Wednesday, March 09, 2016

1883 AA

The American Association entered its second season having gotten the attention of the National League if nothing else. Some AA clubs began to sign some NL players away, and as the AA did not have a reserve clause itself, players jumped between association clubs. Some blacklisted NL players (most notably Charley Jones) were signed to AA contracts.

On February 17, NL president Abraham Mills and AA representative O.P. Caylor met in New York and agreed upon a truce of sorts. Each league agreed to a reserve limit of eleven players per team, to honor contracts and blacklists of the other circuit, and to allow exhibitions between NL and AA clubs.

The AA followed the NL’s lead (or perhaps it was the other way) in expanding the schedule to 98 games and in forming an eight team circuit. The New York Metropolitans, a strong independent club that had been flirting with the two majors for a couple of years joined, as did Columbus’ first major league team.

The AA even followed the NL’s lead in having a two city Memorial Day doubleheader, as the Reds lost 1-0 to the Mets, then beat the Athletics 10-8 in eleven innings. Other noteworthy happenings were Columbus’ 25-10 thrashing of the Alleghenys on June 13 in which they scored in every inning; Cincinnati’s 23-0 rout of Baltimore on July 6; and Cincinnati’s John Reilly hitting for the cycle on September 12 in a 27-5 win over the Alleghenys, then cycling again one week later.

The AA had its first great pennant race, as defending champ Cincinnati, second place Philadelphia, and upstart St. Louis went at it. On September 6, the Athletics completed a three game sweep of the Browns that maintained their lead. With one week to go, they led by 2.5, but promptly lost a pair to Louisville as St. Louis took care of the Alleghenys. On September 28, they were finally able to clinch when they defeated the Eclipse 7-6 in ten innings on Guy Hecker’s wild pitch. The final margin was just one game over St. Louis, with Cincinnati five back.

After the season, the two pennant winners (Boston and Philadelphia) were going to face each other, but the Athletics dropped two of three to their hapless NL citymates and decided the better of it. While the leagues would not meet on the field, they did meet in a negotiating room. The National League and the minor Northwestern League were set to formalize a pact governing their relationship when NL president Mills reluctantly suggested bringing the AA to the table as well, as the agreement would not be particularly valuable if the other major league was not party to it.

The AA did come to the table, and on October 27, the three circuits agreed to what was called the Tripartite Agreement. It formalized the relationships between the leagues and defined the club’s territorial rights. With this agreement, the concept of Organized Baseball as an entity larger than even the major leagues themselves was established for the first time. The Tripartite Agreement would later be expanded to include other leagues and become known as the National Agreement.

Just as the NL and the AA had come to terms, a new challenge was on the horizon, and the strength of their tenuous peace would be put to the test, as would the strength of the circuits themselves.


The Reds topped the league in EW% and their margin "should" have been around eight games, but instead they finished five back. Meanwhile, Philadelphia and St. Louis were even closer in EW% than they were on the field, and they were only one game apart on the field. New York was a first division team right off the bat, and Columbus was respectable. Baltimore was at least within hailing distance of another club, but that was more due to serious Allegheny decline than any Oriole leap forward.

In 1883, the AA hit .252/.282/.331 for a .121 SEC, 5.72 runs and 24.01 outs per game.


The Athletics copped the city’s second pennant, as the Athletics (different club) had captured the inaugural National Association title in 1871. The team loaded up with talent from the NL: Stovey and Corey from defunct Worcester, Bradley from Cleveland, Mathews from Boston, and Knight from Detroit.

The team had an interesting third base/pitcher platoon, as George Bradley and Fred Corey played 44 and 39 games there respectively and were second and third on the team in innings. Ace Bobby Mathews was a weak hitter (44 ARG) and generally either pitched or rode the bench.

Shortstop Mike Moynahan posted the team’s highest WAR. According to Jim Charlton’s chronology, on May 27, 1882, Moynahan broke his finger against the Metropolitans and had it amputated at the first joint. At the time, Moynahan was playing for the Philadelphias, the Al Reach-backed independent club that had been passed over for AA membership in favor of the Athletics (thanks to Richard Hershberger for confirming that Moynahan played for the Philadelphias in 1882).

Rookie Jack Jones (5-2 in 65 innings, 6-5 in 92 innings for Detroit earlier in the season) won the pennant-clinching game for the Athletics. He left the game after the season to pursue dental school.

According to the The Ball Clubs, a Philadelphia zookeeper thought up the idea of having carrier pigeons relay the score to other points in the city at the conclusion of each inning, and implemented this scheme at least on a limited basis.


