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Random Game Callbacks

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Random Game Callback, May 3, 1876
2006-05-03 03:59
by Bob Timmermann

Just about a week old, the National Leauge of Professional Base Ball Clubs was still not a big story in newspapers throughout the country. There were two games on May 3, 1876 and the one between New York and Philadelphia was not deemed worthy of coverage in the New York Times, however the other game scheduled that day, St. Louis at Louisville, did manage to get a boxscore in the Chicago Tribune and even a brief story. And with the copyright on that story long since expired, I can reprint the entire story.

Disheartening Defeat of St. Louis by Louisville
Special Dispatch to the Chicago Tribune
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 3 - The weather was fine. The attendance was moderate. The sport was one-sided, Louisville defeating St. Louis eleven to nothing. The feature of the game was Devlin's pitching, only two base-hits being made off him.

And that's the way it was. Louisville won its first ever game as a National League team, raising its record to 1-3, while St. Louis fell to 1-3. Chicago (whom no one would have even considered calling the Cubs back then) was in first place at 4-0, and Chicago would go on to win the pennant with a 52-14 record, six games better than St. Louis and Hartford. Louisville would finish fifth, 22 games back.

The two starting pitchers for this game, Jim Devlin of Louisville and George Bradley of St. Louis, pitched nearly every inning of every game for their teams in 1876. Devlin tossed 622 innings with three others combining for 17 innings. Bradley started all 64 games for St. Louis and finished all but one of them. Outfielder Joe Blong pitched four innings of one game.

Devlin and Bradley had crossed paths in 1875. At the time, Devlin apparently knew how to harness baseball's secret weapon, the curve ball. Bradley asked Devlin for a tip on how to throw it, but Devlin refused.

This was found out in Peter Morris's excellent new book, A Game of Inches : The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball Volume 1: The Game on the Field. It is loaded with all sorts of interesting information about firsts in baseball, such as who developed the pitching rotation or who used the first double switch. You will find out the answer to these questions is usually not Gene Mauch or Joe Morgan.

St. Louis used just 10 players for the entire season. Shortstop Denny Mack was the only regular who missed any time and St. Louis picked up 40-year old Dickey Pearce, a player whom many credit with inventing the bunt, to fill in. Pearce would play in 8 games in 1877 for St. Louis. Bradley would lead the NL in ERA in its first year at 1.23 (these numbers have been figured out retroactively) and led the league in shutouts with 16. Bradley also threw the first no-hitter in NL history on July 15, 1876 against Hartford.

Both franchises would play one more season in the National League and then disappear under unpleasant circumstances. Louisville was a contender for the 1877 pennant, but went into a suspicious late season slump and fell into second place behind Boston. Eventually four Louisville players were identified as taking bribes to throw games. These players were Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols, and Bill Craver. The National League president William Hulbert expelled the four players and stripped of four of its best players, Louisville folded up shop.

St. Louis's problems were a little more subtle. Blong and Joe Battin were suspected of taking bribes in a game in August and they disappeared from the St. Louis roster and then were never seen in the league again. At the end of the year, St. Louis folded.

The NL had already expelled its New York and Philadelphia franchises after the 1876 season after both teams refused to play its final road games because they were out of the race and didn't want to lose money on a trip out to St. Louis. By 1878, the NL had just six teams, located in Boston, Cincinnati, Providence, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee. The Hartford team of 1876 moved to Brooklyn in 1877, but still called itself Hartford, serving as an inspiration to Arte Moreno, but it still folded.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference. Special thanks to Frank Vaccaro for his information on the demise of the St. Louis and Louisville teams.

2006-05-03 07:27:22
1.   Sam DC
Great stuff.
2006-05-03 09:05:17
2.   Bob Timmermann

We will return to a century that most of us have lived in again on May 8.

2006-05-03 13:40:24
3.   Linkmeister
Um, "Louisville won its first ever National League game, raising its record to 1-3."

I'm puzzled. In what league were they in when they lost their first three games?

I really enjoy these, Bob.

2006-05-03 16:34:38
4.   Bob Timmermann
The Louisville franchise had played in other leagues prior to the existence of the National League.

They were a going concern before the NL started.

2006-05-03 16:38:02
5.   Bob Timmermann
I reworded the sentence.

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