FanPost

The American Association Years, 1883-1886

                After writing about the Alleghenys’ 1882 season, I planned to introduce long-suffering Pirates fans to the franchise’s historical tradition of winning.  Unfortunately, what I planned and how the Alleghenys performed in the American Association (“AA”) wasn’t exactly similar.

        The Alleghenys played in the AA four more years after their inaugural season, rising from basement-dwellers in 1883 and 1884 (7th and 11th place, respectively) to mediocre in 1885 (3rd place, 56-55) to a team best 2nd place in 1886.  

 

        In 1883 the American Association added the Columbus (Ohio) Buckeyes and the New York Metropolitans.  The Alleghenys, purportedly the hardest-drinking team in the league, finished behind both newcomers by winning only 31 games.  Once again, the team had a four-man rotation and the occasional spot starter.  The starting third baseman (Joe Battin), a starting outfielder (Billy Taylor), and a back-up shortstop (Frank McLaughlin) made up the bullpen.  The “ace” of the staff, who won 18 and lost 21 while throwing over 300 innings, was Denny Driscoll.  For the peripheral stats crowd, the Pirates pitchers that year had 2.8 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9, but batters could still tell the pitcher where to throw and it took seven balls to earn a walk.  Ed Swartwood led the hitters.  The 1883 Alleghenys were consistently bad – their home/road split was about even, they never won more than seven games in a month, and their 1st/2nd half records are almost identical.  They only shined against the hapless Baltimore Orioles, against whom they were 9-5.  The Alleghenys faced a financial crisis after the season, putting some shares in trust while they tried to pay off $2,500 in back salaries to players, and ended up cutting several players.     

 

        Perhaps the financial problems explain the abysmal 1884 season, when the Alleghenys used five managers (including the owner and three starting players) and an astounding 34 players to achieve a 30-78 record, finishing 11th out of 13 teams.  One could argue that they should be in 10th place, above the short-lived (1884) Richmond, Virginia franchise, which won only 12 games, but had a better winning percentage by playing only 46 games.  The Washington Statesmen also had a single, truncated season, playing only 63 games before they disbanded.  Of the other new teams, the Toledo Blue Stockings (formerly of the Northwestern League) and Brooklyn (then a separate city from New York) Grays finished ahead of the Alleghenys while the Indianapolis Hoosiers fared worse.  Why were the 1884 Alleghenys so bad?  Not a single starting position player hit a home run all year and the reserves managed only two!  Opponents clubbed 25 homers, so it wasn’t the ball.  The team batting average was .211, although they hit 50 triples.  The three-man rotation of Fleury Sullivan (possibly known as “the Surrendering Irishman” thanks to his French blood), Jack Neagle, and John Fox averaged a 4.52 ERA and 10 hits/9, but they were rubber-armed.  Sullivan threw 441 innings and Neagle tossed 326; between the three, they accounted for 88% of the innings pitched by Alleghenys’ pitchers.  The team could only watch as the AA’s Metropolitans played the National League’s Providence Grays, led by 60-game winner Hoss Radbourne, in the 1884 World’s Series. 

 

        One hundred and twenty six years ago, the Alleghenys entered the season with the longest professional losing streak in Pittsburgh sports history.  But 1885 was the year that the Alleghenys climbed above .500, if only by one game, with a 56-55 record.  That was enough to earn them 3rd place in the AA, which had contracted to eight teams.  Thomas Tarlton Brown, an Englishman who roamed the outfield for the Alleghenys, was 6th in the league in batting average, 8th in hits, and, with his four home runs, tied for 9th in the league.  The league leader, Harry Stovey of the Philadelphia Athletics, had 13 round-trippers while the Alleghenys hit eight home runs for the season.  Ed “Cannonball” Morris, who like Tom Brown had played the prior year for the now-defunct Columbus Buckeyes, led the AA in WHIP (<1/IP), hits/9IP (7.1), strikeouts (298), IP (581), and shutouts (7).  He also led all AA pitchers with games played, started, and completed –the number was exactly the same for each, 63. Of those starts, he won 39, second only to Robert Lee “Parisian Bob” Caruthers, who won 40.  Extra points awarded if you can guess, without looking it up, whether Parisian Bob was born north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  (As a curmudgeonly misanthrope, I don’t expect anyone under the age of 35 to understand, much less answer, that question.  Hopefully, my curmudgeonly spirit is misplaced.)  Cannonball Morris completed more games and threw more innings than the other seven pitchers – combined – on the Alleghenys’ roster. 

 

        The drunken schedule-maker returned to the AA in 1895 – the Alleghenys had 19 and 25-game home-stands, several shorter road trips, and ended the season on a 17-game road trip to New York, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.  The Alleghenys had a 3-game home-stand against Louisville and St. Louis followed by a 2-game series in Cincinnati, and then a single game in Pittsburgh against Cincinnati to start a home-stand.  In August the Alleghenys hosted St. Louis and Louisville, went to Cincinnati for a three games, and then returned home for three games against Cincinnati.  Although they did well early, the Alleghenys constantly trailed the eventual AA champion St. Louis Browns, who had a 23-5 record by June 1, 1885.  The Browns never looked back, ending the season 79-33.  They played the National League Chicago White Stockings in the second sanctioned World’s Series, a best-of-seven affair that included a forfeited game and, according to White Stockings owner Al Spalding and Sporting Life, ended in a 3-3 tie with no winner of the championship series.     

