The Momentous Baseball Convention of 1857

Daniel Lucious "Doc" Adams

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams

With the newly discovered “Laws of Base Ball” coming to auction this weekend (, I thought it might be a fine time to post the text of contemporary news coverage. While the source is Porter’s  Spirit of the Times, January 31, 1857, the report of the New York Herald, published the morning after the convention of January 22, is incorporated. Note the use of the phrase “national pastime” in connection with the rising sport of baseball, and the difficulty that the sport’s proponents had in securing equal standing with cricket in the laying out of the new Central Park. For a great deal more about the proposal by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York to modify and standardize the rules, see “The Making of Baseball’s Magna Carta” (


A convention of the Base Ball Clubs of this city and the vicinity was held on Thursday evening, 22nd inst., at Smith’s Hotel, Broome street, for the purpose of discussing and deciding upon a code of laws which shall hereafter be recognized as authoritative in the game.  Base ball has been known in the Northern States as far back as the memory of the oldest inhabitant reacheth, and must be regarded as a national pastime, the same as cricket is by the English.  It is a manly and healthful exercise, and if generally known would become popular, being full of excitement and rendering the body lithe and hardy.  It is played in most of the New England schools, and those who have once engaged in it never lose their interest in the game.  We should hail it as a favorable omen for the next generation if that bright specimen of humanity, yclept Young New York, would join the base ball or cricket clubs and quit his bar rooms, and other night amusements, and seek the open air.  The following account is copied from the “Herald” of the 23rd:–

The Knickerbocker is the oldest base ball club now existing in this city, and seems to be the most influential.  The present convention was called by that club, and is composed of three delegates appointed by the various associations.  Fourteen separate and independent organizations were represented last evening by the following gentlemen, and it was stated that others would have been present but for distance, or the impossibility of getting home the same night.

Knickerbocker–Messrs. D.L. Adams, Wm. H. Grinnell [Grenelle–jt], L.F. Wadsworth.

Gotham–Messrs. Wm. H. Van Cott, R.H. Cudlip, Geo. H. Franklin.

Eagle–Messrs. W.W. Armfield, A.J. Bixby, John W. Mott. Empire–Messrs. R.H. Thorn, Walter Scott, Thomas Leary.

Putnam–Messrs. Theo. F. Jackson, Jas. W. Smith, Edw. A. Walton.

Baltic–Messrs. Phillip Weeks, Robt. Cornell, Dr. Chas. W. Cooper. Excelsior–Messrs. Jas. W. Andrews, Jas. Rogers, P.R. Chadwick.

Atlantic–Messrs. C. Sniffen, W. Babcock, T. Tassie.

Harmony–Messrs. R. Justin, Jr., G.M. Phelps, Frank D. Carr. Harlem–Messrs. E.H. Brown, John L. Riker, C.M. Van Voorhis.

Eckford–Messrs. Chas. M. Welling, Francis Pidgeon, James M. Gray.

Bedford–Messrs. John Constant, Chas. Osborn, Thos. Bagot.

Nassau–Messrs. Wm. P. Howell, J.R. Rosenquest, Eph. Miller.

Continental–Messrs. John Silsby, Nath. B. Law, Jas. B. Brown.

Porter's Spirit of the Times, September 12, 1857

From Porter’s Spirit of the Times, September 12, 1857

The Convention met together shortly after the hour appointed, and being satisfied with each other’s personal appearance, (justily [sic] so, for most of them were splendid looking fellows,) the delegates proceeded to elect a President and officers, when the following were appointed:-

President–Dr. D.L. Adams, of the Knickerbocker.

Vice President–Reuben H. Cudlip, Gotham; John W. Mott, Eagle.

Secretary–Jas. W. Andrews, Excelsior.

Assistant Secretary–Walter Scott, Empire.

Treasurer–E.H. Brown, Harlem.

Porter's Spirit, January 31, 1857

Porter’s Spirit, January 31, 1857

After some remarks from the President, a brisk discussion ensued on the motion that a committee of five be appointed to prepare a code of laws which shall be authoritative on the game.  An amendment was offered, that twenty should form such committee; and, again, that the Convention should go into Committee of the Whole upon the laws.  The various propositions were sweated down to two, and, being put to the vote, it was finally determined that the delegates from each club should appoint one member to sit on said committee.  The gentlemen so appointed are as follows:–

Committee to Draft a Code of Laws on the Game of Base Ball, to be Submitted to the Convention–Messrs. L.F. Wadsworth, W.H. Van Cott, W.W. Armfield, Thos. Leavy, Thos. F. Jackson, Dr. Chas. W. Cooper, P.R. Chadwick, T. Tassie, F.D. Carr, E.H. Brown, Francis Pidgeon, John Constant, Wm. P. Howell and Nathaniel B. Law.  This committee will meet next Wednesday.

Mr. Armfield moved that an assessment of $2 be made from each club, in order to defray incidental expenses, and referred to the proposed Central Park as a most suitable spot for playing matches. Provision had been made there by the Commissioners for the English national pastime of cricket, but none for base ball,* and he trusted that this convention would put itself in communication with the authorities on this subject.

Mr. R.G. Cornell submitted three specimen balls of various sizes, 6 1/3 oz., 6 1/2 oz., and 6 3/4 oz.; the convention will eventually be called upon to decide which is orthodox of the trio.

Mr. Francis Pidgeon proposed that a committee of five be appointed by the Chair to confer with the Central Park Commissioners in relation to a grant of public lands for base ball purposes.  This being carried, the Chair named the following:–

Committee to treat with the Commissioners for a plot of ground in the Central Park–Francis Pidgeon, E.H. Brown, George F. Franklin, John W. Mott, L.F. Wadsworth.

A motion was then made and carried that each club forthwith pay the Treasurer $2, when that officer remarked, “I shall be under the necessity of notifying that I don’t take Spanish quarters.”  The Secretary read over the names of the clubs, the money was forthcoming, and the Convention adjourned at 9 1/2 o’clock until the third Wednesday in February.

Base ball is about becoming a great national institution.  The gentlemen assembled last evening at Smith’s Hotel were engaged in a work not of that trifling importance which a casual observer might suppose.  Mens sana in corpore sano is a maxim worthy of notice in this age, when young men are forsaking the fields and out door exercise for the fumes of cellars and the dissipation of the gaming table. Let us have base ball clubs organized by the spring all over the country, rivalling in their beneficent effects the games of Roman and Grecian republics.  Schoolmasters and clergymen, lend a helping hand.

*Mr. Armfield and the Convention seems to us to labor under a mistake; the Commissioners recommend that a space be set apart for “a Cricket Ground, for the encouragement of, and indulgence in, athletic and manly sports.”  This, we should suppose, would include Base Ball, Quoits, &c., &c.–Editor “Spirit.”

Bruegel and Me

Bruegel's The Harvesters, detail

Bruegel, The Harvesters, 1565; detail

From my column “Play’s the Thing,” Woodstock Times, December 28, 2006: Walking through the European Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week with my son Mark, returned from college for the holidays, we glided from gallery to gallery at a leisurely pace. He had seen many of these glorious paintings before, but only as color plates in an art history textbook. I had visited them at the Met before, but never with him; our earlier visits, when he and his older brothers were still living at home, had tended not to stray far from the mummies, the hieroglyphs, and the Temple of Dendur, unless it was to check out the medieval armor and, as a sop to me, the American Wing.

Now we were two adults, with his interest in Northern Renaissance and Flemish painting far exceeding mine. His newfound passion would determine our path, as it had the very idea of a full-day ascent of this cultural Matterhorn. We were still father and son, I was still the guide and he the willing initiate, but the gap had narrowed. We were near, if not at, the point at which my relationship had twisted and turned with his brothers, from parent to grownup friend and, enduringly, to peer.

Our mission was to gawk until we dropped. By our second hour of strolling through Constable and Gainsborough and Rembrandt and Goya I was beginning to get hungry. Maybe we should go to one of the cafes now, I suggested, as there might be a line and I didn’t wish to be starving when I faced a pre-made sandwich in cellophane. But he had come especially to revel in Van Eyck, Vermeer, and Bruegel, and we happened to be standing in a gallery that marked a neat end to our morning circuit.

We had paused right in front of Bruegel the Elder’s “Corn Harvest” (1565), one of the world’s great paintings of everyday life. Bruegel is a marvel not only for his craft but also for his bottom-up approach to story that tells us more about the human condition than paintings of battle and royalty; his dedication to landscape tells us more about heaven than dreamy depictions of anthropomorphic deities and silly putti. Mark and I resolved to place hunger on hold and take our time in this last room of the section. (Why, you may ask, is “Corn Harvest” called by that name when the crop is obviously wheat? Because a generic name for grain in German is Korn, and it labeled this painting in English early on.)

Bruegel, Corn Harvest

Bruegel, Corn Harvest (a.k.a. The Harvesters), 1565; Metropolitan Museum of Art

Turning 90 degrees to the wall, my eye fell upon a tiny tableau at the left-center of the painting in which young men appeared to be playing a game of bat and ball in a meadow distant from the scything and stacking and dining and drinking that make up the foreground. Mark agreed: there appeared to be a man with a bat, a fielder at a base, a runner, and spectators as well as participants in waiting. The strange device opposite the batsman’s position might have been a catapult. As I was later to learn with hurried research, this detail is unnoted in the art-history studies.

Now, it could be argued that as a historian of early sport, particularly games of bat and ball, I may tend to see instances of my specialty popping up everywhere, like hobgoblins. Or I may just be lucky; you may judge.

It might be argued as well that the title of this column is misleading as it is less about Bruegel than it is about me. But I would rejoin that is about both of us, and all three of my children, and you and yours too.Batting Game Bruegel Harvesters Closeup_crop

Christmas vacation is a great time to reconnect with your kids, whether they live at home, are away at college, or are grown and live at great distance. It’s also a way to connect with how children everywhere view the world — not as a series of milestones to be marked, honors to be won, and rewards to be earned … but as an arena for new experience. And in the end, it’s a great way to connect with your own childhood and thus who you are and always have been. A recurring theme of [my Woodstock Times column] “Play’s the Thing,” of which this piece is the last of a third year in this space, has been that play is serious business, broadly revealing of who we are and yearn to be. Getting older is an opportunity to revisit one’s happy childhood or to set one’s unhappy childhood right, if only through one’s own children.

Bruegel, children's games, 1560

Bruegel, Children’s Games, 1560

Seeing this mysterious game of ball depicted in Bruegel’s “Corn Harvest” recalled for me another of the master’s great works, his “Children’s Games” of 1560. Although not yet 500 years old, this painting is nearly as mysterious as the hieroglyphs of the pyramids and requires no less a Rosetta Stone. Although some 80 different sports and games are depicted, scholars have only been able to identify 32 with certainty. A few of these will be familiar to 21st-century readers: Blind Man’s Buff, Bowls, Crack the Whip, Follow the Leader, Hoops, King of the Hill, Leap Frog, Marbles, Mumblety-Peg, Tug of War. As to the rest, an interactive key to “Children’s Games” (a floating cursor prompts a detail of Bruegel’s painting and a description of the game) may be located at the wonderful interactive website of the Elliott Avedon Museum & Archive of Games at Waterloo University in Ontario, Canada:

When I unearthed the now celebrated bylaw of 1791 which prohibited the play of baseball within 80 yards of a soon-to-be built meeting house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I noted that baseball was but one of the banned games: “wicket, cricket, baseball, batball, football, cats, fives, or any other game played with ball.” For reporters covering the press conference in which the find was announced in May 2004, I felt obliged to explain what these games were, as no one any longer plays wicket or batball or cat (one-, two-, three-, or four-hole varieties), and on this side of the Atlantic few would know that fives was handball. A century earlier, the Mills Commission investigating the origins of baseball had declared that Abner Doubleday was its inventor and Cooperstown its Garden of Eden. That was history from the top down. The Pittsfield prohibition, seeking only to preserve the glass windows of a new structure, opened a new (if broken) window onto what children actually played and thus what really happened. That is history from the bottom up, a la Bruegel.

Pittsfield "Broken Window" Prohibition, 1791

Pittsfield “Broken Window” Prohibition, 1791

We play fewer games today than a century ago, and fewer still than in 16th-century Europe, just as the evolution of species has produced the dubious triumph of fewer and not necessarily superior survivors. Because increasingly our children exercise their minds and thumbs in play but not their limbs, young men and women must build suppleness and mass through the simulated play of fitness routines that translate, upon reflection, to just another form of work. We are overstimulated mentally, underutilized physically and, bombarded with media messages, discontented with our daily lives more than ever before.

Or at least that is what has often been reported, and not only in these days of virtual reality. The New York Times of December 30, 1883 published a story headed “Boyhood’s Merry Games; Some of the Sports in Which Our Fathers Indulged; The Healthful Games of a Generation Ago of Which the Boy of Today Knows Little or Nothing.” The anonymous author was stunned to learn that the only game his 10-year-old son played was marbles. “Now, marbles is all right,” he wrote, “but I don’t like the idea of a steady diet in that line. It isn’t broadening. It’s a sort of one-sided development. Boys are dying out in this country, or at least the boy I’m bringing up is of a different species from what I used to know.”

How we play is ever changing. Play is a constant. Today we still have a few things to teach our children, and a lot to learn from them.


Cuba, the U.S., and Baseball: A Long If Interrupted Romance

Minnie Miñoso

Minnie Minoso

Before there was a United States, beginning in 1776, there was baseball. And before there was a Cuban Republic, beginning in 1868, there was baseball. Today, even after decades of diplomatic hostility—never shared by the two peoples—the game older than either nation continues to be the tie that binds.

Until the Revolution of 1959, Cuba sent the most players to the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues. Its tournaments attracted players from both the U.S. and the Caribbean Basin. Four Cuban-born players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (Martín Dihigo, José Mendez, Tony Pérez, and Cristóbal Torriente); others are stars of the first magnitude today; and then there is Minnie Miñoso, about whom this entire essay might be written.

Many of the modern tales of Cuban-American baseball relations have been accompanied by misery—defection, human trafficking, fractured families, broken bonds with a national heritage. This is a story amply documented in today’s news outlets, so there is little point in my summarizing it here. Instead, let’s look back to how baseball began in this island nation, the role that the U.S. has played, and some alternative views of Cuba’s baseball paternity.

Esteban Bellán at Fordham

Esteban Bellan at Fordham

Friendliness between the nations began with the sugar business and the counting houses that lined Manhattan’s waterfront, mercantile establishments that typically had offices in Havana and Matanzas. The counting houses forged links between Cuba and New York that went beyond the realm of commerce, facilitating not only the exchange of goods and money, but also of people and culture.

