For the most part, major league baseball baseball in the 20th century was very stable, with franchises remaining in the same cities for stretches of 50 consecutive seasons (1903-52) and 29 more (1972-2000) to round out the century. And, the franchise relocations in the 20 intervening years were mainly in response to societal changes, chiefly the westward population movement.
The 19th century, though, was a different matter entirely, with numerous franchise shifts, failed franchises and new leagues starting up and folding. Of the 8 teams in the National League’s inaugural 1876 season, only the Chicago and Boston franchises have remained in operation continuously to the present day. The present-day Cardinals, Reds and Pirates all started in 1882, the Phillies and Giants in 1883 and the Dodgers in 1884. All of the 8 teams of the inaugural American League season in 1901 have remained in operation to the present day.
We don’t often talk about the 19th century game so, just for fun, here’s a look at some of the players and teams of that era. After the jump, an All-Star team composed exclusively of players who were the last to appear in the major leagues among those who played for a defunct or relocated franchise in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A word on my method. I’ve looked only at NL teams in operation up to 1899, and AL teams in 1901 and 1902. Of the now defunct NL teams, I’ve looked only at those in operation for at least two seasons. The players I’ve identified are those who appeared for these teams and also appeared in the major leagues most recently. For the most recent appearance, I’ve excluded appearances by players whose primary role was as a manager or coach and/or who appeared for only a handful of games, or who had contrived appearances, such as during the final game of the season.
Without further ado, here’s our team.
HOFer Roger Connor debuted as a third baseman for the 1880 Troy Trojans but moved to first base the following season, where he played for most of his career, lasting until his age 39 season with the 1897 St. Louis Browns. When the Trojans folded after the 1882 season, Connor moved to the New York Giants where he enjoyed his greatest success, with his top season coming in 1885 with a .371 BA to lead the NL, while posting a 200 OPS+. Connor had 10 consecutive seasons (1883-92) of 400 PA and 140 OPS+, and 17 straight seasons (1880-96) of 300 PA and 110 OPS+.
Initially a catcher, Tom Daly appeared for the Washington Nationals in 1889, the last of their four seasons in operation. He then moved to the Brooklyn club where he converted to an infielder and served as Brooklyn’s regular second baseman from 1893 to 1895, and again from 1899 to 1901. Among his contemporaries, Daly was one of only four second basemen with 25 WAR and 100 OPS+ from 1887 to 1903, with two (Bid McPhee, Nap Lajoie) of the other three in the Hall of Fame.
Denny Lyons debuted with the 1885 Providence Grays in the second of their two NL seasons. Lyons played about half of his 13-year career in the NL and half in the American Association, enjoying his greatest success with the latter, particularly in his 1890 campaign with the Philadelphia Athletics when he posted a .354/.461/.531 slash to lead the AA in OBP, SLG, OPS and OPS+. Lyons’ 140 career OPS+ is the best for all 19th century 3rd baseman with 1000 games played.
HOFer Bobby Wallace was the last active major leaguer to have played for the Cleveland Spiders. While the Spiders are famous for the 20-134 debacle in their final 1899 season, they were a star-laden (Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, Buck Ewing, Chief Zimmer, Cupid Childs, John Clarkson) first division club in Wallace’s time with them (1894-98), including second place finishes in 1895 and 1896. While he contributed offensively with a 105 career OPS+, Wallace’s specialty was defense, posting a 28.7 career dWAR, second only to Joe Tinker among contemporaries. Wallace’s 25-year career, ending with the 1918 Cardinals, is the longest in seasons for a shortstop.
Jimmy Sheckard played for the Baltimore Orioles in their final 1899 season. After 18 years in the league, the Orioles were one of four teams that folded or were merged when the NL reduced from 12 teams to 8 for the 1900 season. A keen batting eye and aggressive baserunning were the hallmarks of Sheckard’s game as he twice led the NL in each of stolen bases, walks and sacrifice hits. Sheckard’s 147 walks for the 1911 Cubs established a new single-season mark and his career total of 1135 ranked second at the time, behind only Billy Hamilton‘s 1189. At his retirement following the 1913 season, Sheckard’s 49.5 WAR and 1296 runs both ranked as the 5th highest career totals among left-fielders.
