Strange Times in Baseball: 1891-1895

It’s been far too long, but once again we return to a time before the 20th century; a time when men were men and baseball was barely baseball.

1845-1875 is here, 1876-1884 is here, and 1885-1890 here. As always, my source is the Baseball Chronology, edited by James Charlton. Onwards!

March 1, 1891: 

"Pittsburgh and Cleveland are the 2 NL Clubs making the heaviest raids against the AA player contracts [which were declared ‘fair game’ by President Thurman, igniting a war between the NL and AA]. Pittsburgh further earns its new nickname of "Pirates" by signing Pete Browning and Scott Stratton away from Louisville. 

I highlight this for anyone who didn’t know how the Pirates earned their name, as well as to remind people that there is a team in 2012 whose name is derived from player thievery in the 19th century. Which is very, very cool. 

April 8, 1891: 

"Opening Day in the AA with 4 games. In St. Louis, the Cincinnati Kellys walk off the field in the 9th inning after new umpire Billy Gleason makes several questionable decisions in favor of his old Browns teammates. Gleason will be fired in two days, and the game will be replayed. 

1. Cincinnati Kellys is a terribly wonderful name. 

2. Next time you heckle Joe West, call him a “Billy Gleason.” He may not know what it means, but I bet it will sting. 

April 27, 1891: 

"The Bridegrooms play their home opener at Eastern Park in the East New York section of Brooklyn…It is located near a complex of streetcar and suburban railroad lines, forcing fans to ‘dodge trolleys’ to get to the gates. This spawns the name ‘Trolley Dodger’ or ‘Dodgers’ for the ballclub. 

If the Dodgers have a “Vote for the Throwback” next season, I hope they’ll offer the Bridgegrooms as a possibility. 

(image via AJ Ballcaps)

May 5, 1891: 

"Pittsburgh’s Pete Browning bunts into a triple play in the top of the 6th inning and makes an error to allow a run in the bottom of the frame, causing Pittsburgh to lose to the Chicago Colts 1-0." 

120 years later and Alexei Ramirez offers an homage.

July 3, 1891: 

"The Columbus Buckeyes release Jack O’Connor for habitual drunkenness. He will resurface with Cleveland next year and remain an active player through 1907." 

Oh, but wait, there’s more. O’Connor, who had the nickname “Peach Pie,” was also involved in a batting crown scandal with Nap Lajoie. From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

"O’Connor was the player-manager of the Browns in 1910, finishing a dismal 47-107. He is best known for trying to help Nap Lajoie win the batting title and the associated 1910 Chalmers Award over Ty Cobb in the last two games of the season, a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park. Cobb was leading Lajoie .385 to .376 in the batting race going into that last day. O’Connor ordered rookie third baseman Red Corriden to station himself in shallow left field. Lajoie bunted five straight times down the third base line and made it to first easily. On his last at-bat, Lajoie reached base on a fielding error, officially giving him a hitless at-bat and lowering his average. O’Connor and coach Harry Howell tried to bribe the official scorer, a woman, to change the call to a hit, offering to buy her a new wardrobe. Cobb won the batting title by less than one point over Lajoie, .385069 to .384095…. At his insistence, Browns’ owner Robert Hedges fired both O’Connor and Howell, and released them as players; both men were informally banned from baseball for life.”

August 22, 1891: 

"Walt Wilmot of the Colts draws 6 bases on balls from Spider pitchers Lee Viau and Cy Young to set a ML record for walks in a game. Jimmie Foxx (6/16/38) and Andre Thornton (5/2/84) will be the only players to tie this record." 

I actually asked this question after Colby Rasmus drew five walks on May 22nd. While I found references to the other players (including Bagwell’s feat which came after the publication of The Baseball Chronology), Walt Wilmot has seen his record fade into obscurity. 

September 4, 1891: 

“‘Old Man’ Cap Anson shows up for today’s game wearing a wig and a long white beard, much to the delight of the Chicago crowd. Anson wears this costume throughout the game, which his Colts win over the Beaneaters 5-3, stretching Chicago’s lead to 7 games over Boston.” 

Add this game to the variety that I will visit once time travel becomes commercially available. 

October 4, 1891: 

"Browns rookie Ted Breitenstein gets his first start on the final day of the season and hurls a no-hitter versus Louisville. He wins 8-0 while walking one and facing the minimum 27 batters." 

Welcome to the Big Leagues. 

March 12, 1892:

"A bill before the New York State Assembly seeks ‘To prohibit the employment of females as baseball players.’"

Those dang blasted dumbocrats and redumblicans.