By the mid-nineteenth century, boys and young men from wealthy Cuban families were sent to New York for an education or for work experience, and the counting houses had a direct role in bringing them from Cuba. As Lisandro Pérez notes, “The New York merchants would make arrangements for the sons of their Cuban clients to be enrolled in boarding schools in the New York area, meeting them at the dock, buying their winter clothing and other necessities, paying for tuition and board, and even disbursing periodic allowances.”

This rite of passage was common practice among middle-class Cuban families at the time not only because of vital trading relations but also because the Cuban independence movement had prompted a violent crackdown by Spanish authorities, making Cuba a dangerous place for the impressionable young. Esteban Bellán was one such Cuban boy sent from Havana to New York at age thirteen with his brother Domingo to be educated at the preparatory school of St. John’s College (today’s Fordham University). There he played ball for the Rose Hill club, and upon his graduation in 1868 went on to play for the powerful Union of Morrisania club; for nearly 150 years thereafter, he would be regarded as the first Cuban-born player to perform at the top level of the game, the National Association of Base Ball Players.

Bellán (1849-1932) went on to play in baseball’s first professional league, with the Troy Haymakers and the New York Mutuals in 1871-1873. In the winter of the latter year he returned to Cuba and started up the Club Habana baseball team. He played in the first organized baseball game ever played in Cuba, on December 27, 1874, at Palmar del Junco Field. Club Habana beat Club Matanzas by 51-9. For this reason he is regarded in the U.S. as the “Father of Cuban Baseball.”

Nemesio Guillo

Nemesio Guillo

Cubans, however, might put forward another candidate. Also playing for Club Habana in the aforementioned game are two other early giants of Cuban baseball: the patriot Emilio Sabourín and the little-known (in the U.S.) Ernesto Guilló. Sabourin was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941; Guillo’s brother Nemesio in 1948; and Bellán not until 1984, in a ceremony held in Miami.

Nemesio Guilló Romaguera (1847-1931) was sent to the U.S., like Bellán, by a father who was in the sugar trade. Along with his brother and Enrique Porto, he was sent to Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama—a private, Roman Catholic school founded in 1830—in 1858. Many other Cuban boys joined them there over the next two years. From the newspaper Diario de la Marina in 1924:

In 1864, seven years later, they returned to Cuba on a ship as grown men with strong necks, broad chests, athletic and ready to support in any way the rights of men, so unknown to the colony of those days. One of the three lads had in his trunk a bat and ball, completely unknown objects in Cuba, scarcely known in the United States itself, where “town ball,” which later would be called baseball, was in its beginnings. Nemesio, the younger of the two Guilló brothers, brought the precious gadgets. Having spent the day in La Machina, the three boys were already playing with the bat and the ball in El Vedado.

Spring Hill College 1858; engraving by J. T. Hammond.

Spring Hill College 1858; engraving by J. T. Hammond.

What was likely the first ballgame in Cuba with local participation occurred in June 1866, when sailors of a U.S. ship taking on sugar invited Cuban longshoremen to play. While Ernesto did not continue as a player, Nemesio did, playing with Havana in 1879-1880 and in 1882-1883 with the Ultimatum club, for whom he served as “right shortstop,” a position between first and second base. Following the suggestion of Henry Chadwick, rejected in the U.S., Cuban baseball in this period was played with ten men to the side.

Rua among non-graduates at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1868

Rua among non-graduates at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1868

In recent years I discovered, ith help from Peter Morris and César González, another candidate for a “father of baseball” that might be celebrated in both Cuba and the U.S: the previously unnoted Rafael Julian de la Rúa of Matanzas (see: In 1860, at the age of twelve, he is listed in the U.S. census, living in Newton, Massachusetts, a student at R.B. Blaisdell’s school in Newton. A classmate of Bellán’s at Fordham from 1864-1867 (it is unclear whether he played ball with the Rose Hills), he transferred to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for 1868, and in that year joined the Troy Haymakers, a first-class National Association club, pitching in twelve games. A lefthander with a peculiar screwball pitch, Rúa was so effective against the New York Mutuals on August 4 that the Troy Times observed, “Rúa’s pitching was the acme of perfection—not too swift to be unreliable, and with just enough of the ‘twist’ to prevent the Mutuals from making their heaviest batting.”

Because Rúa played in National Association games before Bellán left Fordham to join the Unions of Morrisania, it may be said that he and not Bellán was the first Cuban national to play high-level ball in the States.

Rúa did not graduate from RPI, nor did he continue to play ball after 1868. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1874, while living in New York City. He traveled to Cuba on separate trips in 1874 and 1875, but there his trail goes cold.

Looking back at the stories of Bellán, Guilló, and Rúa, it becomes evident that American colleges were the most important agents in the proliferation of the game in Latin America, even more than the military and its multiple occupations, as we had long supposed.

By 1879 American players from the National League were playing winter ball in Cuba. By 1886, El Sport, a Havana weekly, declared: “Baseball is today, without distinction of classes, age and sex, the preferred diversion of all [Cubans].”

And so has it ever been.






The Origins of the Designated Hitter

The Temple Cup Two-Step March

The Temple Cup Two-Step March

When rumors swirled a few weeks back about the imminent addition of the Designated Hitter to the National League rules, a reader suggested that I supply a little historical background to this innovation, which of course was proposed long before the American League implemented it on experimental basis in 1973. After trials in spring training and in some minor circuits, the Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became MLB’s first DH, nipping Boston’s Orlando Cepeda for the distinction.

“I know that this is more recent history and not from 150 years ago, ” reader Butch England wrote, “but there’s a reason why the AL added it in 1973 and a good story behind it. Although my team is in the AL, I’m against it.”

One often reads that Connie Mack thought up the idea, or John Heydler, or John McGraw. All three advocated or opined about it, with McGraw warning that its implementation would lead inevitably to two-platoon baseball: one team for offense, one for defense. But the brainstorm belonged to one of the more important if largely forgotten figures of nineteenth-century baseball: William Chase Temple, owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and provider of the Temple Cup to the winner of a postseason championship series in 1894 through 1897, when the National League’s first-place club squared off against the second-place finisher.

William Chase Temple

William Chase Temple

In the wake of the player revolt of 1890, Temple would become an NL owner and a lifelong ally of Albert Goodwill Spalding, with whose mistress and later wife, Elizabeth Churchill Mayer, he was already friendly through their devotions to the Theosophical Society branch in New York City. A sportsman and statistics enthusiast, Temple was the first to come up with the idea of the designated hitter, back in 1891. His idea was for the DH to replace the pitcher in the batting order throughout the game, i.e., the current method.

James W. Spalding, Albert’s brother, alternatively suggested that the pitcher’s spot in the order be skipped, so that only eight men would bat in rotation. The debate between W.C. Temple and J.W. Spalding had commenced after the 1891 season. There had been a widespread concern among baseball men with the game’s declining offense: in 1890 the Players’ League, in its lone season of operation, had moved the pitching distance back by 18 inches, presaging the move to 60’6″ and the exchange of a pitcher’s box for a slab.

The distance to home plate had been measured from the front of the box; beginning in 1893, it would be reckoned from the front of the slab, with which a pitcher’s back foot had to remain in contact at the point of delivery. But this is to launch into a series of exceedingly fine points about perceived pitching speed, for which I might better direct you here:

Elizabeth Churchill Mayer Spalding and husband A.G. Spalding, ca. 1901

Elizabeth Churchill Mayer Spalding and husband A.G. Spalding, ca. 1901

On December 19, 1891, Sporting Life offered the following:


Messrs. Temple and Spalding; Agree that the Pitcher Should Be Exempt from Batting.

In a recent conversation with J. Walter Spalding, of the New York Club, President Temple, of the Pittsburgs, brought up the question as to what disposition should be made of the pitcher in the batting order. President Temple favored the substitution of another man to take the pitcher’s place at the bat when it came his turn to go there. Mr. Spalding advocated a change in the present system and suggested that the pitcher be eliminated entirely from the batting order and that only the other eight men of the opposing clubs be allowed to go to bat. Both gentlemen saw the necessity of some change, and Mr. Spalding intimated that his idea should prevail. The matter will in all likelihood be brought to the attention of the committee on rules, and either a substitute player take the pitcher’s place at bat or the pitcher be relieved from the necessity of going to bat at all.

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

New York Giants scorecard, 1892

New York Giants scorecard, 1892

There the matter lay until the preseason meetings of the National League, enlarged for the 1892 campaign from eight teams to twelve by absorbing four clubs from its dissolved rival, the American Association. Speaking to his local papers in Pittsburgh upon his return from these meetings, Temple revealed:

“We came very near making it a rule to exempt the pitcher from batting in a game, under a resolution which permitted such exemption, when the captain of the team notified the umpire of such desire prior to the beginning of a game. The vote stood 7 to 5 for. I looked for it to be the reverse, but Von der Ahe, whom I depended on, voted otherwise.”

Q.E.D. William Chase Temple is the originator of the designated hitter concept, still in the news not from 150 years ago, as reader Butch England suggested, but a perhaps surprisingly distant 124 years later.


The Making of Baseball’s Magna Carta

Laws of Baseball, KBBC to Convention, January 22, 1857, page 1

Laws of Baseball, KBBC to Convention, January 22, 1857, page 1

Something odd, unusual, unexpected, even—to one not inclined to superlatives—utterly amazing has just now turned up, some 160 years since it vanished. It is a document … or, rather, a trio of them … that together form the Magna Carta of Baseball, the Great Charter of Our Game. The manuscript rules of the game drafted by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club for presentation to the first convention of New York vicinity clubs, which commenced on January 22, 1857, have emerged from the dark. No earlier baseball manuscript of this significance has ever come onto the open market. SCP Auctions will offer it in the coming weeks. I reproduce images of these improbable survivors with their gracious permission; I was afforded an advance look at them in the course of my consulting role on this single lot.

A favorite story sprang to mind as I began to contemplate the implications of this find, a Dead Sea Scrolls of Baseball that will keep scholars busy for years to come. Laurence Stallings was a prolific novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, whose battlefront experience in the Great War cost him a leg but led him to write “What Price Glory?”—a once famous book which became an even more celebrated film. In 1925 he was assigned by the New York World to cover a football game between the University of Illinois and Penn. Upon seeing Red Grange run for three touchdowns and 363 total yards in an upset of Penn, the great war correspondent tore at his hair while pacing the pressbox, muttering, “The story’s too big. I can’t write it.” That is the way I feel about this tale, even after working for nearly three decades on my book about the early game, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.


Once upon a time it was said that baseball began in 1839 with an Abner Doubleday brainstorm in Cooperstown; others later declared that story a fable while insisting it began in 1845 with Alexander Cartwright and the creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (KBBC). Cartwright is credited, on his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as having “set bases 90 feet apart” and “established 9 innings as a game and 9 players as [a] team.” Yet none of these aspects of the game were settled in 1856, when Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams set to work, some seven years after Cartwright had left New York for Hawaii, never to return.

Cartwright Plaque

Cartwright Plaque

Recent scholarship has driven the origin date for baseball into the eighteenth century, in England and in America, but that was a primitive game whose details went unrecorded and, if recreated today, might not be recognizable as our national pastime. Baseball’s pioneer writer Henry Chadwick, who played the game on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken in the 1840s and wrote about it for half a century, frequently dated the real beginnings of the game not to 1840, when young men began to play ball at Madison Square in New York, or 1845, when the Knicks were formed … but to 1857.

“As usual,” he wrote in 1868, “with every thing imported, we do not possess it long before we endeavor to improve it, and as our old American edition of base ball, in vogue in New York some twenty-five years ago, was an improvement on Rounders, so is our present National game a great step in advance of the game of base ball as played in 1840 and up to 1857.”

Yes, 1857 was the year that baseball made its great leap forward, and these are the documents that reveal what it was like to be present at the creation. In that year the New York area clubs, in a convention called by the Knickerbockers, agreed to play by a new, improved set of rules that, for the first time, established:

  • the base paths at 90 feet;
  • the pitcher’s distance at 45 feet, later expanded twice but unchanged since 1893;
  • the number of men to the side at nine;
  • the duration of the game at nine innings, rather than first club to score 21 runs;
  • constraints on betting and “revolving” (the practice by which a man could play for another club whenever he liked);
  • and, copiously, more, not all of it addressed herein; there will be a great deal more to say, and not only by me, I expect.
Doc Adams

Doc Adams

The rudimentary Knickerbocker Rules of September 23, 1845 do not survive in manuscript form. They were 20 in number, and only 14 of those related to how the game was to be played. The rules were published, with only slight modification, in pamphlet form in 1848 and again, with minor modification, in 1854, by which time three clubs—the Knicks, the Gothams, and the Eagles—were playing by mutually agreed provisions. Yet there was still enough ambiguity in the rule set that baseball variants arose, even in KBBC games: On August 30, 1856 the Knickerbocker and Empire clubs played to a 21-21 tie in eight innings in a match at the Elysian Fields. While the Knicks positioned themselves as a conventional nine—three “fielders,” one catcher, three “basemen,” a pitcher, and a shortstop (Adams himself, the man who had invented the position at a time when games were generally played eight to the side)—their opponents, with an erratic pitcher presumably, elected to use no shortstop and placed two men behind the home plate.

The draft rules of 1856 were created by Adams, longtime KBBC president, as the “Laws of Base Ball.” William Henry Grenelle, who would be, like Adams, a Knickerbocker delegate to the convention, recorded a substantially different iteration as “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball.” This document addresses many issues about the playing grounds that were left to one side in the final KBBC document and in the regulations ultimately adopted in the convention.

Adams Draft Laws, p. 1

Adams Draft Laws, p. 1

These efforts, when combined and edited, were at last presented to New York area ball clubs on January 22, 1857 under Adams’ original title of “Laws of Base Ball”—with corrections penned in to the very last moment. One document (“Laws 1”) seems to have been drafted entirely by Adams, with the possibility that a fourth and final page went missing; while the handwriting in the other two (“Rules” and “Laws 2”) is demonstrably Grenelle’s, with pencil changes in another hand, likely that of Adams (I am not a forensic handwriting expert; this is my surmise).

When the Knickerbockers met among themselves on December 6, 1856, they resolved “to call a convention of the various base ball clubs of this city and vicinity.” The New York Herald, in reporting on this meeting, observed: “We understand the object of this convention is to promote additional interest in base ball playing, by the getting up of grand matches on a scale not heretofore attempted.” The anticipated outcome would be to inaugurate new clubs and to strengthen existing ones, by conforming the rules and making the game more “scientific” and difficult to play—“manly,” in the preferred term of the day, as was said of cricket—and thus of wider appeal. Children might play baseball along short basepaths and catch the ball on one bound to record an out, but grown men, well…

Adams did not prevail in his attempt to mandate the “fly game” for balls hit in fair territory, as delegates of new clubs were protective of their novitiates’ tender hands. The Knicks, however, played by this rule among themselves. Adams and the KBBC continued their fight for this “scientific” mode of play, succeeding at last in the 1864 convention’s adoption of the rule on a one-year trial basis which has endlessly extended to the present day. The one-bound rule stayed in place for foul balls, however, until finally eradicated in 1883.


