Monday, September 10, 2007

1876 NL

I am not a historian by any means, so these yearly recaps will focus mostly on stats and not on interesting tidbits. I will try to write a little bit about the happenings in baseball that season, such as rule changes, special feats like no-hitters, firsts, and the like. These are largely drawn from David Nemec’s Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball, Total Baseball VI, the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, and The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella. For more general off-the-field history, the most valuable reference was Harold Seymour’s Baseball: The Early Years, although David Voight’s American Baseball, Vol. 1 is good too. For those of you with knowledge about the nineteenth century game, the narrative will surely be lacking.

The National League was founded at a meeting on February 2 by Chicago White Stockings president William Hulbert. For the previous five seasons, the National Association had been the alliance of professional clubs that would best fit the description of “major league”, although even the NL that supplanted it was far from having the order that we would picture from such a description today. More importantly, even later into the nineteenth century, there were very talented players and excellent teams outside the umbrella of the major leagues. Unlike today, when the thirty major league squads are clearly the best teams in the country, there were likely a large number of minor league teams that were on a fairly equal footing with the NL clubs. And of course it would be many years before the minor leagues were made subservient to the interest of the major league clubs.

Hulbert’s NL put control in the hands of what today we would consider team owners and presidents, unlike the National Association, whose full name was the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. The league also mandated a fifty cent admission charge and no alcohol sales at games. Of course, Hulbert had incentive to form the new league other than extolling the virtues of pleasant, sober crowds and responsible management. The White Stockings would have likely been expelled from the NA for signing players under contract with other teams. Specifically, Hulbert raided four-time defending champ Boston for Al Spalding, Deacon White, Cal McVey, and Ross Barnes. Spalding’s exploits in 1876 were not limited to the diamond; he founded what would become a very lucrative sporting goods retailer bearing his name as well.

The rules of the game had some significant differences from modern baseball. Notable was the square (diamond) home plate, a pitching box situated 45 feet away from the plate, the illegality of overhand pitching, maximums of nine balls and four strikes, batters calling for a high or low pitch, no free trip to first base for getting plunked by a pitch, the catcher standing rather than squatting behind the plate, and so-called fair-foul hits. If a ball hit in fair territory before passing the corner bases, and then went foul, it was fair. The aforementioned Barnes was a well-known practitioner of this art.

On April 22, the first NL game was played, and the Boston Red Caps, shorn of their stars, beat the Philadelphia Athletics 6-5 in Philadelphia. Joe Borden got the win for Boston, a second notable feat for him--in 1875, he tossed the first NA no-hitter. It was George Bradley of the St. Louis Brown Stockings who would get the NL’s first no-hitter, beating the Hartford Dark Blues 2-0 on July 15. On September 9, Candy Cummings of Hartford beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings twice in the NL’s first doubleheader.

The pennant race was not particularly notable, as Hulbert’s White Stockings went 52-14 to finish six games ahead of both the Brown Stockings and the Dark Blues. More significant may have been Philadelphia and New York’s refusal to make their respective late-season western road trips, given their being buried in the second division. Such practices were common in NA days, but Hulbert was able to engineer their expulsion from the league, demonstrating that the NL would have a much stronger central office than the NA, and that the rules were not just suggestions.


As you can see, the two W% estimators are often at odds with each other; I would again caution against reading too much into PW% here. They all agree that Chicago was the best and Cincinnati was hapless. One aside here is that a team like Cincinnati, with a .138 W% and .136 EW%, cannot possibly be evaluated successfully by the Win Shares methodology. While there are no such extreme modern teams, Win Shares were published for the 19th century. I would be very skeptical about using them at all, but I would heed them no attention for a team like the Red Stockings.

Here are each team’s primary players at each position along with some important sabermetric stats. If a team used multiple pitchers for serious innings, I have listed both of them. WAA is against an average hitter, regardless of position; WAR is against a replacement level hitter at the position of the player in question. T WAR for pitchers is their offensive WAR plus their pitching WAA. I may at times make reference to so and so being the MVP, or the all-star shortstop, etc. These are based on my choices, not official awards, as there were none.

In 1876, the league hit .265/.277/.321, for a .072 Secondary Average, with 24.22 outs/game and 5.90 runs/game.


