The World Series as we know it today, the American League Champion against the National League Champion, began in 1903, when the American League Champion Boston Pilgrims (now known as the Red Sox) beat the 3-time National League Champion, Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 games to 3. This was an upset of historic proportions, the baseball equivalent of the New York Jet’s surprise win in Super Bowl III. The Series has been played every year since, except 1904, when John McGraw refused to play the American League’s Chicago White Sox, and 1994 when the Player Lock-Out ended the season on August 18th. This year’s match-up between the Red Sox and the Dodgers is a tradition that can be traced back 115 years. But 1903 was not the first year that the winner of the two major leagues faced off in a championship series.
The National League formed in 1876, the first Major League. The American Association was created as a second major league in 1882. By 1884 the Association felt they were on par with the National League and challenged them to an end of season “Championship Series”. This series was played every year between 1884 and 1890. Let’s take a look at the two most important of these series; the 1885 and 1886 contests between the two best teams of the 1880s; the Chicago White Stockings of the National League and the St. Louis Browns of the American Association.
1880s Baseball was a time of much change in major league baseball. The decade started with the pitcher’s mound 45 feet from home plate. Pitchers were still required to throw the ball where the batter told them to. It took ten balls before a batter would walk. The pitchers were allowed to run towards the mound prior to delivering a pitch. The pitcher was not allowed to throw overhand.
Very few players used a gloves, so errors were common. The 1st and 2nd baseman played on the bag all the time. Batters were still allowed to use flat bats. These rule would all change during the decade. Blacks were allowed on major league rosters, but it was not common. The decade started with the National League the only Major League, but in 1882 the American Association formed. The Union Association was in existence in 1884, but many feel it wasn’t really a major league even though it is listed as one in the official records. These are the years that the major leagues truly became the Major Leagues.
In 1880 the game was still dominated by Eastern Gentlemen. The Umpires were often prominent citizens chosen from the spectators. It was a gentleman’s game. By the end of the decade it would no longer be that way. The game got rough and ugly, primarily the result of the American Association’s St. Louis Browns. The National League quickly embraced the rowdy activity and that would be the norm until the establishment of the American League in 1901.
The two dominant franchises in the 1880s were Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings and Charles Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns. Anson’s White Stockings won the National League Championship in 1880 by 15 games, 1881 by 9 games, 1882 by 3 games, finished 2nd in 1883, 4th in 1884, then returned to 1st in 1885 and 1886.
Charles Comiskey’s Browns were just as dominant in the upstart American Association. They won the Association’s Pennant by 16 games in 1885, won again, this time by 12 games, in 1886, 14 in 1887, and 6 ½ games in 1888. Their winning percentage in that run of four straight championships was .689!
It just so happens that the two teams played an exhibition series after the two season that were called at the time “The World Championship”. The 1885 series was fraught with controversy. The 1st game (in Chicago) was called due to darkness after 8 innings with the scored tied 5-5. Game 2 was in St. Louis, which ended in the 6th inning with Chicago leading 5-4 when Charles Comiskey pulled his team off the field after a fight, fan melee and an umpire decision he didn’t agree with. Games 3 and 4 were also played in St. Louis and the Browns won both, 7-4 and 3-2. Game 5 was played in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh?) where on a cold miserable day Chicago led 9-2 before 500 fans when after 7 innings the game was called due to darkness. The next day the teams moved to Cincinnati, where Games 6 and 7 were played on back to back days. Chicago pounded St. Louis 9-2 in Game 6, only to be routed by the Browns 13-4 in the 7th and final game. Who won the series…who knows?
1886 was more clear cut, though not really having the atmosphere of the modern World Series.
The upstart Browns again challenged the White Stockings to settle the matter once and for all. Anson’s response was “we’ll play your team on one condition. That the winner take every penny of the gate.” The total gate was just short of $15,000.
The first three games were played in Chicago. Game 1 saw Chicago’s John Clarkson blank the Browns on a 5-hitter, 6-0. Game 2 was dominated by the Browns as Tip O’Neill slammed two Home Runs and Bob Caruthers hurled a 2-hit shut-out in a 12-0 blowout. Chicago’s #2 starter Jim McCormick left the game with a sore arm. Game 2 was called after only 8 innings. Caruthers came back the next day to start Game 3 against Game 1 winner John Clarkson and was rocked for 11 runs in an 11-4 drubbing. The series then moved to St. Louis for Game 4 the next day with Chicago leading 2 games to 1.