The thought processes by which Adams and the Knickerbockers shaped the game to come may be hinted at in the discussion below, particularly, of the key imponderables in the Knickerbocker rules prior to that time: how to end a game (21 runs? mutual agreement? darkness?), and how to deter stalling, or “playing to a draw”; how many players to the side (common numbers ranged from eight to eleven for intrasquad games, though nine had become a de facto standard for “match play”—i.e., contests between clubs); and how to lay out the field (75-foot basepaths? 37.5-foot pitching distance?). Custom and practice evolved over the ensuing years, as more clubs were formed—and had to agree upon rules before a match could be played—but were not established in a uniform code until the momentous meetings of January 22 and February 25, 1857. (Another meeting, scheduled for February 3, was advertised in the press but no contemporary accounts of its activity survive.) The ball selected for a match game was often a subject of debate, for there was as yet no uniform standard; the same was true for the bats, which might be round at the barrel or flat.

Rules for Match Games of Base Ball, p. 2

Rules for Match Games of Base Ball, p. 2

The 1855 and 1856 campaigns had produced many new clubs and far more match games than before. These were the last year that games were played to 21 runs, and as the quality of play had improved, lower scores, closer contests, and more frequent draw games were prevalent. The need for a reimagining of the rules was, to some in the press and certainly to Adams and other progressive Knicks, like first baseman Louis F. Wadsworth, evident. A convention of eight clubs had been attempted in 1855 but the KBBC had declined to participate; without the prestige of the pioneer club, the venture died aborning.

In mid-1856, the Knickerbocker “old fogies,” who wished to narrow the number of contests with other clubs to those who also made their playing grounds in Hoboken, and to play games among themselves whenever possible, passed a resolution within the club to accept no outsiders for intramural matches if 14 men were present. Perhaps echoing this notion of seven men to the side forming an acceptable minimum, the Knicks instructed their delegate to the convention’s rules committee, Wadsworth, to support a new way to end a game: rather than first to 21 runs (in even innings)—the standard finish since 1845, whether in one inning or more—victory would now go to the club with more runs at the end of seven innings.

Following the disputes and ultimately resignations provoked by the rules dispute within the KBBC, word got out that the issues would soon widen to the entire baseball fraternity, at this point largely a New York and New Jersey affair. On October 11, 1856, Porter’s Spirit of the Times reported that, “It is said that a convention of all the Base Ball clubs of this city and suburbs will be held this fall, for the purpose of considering whether any and what amendments to the rules and laws governing this game should be made. The suggestion is worthy of improvement ….”


The KBBC sent three men to the convention: Adams, who was the other clubs’ choice to preside over the proceedings, Grenelle, and Wadsworth. In the document “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball,” the number of innings for completion of a game is originally specified at twelve (!), which is then edited to nine. In the Grenelle-scripted “Laws of Base Ball,” presented to the convention, the number of innings is noted as nine, but corrected in pencil to seven. In Adams’ handwritten draft, however, the number of innings had been nine.

Seven is the number of innings reported in Porter’s on February 28, 1857 as adopted by the convention … yet Wadsworth, after carrying out his mission as a KBBC member to advocate for seven innings, went rogue, enlisting the support of the other clubs to expand the game to nine innings. Had Adams’ preference for a longer game—twelve innings or nine—influenced Wadsworth? We cannot know.

From the cover of the KBBC By-Laws, 1848

From the cover of the By-laws and rules of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club: adopted September 23d, 1845, revised, April, 1848.

Until the 1857 convention specified base paths of thirty yards, no one had thought to define the square (“diamond”) field by that distance. In an 1896 interview with The Sporting News, Adams recalled, “I presented the first draft of rules, prepared after much careful study of the matter, and it was in the main adopted. The distance between bases I fixed at 30 yards—the only previous determination of distance being ‘the bases shall be from home to second base 42 paces, from first to third base 42 paces equi-distant’—which was rather vague.” Scholars today, myself among them, believe that the pace, which at that time literally meant two and a half feet—producing baselines of 74.25 feet—was the distance intended by those who crafted the rules in 1845 for inexperienced players, for whom a cross-diamond throw at 126 feet (42 paces with three feet to the pace) would have been unimaginably hard. The notion of a pace could also have been flexibly defined: it may have been literally paced off by a man or a boy, producing variable distances. That Adams and Grenelle made a conceptual leap to define the field by its basepaths, rather than by the (fixed or variable) distance between home and second base, is indicated startlingly in the “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball” document.

1859 Knicks vs. Excelsiors; Adams second from left

1859 Knicks vs. Excelsiors; Adams second from left

On page 1, Section 1 it is written: “the bases shall be from “Home” to second base, forty-two yards; from first to third base, forty two yards [emphasis mine—jt], equi-distant….” This distance of 126 feet yields base paths of 89.1 feet. It is a small step, but one of simple genius, to make 90 feet (30 yards) the basic dimension, thus rendering the distance between home and second (and first and third) as 127.3 feet. So at some time between the 1856 creation of the “Rules for Match Games” and the January 22, 1857 presentation of the Adams/KBBC rules to the convention, baseball arrived at a key change.

In line with this change from paces to yards (or feet), Adams said, “The distance from home to pitcher’s base I made 45 feet.” In his “Laws of Base Ball,” Adams altered a key phrase that had left the pitching distance as either 15 or 16 yards: “The Pitcher must … have one foot in advance of and one foot behind the line at the time of delivering the Ball” became “The Pitcher must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the Ball.” As the pitching distance could be measured from the front foot or the front of the box, it was thus set at 45 feet. 


Great documents are the products of great men, whose contributions—or even their identities—are often erased from mainstream history. Until recently, that had been the fate of “Doc” Adams, who more than anyone shaped the primitive 1845 rules of the KBBC to become the game that would endure. While I have written about Adams and the early game for decades now, many of those reading about the dramatic find of these documents will ask, Who was Doc Adams? Who was William Henry Grenelle? Who was Louis F. Wadsworth?

"Nestor of Ball Players" document presented to Adams by the KBBC; facsimile

“Nestor of Ball Players” document presented to Adams by the KBBC; facsimile

I offer capsule bios below, and links to more extensive, richer treatments of Adams and Wadsworth particularly. 

Doc Adams: Born in Mont Vernon, NH, he attended Amherst and Yale as an undergraduate and received his degree from Harvard Medical School in 1838. When he came to New York in the following year, he commenced to play ball “just for exercise” with some medical colleagues. Joining the Knicks in the month after their founding, he became the club’s president and headed the committee to review and modify its rules. Adams made the balls, oversaw production of the bats, and added the position of shortstop to what had originally been an eight-man game. Though he was an accomplished player, Adams’ pioneering contributions to the development of the game won for him, in 2015, his first year on the ballot, the most votes of any Veterans Committee candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With the rediscovery of his “Laws of Base Ball,” drafted for presentation to the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and thence to the floor of the 1857 convention, we have tangible primary evidence of his genius. Adams left the KBBC in 1862 to practice medicine and become a bank president in Ridgefield, CT. He died in New Haven, CT in 1899. 

Louis F. Wadsworth: Born in Connecticut in 1825, he graduated from Hartford’s Washington College (today called Trinity) in 1844, and commenced to play baseball with the Washingtons a.k.a Gothams in 1852. After a few years with the Knickerbockers (1854–57) he returned to the Gothams, following the ruckus over his support for nine innings during the convention. One of the veteran Knicks, in recalling some of his old teammates for the New York Sun in 1887, said: “I had almost forgotten the most important man on the team and that is Lew Wadsworth. He was the life of the club. Part of his club suit consisted of a white shirt on the back of which was stamped a black devil. It makes me laugh still when I recall how he used to go after a ball. His hands were very large and when he went for a ball they looked like the tongs of an oyster rake. He got there all the same and but few balls passed him.” Wadsworth’s time with the Knickerbockers, and his crucial role in affixing nine innings and nine men to the rules of baseball, are covered at length in Baseball in the Garden of Eden.

Widowed in 1883, he took to drink and lost a fortune estimated at $300,000 (perhaps $8 million in today’s terms). After some years of selling Sunday newspapers on the streets of Plainfield, NJ as his sole source of income, in 1898 he committed himself to the poorhouse. There he died in 1908, a solitary man with no family or visitors, and none cognizant of his role in developing the game. In his obituary it was written that “In the summer he was particularly interested in following the scores of the ball games of the big leagues, and of late years the game was the one great object of interest to him.”

Wm. H. Grenelle Passport

Wm. H. Grenelle Passport

William H. Grenelle: Elected to membership on June 14, 1850, he was a KBBC director in 1857. Grenelle joined Adams and Wadsworth on the Knick committee formed to arrange what became the 1857 convention. He also played at least one game for the Knickerbockers’ first nine in both 1857 and 1858 and represented the club at several later conventions of the organization that, beginning in 1858, was known as the National Association of Base Ball Players. Born in New York City in 1820, Grenelle worked as a Wall Street broker. For a time he was in partnership with fellow Knickerbockers William H. Talman, Edward A. Bibby, and Alexander H. Drummond, until the firm broke up in 1860. Grenelle died in Brooklyn in 1890, leaving a wife and several children, including Mary Hobart Grenelle Wilcox, whose lone daughter was Constance Grenelle Wilcox Pignatelli, of Madison, Connecticut.

It is through this last named Grenelle heir, the Knickerbocker’s granddaughter, that the documents survived. She was an author, a princess by marriage, an extremely interesting and accomplished woman whose story deserves a telling all its own … another day.


Adams: and


Four Fathers:

PDF of Adams’ draft (“Laws 1”): [cut and paste]

PDF of Grenelle’s scripted “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball” (“Rules”): [cut and paste]

PDF of Grenelle’s scripted “Laws of Base Ball” (“Laws 2”), as presented to the convention: [cut and paste]

PDF of 1857 Rules and Regulations, Finally Adopted: [cut and paste]


Cooperstown Sonnet

Following upon his boffo debut at Our Game with “Kessler at the Bat” (, here’s the latest from my old pal Mikhail Horowitz, raconteur, bon vivant, and baseball bard. Students of sonnetry will note the metrics and rhyme; the rest of us will simply agree that, like a Hall of Famer, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.


Cooperstown Sonnet

Posey, Puckett, Palmer, Perry
Kaline, Koufax, Killebrew
Thompson, Thomas, Tinker, Terry
Campanella, Cobb, Carew

Wilson, Wilson, Waner, Waner
Feller, Ferrell, Fingers, Flick
Torriente, Taylor, Traynor
Rixey, Mackey, Dickey, Frick

Kelly, Kelley, Keeler, Kell
Alston, Aaron, Appling, Vance
Brouthers, Baker, Bender, Bell
Delahanty, Anson, Chance

Weaver, Winfield, White and White
And George and Harry, the Brothers Wright

Five Books You Should Know

Baseball, Robert Smith, 1947

Baseball, Robert Smith, 1947

Now and then I am asked which books of baseball history are the best, or which a new fan should read first, that sort of thing. Sometimes I point the curious to an interview I did nearly five years ago, in which I was asked to the name the five books of baseball history that I found indispensable (apart from encyclopedias, anthologies, or my own scribblings). This interview first appeared at, a splendid site based in the UK, on April 25, 2011.

This year the Commissioner of Major League Baseball named you as the official historian of the game, although you started out life far from the centre of America’s national pastime. You were born in a German displaced persons camp to Polish Holocaust survivors. What do the game and the title mean to you?

That baseball is an Americanising mechanism for immigrants is an old story, but for me it was true. When I came here I was only two and a half; I spoke German and Polish. In nursery school I was made fun of for not being able to speak the language. English was not spoken in my household. So I set about trying to learn it by reading the backs of not only cereal boxes but also baseball cards, those magic passports to America.

Now, what does this official historian title mean to me? It’s an honour for sure and it memorialises but I hope does not entomb me. I wrote my first baseball book 37 years ago. So to be an overnight sensation at the age of 63 is somewhat strange. Many people who may not know my work may now pay a little more attention to it. But what’s most meaningful to me about the title of official historian is that I can give back to baseball. I can serve the game in a way that honours the historical profession and be useful to the game that gave me so much, the game that helped me become an American.

It sometimes seems to me that fans make mastering stats and stories about the game a sport in itself. What is so satisfying about become steeped in sports history?

Sports trivia is a diversion. But sports history is different from trivia. There is a man on a bar stool in every taproom in this country that knows something about baseball that I don’t know. However there is no such person in any bar room that knows everything I know. Being able to parrot back how many home runs Duke Snider hit in 1955 does not make you a historian; it makes you a collector of stray statistics. History is an integrative process.

There is a competitive aspect to the practice of history. Every historian wants to carve out a little territory in which he is the expert – that’s certainly true of baseball. There are some historians who are great experts on the 1910s. There are others who are experts on the evolution of race and society, as seen through the prism of baseball. My great area of expertise is 19th-century baseball in the era before organised league play.

So how did you break into this world of baseball scholarship?

It was accidental. I came from the world of literature. I started in college as a combined mathematics and English major. But the appeal of statistics, the appeal of history, lore and romance, always held me close to baseball. I thought I was going to be a political editor. I was a magazine editor after graduate school and I wrote a baseball book kind of on the side. It sold well, but my health took a turn for the worse and I thought a wheelchair beckoned. It seemed to me if I had to write and I didn’t have the chops to play in Dickens’ arena, then maybe I could write more baseball books.

Baseball, the earliest book you name, was published in 1947 by Robert Smith – a novelist and lifelong Red Sox fan. What did Smith accomplish in his single volume that was of such enduring value?

Smith got the stories right. It does not mean that he was a methodical historian. It does not mean that he was a technically gifted historian. But he talked to old ball players. He made friends with baseball players who were – in 1947 – 80 years old. He captured some stories about the game that otherwise would’ve been lost to history; stories that may have strayed from the path of the truth over the years.

Baseball, Robert Smith, 1970

Baseball, Robert Smith, 1970

But in baseball, legend and apocrypha are important too. When I was working with Ken Burns on the TV documentary Baseball back in the 1990s, we would occasionally come across an anecdote that was entertaining but made me feel obliged, as a historian, to say, “Well, that’s something we ought to verify.” Invariably, the rest of the crew would yell in unison, “That fact is too good to be checked.” I’ve come to feel that although you have to get the stories straight, you also have to respect the enduring legends with a wink.

Robert Smith’s Baseball is a work of history, but you can’t tell history without story and that is Smith’s gift. It has become increasingly rare to tell a story well, rather than simply wield statistics to compare this player to that player, which is the current state of baseball literature to a large extent. Being able to tell a story well was a gift that Smith had in abundance. The 1947 and 1970 editions of the book – which are quite different – are both spellbinding.