April 29, 1892:

"Cleveland Spiders SS Ed McKean accidentally shoots himself through the ‘fleshy portion’ of his finger with a revolver. He will recover within a week and go on to drive in 93 runs, albeit with the lowest batting average and HR total of his career to date."

I hope McKean will be included in the next series of Amelie Mancini’s injury postcards:

April 30, 1892:

Dr. S.B. Talcott, superintendent of the State Lunatic Asylum in New York„ declares in the New York Clipper that ‘I believe that baseball is a homeopathic cure for lunacy. It is a kind of craze in itself, and gives the lunatics a new kind of crazing to relieve them of the malady which afflicts their minds.’”

And yet, I wonder what he would think of the common baseball blogger, what with the blood red eyes and the nail-bitten fingers.

May 11, 1892:

"Baltimore defeats St. Louis 5-3 in a game in which, according to the New York Clipper, the only ‘curious feature was the fact that all of the runs scored were earned."

If only Yuniesky Betancourt could have played in the 1800s, he would have been revered as a god.

June 13, 1892:

NL Club owners meet in New York to work out league financial problems…team rosters are reduced to 13 players, thus allowing the weaker clubs to sign some of those released.”

I’ve always wondered what roster sizes were like back in the early days of 400 inning pitchers, and now I know. The entire roster was the size of the modern bullpen.

June 30, 1892:

Tony Mullane of Cincinnati and Ad Gumbert of Chicago pitch 20 innings of a 7-7 standof. It is the longest game of the 19th century.”

Fun facts to think on and ponder! Also, Mullane would be cut four days later.

Also on June 30:

Baltimore hurler Charles Buffinton refuses a salary cut from $100 a week to $75 a week and is released by the club. Only 31, he will never pitch again in professional ball.”

Really? They could so easily cut the greatest name for a 1980s high school bully ever? Onward, Buffinton.

July 11, 1892:

"Boston, having clinched the first-half championship, plays an unusual game at Chicago with team members, led by King Kelly, dressed in outlandish costumes and wearing beards. The large crowd is delighted, and the game, a 3-2 win for Boston, is surprisingly well played.”

The Giants successfully recreated this during their 2010 World Series run, though no one knew what they were referencing.

Al Kermisch at SABR has more info:

"Mike Kelly was made up as an English dude. Hugh Duffy wore Red Galway sluggers and a red nose. Tommy McCarthy was made up as the one fireman. Jack Stivetts had a heavy beard, also a red nose.  Kid Nichols wore Danite whiskers. Joe Quinn sported a handsome pair of whiskers, of the reddish hue, a white necktie and blue cap, looking very Fourth of July. Tom Tucker wore a full beard. Herman Long was made up as the three ball merchant Frank Bush. Bobby Lowe wore black whiskers, a red nose and one black eye. Charley Bennett wore gray whiskers."

How in the world is there no photographic proof of this? Considering how scary fake beards used to look, they probably looked like a team full of this guy:

July 22, 1892:

"Female baseball players are not exactly accorded respect in the South. A Louisville Courier-Journal article about a mass murderer is telling titled, ‘Alice Mitchell Played Ball.’"

Would you like to hear a song of the event? The internet obliges.

July 28, 1892:

"The Orioles are embarrassed when an Elkton, MD, amateur hurler named Bill Hawke, signed by St. Louis, defeats Baltimore 2-1.”

Sometimes I really wish that a team like the Pirates, when they have nothing left to play for, would rile up the crowds by having a fan pitch for the team. It would be like Eddie but without a whole lot of eventual success.

August 18, 1892:

"In the course of a 13-4 win over Baltimore, Browns LF Cliff Carroll attempts to field a ground ball, but he misjudges it, and the ball becomes lodged in his shirt pocket. Before he can extricate it the Oriole batter makes it to 3B. St. Louis owner Chris Von der Ahe is so outraged he suspends him without pay for the rest of the season. Carroll appeals the fine and the suspension at the end of the season but is turned down."

This is why the players have a union.

October 15, 1892:

Charles ‘Bumpus’ Jones of Cincinnati, making his ML debut, pitches a no-hit game over Pittsburgh, winning 7-1.”

Bumpus Jones went on to have a distinguished career record 2-4 with a 7.99 ERA. Bill James, according to Wikipedia, gave him the distinction of being the “mathematically least likely pitcher ever to have thrown a no-hitter in the major leagues.”

January 12, 1893:

"NL owners, led by Pittsburgh’s A.C. Buckenberger, from the National Cycling Association. They hope to build bicycle tracks in at least 8 of the 12 NL parks."

Can you imagine the sea of spandex if this idea took off?

