17 Games In May: The 1916 New York Giants and the Best Road Trip Ever

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New York Giants Manager John McGraw and Philadelphia Phillies Manager Pat Moran, Opening Day at the Polo Grounds, April 20, 1916 (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

I heard an interesting statistic the other day. The San Francisco Giants had just completed a 7-game road trip sweep, and the Giants were quick to note that is was their “longest road trip sweep since 1913.”

And I looked it up. It’s true. The 1913 New York Giants were in the middle of a 14-game winning streak when they won four in Philadelphia and four in Brooklyn.

But it’s not the best road trip the Giants have ever had. Not even close. And the reason for that is because of the way the baseball schedule was set-up for about 75 years. That reason is also known as: trains.

When trains were the best, fastest, and most reliable mode of transportation, the Major League Baseball schedule was designed so that teams routinely would be at home for 20 games or so, and away for 20 games or so. It was a matter of convenience. When the furthermost western team was St. Louis and trains were the fastest way to get there and back, there was no way the Giants could finish a series in St. Louis on a Thursday and start a series at home in New York against the Phillies the next day. But because this is the jet age, the Mets are doing exactly that in August.

The only way the Giants could have had an 8-game road trip 100 years ago- or 75- was to have the trip be in Philadelphia (across the river, essentially) and then in next borough, Brooklyn. Which is exactly what they did in 1913. Hell, they could have even slept in their own beds every night because it takes about 90 minutes to get from Philly to New York even today. (Remember, no lights meant every game was a day game that on non-doubleheader days started about 3 in the afternoon.)

It was 100 years ago this month that the Giants had the best road trip ever. They did not sweep the road trip, because that would have meant winning 21 games in a row. But they did just about the next best thing by winning the first 17.

That set a new major-league record for consecutive road wins, and it still stands, although the wrecking crew known as the 1984 Detroit Tigers tied them by also winning 17 straight on the road. But Sparky Anderson’s powerhouse did that over a month’s time, with no road trip lasting more than six games.

The Giants did it in 20 days.

Starting May 9th, 1916, when they were 3-13 and in 8th (last place), they won four straight in Pittsburgh. After a day off for travel, they then won two in Chicago, had another day off to get to St. Louis, won four straight there, won three straight in Cincinnati, had a day off to get to the boroughs and won four straight against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. New York was now 19-13, and even then was a game and a half out of first place, where Brooklyn sat. On May 30th the streak ended as New York lost the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia.

There are very few names on the Giants roster at the time that a casual baseball fan would recognize today. Obviously the manager is one, John McGraw. The 1st baseman was Fred Merkle, who more people know from the unfair characterization of him in the 1908 pennant race between the Giants and Cubs and the crucial game that ended with “Merkle’s Boner.”

The other is a pitcher by the name of Christy Mathewson.  Merely one of the best players to ever step on a diamond. Matty was in his final months with the Giants, as he was trying to rebound from arm trouble that caused him to have a terrible 1915. Matty pitched in five of the 17 wins during the streak. He saved the first game, started the fourth, won the 10th with a complete game (his best game of the year), saved the 12th, and pitched another complete game for win number 17.

And depending on your knowledge of deadball baseball, you may also know of “Laughing” Larry Doyle and Benny Kauff. Doyle was a great star in the early 1910’s for the Giants, even winning the equivalent of the MVP in 1912, the Chalmers Award (as Chalmers made cars, the trophy was a new car).

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Benny Kauff, 1916 (via Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

 

Benny Kauff, meanwhile, was the biggest star of the Federal League, the last true challenge to the major leagues. Known as the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League” because Cobb was the best player in baseball at the time, Kauff was bought by the Giants in February of 1916 when the Feds finally officially collapsed. While the ballplayers being polarizing is thought of as a new development, Kauff (and Cobb, especially) did that 100 years ago. While no one could argue that Cobb was an all-timer (though that doesn’t excuse his actions), Benny believed the hype more than he lived up to it. Though he had good seasons with the Giants, he never approached his gaudy Federal League numbers. But Kauff lived large, trash-talking and dressing in flashy clothes, which then- and now- bothered the establishment. When baseball cleaned house after the Black Sox scandal of 1919, Kauff was suspended not for gambling, but because of his supposed involvement in a car theft ring. Though found not guilty in an actual legal trial, baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis never lifted Kauff’s suspension because he thought the trial was fixed and didn’t like Kauff’s attitude in general, one of many times the first Commish messed with people’s lives because he didn’t like them personally.

