Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 1876 Brown Stockings: The High-Water Mark

The games between the Mutual and St. Louis clubs have always been noted for their brilliancy, and the second game of the Centennial series this afternoon on the Union grounds was no exception. Better pitching and finer fielding, with three exceptions, are rarely seen. The outfielding of both nines was grand. Only a small audience was fortunate in witnessing the display. Mr. Daniels again officiated as umpire and called play at 4 o'clock, the Mutuals going to bat first.

Holdworth opened with a liner between short and third, but, after Start had been caught out by Pike, he was run out by McGeary in trying to steal second. Tracy finished the inning by a foul fly to Bradley. Cuthy died at first by Nichol's good play, and Clapp hit to Holdsworth and retired. McGeary earned first and immediately stole second, where he was left, Tracey attending to Pike's hit. Hallinan gave Clapp an easy chance. Craver drove a hot liner near Pike and stopped. Hicks struck out. The Browns did no better, Battin retiring on the bound to Hicks, and Blond and Bradley on good catches by Tracy.

In the third inning, after McGeary had caught Booth out, Matthews earned first, where he was left. A fine foul fly catch by McGeary, made back of first base, disposed of Nichols, and Holdsworth struck out. Dehlman pushed one to Matthews, and found the ball at first base before him. Mack drove a hard one past Nichols, reached first, stole second, and went to third on Cuthbert's base hit. Cuthy allowed himself to be caught between second and first, and while being put out Mack scored. Clapp was third out on another hard hit to center. In the fourth inning, Start, Tracy and Hallinan were the outs for the Mutuals in the order named, Cuthbert making a brilliant running catch. The Browns got in another run in their half of this inning, a bad throw of Hallinan's sending McGeary to second. Start's muff gave him third and Pike first. Battin hit to second, and while being put out McGeary scored, Blong and Bradley immediately after going out on fly catches by Nichols and Holdsworth.

The fielding in the next four innings was of the sharpest possible kind, eleven of the thirteen Mutuals who went to the bat being retired on fly catches, every one of which elicited enthusiastic applause. But one reached first base, and that was Craver, who led off in the eighth inning with a line hit over second, only to be left as his three followers retired without helping him further than third base. The fielding of the Mutuals was not one bit inferior to that of their opponents, for though Dehlman led off the fifth inning with a safe hit and stole second, he was left by the next three strikers, and Clapp opened the sixth with a two-baser, no run could be scored. A magnificent catch of Tracy being noticeable.

The ninth inning was opened by Nichols, who retired on a difficult running catch by McGeary. Holdworth and Start earned their bases. Tracy hit high and Bradley dropped it to make a double play, but Battin's bad throw to second saved Start, Holdsworth alone being put out. Hallinan hit hard to Battin, who, instead of touching third, threw wild to first, and the bases were full. A magnificent stop and throw of Mack's redeemed the errors and closed a magnificent game. The Browns made no effort to increase their score in the last half of the ninth inning.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 26, 1876

A couple of quick notes before I get to the point I really want to make:

-That was a crazy top of the ninth.

-This was George Washington Bradley's fifth shutout of the season. He's lead the League in 1876 with sixteen.


Going into the season, the Brown Stockings, their fans and many in the press declared the club to be a serious contender for the championship. But the truth is that they never really challenged Chicago for the pennant. In the end, they finished tied for second but six games out of first. After the first month of the season, they never were a true threat to win the championship.

This was not because they were a bad club. The 1876 Brown Stockings were a good, if flawed, baseball team. Under normal circumstances, they may have been a real threat to win the pennant but the problem was that the Chicagos were an outstanding baseball team and ran away with the thing. I'm not going to go into to how Chicago put their club together or the great players they brought in (except to say that Ross Barnes was awesome) but there was not a club in the country that could have challenged them for the championship. Maybe if the Browns had bought George Hall and Ezra Sutton from Philadelphia and had them replace Joe Blong and Herman Dehlman in the lineup, they would have had enough to catch Chicago. Maybe.

After the above game on May 25, 1876, the Brown Stockings found themselves in third place, two games behind Chicago and Hartford. This is the closest they would get to first place for the rest of the season. In June, the club would win six games in a row and only pick up one game on the Whites. In July, they'd win seven in a row and not make up any ground at all. Between May 27 and July 22, the Brown Stockings would go 17-8 and lose 3.5 games in the standings. Think about that for a minute. The Browns played .680 ball and lost 3.5 games in the standings. It's ridiculous.

I guess my point is that their is no pennant race in this story. There's no tale of a valiant club challenging a juggernaut and falling short. It's just the run of the mill story of a good team getting blown out of the pennant race by a great team. However, St. Louis and Chicago would play six games in eleven days in August with the season series still up in the air. So we have that part of the story to look forward to. And George Washington Bradley still has eleven more shutouts and a no-hitter to throw.

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