January 25, 1893:

"Cincinnati business manager F.C. Bancroft reminisces about ‘the time when police had to escort the umpire to the depot, and when cannons were fired when a game was won. That’s the sort of baseball you want.’"

Even in 1893 the players weren’t tough enough.

March 1, 1893:

"John Pickett wins $1,285.72 in a lawsuit against Baltimore, his most recent team. Baltimore had claimed that they did not owe him this sum—Pickett’s entire 1892 salary — because he “was slow in his movement, and had a sore arm which incapacitated him from being of service to the club.”

Had this kind of action been allowed, David Wells would have been in for quite a few salary-less years.

March 7, 1893:

"In arguably the most significant rule change in MLB history, the NL eliminates the pitching box and adds a pitcher’s rubber 5 feet behind the previous back line of the box, establishing the modern pitching distance of 60 feet 6 inches. In addition, bats flattened on one side to facilitate bunting are banned.”

And thus began the long, slow death of the bunt for anyone not named Juan Pierre. You may remember that the flat bat came into play a few years ago when Joe Torre had Akinori Iwamura’s bat confiscated. I don’t believe anyone measured the mound distance though.

May 19, 1893:

"Held scoreless for the first 8 innings, both Brooklyn and the Boston Beaneaters score 3 runs in 9th to send the game into extra innings. Boston’s Billy Nash hits a ball over the LF fence in the bottom of the 9th, but he stays on 3B “to bother the pitcher.” The tactic works as Nash does score.”

Finally, a ballplayer selfless enough to not hit any of those rally-killing home runs. I assume some old school beat writers revere this man as a god:

May 30, 1893:

"Jake Beckley successfully pulls the ‘ancient’ hidden-ball trick on Baltimore Oriole Joe Kelley, as Pittsburgh wins 9-1."

The fact that the hidden ball trick still occasionally works (thank you, Mike Lowell) must mean we’re not nearly as advanced a society as we would like to think.

July 7, 1893:

"Louisville officials, frustrated by their inability to sell alcohol or play Sunday baseball in their new ballpark, located in the suburb of Parkland, whose laws proscribe such activities, get permission from the Kentucky Legislature to annex the land on which the ballpark is located without the consent of Parkland residents. Alcohol sales and Sunday baseball commence almost immediately.”

While I would normally be mortified by such an extreme act of business aggression, my love of drinking beer while watching Sunday afternoon baseball preclude me from seeing this as anything other than Progress.

July 19, 1893:

"Pittsburgh uses 19 hitsall singles—to win in Cleveland 10-6. Pittsburgh is further aided by the defense of LF Elmer Smith, whose use of green glasses to fend off the sun “greatly helped him in his fielding.”

I have so many questions. Is this the first recorded time sunglasses were used on the baseball diamond? Or was Elmer Smith just a particularly fashionable young man who enjoyed wearing colored eyeglasses? And if the lenses were green, were other lenses in the day not green? And what the hell happened to all the Elmers?

August 12, 1893:

"After making three errors in a loss in Cleveland, St. Louis LF Jesse Burkett is criticized for forgetting to follow Elmer Smith’s example and wear sunglasses.”

Can you imagine if someone read about your forgetting sunglasses 120 years in the future?

September 21, 1893:

"John ‘Bid' McPhee, the Reds star 2B, wears a glove for the first time. However, he ends the experiment before the end of the season.”

Does this look like the type of man who needs a high falutin’ leather machine to make outs?

(image via

October 14, 1893:

"Baseball legend Harry Wright suggests that umpires keep the ball-strike count a secret until the at bat is concluded. He feels this rule change will increase offense."

Fun fact: counting was outlawed for the working class until 1917.

February 26, 1894:

"In a series of rule changes designed to help pitchers, foul bunts will now be called strikes, and the infield fly rule is instituted.”

And Dads became forever confused.

March 14, 1894:

"U.S. Immigration Inspector De Barry will ask the Treasury Department if baseball is a ‘recognized profession’ in order to determine if Buffalo has violated the alien contract labor law by signing two Canadians. Before De Barry gets a reply, Buffalo decides to play only Americans."

We came this close to missing out on Matt Stairs. 

May 5, 1894:

"In the 5th inning of the St. Louis-Pittsburgh game, Pirate SS Jack Glasscock, thinking opposing Browns P Emerson ‘Pink’ Hawley deliberately threw at him, hurls his bat at the pitcher and then confronts Hawley on the mound. Glasscock remains in the game and helps Pittsburgh to a hard-fought 6-5 victory."

I feel like I just read something out of Penthouse Forums.

May 6, 1894:

"Star Boston SS Herman Long accidentally flicks hot ash from his cigar into his eye, causing him to miss several games.”