It is both the first and the best. Harold Seymour wrote a thesis at Cornell – I think it was published in 1956. And the first volume of the Oxford University three-volume series on baseball, The Early Years, which was product of Harold’s collaboration with his wife Dorothy, was based on the thesis. The thesis focused on baseball through 1891 but in his book he went to 1903. The year that the American League and the National League faced each other in a world series for the first time, 1903 is regarded as the launch of baseball’s modern era.

The Seymours’ work was brilliant and original in its focus on off-the-field activity. The Seymours showed that baseball was filled with hypocrisy and greed and all of the things that we love about America.

The Seymours, Baseball: the Early Years, 1960

Baseball: The Early Years, The Seymours, 1960

Their work was central in making me a historian of baseball. It helped convince me that having left a doctoral programme in English Literature, in which I was writing a thesis on a 17th-century metaphysical poet named George Herbert, that it might not be such a steep fall into disgrace to go from that to being a baseball writer. That one could write seriously about baseball, not merely tell funny stories. That was the impact of the Seymours’ book on me. I think their great contribution was to convince other serious-minded individuals in the years to come that there was a lot left undone.

If someone were to ask me, what should be the first baseball book I should read to understand the history of the game, I would point them to Seymour – and to Lawrence Ritter, another of my choices.

The series was meant to include a fourth volume bringing the history of baseball up to date, but Harold Seymour died of Alzheimer’s before making much headway on it. In fact, his wife Dorothy is believed to be the primary author of the third volume. She worked on the series for 46 years – researching, writing and editing – and yet her husband refused to acknowledge her authorship during his lifetime. Still, Dorothy promotes her husband as “the Gibbon of baseball.” On balance, how will both Seymours be remembered?

They were not exactly Ozzie and Harriet. The outdated idea that the wife should be subservient to the husband in all matters, even in professional matters, appears to have had a toxic effect on their collaboration at least. Dorothy has had something of a steep climb to convince scholars such as myself – and I am convinced – that she was a material collaborator and a co-author who deserves full credit.

Baseball Before We Knew It also focuses on baseball’s birth. It’s by David Block – a fan and collector who turned his attention to the game’s roots when he retired from his career as a computer systems analyst. What did you learn about baseball’s murky origins from reading Block?

Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block, 2005

Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block, 2005

Block picked up where Robert Henderson left off with Ball, Bat and Bishop in 1947. David Block was not a professional writer, this was his first book and it came as a complete surprise – out of left field as we say. He’s a lovely writer, an erudite fellow and a very good friend. But at the time the book came out I didn’t know him at all. He sent me the manuscript and asked me to evaluate it and I was completely stunned. It was a brilliant piece of work. The number of specific finds sprinkled through the work, like diamonds in the dust, is dazzling. For example, it was standard fare for sophisticated baseball folk to say that the game arrived from rounders. David Block demonstrated that the name baseball was far older than rounders – that, if anything, rounders derived from baseball. This may seem a trivial distinction in the wider world and one billion Chinese people don’t care about it, but in our little world this is pretty earthshaking.

David is very systematic and careful in his elucidation of fact. He found a German text by a gymnastic professor named Guts Muths – a 1796 text that had never been translated into English. In it he found the rules and diagrams for baseball. It was a staggering find. Subsequent to publishing the book he discovered a diary in Suffolk from 1755 by a man named William Bray discussing an outing to go to play baseball. Another amazing find. We haven’t heard the last of David.

How does your recent work advance our understanding of baseball’s origins beyond what Block accomplished?

David’s approach was multinational and ancient, first causes. While in my recent book I spend some time in Ancient Egypt and Europe, it is a matter of paragraphs and pages – not whole chapters. I really focus on how the game came to be and rise to prominence in the United States.

Turning to another fan whose baseball scholarship became a legacy: Lawrence Ritter was a professor of finance who, inspired by the example of blues historian Alan Lomax and galvanised by the death of Ty Cobb, spent five years and travelled 75,000 miles with a 50-lb reel-to-reel tape recorder to collect the oral history of baseball’s early greats, in the middle of a successful academic career. Why is The Glory of Their Times regarded as one of the best baseball books of all time?

The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence S. Ritter, 1966

The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence S. Ritter, 1966

It is a time machine. You start reading and you are hearing these ballplayers who played in the major leagues between 1890 and 1920. These are men who played alongside Ty Cobb in the outfield, men who were present when Babe Ruth came up to the Red Sox, men who played a key role in the World Series of 1912. They are speaking to you. You feel as if they were in your living room with you. Hearing from these foundational figures is like listening to an interview with George Washington at Valley Forge.

Larry scoured the country in the age before the internet and to find these players. This was a true labour of love for him. In fact, he gave away the lion’s share of his royalties to the 22 men in the original book and their estates. Larry was an inspiration to me before I knew him. I grew to be his friend, his editor and his collaborator on a number of projects.

His transcriptions of his interviews were more than transcriptions. If he was talking to, say Sam Crawford, and Crawford said something in the third hour of an interview that really belonged in the first hour, Larry stitched it together properly for our enduring reading pleasure. So, while using only the words of the players he interviewed, he transformed sometimes rambling, incoherent audio into brilliant literature.

The tapes that form that basis of the book are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame but the voices of the men that Ritter interviewed can be heard on an audio version of the book. Which do you prefer?

I prefer print, but the audio will blow your hair back. You’ll feel like you are at a seance. These people, long dead, whose moments on the field occurred a century ago, speak to you.

Your final choice, Baseball’s Great Experiment, covers the history of what were called the “Negro Leagues’”and how the colour barrier was broken in 1946. It’s part sportsology, part civil rights history. Can you encapsulate what readers learn from Jules Tygiel’s book?

Baseball's Great Experiment, Jules Tygiel, 1983

Baseball’s Great Experiment, Jules Tygiel, 1983

Jules was a PhD. He was a professor. He was every bit as gifted a historian as the Seymours and more formal than Ritter, Block, or Smith. What Jules did was not merely tell the story of Jackie Robinson and that integration: he told the story of prior leagues and prior integrations. He turned baseball so we saw its dark side. We saw the minor leagues, where racism was far more virulent than in the majors. He discussed the shockingly gruesome experiences of integrating each minor league in turn. Many of the heroes of this period never amounted to much as major league players. He gave them their due.

He worked on a broader canvas that portrayed more than just Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Just as it’s convenient for us to just think of baseball’s origins in terms of a single inventor such as Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, both equally wrong, it’s easy to say Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey combined to integrate baseball, but there were many other heroes. They were not the only two. Jules tells their story too. It’s his greatest contribution to our understanding of the game.

I understand that Tygiel underscores how the integration of baseball hastened the desegregation of American society. You once blogged that “unscripted sport, particularly baseball, is more culturally transformative than staged entertainment.” Can you explain what you mean and why you believe sports fields are such fertile ground for social progress?

We know that Ancient Greek audiences experienced catharsis through attending performances of plays by Aeschylus and Euripides. Sport provides our catharsis. Much of it is ritualised, much of it is repetitive and much of it might be predictable. But because the outcome is unscripted, we are on the edges of our seats. We attach an importance to sport that earlier cultures attributed to tragedies, passion plays and other communal experiences of drama. So when you have something dramatic happen in sport it spills over into real life in a radicalising way.

Reprinted with the gracious permission of the editor,




Baseball’s Bans and Blacklists

Fixed game, September 27, 1865

Fixed game, September 27, 1865

Players, managers, umpires, and executives have been banned from baseball ever since the first game-fixing incident in 1865. Prior to the onset of the Commissioner system in 1920, major league players were banned for a variety of offenses. The threat of blacklist was used as a cudgel to suppress player movement, to tamp down salary demand­­s, and to punish players for drunkenness, insubordination, abuse of umpires, game fixing, obs­­­­cenity, and unsavory associations. The first game fixing scandal and ensuing permanent expulsion (ultimately lifted in the case of each of the three New York Mutuals players banned: Ed Duffy, William Wansley, and Thomas Devyr) date to 1865, eleven years before the launch of what we today term Major League Baseball.

Allegations of game fixing were rampant in the so-called amateur era and in the National Association, the professional circuit that in 1871–1875 preceded the National League. Bill Craver, later to be banished by the National League, was expelled by his Troy club for throwing games in 1871; however, he was signed by Baltimore.  In 1874 John Radcliffe was expelled by the Philadelphia Athletics but nonetheless was picked up by the notoriously corrupt New York Mutuals. Two other players expelled in this year, Bill Boyd and Bill Stearns, were likewise “rehabilitated” for play with other clubs. This scenario played itself out similarly in the cases of Dick Higham, George Zettlein, and Fred Treacey in 1875, as each player was booted from one club only to land on his feet with another. In short, club suspensions or bans held no force in a climate of weak league control.

George Bechtel

George Bechtel

The first National League player (and thus the first in MLB history) to be expelled was George Bechtel in 1876; banned by Louisville for game fixing, he too continued as an active player with the New York Mutuals for a few games until the NL stepped in. A game-fixing scandal in the following year nearly spelled the demise of the league and resulted in four players expelled for life not only by their club but by the league (Jim Devlin, George Hall, Bill Craver, and Al Nichols, all of Louisville). NL President William Hulbert declared the ban and never lifted it despite appeals for reinstatement by some of the players and their supporters. These men were compelled to play in leagues not connected with the NL, sometimes under false names (a pattern continued by banned players in the 20th century).

In the years that followed many players were blacklisted or suspended indefinitely, either by their clubs or by a committee of the league’s owners. In 1881–1882 the NL blacklisted ten players for a variety of offenses (mostly “lushing”) yet when a new rival major league, the American Association, declined to honor the NL bans and proceeded to woo the affected players, the blacklist was removed. In March 1882, the AA set a maximum penalty for drunkenness, insubordination, dishonorable or disreputable conduct: suspension for the balance of the season, plus the entire following season. Other offenses, however, might result in permanent ineligibility.

A full list of players banned in the period before 1920 may not be possible but the list compiled for this study (below) represents the most complete effort to date.

In the years leading up to the introduction of the Commissioner System in 1920 with the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, indefinite suspensions, overt and covert blacklists, and definitive expulsions were common—more so in the years before the peace agreement of 1903 (the “National Agreement”) than before. In that year baseball established a three-person National Commission (American League president, National League president, and a chairperson) to deal with issues affecting both major leagues, including the enactment and enforcement of fines and suspensions. Ban Johnson represented the AL during this time, while five NL presidents served. Garry Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds and a lifelong friend of Johnson, was the chairperson for all 17 years of the National Commission’s operation; critics thus accused Johnson of undue control over the game.

Johnson’s failure to prevail in the Carl Mays case, in which the New York Yankees overturned his ruling in the courts, spelled the end of the National Commission. Also beset by troubling rumors concerning the 1919 World Series, the owners, seeking a single firm hand to guide the game through a rough patch, disbanded the National Commission and hired Landis, a seated Federal judge.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

The men receiving lifetime bans during Judge Landis’s reign and afterward are listed below, with brief discussion of each case. The phrase “permanently ineligible” may have had its origin in a Landis ruling of 1926 in the Cobb-Speaker-Wood case, in which pitcher Hub Leonard had accused the three of conspiring to fix a regular-season series between Boston and Detroit in late 1919. Landis offered these guidelines for punishments going forward, clearly looking to disassociate his term in office from the myriad messes of yore. Much of this language is reflected in MLB’s current Rule 21.

One—A statute of limitations with respect to alleged baseball offenses, as in our state and national statutes with regard to criminal offenses. 

Two—Ineligibility for one year for offering or giving any gift or reward by the players or management of one club to the players or management of another club for services rendered or supposed to be have been rendered, in defeating a competing club. 

Three—Ineligibility for one year for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor had no duty to perform. 

Four—Permanent ineligibility for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor has any duty to perform. 

As stated, the great majority of baseball’s miscreants were expelled from the game long before the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors. The past twenty-five years, however, have produced a conflation of Major League Baseball’s need to assure the integrity of the game with the Hall’s wish to insure the sanctity of its induction process. Notably with the case of Pete Rose, but also to a lesser degree Joe Jackson and other “Black Sox,” the baseball public has come to believe that MLB enforces its verdicts on players even after their death while the Hall merely follows in step. MLB, however, derives no practical benefit from maintaining deceased players on an ineligible list.

On February 8, 1991, the board of directors of the Hall of Fame, in an attempt to preempt the baseball writers from even considering Rose’s induction, voted 12-0 to amend the institution’s by-laws so that anyone deemed ineligible to work in Major League Baseball would be similarly ineligible for the Hall of Fame. All the same, in 1992 Rose received 41 write-in votes. These votes were thrown out. After he received 14 votes in 1993 and 19 in 1994, his name was formally excluded from the balloting process.

Hal Chase, Cincinnati

Hal Chase, Cincinnati

Interestingly, in the very first Hall of Fame balloting, in 1936—long before a linkage between MLB’s ineligibility list and Hall of Fame policy–Joe Jackson received two votes. This low total reflected the electors’ perception that he had disqualified himself through his actions. (Perhaps the electors might once again be trusted to vote sensibly, without special instructions.) Jackson also received two votes in 1946; besides Rose, the only other banned player to receive votes was Hal Chase, with 11 in 1936 and 18 in the following year.

The two lists below point up the history of permanent banishments, their frequent commutations, and their sometimes whimsical enforcement. The list of banished players prior to the appointment of Judge Landis is long indeed; it has never appeared in print or on the web, and may help to form the “permanently ineligible list” that, despite its citation in MLB Rule 21, may have existed only as a figure of speech.


Joe Jackson (“Black Sox”; this story is too well known to bear repetition here)

Buck Weaver (“Black Sox”)

Eddie Cicotte (“Black Sox”)

Lefty Williams (“Black Sox”)

Happy Felsch (“Black Sox”)

Fred McMullin (“Black Sox”)

Swede Risberg (“Black Sox”)

Chick Gandil (“Black Sox”)

Joe Gedeon Second baseman of the St. Louis Browns who, like Weaver, sat in on a meeting with gamblers, had “guilty knowledge,” and failed to share it with authorities.

Gene Paulette, banished by Landis for his association with St. Louis gamblers in 1919, even though he had played a complete 1920 season.

Benny Kauff, arrested for auto theft but acquitted at trial, was banned anyway as, in Landis’s words, “no longer a fit companion for other ballplayers.”

Lee Magee had been released by Chicago, then—after questioning at a trial over his disputed back salary elicited evidence of his gambling involvements—banned by Landis

Heinie Zimmerman was banned in 1921 for encouraging his teammates to fix games; he had been blacklisted since 1919.  As with Hal Chase (see section below on pre-Landis bans), Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial is seen as formalizing Zimmerman’s blacklist as a permanent banishment.

Heinie Groh was banned after rejecting Cincinnati’s salary offer; Landis’s condition for reinstatement was that he could return to play for the Reds only; two days after the ban, Groh did.

