The Chicago White Stockings had won the 1885 National League pennant with a record of 87-25-1. They continued their winning ways in 1886, and as they visited the Detroit Wolverines for a three-game series that began on August 20, “the Champions,”1 as they were known in the press, had posted a 60-22 record with about a month and half remaining in the season.
A repeat title, however, was far from certain. The Wolverines, who finished 1885 in sixth place (41-67), had been just as hot as the White Stockings in 1886, and their 61-22 mark put them a half-game up entering the showdown in Detroit.
One reason for Detroit’s rapid improvement was the acquisition of four key players – Jack Rowe, Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, and Deacon White – after its ownership purchased the struggling Buffalo Bisons in September 1885.2
Rowe’s impact was especially important. The 29-year-old shortstop set several career offensive marks in 1886, including at-bats, runs scored, hits, home runs, and runs batted in.3 On August 21, the second game of Detroit’s series with the “Champions,” he continued his run of success by hitting for the cycle.
Rowe’s big game came a day after a series-opening thriller. In a matchup of top pitchers, Detroit’s Lady Baldwin against Chicago’s John Clarkson,4 the Wolverines scored twice in the ninth to defeat the White Stockings, 6-4, and the fans “rose en masse and howled.”5 According to the Chicago Tribune, “Cushions filled the air and the shouts split it.”6
Detroit now had a 1½-game lead in the standings, having won three in a row and six of its last seven. A huge crowd of over 10,000 was expected for Game Two.
But only half that many spectators came out to the Detroit’s Recreation Park to watch the first- and second-place teams battle.7 Threatening weather was cited as a reason that thousands more did not come. It “rained mildly at intervals during the day, and just before the game began the clouds poured a deluge.”
When at last the game could begin, Chicago’s captain, Cap Anson, won the toss, and he elected to take the field. The White Sox’ famous Jersey Battery,8 consisting of pitcher Jim McCormick and catcher Mike “King” Kelly, were tasked with ending Detroit’s win streak. McCormick was in his ninth big-league season. The now-defunct Providence Grays had sold him to the White Stockings the previous year, and he then won 20 of 24 decisions for Chicago. Kelly was the epitome of a utility player. In 1886 he played every position but pitcher, though he was either an outfielder or catcher in at least 50 games each.9
Detroit countered with Pretzels Getzien on the mound. The right-hander was in just his third season, but after two losing campaigns, he put together the finest season of his career in 1886, winning 30 games (against 11 losses) and posting a 3.03 ERA. This was his seventh start against Chicago. Getzien earned the nickname Pretzels because of his “puzzling twisters.” According to Sporting Life, “[B]atters describe the course of the ball from his hand to their bats as a ‘pretzel curve.’”10
Both teams put runners on base in the first inning, but none of them crossed the plate. The bottom of the first ended when Anson “knocked one to Rowe, who stepped on second, putting Kelly out. Quick as a flash he threw to [first baseman] Brouthers,”11 for a double play. The Wolverines were retired in order in the second. Chicago put runners at first and second with no outs in their turn, but a fly out and a sharp double play erased any threat.
At this point, the Tribune reported that “people thought it about time that a man or two came in.”12 Both teams obliged in the third.
Detroit’s Charlie Ganzel started things with a leadoff single to short right, just beyond the reach of first baseman Anson. He then stole second while Getzien struck out. Richardson made “a stunning hit to left,”13 which Abner Dalrymple could not cut off. As the outfielders had “an exciting foot race in pursuit of the sphere,”14 Ganzel scored easily, and Richardson made it around the bases for a home run and a 2-0 Detroit lead.
Brouthers followed with a walk. Rowe, who had walked in the first inning, now drove a pitch to the right-field fence for an RBI triple. Sam Thompson’s single up the middle brought home Rowe with the fourth run of the inning.
Fred Dunlap, who had joined the Wolverines two weeks before,15 grounded out to first, sending Thompson to second with two outs. With White batting, Kelly tried to catch Thompson napping at second but his throw sailed into center field, and Thompson advanced a base. White walked to continue the misery for McCormick, before Ned Hanlon flied out to end the inning. The Wolverines had batted around, jumping to a 4-0 lead.