Long also holds the Major League record for errors with 1,096 so cigars don’t seem to be the only thing he had trouble holding onto.

May 26, 1894:

"The Pittsburgh Pirates lead at Cleveland 12-3 in the 8th inning when the home spectators start a seat cushion fight that spills onto the diamond. Pittsburgh is awarded a 9-0 victory."

Sexiest. Game. Ever. Best part: Pittsburgh’s Pythagorean record isn’t even impacted by the fight.

June 20, 1894:

"Denny Lyons scores the winning run in the 9th inning to lead Pittsburgh to 7-6 win over Washington. Lyons gets into scoring position by running form 1B to 3B—across the pitcher’s mound — on a fielder’s choice. The umpire did not see Lyon’s transgression, a common one in the 1890s."

Seriously? Pillow fights break out on the field, but no one is going to fight over Lyons skipping a base while the umpire is preoccupied?

July 20, 1894:

"Cincinnati benefits from bottom-of-the-10th inning HRs by Henry ‘Farmer’ Vaughn and George ‘Germany’ Smith, the latter with 2 outs, to squeak past Pittsburgh 7-6. Pirate OF Elmer Smith is prevented from retrieving the game-winning hit in the LF bleachers, as he is allowed to do according to Cincinnati ground rules, by overzealous Reds fans. One of them draws a revolver on Smith after he hits several other spectators in a desperate attempt to reach the ball.”

And now you understand why Luke Scott needs to keep himself strapped.

August 7, 1894:

"Boston’s Jimmy ‘Foxy Grandpa’ Bannon becomes the first player to hit grand slams in consecutive games. Bannon’s feat will not be matched until September 24, 1901.”

  1. I had no idea Foxy Grandpa was a 19th century phrase.
  2. A kid on my kickball team in 2nd grade was called “Foxy Grandma.” Were we unwittingly, perhaps through some transcendental state, conjuring Bannon’s spirit?
  3. Just look at his hair. Is that not foxy enough for you?

(image via)

August 22, 1894:

"With the Giants up by 6 runs in the 8th, Chicago’s Bill Lange comes up to the plate wielding a 5 foot 10 inch bat that had been given to Jimmy Ryan by a New York theater manager. Neither the umpire, John McQuaid, nor the Giants object and Lange, who had struck out twice against Jouett Meekin, hits a soft grounder to 1B Jack Doyle, who mishandles it. New York wins 8-5.”

To further improve on the image in my mind, I like to pretend it was this bat:

(image via Ebaumsworld)

August 22, 1894:

"Chicago C William ‘Pop’ Schriver catches a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument."


September 3, 1894:

"The Louisville Courier-Journal, in describing Cap Anson as a ‘wholesome example to the youngballplayers’ states approvingly that he ‘smokes three cigars a day.’”

To say nothing of his terrible racism.

February 2, 1895:

"The New York Clipper and the Cincinnati Times-Star both express disapproval of the proposal of putting numbers on uniforms as a means of identifying individual players. The Times-Star advocates a return to the use of ‘distinctive colors in club uniforms’or the practice ofassigning to each position specific color pattern, first enacted in the early 1880s.”

Here the Detroit Wolverines of 1882 model such a uniform, though the photograph makes it hard to differentiate between colors:

They do look like a really great Brooklyn post-rock group, though.

June 15, 1895:

"Future novelist Zane Grey makes his minor league debut playing LF for Findlay, OH, against Wheeling (Tri State League). The Pennsylvania University athlete, playing under the name Zane, fails to get a hit, but walks and scores on a grand slam by brother Romer ‘Reddy’ Grey.

And there he is, looking as dapper as ever while wearing snowpants.

August 12, 1895:

"Heavyweight boxing champion Jim Corbett, a good ballplayer and a great gate attraction, plays 1B for the Scranton team in an Eastern League victory over Buffalo. Corbett collects 2 singles and knocks in 2 runs. His brother Joe, who will become a ML pitcher, plays SS.”

Can you find the 19th century boxer-turned-ballplayer?

September 14, 1895:

"In the 8th inning of the Baltimore-Brooklyn game a foul tip shatters the mask of umpire Tim Hurst, driving a wire into his forehead which strikes an artery. Amazingly, Hurst remains in the game despite the blood."

Of course, he didn’t make a correct call for the rest of the game and had trouble remembering his name when the contest was over, but the point is that he’s a gamer.

November 15, 1895:

"Cap Anson makes his stage debut in "A Runaway Colt." Aside from forgetting a few lines Anson does quite well."

That still sounds better than Kazaam.

Join us next time when we bid adieu to the 19th century and hurtle ever forward in the name of progress.

  1. oldtimefamilybaseball posted this
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