Monday, June 02, 2008

1878 NL

It has been some time since I posted an entry in this series; this is due to some computer issues that I had. In the downtime, I decided to change a couple of things. One is that I am using different abbreviations for a few of the teams; for example, Boston is now “BSN” and Chicago is “CHN”. This is just to be consistent with the abbreviations that I would use for the same clubs in the American League era. Also, pitcher Adjusted Run Average is now inverted as the individual RA divided by the league RA. This is inconsistent with the first two entries, but it also makes mathematical sense. I was aware when I started this series of the fact that ERA+ and its cousins have to be weighted by earned runs, not innings, but I did not deem it enough of an issue to use the less conventional form. Recently, I have been converted by some persuasive arguments and having seen evidence of the resulting confusion in action, and so I have used the more logical version here. I have also made use of a new (to this series) source, James Charlton’s Baseball Chronology, hosted at Baseball Library.

If you need a refresher on the methods I’m using, or the events of 1876 and 1877, all of the posts in this series are linked on the right side of the page.

The National League was in a state of flux entering the 1878 campaign. The great Louisville scandal of 1877 had not helped with public confidence in the game, and of course had led to the demise of the Grays, one of the league’s stronger teams on the field. Additionally, St. Louis and Hartford bit the dust, leaving the NL with just three members.

Hulbert went to work and was able to scrounge up three new clubs. Independent teams from Milwaukee and Indianapolis further enhanced the NL’s midwestern feel, while Providence was snatched from the International Association (the independent league that represented the biggest threat to the NL). The league was continued to be locked out of major eastern markets like New York and Philadelphia, with only Boston and Providence in the circuit.

The rule changes were fairly minor. Substitute runners, only permitted in cases of injury, were now further confined to only being available once the runner had actually reached base (it is foreign to a present-day fan to imagine an injured Kirk Gibson at the plate with another Dodger standing a few feet away, ready to run as soon as he made contact). The opposing captains determined the order in which the teams would bat with a coin flip called by the home team. Turnstiles were now used to record official attendance and determine the visitor’s share of the gate.

On May 8, Paul Hines of Providence may or may not have turned the first unassisted triple play (and only one ever by an outfielder) in major league history. Playing shallow behind shortstop, he caught a fly, then ran and stepped on third to retire the runners from second and third who had already rounded the base. He then threw to second to ensure that the runner from second was retired, and between confusion about the ruling and rules of the day, it is not entirely clear whether it was actually an unassisted triple play or not (the current consensus is no). The next day, Sam Weaver of the Milwaukee Grays may or may not have pitched a 2-1 no-hitter against the fellow rookie entry Indianapolis Blues; some scorers credited a hit to Indianapolis’ John Clapp, while others did not. In either case, it was the first NL victory for Milwaukee.

The pennant race was not particularly exciting; while Boston’s four game margin over Cincinnati was the smallest in the three years of the league, the Red Caps seemingly had it control most of the way. After the season, Milwaukee and Indianapolis would leave the league, leaving Hulbert in the lurch once again.


The Red Caps probably have the worst PW% ever for a pennant winner, but again, those figures should be viewed with all sorts of red flags. The White Stockings played well under both their EW% and PW%; perhaps there was something to the criticisms of new manager Bob Ferguson by Al Spalding (see below)? The two weaker newcomers brought up the rear, but were not terrible clubs in terms of underlying performance (although the Grays’ record was quite poor).

In 1878, the league hit .259/.279/.319, for a .086 SEC, 5.17 runs and 24.08 outs per game.


The Red Caps’ second consecutive pennant ran their impressive string to six out of seven, broken only by Chicago’s triumph in 1876. Harry Wright was able to shuffle his infield around after losing 1B Deacon White, his most valuable player in 1877, to the Reds. Morrill moved across the diamond from third to White’s vacant spot, while Ezra Sutton moved to third, George Wright returned to short, and Jack Burdock was picked up from defunct Hartford to play second. Pop Snyder, late of Louisville, replaced Lew Brown behind the plate, and Jack Manning returned from Cincinnati to play right field.

The Red Caps relied almost exclusively on their nine regulars. Reserve Harry Schaefer played two games in the outfield; every other inning was manned by one of the regular nine, with Manning pitching the eleven innings that Bond did not. The unprecedented iron-team performance may have been a reason why the seemingly unimpressive stats of the Red Caps were parlayed into a pennant.