The White Stockings were clearly baseball’s best team, and the four players they raided from Boston were a huge part of that. After finishing 35 games behind Boston in 1875, they finished 15 games ahead of them in 1876. White was the #2 catcher by WAR, McVey the #2 first baseman, Barnes the best player period, and Spalding the game’s top pitcher. The other Chicago regulars were holdovers from their 1875 team, with the exception of Bob Addy, picked up from a defunct Philadelphia outfit. In the over 130 seasons that have followed, only one NL entry has topped their winning percentage. With the flag, representatives of Chicago had won the first NL championship; twenty-five years later, another Chicago team known as the White Stockings would take the first AL pennant.


Of the eight NL teams, four made extensive use of multiple pitchers. But the Dark Blues were the only team with the luxury of two good pitchers in Bond and Cummings. RF Dick Higham will reappear in the narrative in later years, although not for positive reasons. Bob Ferguson is the holder of the best encyclopedia nickname ever, “Death to Flying Things”. Along with Chicago, Hartford was the only team to boast an above average hitter at each lineup position.



How would the Red Stockings have done with their four stars still in tow? Well, Deacon White was 2.5 WAR better than Lew Brown, Cal McVey 1.1 better than Tim Murnane, Barnes a whopping 4.6 better than John Morrill, and Spalding 5.4 better than his three-headed replacement. That’s 13.6 in total, and Chicago’s margin over Boston was 15 games, so it’s pretty clear that Hulbert’s raid was directly responsible for a pennant (not that this is a startling new insight).

According to The Ball Clubs, Joe Borden had been signed to a three year contract. The president of the Red Caps, seeking to get Borden to beg for a buyout of his contract, put him to work as a groundskeeper at the club’s field. His plan backfired when Borden went about his new job, leaving them with a very expensive groundskeeper, and forcing the Red Caps to offer Borden a generous buyout, which he accepted. Borden also earned the tongue-in-cheek sobriquet “Josephus the Phenomenal” during his Boston career.


I don’t have anything smart to say about them, but I think I’ve worked in the nickname for each of the teams somewhere except for the Grays. So there you have it. The format of [City Name] [Nickname] was far from standard at this time, but most teams did have at least an informal tag that was used. I have usually gone with the name that Nemec used, but one should always keep the fact that this is somewhat of a modern concept being forced upon a previous era. Reserve outfielder George Bechtel was expelled from the league by the Grays for attempting to throw a game and trying to bribe teammates to join him in that effort.


With just one above average hitter and one replacement-level pitcher who recorded all but one of the team’s decisions, the Mutuals can scarcely be blamed for failing to play out the string.


The other quitters are a little harder to figure, as both their expected and predicted W%s point to a bad team that should have ended up much better than 14-45. I imagine that their defensive innings were fun to watch, as #2 pitcher George Zettlein allowed the other team to put the ball in play at a very high rate, even for the time and place. David Voigt, in American Baseball Vol. 1, reports that “few pitchers were more accident prone than George Zettlein. He was hit hard and often by batted balls; once a reporter saw a line ball hit him with such force that the ball rebounded sixty feet. Somewhat stunned, Zettlein ‘shook his head, took a drink, and again went to work as if nothing had happened.’” And than down at third base was Levi Meyerle, a man who was born a century too early to benefit from the DH. The Athletics had ten catchers appear in games, which has to be some kind of record, although I am too lazy to check. Malone, Fisler, and Meyerle were holdovers from the first pro pennant winners, the NA’s 1871 Athletics.


The only above average hitter on this sorry bunch was Charley Jones, a colorful character with an unknown demise. Redleg Snyder at least had an appropriate sobriquet for a member of this organization, although this is not the same Reds franchises that survives to this day. In fact, only the Boston Red Caps (later the Braves, and of course now in Atlanta) and the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs), still play in the major leagues today.

Now let’s look at the league leaders and trailers in some useful categories:
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.429)
2. George Hall, PHI (.366)
3. Cap Anson, CHI (.356)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.151)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.451)
2. George Hall, PHI (.476)
3. Cap Anson, CHI (.380)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.155)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.590)
2. George Hall, PHI (.476)
3. Lip Pike, STL (.472)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.176)
Redleg Snyder pulls off a dubious triple crown, although in a game with few walks and little power, it’s not surprising that the guy with the lowest BA would also have the lowest OBA and SLG.
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.224)
2. George Hall, PHI (.209)
3. Lip Pike, STL (.177)
Trailer: Mike McGeary, STL (.018)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (98)
2. Cap Anson, CHI (71)
3. George Hall, PHI (69)
4. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (66)
5. John Peters, CHI (66)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (227)
2. Lip Pike, STL (192)
3. Dick Higham, HAR (165)
4. Jim Devlin, LOU (162)
5. Joe Battin, STL (153)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (32)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (+4.1)
2. Lip Pike, STL (+3.1)
3. Dick Higham, HAR (+2.4)
4. Jim Devlin, LOU (+2.2)
5. Joe Battin, STL (+1.9)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (-2.1)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (+5.3)
2. Lip Pike, STL (+4.1)
3. Jim Devlin, LOU (+4.1)
4. Dick Higham, HAR (+3.5)
5. John Clapp, STL (+3.3)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (-1.2)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (173)
2. Tommy Bond, HAR (138)
3. George Bradley, STL (133)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (68)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (+4.8)
2. George Bradley, STL (+3.2)
3. Tommy Bond, HAR (+2.5)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (-2.7)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (+7.3)
2. George Bradley, STL (+5.4)
3. Jim Devlin, LOU (+4.2)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (-2.1)