Back to May 1916, where the 17-game winning streak continues to be remarkable in several ways (aside from, you know, the winning 17-games straight part). First of all, I think more people nowadays are more astounded that road trips could even last 21 games. The longest road trips in the jet era so far have been the Montreal Expos in 1991 when a beam fell at Olympic Stadium forcing games to be moved, and the Houston Astros of 1992, with both teams spending 26 games on the road. While the Astros trip was scheduled, unlike the Expos, it was also because of a special circumstance. The Republican National Convention was at the Astrodome, their home park, that summer (likely because of Texan and then-sitting President George H. W. Bush- aka George 41), and required them to vacate for four weeks. Any road trip over 12 games nowadays is seen as an injustice.  But like I explained up top, 20 game road trips were the norm for every team for at least the first half of the 20th century.

Second, the Giants weren’t in first place when the streak was over. In fact, the Giants never even touched first place in 1916. They lost their first game on April 12th, and the closest they got to first was the next day, when they evened their record at 1-1 and were part of a 6-way tie for second, and June 3rd, when they were also a half game out.

Third, it wasn’t even close to New York’s longest winning streak of the season. In September, the Giants set the all-time major league record by winning 26 games in a row.

All at home.

Hey, if you’re gonna be on the road for 20 games or more, sometimes you’re going to be at home for 20 games or more.

The Giants 26-game win streak, by the way, is deserving of much more than an afterthought, where it is in every baseball history I’ve seen. I’m working on fixing that. Stay tuned.

The Questionable Legitimacy of the 1884 St. Louis Maroons 20-Game Win Streak

When the NBA’s Golden State Warriors won their 20th game in a row to start the 2015-16 season, I saw this:

There are a lot of baseball people (Bill James especially, Rob Neyer tangentially, etc.) who claim that the Union Association shouldn’t be considered a real major league, yet the NBA is saying it is. That’s not right. Only a baseball guy can tell you that. I’m a baseball guy, and I say it is. But on the other hand, I don’t think the Maroons’ streak is legitimate.

I believe the league is legitimate because enough players came from other leagues or else continued their career in the National League or the American Association after the UA’s only year. There were certainly fellows who only played in the UA, but that’s true for any league any year. There are plenty of guys who history will eventually show only played in the majors in 2015. Does that discredit the 2015 season? Certainly not. So why hold that against any other league?

In addition, this was 1884. The first official pro team, the Cincinnati Reds, was in 1869, and the National League had been founded in 1876. We’re talking less than a decade after the first true sports league in the world, and a mere 15 years after the first legit pro team ever. Given that context, I believe any multi-city league at the time could be thought of as a major league, because there were so few leagues at the time. The UA began with teams in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, D.C, and Cincinnati. Those were major league cities then, and they are major league cities today.

But on the other hand, I don’t believe that the Maroons’ 20-game winning streak is legitimate. That’s because Maroons’ millionaire brewery owner founded both the league and the team, and was president of the league and the team.

As a result, the Maroons were stocked with the best players from before day one. It was like college football, when one team goes undefeated in a terrible conference. Think of the arguments when Boise State went undefeated for entire seasons playing the likes of New Mexico State and what have you. Sure, they were 12-0, but the competition was horrendous and very few people believed they belonged in the national championship discussion. That was the St. Louis Maroons of 1884. They were stacked, and the other teams had no shot.

A look at their schedule reveals this. After winning the 1st game on April 20th against Chicago, the Maroons then won eight straight against the Altoona Mountain City’s, by my estimation the most obscure team in major league history. (My list is here: http://www.sporadicsentinel.com/2015/05/12-cities-you-never-knew-had-major.html). They were a rush-order club to supply an 8th team when several cities turned down membership in the league. Detroit was the first choice, then Pittsburgh, then one-time NL landing spot Hartford, Connecticut. They all turned it down. The UA went with Altoona because it was baseball-crazy and a railroad junction. The hope was that would make it easier for teams to get there and therefore prop up the franchise. It was a miserable failure by any stretch of the imagination. Altoona was done six weeks into the season.

The Maroons then won four straight against the Washington, DC franchise. The Nationals survived for three-quarters of the season.

St. Louis then won four straight against the Baltimore Monumentals, who finished the season, and wound up in 3rd place.

Then after winning three against the Boston Reds- all games except four in Altoona were at home- the Maroons finally lost on Saturday, May 24th, a month in. The Reds also completed the season and finished 4th.

When Altoona folded a week after the Maroons streak ended, St. Louis transferred most of their second string players and eventually their manager- their freaking manager- to start a new franchise in Kansas City to help prop up the league. (Kansas City’s first-ever pro team, by the way.) Nobody had any interest in the league outside of St. Louis, because there was no chance anybody but the Maroons would win the title.

With that plainly obvious, attendance sagged throughout the league and other franchises dropped out as well. Philadelphia called it quits in mid-summer and the Association begged the Wilmington Quicksteps to come in from the Eastern League. (The Quicksteps are also on my obscure teams list.) Wilmington lasted about a month before quitting and dropping back to the Eastern League. Chicago moved to Pittsburgh and then quit, and two more teams were brought in- Milwaukee and St. Paul- to finish the season.