The Browns turned over more than half of their regulars in climbing from fifth to second. The new catching platoon of rookie Tom Dolan and Pat Deasley each came over from the NL (BUF and BSN respectively). George Streif came from the Alleghenys, rookie Arlie Latham had played with Buffalo in 1880, Tom Mansell had played for Troy in 1879 and then for Detroit in the beginning of 1883, Fred Lewis had played for Boston in 1881, Hugh Nicol came from Chicago, and Tony Mullane was whisked away from Louisville.

Ted Sullivan started as manager, but was replaced by Charlie Comiskey despite boasting a 53-26 record. The second-year first baseman also turned in a much improved season at the plate.

When Mansell was with Detroit this season, he posted an ARG of just 77 in 139 PA. With the Browns, he batted .402 in 119 PA.


The Reds did not change their personnel much from their pennant winning 1882 campaign. John Reilly, who had last played in a major league with the old Reds in 1880, took over at first base and emerged as the team’s top hitter. Charley Jones, last with the Boston Reds in 1880 due to being blacklisted, was 33 but vied with Reilly for the team lead in WAR. Rookie Pop Corkhill was the right fielder, and rookie Ren Deagle pitched well.

The Reds apparently believed that they had an agreement with hometown catcher Buck Ewing, then with Troy. If they actually did, Ewing reneged, signing instead with the NL’s New York entry.


The Mets were controlled by John Day and Jim Mutrie, who also backed the NL’s Gothams. Day was a tobacconist and his independent club had been founded in 1880 and developed into a strong outfit (according to Cliff Blau, they were 101-58-3 overall in 1882 and 5-1 against AA opponents). Mutrie managed the Mets, but that didn't distill the appearance that they were playing second fiddle. Both teams played at the Polo Grounds, but a canvas fence separated their fields, and the Gothams drew ritzier crowds (the twenty-five cent admission price gap between the two circuits was of course a factor in that). The AA demanded on threat of expulsion that the team have its own park for 1884.

The last big league stops of the players were: Holbert (TRO), Crane (BUF, 1880), Esterbrook (CLE), Nelson (WOR, 1881), O’Rourke (BSN, 1880), Roseman (TRO), Keefe (TRO), and Lynch (BUF, 1881). Lynch, Brady, Nelson, and Kennedy were holdovers from the 1882 roster.

Bill James claims that Keefe had developed “what has been described as” the first modern changeup and began using it this season. Sam Crane was arrested for running off with Hattie Tavenfelter, the wife of a Scranton fruit dealer, and $1,500 of his savings.

The Mets let heavyweight champ John Sullivan pitch in two exhibition games; he later lost his title to John Corbett in 1892. The Reach Guide (quoted in Bill James’ New Historical Baseball Abstract) wrote: “a number of ball-players lost heavily on the Corbett-Sullivan prize fight. It was a notable fact that five out of every six ball-players were ardent believers in Sullivan’s superior powers.”

John O’Rourke was playing in his final big league season (he played for Boston in 1879 and 1880) despite hitting very well yet again. I could not find any secondary sources that discussed him in detail, so I asked for leads on SABR-L. The information that follows is based on Frank Vaccaro's research, which he shared on the list.

O'Rourke's pro career started in 1877 with the Mansfields of the International Association. In 1878 he hit .376, leading the IA, and signed with Boston after the season. In 1881 he reemerged with the Philadelphia Athletics of the Eastern Championship Association (who would become an inaugural AA member the following season). After playing for the Mets in 1883, he never appeared in the majors again. Vaccaro cites an April 6, 1884 report in the Cincinnati Enquirer that O'Rourke was working as a baggage master for an eastern railroad and was not playing ball because he demanded to be paid the value of "a small city, with town hall and other public buildings".

O'Rourke was apparently considered something of an oaf in comparison to his famous older brother, but it seems as if his real job was the reason that his major league career ended after 1883, not any on-field deficiency.


The Eclipse improved their winning percentage, but dropped out of the first division and slipped two spots in the standings in the expanded eight team association; the defection of ace Tony Mullane to St. Louis was certainly a major factor. He was replaced by the Athletics’ Sam Weaver. The infield was redone, with Joe Gerhardt (last with Detroit, 1881), Jack Gleason (St. Louis), Jack Leary (Alleghenys), and rookie Tom McLaughlin playing significant roles. Catcher Ed Whiting was brought in from the Orioles.

Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the Browns, apparently offered each of the Louisville players a new suit if they could sweep the Athletics late in the season. They won the first two, but Guy Hecker’s wild pitch cost the Browns the pennant and the Eclipse some new threads.