Ray Fisher declined a Reds’ pay cut, and sat out the season until hired by the University of Michigan to coach its baseball team. Landis banned him from Organized Baseball for violating the reserve clause but Fisher never returned. The ban was overturned by Bowie Kuhn in 1980.

Dickie Kerr, a “Clean Sox” hero of the 1919 World Series, was banned after he played in an outlaw league in 1922 rather than accept the Chisox pay offer. Thus violating the reserve clause, Kerr was banned. Landis reinstated him in 1925, and he pitched for Chicago again.

Jim “Hippo” Vaughn played a semipro game under an assumed name while under contract to the Cubs in 1921. His case was referred to Landis, who banned Vaughn for the rest of the season. When he signed a three-year contract with the Beloit Fairies, a semipro team out of Beloit, Wisconsin (backed by the Fairbanks-Morse Company), his status as a contract jumper was solidified. Although Landis permitted his reinstatement in 1931, Vaughn failed in his attempt to make the Cubs’ squad.

Shufflin’ Phil Douglas of the Giants, angry with John McGraw, got drunk and sent a letter to a friend on the Cardinals suggesting that he would “disappear” when the club came to St. Louis. Landis banned him for life.

Jimmy O’Connell, a second-year player with the Giants in 1924, offered a bribe to Heinie Sand of the Phils; perhaps he was the naive victim of a joke perpetrated by Giants coach Cozy Dolan. Landis banned both. John McGraw’s involvement has long been surmised but never proven.

Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger was suspended by Landis at the request of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939, after he declined to report to Montreal. He then was reinstated at Brooklyn’s request in early 1940 so that his contract could be sold to Nashville of the Southern Association, for whom he won 26 games. He pitched for several other clubs in the minors but never returned to the majors.

William Cox, Phils’ owner, was banned for betting on baseball games and forced to sell his franchise. Occurring in 1943, this was Landis’s last banishment. (In 1953, St. Louis owner Fred Saigh was forced to divest his control of the Cardinals when he began a fifteen-month sentence for tax evasion; that paved the way for Saigh’s sale of the team to Anheuser-Busch. Saigh was not formally banned, however.)

Sal Maglie, Max Lanier, Ace Adams, Danny Gardella, Luis Olmo, and others were banned for five years after jumping to the Mexican League in 1946. Happy Chandler rescinded many of these bans, however, in settlement of lawsuits.

Ferguson Jenkins, after being arrested in Toronto for possessing cocaine in August 1980, was banned two weeks later by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. An arbitrator overturned the ban in September.

Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banned by Kuhn in 1983 because they worked as greeters at an Atlantic City casino. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth reinstated both in 1985.

Pete Rose was banned by Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989. Several appeals have been unsuccessful, most recently in 2015.

George Steinbrenner was banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990, who reinstated him two years later.

Steve Howe, after six prior drug suspensions, was banned on the same day that Vincent reinstated Steinbrenner. The ban was overturned by an arbitrator in November 1992.

Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds owner, was banned by Bud Selig in 1996 for bringing Major League Baseball into disrepute by repeatedly uttering racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs. She was reinstated in 1998.

Jenrry Mejia, Mets pitcher, received a permanent suspension from Organized Baseball on February 12, 2016, following a third failed drug test.


Note that many of these bans or indefinite suspensions, for a variety of offenses, were later lifted by club or league resolve. Bans by minor leagues are not included, nor are suspensions levied for stated durations. Bans not marked as “[permanent”] below were ultimately truncated or rescinded, but when they were levied, an affected player would not know when or if he might return to good graces. Some players were subject to “lifetime” bans more than once; several Hall of Famers are on this list.

AA = American Association

UA = Union Association

PL = Players’ League 

Bill Craver, 1871

Scott Hastings, 1872

George Hall, 1872

Candy Cummings, 1873

Bill Boyd, 1874

Bill Stearns, 1874

John Radcliffe, 1874

Dick Higham, 1875

George Zettlein, 1875

Fred Treacey, 1875

George Latham, 1875

Billy Geer, 1875

Henry Luff, 1875

George Bechtel, 1876 [permanent]

Tommy Bond, 1876

Joe Battin, 1877 [permanent]

Joe Blong, 1877 [permanent]

Jim Devlin, 1877 [permanent]

Bill Craver, 1877 [permanent]

George Hall, 1877 [permanent]

Al Nichols, 1877 [permanent]

Lew Brown, 1880

Charley Jones, 1880

Mike Dorgan, 1881

Lipman Pike, 1881

Sadie Houck‚ 1881

Lou Dickerson‚ 1881

Mike Dorgan‚ 1881

Bill Crowley‚ 1881

John Fox‚ 1881

Emil Gross‚ 1881

Ed “The Only” Nolan‚ 1881

Ed Caskins, 1881

John Clapp, 1881

Morrie Critchley, 1882 [permanent]

Hoss Radbourn, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Sam Wise [expelled from AA only]

Bill Holbert [expelled from AA only]

Jerry Denny, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Art Whitney, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Pud Galvin, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Charlie Bennett, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

John Bergh, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Ned Williamson, 1882 [expelled from AA only]

Fred Lewis, 1882

Herman Doscher, 1882 [permanent]

Dick Higham, umpire, 1882 [permanent]

Phil Baker, 1883

Joe Gerhardt, 1883

Frank “Gid” Gardner, 1883

Tom Deasley, 1883

Jack Leary, 1883

John Milligan, 1883

Billy Taylor‚ 1883

John Sweeney, 1883 [permanent]

Frank Larkin, 1883

J.J. Smith, 1883

Harry Luff, 1883

Mike Mansell‚ 1883

George Creamer, 1883

Al Atkinson, 1883

Joe Sommer, 1883

Bill Traffley, 1883

Phil Powers, 1883

Charles Sweeney, 1884

Tommy Bond, 1884

Frank Gardner, 1884

Tony Mullane, 1884

Jack Brennan, umpire, 1884

Lew Dickerson, 1884

Chappy Lane, 1884

Tom Gunning, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

Ed Colgan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

Frank Meinke, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

Steve Behel, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

James Hillery, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

P.F. Sullivan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]

Jack Farrell, 1885

Dave Rowe, 1885

George Gore, 1885

Jim Mutrie, 1885 [expelled from AA only]

Sam Barkley, 1886

Pete Browning, 1886

Jack Gleason, 1886

Jerry Denny, 1886

Toad Ramsey, 1887

Chief Roseman, 1887

Toad Ramsey, 1888

John “Phenomenal” Smith, 1888

Lady Baldwin, 1888

Yank Robinson, 1889

Jack Glasscock, 1889 [expelled from PL only]

Jack Clements, 1889 [expelled from PL only]

John Clarkson, 1889 [expelled from PL only]

Marr Phillips, 1890

Denny Lyons, 1890

Denny Lyons, 1891

Jack Stivetts, 1891

Bones Ely, 1891

John Dolan, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Bert Inks, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Frank Knauss, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

John Reilly, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Silver King, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Hoss Radbourn, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Rowdy Jack O’Connor, 1891

Al Buckenberger (manager), 1891

Bill Barnie (manager), 1891

Fred Pfeffer (manager), 1891

Red Ehret, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Harry Raymond, 1891 [expelled from AA only]

Jocko Halligan, 1892

Patsy Tebeau, 1896

Fred Pfeffer, 1896

Jack Taylor, 1897

Ducky Holmes, 1898

Jack Taylor, 1899

Burt Hart, 1901

Hugh Duffy, 1901

Jimmy Jones, 1902

Joseph Creamer, trainer, 1908

Jack O’Connor and Harry Howell, manager and coach of the St. Louis Browns, were banned in 1910 for attempting to fix the outcome of the 1910 American League batting title for the beloved Nap Lajoie against the reviled Ty Cobb. O’Connor gave his third baseman, Red Corriden, an odd order: to go stand in shallow left field whenever Lajoie came up to bat. With no one covering third base, Lajoie got seven hits in the day’s doubleheader, six of them bunts, and slipped past Cobb for the batting title.

Horace Fogel, club owner, 1912

Joe “Moon” Harris of the Cleveland Indians was banned for life in 1920 (before Landis’s appointment) for violating the reserve clause in his contract, after he chose to play for an independent team rather than the Cleveland Indians. He was reinstated by Landis in 1922 due, in part, to his creditable service during World War I.

Hal Chase, never formally banned but blacklisted in February 1920 from the National League after hearings showed evidence of game fixing with Cincinnati in 1916 and, certainly, before and after; his crowning swindle was to bring gamblers and fixers together to throw the 1919 World Series. Today, Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial that no one who bet on baseball would ever be allowed to play is recognized as formalizing Chase’s blacklisting.  He continued to play in outlaw leagues in the West.


David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 12

Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982

Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982

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

Embattled Decade Campaigns: AL, 1981-1990

The long unrealized dream of an era of competitive balance now became something of a reality in the AL, as each of the first seven campaigns produced a new league champion. Moreover, eleven different teams won divisional titles in these years. However, in the West the Oakland Athletics won three divisional championships and captured consecutive league championships in 1988-1989.  And the Tigers, Royals, Red Sox, and Angels each won a pair of divisional pennants in this era.

The AL’s free-for-all pattern began with the singular campaign of 1981. When the long player strike gutted the middle of that season, a split-season format was adopted in hopes of renewing fan support for the arrested campaign.

Under this format, the first half of the season ended when the players walked out on June 11, and the second half ran from the resumption of play in mid-August to the end of the regular playing schedule. Because the June 11 strike date had the Yankees leading the Orioles by 2 games in the East, and the Athletics leading the Rangers by 1 1/2 games in the West, these teams were declared the first-half winners of their divisions. But when the split-season plan barred first-half winners from repeating as divisional champs, the Yankees dawdled to a sixth-place finish in the East’s second-half race. Thus the Milwaukee Brewers won the second-half Eastern race by 1 1/2 games over the Red Sox. In the West, the Athletics lost the second half to the Royals by 1 game.

At this point, the split-season script called for a best-of-five-games playoff series to determine the divisional championships. In the East the series went the full five games before the Yankees defeated the Brewers, but in the West the scrappy Athletics swept the Royals. Then in the ensuing League Championship Series the Yankees swept the Athletics. Although the Yankees won the 1981 AL pennant, their overall record was bettered by two other teams. The Yankee victory owed to its pitching staff, whose 2.90 ERA led the league; starters Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti combined for 19 wins, and reliever Goose Gossage saved 20 games. As for the Athletics, whose overall record was the AL’s best, they led the league in homers.  The Athletics were led by outfielder Rickey Henderson, who batted .319 and led the league in stolen bases, and pitcher Steve McCatty, whose 14 wins and 2.32 ERA led the league. As for the Yankees, their comeuppance came in the World Series.  Matched against the resilient Dodgers, the Yankees took the first two games, but then were ignominiously swept. And by losing three games in relief, Yankee pitcher George Frazier added his name to the annals of World Series goats.

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

Ron Guidry, by Jim Trusilo

In the dog-eat-dog competition of the next six AL seasons, the Yankees failed to win another divisional title. In 1982 the Brewers squeaked to a 1-game win over the Orioles in the East. In winning, the Brewers batted .279 and the team’s 216 homers topped the majors, with shortstop Robin Yount winning MVP honors for his .331-29-114 batting exploits. Outfielder Gorman Thomas led the league with 39 homers and drove in 112 runs.  And infielders Cecil Cooper (.331-32-121) and Paul Molitor (.302-19-71) complemented Yount’s stickwork. But the pitching was shaky, except for starters Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, who combined for 35 victories. Veteran reliever Rollie Fingers saved 29 games, so the late-season injury that sidelined this mustachioed ace was a crusher.  In the West, the California Angels won a close race by 3 games over the Royals. A good hitting team, the Angels finished right behind the Brewers in hitting and homers, and their pitching bettered the Brewers. Starter Geoff Zahn’s 18 wins led the staff. Offensively, a quartet of expensive recent acquisitions paced the attack, including infielders Rod Carew (.319) and Doug DeCinces (.301-30-97), and outfielders Fred Lynn (.299) and Reggie Jackson (39 homers and 102 RBIs). Jackson’s 39 homers tied Thomas for the league leadership, and the veteran drove in 101 runs. When these two well-matched teams met in LCS play, for a time it seemed likely that Angel manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant. The Angels took the first two games at home, but were swept by the Brewers in Milwaukee. Thus the Brewers became the first major league team to win an LCS after losing the first two games.  But in World Series play it was the Cardinals who rebounded from a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Brewers.  This latest loss was the fourth in a row by an AL entry.

But over the next three seasons, three different AL teams ended the NL streak by winning world titles. In 1983 the Orioles drove to a 6-game victory over the runner-up Tigers in the Eastern Division. Pitchers Scott McGregor (187), Mike Boddicker (168), Storm Davis (137), and reliever Tippy Martinez (with 21 saves) headed the league’s second-best pitching staff. At bat the Orioles hit .269, and the team’s 168 homers led the majors. Shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.’s .318-27-102 batting won him MVP honors, while first baseman Eddie Murray weighed in with .306-33-111 clouting. Meanwhile, in the West the long-dormant Chicago White Sox stormed to a 20-game victory over the Royals. In landing their first divisional title, the White Sox drew 2 million fans, who saw young Ron Kittle win Rookie of the Year honors with his 35 homers and 100 RBIs. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the White Sox got plentiful power from outfielder Harold Baines (20-99), catcher Carlton Fisk (26-86), and DH Greg Luzinski (32-95).  What’s more, the White Sox boasted a pair of 20-game winners in Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt (24-10) and Rich Dotson (22-7). Behind Hoyt, the White Sox won the first LCS game, but the Orioles swept the next three games to win the pennant. The Orioles then dropped the opening game of the 1983 World Series at home, but then swept the Phillies to end the AL’s humiliating losing streak.

Cal Ripken, 1995

Cal Ripken, 1995

The following year another new champion surfaced in the AL East, which was now being touted as the strongest division in the majors. Riding the momentum of a 355 breakaway gait, the Detroit Tigers went on to win 104 games, enough to lap the Toronto Blue Jays by 15 games. It was indeed a vintage year for manager Sparky Anderson’s all-conquering Tigers. Offensively the Tigers led the league in hitting (.271) and homers (187). Shortstop Alan Trammell batted .314, and outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Lance Parrish combined to produce 60 homers and 189 RBIs. To top it off, the Tigers also fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Starters Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox turned in 54 victories and reliever Willie Hernandez, a recent acquisition from the Phillies, saved 32 games.  In 32 of his 33 game-saving situations, Hernandez met the test–an achievement that won him both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Meanwhile, in the weaker Western Division the Royals eked a 3-game win over the Angels and Twins, but the Royals won only six more games than they lost. The Royals batted .268, with outfielder Willie Wilson and DH Hal McRae topping the .300 mark. But the pitching was mediocre and the staff depended heavily on reliever Dan Quisenberry, who saved 44 games. When the Tigers and Royals faced off in LCS play, the Tigers won the 1984 AL pennant by dispatching the Royals in three games. And in World Series action, the Tigers easily defeated the San Diego Padres in five games.  By skippering the Tigers to victory, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win World Series titles in both the American and National leagues.