The Maroons on the other hand, finished 94-19, 21 games ahead of the 2nd place Cincinnati Outlaw Reds.

St. Louis became part of the National League the next season, and even with essentially the same roster quickly became a mid-pack team. They moved to Indianapolis in 1887 and folded after 1889.

Is it a big deal that the Warriors have tied the Maroons for best pro start ever? Of course. But did the Maroons face playoff teams every other night? Of course not. That’s what makes the Warriors streak more impressive- without negating the Union Association’s major league status.

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photo courtesy: kritspaulw.com

The First Chicago Cubs Postseason Ended How You Expect

1885 Chicago White Stockings, courtesy wikipedia.org

1885 Chicago White Stockings, courtesy wikipedia.org

The Chicago White Stockings were an early National League powerhouse, winning the first-ever NL pennant in 1876. In 1880, they won a then-record 21 games in a row en route to their first pennant, playing a game that we would call a weird form of softball (underhanded pitching 45 feet from home plate, batters could call for where they wanted the ball, fielders didn’t use gloves, and so forth). The Chicagoans also won the pennant in 1881 and 1882.

But there was no one to play once the pennant was won until the American Association formed in 1882. It then took two years before the rival leagues agreed to a peace treaty and series of postseason contests between the two pennant winners, even though they were officially exhibition games. The first postseason, the 1884 “World’s Series,” is generally the only reason casual fans remember the Providence Grays and their ace, Old Hoss Radbourn (whoever runs that twitter account is a genius).

The first series was a big deal, and Providence raked the New York Metropolitans in three straight. When the White Stockings won the 1885 NL pennant and faced the St. Louis Browns of the Association, it was a different story for the Chicago players. According to Peter Golenbock’s fantastic but factually fatally flawed history of the Cubs, “Wrigleyville,” (several key date and number typos and confusing paragraphs that include the same information- clearly not edited and combined- indicate a rush to print) several of the White Stockings treated it like spring training- they partied as they pleased and were in questionable playing condition.

The rosters on both sides included several Hall of Famers. Chicago was owned by baseball’s first superstar, Al Spalding, and managed by Cap Anson (you want to blame any one person for baseball’s color line, he’s the guy) with Mike “King” Kelly, Billy Sunday and ace John Clarkson. St. Louis was managed by Charles Comiskey (yes, the future White Sox owner) and included several good players that you’ve probably never heard of, including Arlie Latham.

The first game, the only one in Chicago, was called a tie on account of darkness. During the second game at the original Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, the umpire reversed his own call on a crucial late-inning fair-or-foul play not once but twice, causing St. Louis fans to rush the field and the game to be called. In the safety of his hotel, the umpire forfeited the game to Chicago.

The Browns refused to allow that umpire back for game three- also in St. Louis- and won handily. The White Stockings refused to allow *that* umpire back for game four, so they- and I’m not making this up- pulled a guy out of the stands to officiate.

Since the game was also in St. Louis, that went as about as well as you would expect for Chicago. Every close play was in St. Louis’ favor, and by the end of it even Billy Sunday- who eventually left baseball to become a preacher, mind you- tried to beat the guy to a pulp. The Browns won, but only by a run, showing how good the White Stockings were even when everybody was against them.

For game five, they found a legitimate umpire as the series shifted to Pittsburgh. Remember, these were exhibitions, and they play exhibition games everywhere in an attempt to draw crowds. Predictably, that attempt failed. Only 500 people saw Chicago’s ace, John Clarkson, throw a four-hitter. The series was tied, but only if the forfeit counted.

A sixth game was necessary anyway because of the first game tie. They played that one in Cincinnati and the White Stockings rolled behind a Jim McCormick two-hitter. If the forfeit counted in Chicago’s favor, then the series was over, 3-2 in favor of the White Stockings. But Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey wanted more cash. They agreed that the forfeit didn’t count, and a seventh game was scheduled for the next day.

(In the factually fatally flawed “Wrigleyville,” Golenbock says the first game in Cincy was the fifth contest and they agreed to play a sixth when he has clearly already described the outcomes of six games- the tie in Chicago, the three in St. Louis, the one in Pittsburgh and the first one on Cincinnati. I’m bad at math, but that is silly. Unfortunately, the whole book is riddled with errors like this.)

Anson scheduled Clarkson to pitch, but he showed up five minutes late and was very likely not at all sober. Cap tabbed McCormick, who had pitched the day before, and that worked out as well as you would expect it to. St. Louis routed the White Stockings, 13-4, and publicly were declared World’s Series Champions.

Except.