Tommy Leach was the last Louisville Colonel to appear in the majors, in a career that lasted until his age 40 season with the 1918 Pirates. Like Sheckard’s Orioles, the Colonels were another of the NL teams that failed to survive the league’s 1900 contraction to 8 teams. Leach was a steady if unspectacular player with 15 seasons of 400+ PA, 12 of them with an OPS+ between 92 and 125. At his retirement, Leach’s 46.9 career WAR ranked 4th among center-fielders, behind only Billy Hamilton and two all-time greats (Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker) then in the prime of their careers. Leach has the distinction of leading his league in triples and home runs in the same season (1902), a feat accomplished since only by four HOFers: Jim Bottomley (1928), Willie Mays (1955), Mickey Mantle (1955), and Jim Rice (1978).
Our right-fielder has the scholarly name of Orator Shafer. His real name is Goerge so we are left to ponder whether the nickname Orator referred to refined elocution or simply to a tiresome tendency to expound effusively on any and all subjects to whomever happened to be nearby. Shafer played for the Louisville Grays, one of the NL’s original teams that operated in 1876 and 1877. He compiled a nice 121 career OPS+ and a decent 19.2 WAR in almost 4000 PAs, highlighted by a 184 OPS+ to lead the NL in 1878 and a 201 OPS+ for the St Louis Maroons in 1884 that was good for 2nd in the Union Association (an indication of the caliber of play in the UA may be gleaned from Shafer’s 67 OPS+ the following season when the Maroons joined the NL). Shafer, Walt Wilmot and Carl Lind are the only players with a season of 40 doubles and no other season with 20 doubles (Lind had no other season with 10 doubles).
Pitchers were hard to come by as the last representative of a club, as they tended not to last too long logging 400+ IP every season. But, I did find two pretty good ones (two HOFers, in fact), which is about all some teams needed in those days.
John Clarkson debuted with the 1882 Worcester Ruby Legs in the second of that club’s two seasons. In a 5 year span (1885-89) playing for the Chicago and Boston clubs, Clarkson compiled an improbable 209-93 record with 1365 strikeouts in 2716 IP and a 2.54 ERA (142 ERA+). Needless to say, Clarkson led the NL in innings pitched in four of those seasons, twice surpassing the scary total of 600 IP. Clarkson would finish his 328 win career (then 3rd on the all-time list) with the 1894 Cleveland Spiders, one of five future HOFers on that roster.
Amos Rusie debuted for the 1889 Indianapolis Hoosiers in their third and final season. Rusie brought some serious heat even if it wasn’t always on target, leading the NL 4 times in 5 years (1890-94) in both walks and strikeouts (Nolan Ryan managed to do that 6 times in 7 AL seasons from 1972 to 1978). In 7 seasons with the New York Giants, Rusie compiled a 234-163 mark with 1835 strikeouts in 3531 IP while posting a 2.89 ERA (137 ERA+). After two seasons out of baseball, a 30 year-old Rusie made a brief and unsuccessful comeback with the 1901 Cincinnati Reds.
This was another tough position to fill, but not because of a lack of suitable candidates. In the end I went with HOFer King Kelly, the last of the original Cincinnati Reds who operated from 1876 to 1880. Kelly’s best years were with the powerhouse Chicago White Stockings who won 5 pennants during Kelly’s tenure from 1880 to 1886. During those seasons, Kelly twice led the NL in BA and OBP, and 3 times in runs scored. In Chicago, Kelly split his time between the outfield and catching, switching to becoming primarily a catcher when he moved to Boston in 1887. When Kelly retired in 1893, his 139 career OPS+ just edged out Buck Ewing‘s 138 for top spot among players who had caught at least 500 games.
- McBride played until 1920 after debuting with the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers. His best years came with the Washington Senators where he was the everyday shortstop for 9 straight seasons (1908-16).
- Smith played for the Cleveland Blues in their final 1884 season before becoming the regular shortstop for 6 seasons with both the Brooklyn Grays (1885-90) of the AA and the Cincinnati Reds (1891-96).
