The Pittsburgh Alleghenys had a terrible first three months of the 1887 baseball campaign. After an Opening Day victory (that was also the team’s inaugural National League contest) over Cap Anson’s 1886 pennant-winning Chicago club and the defeat of Detroit two days later (in a game that included the franchise’s first-ever cycle, by Fred Carroll), not much went well, on the field or off it.
At the end of July, one week after the death of popular first baseman Alex McKinnon and in the midst of shortstop Bill Kuehne’s divorce intrigue,1 Pittsburgh held a dismal 28-42 record. It placed the Alleghenys ahead of only Indianapolis in the standings. As summer progressed, local newspapers hinted at a plethora of likely reasons for the club’s poor play, including distrust of the management,2 trust issues within management,3 a spate of injuries,4 and the carousing tendencies of a number of the men.5
Meanwhile, the Boston Beaneaters were in the early stages of their King Kelly era. Kelly had been purchased from Chicago during the prior offseason, and the “Ten Thousand Dollar Beauty”6 helped the team improve in both wins and in ticket sales. Boston was 10 games over .500 at the beginning of August, which was more than 10 wins better than their status the previous year. In addition, the team’s ownership saw a large jump in attendance figures, emphatically highlighted when the number reached 10,000 patrons for the club’s first few home games.7
The pitching staff consisted of a stable of youngsters, including Dick Conway, Bill Stemmyer, and the 19-year-old rookie Kid Madden. Even with all of those young arms, famed veteran Old Hoss Radbourn was the main workhorse of the rotation. He remained a serviceable big-league pitcher in 1887, appearing in the most innings of any of the club’s hurlers. However, recent rule changes and years of wear on his pitching arm meant that his abilities were far removed from those of that masterful 1884 season.
Pittsburgh’s month of August started no better than July ended. In the midst of a 16-game homestand, the team lost two of three games against New York, then lost three in a row to the almost-as-lowly Washington club. The Beaneaters arrived in town for the first of three games on August 9. Two thousand fans showed up at Recreation Park in Allegheny City for the series opener and, given the recent losing ways of their team, were in for quite a surprise.
Conway was originally scheduled to pitch the opening matchup for Boston, but as he “was not in as good trim as might be desired,”8 Kelly chose Radbourn to pitch for a third straight game.9 From the very outset, Old Hoss found himself in a world of trouble. Fielding miscues by his teammates and wild pitching (and fielding) on his own part allowed six runs to score in the top of the first. His pitching opponent that day, Ed Morris, gave up four singles that led to two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Both pitchers kept their respective opponents off the scoresheet in the second and third, but in the fourth, Pittsburgh’s offense strung together a group of singles and brought home three more runs. Radbourn and his teammates struggled through another disastrous half-inning in the sixth, when poor pitching and a multitude of errors led to six additional runs. Heading into the seventh, Pittsburgh held a 15-2 lead.
Already down by so many runs, right fielder Kelly switched positions with the embattled Radbourn and took over the pitching duties in the seventh inning.10 If there was any hope that Pittsburgh’s offensive success would be mitigated by the change, it was quickly stamped out, as two more runs scored against Kelly’s tosses. Boston procured one more run in the bottom half of the inning. In the eighth, Pittsburgh pushed five more runs across the plate, aided in part by a Carroll double that hit off the top of the left-field fence, as well as a bevy of mistakes by the Boston fielders. The number of errors escalated to the point of comedy: After misplaying one pop fly, the consummate showman Kelly doffed his cap to the fans’ delight.11
In the ninth inning Billy Nash prepared for another Carroll at-bat by positioning himself directly under the spot where the eighth-inning double bounced off the wall. He motioned to Kelly, as if to caution him about how to pitch. Carroll stepped to the plate and swatted one of Kelly’s deliveries over the fence, directly above Nash and the spot where the double had ricocheted in the eighth. Boston’s prescient left fielder “lay down in the grass and laughed.”12
Carroll’s solo home run was the final tally of a 23-3 drubbing. The 23 runs were the most Pittsburgh had scored in a game in six years of existence in the American Association and NL, and the 20-run margin of victory was also its biggest. As for Boston, the Beaneaters had given up more runs on a few previous occasions back through their beginning in the National Association (including a 24-5 loss to Providence during an otherwise sparkling 1878 season), but they never previously lost by 20 or more.
While Pittsburgh’s work in the field was exemplary, the visitors’ was not: Eight Boston players made a total of 12 errors. The lone faultless fielder, first baseman John Morrill, said of his team, “They were too tired to play, and ‘Rad(bourn)’ was weary before he went into the box.”13 Pittsburgh swept the series, but Boston would have some slight revenge a few weeks later. The day after a set of fines were levied on numerous Beaneaters because of their own carousing lifestyles, the club soundly defeated Pittsburgh by the score of 28-14.14
In addition to the sources in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.org, and sabr.org.
1 “A Ball Player’s Trouble,” Pittsburgh Post, July 26, 1887: 6.
2 “Proposed Sale of Carroll,” Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph, August 9, 1887.
3 “About Manager Phillips,” Pittsburgh Post, July 16, 1887,
4 “The Hustler’s Record,” Pittsburgh Post, July 15, 1887: 6.
5 “Tom Brown’s Release,” The Post, August 9, 1887.
8 W.I. Harris, “Slaughtered,” Boston Globe, August 10, 1887: 3.
9 “Base Ball Gossip,” Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph, August 10, 1887.
11 “Boston Massacred,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, August 10, 1887: 8.
12 “Boston Massacred.”
13 “Captain Morrill’s Opinion,” Pittsburgh Post, August 10, 1887.
14 Dr. Rob Bauer, Outside the Lines of Gilded Age Baseball: Alcohol, Fitness, and Cheating in 1880s Baseball (Rob Bauer Books, 2018), 60.
Pittsburgh Alleghenys 23
Boston Beaneaters 3
Allegheny City, PA
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