But the Tigers’ view from the top was a brief one. In 1985 they fell 15 games off the pace, leaving the Eastern field to the Blue Jays and Yankees. And at the close of the season, the Blue Jays topped the Yankees by 2 games, to win their first divisional title since joining the AL in the mini-expansion of 1977. The rise of the Blue Jays owed much to general manager Pat Gillick, who, by dint of shrewd trades and canny selections in annual surplus-player drafts, swiftly assembled a pennant contender. In 1985 the Blue Jays’ pitching staff led the league, and outfielder Jesse Barfield (.289-27-84) powered an offense that produced a .269 team batting average and 158 homers. Pitcher Dave Stieb’s 2.48 ERA led the league’s pitchers, although his 14-13 record was disappointing.  Starters Doyle Alexander and Jimmy Key combined for 31 victories, and Dennis Lamp posted an 11-0 record in relief.  In the lightly regarded Western Division, meanwhile, the Royals became the only AL team of this brief era to repeat as divisional champs. In winning by a single game over the Angels, the Royals batted only .252, but powered 154 homers. Third baseman George Brett’s .335-30-112 led the hitters, and first baseman Steve Balboni drove in 88 runs and hit 36 homers. The pitching was good. Young Bret Saberhagen’s 206, 2.87 ERA won him the Cy Young Award, Charlie Leibrandt’s 17 wins came on the league’s second-best ERA, and reliever Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games. When the Blue Jays and Royals squared off in the newly extended seven-game LCS, the Blue Jays took a 31 lead, but the gritty Royals came on to win in seven games, beating the Blue Jays in their home roost the last two games. In the World Series, the resilient Royals staged yet another memorable comeback against the favored Cardinals.  After losing the first two games at home, the Royals fell behind 31, but rallied to win the next three games.  This latest World Series victory extended the AL’s winning streak to three.

In another topsy-turvy campaign, the 1986 Red Sox dethroned the Blue Jays in the East. The Red Sox took the lead in June and hung on to win the division pennant by 5 1/2 games over the Yankees. A .271 team batting assault was fronted by batting champ Wade Boggs (.357-8-71) and outfielder Jim Rice (.324-20-110).  Boston’s overall pitching was mediocre, but starter Roger Clemens led all pitchers with a 244, 2.48 effort that won the big righthander both the MVP and Cy Young awards.  While the Red Sox were winning in the East, the Royals faded in the West as arm miseries tolled on young Saberhagen. Thus the Angels won the division by 5 games over the Texas Rangers. Rookie first baseman Wally Joyner, who replaced the great Carew, batted .299-22-100 to head the Angels’ weak .255 batting. But Angel pitching ranked second in the AL, with Mike Witt winning 18 on a sparkling 2.84 ERA, Kirk McCaskill and veteran Don Sutton combining for 32 wins, and reliever Donnie Moore saving 21 games.

When the Angels took a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in LCS play, it now appeared as if manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant in twenty-five years at the helm of major league teams. Indeed, in the fifth game Mauch’s Angels were one pitch away from a league title, but the Red Sox rallied to win the game on heroics by Dave Henderson.  The Red Sox then took the next two games at home to land the 1986 AL pennant.  In the World Series the Red Sox jumped to a 3-2 lead over the Mets and appeared on the verge of winning their first world title since 1918, but the Mets crushed the dream by winning the last two games at Shea Stadium.

1986 ALCS and WS

1986 ALCS and WS

As a climax to the eighty-six-year history of the AL, the 1987 season provided a storied campaign. In a frenetic season which saw AL sluggers set yet another homer mark and attendance climb to new heights, both divisional races were fiercely contested. In the East waged an epic struggle that ended in a 2-game victory by the Tigers.  With seven games to play, the Blue Jays led by 3 1/2 games, but incredibly they lost all seven, including three vital games to the Tigers in Detroit. Hefty .272 batting and a major-league-leading 225 homer barrage powered the Tigers, whose shaky pitching staff was bolstered by the September acquisition of veteran Doyle Alexander from the Braves. By posting a 5-0 record with the Tigers, Alexander was named Pitcher of the Month by The Sporting News. Among the offensive standouts, shortstop Alan Trammell batted .343-28-105, young catcher Matt Nokes, who replaced the departed Parrish, batted .289-32-87, and forty-year-old first baseman Darrell Evans hit 34 homers and drove in 99 runs. With Anderson’s Tigers posting the best record in the majors, scant hope was afforded the Western-winning Minnesota Twins, who defeated the Royals by 2 games to win their first divisional title. Indeed, the Twins surrendered more runs (806) than they scored (786). But the Twins batted .261 and poled 196 homers; outfielder Kirby Puckett (.332-28-99) led the hitters, with outfielder Tom Brunansky and infielders Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti combining for 97 homers and 284 RBIs. On the other hand, Twins’ pitchers allowed a horrendous 4.63 ERA. But the staff’s most respectable member, Frank Viola, stood out as the winningest left-handed pitcher in the majors over the past four seasons. In 1986 Viola posted a 17-10, 2.90 ERA, and veteran Bert Blyleven recorded a 15-12 mark.

Matched against the Tigers in LCS play, the Twins were scorned as hometown dependents whose outstanding home record owed to the vagaries of their much-maligned domed stadium.  But the Twins thrashed the Tigers in five games to win their first AL pennant in twenty-two years. Moreover, they went on to beat the crippled Cardinals in a seven-game World Series struggle by scoring all of their victories in their cozy “homer dome’ before capacity crowds of screaming, hankie-waving fans. Thus the 1987 World Series stood out as the first where all victories were won on home fields. And the Twins were indeed fortunate to have hosted four of the games in their favorite bailiwick.

In 1988 a timely rule change which redefined the strike zone helped to quell the raging homer epidemic. In an anticlimactic season that saw batting and power hitting tail off, the well-balanced Oakland Athletics dominated the AL West from the start. The A’s 104 victories topped the majors and lapped the runner-up Minnesota Twins by 13 games. League-leading pitching, paced by Dave Stewart’s 21 wins and reliever Dennis Eckersley’s 45 saves, carried the A’s, who were powered by young outfielder Jose Canseco’s .307-42-124 batting. Canseco also stole 40 bases to become the first player to notch at least 40 homers and as many stolen bases. Meanwhile the AL East saw the only hotly contested divisional race in the majors, as the Boston Red Sox edged the Detroit Tigers by a single game; only 3 1/2 games separated the Red Sox from the sixth place Yankees. Barely playing .500 ball at the All-Star break, the Red Sox changed managers–from John McNamara to Joe Morgan–and staged an extended winning streak that carried them to the top. Despite a late-season slump, they hung on to win. Leading the Boston attack, perennial batting champ Wade Boggs batted .366 to lead the majors and outfielder Mike Greenwell weighed in with a .325-22-119 performance.  Ace pitchers Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst each won 18 games and newly acquired reliever Lee Smith saved 29; still, the Red Sox needed the timely pitching of Mike Boddicker, who joined the staff from the Orioles late in the season and won seven games for Boston. However, the Red Sox were mismatched against the A’s, who stormed to a sweeping victory in LCS play on the strength of Canseco’s three homers and Eckersley’s four saves in relief of the starters.  In the World Series the A’s were held in check by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitchers, notably Orel Hershiser–whose three hits in Game 2 exceeded the Series total of Canseco and Mark McGwire combined.

Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson

But the resilient A’s came back with a vengeance in 1989. Newcomers included outfielder Rickey Henderson, re-acquired from the Yankees, and veteran pitcher Mike Moore, picked up in the re-entry draft. Moore signed for $1.9 million, which he repaid by winning 19 games with a nifty 2.61 ERA. Moore buttressed a pitching staff headed by Dave Stewart, whose 21 victories marked the third consecutive year he matched or topped 20 wins. Bob Welch added 17 victories and reliever Dennis Eckersley saved 33 games. Offensively, Henderson led the league in stolen bases (72) and tied for the lead in runs scored (113). Henderson’s production offset the loss of slugger Canseco, who missed 88 games because of an injury. Returning to action, Canseco hit 17 homers to augment the 33 hit by McGwire, who drove in 95 runs. Manager Tony LaRussa’s team batted .261 with 127 homers. Meanwhile in the AL East, Manager Frank Robinson took over the helm of the hapless Orioles, who won but 54 games in 1988, and drove them to within two games of the divisional championship. For this achievement Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year, thus becoming the first black manager to win the award in both major leagues. But the AL East championship went to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were skippered by Cito Gaston. In 1989 Gaston took over a 12-24 team and drove them to a 2-game victory over the Orioles, thus becoming the first black manager to land a divisional title. Toronto’s pitching staff was the best in the East, but ranked only fourth in the AL. Dave Stieb’s 17-8 pitching led the hurlers, while six Blue Jay sluggers, led by AL homer champ Fred McGriff’s 36 blows, reached double figures in homer production. But when the Blue Jays faced the A’s in LCS play, the A’s crushed them in five games. And matched against the NL Giants in the earthquake-ravaged Bay Area World Series, the A’s swept to victory. For pitching two of the four victories, Stewart was named the Series MVP.

Embattled Decade Campaigns: NL, 1981-1990

Although less competitively balanced than the AL, the NL campaigns of this era were hotly contested. Each one of the twelve teams won a divisional title in these years. But the Dodgers won four Western titles and captured two league pennants and two world titles, and in the East the Cardinals won three divisional races and three league championships, yet won only one World Series. Dual divisional titles were won by the Mets, Giants, and Cubs, and singletons were won by the Expos, Padres, Phillies, Braves, Astros, Pirates, and Reds.

When the long players’ strike of 1981 gutted team playing schedules by an average of 55 games, the split-season format was unveiled upon resumption of play in August in hopes of salvaging the campaign. By dint of their 1.5-game lead over the Cardinals on the June 11 strike day, the Phillies were declared first-half winners in the East; and by virtue of a mere half-game lead over the Reds on that fatal date, the Dodgers became the first-half winners in the West. These were close calls to be sure, but no closer than the results of the second-half races. In the NL East, the Montreal Expos finished a half-game up on the luckless Cardinals, while the Houston Astros edged the snakebit Reds by 1.5 games in the West.

As frustrated runners-up in two close calls, the Cardinals and Reds with the best overall record in the NL received no recognition. However, the defiant Reds later raised their own homemade pennant as a symbol of protest. In the playoffs for the divisional titles, the Expos beat the Phillies in five games to win in the East, and the Dodgers rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games to beat the Astros in the West.

The division-winning Expos and Dodgers then met in the usual League Championship Series, which the Dodgers won. Once again rallying from a 2-1 deficit, manager Lasorda’s men edged the Expos. In winning the NL’s forlorn 1981 championship, the Dodgers batted .262, led the league in homers with 82, and fielded the league’s second-ranked pitching staff. Rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won his first eight games and finished with a 13-7 mark to pace the staff, while outfielders Pedro Guerrero (.300-12-48) and Dusty Baker (.320-9-49) led the batting attack.

In World Series play, the Dodgers once again dug themselves a hole by losing the first two games. But once again they rebounded, this time sweeping their old Yankee tormentors to win the 1981 world title.

With the game’s image blighted by the “dishonest season” of 1981, the NL sorely needed a dramatic flourish to regain its credibility. Mercifully this was supplied by the extremely close divisional races of 1982. In the NL East a four-team struggle ended with the Cardinals topping the Phillies by 3 games. At bat the Cardinals hit .264, but with scant power (67 homers). Outfielder Lonnie Smith was the only regular to top the .300 mark, but first baseman Keith Hernandez batted .299 and drove in 94 runs, and outfielder George Hendrick powered the team with his .282-19-104 hitting. By way of compensation, the Cardinals led the league in fielding and stolen bases, and owned the league’s second-best mound corps. Starters Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch each won 15 games, and ace reliever Bruce Sutter won 9 and saved a league-leading 36 games.

Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter


In the West, meanwhile, the Braves won their first 13 games and hung on for dear life thereafter to edge the Dodgers by a game. Offensively, the Braves batted only .256, but led the league in homers with 146. Outfielder Dale Murphy’s 36 homers generated a league-leading 109 RBI, and third baseman Bob Horner hit 32 homers and drove in 97 runs. Veteran knuckleball hurler Phil Niekro’s 17-4 effort headed the pitching staff, which needed every one of reliever Gene Garber’s 30 saves. In LCS play the Braves’ mediocre pitching tolled as the Cardinals swept to victory. In ensuing World Series play, the Cardinals fell behind the heavy-hitting Brewers 3-2, but rallied to win the final two games at home. This latest World Series victory was the fourth straight for NL contenders.

When the Cardinals succumbed to poor pitching in 1983, the Phillies snatched the Eastern title by 6 games over the Pirates. The Phillies did it with a brilliant stretch drive, winning twenty-one of their last twenty-five games. Offensively, the aging Phillies batted only .249, but third baseman Mike Schmidt’s 40 homers led the league, and his 109 RBI led the team. A sound pitching staff, fronted by John Denny’s Cy Young Award-winning 19-6 effort and reliever Al Holland’s 25 saves was a decisive factor in the victory.

Meanwhile, in the West the Dodgers also mounted a September stretch drive to topple the Braves by 3 games. Like the Phillies, the Dodgers’ .250 hitting was lackluster, but the team led the league in homers (146); outfielder Guerrero’s 32 homers and 103 RBI headed the assault. A major factor was the team’s pitching staff, whose 3.10 ERA was the league’s best. Valenzuela and Bob Welch combined for 30 victories, and reliever Steve Howe saved 18. In LCS play, veteran hurler Steve Carlton’s two victories paced the Phillies to victory in four games. However, the Philadelphia “Wheeze Kids” fell to the Orioles in five games in the 1983 World Series.

As the Phillies sank to fourth place in 1984, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs notched their first pennant of any sort since 1945. In downing the Mets by 6.5 games in the East, the Cubs staged a second-half rally, fronted by ex-Phillie infielder Ryne Sandberg’s MVP-winning .314 batting. Dodger castoff Ron Cey contributed 25 homers and 97 RBI, and young first baseman Leon “Bull” Durham weighed in with 23 homers and 96 RBI. And the pitching staff was bolstered by yet another recent acquisition, Rick Sutcliffe, whose 16-1 record won him the Cy Young Award. Starter Steve Trout chipped in with 13 victories, and reliever Lee Smith won 9 games and saved 33.

