By Glenn Guzzo
With the annual excitement over Strat-O-Matic’s new baseball ratings, and its historic re-creations of such seasons as 1977, 1951 and 1924, some gamers may have not noticed that Strat-O-Matic also has been reviving 19th Century baseball.
Over the past several computer versions, Strat-O-Matic has presented three or four new computer-only seasons per year covering the 25-year period from the birth of the National League in 1876 through 1900, the year before the debut of the American League and “modern baseball.”
Four more compatible with forthcoming Version 15: 1879, 1882, 1886 and 1899.
That will make 17 seasons available, with only eight left to complete (1876, 1880, 1881, 1884, 1885, 1891-93).
The 19th Century seasons have received less attention because they are in the game company’s computer-generated, or “Chevy,” style rather than the more heavily researched Deluxe seasons. But don’t be deceived by that. Many have as-played features and transaction files. The players are authentic.
This is a superb way to learn about big-league baseball in an era of shorter seasons in the competing National League and American Association, with remarkably different rules than we know today. Not to mention all the spectacular team and individual nicknames.
It’s also a chance to see how this era could produce a whole team of Hall-of-Fame players represented in Strat-O-Matic’s Hall of Fame 2000 set. This is the era that made legends of clutch-hitting Cap Anson, superstars Mike “King” Kelly and Ed Delahanty, slugging Dan Brouthers and big-time winners Tim Keefe, Pud Galvin and Old Hoss Radbourn.
It doesn’t hurt that computer-generated rosters sell for $11, half the price of Deluxe season rosters.
Here’s a short rundown on all the 19th Century seasons available from Strat-O-Matic:
1877: In the second year of the National League, catcher’s masks, fielder gloves and a home plate in fair territory were tried for the first time. The Chicago White Stockings were the only big-league team ever to hit no home runs (in 60 games). Deacon White (.387) and Tommy Bond (40 wins) led Boston to the championship when Louisville went into a sudden late-season slump. Later, four Louisville stars were banned for life for throwing games.
1878: Baseball before 1900 had its curiosities. Repeat champ Boston’s 41 wins were enough to dominate the 60-game schedule. Its pitcher, Tommy Bond, won 40 of them. Boston also set a team fielding record, though its defenders did not wear gloves. Indianapolis and Milwaukee finished 6th and 7th in the 7-team National League, then dropped out after their first season. One new franchise, Providence, survived, thanks in part to big-league baseball’s first Triple Crown winner, Paul Hines (.358-4-50).
1879: A foul ball now had to be caught on the fly (rather than on a bounce) to be an out. Batters hit by pitches still were not awarded first base, but if the target practice was judged intentional, pitchers were now fined. More rigid rules governed batting orders … New franchises in Cleveland, Buffalo, Syracuse and Troy produced lopsided standings in the new 84-game schedule. Second-year Providence won the pennant by playing .700 ball (59-25), with P John Montgomery Ward winning 47, but was only five games better than Boston, whose rookie John O’Rourke was fifth in batting, second in homers and first in RBI (.341-6-62) … Cincinnati P Will White completed all 75 of his starts, with 680 IP, records unmatched then and likely forever.
1882: The 10-year life of the American Association began with six teams, two in ex-National League cities Baltimore and Louisville. The other four are NL franchises today: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Cincinnati won the pennant and 55 of its 80 games. Its prize: A two-game series with NL champion Chicago, a post-season attraction not yet called the World Series. In the NL, Buffalo’s Dan Brouthers was first in batting (.373), second in homers (6) and second in RBI (63). In the AA, batting champ Pete Browning (.378) and future Hall of Famers Charlie Comiskey and Bid McPhee made their major-league debuts. P Will White won 40 games for the champion Red Stockings.
1883: The American Association expanded toeight teams and attracted much higher attendance for its 98-game season than the National League. Pitching overhand was still a year away. The AA flaunted stars OF Pete Browning (.338), 1B Harry Stovey (14 HR) and P Tim Keefe (41 wins, 2.41 ERA). The NL countered with new teams in New York and Philadelphia, plus Hoss Radbourn (48 wins, 2.05), Pud Galvin (46 wins), Dan Brouthers (.374, 97 RBI) and Roger Connor (.357).
1886: Stolen bases became an official stat and seven players (three in the National League, four in the American Association) were credited with at least 50. The NL reduced the requirement for a walk to seven balls. The AA went further, reducing it to six – and saw walks double. Pitchers benefited, however, from a rule permitting them to lift one foot before throwing. With running starts, the hard throwers had huge strikeout totals – in the AA, Baltimore’s Matt Kilroy had 513 and Louisville’s Lou Ramsey had 499. AA champion St. Louis won the post-season “World Series” with the NL champion Chicago White Stockings.
1887: Walks counted as hits, though it took five balls to get one, and four strikes to whiff. Pitchers could no long hide the ball or get a running start, though batters could no longer call for high/low pitches. Seasons were 125+ games in the National League, 130+ in the American Association. The days of the one-man pitching staff were over. Batters were the beneficiaries. None more than AA Triple Crown winner Tip O’Neil (.435-14-123) nd the NL’s Sam Thompson (.372, 166 RBI). AA winner St. Louis scored 1,131 runs.
