Monday, February 9, 2009

The Perfect Harmony Which Prevails

The St. Louis Club, however, relies far more for success in the coming campaign on the friendship which exists among the players themselves, the perfect harmony which prevails in the nine, and the confidence reposed in each other by officers and players than on mere playing skill. Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert were the disturbing elements in the St. Louis nine last year, which is the only reason why Pike, at least, was not re-engaged this season. A better-natured and more harmonious team than the Browns of '77 could not be gathered together. "While I would like to win the championship," remarked one of the Directors at the game on Wednesday, "I would be far more gratified to see the boys work in harmony throughout the season, and establish a reputation for gentlemanly conduct on and off the field," and this sentiment is universally endorsed by admirers of the game in St. Louis.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 1, 1877

So let me see if I can understand this correctly. With Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert, the Brown Stockings finished 39-29 in 1875, an outstanding 45-19 in 1876, and were the best club in the West both seasons. But Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert were "disturbing elements"* and had to go. In 1877, the Brown Stockings finish 28-32, lose money, have trouble meeting their payroll, have their manager and various players accused of bribing umpires and throwing games,and after the season try to sign a bunch of fixers from Louisville. As a result of all of this perfect harmony, the Brown Stockings collapse and almost destroy professional baseball in St. Louis. I think, in retrospect, it may have been a better idea to just keep the disturbing elements and try to win some baseball games.

And one more thing to chew on: the 1876 Brown Stockings had Joe Blong starting everyday in the outfield. What do you have to do to be labeled a disturbing element on a club with Joe Blong on it? Seriously, they got rid of Bradley, Pike and Cuthbert but kept Blong, Mike McGeary and George McManus. I'm thinking that that's poor team management.

*I love this particular turn of phrase and I'm going to start using it at work. "I'm sorry but can you stop being a disturbing element and actually do something productive?" And I'm stealing this whole asterisk thing, without apologies, from Joe Posnanski. Except I'm not going to put the note in the middle of the piece. I find that too jarring.


Richard Hershberger said...

"...the Brown Stockings finished 39-29 in 1875, an outstanding 45-19 in 1876, and were the best club in the West both seasons."

Al Spalding says "Hi!"

But seriously, this is just springtime optimism. I have been reading in my local paper about how much better the Orioles will be this season. Perhaps they won't finish last this year. (Fortunately, I am not an Orioles fan. My Phillies just signed Ryan Howard to a three year contract, taking him through his arbitration years.)

I have always been mildly curious about the Chicago signing of Bradley. In 1875 and 1876 he was at his peak, and overpowering. (Arguably 1874 as well, but that doesn't make the record books.) Then he is signed by Chicago to replace Spalding, and his performance drops: 573 innings with a 1.23 ERA in 1875, 394 innings with an ERA of 3.31 in 1876. This makes we wonder if St. Louis didn't know something. But I don't know if they tried to resign him and were outbid, or quietly let him go.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I'm being haunted by Al Spalding this week. A friend of mine at the Missouri Civil War Museaum put a piece up on their website about baseball, StL, and the Civil War that included a few paragraphs about Doubleday, Spalding, and the Mills Commission. I kindly suggested that it would make for a better piece if that stuff was removed and then got hoodwinked into writing a piece on how the war impacted the development of the game in StL. I blame my growing dislike of Spalding for this. And I'm sure the Brown Stockings would say that their record against Chicago during the 1875-1876 seasons made them the Western champions.

As to Bradley, he wasn't the same pitcher after 1876 and that would lead one to think he injured his arm, especially considering how young he was. I'll take a look around and see if there's anything in the papers about him hurting his arm.

But the Brown Stockings must have had some problems in 1876. Mase Graffen, who was managing the club, quits in September with the club in second place. I can't find any reason given for this but if the players are being a pain in the rear end then that could explain it. Maybe Graffen just wanted to go play cricket. Of course, the club could simply be making excuses for not signing Bradley, Pike, and Cuthbert but the Globe wasn't really the Brown Stockings' house organ so their reporting on this has some credibility.

"Springtime optimism"? I just got a text message that the Cards released Adam Kennedy. With Glaus out for 12 weeks, we have no 2nd baseman or third baseman at the moment. Good times. But you do have to like what the Orioles are doing. After years in the wilderness, it looks like they're heading in the right direction.

Davdi Ball said...

Sounds more like sour grapes than spring optimism to me ("winning isn't really what matters" vs. "with a little luck we'll surprise people"). To be fair, they seem to hint that the Browns might have signed Cuthbert and Bradley if they could, and as for Pike, St. Louis was probably not the first and certainly not the last club to regard him as "a disturbing influence in the nine."

Bradley signed with the Athletics for 1877, and then when that team fell apart he went to Chicago instead. The home team had the choice of what ball to use, and I believe the Browns favored a dead ball in 1876; at any rate, conditions at Sportsman's Park were very favorable for pitchers.

Richard Hershberger said...

"Bradley signed with the Athletics for 1877, and then when that team fell apart he went to Chicago instead."

He did? That must be in my notes, but it never made its way to my cerebral cortex.

The Athletics fielded a viable team, especially early in the season. They started the season with Sam Weaver their pitcher, until they began a salary dump mid-June, when he went to Milwaukee.

What were the circumstances of Bradley's leaving? Did he sign before the December 1876 NL meeting, thinking the Athletics would be kept in the League? Did the Athletics release him, or did Chicago simply steal him?

" do have to like what the Orioles are doing. After years in the wilderness, it looks like they're heading in the right direction."

Eh, we'll see. I belong the the school of thought that the Orioles' problem is the owner. But the farm system does show occasional signs of life. I watched Nick Markakis when he was in high-A, and he was clearly someone to watch even then.