The Louisville Grays appeared to be on their way to winning the National League pennant after taking advantage of 12 errors by defending champion Chicago in a 7-5 win at Chicago's 23rd Street Park. But it could have been 7-6. But it was probably 7-5. Trust me on this.
It wasn't hard in this era to pick starting pitchers. The league had just six teams and played a 60-game schedule. Louisville, managed by Jack Chapman, used the same starter for every game, Jim Devlin. Chicago was led by player-manager Al Spalding, who was in the process of getting out of onfield action and no longer pitched. Spalding played second base this day and used George Bradley at pitcher.
The game was quiet for the first seven innings with Chicago scoring the only run during that time in the sixth on a double by third baseman Cap Anson and then an error by Louisville third baseman Bill Hague. Then the game got a little weird.
Chicago had opted to bat first, which was not unusual for this era, and in the top of the eighth, Chicago scored one run, although the Chicago Tribune box score lists two runs as being scored. The game story says there was just one and only five individual runs show up in the box score.
But in the bottom of the eighth, Louisville strung together four hits and then two errors and a passed ball and scored five times to go up 5-2. Or maybe 5-3.
It was probably 5-2 as the Tribune story now reports that Chicago needed three runs to tie. With two outs and no one, Spalding, center fielder Dave Eggler, and Bradley all singled to load the bases for first baseman John Glenn. Glenn got a hold of a Devlin pitch and doubled to right center to clear the bases and tie the game at 5-5. Or maybe put Chicago up 6-5.
In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, Devlin and right fielder Orator Shafer both reached on errors. Second baseman Joe Gerhardt singled to scored Devlin and shortstop singled to score Shafer to make the final score 7-5. Or was it 7-6. Because why would Louisville had to have scored twice in the ninth if the game was tied? Well, Louisville scored twice because in 1877, you kept playing until all nine innings were over. It didn't matter if the team batting last was already ahead. You played the game until it was over. So Chicago had to stay out there to try to get the last out even though they had already lost. Try selling that to the public now.
The unnamed Tribune correspondent was not a happy man to begin with. He found people who weren't members of the press in the reporters stand. He was unhappy. These interlopers were openly rooting against Louisville.
One of these men, when Snyder was hit in the face by a ball, sang out quite loudly "I'm glad of it," and then added with an oath, "it serves him right." ----- a sentiment too brutal and low-lived to pass without rebuke. If the TRIBUNE reporter knew the man's name, he would print it.
So, there is your challenge. Find out the name of this guy from 129 years ago. Tell the Chicago Tribune. Have this man's family name dragged through the mud! Justice must be served!
The Tribune also speculated that Louisville's four-game lead in the NL over Boston with 21 games left would easily hold up. The pennant was bound for Kentucky.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the pennant. After playing one more game in Chicago, Louisville went on an East Coast trip to play Boston and Hartford (which really played in Brooklyn). And Louisville lost eight straight games. Then Louisville had a five game series against last place Cincinnati with three on the road and two at home. And Cincinnati won three of the five. Boston would lose just one game down the stretch and won the pennant by seven games.
As it turned out, Louisville didn't go in to a slide because they didn't like the East Coast. It turned out that much of the team was on the take. Devlin, Al Nichols, George Hall, and Bill Craver were all found guilty of throwing games and suspended for life. Louisville was booted out of the NL as well.
Chicago, which won the pennant in 1876, finished in fifth place with a 26-33 record. Ross Barnes, who had led the NL in batting average in 1876 at .429, played in just 22 games as he was slowed by illness and a change in the rules. Barnes was a practitioner of the "fair-foul" hit. Under the rules in place in 1876, a batted ball was fair if it first hit the ground in fair territory. Barnes was able to chop down on the ball and get it to hit in front of the plate and then spin wildly out of play. The rule was changed the following year to more closely resemble today's rules. Barnes sat out the 1878 and 1880 seasons and retired after playing for Boston in 1881.
Although Spalding couldn't manage Chicago to a pennant, he would leave the field and go into business and become really, really, really, really, really rich.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, Chicago Tribune