Except Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe privately declared that the forfeit counted and the series was a tie, so his players did not receive the $1000 bonus they had been promised for winning the series. (At Baseball-Reference.com and even Wikipedia, the Series is listed as a tie.) And that $1000 wasn’t per man- it was total. Comiskey and his squad predictably fumed because they weren’t awarded the bonus on a technicality. And yet, Comiskey apparently never learned his lesson, shorting his players so much as an owner that he’s the one that essentially caused the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

The White Stockings and Browns won the pennant the next year, 1886, and again met for the World’s Series. Again St. Louis won a hotly disputed series.

No other National League team lost to the American Association pennant winner in the other early World’s Series (through 1890), starting Chicago’s run of postseason futility early.

There is an important footnote to the White Stockings and Browns postseason meetings. In 1892, when the American Association collapsed, the National League allowed the four most successful AA franchises to join them. St Louis was one of them. At the time, they were still known as the Browns. By 1900, their name had changed.

They were known as the Cardinals.

So when somebody wants to know why the Cards and Cubs don’t like each other, it starts with the 1885 World Series. And continues to this day.

When the Cubs beat the Cards in the NLDS this year, it wasn’t the first time the two teams had played each other in the first season- it was just the first time the Cubs had won.

One curse at a time.

How Baseball Helped The Masters Become a Top Golf Tournament

Babe Ruth golf

Babe Ruth could hit a golf ball pretty far as well

The Masters became a nearly-instant success because of major league baseball. Of course baseball and golf have been long connected. A ballplayer swinging a club is more common a photo than a golfer in a batting cage, but not by much. When I worked for a baseball team, the manager and coaches would make sure there was room for their clubs in the bus every trip, and a road trip that didn’t include a few rounds was a failed road trip, no matter how the ballclub fared. When asked by his friend Ted Williams to explain the difference between hitting a baseball and hitting a golf ball, Sam Snead said golf was harder because “golfers have to play their foul balls.”

Snead was an honorary starter at the Masters for nearly 20 years, an event he won three times. By the time he won his first Masters in 1949 the event had only been around 15 years yet was already one of the premier golf events in the world. Its quick growth was due to the intelligence of Augusta National Golf Club’s co-founder, the great Bobby Jones, and his business and media vision.

As the only man to win golf’s Grand Slam in one year (although, since The Masters didn’t exist, the Slam consisted of winning the British Amateur and Open titles and the US Open and Amateur titles, which he did in 1930), Jones was followed extensively by the media while a player. When building Augusta National with Clifford Roberts and designer Alister Mackenzie in the middle of the Great Depression, they realized that a tournament would help the fledgling club in many ways. Jones asked the PGA for permission to hold a U.S. Open, but the request was denied because Georgia is kind of a hot and humid place in the summer, not the ideal conditions for a golf tournament.

Bobby Jones golf

Bobby Jones

So Jones and Roberts decided to create their own tournament, and asked several golf friends to play in it, thus from the beginning it was an “invitational-only” tournament. Jones also wanted media coverage of the tournament. He knew that newspapers would be likely to show up just because it was a Bobby Jones Tournament. Roberts convinced him that if he played in it, it would result in even more attention. If the biggest golf star today retired, built his own course, started a tournament there and came out of retirement to play in it, you bet the media would show up in droves. Same idea in the 1930’s with Bobby Jones.

But unlike today, transportation was difficult. It took several days to take the train across the country (it still does) and air travel was in its infancy. Somebody at Augusta National realized that after covering spring training in Florida, all the baseball writers would be heading north through Georgia at the end of March and beginning of April in preparation for Opening Day. Remember, at the time the Major League season did not start until mid-April, and the teams often barnstormed their way up north, meaning there was about a two- or three- week break between the end of spring training and the beginning of the season.

Jones and Roberts therefore decided to hold their new tournament during that two-week break, while the writers were all heading north on the train from Florida to New York and Boston and St. Louis and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Washington, D.C. It would be easy for all the top sportswriters in America to get off the train and cover “The Augusta National Invitational,” as it was known until 1940. And they did, although in the first playing of 1934 it was because of Jones and not the tournament. But still, they wrote about it. As a result, golfers wanted to be invited to the next year’s playing, if only to play with Jones, and people wanted to know about it.

The 1935 tournament helped The Invitational gain traction as an event independent of Jones. That’s because of Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle on 15- only three have been made during the tournament since- in the final round to tie him with Craig Wood, and the resulting 36-hole playoff, which Sarazen won by five strokes. It was extensively chronicled by the sportswriters and helped immensely in the aura of the tournament. The double-eagle became known as “the shot heard ‘round the world,” (because the media likes to make sports events bigger than life) and in golf circles it still is, although most people think of baseball and Bobby Thomson when it comes to “the shot heard ‘round the world.” If you want to get historical about it, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie in July 1914 is also known as “the shot heard ‘round the world,” for the small conflict that happened as result of it, and the phrase is also given to the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. Among other things.

