In 1885 the first professional base ball team to play in Denver, Colorado, joined with the Pueblo Pastimes and Leadville Blues to form a league to play one another for the championship of Colorado. The Denver team did not have a team name and was referred to as the Denvers. It was originally planned that each team would play 32 games for a league total of 96. These games would be played on Saturdays and Sundays. Any games played on other days between any two of the three teams would be considered exhibition games and would not count in the pennant standings. The league was variously referred to as the State League, the Rocky Mountain League, and the Colorado State League. None of these names stuck, although the SABR minor-league database maintained by Baseball-Reference.com calls the league the Colorado State League. The National Baseball Hall of Fame uses the same information.
Why base ball teams representing just these three cities? Mining — Denver with gold, Pueblo with coal, and Leadville with silver and lead. In 1882, Leadville — because of local leadership and enthusiastic local cranks — had fielded a team that took on all comers from every corner of Colorado and some of the adjoining states. It was said the team was good because it recruited players from the Eastern League. As late as April 27, 1885, the Rocky Mountain News was still reporting that Cheyenne and Salt Lake would also be a part of a Rocky Mountain circuit, but that never came to pass.
The uniform of the Denvers was cream white with crimson facings and monogram. Season tickets cost $5.
As it has always been, the rules of baseball evolve. In 1888, it was in the rule book (rule 62) that a fair batted ball that goes over the fence a less distance than two hundred and ten feet from Home Base shall entitle the Batsman to two bases. It could be the League decided to make all batted balls a ground rule double, or the field in Denver had such dimensions to make a similar rule for the entire outfield.
Another rule that is strange for today’s game but came into play in the second Denver home game called a batted or thrown ball that was stopped or handled by any person not a player a block. Whenever a block occurred, baserunners could run the bases without being put out until the ball was returned to the pitcher and held by him standing in his position. This may have been another reason fair balls hit over the fence were only doubles, as this would allow the umpire to place the runners where he thought correct. The rule could be waived before the game by agreement of the team captains.
At a meeting on March 24, 1885, the Denver Base Ball club voted to incorporate under the laws of Colorado and elected the following officers: George F. Higgins, president; Edward C. Leichsenring, treasurer; William McClintock, secretary; and Robert F. Ross, manager. Elected directors were James T. Smith, J.N. Fillmore, George F. Higgins, E.C. Leichsenring, and W.T. Cornwall. The sale of intoxicating liquors in the club grounds was prohibited.
On May 6 Sporting Life reported that the Denver grounds, which consisted of the entire block bounded by Larimer, Blake, Thirty-Second, and Thirty-Third streets, had been enclosed and that grading and completing the grandstand was being rushed to enable the club to open the season on May 10 against Pueblo.
But on May 11 the Rocky Mountain News reported that the first game would now be played on the 17th against either the Pueblo Pastimes or the Five Points nine (it turned out to be Five Points in an exhibition).
The News listed the roster of the Denver team as follows:
- Pitcher – Lew Marton
- Catcher – K.C. Brown, Oscar P. Davis
- First base – Thomas P. McAndrews
- Second base – Leon Dallas
- Third base – Leon Butler
- Short field and captain – R.F. Ross
- Left field – John Ryan
- Centre field – Fred Drexler
- Right field – J.M. Davis, William Butler
The paper said, “With a change pitcher added, the team would be the strongest aggregation of baseball talent ever presented in the Rocky Mountain country, not excluding the Leadville Blues of 1882 who were a composite organization, representing many fields of practice and development. It is certain that the Denver team will play well together.”
Obviously, the May 10 opening against Pueblo did not occur, and on June 1 the Rocky Mountain News reported that the season had been opened at Pueblo on May 30 with the Denver nine defeating the Pastimes, 5-4. The next day the Denvers lost to the Pastimes, 12-10, before a crowd of more than 1,000.
Finally, on June 6 the Denvers played their home opener in their new park against the Leadville Blues. Leadville won, 11-8.
Regarding the rule on a block, a controversial one happened in the second home game of the season. In the bottom of the ninth, with Denver losing, 9-6, the first Denver batter, Drexler, popped out. McAndrews singled and went to second on a single by Davis. Sullivan singled, loading the bases. Marton hit a groundball to the Leadville short stop, Carr, who fired the ball to catcher Hull to get McAndrews but threw the ball into the crowd. McAndrews, Davis, and Sullivan scored. However, Hull retrieved the ball and tagged Marton before he crossed the plate. But the ball was never returned to the pitcher. The umpire ruled Marton out and declared the score 9-9. Denver disagreed, left the field, and refused to play any more.
The umpire in a letter to the Rocky Mountain News wrote that the captains of both teams had agreed before the game that a block ball could be fielded anywhere and not termed a block. The tie score stood. The umpire did not declare a forfeit.
The standings after the second week of the schedule showed undefeated Leadville in the lead with Pueblo and Denver having won one game each against each other. The Denver club decided that to allow bank and wholesale clerks to attend Saturday games, they would begin at 4 P.M. until the days grew shorter.
On June 24 the Rocky Mountain News, unhappy with the play of the Denvers, wrote: “The Denver base ball club should challenge the Deer Trail Juniors. There must be some amateur club somewhere that the Denvers can meet on equal terms. The Leadvilles and Pueblos are not very good players but they are stars when compared with the Denver muffers whose counterfeit mugs we presented to our unoffending readers a short time ago. Turn the muffers out!” Deer Trail was an unincorporated small railroad town east of Denver.
