April 23, 1873: Red Stockings get Whites-washed by Philadelphia
The Boston Red Stockings won the 1872 National Association championship with a record of 39-8 and finished 7½ games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Canaries and Philadelphia Athletics. Boston fans had reason to believe that Harry Wright would lead the Red Stockings to yet another title in 1873 as the addition of Deacon White bolstered both the team’s offense and defense. The club included some of baseball’s best players, who were in the prime of their careers — Deacon White was 25 years old, George Wright was 26, and Al Spalding was 22. The Red Stockings simply outclassed their competition in 1872 so Boston fans assumed that the improved Red Stockings would again win in 1873.
The Philadelphia White Stockings1 were one of the National Association’s new teams for the 1873 season. “The White Stockings were by far the most imposing of the NA’s three new teams for 1873, because … [they] built [an] excellent team by raiding their Philadelphia brethren.”2 Levi Meyerle, Ned Cuthbert, Fergy Malone, Denny Mack, and Fred Treacey exchanged their blue stockings for white in 1873. Pitching star George Zettlein signed with the White Stockings as well and gave the new club credibility. Philadelphians now had a team that they thought could compete with the Red Stockings, as the Athletics had in 1871.
The two clubs met for the first time on April 23, 1873, in front of 2,000 fans at Boston’s South End Grounds. It was Boston’s first game of the season and Philadelphia’s second, the latter’s first game a decisive victory over their intracity rival the Philadelphia Athletics on April 21. In Boston, Philadelphia won the coin toss and chose to hit last. The game was called at 3:10 P.M. when Zettlein’s first pitch was offered to Boston’s George Wright, who was promptly put out by Denny Mack. Ross Barnes drew a walk and Harry Schafer sent a fly to Fred Treacey (Tracy) who muffed the ball. Boston’s early attack ended as Zettlein induced two fly balls, stranding the two Boston baserunners. In the bottom of the first inning, Ned Cuthbert sent the ball to center field, where Harry Wright had difficulty fielding the ball, and Cuthbert reached second base. Bob Addy hit a fair-foul ball3 and was thrown out at first while Cuthbert advanced. Cuthbert eventually scored and Philadelphia led 1-0 at the end of the first inning.
The Whites kept the champion Red Stockings’ offense in check through five innings with good pitching and defense and continued to pressure offensively. Boston’s offense sputtered in the second with only one baserunner and the Red Stockings were retired in order in the third. In the fourth, Boston’s Deacon White earned a base hit and advanced to second base on Spalding’s single. With two on and one out, Boston’s Harry Wright and Jack Manning were retired, ending the threat. Conversely, Philadelphia batters earned bases regularly with hits and walks.
Philadelphia continued what the Boston Herald called its “good execution” and scored three more runs in the fifth inning.4 Denny Mack led off the inning with a base hit and stole second base. Zettlein flied out and Cuthbert earned first on a throwing error by Harry Schafer. What happened next is not clear. The Boston Globe reported that “White threw to second to cut off Cuthbert, and Mack and Cuthbert came in. Addy made a safe hit past second. …”5 Addy scored on a safe hit by Meyerle. However, the New York Clipper and Boston Herald wrote that after Addy’s hit, Malone was thrown out at first, “Mack in the meantime coming home.”6 Levi Meyerle singled, scoring Addy. Jim Devlin doubled and advanced Meyerle to third. The inning closed when George Bechtel flied out. Based on the batting order, the Boston Globe correctly interpreted the scoring plays while the Herald and Clipper didn’t comment on Cuthbert scoring and instead misattributed an RBI to Jim Devlin. Regardless, Philadelphia scored three runs in the inning, increasing its lead to 4-0.
Boston’s offense woke up in the seventh inning. Al Spalding opened the inning by reaching on an errant throw by Levi Meyerle and advanced to third on a double by Harry Wright. Jack Manning sent a dribbler between shortstop and third base that scored Spalding. With two men on base, Malone tried to throw Manning out at second but overthrew Bob Addy and Harry Wright came in to score. After Dave Birdsall singled to left field, George Wright flied out to Jim Devlin and Manning raced home while Birdsall advanced to third. Boston’s Ross Barnes singled on a groundball between first and second, scoring Birdsall and tying the game, 4-4.