The loss of McCormick put the White Stockings in a bind. They had no pitcher available to pitch Game 4. The only other pitcher on the roster was Jocko Flynn who was already lost for the season with a bad arm. Out of desperation Chicago then signed a another pitcher,
Ward Baldwin, who had never appeared in a Major League game before, was signed to start Game 4. The Browns protested, stating that the terms agreed to before the series didn’t allow either team to add to their rosters. The umpires were asked to make the decision on the protest, but couldn’t come to a consensus, so the controversy was decided by a coin toss that the Browns won. This left the White Stockings with only one pitcher, John Clarkson.
Clarkson was forced to start Game 4 in St. Louis the next day (his third start in four days). He didn’t have it. Dave Fouts beat him 8-5. For Game 5 Anson again tried to start Ward Baldwin, but the Browns refused to take the field in protest, so Anson was forced to throw reserve outfielder Jimmy Ryan. Ryan was knocked out in the 1st inning and was replaced by 3rd baseman Ed Williamson. It didn’t matter… St. Louis crushed Chicago 10-3 to take a 3-2 series lead.
This set up Game 6. In an attempt to avoid the fiasco that was the 1885 series the two teams agreed that the winner of the series would pocket all the money made on the series. This explains the Browns insistence that the White Stockings not replace Jim McCormick on the roster. Game 6 had both teams’ ace on the mound, John Clarkson against Bob Caruthers. Clarkson dominated early, allowing only one hit through seven innings with Chicago holding on to a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of 8th. Behind a single, a successful bunt, an error, then a walk and a misjudged fly ball the Browns tied the score in the 8th. The score remained 3-3 until the Browns came up in the bottom of the 10th. Curt Welch was at third when Clarkson threw a pitch that got by catcher King Kelly. Welch raced home with the series clinching run. Kelly said of the final pitch, “I signaled Clarkson for a low ball on one side and when it came it was high up on the other. It struck my hand as I tried to get it, and I would say it was a passed ball. You can give it to me if you want to. Clarkson told me it slipped from his hands.” Welch’s run became known as “The $15,000 Slide”, and was probably the most famous play in baseball during the 19th Century. There is some indication that Welch didn’t need to slide, that he scored easily.
Conclusion: There you have a short recap of the two series between the White Stockings and the Browns. One probably a tie, and the other a St. Louis win, but suspect because Chicago had only one pitcher. The other markers point to the Chicago White Stockings as the better team. The National League, that they won, was clearly the better league and the player to player comparison favors Chicago. A tough call, but Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings were probably the best team of the decade. Let’s now look at the results of the seven “World Championship Series” between the two leagues. As is indicated, the Browns win in 1886 is the Associations only victory.
1884: Providence Grays (NL) over New York Metropolitans (AA) 3 games to 0.
1885: Chicago White Stockings (NL) tied St. Louis Browns (AA) 3 games a piece with one tie.
1886: St. Louis Browns (AA) over Chicago White Stockings (NL) 4 games to 2.
1887: Detroit Wolverines (NL) over St. Louis Browns (AA) 10 games to 5.
1888: New York Giants (NL) over St. Louis Browns (AA) 6 games to 2.
1889: New York Giants (NL) over Brooklyn Bridegrooms (AA) 6 games to 3
1890: Brooklyn Bridegrooms (NL) tied Louisville Colonels (AA) 3 games a piece with one tie.
1889 saw the beginning of the end of the American Association with the formation of a third major league, the Players Association. This allowed four of the stronger franchises in the American Association to defect to the National League. The first to jump was the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, then the Cincinnati Reds Stockings left in 1889. As is indicated by the 1889 and 1890 “Championship Series”, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms were the next to go in 1890, and finally the St. Louis Browns joined the senior circuit after the collapse of the ‘American Association following the 1891 season.