- Pfeffer, who shares with Roger Connor the distinction of being the last Troy Trojan to play in the majors, posted a 26 WAR career to give Tom Daly a run for his money as the second-base selection. Pfeffer was the White Stockings’ second sacker in their heyday (1883-89) before moving on the woeful Louisville club (1892-95) that never placed higher than 9th in eight NL seasons.
- Another second baseman, Joe Quinn was the last St. Louis Maroon (1884-86) to play in the majors. In his prime, Quinn was the everyday second sacker for the Beaneaters and Browns in the 1890s, compiling over 7000 PAs in 17 seasons. Despite only 4.6 career WAR, Quinn earns a bench spot by dint of playing first base and the outfield in his time with the Maroons, positions sorely lacking for depth on this squad.
For whatever reason, outfielders were hard to come by among last-to-appear players. To back up the regulars, this team will have to make do with Joe Quinn and King Kelly (when he isn’t catching), as well as Mike Dorgan and Roger Bresnahan who, like Kelly, split his time mainly between the outfield and catching.
- Dorgan played for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, one of the NL’s original franchises that operated for two seasons, in 1876 and1877. Primarily a right-fielder, Dorgan also played some first base and did a little catching, and even had a season splitting time between the outfield and the mound, with an 8-6 record in 113 IP and a 3.50 ERA for the Giants in 1884. Perhaps to show the Giants he could still rake, the next year Dorgan turned in his best season of 147 OPS+ and together with teammate Roger Connor paced New York to an 85-27 record, good for a pennant any other season, but that year finishing two games back of Cap Anson‘s Chicago White Stockings (the third place Philadelphia Quakers were a mere 28 games in arrears of the Giants).
- Bresnahan was the last player to appear from the AL’s Baltimore Orioles before that team relocated to become the Bronx Bombers. Often derided as a HOFer without HOF numbers (which is true), Bresnahan nevertheless compiled better stats than many credit him with. A mainstay of the powerhouse Giants, for whom he won two championships, Bresnahan posted a 138 OPS+ in eight seasons (1902-1909) under John McGraw, the best by far among major-league catchers and 5th best among all NLers in the period. Bresnahan is credited with pioneering a number of equipment improvements, including catcher’s shin guards and a padded catcher’s mask, as well as early experimentation with leather batting helmets.
Since both Bresnahan and King Kelly are pulling double duty as catchers and outfielders, this team is in need of a full time backup catcher. Look no further than Deacon McGuire, the last Detroit Wolverine (1881-88) t0 play in the majors.
- McGuire, known for his gentlemanly play in an ungentlemanly era, amassed more than 1600 games behind the plate over 26 seasons, holding the career record for games caught from 1898 until surpassed by Ray Schalk in 1925. His best years were with the woeful Washington Senators (1891-99) for whom he posted a 108 OPS+, including a .336/.388/.478 slash in 1895 when he caught a then record 133 games and led his team in ABs, something no other catcher would do for almost 50 years. McGuire played for his 11th franchise with the 1908 Cleveland Naps, tying Gus Weyhing (1887-1901) for the most by any player, a mark that would stand for 99 years until equaled and then surpassed by Mike Morgan when he signed on with the 2000 Arizona Diamondbacks.
There were no real relief pitchers in the 19th century, but I’ll add one more pitcher to the roster just to keep the team loose.
- The likable Nick Altrock was noted for his good humor as much as his pitching prowess. I’m bending my rules severely (even to the breaking point) to say that Altrock shares with Tommy Leach the distinction of being the last active Louisville Colonel. Altrock was a coach for the Senators in Leach’s final 1918 season but he did get into 5 games that year, including 3 starts of 7+ innings, so that’s more than just kibitzing on the last day of the season (as Altrock famously did, even into his mid-50s). Altrock’s best years were with the “hitless wonder” White Sox teams (1903-09) including their World Series championship season of 1906 when Altrock pitched 287 innings without allowing a home run, one of 15 such seasons of 275+ IP from 1901 to 1919. For his career, Altrock is one of 13 pitchers to allow less than one home run per 94 innings pitched (min. 1500 IP), all except Monte Ward and Terry Larkin from the deadball era.
So, there’s the team. Not a bad bunch at all. Hope you may have learned a bit more about 19th century ball (I know I did).