When Harry Wright sought to sign Snyder, he sent a letter to NL secretary Nick Young asking permission. Young approved, but told him that his offer of $1,500 was too generous, and instead suggested a salary of $1,280. Part of the justification was that the other league clubs did not need a catcher; the other part was an evaluation of Snyder’s financial wherewithal:

“Not loaded down with brains…like to receive a large sum more for the name…than…the judicious use of it. It comes and goes, and at the end of the season they are hard up as usual, and have little or no idea what has become of it, unless, perchance, some one has induced him to invest in a large gold watch.” (from letter to Wright, quoted in Voight’s American Baseball, pg. 74)


The Reds shot from two consecutive cellar finishes to second on the strength of some savvy rookie finds (Chub Sullivan, Billy Geer, Buttercup Dickerson, and King Kelly) worth a total of 3.8 WAR and four big “free agent” signings (the White brothers from Boston (although Will was a rookie with only 27 previous innings), Cal McVey from Chicago, and Joe Gerhardt from the remains of Louisville), worth a total of 7.3 WAR. Combined with solid outfield holdover Charley Jones, Cincinnati had its first contender. Lip Pike was released mid-season to clear room for Dickerson.

Deacon and Will became the first all-brother battery; although they were each Red Caps in 1877, Will only worked three games in the box and Deacon only caught seven, so even if they did work together then, they were not regulars by any stretch.


The Grays proved to be a worthy addition to the league, and a valuable team to pluck away from the rival IA, although much of their talent was procured from other league rosters. Among the regulars, only Sweasy and Higham could have been holdovers, as each had not played in the NL in 1877. Others were plucked from fellow New England teams; Lew Brown and Tim Murnane were taken from Boston, while Tom Carey and Tom York were picked up from defunct Hartford. The biggest coup was signing star centerfielder Paul Hines away from Chicago.

The team began the season with Tricky Nichols, late of St. Louis as their pitcher, but he was replaced by eighteen-year old rookie Monte Ward on July 15, and from that point on the youngster tossed every inning.


The White Stockings continued to flounder in the wake of their 1876 pennant. Ross Barnes and George Bradley were out of the league, while Cal McVey, John Peters, and Paul Hines all jumped ship. Al Spalding retired from playing, although he became a fixture (and later owner) in the front office. Bob Ferguson was brought in from Hartford to play third and manage, and with him came Bill Harbridge, Joe Start, John Cassidy, and Terry Larkin, the bulk of the reconstituted team’s productivity. Jack Remsen came from defunct St. Louis, while McClelland and Hankinson were rookies.

While Ferguson was the team’s most valuable player, his management was considered to leave something to be desired; Spalding called him “tactless” and “deficient [in] the subtle science of handling men by strategy rather than by force” (Nemec, pg 113). His sole year as Chicago manager was marked by wild underachievement of what looked on paper to be the league’s strongest team.

On September 23, the team played an exhibition game billed as the “Chicagos of 1879”, using Silver Flint and Ed Williamson of Indianapolis, who had already signed for next season.


The Blues and their “expansion” brethren Milwaukee Grays were the only NL teams to finish below .500 in a year, but with a .400 record, they were respectable for a first-year entry. They also featured the league’s most valuable player and provided plenty of off-the-field intrigue.

The team featured seven rookie regulars out of ten; only Orator Shaffer (Louisville) and Art Croft and John Clapp (St. Louis) had substantial NL experience. Clapp was the manager, and moved himself from behind the plate to left field to accommodate rookie Silver Flint, who would develop a sterling defensive reputation.

According to Harold Seymour, the team was chosen for the NL on the basis of a rule that called for one team a year to be added automatically. The team chosen would be the one that won the most games from other teams that played under NL rules (essentially, recognized the autonomy of the National League). This rule was apparently only used in 1878, and even had there not been a rule, the league would have had to scramble to find a sixth team.

Owner William Pettit acquired a number of his players in a raid on the Guleph (Canada) Maple Leafs, but this spending spree landed him in debt by the end of the season, and he fled Indiana to avoid his creditors. Surprising no one, the team folded.

Meanwhile, Blues management had its hands full with rookie pitcher Edward Nolan, better known by his sobriquet “The Only”. In June he was suspended on suspicion of throwing games, but was cleared only to be suspended again on August 17. This time, the offence was sending himself a telegram from his non-existent brother Bill to get time off. He spend his off day with “a beautiful habituĂ© of an avenue assignation house, who has ruined more men in this city than she can count on the jeweled fingers of both her hands” (Indianapolis Journal, quoted in The Ball Clubs, pg. 267). Nolan was resourceful; he used his suspension to take the, uh, gal to New York. Indianapolis may have been better off just letting fellow rookie Jim McCormick pitch, but where would the fun be in that?


The Grays had two regulars with significant major league experience: John Peters, last with Chicago, and Will Foley, last with Cincinnati. Impressively, two of the rookies they unearthed, Charlie Bennett and Abner Dalrymple, would have significant careers; Dalrymple was already their best player.

John Kaine, the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel, was the owner of the team. It nearly folded in late June before being sold on July 2 to William P. Rogers in the midst of a fifteen game losing streak. As a response to the team’s terrible play (and perhaps bitterness over his failed investment?), Kaine refused to publish game accounts for the remainder of the team’s short life, printing only game scores.