By July 1 the Denvers had improved to second in the three-team league with a .500 record (5-5). On the 5th the Rocky Mountain News was happier with the team’s play, writing: “Local patrons of the game who wish to see better playing than was presented yesterday afternoon on the Denver Base Ball park, will be obliged to go East as far as St. Louis – and then they might miss it.” The day before, the Denvers had committed only one error, by Davis, the left fielder, who fielded a single but held onto the ball long enough to allow the batter to get to second. (Pueblo had 10 errors, including four passed balls and three bases on balls, all of which were counted as errors under a new rule.)
Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide that season did not provide a definition of earned runs. But the Rocky Mountain News on July 5 essayed its own opinion, writing, “Butler’s (should be Bailey’s) run in the seventh inning was not earned, because he did not get in by reason of Green’s hit, which was not safe, but because McAndrews, who secured the ball a good distance from second, sent it to first to cut off Green instead of sending it home to cut off the runner.”
From this, it seems that earned runs were only those scored when a play at home was made and the runner was still safe. Was this the rule in 1885, or was this a possible Colorado State League rule? In another game, in which five runs were scored, only one was scored as earned. (There is no play-by-play to help define the scoring of the other runs, only a box score showing 10 errors, including four passed balls and three bases on balls, all errors in 1885.) An examination of other 1885 box scores showed very few earned runs.
It appears that in the Colorado State League in 1885, earned runs were not a pitching statistic but a batting/running statistic, indicating that a runner scored even though a play was made on him.
On July 19 the Denvers made seven errors in a game against Pueblo, five by fielding. Denver’s new pitcher from Keokuk, Nat Hudson, pitched a two-hitter. The Rocky Mountain News opined that after the Denvers scored six times in the first inning, the Pueblo players were demoralized and didn’t do much. Hudson allowed two singles, struck out 12, hit a triple, a double, and two singles, and scored a run. Denver won 11-0.
Hudson followed this up nine days later with a three-hit 4-1 victory over the Leadville Blues in Leadville. He got another triple and struck out 14. Darby O’Brien hit an over-the-fence double. Still, Denver was back in first place.
On August 18 the Rocky Mountain News wryly reported, “Encouraged by large profits last Sunday, the lemonade man grew reckless yesterday and cut up two lemons instead of one for a barrel of the lubricant. If this extravagance continues the management will fall short on the rent.”
The season ended on September 28 with each team having played 20 league games. Denver won the championship with 12 victories and 8 losses. Denver’s record against all teams, league and exhibition, for the year was:
|St. Louis Enterprise||2||2||0|
Not a bad year for a new team in a new league. To go 5-6-1 against two major-league teams (St. Louis and Chicago) was remarkable.
On November 2 the Rocky Mountain News published this recap of the finances of the Denver club: “At a regular meeting of the Denver Base Ball association, held last Wednesday afternoon, the books for 1885 were balanced and the reports of the secretary and treasurer approved. From the official records it appears that the sum of $13,310.30 was collected from stockholders and patrons of the game in the form of gate receipts. Of this total $4,413.45 was paid to members of the Denver nine and $4,250 to visiting nines. The total cost of improving the grounds, building grandstand and seats, was $2,069.65, while the sum total of running expenses, advertising, umpires, etc. was $2,672.20. This shows the association $95 in debt to its executive officers, with $2,500 worth of assets on hand as its share of the season’s receipts. No dividends were declared or paid, and no stock was sold after the early months of the year. For the next season the grounds now occupied will be either purchased or leased for a term of years, the management will change somewhat by reason of additional issues of stock, and all members of the nine will play on contract instead of under the percentage rule that prevailed this year, and which proved better for the players than the stockholders while the drawing games lasted.” Inflation comparisons weren’t compiled in 1885; the federal government didn’t start keeping them until 1913. A $95 loss in 1913 would be a loss of $2,235.45 in 2014.
The following table shows the batting averages for the Denvers in 1885. The official categories are Games Played, Times at Bat, Runs, Average Runs Per Game, Base Hits, Batting Average, Total Bases, and Average Bases per Game. The table following the batting table shows the extra-base hits. Hudson had the only home run. The third table shows the fielding averages. The Rocky Mountain News in showing these wrote this caveat: “This portion of a player’s work, while quite important in its relation to the game as batting, is not so closely watched, because a player’s value is judged more from the standpoint of what he can do towards making runs for his own side than preventing runs by the other side.” The passed balls and wild pitches are included in the error column.
|John Ryan||short stop||48||214||45||0.94||54||.252||63||1.31|
The Rocky Mountain News on November 2, 1885, made other observations on the Denver season, prefacing them with the comment: “The above percentages were figured by the official scorer, A.G. Dobbins, who was ably assisted by Walter C. Schumann who is an expert in this line.”
Said the newspaper, “The Denvers lost 5 games in June and won 1, lost none in July and won 9, won 10 in August and lost 4, won 6 in September and lost 1, and lost 9 and won 7 in October. Of the total victories 26 were made on the home grounds and 8 abroad, at Leadville, Salt Lake and Pueblo. Of the defeats 16 were suffered at home and 3 abroad.
“During the season Hudson pitched 22 games and struck out 182 batters, Marton pitched 23 and struck out 136, Tebeau (pitched) 3 games and struck out 22, O’Brien (pitched) 2 and struck out 17, and Sullivan in 3 games struck out 13. Hudson’s average was nearly 9 per game, O’Brien’s almost as good, Tebeau’s a fraction over 6 and Sullivan’s a fraction in excess of 4.
“It may be said that Hudson never lost a pennant game in which he pitched during the season, and that he was almost sure to strike out the very best of the opposing batters when occasion called for it. His arm gave out to some extent in October, which partly accounts for his let down in batting, which at the beginning of the season, was the best in the nine.”
Rocky Mountain News, 1885
Sporting Life, 1885
SABR Minor League Database
National Baseball Hall of Fame
National Archives and Records Administration
Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide, 1885 (reproduction)