Monday, January 26, 2009

Bradley's No-Hitter

The Globe-Democrat yesterday morning announced the fact that the St. Louis Base Ball club intended accomplishing the greatest feat in the annals of the game, if sharp play could bring about the result prayed for, which was nothing less than the whitewashing of the famous Hartford nine for the third consecutive time. They did it and thereby covered themselves with glory and sent their admirers into ecstacies. A large crowd was present to witness the discomfiture of the Dark Blues. In the matter of the toss, luck for the first time in a long while deserted McGeary, which was considered a favorable omen for Hartford, but, as the sequel showed, failed to prove such. St. Louis won the game in the first two innings by the fine batting of Clapp and Blong, and four unfortunate errors by their opponents. In the last seven innings Bond was so well supported that the Browns could not possibly increase their score. Bradley's pitching, and the magnificent backing given it by the fielders, won the day for St. Louis. For the first time in the annals of the League, nine innings were played without a single base hit being placed to the credit of one of the teams. The Hartford's utterly failed to do anything whatever with Bradley's twisters. Weak infield hits and easy flies were the order of the afternoon on their side, and a chance for an out was rarely missed. Bradley has good reason to be proud of his record. His associates, especially Clapp, whose beautiful batting was a marked feature of the game, did fairly off Bond's curves, and thereby won the game. Three such games as have been played during the past week by the St. Louis and Hartford Clubs have never been witnessed, the scores being 2 to 0, 3 to 0, and 2 to 0, all in favor of St. Louis. They will be placed on record as the most wonderful struggles in the history of the national pastime. When it is stated that until last Tuesday Hartford had not been whitewashed this season, and that for twenty-seven consecutive innings they were retired by the Browns without scoring, and almost in one-two-three order, some idea of the magnificent manner in which they must have fielded the stinging hist of such men as Burdock, Higham, Ferguson, and the other Blue Legs can be formed.

-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 16, 1876

Peter Morris, in A Game of Inches, makes an interesting observation about the coverage of Bradley's no-hitter. After first noting Princeton pitcher Joseph McElroy Mann's no-hitter against Yale on May 29, 1875 and Joseph Borden's no-hitter against Chicago on July 28, 1875, which was the first no-hitter in major league history, Morris states that the two games received little attention and were reported simply as a matter of fact. "When George Bradley pitched the first National League no-hitter the following season, the event was heralded with more enthusiasm, but the accomplishment was portrayed as belonging as much to the fielders as to the pitcher ...The fact that the response to early no-hitters was so subdued is somewhat puzzling in light of the acclaim being accorded low-scoring games during this period. My conjecture is that, as implied by the account of Bradley's no-hitter, this was a reflection of the continued perception that baseball ought to be a battle between hitters and fielders and a resulting resentment of pitchers for having usurped too great a role. Low-scoring games could be viewed as the product of good defense, but the absence of any hits at all evoked suspicion that the pitcher had exerted too great an influence."

I would also add, speaking only of the Globe's coverage of the event, that Bradley's no-hitter got a bit lost in the acclaim given the three consecutive shutouts. Shutting out Harford for twenty seven consecutive innings seems to have been regarded as a greater accomplishment than Bradley's single game achievement. The no-hitter was therefore portrayed as only a part of the greater accomplishment.


Richard Hershberger said...

You seem to have transcribed the date of the article incorrectly.

I have a fondness for Bradley. He was a big part of why my beloved 1874 Eastons (the best team no one has ever heard of) were so good.

This is the era when curve balls are really coming into their own. Curves obviously weren't a complete novelty to the Hartfords, but as I interpret this era the technique was still developing, and the batters hadn't yet completely figured out how to respond (inasmuch as they ever have). So a pitcher with a good curve could make a team.

They also hadn't figured out how to avoid ruining the pitcher's arm (inasmuch as they yet have). 1876 was Bradley's peak. He played professionally for many more years, but was never again a dominant force.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Yeah-1876 not 1875. First no-hitter in NL history. Thanks for pointing that out.

Browsing A Game of Inches, I saw the story of how Bradley wanted someone (I forget who) to teach him the curve but the player refused to do so. I guess they wanted to keep the competitive advantage.

I'm going through the Globe for 1875 again-focusing on the Brown Stockings this time rather than the Reds. So you'll probably hear a bit more about Bradley over the next few weeks or so.

David Ball said...

The home team had its choice of what ball to use, and the Browns are said to have favored a very dead ball. At any rate, for one reason or another conditions in St. Louis favored pitchers considerably, and it's not clear to me that Bradley's outstanding 1876 season wasn't just a byproduct of that fact.

I think the general discussion of the concept of a no hitter is marred by presentism, the tendency to see history through our own eyes.

A game in which the pitcher allows no hits is obviously notable to a degree, but the fact that in relatively recent times we have chosen to fetishize the no-hitter is no reason to think we need to explain why people in other eras didn't do so. The article actually makes a little more of Bradley's accomplishment than I have seen in other contemporary accounts -- Frank Mountain and Ed Morris of Columbus pitched no hitters within about a week of each other in 1884 and the Columbus papers are even more unemphatic in mentioning it.
In 1876 only a few years had passed since the best teams regularly played games with scores like 20-18, and fielding errors played a large part in the scoring. People were conscious of the steady improvement in fielding, and they recognized a cleanly fielded game as evidence of greater skill on the players' part and as more enjoyable to watch than a raggedly played one. Well fielded games fit in a recognized category; precisely because no one had thrown a no hitter, there was no category to put them in.

That is reason enough why no hitters didn't immediately start being mentioned in headlines, and there doesn't seem any reason to strain for further explanation.

Richard Hershberger said...

"People were conscious of the steady improvement in fielding, and they recognized a cleanly fielded game as evidence of greater skill on the players' part and as more enjoyable to watch than a raggedly played one."

Well, reporters did. I don't know if spectators in general agreed. There certainly is evidence that spectators back then, like today, enjoyed watching the long ball. At least some reporters disagreed: Chadwick's low-scoring "model games" are the obvious example, and I have seen them mocked. So I don't assume that the popular consensus of what made a game enjoyable matched journalistic ideology.