Just for perspective on the lasting influence of the American Association’ the four franchises that made the jump to the National League are now four of the most iconic franchises in baseball; The Pittsburgh Alleghenys became the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Red Legs are now the Cincinnati Reds, The St. Louis Browns morphed into the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms franchise is competing in the World Series as the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Catcher: Browns-Doc Bushong
Bushong caught 85 games in 1885 and 107 in 1886. Not much of an offensive player, no power and few walks. Was in the majors for 12 years with little offense. Led the AA in put outs and assists in 1886 which says good things about his defense. Bill James rates him a B on defense
White Stockings-Silver Flint
Flint caught between 68 and 85 games every year for Chicago between 1879 and 1885. In 1886 he dropped off to 54 and began a decline until 1889, when he played his last game. Bill James rates him a B+ on defense. Early in his career Flint was a good hitting catcher, but by 1885 he wasn’t. King Kelly also caught, but we’ll give credit for him in the outfield.
Edge: This is close. Over their careers Flint was clearly better, but by 1885 he had lost most of his offensive value. Defense is about even, and defense was much more important for catchers in the 19th century. Because he caught significantly (192-122) more games in the years in question, we’ll give an edge to Bushong. (Browns 1-0)
1st Base: Browns-Charles Comiskey
Charles Comiskey was one of the giants of the first 60 years of baseball. As a player, manager, and owner he was involved in the rise and fall of the American Association, the rise of the American League, while also managing and starring on one of the great teams of the 19th Century. He is rightfully in the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a player he was very good. An above average hitter and an excellent fielder.
White Stockings-Cap Anson
While only adequate on defense Anson was one of the greatest offensive players of the early days of baseball. The first player to achieve 3,000 career hits. Widely considered the greatest player in the 19th Century.
Edge: This isn’t close. As a player Anson by a significant margin. (1-1)
2nd Base: Browns-Yank Robinson
Only played part time in 1885, became the Browns regular 2nd baseman in 1886. Later in the decade would set record for walks in a season, which made him an effective offensive player even while hitting .270. Not a good defensive player.
White Stockings-Fred Pfeffer
A mainstay on Anson’s teams from 1883 to 1889. A solid offensive player and a good defensive 2nd baseman.
Edge: Pfeffer by a comfortable margin. Even though defense at 2nd base was not as important in the 1880s as it is now, the two were about even as offensive players, but Pfeffer was clearly the better 2nd baseman. (White Stockings 2-1)
3rd Base: Browns-Arlie Latham
A leadoff man, he was probably the fastest man in the American Association. He was very cocky and a noted heckler of opposing players. Despite this he was extremely popular with teammates and fans. He was an excellent fielder and an effective lead-off man. One of the key players on a great team.
White Stockings-Ed Williamson
Also listed as Ned Williamson. A great player. Several observers of his time considered him the best all round player of his time. 3rd base was a more important defensive position than 2nd in his time, and he was the best glove man at 3rd in the 1880s. You can discount his 27 Home Runs in 1884, due to a short fence in his home park, but he did have some power and lots of walks in other seasons. He was the best 3rd baseman of the decade.
Edge: This is not a mis-match, Latham was as good as offensive player as Williamson, and not far behind him as a defensive player. Two quality performers who were key to their team’s success. A slight edge to Williamson. (White Stockings 3-1)
Shortstop: Browns-Bill Gleason
The regular shortstop for the Browns throughout the era. No power, but some walks. Would hit between .260 and .290 most years. A below average defensive shortstop.
White Stockings-Tom Burns
Held the job in Chicago the entire decade. Not many walks, but some power. Made a lot of errors at shortstop.
Edge: This is very close. As offensive players they were about even. On defense both were below average. Burns by a whisker. (White Stockings 4-1)
Left Field: Browns-Tip O’Neill
The best every day player on the Browns. Led the American Association in Batting Average, Slugging Average, Home Runs, Triples, Doubles, Hits in 1887. Just getting started in 1885, but among the best players in baseball from 1886-1889.
White Stockings-Abner Dalrymple
A solid member of Anson’s teams from the 1870s through the early 1880s. On the down side of his career for the years in question.
Edge: O’Neill is an easy choice. (White Stockings 4-2)
Center Field: Browns-Curt Welch
A solid offensive player who stole as many as 95 bases in a year. Among the best defensive center fielders of the decade. Most remembered now for his “$15,000 Slide” (more on that later).