Hmm…Chicago had the highest individual player and pitcher WARs and they won the pennant. Cincinnati had the lowest individual player and pitcher WARs and they finished in the cellar. Funny how that works.

At this point, let me pick an all-star team, largely based on WAR, but maybe throwing a bit of the players’ defensive reputations if appropriate. The all-star pitcher would be the “Cy Young” winner, although Denton was nine so I don’t think they would have called it that.
C: Deacon White, CHI
1B: John Clapp, STL
2B: Ross Barnes, CHI
3B: Cap Anson, CHI/Joe Battin, STL
SS: John Peters, CHI
LF: George Hall, PHI
CF: Lip Pike, STL
RF: Dick Higham, HAR
P: Al Spalding, CHI
MVP: 2B Ross Barnes, CHI
Rookie Hitter: CF Charley Jones, CIN
Rookie Pitcher: Foghorn Bradley, BOS

The Anson/Battin split is because their numbers are nearly identical. Anson obviously has the name that is recognizable today, but in 1876 I have Anson at 152 ARG (52% above his contextual average), Battin at 153. So Anson winds up with 1.82 WAA and 3.07 WAR, and Batting has 1.85 and 3.09. Those differences are too small to be meaningful, so I checked Pete Palmer’s Fielding Runs figures on the two of them. I don’t have a lot of confidence in FR (or most other fielding metrics that don’t have the benefit of PBP data), mind you, even more so in the 1800s, but I’m sure they do a decent job of picking out the Meyerles. Battin is at +14 FR, Anson +13. They are fractions of a run apart on both offense and defense; I think that’s a tie.

The ESPN Encyclopedia gave their ex post facto Cy to George Bradley. The ex post facto awards are not an attempt on their part to say who should have won, but rather who likely would have won had the award existed. Anyway, Bradley certainly turned in a more dominant defense independent performance, as he had a 103/38 K/W in 573 IP, while Spalding was just 39/26 in 529 IP. It may well be that Bradley deserves more credit for his performance, but I have not attempted to go too deep with pitcher evaluation here.

Two of my all-stars will eventually be banned from baseball for life, raising legitimate questions about the quality of their effort in this year, but we’ll pretend not to know that. And the star of stars, MVP Ross Barnes, is about to have his career crash and burn, but we don’t know that either.


  1. PAT,

    I can't find my copy of the 19th Century Baseball Encyclopedia anywhere. Unfortunately it must have gotten thrown-out. I was wondering if you could help me piece together stats for the 1900 AL. One player is giving me trouble. Could you list the batting stats and pitching stats for Billy Milligan? Milligan played briefly began with Buffalo and was then traded to Indianapolis mid-season. Could you also list the team totals for the batting and pitching statistics if they are in the book? Thanks.

  2. Terps, the book doesn't list any totals for teams, just BA and Wins and Losses. For Milligan with Buffalo:

    7 G, 19 AB, 8 H, 1 R, 3 D, 1 T, 0 HR, 0 SB

    7 G, 35 IP, 5 GS, 2 CG, 1 W, 4 L, 18 K, 9 W, 0 SH

    With Indianapolis:

    13 G, 40 AB, 9 H, 2 D, 0 T, 0 HR, 0 SB

    13 G, 104 IP, 12 GS, 11 CG, 6 W, 6 L, 38 K, 40 W, 0 SH

  3. OK, the stats for Milligan were a help. Here is what I have so far for the 1900 AL:

    The data comes from a Diamond Mind Baseball season disk that I downloaded. I asked an owner of the game to extract the data for me. I didn't bother to include the Fielding data in the spreadsheet. It was incomplete anyway. I wish I could find a Reach Baseball Guide and Spalding Baseball Guide for 1901.


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