Friday, October 9, 2009

The 1876 Brown Stockings: An Opening Day Loss To The Worst Team In The League

Were it not for the "glorious uncertainty" of base ball, that pastime would never have been chosen as the National game of America. There was not an enthusiast in this city yesterday who would not have bet dollars to cents that the Brown Stockings would win the first game of their championship series with the Cincinnati Reds. That game was played yesterday, and the result was: Cincinnati, 2; St. Louis, 1-a result which reflects almost as much credit on the losers as on the winners. That it was a brilliant struggle there can be no doubt, and Cincinnati is to be congratulated on the possession of a nine, hitherto looked upon as the weakest in the field, capable of lowering the standard of one of the two clubs which is conceded to be the strongest.

Great excitement prevailed in the vicinity of this office throughout the afternoon, the result of each inning being bulletined pro bono publico. The opening inning was announced-a tie at one each-Brown Stocking admirers breathed freer. In the next three innings, no runs being added on either side, ominous looks were exchanged, and such remarks as "Those Cincinnatis are holding them down nicely," and "What's got into the boys?" might have been heard muttered. With the result of the eighth inning-Cincinnati 1, St. Louis 0-fears were, for the first time expressed that the St. Louis favorites might possibly lose, and the probability became a certainty when it was announced that both sides had been presented with goose eggs in the ninth inning. Though disappointed at the result, the friends of the home club took the defeat of their favorites with a good grace, attributing it to the fickleness of fortune. As stated before, to lose finely contested a game reflects as much credit on the vanquished as on the victors...

The special correspondent of the Globe-Democrat at Cincinnati sends the following particular of the struggle by telegraph:

About two thousand spectators, many of whom were ladies, witnessed the game between the Cincinnati and St. Louis Clubs to-day. It was by all odds the best game ever played in this city. The batting on both sides was heavy, but the Reds got in the safest licks, being credited with eight base hits to the Browns four. Battin secured two of the four, and Pike and Clapp one each. Battin's three-bag hit in the fourth inning brought home Pike, who was the only Brown Stocking to cross the home plate. Bradley and Dehlman went out on flies, leaving Battin on third twice. On two occasions the Reds had three men on bases, but could not succeed in getting in a run. The last time was in the ninth inning, when Blong captured Pearson's fly to right field, and, by an excellent throw, headed Jones off at the home plate, thereby accomplishing a magnificent double play...

The Browns erred as follows: Clapp, 2; Batten, 1; Bradley, 2; Dehlman, 1. The Reds made but three errors, Fisher being charged with two and Kessler with one. For the Cincinnatis Jones secured two safe hits, and Kessler, Booth, Gould, Clack, Snyder and Sweazy one each. The Reds got four base hits off Bradley in the first inning, scoring in that and the eighth. Fourteen of the Browns were disposed of on flies to the outfield, Snyder at left gathering eight of them. Mack and McGeary did the most effective work in the field for St. Louis, while Booth, the new third baseman, and Pearson, the youthful catcher, did the lion's share of the work for Cincinnati. The best of good feeling prevailed throughout. The Browns are in tip-top condition, and say they will get even on Thursday. They claim that the game was won by a scratch. Houtz, formerly of the St. Louis Reds, umpired...
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 26, 1876

I'll post the box score tomorrow along with a game account from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

This incarnation of the Cincinnati Reds was not a good ball club. They finished last and won only nine of fifty-seven league games. After taking the first two games from the Brown Stockings to open the season, the Reds would only win seven more league games the rest of the way.

The main problem for the Reds appears to have been a lack of pitching (although I can't speak to their defensive talents or their ability to generally prevent runs). The pitching appears to have been split between twenty-three year old Dory Dean, who put up an ERA+ of 59 in 262 innings, and thirty-one year old Cherokee Fisher, who posted an ERA+ of 73 in 229 IP. While I don't know much about the club, I'd speculate that the Reds started with the veteran Fisher and, once he proved that he couldn't get the job done, tried the young Dory Dean (without better results).

Offensively, they weren't much better (and when you lose eighty-seven percent of your games, there is plenty of blame to go around). Charley Jones had a pretty good year with the bat (OPS+ of 154) but he was the only player on the club who you could say was an above average hitter that season. Charlie Gould and Henry Kessler were just about league average but everybody else, including our old friend Charlie Sweasy, was just flat-out bad. Redleg Snyder, twenty-one years old and playing everyday in left field, may have been the worst everyday player in the history of baseball (although I'd argue that that honor goes to Steve Jeltz). Snyder hit .151/.155/.176 with an OPS+ of 17. He had 36 total bases on the year with three doubles, one triple, ten runs scored and twelve RBI. The clubs starting third baseman, Will Foley, had nine RBI in 221 AB.

So I guess I should amend my previous statement that the main problem was pitching. The main problem for the 1876 Reds of Cincinnati was that they couldn't pitch or hit. They were just a bad club.


David Ball said...

The Reds were an "experimental nine," which is a nineteenth century euphemism for a team of unknowns playing for low salaries. They were a terrible team all around. The Reds were bad to the bone. They were bad for the heart, bad for the mind, bad for the deaf and bad for the blind.

In 1875 Charley Jones was playing for the Ludlows, the Covington Stars' archrival across the Ohio River from Cincinnati when he signed with Chicago for the following season. It became apparent that Chicago was putting together an all-star team for 1876, and Jones asked for and got his release subsequently signing with Cincinnati. As it turned out, Ezra Sutton backed out of his agreement to play for Chicago, leaving them short one all-star, and Jones could have helped them in the outfield. However, Chicago did more than well enough without him, whereas Cincinnati would probably have fallen right through the cellar of the League had they not gotten Jones.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

"They were bad for the heart, bad for the mind, bad for the deaf and bad for the blind." You must have been reading Posnanski and Rainey writing about the Royals this summer.

Jones certainly looks like a heck of a player and, looking at his numbers, you could probably construct a Hall of Fame argument for him. Lot of black and gray ink there.

Looking at the team numbers, the Reds gave up the most runs in the league in 1876 (but tied with the Athletics for most runs given up per game). They also scored the fewest runs in the league and fewest runs per game. That's a brutal combination.

They may also have been the worst defensive club in the league based on Def Eff (although the Mutuals could also lay claim to the honor). They did lead the league in double plays but that may have had more to do with the number of runners they allowed rather than defensive skill.

Just off the top of my head, I don't know if I've ever seen a major league club that was the worst offensive, defensive and pitching club in their league. Usually when putting a club together, you can get at least one of the three right.