White Stockings-George Gore
One of the biggest stars of the 1880s. An A+ Center Fielder who was among the best hitters in baseball. Led the National League in many offensive categories (Batting Average, slugging, runs scored, Walks). The best Center Fielder of the 1880s? Maybe.
Edge: Welch was a very good player…he was not as good as George Gore. (White Stockings 5-2)
Right Field: Browns-Hugh Nicol
An exceptional defensive outfielder who didn’t hit like a typical outfielder.
White Stockings-King Kelly
Played every defensive position on the field. Caught 583 games in his career, but in the years we’re evaluating was primarily an outfielder. A big star, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Edge: Kelly led the league in hitting in 1884 and 1886, runs scored in 1884,1885, and 1886. This is no contest. (White Stockings 6-2)
#1 Pitcher: Browns-Bob Caruthers
Caruthers went 40-13 in 1885 and 30-14 in 1886. He was the #1 starter in 1885 and #2 in 1886. The Browns had a 2-man pitching staff so the won loss record is a little misleading. He has the best hitting statistic of any pitcher ever. When not pitching he regularly played the outfield. A one of a kind ballplayer.
White Stockings-John Clarkson
53-16 in 1885, 35-17 in 1886. Chicago had a 2-man rotation in 1885, but went to three in 1886. Clarkson struck out over 300 batters in both 1885 and 1886. He won 326 games in his career, and is rightfully in the Hall of Fame. One of the great pitchers in the 19th century.
Edge: This is the toughest call of them all. Clarkson was probably the better pitcher, but what credit do we give Caruthers for his offensive contributions? Caruthers was the most valuable player on the Browns, not sure you can say the same for Clarkson with Chicago. It’s very close but we’ll go with Caruthers. (White Stockings 6-3)
#2 Pitcher: Browns-Dave Fouts
A mercurial career, who only had two seasons as a dominant pitcher, those two years happen to be 1885 and 1886. He went 33-14 in 1885 and 41-16 in 1886. He led the league in ERA both years.
White Stockings-Jim McCormick
A mid season pick-up by Anson in 1885, was the #2 starter in 1886. A veteran who was winding down on a 10-year career that ended with 265 wins. A solid journeyman pitcher.
Edge: For the decade it’s pretty clear that the Scottish-Born McCormick was the superior pitcher, but for the two years we’re evaluating Fouts was better. (White Stockings 6-4)
Manager: Browns-Charles Comiskey
Comiskey’s winning percentage of .608 is third best of all time. He had a relatively short run as a manager (12 years), but won four American Association titles. Comiskey revolutionized the way to play first base, playing off the bag and teaching the pitcher to cover first on a ground ball to the right side. This is taken for granted today, but was introduced by “The Noble Roman”. Unfortunately he is mostly remembered by modern fans as the stingy owner of the infamous 1919 Black Sox.
White Stockings-Cap Anson
A true visionary and along Harry Wright the most important person in what has become Major League Baseball. He was the first manager to actively pursue the best players from around the country, signing them, thus creating a powerhouse team. This forced the other teams in the league to adopt the same course, thus thrusting the “National League” to true major league status. He was first to employ platooning, to give signals from the bench, to call for the “Hit and Run” strategy. The dominant figure in 19th century baseball. On the down side, he was the one most responsible for the banning of Blacks in the major leagues when he refused to allow his team to take the field in an exhibition game against Toledo of the American Association. Toledo had a black catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker. Fleetwood was a well spoken college graduate who was well liked by other players. The Toledo Manager, Charlie Morton refused to back down and told Anson he could play against Walker or leave. Anson relented and played the game, but the dye had been cast. In the months to come several leagues created rules banning “colored” players. For several years after nobody was sure whether a major league team could sign a black player, until July 19, 1887 when Chicago was scheduled to play an exhibition game against Newark of the International League. George Stovey, a black pitcher, was scheduled to start for Newark. Anson refused to play, “Get him off the field, or I get off.” This time the opponent relented and Stovey was removed from the game. Still, there was no rule passed to ban blacks from the National League, but nobody signed a black player in any of the major leagues until Jackie Robinson in 1946.
Edge: According to Bill James’ “Guide to Baseball Managers” Anson is the 14th and Comiskey is tied for 28th as the most successful Managers of all time. These were both huge figures in the early years of baseball, but Anson was the better manager. (White Stockings 7-4)