It may have been intended as a one-year thing, but it quickly became obvious that Bobby Jones’ tournament was a money-maker. Jones and Roberts had the course re-done extensively in the early years to make sure that golfers and sportswriters would keep coming back. The back nine and front nine were flipped beginning with the 1935 tournament, and remain so to this day. Can you imagine Amen Corner being holes three through five instead of 11 to 13?

In a large part, the tournament has baseball and spring training to thank for its early popularity. Although Sarazen only won the 1935 edition, for many years he was an honorary starter at Augusta, partnered with Sam Snead. Golfers may have to play their foul balls but there are few better places, if any, to hit them than at Augusta National Golf Course, especially in early April.

Bubba Watson baseball

Bubba at the Bat

photos courtesy: golfdigest.com, atlantahistorycenter.com, pnj.com

Switch-Pitchers Are Nothing New In MLB

Pat Venditte while in the Yankees organization

Pat Venditte while in the Yankees organization

With the Oakland A’s Pat Venditte getting so much attention this spring, you’d think it was the first time that an ambidextrous pitcher came close to making the major leagues. It would go along with Oakland’s reputation as a quirky organization. But simple research shows that Venditte merely is the most recently successful in a long line of ambidextrous pitchers, although few have gotten to The Show.

Switch-pitching is not unheard of at lower levels. Friends of mine remember seeing former New York Yankees great (curiously, the team that drafted Venditte) and current Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly as a youth in Indiana, when he threw right-handed one day and left-handed the next. A Google search reveals somewhere every year a “unique” guy who can throw with both hands. There’s even a website devoted to the phenomena as if they are UFO sightings.

But the most amazing article I found on switch-pitching was written 100 years ago this month and published in the New York Times. It mentions several players not listed in the switch pitching website– including, and I’m quoting here, “the famous Larry Corcoran,” as one of a handful of players who threw with both arms.

Larry Corcoran

“the famous Larry Corcoran”

Most of the players mentioned in the Times article injured one arm and began throwing with the other (including the “famous Corcoran”), but the first man, Owen Keenan, pulled a Mattingly for the Youngstown, Ohio team in 1885 by throwing both ends of a July 4th doubleheader and winning both, first as a lefty and then as a righty. The article concludes that “the ambidextrous hurler is more or less a myth. The pitching game is too strenuous for any kind of an arm but the good natural wing.”

The idea of changing throwing hands every batter, as Venditte has done, did not occur to those players and indeed only came about in this era of specialization. The only pitcher to throw with both hands in the same MLB game is Greg Harris of the Montreal Expos, who did it once in 1995 in the final game of his career.

The era of specialization and Venditte’s desire to get the best matchup has even brought about a special rule. One night in the minor leagues Venditte saw the batter stepping in one side of the box and flipped his glove to the other side. The batter, confident in his switch-hitting abilities, stepped to the other box. Venditte changed glove hands. The batter changed boxes. This went on for several minutes and is fascinating to watch on YouTube. After this incident, a rule was passed saying that the pitcher cannot change throwing hands in the middle of an at-bat. I’m serious when I say “after this incident.” The rule was adopted the next day. Once a pitcher declares and steps on the rubber, he is a righty or a lefty for that entire sequence, and the batter can then choose his side. It is known as the Venditte rule.

The only exception is if the pitcher hurts his arm in the at bat for one reason or another. But then he is forbidden from using that arm for the rest of the game. It’s similar to replacing hurt players in the post-season. Sure, you can do that, but you forfeit the hurt player for the rest of the series. It’s a Rodney Dangerfield/Al Czervik Caddyshack kind of thing.

The idea of throwing with both hands has been around for as long as people have been throwing things. If Venditte does finally make the major leagues with the A’s, and it seems likely to happen, then perhaps it will signal a new era of specialization, meaning that teams won’t just have a LOOGY, (Lefty One-Out GuY) but a BHOOGY (Both Hands One-Out GuY).

I only hope that when Venditte makes his major league debut, the A’s make sure Greg Harris is there. If one of Owen Keenan’s descendants could be found that would take the cake. With both hands. Better have some wings there as well.

photos courtesy: SwingingAs.com, wikipedia.org

The History Of Reducing The Length Of The Season, And Why It Could Happen Again

rob-manfred

The Commish who shortened the season? Well, maybe not exactly.

When new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred floated the possibility that maybe at some point there would be a discussion about reducing the number of games in a season from 162 to 154, it garnered an awful lot of talk, both positive and negative but certainly not indifferent. The 162-game schedule has been a topic of discussion since the AL expanded to ten teams and 162 games in 1961- the same year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, causing the famous “asterisk” to keep Babe Ruth as the 154-game home run king.

