

Where you’ll get what’s coming, Ted—all that’s coming unto you—

You should be an umpire, Ted, and I’ll bet two weeks would be

Quite enough to curb your rash, headlong stren-u-os-i-tee.[7]



  1. Norman Arthur Elberfeld, Yankees player-manager.
  2. Hugh Ambrose Jennings, Tigers player-manager.
  3. John McGraw, Giants manager
  4. John Joseph O’Connor, Browns’ player-manager, known as “Rowdy Jack.”
  5. Dennis L. “Dan” McGann, Boston Nationals player.
  6. Arthur McArthur Devlin, New York Giants player.
  7. “The Strenuous Life,” speech before the Hamilton Club, Chicago, April 10, 1899; full text at


The Magic Glute

Homo erectus

Homo erectus

With apologies to Mozart, I don’t know why I didn’t share this good if elderly column earlier. It’s not about baseball as such, but it is about sport, and language, and things that matter. As we stand ready to form New Year’s resolutions for self-improvement, I suggest: don’t do a thing; you are fine just as you are.

In the November 18, 2004 issue of Nature, Dennis M. Bramble and Daniel E. Lieberman wrote that distance running, not bipedal walking, was what made Homo erectus look like you and me … well, like you, anyway. I recognize myself more clearly in the authors’ description of the diffident Australopithecus: short legs, long forearms, and high, bookwormishly shrugged shoulders. Our nearer ancestor, Homo erectus, had shorter arms, longer legs, a skinnier ribcage and pelvis and–key to the further evolution of the species–buns.

Like chimpanzees today, proto-humans had narrow pelvises that could not support the robust gluteus maximus for which Homo sapiens is known (and you thought he was differentiated by his brain!). Identifying 25 other traits besides strong buttocks that made Homo sapiens born to run, the authors also noted the development of a nuchal ligament at the back of the neck. As with other mammals capable of high-speed or long-distance running, this connective tissue permits a runner to keep his noggin still, unlike the pigs that Bramble and Lieberman set to racing on treadmills as bobble-head surrogates for Olivia Newton-John.



In summing up the duo’s findings for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford wrote: “Endurance running, unique to humans among primates and uncommon in all mammals other than dogs, horses and hyenas, apparently evolved at least two million years ago and probably let human ancestors hunt and scavenge over great distances. That was probably decisive in the pursuit of high-protein food for development of large brains.”

While I was pleased thus to have confirmed my own notion that the ass figured large in human development, I was disquieted by its connection with running after food or anything else, except perhaps other asses. My friend Larry McCray, who had sent me Wilford’s report, commented, “I note in passing that both sexes have developed the runner’s backside, so I guess it wasn’t deeply true that the men always hunted and the women always gathered.” I found other holes in the story.

As I have long used my own gluteus maximus to connect the otherwise lonely armrests of my favorite chair, and to act as a counterbalance when I might otherwise be falling down drunk, the authors of this Nature study did not convince me that the ability to run long distances is crucial to the survival of the species, or ever was. If anything, their article made me wonder why our early ancestors were (a) so hungry that they would consider running long distances after food yet (b) so unimpaired by starvation that they could muster the energy to race across the veldt and into adjoining counties. Running just a little bit–I could see that as a useful evolutionary accretion. The laws of natural selection would tend to favor the effective hunters (and maybe even mobile female gatherers), who could sprint after game or away from those who would make game of them. This Darwinian trend would lead and breed to ever more muscular if not more ample glutes; the latter awaited the invention of television and fast food.

Scientists will tend to assign human progress to evidence of increasing strength, power, speed, and problem-solving skills, such as the making of tools. Artists will see the ascent of man in his rise up the great chain of being, from the bogs of the lowliest invertebrates to the spiritual realm of the angels. I believe the posterior is anterior to progress of both kinds–whether it is the bounteously insured booty of J. Lo or the bag of pudding hanging from yours truly. Not only does the gluteal region propel fight or flight or pursuit, as the Nature study suggests, it is also the seat of wisdom, weighing against the impulse to rush off and do something, anything, to scratch an itch.



Whether you call it an ass or an arse, a butt or a bottom, the troika of gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus forms the muscles upon which we sit as we await inspiration or contemplate action, and many things are better engaged in the contemplation, from homicide to exercise. By the grace of the three glutes we may have been born to run, but it is by enabling us to sit comfortably that these magical muscles have aided Newton, Einstein, and Alistair Cooke in the formulation of their greatest ideas. If these brainy men and others like them had sat less and run more, they might have captured a scampering bunny or two but the rest of us would have descended into a race of intellectual girlymen.

Which is where we’re headed, anyway. The liberal arts are suspected of undermining Americans’ drive to a service economy. Book lovers are regarded as sentimental castrati. Deconstructionists and semioticians create a mock aestheticism around hip-hop music and slasher films, and the fans roll in and snuffle the nonsense as if they were cats and it catnip. Once upon a time the unexamined life was deemed not worth living; now it is worth forensic examination.

The focus of American men’s lust has lately been reported to have shifted from breasts to bottoms, bringing our sexual politics, if not our foreign policy, into alignment with the rest of the world. Plastic surgeons are said to be doing more butt reshaping than either breast enhancements or facial reconstructions, excepting possibly eyelifts. Unwilling to accept the river of life that makes all of us more similar than not, we regard life as an extended masquerade ball in which we may appear younger than we are, thinner than our heredity would demand, more appealing in the bedroom. In our pharmatopia no shortcoming, real or imagined, must be endured. Endorphins, pheromones, ecstatic transport–all are but a mouse-click away.

That oxymoronic term “Reality TV” has moved from sleepover to makeover, with reconstruction of homes, physiques, family relationships. The do-over craze has extended to our surroundings, our bodies, our body politic. A swirl of action, like Sally Rand’s fan-dance way back when, convinces observers that they have seen something they haven’t.

I grant that some things are less easily accomplished on one’s butt than with it: war, procreation, windsurfing (did I miss anything?), yet the sedentary pursuit of such active sports is frequently less hazardous to all who might otherwise be involved or affected. The Tao has a useful construct for armchair adventurism: wei wu wei–literally “do/don’t do,” but better understood as purposeful inaction, which contrasts nicely with the world’s tendency to purposeless action. When we call someone an ass, it is seldom because they failed to get off theirs.

In our heedless rush to renovation–Enlarge your debt! Reduce your penis! (or was it the other way?)–who suggests getting on a spiritual StairMaster? Who says, chisel your knowledge as you would your abs? Who points out that interior decoration endures while exterior changes imply a mannequin within?

We were born not merely to run, but also to fly. Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph, the one he wrote in his youth, highlights the one true makeover, against which all others wither:

The Body of
Benjamin Franklin,
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering & Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.-
Yet the Work itself shall not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new
And more beautiful Edition,
Corrected and amended
BY: The Author.

No workout or makeover is required; ladies and gentlemen, be seated.

From: “Play’s the Thing,” Woodstock Times, December 2, 2004


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