While the Cubs were winning in the East, another newcomer, the San Diego Padres, easily won the Western title by 12 games over the runner-up Braves. The Padres batted .259, with young outfielder Tony Gwynn leading the league with his .351 batting. The team’s modest total of 109 homers was augmented by third baseman Graig Nettles and outfielder Kevin McReynolds, each of whom poled 20. More distinguished was the pitching staff, whose 3.48 ERA ranked third in the league. Able starters Eric Show, Ed Whitson, and Mark Thurmond combined for 43 victories, and veteran reliever Goose Gossage won 10 and saved 25 games.

In LCS play the Cubs pounded out a pair of early victories at Wrigley Field, but the surprising Padres swept the next three games at home to become the first NL team ever to win an LCS after losing the first two games. Sad to say, however, the Padres’ world title hopes went aglimmering as the Tigers trounced them in five games in the 1984 World Series.

The following year the Cardinals won another NL pennant. In fending off the rising New York Mets by 3 games in the East, the Cardinals relied on league-leading batting and base stealing. Outfielder Willie McGee’s league-leading .353 batting won him the MVP Award, and outfielder Vince Coleman won Rookie of the Year honors by stealing 110 bases-a new record for a rookie. Among other stalwarts, second baseman Tom Herr batted .302; first baseman Jack Clark, recently acquired from the Giants, hit 22 homers and drove in 87 runs; and shortstop Ozzie Smith, who won the league’s Gold Glove Award for a sixth straight year, batted .276. What’s more, Cardinal pitching ranked second in the league, with ex-Pirate John Tudor leading the hurlers with a 21-8, 1.93 ERA performance. Starters Andujar (21 wins) and Danny Cox (18 wins) lent sturdy support, as did relievers Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley. The pair’s 30 saves compensated for the loss of free agent Sutter.

As the Cardinals were winning in the East, the Dodgers went on to win the Western title by 5.5 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Dodgers’ .261 hitting was led by outfielder Guerrero’s .320-33-87 hitting. Better still, the Dodger pitching corps led the majors with a 2.96 ERA. The starting quartet of Orel Hershiser, Bob Welch, Jerry Reuss, and Fernando Valenzuela produced 64 wins, and the bullpen saved 31 games.

Orel Hershiser

Orel Hershiser

In LCS play, the well-armed Dodgers took the first two games of the newly established seven-game format, but the Cardinals swept the next four to win the NL pennant. Pitted against the underdog Royals in the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals won three of the first four games, including the first two in the Royals’ home lair. But the Royals won the fifth game at St. Louis and the final two games back home. The sixth game was marred by a disputed call at first base that gave the Royals a life of which they took full advantage. The Royals then won the final game in an 11-0 laugher, and their victory extended the recent AL World Series winning streak to three years.

The following year the New York Mets ended the AL’s victory flurry with a dramatic win. In dominating the NL East, the 1986 Mets won 108 games to lap the runner-up Phillies by 21.5 games. Offensively, the versatile Mets led the league in hitting (.263), poled 148 homers, and stole 118 bases. First baseman Keith Hernandez (.310-13-83) headed the charge, with outfielder Darryl Strawberry and catcher Gary Carter powering a combined 51 homers and 198 RBI. As icing on their victory cake, the Mets fielded the best pitching staff in the majors. Starters Bob Ojeda (18-5), Dwight Gooden (17-6), Sid Fernandez (16-6) and Ron Darling (15-6) were formidable, as was the bullpen duo of Roger McDowell (14 wins, 22 saves) and Jesse Orosco (8 wins, 21 saves).

While the Mets were compiling the best record in the majors, the Houston Astros were winning the Western Division by 10 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Astros batted .255 with 125 homers. Outfielder Kevin Bass batted .311-20-79 to head the hitters, while first baseman Glenn Davis powered 31 homers and drove in 101 runs. Backing the Hitters was the league’s second-best pitching staff, fronted by Mike Scott’s 18-10 hurling, which was accompanied by a league-leading 2.22 ERA.

While the outcome of the LCS appeared to be a foregone conclusion, the Astros hung tough before losing in six games to the Mets. The Red Sox also fell to the Mets in World Series play, but not before throwing a scare into manager Davey Johnson’s crew. Indeed, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in games before the Mets rallied to win the final two games at Shea Stadium.

The following year most observers picked the swaggering Mets to repeat, but the resilient Cardinals took the 1987 Eastern title by 3 games. Although outhit by the league-leading Met batters, the Cardinals mustered .263 hitting, which they backed by stout relief pitching to pull off their victory. Offensively, the Cardinals’ 94 homers were the fewest by any major league team this season, but first baseman Jack Clark bashed 35 and drove in 106 runs. Third baseman Terry Pendleton drove in 96 runs, while shortstop Ozzie Smith drove home 75 runs with nary a homer to his credit. But the Cardinals atoned with a sprightly running game led by outfielder Vince Coleman, who topped 100 seasonal steals for the third straight season. Likewise the shaky pitching staff that completed only ten games was backed by a redoubtable relief crew whose ace, Todd Worrell, saved 33 games.

Meanwhile in the NL West, the Giants won over the bridesmaid Reds by 6 games. The Giant victory was a dramatic turnabout for a team that in 1985 had finished last in their division with 100 losses. A fine balance of hitting and pitching made the difference in 1987. At the plate the Giants batted .260 with 205 homers and were led by first baseman Will Clark’s .308-35-91 pyrotechnics. Moreover, the pitching staff boasted the league’s best ERA, even if the Giant starters completed only 28 games. What mattered was that relievers Scott Garrelts and Jeff Robinson combined for 22 wins and 31 saves.

When the Giants met the Cardinals in LCS play, injuries to Jack Clark and Pendleton cast the Cardinals as underdogs. But the Cardinals won their third NL title of the era by overcoming a 3-2 deficit in games with a pair of home-field victories. In World Series play, it was the crippled Cardinals who were favored over the unheralded Twins, but the American Leaguers won four games, all of them in their cozy domed stadium, to edge the Cardinals in seven games.

Dwight Gooden, Tidewater

Dwight Gooden, Tidewater

The pitching rule modification that stemmed the homer tide in 1988 wreaked havoc with NL batters in 1988 as only five regulars attained the .300 mark. Although no New York Met batter joined this circle, Darryl Strawberry boomed a league-leading 39 homers and drove in 101 runs and outfield mate Kevin McReynolds produced a .288-27-99; they powered the Mets to 100 victories and an easy 15-game victory over the Pirates in the NL East. With a 2.91 ERA, the Mets also boasted the best pitching staff in the majors. David Cone led the starters at 20-3 and Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling combined for 35 wins. Relievers Randy Myers and Roger McDowell saved 42 games.

In the West, meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the lead in July and hung on to win by 7 games over the Cincinnati Reds who along the way got a rare perfect-game pitching performance from Tom Browning. But the Dodgers held claim to the best individual pitching performance of the year when their ace, Orel Hershiser, finished the regular season with a new record of 59 scoreless innings. In addition to a 23-8 record Hershiser led all NL pitchers in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Offensively the modest Dodger attack was powered by newly acquired free agent Kirk Gibson (.290-25-76) and veteran outfielder Mike Marshall (.277-20-82).

The lightly regarded Dodgers were afforded little chance against the Mets in LCS play. But the Dodgers prevailed in seven games with Hershiser starting three games and relieving in another. And then they upset the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, despite crippling injuries to Gibson, pitcher John Tudor, and catcher Mike Scioscia.

But there was no encore to such heroics, and the 1989 Dodgers fell to fourth place in the NL West. An impotent .240 batting average that included only 89 homers sabotaged the pitching staffs major league-leading 2.95 ERA. Hershiser again led the league in innings pitched and finished second in ERA, but was held to a 15-15 performance. And the workload took its toll on the Dodger ace, who was sidelined by a crippling shoulder injury at the outset of the 1990 season.

As the struggling Dodgers fell from grace, the Giants and the Padres battled for the 1989 Western title. The talent-laden Reds straggled in fifth, as the investigation of their manager, Pete Rose, culminated in his expulsion from the game. San Diego’s reliever Mark Davis saved a league-leading 44 games for the Padres. Offensively, Tony Gwynn’s league-leading .336 batting and 203 hits and Jack Clark’s 26 homers, 94 RBI, and a major-league-leading 132 walks fronted a Padre attack that fell three games short of their goal. The victory went to manager Roger Craig’s Giants, whose pitching staff, headed by Scott Garrelts’ league-leading 14-5 winning percentage and 2.28 ERA, ranked third in the league. At bat, out-fielder-third baseman Kevin Mitchell won MVP honors by blasting a matchless 47 homers and 125 RBI. First baseman Will Clark weighed in with a .333 batting mark and scored 104 runs to lead the league. That the Giants’ .250 team batting average ranked fourth in the league underscored the NL’s impotent batting, which averaged .246 and produced only five .300-plus batters.

While the Giants eked out a narrow victory in the West, manager Don Zimmer’s Chicago Cubs coasted to a six-game victory over the much-touted, but underachieving Mets in the East. A league-leading .261 batting attack, paced by first baseman Mark Grace’s .314 hitting and second baseman Ryne Sandberg’s .290 batting, compensated for the pitching staff’s sixth-place ranking in the league.

In LCS play the Giants downed the Chicagoans in five games, but then were victimized by the Oakland A’s, who swept to victory in the World Series of 1989.

Barry Bonds, 1987

Barry Bonds, 1987

If the status quo was the rule in the AL in 1990, it was otherwise in the NL as the teams resumed play after the lockout-delayed start of the season. When the smoke of battle lifted, the reigning divisional winners of 1989 were dethroned by a pair of fifth-place finishers of the previous year. In gaining the heights in the NL East, the Pittsburgh Pirates won by 4 games over the underachieving New York Mets. Outfielder Barry Bonds batted .301-33-114 and stole 52 bases, and first baseman Bobby Bonilla added 32 homers and 120 RBI to propel the Pirates. A 22-game winner, Doug Drabek, led the staff, which received a 6-2 boost from Zane Smith, acquired from the Montreal Expos in August.

In the NL West the Cincinnati Reds won four fewer games than did the Pirates, but the team’s 91-70 log topped the Los Angeles Dodgers by 5 games. In winning the Western title, the Reds took over on day one and after winning their first seven games, they clung to the top all the way to become the first NL team to accomplish this feat since the inauguration of the 162-game schedule in 1962.

Starters Jose Rijo and Tom Browning combined for 29 wins, but the Reds’ bullpen crew, the self-styled “nasty boys” Ron Dibble and Randy Myers, saved 42 games. Among the hitters, rookie Hal Morris played in 107 games and batted .340 and regulars Barry Larkin and Mariano Duncan batted .300. Chris Sabo and Eric Davis combined for 49 homers. Manager Lou Piniella, one of many Steinbrenner managerial castoffs, replaced Pete Rose, who watched the Reds’ fall exploits from his prison vantage point.

When the Pirates and Reds clashed in LCS play, the Pirates won the opener but fell to the Reds in six games. Given little chance against the Oakland A’s, the NL champion Reds opened the World Series by shutting out their rivals 7-0 behind Jose Rijo. Then with Rijo adding another victory and Hatcher smacking 9 hits in 12 at bats for a new World Series batting mark, the Reds swept the A’s! This unexpected victory, reminiscent of the 1914 sweep of the Philadelphia A’s by the lowly Boston Braves, brightened a season that appeared to be ill-starred at its outset by the bitter labor struggle.


David Voigt’s History of Baseball, Part 11

The Winning Team

The Winning Team

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

Embattled Decade Campaigns: 1981-1990

The conservative mood that gripped the nation in the late 1970s also held sway during these years and helped to catapult Ronald Reagan to landslide victories in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. Indeed, ex-movie actor Reagan was no stranger to baseball fans, many of whom saw him play the role of ex-pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander on the silver screen. And now, as an avowed conservative, President Reagan sought to divert the nation’s economy toward a free-enterprise course by such tactics as cutting federal taxes and reducing federal domestic spending programs. At the same time Reagan advocated a powerful national defense posture aimed at combating the spread of international communism.

But Reagan’s first term was darkened by an economic recession which contributed to high unemployment. Especially hard hit by unemployment were minorities and blue-collar workers in declining industries. Among the declining industries were such former bellwether industries as steel and mining, whose sagging production was attributed to foreign competition. However, the American economy in the main continued to shift from its former heavy-industrial base to its present emphasis on high technology and information and services production.

Nevertheless, before Reagan’s first term ended, such factors as federal tax cuts and falling inflation and interest rates spurred an economic recovery which continued into 1987. The boomlet reduced unemployment, but for most workers wage increases were small, and some 20 million Americans still remained at or near the poverty level in 1987. Indeed, some critics faulted Reagan’s economic policies for favoring the well-to-do, whose ranks by 1987 included a million millionaires and a score of billionaires among a population of 240 million.

But prospects for continuing affluence dimmed as the year 1987 closed amidst fears of an impending recession. In October the nation’s burgeoning national debt (estimated at $2.6 trillion) and a chronic foreign-trade imbalance triggered financial panics in domestic and foreign stock markets. Aggravated by the festering Iran-Contra scandal and the naval confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf, the economic crisis boded ill for the Reagan Administration and for the nation’s future.

Moreover, other menacing problems clouded the nation’s future. Among them was the epidemic of drug abuse which defied efforts at punitive control. According to a 1985 estimate, the multibillion-dollar illegal drug industry was being supported by 20 million American consumers. Included were scores of professional athletes who confronted their officials with the knotty problem of disciplining abusers without violating their civil rights.

And yet for all the sobering national problems, most Americans of these years enjoyed moderately prosperous lifestyles. For this accomplishment, the two-paycheck family trend was largely responsible. By 1987 working women, whose ranks included most wives, accounted for more than half of the American labor force.

Buoyed by the additional income, most Americans continued to spend lavishly on leisure and recreational activities. According to one report, Americans in 1987 were spending well over $50 billion a year on gambling, sports betting, and physical activities alone. And among the host of available leisure activities, television viewing, especially televised sports programs, maintained a leading position.

Certainly America’s continuing infatuation with major sports was a blessing for baseball as revenues from live attendance and television continued to grow at a record-setting pace. At the same time, however, spiraling player salaries pitted players against owners in a series of pitched battles on the labor front.

Prospects Dim; TSN, August 8, 1981

Prospects Dim; TSN, August 8, 1981

Indeed, embattled relations between players and owners was a leitmotif of this era. In 1981 the failure of owners and players to agree on a new labor contract triggered a crippling baseball strike-the worst in the history of major league baseball since the 1890 debacle. A major bone of contention was the owners’ demand that a club receive a veteran player as compensation for losing a player in one of the annual re-entry drafts. When the deadline for an agreement expired with no compromise, the players struck on June 11, 1981. Once the strike began, it lasted some fifty days and wiped out a third of the season’s playing schedule. The strike cost the united players at least $30 million in lost salaries, and the owners lost an estimated $116 million in revenues. However, the owners were partly compensated by $50 million in strike insurance. On the last day of July, a compromise ended the great player strike.