While baseball has reduced the number of official games in a season before, it has always been followed by an increase within five years.  It’s onlyhappened when the leagues felt like they were in trouble. This doesn’t count strike-shortened years, which were not planned to be shorter seasons, nor has it happened for nearly 100 years.

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1877 Boston Red Caps, who won the pennant the first year the league designed the schedule

Prior to the first league-devised schedule in 1877, the second year of the National League’s existence, clubs were responsible for making their own schedule. The only requirement was to play a certain number of games by a certain date. That’s how they did it in the National Association from 1871 to 1875, and several clubs scheduled games against markedly inferior competition to beef their win total and look better at the end of the year (in other words, how college football teams do it today). That’s partially why the National League was formed in the first place, to make every team play the same level of competition to determine a true champion.

The 1877 league schedule was 60 games- 12 games versus five opponents for each of the six teams- Boston, Louisville, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Hartford and Cincinnati. In 1879, when the league expanded to eight teams, the schedule went up to 84 games- (12 against each team). The American Association played an 80 game schedule (6 teams, 16 per team) in its first season, 1882.

In 1883, when the New York Gothams and Philadelphia Quakers joined (both teams remain in the NL today, however under different names), the schedule went to 98 games (14 per team), and the AA (ironic initials now, considering the league was formed partially because the NL didn’t allow teams to sell alcohol at the park) did that with its now 8-team lineup as well.

1884 marks the first time there were three major leagues and the first time the schedule broke 100 games. The one-year Union Association as well as the NL and AA played 112 contests (16 games against the other seven teams). The first “World’s Series” was played as well after that season, when the NL’s Providence Grays and Old Hoss Radbourn beat the AA’s New York Metropolitans. (It shouldn’t be a shocker to learn that the only NL team to lose the first go-round of the “World’s Series” was the Cubs, in 1886.) The UA folded, and its status as a one-year major league has been doubted since.

The AA got the jump on the NL in 1886, hopping to a 140-game schedule and 20 games per club. It took two years for the NL to follow suit, making the switch in 1888. The failed revolution known as the Players League also had an eight-team 140 game schedule in 1890.

1892 was the first time the National League had the “traditional” 154-game schedule, although teams only played each opponent 14 times. That’s because there were now 12 teams in the league after the AA folded. Not only did the NL decide on a 154-game schedule for 1892 (which required Sunday baseball, previously a no-no and another reason the AA was formed), they split the league into two halves to get two winners and a post-season exhibition series. The 1892 post-season series between Boston and Cleveland was hampered by the very real suggestion that the Beaneaters, the first-half winners, intentionally sabotaged themselves in the second half to make more money by playing the Cleveland Spiders, the second-half winner, instead of winning both halves. This suggestion gains credence when you consider that a) the Beaneaters cut several players before the second-half began b) still finished second to Cleveland despite this and c) swept the Spiders anyway.

And thus, we come to the first time a major league intentionally dropped games from the schedule. The 154-game split season was considered a bit much, and the talk of Boston not playing to potential in the second half was widespread. So the NL dropped 22 games from the schedule and in 1893 had a 132 game season without a post-season series. The Beaneaters took the lead in mid-July and by the end of August led by 12 games, ending all suspense. The season ended September 30th and that was it. It was also the first year the pitcher’s mound was at 60 feet six inches.

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished in the second by five games that year, the only team within a dozen games of the Bostonians, and were ticked that there wasn’t a post-season series. The Pirates owner then had a shiny championship trophy made at his own expense and proposed that the first- and second-place teams have an official post-season series. Thus the Temple Cup, named for William Temple, and the Wild Card was invented.

No, not that kind of Temple Cup. Sheesh.

No, not that kind of Temple Cup. Sheesh.

In 1894 the regular season remained at 132 games, and the Pirates finished in 7th place at .500, missing out on the trophy their owner invented. The format continued like this through 1897 (the Pirates never finished higher than 6th in this span), with diminishing Temple Cup excitement- that is, from very little to very close to none, as the second place team won three of the four cups and the first place team still called themselves National League Champions. It should also be noted that no less an authority than baseball-reference.com doesn’t list the Temple Cup series and box scores anywhere, but they do have all the NL/AA “World’s Series” box scores.

After 1897 the Temple Cup was dropped and the schedule went back to 154 games for the 12 clubs- 16 games against every team. By 1899 it was clear this wasn’t working. The owners of the Cleveland Spiders bought the St. Louis Browns, a much more stable franchise, and transferred all the good players to the Browns, completely legal at the time. The Spiders started the season 3-20 and things just got worse from there. Clubs began refusing to travel to Cleveland, forcing the Spiders to play on the road, where they lost 101 games, a record that shall never be broken. The Spiders finished a record-setting 20-134, a .130 winning percentage, and 84 games out of first. Even the famously hapless 1962 New York Mets went 40-120, had a .250 winning percentage, and “only” finished 64 games behind the San Francisco Giants (those former New York Gothams).