1888: Back to three-strikes-you’re-out (after a year requiring four) dropped scoring, batting averages and ERAs dramatically. Pitchers dominated, but none like Tim Keefe, who won the NL pitching Triple Crown (35-12, 1.74, 335 Ks) and led New York to the championship with substantial help from fellow future Hall of Famers Mickey Welch (1.93 ERA, 47 complete games), Roger Connor (14 HR, 869 OPS) and Buck Ewing (.306). Cap Anson led second-place Chicago with his second batting title (.344) and the RBI crown (84). In the American Association, Cincinnati 1B John Reilly nearly won a batting Triple Crown (.321-13-103).
1889: Though baseball gradually was taking shape into what we know now (in 1889 it was four balls for a walk, not five), stats like those of future Hall-of-Fame P John Clarkson tell us more evolution was inevitable. Clarkson pitched 620 innings, with 68 complete games and 49 wins. Unmatched since, those numbers also towered over his 1889 contemporaries. Boston teammate Dan Brouthers hit .373 to lead the NL. Still, the Beaneaters finished 1 game behind New York stars Roger Connor (130 RBI), Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch (55 wins combined).
1890: Offering freedom and fair wages, the player-owned Players League lured Hugh Duffy, Pete Browning, Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, John Montgomery Ward, Hoss Radbourn and so many other stars that it instantly drew more fans than the established National League and American Association. The NL recognized the challenge and bought out the new league. The AA did not – a year later, it would die, too.
1894: To many fans of baseball history, this marks the beginning of modern baseball. It launched with a spectacular show of offensive fireworks. With a single 12-team National League, rule-makers moved the pitching mound to its current 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893. By 1894, runs were up 37 percent. Hugh Duffy hit .440-18-145, two RBI short of a Triple Crown. All three Phillies outfielders – Sam Thompson, Ed Delahanty and Billy Hamilton – hit .400. The Baltimore Orioles literally fought their way to the championship with such stars as Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley and John McGraw.
1895: Still violent, the National League also was talented. Cleveland’s Jesse Burkett (.405) and Philadelphia’s Ed Delahanty (.404) staged a spectacular batting race. Delehanty’s OF mate, Sam Thompson, blistered to a .392-18-165 season. Baltimore’s Joe Kelley (134), Steve Brodie (134) and Hughie Jennings (125) were 2-3-4 in RBI rankings. Cleveland’s Cy Young led the NL in wins (35) for the second time. Almost any extra base achieved by a base-runner was scored as a stolen base – Billy Hamilton had 97 of them.
1896: With SS Bid McPhee’s capitulation, every fielder now sported a glove. With rules scoring stolen bases for almost every time a base-runner achieved two bases on a hit or advancing on a fly, Baltimore set a record with 441 SB and won its third straight championship. Jesse Burkett (.410) won his second straight batting title and scored 160 runs. Baltimore’s Hughie Jennings hit .401 with 121 RBI. Their batting averages denied Ed Delehanty (.397-13-126) the Triple Crown.
1897: A momentous season, as the Boston Beaneaters ended the Baltimore Orioles’ three-year reign of terror and Honus Wagner entered the big leagues. The leader boards look like a Hall of Fame roster. Wee Willie Keeler hit in a record 44 straight games, finishing with a .424 average. He was followed by Fred Clarke, Jesse Burkett, Ed Delahanty and Joe Kelley. Nap Lajoie hit 40 doubles and 23 triples with 127 RBI. Boston sported Hugh Duffy (1st with 11 HR), Jimmy Collins (132 RBI) and Kid Nichols (1st with 31 wins). Amos Rusie’s 2.54 ERA was lowest.
1898: Inspired by Baltimore’s ability to win championships with shenanigans behind the umpires backs, baseball put two umpires on the field instead of one … The repeat champs in Boston had hitting and pitching and were the first to win 100 (as teams played 150-plus games for the first time). Billy Hamilton hit .369. Jimmy Collins led the NL with 15 HR and 286 total bases. Hugh Duffy had 108 RBI. On the mound, Kid Nichols was 31-12, 2.13. Ted Lewis was 26-8, 2.90. And rookie Vic Willis won 25 games … Also-ran Louisville had an emerging star: Honus Wagner led his team in HR and RBI …
1899: The National League’s last 12-team season (until 1969) was the first to require catchers to stay in their boxes when pitches were delivered. All players on the same team were required to wear conforming uniforms. And Baseball signed off on the century in scandalous style: The same owners ran both the St. Louis Browns and Cleveland Spiders, stashing all the best players in St. Louis. The Spiders were the worst in baseball history, at 20-134, a mere 83 ½ games behind 100-win Brooklyn. With an average attendance of 145, Cleveland was forced to play all but 42 games on the road and was jettisoned from the National League after the season, along with Washington, Baltimore and Louisville … The champs in Brooklyn were stocked with former Baltimore Orioles stars, including Wee Willie Keeler (.379). But Baltimore’s John McGraw remained and posted a .547 on-base percentage that was the highest in the majors until 1941 … Ed Delehanty’s 55 doubles were the most till 1923 … Future Hall of Famers Jack Chesbro, Sam Crawford and Joe McGinnity were rookies.
1900: Now eight teams instead of 12, the National League was in the format it would keep until 1962. For the first time, home plate took today’s five-sided shape and size, no longer a square. The wider plate helped the pitchers and a shorter schedule of about 140 games further deflated statistics. Still, batting champ Honus Wagner (.381) and such familiar stars as Elmer Flick, Jesse Burkett, Willie Keeler, John McGraw and Ed Delahanty dominated the batting leader boards, while Iron Joe McGinnity’s 28 wins guided Brooklyn to the championship in the year before the American League’s debut.