Sunday, March 25, 2012

The 1884 Providence Grays: The Truth Has At Last Come Out

Old Hoss
The truth has at last come out, and the mysterious trouble which seemed to be undermining the Providence Baseball Club and bringing it to ruin has been unveiled.
-New York Times, July 23, 1884

There were rumors, specifically, that [Radbourn's] "sudden lameness, which was set down as rheumatism," had all been an act and that, in truth, he was "anxious to leave the League and join the St. Louis [Union Association club,] which would be nearer his home, which is in Bloomington, Ill., the Telegram reported.  Considering the "dark insinuations afloat" about Radbourn's intentions, the Journal though management had shown extraordinary patience, but "when every inducement, financial and otherwise, has been offered him to play ball to his best ability, and he had been coaxed and petted beyond all reason to seek to carry the nine to victory, it is high time that more compulsory measures be undertaken."...[On] July 20, the Boston Herald reported some hair-raising news "on perfectly reliable authority": the great Charles Radbourn had agreed to sign a contract with St. Louis's Maroons and would journey west within days, abandoning Providence-and breaking a contract that was still in effect, even though the Grays were no longer paying his salary.  Lucas offered Radbourn a whopping $5,000, covering the rest of the 1884 season and all of 1885, with $1,000 of it in advance.
-Fifty-Nine in '84

And, here exactly and finally, is where the Maroons' season collides head-on with the Gray's season, where my work intersects with Ed's fine work on Fifty-Nine in '84 and where This Game of Games becomes a blog about the history of 19th century baseball in Providence, Rhode Island.

By the way, if I haven't mentioned it, you should really pick up and read Ed's book, if you haven't yet done so.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm quoting long stretches of Fifty-Nine in '84 without permission and I don't want Ed to sue me.  It's a wonderful book, rich in detail and extremely well-written.  Ed did a fantastic job bringing Radbourn's story to life and if you like the history of 19th century baseball, you'll love the book.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

To give you a quick understanding of what was happening in Providence in 1884, with regards to Radbourn and Sweeney, I'm going to turn to another friend of the blog, Brian McKenna, who wrote the SABR BioProject entry on Radbourn:

[1884] started out on a somber note. On February 8, reports circulated out of Bloomington that the great Radbourn was shot in the thigh in a tiff with a female acquaintance. Luckily for baseball fans, it was actually one of Radbourn’s cousins that suffered the injury. For the first time, the National League allowed pitchers to raise their arm above their shoulder, effectively legalizing the overhand delivery. The ruling sparked a great deal of controversy throughout the summer and into the following winter. Many feared that pitchers had gained too great an advantage. The American Association avoided the debate; their pitchers were still bound by the previous rules, which in truth were hard, if not impossible, to enforce. Pitchers always had and always would push the boundaries. 
Radbourn’s disgruntlement with his salary spilled over into spring training. Twenty-one-year-old Charlie Sweeney entered the season as Providence’s other main starter. He pitched the lion’s share of the games in the spring and was paid extra to do so which antagonized Radbourn, who also didn’t care for the gushing plaudits that were being heaped on his young colleague. Once the season began, Radbourn took his place in the rotation. Through June, the pair started all but one of the club’s 47 games, with Radbourn starting 24 of them. Sweeney, perhaps sore from the new overhand pitching style, fell out of the rotation on June 27. Radbourn was forced to fill in, starting and finishing ten of the next 12 games. He wasn’t happy about it, especially considering he didn’t receive extra cash as Sweeney had during the preseason. It’s obvious that Sweeney and Radbourn were having some sort of a running feud, as Rad pitched that many games straight at least twice the previous season without complaint. After a loss on July 12, a local newspaper, the Providence Evening Bulletin, described the pitcher as acting “careless and indifferent.” It seems he was drinking heavier than usual during this time as well. 
In those ten games, Rad posted a so-so 6-4 record. On July 16, he lost to Boston 5-2 after becoming erratic and ceding a couple runs in the eighth after being called for a balk. Providence management immediately suspended him because of poor play. Per the Boston Advertiser, “There have been unpleasant reports of the dissatisfaction of Radbourne (sic), pitcher of the Providence club, current for some time. This evening the board of directors of the Providence association decided to summon him to appear before them tomorrow and answer certain questions regarding his conduct for the past three weeks.” Baseless accusations were even mounted that perhaps he was throwing games. The Boston Globe described his frame of mind; “Radbourn was in no condition, physically or mentally, to pitch.” He apparently snapped in the eighth in a dispute with the umpire and his catcher Barney Gilligan. The sloppy play included a walk, an error by Gilligan, a fumble by the third baseman and the balk call on an apparent third strike. “This seemed to break up Rad, and then he pitched the ball so wild that no man could hold it, and two men came home.” 
Cyclone Miller started the next two games and Ed Conley the following. Sweeney relieved in two of the games and wasn’t pleased about being pressed into action. 