After that debacle, the NL cut four clubs (including, to nobody’s surprise, the Spiders) and 24 games off the season, going with 140 games and eight clubs from 1900-1904. The new American League played close to 140 games in 1900 but was still considered a minor league. After throwing off the shackles of the NL, the AL declared itself major in 1901 and played a complete 140-game schedule.

Before the 1904 season, after a successful first World Series, the schedule was pushed back to 154 games, with each team playing their other seven league rivals 22 times. That’s the way it stayed, with one exception, until the AL expanded to 10 teams in 1961.

The exception was 1919. Although the season had been set for a regular 154 games in 1918, America’s involvement in World War One and the resulting material needs for the Armed Forces caused a change of plans, beginning with a shortened spring training. Leagues across the country began to shut down in early July. On July 19th the Secretary of War declared baseball a non-essential occupation, and AL president Ban Johnson announced the League would shut down two days later. However, the owners voted to continue, and the Secretary of War decided baseball players were exempt…. Until September 2nd. So the leagues decided to end the season on September 1st,, a 123-game season. The Red Sox beat the Cubs 4-2 in the World Series, winning the final game on September 11th, and the war ended two months later on November 11th.

The Short-season champs. One may recognize the fellow with his arms crossed in the back row.

The short-season champs. you may recognize the fellow with his arms crossed in the back row.

Going into 1919 the owners were worried that fans wouldn’t come back to the game, so they shortened the season to 140 games, 20 games against each team. However, the fans came back and every team showed a profit but none off the players got any of it, thusly, the Black Sox (although there are allegations the Cubs threw the 1918 series).

In 1920 the season was put back to 154 games, Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs and captured the nation’s attention, and the schedule has never been officially shortened since, even with expansion. Of course, it’s not the last time seasons got shorter. Strikes and lockouts have taken care of that. But the seasons were still planned to go 162 games, even if they didn’t.

If the season was intentionally shortened at all it would be the first time the season had been intentionally shortened while the game was still prosperous. In the three other cases- 1893, 1900, and 1919- it happened because baseball was overextending itself.

After researching this piece I see no reason for baseball to drop to 154 games- unless the playoffs were going to be expanded again. I originally thought that the NL dropped games in 1893 because the Temple Cup was involved, but it wasn’t inaugurated until after the 1894 season. As we have seen, the dropping of the games actually caused the Temple Cup to be born. In 1900, the NL saw a threat on the horizon as well as several unworthy teams and dropped both clubs and the schedule. In 1919, the owners feared fans wouldn’t return after WWI.

Here’s where dropping eight games would allow for more baseball. It would mean an extra week of the playoffs. The Wild Card teams could then play a five-game series instead of a one-and-done, then there could also be a full seven-game Division Series. That’s why Commissioner Manfred has begun floating the idea of a shorter schedule. He would like to see the playoffs get longer, and that, ultimately, is only possible if the season gets shorter.

sources: MLB Schedules on wikipedia, keitholbermann.mlblogs.com, baseball-almanac.com, 1918RedSox.com

photos courtesy: hardballtalk.nbcsports.com, forumotion.com, pinterest.com, redsox.mlb.com

100 Years Ago The Philadelphia Phillies Made Spring Training

1915Phillies_bIn 1915 the Philadelphia Phillies assuredly did not invent spring training, just like The Beatles didn’t invent rock’n’roll, Henry Ford didn’t invent the car or the assembly line, and Michelangelo didn’t invent sculpting. But just like “Love Me Do,” the Model T, and David, the Philadelphia Phillies 1915 spring training fundamentally changed things.

Spring training had existed for nearly 50 years in nascent forms. The first evidence of a team going somewhere warmer to practice, not surprisingly, occurs in 1870 when the first two pro teams- the Cincinnati Red Stockings and Chicago White Stockings– went to New Orleans.

The first team to spend a recognizable part of time in Florida was the Washington Statesmen in 1888, who went to Jacksonville for about a week. That club finished 37 and a half games out of first place, blamed most of it on Florida, and didn’t come back. It should be noted that was the second-best season the Statesmen ever had. The four-year NL franchise went 163-337 with a .326 winning percentage, so blaming their ills on spring training was something akin to the story of the pot and the kettle.

The first complete spring training in one location was orchestrated in 1903 by a former catcher on that 1888 Washington team who was now a manager in the upstart American League looking for an edge. Connie Mack took the Philadelphia A’s to Jacksonville as well, but when the A’s finished up 14 and a half games behind the eventual first-ever World Series Champion Boston Americans, Mack blamed it on the warmth of Florida.