The Colts were my favorite city’s first major league outfit. They were managed by Horace Phillips, the former Athletics manager who had sought to organize the AA before being fired by his players. The team featured four rookies: Field, Kuehne, Valentine, and pitcher Ed Dundon, the majors’ first deaf player.

The rest of the regulars had all played in 1882: Kemmler (PIT), Smith (LOU), Richmond (CLE), Wheeler (CIN), Mann (PHA), Brown (BAL), and Mountain (WOR).


Despite playing 21 more games, the Alleghenys came up eight wins short of their 1882 output. Their field also partially flooded in June, which helped facilitate Columbus’ rout described earlier; the soggy conditions hampered outfielders.

John Peters fell off the cliff at age 33, batting just 28 times. He would have an even shorter stint with the team in 1884 and depart the scene for good. Peters was replaced at short by Louisville’s Denny Mack, pretty much a replacement-level player. Jackie Hayes (Worcester) took over primary catching duties as Billy Taylor moved to right, filling the position vacated by Ed Swartwood, who moved to first. George Creamer, also last with Worcester, took over at second; Buttercup Dickerson, last with the same late NL franchise in 1881, played center. Two rookie pitchers, Bob Barr (not the presidential candidate) and Jack Neagle, who also spent time with the Phillies and the Orioles in 1883, filled the innings left available by Harry Salisbury’s departure (Salisbury never pitched in the majors again despite being just 28 and having been above average in 1882).

While they weren’t good, this outfit was certainly interesting. David Nemec describes them as “boozing, brawling, bad-ass”. Billy Taylor, Mike Mansell, and George Creamer were suspended August 20 for drunkenness after a game with Louisville. In November, Taylor married a female baseball player despite apparently being warned that the relationship was not destined for the fairy tales. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested after allegedly robbing her ex-boyfriend.


The Orioles, as best as I can tell, were the first team ever to turn over their entire group of regulars in a single season. Cliff Blau has unearthed that this was a different organization than the Baltimore AA club of 1882, and the player turnover is an indication of that.

It didn’t really help much (although some of it was probably not by choice), as they improved from .260 to .292. As with the NL Phillies, Baltimore used an abnormally large number of players (29). The AA average was 18 and the Browns were next with 21.

The team's regulars with big league experience were: Kelly (CLE), Stearns (CIN), O’Brien (WOR), Manning (PRO), Say (LOU), Clinton (WOR), Eggler (BUF, 1879, and he returned to the Bisons mid-season), Rowe (CLE), Fox (BSN, 1879).

Leaders and trailers:

1. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.357)
2. Pete Browning, LOU (.338)
3. Jim Clinton, BAL (.313)
Trailer: Hardie Henderson, BAL (.162)
Trailing non-pitcher: Dave Eggler, BAL (.188)
1. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.394)
2. Pete Browning, LOU (.378)
3. Mike Moynahan, PHA (.360)
Trailer: Dave Eggler, BAL (.192)
1. Harry Stovey, PHA (.506)
2. John Reilly, CIN (.485)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (.476)
Trailer: Dave Eggler, BAL (.198)
1. Harry Stovey, PHA (.266)
2. Charley Jones, CIN (.228)
3. Pop Smith, COL (.202)
Trailer: Dave Eggler, BAL (.015)
1. Ed Swartwood, PIT (98)
2. Harry Stovey, PHA (96)
3. John Reilly, CIN (91)
4. Mike Moynahan, PHA (85)
5. Candy Nelson, NYA (83)
1. Candy Nelson, NYA (169)
2. Pete Browning, LOU (166)
3. Ed Swartwood, PIT (160)
4. John Reilly, CIN (151)
5. Charley Jones, CIN (149)
Trailer: Dave Eggler, BAL (40)
1. Candy Nelson, NYA (+3.6)
2. Ed Swartwood, PIT (+2.9)
3. Pete Browning, LOU (+2.9)
4. John Reilly, CIN (+2.8)
5. Charley Jones, CIN (+2.5)
Trailer: Joe Battin, PIT (-2.0)
1. Candy Nelson, NYA (+5.7)
2. Bill Gleason, STL (+4.4)
3. Pete Browning, LOU (+4.2)
4. Charley Jones, CIN (+4.0)
5. John Reilly, CIN (+4.0)
Trailer: Dave Eggler, BAL (-.9)
1. Will White, CIN (73)
2. Tim Keefe, NYA (76)
3. Bobby Mathews, PHA (82)
4. Jumbo McGinnis, STL (84)
5. George Bradley, PHA (84)
Trailer: Jack Neagle, PIT (151)
1. Will White, CIN (+5.0)
2. Tim Keefe, NYA (+4.6)
3. Bobby Mathews, PHA (+2.2)
4. Jumbo McGinnis, STL (+2.0)
5. Tony Mullane, STL (+1.6)
Trailer: Hardie Henderson, BAL (-2.9)
1. Tim Keefe, NYA (+6.7)
2. Will White, CIN (+6.3)
3. Tony Mullane, STL (+3.7)
4. Guy Hecker, LOU (+2.4)
5. Jumbo McGinnis, STL (+2.3)
Trailer: Hardie Henderson, BAL (-2.9)