The owners won their point on the player compensation issue, but they had to settle for an indirect approach. Thus when a team lost a player in a re-entry draft, the team got to choose a veteran player from a pool of surplus players provided by all major league teams. For their part, the players also successfully fended off the owners’ demand for a ceiling on salaries. Agreement on these and lesser issues produced a fifth Basic Agreement, which ran through the season of 1984. The eleventh-hour agreement saved what was left of the 1981 season, but the salvage format devised by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn drew much criticism. Kuhn’s plan called for a split-season campaign, a format which had been tried and discarded as unsatisfactory in 1892.

Under Kuhn’s scheme, the first-half winners were those teams which led their divisions at the time of the June 11 player walkout. The second-half winners would be the teams that led the divisions at the close of the campaign after the resumption of play in August. By ruling first-half winners ineligible to repeat as champions, Kuhn’s plan of scheduling a round of playoffs to decide the divisional championships in each league was assured. Thus a separate best-of-five playoff series was scheduled to settle first the matter of the 1981 divisional championships. Thereafter, the winners engaged in the usual best-of-five game series to determine the champions of each league. Although the format worked as planned, it was faulted for producing lackadaisical play on the part of three of the four first-half winners and for reducing attendance in the second half of what writer Red Smith called “the dishonest season.

Nor did the great strike of 1981 end the tensions between the embattled players and owners. When the fifth Basic Agreement expired at the end of 1984 with no agreement in place, a new strike threat loomed in 1985. With salaries continuing their upward spiral, averaging $363,000 in 1984 with 36 players paid at least a million dollars that year, the owners determined to arrest the trend.

Bowie Kuhn

Bowie Kuhn

Correctly zeroing in on salary arbitration as the cause of runaway salaries, the owners demanded that a player wait more than the current two-year period before becoming eligible for salary arbitration. In addition, the owners renewed their demand for a ceiling on salaries. Naturally the players resisted, and when no agreement was reached, the players struck on August 6, 1985. But this time the walkout lasted only two days; obviously neither side wanted a repeat of the 1981 ordeal. Following the resumption of negotiations, a sixth Basic Agreement was promulgated. The new contract compromised on the major issues. For their part, the owners failed to get a salary ceiling, but the players agreed to wait three years instead of two to become eligible for salary arbitration.

The players won increased pension benefits, which now would pay a retired veteran with ten years of major league service an annual pension of $91,000! And the owners also won their demand to increase the popular League Championship Series playoffs to a best-of-seven-games format beginning with the 1985 season.

Still, the new four-year Basic Agreement failed to end the hostilities between players and owners. As salaries continued to soar, the owners unilaterally cut team player rosters to twenty-four men and proceeded to boycott the re-entry drafts of 1985-1987. Despite the presence of veteran stars on the auction blocks in those years, there were no bidders. In retaliation, the Players Association charged collusion and filed separate grievances for each of the two boycotted drafts. In September 1987 arbiter Thomas Roberts ruled in favor of the players in the first of those suits, that of 1985. Shortly thereafter, arbiter George Nicolau ruled against the owners in the 1986 and 1987 cases of alleged grievances. The rulings awarded damages of $280 million to the players involved. As a result the chastened owners engaged in open bidding in the re-entry markets of 1988 and 1989. But the Players Association insisted on further collusion protection, which became part of the seventh Basic Agreement that was negotiated after the 1990 lockout. A proviso in that agreement imposed triple damages for any repetition of owner collusion in the signing of free agents.

Still, whatever the outcome of this impending struggle, the players of this era were obvious winners on the salary front. In 1982, the year after the great strike, salaries averaged $250,000. Two years later the average salary climbed to $330,000, almost the same as that of the highest-paid manager, Tom Lasorda of the Dodgers. Then in 1986 the average salary peaked at $412,000 before falling slightly to $410,000 in 1987.

The decrease was due in part to teams releasing veteran players and calling up minor leaguers, some of whom could be paid the minimum salary of $62,500. But the decrease was a minor one as annual payrolls for major league clubs in 1987 topped $295 million. Of course, payrolls varied from team to team; in 1987 the Yankee payroll of $18.5 million topped all others, while the $5.6 million payroll of the Seattle Mariners was the lowest of the twenty- six teams.

Average figures also failed to tell the full story of player gains of this era. Boosting average salary figures were the growing number of million-dollar-a-year players. In 1984 there were twenty; in 1985, thirty-six; in 1986, fifty-eight; and in 1987, fifty-seven.

Mike Schmidt in SPORT, 1984.

Mike Schmidt in SPORT, 1984.

Among these plutocrats were a number of $2-million-a-year men, including slugger Mike Schmidt of the Phillies. In signing a two-year contract late in 1987, Schmidt successfully bucked the rumored attempt by owners to hold salaries at $2 million. In Schmidt’s words, “I wanted the salary to read $2.25 million probably more for negotiating reasons for my fellow players. . . . I want my fellow players to know that’s what top dollar is now.’ Small wonder then that salaries of baseball players now exceeded those of any rival team sports in America.

In defense of these astronomical player salaries, one could cite major league baseball’s continuing prosperity. In this era, annual attendance at major league games repeatedly set new records. After the jarring strike of 1981 limited attendance to 22 million, attendance rebounded to a record 45 million the following year. And despite the national recession, that record fell in 1983. And, after falling by a mere 800,000 in 1984, attendance continued upward. In 1986 annual attendance totaled 47,500,000 and in 1987 it topped 52 million. As in every year since its mini- expansion in 1977, the AL led in attendance, and in 1987 the AL outdrew the NL by 2.5 million.

But as always, attendance was unevenly distributed among the clubs. Until 1987 only the Dodgers had topped the 3 million mark in annual attendance, which they did on several occasions, but that year the NL Mets and Cardinals also cracked that barrier. Meanwhile, no AL team had broken the 3 million attendance barrier, but in 1987 the Toronto Blue Jays neared the mark, and in 1988 the Twins surpassed it. Moreover, the attendance picture was brightening for teams located in older cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, where demographic reports showed a reversal of population losses.

However, revenues from soaring attendance alone could not have supported the astonishing salaries of this era. What made the difference was television revenue, which some critics blamed for stimulating the trend by casting ballplayers in the company of highly paid TV celebrities. Be that as it may, in 1983 major league officials negotiated a $1.1 billion, six-year network television contract. When the contract took effect in 1984, revenues from network and local TV sources exceeded those of ticket sales. Although revenues from local TV contracts tended to favor teams that were located in the more lucrative local TV markets, the network TV contract in its final year of 1989 promised a hefty $230 million for all clubs to divide.

Nevertheless, it was too soon to write finis to the old adage that “at the gate is baseball’s fate.’ In 1985 a reported decline in network TV advertising sales raised the specter that the overexposure of televised sports programs would reverse the trend. Should ratings of televised sports programs decline further, the amount of revenue from network TV would be further reduced.

Peter Ueberroth

Peter Ueberroth

At this time critics blamed drug abuse by players for lessening the popularity of major sports. But surprisingly baseball’s popularity was little affected by revelations of drug abuse by players of this era. In 1980 director Ken Moffett of the Players Association admitted that as many as 40 percent of major league players might be drug abusers. In 1983 the problem reached serious proportions when three Kansas City Royals players were sentenced to jail terms as convicted users. That same year a Dodger pitcher was suspended, and in 1985 a San Diego Padres player was traded for similar offenses. And in 1985 baseball’s public image was further tarnished by revelations coming from two Pittsburgh court trials of drug sellers. The testimony named seventeen players as drug users. Although these revelations had no discernible impact on the game’s popularity, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth chose to treat the matter as a major scandal.

But the commissioner’s attempt to force all players to submit to periodic drug tests ran afoul of the Players Association, which insisted that the issue be addressed through collective- bargaining procedures. Still, Ueberroth suspended the accused players and, as a condition for reinstatement, forced each player to donate up to 10 percent of his salary to charities and to engage in antidrug campaigns.

After ruling on this matter, Ueberroth announced at the opening of the 1986 season that the drug problem in baseball was solved. But this face-saving claim ignored the reality of the national epidemic of drug abuse and was mocked by the failure of President Reagan’s vaunted 1986 antidrug crusade. Indeed, it is most unlikely that the game has been purged of drug abuse, and the problem of devising a punitive policy continued to be an unresolved issue facing the game as it entered the decade of the 1990s.

That major league baseball’s popularity was so little troubled by drug scandals, strikes, soaring salaries, or even the economic recession owed much to the dazzling style of play. Indeed, fans of this era witnessed the apotheosis of the big-bang offensives. In the AL, where sluggers consistently outhomered NL swingers by wide margins, homer records fell like sheaves. Over this seven-year span AL sluggers averaged 2,000 homers a year, with record- breaking seasons succeeding each other over the years 1985-1987. In 1985 AL sluggers bashed 2,178; in 1986, 2,240; and in 1987, a gargantuan 2,634 homers were struck. What’s more, NL sluggers in 1987 weighed in with 1,824 homers to break their league’s 1970 record.

Major league baseball’s 1987 cannonade saw twenty-eight players hit 30 or more homers, including twenty American leaguers. Rookie Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics led the AL with 49–an all-time seasonal mark by a yearling, the feat won McGwire a unanimous vote for Rookie of the Year honors. Meanwhile, Andre Dawson of the Cubs matched McGwire’s output and won the NL MVP Award despite his team’s last-place finish in the NL East. Among the most consistent sluggers of this era, Mike Schmidt of the Phillies led NL sluggers four times, while Dale Murphy of the Braves twice topped the league. By the end of the 1988 season, Schmidt’s total of 542 homers ranked him with the all-time leading clouters and following his retirement early in the 1989 season, Schmidt was named Player of the Decade by The Sporting News. And at the end of the 1987 season, Reggie Jackson retired from the AL wars with a lifetime total of 563 homers. Jackson’s passing from the game left a lonesome gap in AL power circles which young Goliaths like McGwire, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Canseco, George Bell, and Jesse Barfield seemed destined to fill.

Mark McGwire 1984

Mark McGwire 1984

But if this era’s homer production was unprecedented, seasonal batting achievements were ordinary. Thanks to its designated hitter rule, AL batters annually surpassed NL hitters, with seasonal AL averages topping .260 while those of the NL hovered around the .255 mark. In the NL, black stars continued their batting leadership. Black stars won all of the NL batting titles of this era, with veteran Bill Madlock of the Pirates capturing a pair and young Tony Gwynn of the Padres winning three. It was otherwise in the AL, where a single dominating hitter, third baseman Wade Boggs of the Red Sox, captured four batting titles. An ideal leadoff hitter, the lefty-swinging Boggs batted .349 as a rookie in 1982. Over the next five seasons Boggs averaged a Cobbian .368. Moreover, in 1987 Boggs belted 24 homers to triple his best seasonal homer output thus far. In 1989, he became the first AL player to post seven consecutive 200-hit seasons.

Among the memorable batting feats of this era, Pete Rose gained immortality on September 4, 1985, when the Cincinnati player- manager’s single off pitcher Eric Show of the Padres broke Cobb’s lifetime record of 4,191 hits. To be sure, Rose needed 2,300 more at bats than Cobb did to turn the trick, but the forty-four- year-old sparkplug put his feat into proper perspective when he said, “I might not be the best player, but I got the most hits.’ Indeed, and when Rose retired from active play at the end of the 1986 season, he had extended the total hit record to 4,256. While nothing touched Rose’s accomplishment, the explosive 1987 season saw Don Mattingly of the Yankees match Dale Long’s feat of homering in eight consecutive games, while Paul Molitor of the Brewers hit safely in 39 consecutive games, and rookie catcher Benito Santiago of the Padres hit safely in 34. Santiago’s feat won for him NL Rookie of the Year honors.

In the offensive category of stolen bases, NL speedsters perennially topped their AL counterparts. At this time the newly crowned prince of thieves was outfielder Vince Coleman of the Cardinals. In 1985 Coleman set a rookie record with 110 steals, and at the end of the 1987 season he became the first player ever to swipe 100 or more bases in three consecutive seasons. However, Coleman had yet to top the latest seasonal record of 130 thefts, set by outfielder Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics in 1982.

Indeed, in 1990 Henderson broke Ty Cobb’s AL record for the most steals, zipped by the mark of Sliding Billy Hamilton, and zeroed in on Lou Brock’s major league record.

Nolan Ryan.

Nolan Ryan.

Not surprisingly the offensive pyrotechnics of these years had pundits wondering whatever had happened to pitching. Indeed, seasonal ERAs skyrocketed in both leagues, with the AL average well above 4.00 and that of the NL above 3.70. Of course this meant that the always volatile pitching-batting equilibrium was again out of whack. For the latest imbalance, observers proffered such explanations as livelier balls, narrowed strike zones, pitchers’ fears of retaliation if they threw inside to batters, pitchers relying too much on breaking pitches, and managers relying more on their bullpen and demanding too little of their starters. Indeed, the numbers of complete games pitched by starting pitchers declined as managers relied more on specialized relief pitchers. Among the bullpen specialists, the most celebrated continued to be the firemen who were counted to come on late in a game to save a victory. Among the best were Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Todd Worrell, Dave Righetti, Gene Garber (who notched his 200th career save in 1987), and Lee Smith, who set a record by recording 30 or more saves in three consecutive seasons.

Still, it seemed evident that more than yeomanlike relief work was needed to restore pitching to a proper balance with hitting. For now, managers complained of poorly trained pitchers, while pitchers blamed prevailing rules for favoring batters. Nor was it surprising that some pitchers were smuggling in illegal scuffed-ball and spitball deliveries.

However, good pitchers were by no means extinct. In this era Nolan Ryan hurled a record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981. And at the end of the 1988 season, the forty-one-year-old fireballer, who had lost little of his earlier velocity, extended his all-time leading strikeout total to 4,775 whiffs. Indeed, in 1987 Ryan’s 270 strikeouts led the NL, and his 2.76 ERA hardly justified his 816 won-loss record. In 1989, the forty-two-year-old Ryan fanned 301 batters and topped the 5000 mark in In strikeouts. 1990 the venerable fireballer hurled a sixth no-hitter to break his earlier record of five, and in 1991 he hurled his seventh.

Among the promising younger pitchers, Dwight Gooden of the Mets blazed his way to a 244, 1.53 ERA, with 268 strikeouts in 1985. And the following year Roger Clemens of the Red Sox also went 244 to become the first starting pitcher in fifteen years to win the AL MVP Award. Naturally Clemens also won the Cy Young Award that year, and when the ace went 209 in 1987, despite early-season ineffectiveness caused by his salary holdout, Clemens won a second Cy Young Award. By winning two straight, Clemens joined the select company of Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, and Jim Palmer as the only pitchers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. And in 1988 Orel Hershiser’s performance from August through October was unprecedented.


The concluding Part 12 tomorrow.