With the game still tied in the ninth inning, Al Spalding hit a fair-foul ball and reached first safely After Harry Wright walked, Manning struck out but reached first when Philadelphia’s Fergy Malone dropped the called third strike. Malone recovered and put Spalding out at third. Boston took its first lead of the game when Birdsall scored Harry Wright on a base hit. George Wright nearly increased the Boston lead to 6-4 when he hit the ball to third. Manning attempted to score but was put out at the plate. The inning concluded with Boston leading the Whites 5-4.
Philadelphia continued its aggressive offensive play in the ninth. Denny Mack reached first on a botched play by Harry Schafer and stole second on a poor throw by White. George Zettlein advanced Mack to third base on a base hit. Ned Cuthbert scored Mack and advanced to second base on a grounder by Bob Addy. Fergy Malone hit a single past George Wright that scored Zettlein and Cuthbert. Philadelphia continued its outburst as Levi Meyerle singled and drove in Fergy Malone. George Bachtel grounded out to end the inning and the game. Philadelphia scored four runs in the inning and won the game 8-5, ruining Boston’s home opener.
Boston played the White Stockings eight more times in 1873. The teams fought for possession of first place throughout the season but Boston had trouble keeping pace with the Whites in the first half of the season. Philadelphia won 10 straight games between May 20 and June 14, including a 22-8 drubbing of the Red Stockings on June 5. Boston ended Philadelphia’s streak on June 17 with an 11-6 victory in Boston but trailed the Whites by 3½ games in the standings. The Red Stockings fell even further behind when Philadelphia brushed off the loss and went on another 10-game winning streak between June 19 and July 10, defeating Boston 18-17 on July 10, and led the Red Stockings by eight games. Philadelphia was 27-3 while Boston had a 16-8 record.
It was typical for teams in this era to play few league games during July and August in favor of playing exhibitions and resting for the second half of the season. Between July 10 and August 30, Boston played nine league games, which helped it stay within reach of Philadelphia. “That’s not what happened in 1873, when the White Stockings, possibly starting what would be a tradition for millions of twentieth century Philadelphians, spent almost three weeks ‘Down the Shore,’” wrote baseball historian John Shiffert.7 The team did not play in any type of baseball game during those three weeks as the players celebrated their exquisite play while on vacation in Cape May, New Jersey.
When the Whites returned to resume their season in late July, the dutiful Red Stockings drubbed them, 23-10, on July 30 The Red Stockings were red-hot in August and September. After the July 30 contest, Boston won 14 games and lost 2. (They played one tie.)8 As the season wound down, Boston continued its hot streak while Philadelphia dropped crucial contests to Baltimore and the terrible Washington Nationals. The Whites blew an eight-game lead in 18 games and Boston all but sealed the pennant on October 2 when it punished the Whites, 18-7. The White Stockings lost 14 of their last 23 games, while the Red Stockings were 24-2 from the August 19 loss to the Whites until two meaningless losses to Athletic in the last two games of the year.9 Boston was once again crowned champion of the National Association.
This article was originally published in "Boston’s First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings" (SABR, 2016), edited by Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 Also known as the Whites, Philadelphias, and Phillies. See John Shiffert, Base Ball in Philadelphia: A History of the Early Game, 1831-1900 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006), 77.
3 A ball that is bunted in fair territory but rolls/bounces into foul territory. These were counted as fair until 1877.
4 “The Bostons Beaten,” Boston Herald, April 24, 1873.
5 “Out-Door Sports: Baseball: Bostons vs. Philadelphias,” Boston Globe, April 24, 1873.
6 “Philadelphia vs. Boston,” New York Clipper, May 3, 1873.
7 Shiffert, 78.
9 Shiffert, 80.