The business of baseball and Florida as a tourism destination continued to grow on two separate paths. Finally, 10 years after the A’s time in Jacksonville, according to the excellent history on FloridaGrapefruitLeague.com, the Mayor of Tampa essentially bribed the former White Stockings and now Cubs to come to Florida in 1913, promising to cover $100 in expenses per player. The next year, the A’s, defending World Champs, returned to Jacksonville and this time won the pennant.

big St. Pete Crowd at Browns Spring Training, 1914

Big St. Petersburg, Florida Crowd at St. Louis Browns Spring Training, 1914

St. Petersburg, trying to one-up its neighbor Tampa, made the biggest move for ballclubs at this time, convincing the St. Louis Browns to show up for 1914 spring ball by not only also promising to cover expenses, but building the Browns a five-thousand seat stadium. Like baseball legends go, it was built, and they came.

However the Browns- and then-GM Branch Rickey– got into a dispute with St. Petersburg officials about just how many of the teams expenses were actually covered by the city. (I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess it had something to do with alcohol, food, and cigars.) The Browns, as a result, refused to come back for the 1915 season, leaving St. Pete with a new five thousand seat stadium and nobody to play in it.

Here’s where the Phillies come in. The second team in Philadelphia because of the success of the A’s and never having won a pennant despite being National League members since 1883, they were desperate for a change in fortunes. Seeing the A’s train in Jacksonville and then win the pennant and also knowing that St. Pete had new and now empty facilities likely caused the Phillies to become the new tenants for 1915.

Not much attention was paid to the Phils during preseason camp. They had finished second in 1913, their highest finish since 1901, but a sixth-place finish in 1914 seemed to indicate that the Phils had slipped back to the norm. But when they opened the 1915 season by winning eight straight and 11 of their first 12, both the city of St. Pete and the Phils were quick to point to the Florida training. The city probably was a little louder about it than the Phillies were. The club was at least tied for first place from July 13th on and won their first pennant by six and a half games.

Would Florida eventually have become the go-to place for spring training even without the 1915 Phillies? Probably, because Florida was growing as a tourist destination in the winter anyway, especially for rich team owners. Athletes were finding the place in order to train on their own and enjoy other aspects of the good life as well. But because the Phils were perennially so bad and in 1915 they were so good, the cause-and-effect of Florida spring training was amplified, probably mostly by mayors in Florida. Perhaps the best example is the Boston Braves, the Miracle 1914 team who finished second to the Phils in 1915. In 1916 the Braves became the first team to have spring training in Miami, and that cannot be any sort of coincidence. By the mid-1920’s 10 of the 16 Major League clubs were in Florida for spring training on at least a part-time basis.

Despite staying in St. Pete for three more seasons, the Phils weren’t able to duplicate the success of 1915. In 1916 they finished 2.5 games back of Brooklyn, who called Daytona Beach home, in 1916 and second to the Marlin Springs, Texas-trained New York Giants in 1917. (Philly then didn’t sniff success until coming out of nowhere again and winning the pennant in 1950, after they’d settled for good in Clearwater.) It probably didn’t hurt that Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander had a season for the ages on the hill in 1915, going 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA and a career-high 241 strikeouts for an MLB-high 10.4 WAR. Outfielder Gavvy Gravath set a then-modern MLB-record with 24 homers in a single season and had one of his best statistical years as well.

A final note on Florida spring training- the first team to spend a full preseason in the Sunshine State and then win the World Series was a descendant of the very first team to spend any time in Florida- the American League Washington Senators, who went to Tampa in 1924. By then going south for spring training was as sure as the change of seasons, and the next frontier was the west. Although the Cubs were the first team to go to California in 1903 and were training on Santa Catalina Island outside of L.A. by the mid-1920’s, the Detroit Tigers were the first team to head for in Arizona in 1929. But that is a story for another day.

Early Spring Training in St. Pete, unknown year or location

Early Spring Training in St. Pete, unknown year or location

Sources: baseball-reference.com, FloridaGrapefruitLeague.com, SABR’s excellent Spring Training Database, tampabay.com, springtrainingonline.com, deadballbaseball.com, thedeadballera.com

Photos courtesy: thedeadballera.com, tampabay.com

Town Ball Stories

Many games preceded “America’s Pastime,” and many of them were British in origin- Rounders, the-as-confusing-to-the-Americans-as-baseball-is-to-the-British Cricket, the poorly-named Stool Ball, and others.

America’s wide open spaces demanded a more spacious game. Town Ball was one of those adaptations, and it brings to mind a more rural America, the kind of America that baseball prospered.

Nothing about baseball that we know now is new. It was all tried for the first time years ago. This site shall be an attempt to bring to light some of the stories of the things we take for granted, and making them seem shiny and new again. There is no limit to the stories told about Town Ball.

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