On a swelterlingly hot day marked by thunderstorms, the Mutual Club of New York edged the Washington club, 2-1 in a game shortened to six inning because of rain. A crowd estimated at 400 braved it out at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn.
In an era long before players wore gloves and pitchers threw particularly hard and a curve ball was a novelty, this low-scoring affair was unusual. But both teams managed to field well and kept the extra runners on base to a minimum.
Washington was managed by Nick Young, who would later become president of the National League. He used one of the two pitchers he had available, Bill Stearns, as his starter. The Mutuals, managed by third baseman John Hatfield, had their workhorse starter, Bobby Mathews, pitching. Mathews started all but one of the Mutuals' 53 games in 1873.
The Mutuals scored in the bottom of the first on a single by second baseman Dick Higham and a double by first baseman Joe Start, the man with the perfect last name when asked if he wanted his backup to play.
In the third, the Mutuals lost catcher Nat Hicks when he took a foul tip off the head and suffered a cut over his eye. In 1873, real catchers didn't wear masks! Higham took over at catcher, right fielder Candy Nelson moved to second base, and Phonney Martin came off the bench to play right field. These changes led to a run as an error by left fielder Count Gedney and a passed ball by Higham allowed Stearns to score the tying run for Washington.
In the fifth, Mathews tripled and scored on a single by Gedney to put the Mutuals or "Mutes" up 2-1. After the sixth inning, a heavy rain stopped the game and the umpire, Jack Chapman, called the game. The Mutuals were going to be facing the pride of Brooklyn, the Atlantics, on July 4 and the teams wanted to keep the field in decent shape with a big crowd expected for the holiday game.
As they did in four of the five seasons of the National Association, Boston would win the flag. The Mutuals finished in fifth place at 29-24, 11 games out. Washington finished in seventh at 8-31. Last place Baltimore came out of the gate at 0-6 and decided to stop playing in the NA. Baltimore had been outscored 152-26 in those six games.
Boston players dominated the leaderboards in both pitching and hitting. One notable exception was in strikeouts. Mathews led the NA with 75, 44 more than the next best pitcher. Stearns, despite pitching in just 32 games, led the league in home runs allowed with 8. And there were just 51 home runs hit all season.
A sign of the times: in the New York Times story about the upcoming Brooklyn-New York game, there was mention that betting pools would be available at the game.
Sources: Retrosheet, New York Times, Baseball-reference.com