 

        The 1886 season was the Alleghenys’ final year in the American Association.  They ended with an 80-57 record, finishing second behind the St. Louis Browns.  The Alleghenys were again led by Cannonball Morris, who started 64 games.  He fell into a sophomore slump, finishing only 63 of those games, but he won 41 and lost 20.  Morris was almost matched by Pud Galvin, who finished 49 games en route to a 29-21 win/loss record.  These two starters combined for 70 of the 80 wins the Alleghenys achieved.  The pitching staff, which had a 2.83 ERA, was key to the successful season given that the hitters achieved only a .241 team batting average and .329 slugging percentage.  The Alleghenys doubled their home run production, with 16, and almost doubled their triples production, hitting 96.  I’m guessing that the number of triples was due to deep fences and slow outfielders; it was the best team total in the AA.  But other than this freak, the Alleghenys’ offense was anemic.  Their top hitter was catcher Fred Carroll (.288 BA) and outfielder Ed Glenn checked in with a .191 batting average.  Art Whitney, the team’s 3B and SS, was born before the Civil War and lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in the middle of WWII.  Outfielder Ed Glenn, who died at age 32 in 1892, may have had the most eclectic career, playing for the Alleghenys, (Richmond) Virginians, Boston Beaneaters (NL), and Kansas City Cowboys.

 

        The Alleghenys got off to a rocky start, going just 4-and-7 in April.  Starting the year against the Browns probably didn’t help, as the home team went 1-3 in St. Louis, but they managed to split a home stand 2-2.  The Alleghenys muddled along until late May, when they climbed above .500 with a 6-4 win over Brooklyn.  From there, they never looked again went under .500, but they steadily lost ground to the Browns, sliding to five games back on June 21, ten games back on July 28, and their worst deficit, 14 games back on August 18th.  The Alleghenys made up some ground by taking three of four in St. Louis and went on a nine-game winning streak, but even this only pulled them to within 10&½ games.  The Alleghenys ended their final American Association season by sweeping the Metropolitans at home, but were still a distant second behind the Browns, who defeated the Chicago White Stockings with Curt Welch’s “$15,000 Slide” securing the victory. 

 

        As a fan, I find it disappointing that the Pirates website ignores the American Association years.  Their team timeline starts with the first National League game played by the Alleghenies (sic) in 1887 and the roster of ballparks ignores the use of Exposition Park by the Alleghenys from 1882-1887.  The American Association years are as much a part of the Pirates’ history as the Pittsburgh Pirates are part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ history.  (Check out the Steelers team history; I was surprised to discover the team’s original name.)   

 

 

* Some quick pick-off attempts:

 

        Baseball players in the 1800s had some unusual nicknames.  I’m assuming they’re nicknames because I shudder to think that Ma and Pa Dickerson actually named a son “Buttercup” (1883).  The Alleghenys also had Edward “The Only” Nolan (1883), “Bollicky” Billy Taylor (1883), “Live Oak” Taylor (1884), Fleury Sullivan (1884), “Phenomenal” Smith (1884), “Pop” Smith (1885-1886), “Doggie” Miller (1885-1886), Ed “Cannonball” Morris (1885-1886), and “Pud” Galvin (1886).  Other teams had their fair share of unusual names – Ed “Dummy” Dundon, “Juice” Latham, “Jumping Jack” Jones, “Long John” Reilly, “Dude” Esterbrook, , “Honest” John Kelly (an umpire), “Hoss” Radbourne, Opie Caylor, “Yank” Robinson, “Doc” Bushong, Arlie “Jimmy Fresh” Latham, “Hick” Carpenter.

 

        I originally thought that the original franchise name came from the local mountains, but the team really drew its name from the city – Allegheny City – in which it played.  As you can see from this map, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Allegheny_City.jpg, Allegheny City was still separate from Pittsburgh proper, which is the red area to the east and south.  I believe that the plural spelling is correct.  Although I could not find, after a reasonable search, any contemporaneous photos, pamphlets, newspaper articles, or player cards that spell the team’s name, I’ll defer to The Beer & Whiskey League, which is a thoroughly researched history of the American Association and which identifies the team as the “Alleghenys” throughout. 

 

        Most of the historical trivia is from The Beer & Whiskey League, by David Nemec.  This is an easy, enjoyable read.  Buy it!  Or go to your local library and borrow it.  Stats and factual info was drawn from Wikipedia, http://www.baseball-reference.com, and http://www.baseball-almanac.com.

 

                If you noticed that Pirates Prospects is also running a historical series on the Pirates, I’ll just have to promise that the idea of doing so occurred to me independently.  I’m not reading any of their columns and I’m exploring how to sue for pre-publication (technically, pre-drafting, pre-editing, and pre-publication), ESP-assisted copyright infringement by their highly paid professional journalists.  Future installments of this series to be completed as time allows.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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