The visiting Chicago Pirates (batting last in this game) pushed across a run in the bottom of the ninth at Boston's Congress Street Grounds for a dramatic 7-6 win in a battle between two of the best teams in the Players League. 8,142 spectators looked on in windy and rainy weather.
1890 marked the year of one of baseball's biggest labor disputes. The players of the time had formed a union, called the Brotherhood, and in 1890, many of the top players, in an attempt to get rid of the reserve clause, formed their own league. Chicago was managed by Charlie Comiskey, who was one of the best first basemen of the day. Boston was managed by King Kelly, probably the most famous player of the era.
Comiskey started 22-year old Silver King at pitcher. King had been a star for Comiskey at St. Louis in the AA. Kelly had Matt Kilroy pitching. Kilroy struck out 513 batters in his rookie year with Baltimore of the AA in 1886, the highest total ever recorded in major league history. Nolan Ryan's 383 strikeouts are considered a separate record because Kilroy was not pitching from 60'6". He was throwing from a spot around 50 feet away. Pitchers were able to move around a bit at the time. The 60'6" distance wasn't established until 1893.
Center fielder Tom Brown led off for Boston and walked against King. He moved around the bases on an error by Comiskey, a passed ball by Duke Farrell, and then scored on a ground out.
Chicago picked up three runs in the third. Right fielder Hugh Duffy tripled and then scored when third baseman Billy Nash couldn't handle the throw in from the outfield. Left fielder Tip O'Neill singled and scored on a triple by center fielder Jimmy Ryan. Comiskey squeezed home Ryan for the third run.
Boston got one run back in the fifth when Kelly, playing shortstop this game, singled and then came around to score on an error and a sacrifice by second baseman Joe Quinn. Then in the seventh, Boston took the lead with a pair of runs on singles by left fielder Hardy Richardson and Nash,. Quinn sacrificed the runners over and they scored on a single by catcher Morgan Murphy. Boston led 4-3.
But Chicago was not out of it. With one out, Farrell singled and third baseman Arlie Latham singled. Kelly dropped the relay throw from the outfield and Farrell came around to score the tying run. King then singled to left and Nash dropped the relay throw at third base and Latham was safe. Duffy then doubled and Latham and King scored to give Chicago a 6-4 lead.
Boston tied it up in the ninth. Nash walked and Quinn tripled him home. Kilroy singled to score Quinn with the tying run. But in the bottom of the ninth, Chicago second baseman Fred Pfeffer singled and shortstop Jack Boyle did the same. Farrell then came up and doubled and Pfeffer came home with the winning run.
Ultimately, it would be Boston who would win the first, and last, Players League pennant. Boston beat out Brooklyn by 6 1/2 games for the flag. Chicago finished in fourth, 10 games out. The Players League was woefully undercapitalized and it ceased operations after just one year and the stars went back to their old teams in the NL and AA for the most part.
The Players League was probably the highest quality "third" league in baseball's history, the other two being the Union Association of 1884 and the Federal League of 1914-15. One of the best offensive players of 1890 was Roger Connor of the New York entry in the PL. He had an OPS of .998, the best in baseball and hit 14 home runs. Besides stars like Comiskey and Kelly, the Players League also had John Ward playing in Brooklyn and three future Hall of Famers playing in Pittsburgh: Ned Hanlon, Jake Beckley, and Pud Galvin. John Tener, who would go on to serve as a Representative from the state of Pennsylvania, then governor of Pennsylvania as well as President of the National League, played for Pittsburgh as well.
Besides its legacy of owner-player labor acrimony, the Players League left one other legacy. The PL was the first league to use the infield fly rule. However, the National League did not adopt it until 1895. But the Players League gave millions of baseball pedants the opportunity to show off their knowledge of a surprisingly tough rule to understand for some people.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, Chicago Tribune