Chicago started to stir in its half of the inning when Jimmy Ryan doubled to left. Dalrymple lifted a pop fly behind first base, and Brouthers tracked it into foul territory and “caught it in the first row of seats.” Ryan chose to tag after the ball was caught, but Brouthers threw the ball across the field in time to double up Ryan. This was the third double play turned by Detroit in as many innings.
Still, the White Stockings chipped away. George Gore worked a walk and scored on Kelly’s triple to left. Anson singled, and Kelly came in. Chicago had cut the lead in half.
Both teams traded runs in the fourth. With two outs, Richardson lined a pitch over the center fielder’s head for his second home run of the game.16 In the bottom half, Tom Burns singled with one out and scored on McCormick’s two-bagger, narrowing the gap to 5-3.
The Detroit Free Press reported that there was “a cyclone of hits in the fifth.”17 Rowe lined the ball past second to open the frame and legged out a home run. Thompson drew a base on balls. Dunlap also homered, making the score 8-3.
That marked the end of McCormick’s time on the mound. He “went into right field in mourning,”18 swapping places with Ryan, another of Chicago’s utility players. In his first full season, he played 70 games in the outfield but also appeared at second, shortstop, third, and pitcher for the White Stockings.19 He was one of the NL’s first position players who threw left-handed and batted right-handed.20
White “sized up the new twirler”21 and stroked a double. The White Stockings made another double-switch in their defense. Mike Kelly moved to play first base and Anson took the catching duties. The Jersey Battery had been rattled. Ganzel then grounded a ball to second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who threw to third to get White, but the throw was wild and White scored the fourth run of the inning.
Detroit added runs in each of the next three frames. With one out in the sixth, Brouthers walked, went to third on Ryan’s errant pickoff attempt, and scored on Rowe’s single. In the seventh, Ganzel singled and scored when Dalrymple misplayed a fly ball by Getzien, who was credited with a triple. In the eighth, Rowe doubled and came home on Dunlap’s single, giving Detroit a 12-3 lead. It was Rowe’s fourth hit of the game, and the double meant that he had hit for the cycle.
Chicago made the final score a little closer with two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Gore singled and Kelly reached on an error. In an attempted pickoff, Getzien threw wildly to second, and both runners advanced a base. Anson’s groundout plated Gore, and after Pfeffer flied out, Ned Williamson singled, putting runners at the corners. Burns singled and Kelly scored, before McCormick grounded out to end the game.
The Wolverines had won Game Two of the series, 12-5. The Detroit Free Press told its readers, “It is a moral certainty that the Chicago men never felt a defeat more keenly.”22
The White Stockings had outhit Detroit, 16-12, but Chicago’s errors and the three Detroit double plays contributed to the Wolverines’ victory. Rowe reached base five times, scored three times, and drove in three runs. In addition, he shined on the field, and after the second-inning double play, “the grand stand called for Rowe and he had to doff his cap several times.”23
Rowe became just the 12th player in major-league history to hit for the cycle. His feat marked the third time in 1886 that a player had cycled, following Dunlap (May 24,24 against the New York Giants) and Louisville’s Pete Browning (a natural cycle on August 8, against the New York Metropolitans). Philadelphia Athletics star Chippy McGarr became the fourth player in 1886 to hit for the cycle when he did so on September 23 against the St. Louis Browns. Dunlap and Rowe played in the National League, while Browning and McGarr played in the American Association.
The White Stockings lost the first two games of this series but rebounded to beat the Wolverines in the series finale on August 23, starting a 14-game win streak. Chicago was also victorious in five of its final seven games with Detroit and won 11 of 18 for the season, en route to winning the 1886 pennant.25
This article was fact-checked by Joseph Wancho and copy-edited by Len Levin.
As was common in the 1880s, the minimum of 18 players, nine for each side, took part in this contest. (No substitutes were used.) What was not so common was that five of them eventually joined the Cycle Club, accomplishing the rare feat of hitting for the cycle at least once in their careers. They were Dunlap (May 24, 1886, while playing for the St. Louis Maroons), Rowe (in this game), Ryan (who did it twice while with Chicago – July 28, 1888, and July 1, 1891), Dalrymple (September 12, 1891, while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers), and Thompson (August 17, 1894, while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies). Even more uncommon was the fact that Ryan pitched 7⅓ innings while hitting for the cycle in 1888.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org. Box scores and play-by-play are not available from either Retrosheet or Baseball-Reference.