So lets return to the rather interesting Times article that started this post:
Some time ago crookedness was suspected, and to-day the cold fact stares the management in the face that they have been "played for sailors."  When the season of 1883 closed Radbourn threatened not to sign for this year.  A combination was formed by him and Carroll not to sign, and only after prolonged persuasion could either be induced to put their names to contracts, Carroll only giving in when he was cornered and almost obliged to give up a hunting trip with Radbourn, the management threatening to hold him until Oct. 1 and make him come to this city before he would be paid off and released for the year.  When this season opened Radbourn and Sweeney became jealous of each other.  Sweeney had been kept in the background and Radbourn billed as the star pitcher.  Sweeney asked leave to occupy the "points."  He did so, and proved such a success that he even pitched on days when Radbourn was to toss the sphere, and was paid extra for those games.  When Sweeney became lame Radbourn had to do double duty, and "kicked" because he was not also paid extra for Sweeney's dates.  About this time Radbourn began to show an ugly disposition, and finally, in games last week, he is charged with throwing a game because everything did not go to suit him.  Since then Sweeney has been owlish, and to-day his disaffection, like Radbourn's, took a tangible shape.  His first kick over the traces was yesterday, when the club went to Woonsocket to play an exhibition game.  He appeared on the grounds with a woman whom he gave a seat on the grand stand, and after the game, when ordered to pack up and come home with the boys, he refused to do so, remaining until a late train.  To-day he began to pitch a "stuffy" game; he was surly and owlish, and pitched without speed or any great effort to win.  At the close of the seventh inning Providence had 6 to 2 runs and had the game won, as the Philadelphia Club was batting weakly and fielding badly.  To ease up on Sweeney's lame arm, Manager Bancroft told the Californian to go into the field and let Miller pitch out the game.  He became very angry and left the field, evincing jealousy of young Miller who is a promising ball-tosser.  Philadelphia went to the bat in the inning, and it was found that Providence had but eight men in the field.  Sweeney was missing.  Bancroft went in search of him, and found him in the dressing room with his store clothes on.  He requested him to go out and play,, but was most villainously abused.  Director Allen then threatened to lay Sweeney off without pay, but to this threat Sweeney sarcastically replied that he did not care, as he could make more money if he did not play here.  Providence went on and finished the game with eight men.  The eight innings was handsomely played, but in the ninth, fly balls were hit between the regular out-field positions, and the men being unable to cover so much ground, the hits became safe.  Then Miller was pounded for five hits, Providence giving him bad support, as bad as could be looked for, and the Philadelphia Club won the game.  Convinced from what Sweeney had said, and from his conduct and Radbourn's peculiar actions that the "Wreckers' Union" had been at work, the management to-night expelled Sweeney from the league and will cause his name to be put on the black list. 
A meeting will probably be held to-morrow to consider whether the club shall be disbanded.  There are no pitchers to be had, and, with the present feeling in the team, the pennant cannot possibly be won.  If the association stops short to-day there will be a surplus of $17,000 on hand.  The St. Louis Union Association are suspected of having approached the malcontents.  There is still further trouble, based upon Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Sweeney incident, as I'm sure you know, is much more interesting than the Times reported and I'll get into that tomorrow.  But to wrap this up, I'll quote, once again and not for the last time, Fifty-Nine in '84:

Suddenly the Grays, who had been blessed only a week earlier with arguably the two best pitchers in baseball, now had neither, with little prospect of finding replacements.  Rumors swept the city that the directors intended to parcel out among the stockholders the $17,000 left in the coffers and close the business down.  The rumors were true.  "The club was going to disband, for pitchers were scarce and things looked bad," Bancroft recalled.  "The directors were about to toss up the sponge."  Miller, who could barely get through a game without collapsing, could hardly pitch the rest of the way alone, and Conley was no major league major leaguer.  

The Providence situation was a soap opera and the Maroons were playing a major part in all of their drama.    


Cliff said...

Picking just one little bit out of this, I've never understood why umpires couldn't enforce the rule about not throwing overhand. Softball umpires don't seem to have any trouble with pitchers raising their arms.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I would imagine that they didn't enforce it because they didn't want to enforce it. Think about the way travelling is called in the NBA or holding is called in the NFL. The game had evolved beyond its rules and the officiating recognized that even if the official rule book didn't.