My all-star team:
C: Jack O’Brien, PHA
1B: John Reilly, CIN/Ed Swartwood, PIT
2B: Joe Gerhardt, LOU/Bid McPhee, CIN
3B: Hick Carpenter, CIN
SS: Candy Nelson, NYA
LF: Pete Browning, LOU
CF: Charley Jones, CIN
RF: Hugh Nicol, STL
P: Tim Keefe, NYA
P: Will White, CIN
P: Tony Mullane, STL
MVP: SS Candy Nelson, NYA
Rookie Hitter: 3B Arlie Latham, STL
Rookie Pitcher: Ren Deagle, CIN

There’s not enough to decide at first base; I have Reilly at +2.79 wins versus an average hitter, +3.95 versus a replacement level hitter. Swartwood is at +2.88 and +3.91, and each has -1 Fielding Runs by Pete Palmer’s method. That is simply too close to call, and the two decimal places are the very definition of false precision.

I also decided not to decide at second base. Gerhardt is .2 WAR behind McPhee as I figure it, but Palmer has him at +18 fielding while McPhee is only +4. However, the eighteen runs is out of line with most of Gerhardt’s career, and McPhee also has an excellent defensive reputation. You decide which figures you trust and to what extent.

Candy Nelson’s season is worth taking a longer look at. Nelson had begun his career at age 23 with Troy and the Eckfords of Brooklyn in the National Association. For 1873-75, he played for the Mutuals, then did not reappear in a major league until 1878 with Indianapolis, 1879 with Troy, and 1881 with Worcester. In 1882 he played for the Mets in their last season as an independent club. His best season in terms of Palmer’s Batting Runs was +4 in 1879, and he was never a regular in the NL, although he had been with the Mutuals.

The rest of this is a digression into the whys and wherefores of sabermetric methodology, and anyone who is primarily interested in the history part of this can feel free to stop reading. Palmer’s system is not crazy about his 1883 season; he comes in at +14 runs offensively, -7 in the field, for a TPR of .9. TPR picks John Richmond of Columbus as the AA’s top player on the strength of 27 Fielding Runs. Leaving that aside, the top batter in the Association is Swartwood at +41 runs.

By my way of figuring these things, Nelson is +34 runs offensively and Swartwood is +37. As you can see, we essentially agree about Swartwood, but diverge by twenty runs on the question of Nelson’s contributions. What could possibly cause such a large difference?

The answer is park factor. Palmer figures park factors for the nineteenth century; I do not. I have gone with the approach that Bill James used in his (original) Historical Baseball Abstract--use the runs scored and allowed in the player’s team’s games as the context in which to evaluate him. There is an argument to be made that this is ideal, but in this case, the pragmatic argument was all it took to convince me to use this approach. Ballparks in the nineteenth century were transient by today’s standards--they were always burning down, being rebuilt, etc. Even if there is a team with a stable park, the rest of the league is changing around it--not just the parks of the other teams, the identities of the teams themselves.

Park factors require some minimum degree of continuity to work properly. I do not believe that the nineteenth century meets the standard. Thus, if I wanted to figure PFs, I would have to do it on a single year basis. Then you have to deal with the fact that the sample data is being drawn from a 100 game season rather than a 162 game season. You would have to regress the PFs very heavily. In the end, I think it is a fool’s errand.

In some cases, it may cause distortions. Nelson’s Metropolitans allowed only 405 runs, best in the association--but they also scored just 498 runs, fifth in the association. Some of this may have been due to the park in which they played, but some of it may have just been great pitching (certainly Keefe was in fact a great pitcher) coupled with an average offense. So perhaps Nelson and his offensive teammates are getting an unfair break, being evaluated against an average expected contribution that is too low.

In fact, Palmer’s park factor for the 1883 Mets is 104, meaning a park that inflated seasonal totals by 4%. It is true that New York and their opponents averaged 9.72 runs in the 47 games played at New York and 8.92 runs in the 50 road games. So in this case, it may have been a lousy offense coupled with a great pitcher producing a low number of runs per game.

If I figure Nelson’s runs above average with a park factor of 1.04 coupled with the association average of 5.72 runs/game, he is +20, and thus Pete and I only disagree by six runs.