A Trip Back in Baseball Time

This is a little thought experiment: How would an MLB player do if he was transported back to the 1870s or 1880s and told to suit up for the local pro baseball team? How would an MLB manager/coach do, handling that team’s players? How would a reporter/columnist do if dispatched to one of the local papers to cover that team? How would a sabermetrician do if asked to analyze that team? Which would be the harder adjustment from 2013 to those years: the physical one, to a different kind of game played by a different type of player (I don’t mean racially different so much as athletically different), or the mental one, to a different culture with unfamiliar technologies and a very different way of living?

The point I’m making here is to wonder whether the physical circumstances of baseball have changed more in the last 130-odd years-that is, the rules of the game and the physical abilities of the players; or do the cultural and technological changes surrounding baseball in that time exceed the physical changes? Common wisdom has it that athletes today are in much better condition than athletes of the long-ago past, and I suppose that’s true. But if you took Miguel Cabrera back to 1885 and deprived him of his air travel, his millions of dollars, his entourage and most of the attention he gets, and the other trappings of being a modern MLB star, how would he respond?

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 9:39 am  Comments (2)  

1876: The Cubs’ First Game Ever

Here’s the Chicago Tribune headline for the Cubs’ first game ever, played on Tuesday, April 25, 1876:

And the box score:

The box score’s hard to read, but the Cubs won 4-0, scoring in the second, third, fourth, and seventh innings. They got eight hits, all singles, with three of them by pitcher Al Spalding. Louisville pitcher Jim Devlin threw the first pitch, in Louisville, at 3:30. Attendance was “about 2,000 or a little less,” compared to the prediction that “10,000 would be a small figure” for estimating the number of fans at the game.

But, a hill adjoining the grounds gave people “a clear view of the game over a short fence, and it was crowded and peopled with masses of citizens, who chose to husband their cash and steal half-a-dollar each from the clubs. The audience which did not pay was fully as large as that which did.” The game took one hour and fifty minutes, and “the ground was not in good shape, and was fully as moist as the Chicago park, being sticky and soft in the outfield, and very dead all over. The character of the game depended largely on this fact.” The Cubs made three errors, and Louisville made six. The Tribune added: “Very little money was wagered, the Chicagoans generally refusing to give the odds of five to one which were demanded before the game.”

Gerhardt, for Louisville, led off the game with a single. Hines, for the Cubs, got their first hit in the second, and scored the first Cubs run in that inning too, on a wild throw by Carbine, the Louisville first baseman. Here’s how the Tribune described it: “Hines hit hard at the first one and sent it to (first baseman) Carbine so briskly that he couldn’t hold it, giving Hines a life. Spalding put a corker to centre-field, Hines going to third. After Spalding had been run out and Addy had retired at first, White drove a fierce one to (third baseman) Gerhardt, who gathered it well but threw it wildly to Carbine, letting in Hines with the first tally.”

Errors led to all four Cubs runs, and it looks like there were no extra base hits. But, the pitchers allowed just one walk: Devlin walked Barnes, the Cubs leadoff hitter, who scored two runs in the game. The Cubs had eight hits; Louisville had seven. There was just one umpire, an L.B. Warren, who the Tribune said “made four errors of judgment.” The crowd didn’t like him, and “Welch, of this city (Louisville), was agreed upon as umpire for Thursday’s game”: this game was played on a Tuesday.

At the time, the Chicago team was called the White Stockings (but it’s easier to keep straight if we just call them the Cubs); the Tribune didn’t call the Louisville team by any particular name, but it wound up being known as the Grays. The Cubs wound up winning the N.L. pennant easily, going 52-14 over the 66-game season. Check out the season stats.

Finally, a p.s.: in the Cubs’ first home game, on May 10, 1876, at the 23rd Street Grounds, they shut out the Cincinnati Redlegs 6-0. The Tribune said: “It looks as if the Chicago club management has done it at last–has selected a club to fitly represent this city and therefore to excel all other clubs in the West, if not in the country. The weather encouraged the attendance, for a finer day for a game was hardly ever seen [and] the grass was in better shape and more even for short-fielding than ever before.”

Linking 2009 to 1871 Within Six Degrees of Separation

For the sake of curiosity, I decided to take a look and see how quickly you can form a chain from a player active in 2009 to 1871, the very beginning of major league baseball, with the links formed by having two players in the majors during the same season. We start with Jamie Moyer, who goes back to 1986 and Pete Rose, who goes back to 1963 and Early Wynn, who goes back to 1939 and Jimmie Dykes, who goes back to 1918 and Bobby Wallace, who goes back to 1894 and Cap Anson, who played both in 1876 with Chicago White Stockings of the National League and in 1871 with the Rockford Forest Citys of the National Association, the first professional league that shows up in the baseball record book. It takes just six players to go from 2009 to 1871, a nearly 130-year span. And, you don’t have to use Jim O’Rourke, Minnie Minoso, or any other player who retired only to play in one or two games a decade later to do it.

If you’re still curious, using the Oracle tool at Baseball-reference.com to create a chain of teammates from Harry Wright to Jamie Moyer comes up with this:

Harry Wright played with Jim O’Rourke for the 1875 Boston Red Stockings

Jim O’Rourke played with Roger Bresnahan for the 1904 New York Giants

Roger Bresnahan played with Bob O’Farrell for the 1915 Chicago Cubs

Bob O’Farrell played with Phil Cavarretta for the 1934 Chicago Cubs

Phil Cavarretta played with Minnie Minoso for the 1955 Chicago White Sox

Minnie Minoso played with Rich Gossage for the 1976 Chicago White Sox

Rich Gossage played with Jamie Moyer for the 1988 Chicago Cubs

Using the same Oracle tool to create a chain from  Jamie Moyer to Cap Anson comes up with this:

Jamie Moyer played with Steve Trout for the 1986 Chicago Cubs

Steve Trout played with Wilbur Wood for the 1978 Chicago White Sox

Wilbur Wood played with Dave Philley for the 1962 Boston Red Sox

Dave Philley played with Ted Lyons for the 1946 Chicago White Sox

Ted Lyons played with Ray Schalk for the 1924 Chicago White Sox

Ray Schalk played with Nixey Callahan for the 1913 Chicago White Sox

Nixey Callahan played with Cap Anson for the 1897 Chicago Colts

What emerges from all three of these chains is the dominant presence of Chicago ballplayers, and I don’t know why that is.

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 12:24 am  Leave a Comment