The team nearly went on strike at the end of August for not being paid. Johnny Peters, Mike Golden, and Joe Ellick brought the team up on formal charges before the NL, feeling that they never had gotten what they were owed. Rogers disputed the charges, but the Grays were given twenty days to pay their debts and withdraw from the league. Rogers supposedly walked out of the meeting to attend an opera.

Leaders and trailers:
1. Paul Hines, PRO (.358)
2. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (.354)
3. Bob Ferguson, CHN (.351)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.142)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.158)
1. Bob Ferguson, CHN (.375)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.372)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.369)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.205)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.176)
1. Paul Hines, PRO (.486)
2. Tom York, PRO (.465)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.455)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (.157)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (.185)
1. Tom York, PRO (.186)
2. Lew Brown, PRO (.177)
3. Orator Shaffer, IND (.165)
Trailer: Tommy Bond, BSN (.025)
Trailing non-pitcher: Pop Snyder, BSN (.027)
1. Joe Start, CHN (58)
2. Orator Shaffer, IND (57)
3. Paul Hines, PRO (56)
4. Cap Anson, CHN (54)
5. Tom York, PRO (54)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (181)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (168)
3. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (157)
4. Cap Anson, CHN (154)
5. Joe Start, CHN (152)
Trailer: Will White, CIN (29)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Croft, IND (41)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (+2.4)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+1.8)
3. Bob Ferguson, CHN (+1.7)
4. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (+1.6)
5. Deacon White, CHN (+1.5)
Trailer: Art Croft, IND (-2.7)
1. Orator Shaffer, IND (+3.6)
2. Paul Hines, PRO (+2.9)
3. Abner Dalrymple, MIL (+2.8)
4. Bob Ferguson, CHN (+2.7)
5. Cal McVey, CIN (+2.6)
Trailer: Art Croft, IND (-1.3)
1. Monte Ward, PRO (73)
2. Tommy Bond, BSN (84)
3. Terry Larkin, CHN (89)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (182)
1. Monte Ward, PRO (+2.8)
2. Tommy Bond, BSN (+2.7)
3. Terry Larkin, CHN (+1.7)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (-4.0)
1. Tommy Bond, BSN (+4.2)
2. Terry Larkin, CHN (+3.8)
3. Monte Ward, PRO (+3.1)
Trailer: Mike Golden, MIL (-4.4)

My all-star team:
C: Deacon White, CIN
1B: Joe Start, CHN
2B: Jack Burdock, BSN
3B: Cal McVey, CIN
SS: Bob Ferguson, CHN
LF: Abner Dalrymple, MIL
CF: Paul Hines, PRO
RF: Orator Shaffer, IND
P: Tommy Bond, BSN
MVP: RF Orator Shaffer, IND
Rookie Hitter: LF Abner Dalrymple, MIL
Rookie Pitcher: Monte Ward, PRO

I went with Jack Burdock at second base over Joe Gerhardt and John Peters on the basis of his 21 Fielding Runs (Pete Palmer’s figures in the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia). The aforementioned Encyclopedia gave their ex post facto MVP honors to Paul Hines; as always, it must be emphasized that they are attempting to predict who would have won, which is a different question than who should have won it.


  1. Howdy!

    I just came to this blog via The Game of Games. I am a certified 19th century baseball geek, but much more from the organizational history side than the stats side.

    One part of your previous post, on the 1876 season, especially caught my attention. I am particularly interested in the Athletics. You say that their win-loss record was below what would be expected. Could you expand on that? How is the expectation calculated? Are they wildly outside a reasonable variance, or within a standard deviation?

    I ask because this era has constant mutterings about games being thrown. It was the 1870s' version of steroids today. I think there is much more smoke than fire, but it is difficult to tell. I am skeptical of the Athletics throwing games because, as you note, they weren't very good. Who would pay a bad team to lose? A bad team will lose for free. But I wonder of expected wins might not give us some insight.

  2. In the standings I listed two columns that estimate winning percentage. One, "EW%", is based on the team's total number of runs scored and allowed. The second, "PW%", uses the team's component statistics (hits, walks, at bats, etc. and innings pitched, hits allowed, walks allowed, etc.) to estimate the number of runs they "should" have scored or allowed.

    I put should in quotation marks because of course these are just estimates, and they are not as accurate for the 19th century as they are for today.

    The Athletics actually had a .237 W%, whereas the EW% was .319 and the PW% was .365. A difference of 128 points seems pretty big (it would be 21 games over a 162 game schedule), but with them playing just 59 games, the difference is only 8 wins.

