Monday, October 15, 2007

The Maroons Take The Field

From the Newark Daily Advocate, April 7, 1884:

"The new baseball grounds were opened yesterday (in St. Louis) with a match between the new Union Club and a team picked from the Union Reserves. The Unions were captained by Dunlap and the Reserves by the veteran Joe Blong. Fifteen hundred spectators were present and the game was an interesting one. The score was 11 to 2 in favor of the regulars."

This is one of the first games played by the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association. The baseball grounds mentioned were the Union Grounds at Jefferson and Cass Avenue. Fred Dunlap, who captained the regulars in this game, would manage the Maroons to a record of 94-19 and an .832 winning percentage. They would win the UA by 21 games. Regardless of the quality and flaws of the UA, the Maroons' 1884 season was the finest ever by a St. Louis professional baseball team. The Maroons would join the National League for the 1885 and 1886 seasons with considerably less success.


Richard Hershberger said...

This is getting past the era where I actually know what I am talking about. One of the minor mysteries I would like eventually to have cleared up is why the Maroons didn't do better in the NL, either competitively or financially. It doesn't seem obvious in 1885 that it would be Von der Ahe's team that would thrive.

Jeff Kittel said...

I don't know a whole lot about the Maroons. Like you, this is getting past my era. I had that quote from the Newark paper for a while but didn't even realize it was talking about the Maroons until yesterday.

Didn't Bill James write a long piece on the UA in the Historical Abstract? I remember him going through all the players and basicly coming to the conclusion that the UA wasn't a good league and didn't have very good players. I can't remember if that was in the first edition or the revised one but his arguement would explain the Maroons lack of success in the NL. It reminds me of what happens to lower level soccer teams in England when they advance to the Premier League-they don't have much success and usually get relegated back down to the lower leagues in a year or two.

I would think that the lack of financial success was a direct result of the lack of on the field success. The Maroons were competing with a very good Browns team. The Maroons finished last in 1875 and 6th in 1876. Over the two years, they were a combined 72 games below .500 and 95 games out of first. The Browns, meanwhile, were winning championships. Also, of the top of my head, I would say that the differences in the price of tickets, Sunday ball, and the sale of alcohol at the ballpark all were major factors in the Browns winning out over the Maroons.

Richard Hershberger said...

I expect you are right. I just pulled up the Maroons' record. I had thought they were better than that. They were by far the best team in the UA, as well as being by far the best financed. (Short version: rich guy's hobby.) These were the Browns' powerhouse years, so it seems likely the Maroons were a poor draw, and the owner may have gotten tired of losing money on a hobby.

Bill James has argued that the UA shouldn't be classified as a major league. If quality of play on the field in the sole criterion, I expect he is right. I regard "major" and "minor" leagues as organizational categories that correlate to quality of play. Viewed this way, the question of UA as major or minor is almost meaningless. The categories had only just gelled, and the UA very self-consciously did not fit.

David Ball said...

The UA was a very weak league, but I would think the Maroons were stronger than the weaker NL and AA teams in 1884. In 1885 and 1886 they had a nucleus of very good players but were handicapped by the fact that their ace pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, threw his arm out in the second game of he pitched in 1885 and Orator Shaffer, their one big hitter, forgot how to hit. As a result, they never had much hitting or enough good batteries.

Lucas undoubtedly spent heavily supporting the UA, but he suffered a variety of financial reverses and some contemporary comments I've seen suggest that he had lost either the will or the cash to compete aggressively by 1885. Once it turned out Von der Ahe had a winning team and Lucas did not, the Maroons were really dead meat. NL rules and perhaps the agreement they made with Von der Ahe to operate in St. Louis required them to charge fifty cent admission for their losing team while Von der Ahe charged a quarter ot see his colorful champions. Lucas was also denied the right to play the very popular Sunday games and couldn't even sell alcohol. By around August of 1886 the League was probably paying the Maroons players' salaries. It's a wonder the team lasted as long as it did.

Jeff Kittel said...

Hi, David. Thanks for visiting the blog. I tend to agree with most of what you're saying about the UA and the Maroons. The 1884 team had some good players on it (Fred Dunlap, Jack Gleason, Shaffer, Sweeney, etc). They had guys who had success prior to coming to the UA and who would have success later. It was a good team.

I think I'm going to look into the Maroons transition from the UA to the NL and post a some more on the subject. There were some major roster moves between 1874 and 75 and now I'm curious as to the circumstances under which the Maroons entered the NL and how this affected the roster.

Sweeney really looked like a good young pitcher. He had success in the NL with Providence and his career was basicly over with by age 22. He had 123 major league starts in his career but only 14 after age 22. That sure sounds like an arm injury to me. Of course, he's not unique in this among his 19th century pitching brethren. The AA Browns basicly had a policy where they would get rid of a pitcher after three years because they believed that, given a pitcher's workload, that was all a human arm had in it.