1 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers,” Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1886: 11. The actual headline in the Tribune cannot be made out from newspapers.com; instead, I used the subheading. See www.newspapers.com/image/349277392/.
2 Richardson, Rowe, Brouthers, and White formed a core of star players for Buffalo, known as the “Big Four.” See Mark Pestana, “1885 Winter Meetings: A Temporary Stability,” found online at sabr.org/journal/article/1885-winter-meetings-a-temporary-stability/. Pestana writes, “On September 16, 1885, Detroit’s owners paid $7,000 for a controlling share in the Buffalo club. The Bisons would stay in place and play out the season, but the franchise, its operational costs, and its destiny would be in the hands of the Detroit shareholders. The first move the Detroit men made was to order the Big Four to report for duty with the Wolverines. The Buffalo team would have to scrounge for whatever replacements might be available to plug the gaps.” According to the Detroit Free Press, manager Bill Watkins was behind the purchase and he “very kindly bought the Buffalo franchise, players, and in fact the complete outfit, for $7000.” The Free Press described the Big Four as the “crack Buffalo players.” See “Sporting Sensations,” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1885: 8.
3 Rowe increased all of these measures (tied the home run mark) in 1887, when Detroit won the pennant.
4 Baldwin was the ace of Detroit’s staff. In 1886, only his third major-league season, the 27-year-old left-hander led the NL with 42 wins and 323 strikeouts, posting a 2.24 earned-run average. Clarkson won 30 or more games in a season six times in his 12-season career, including 53 in 1885 for Chicago (that mark is second-best all-time). Clarkson, who was only 23 years old in 1885, also posted 49 wins in 1889, which is fourth-best all-time.
5 “Downed by Detroit,” Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1886: 7.
6 “Downed by Detroit.”
7 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
8 McCormick was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and Kelly was born in Troy, New York, but both families had moved to Paterson, New Jersey, in the 1860s. Paterson was a hot-spot for amateur baseball, and the two players became fast friends while playing for the Keystones.
9 According to his SABR biography, “In 1886 the 28-year-old Kelly was arguably the biggest star in a star-studded National League. Newspapers and fans routinely called him King Kelly or The Only Kelly, a cherished sobriquet because of the large number of Irish immigrants in the United States at the time. Kelly responded to the adulation with his best season. He led the league in batting with a .388 average, led in runs scored for the third straight year with 155, and had 32 doubles, 11 triples, and 53 stolen bases.” Peter M. Gordon, “King Kelly,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, found online at sabr.org/bioproj/person/king-kelly/. Accessed July 2022.
10 “Notes and Comments: Chas. H. Getzein,” Sporting Life, November 2, 1887: 3.
11 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
12 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
13 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
14 “Saccharine Revenge,” Detroit Free Press, August 22, 1886: 7.
15 Dunlap was sold by the St. Louis Maroons to Detroit on August 6 for $4,700.
16 Richardson tied for the National League lead (with teammate Brouthers) with 11 home runs on 1886, and two were hit in this game. He also led the league in at-bats (538) and hits (189).
17 “Saccharine Revenge.”
18 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
19 Ryan pitched in five games in 1886, allowing 12 earned runs in 23⅓ innings pitched (posting a 4.63 ERA). He led the NL in games finished with five.
21 “Saccharine Revenge.”
22 “Saccharine Revenge.”
23 “The Champions Lose a Second Game to Detroit’s Sluggers.”
24 Dunlap hit for the cycle while playing for the St. Louis Maroons. He was sold to the Wolverines later in the season. (See Author’s Note.)
25 The White Stockings sported a 24-2 record from August 23 (the final game of the three-game series against Detroit) until September 22. They overtook the Wolverines on August 26, claiming the top spot in the National League standings and keeping it for the rest of the season. Chicago won back-to-back pennants in 1885-1886. Detroit finished a close second in 1886 but secured the NL pennant in 1887.
Detroit Wolverines 12
Chicago White Stockings 5
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