    The average discrepancy for the 1876 NL was 5.2, so the Athletics' 8 isn't significant enough to draw any conclusions. It could be random variation; it could be that they didn't spread their runs/production out sufficiently (a team that scores 10 runs today and 10 tomorrow is going to win more games than one that scores 20 today and 0 tomorrow, but they would both have an equal EW% if they allowed the same number of runs); it could be that they were deficient in some aspect not covered in the formula (for example, I have to estimate how many times they reached base on error. Perhaps they were slow and reached base on error much less than the average team).

    On the other hand, if a team was playing to lose, they would be likely to have an actual W% lower than the expected figures. I would assume that such a team would play on the up-and-up for the most part, but make just enough bad plays at crucial times to ensure the right outcome. If a team consciously did that, they would be likely to end up underplaying expected wins. Unfortunately, there's too much noise from other factors to use
    them as evidence of hippodroming.

    Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully I have not butchered the history side of things too much :)

  3. Thanks for the reply. That is pretty much what I suspected. I think that while hippodroming was a problem in that era, the perception of hippodroming was a much larger problem.

    As for butchering the history, I could pick nits, but I won't. Most of the problems are where you have followed the received version of baseball history. This received version has many problems, but it would be unfair to blame you for them. This is the sort of thing we chew on in the SABR 19th century committee.

  4. This goes for Richard or anyone else out there: feel free to pick nits. Of course, I don't expect anyone to actually waste their time doing so, but I certainly wouldn't take offense. I'm a stat guy, not a historian, and I'm the first to admit that.

  5. OK: a few nits:

    It is common to present the failure of the 1876 Athletics and Mutuals to make their final western tours as a matter of petulance: they were out of the pennant race, so they were staying home. This is clearly wrong. The Athletics finances were publicized in the Philadelphia sporting press, and the club officers were clear about why they didn't go west. They looked at their finances, made reasonable estimates of the cost of that western tour and expected income from it, and concluded that making the trip would bankrupt the club. Right or wrong, it was a financial decision, with the survival of the organization at stake.

    Another one: there is no known contemporary cite for the Boston club ever using the nickname "Red Caps". This seems to be a 20th century botch, perhaps connected with the research for the Big Mac. My personal theory is that it is the result of confusion with the Red Caps of St. Paul. Boston won the National League pennant in 1877, while the Red Caps of St. Paul won the League Alliance pennant the same year. I suspect that some researcher saw a reference to the Red Caps as the League Alliance champions, didn't know what the League Alliance was, and took this as a reference to the Boston club. Many of the purported club nicknames are more or less bogus well into the 20th century. The "Boston Red Caps" is the most egregious example.

  6. Interesting re: "Red Caps". I am well aware of the fact that nicknames have been applied retroactively in many cases (i.e. Boston Pilgrims as I believe Bill Nowlin has had a couple articles in SABR publications about). I didn't know that the use of Red Caps for the Boston teams was one of the more egregious cases.

    As I pointed out in the 1876 entry, I like to use nicknames to avoid repeating "Boston" or "Providence" repeatedly, even while acknowledging that they were not official or uniform as they are today. But I'll certainly try to avoid ones that have been made up completely out of thin air.

  7. My suggestion on the "what to call them" question is to adopt period practice as much as possible. This is not "Boston" or "Providence". That is a modern usage. By far the most common contemporary form would be "the Bostons" and "the Providences". To the extent that nicknames were used, they were nothing like so consistent as the modern sources imply. You might occasionally see the Bostons called "the Red Stockings" (common in the NA era, much less so in the NL era) but you might also see them called "the Reds". I have one head from, IIRC, 1877 calling the Providence club the "Yankees".

    Part of my objection to the overuse of nicknames is that it carries an air of cheap quaintness. Nicknames as a class are comfortably familiar, but the specific nicknames seem charmingly old-fashioned. You see similar things in vintage base ball: the players all take adorable nicknames such as were found, well, actually very rarely at the time. (Robert Ferguson may or may not have been called "Death to Flying Things", but actual practice, amply attested, was that his nickname was "Bob".) Spectators are called by the quaint word "cranks", despite the fact that this usage dates from the early 1880s.

    As I see it, there are two good options. My favored option is to adopt period terminology. Hence "the Chicagos" or "the Athletics of Philadelphia" (or, if there is no ambiguity, "the Athletics", but rarely "the Philadelphia Athletics", much less "the A's"). The second good option is to go for neutral modern usage: "Chicago" and "Boston". Call the spectators "fans": this usage is actually slightly more recent than "cranks", but it is the modern, neutral (what linguists call "unmarked") word.

    Above all, I do not want to introduce inaccuracies. The subtle point is that using nicknames that are attested but uncommon, or attested but merely one of several, as if they were modern trademarked team names is an inaccuracy, and sows confusion since other, superficially similar names, actually were official club names.

    I am making more of this that the issue really merits, but it is a recurring petty annoyance.


I reserve the right to reject any comment for any reason.