Just over two months of the 1891 season were in the books, and the race for the National League lead was tight. As the month of July began, the New York Giants had a one-game advantage over the Chicago Colts. Two other teams were within six games of the Giants – the Boston Beaneaters and the Cleveland Spiders.
The Colts hosted the Spiders in a three-game series at Chicago’s West Side Park. Chicago was in the midst of a 22-game homestand, in which it had won five of the first seven games. The Spiders had just lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds and were looking to rebound against the Colts.
Approximately 2,000 spectators1 showed up to watch a pitching matchup between two 5-foot-9 right-handers. For the home team, Bill Hutchison got the starting nod. He was in his third season with Chicago, and the Colts had won the last four games he started. In 1890 Hutchison led the National League in many pitching categories: 71 appearances (the Colts played 139 games), 66 starts, 65 complete games, and 603 innings pitched. His massive workload also resulted in league-leading totals in runs allowed (315) and home runs (20), while still topping all pitchers with 41 wins.
The same situation occurred in 1891. At age 31, Hutchison appeared in 66 games, making 58 starts and completing 56 of them (all league highs). He pitched in 561 innings and allowed 283 runs and 26 homers but still had 44 wins (again leading the league in all these categories).
Hutchison’s run of success reached an abrupt end after a league-leading 314 strikeouts in 1892. Seeking to boost offense, baseball increased the pitching distance to home plate from 55½ feet to 60 feet 6 inches in 1893; that change “also ended Hutchison’s statistical dominance.”2
Henry Gruber did the twirling for the visiting Spiders. He had pitched Cleveland to three victories in his previous four starts. Gruber started his major-league career with the NL’s Detroit Wolverines in 1887. Two seasons later, with the Wolverines defunct, he was pitching for the Spiders. In 1890 he jumped to the Cleveland Infants of the Players’ League, where he led the league in runs allowed (352) and wild pitches (36).
By 1891, with the Players’ League folded, Gruber was back with the Spiders. On July 1 he made his third start of the year against the Colts. According to the Chicago Tribune’s game coverage, “[T]he Chicago batsmen have always looked forward to the day when Gruber would pitch as an occasion to fatten up batting averages without the expenditure of much exertion.”3
Coming into this contest, the Colts and Spiders had played eight games against each other. Chicago had won six. In Gruber’s starts against Chicago, on May 6 and June 18, the Colts had scored 12 runs each time.4
Center fielder Jimmy Ryan led off the game for Chicago. In 1888 he led the league in hits (182), doubles (33), and home runs (16), batting .332.5 He batted .325 and .340 in his next two seasons, playing primarily in the outfield. He led the NL in total bases in 1889 as well. Ryan swung at Gruber’s first pitch and delivering a “screaming single”6 up the middle. Walt Wilmot “thumped the ball on the point of the jaw,”7 good for a two-base hit.
Bill Dahlen, a 21-year-old rookie, grounded to third baseman Jerry Denny and beat the throw to first base. Ryan scored on the play and Wilmot advanced to third. With Chicago’s player-manager Cap Anson batting, Dahlen stole second base, and both Wilmot and Dahlen scored on Anson’s single. The Colts had taken a 3-0 lead before Gruber had retired a batter.
Cleveland’s offense managed only seven hits, all singles, in the game.8 Four, however, came in the fourth inning, and they drew the Spiders even. Ed McKean started the barrage with a single. Hutchison walked 20-year-old George Davis. Cupid Childs then singled into left field, driving home McKean.
Spud Johnson sacrificed both runners up a base, and Jake Virtue delivered, as he “landed the ball on the velvety greensward of centerfield”9 for a two-run single. The Spiders had tied the game, 3-3. Cleveland added another hit in the inning, but no more runners crossed the plate.
After the fourth frame, Hutchison shut out the Spiders. Accounts show he was “wild at times,”10 but he kept any further Cleveland runners off the scoreboard.
Chicago responded to Cleveland’s three-run fourth right away. Malachi Kittridge started the top of the fifth with a triple – but was waved home by the third-base coach and tagged out at the plate.
Ryan then drove a Gruber offering over the left-field wall for a home run. The ball finally came to a stop “against one of the houses on Congress Street.”11
Chicago added the inning’s third extra-base hit when Wilmot tripled, but he was stranded, leaving the Colts with only one run to show for their homer and two triples. Still, it was a big run; the Colts had retaken the lead and would not relinquish it.
In the sixth, Anson, who was playing in his 21st season of professional baseball at age 39, smashed a home run for a 5-3 Colts’ lead.12 After Cliff Carroll was retired, Jimmy Cooney singled. He scored when Fred Pfeffer put a ball onto Harrison Street for the Colts’ third home run of the game, pushing the lead to 7-3.
The Chicago Tribune informed its readers that “every home run was costing the home club $1.25 for balls,” but the club treasurer “smiled when he threw out a new ball.”13
After Anson’s and Pfeffer’s home runs, there was still only one out in the sixth, and the Colts kept up the attack. Hutchison helped his own cause with a single to left. Kittridge sacrificed his pitcher to second base for the second out, bringing up Ryan. With a single and home run already under his belt, Ryan lined a ball to left for a triple, and Hutchison scored the eighth run of the game for Chicago.
The Colts added a ninth run in the top of the ninth. Ryan stroked a double and scored on Wilmot’s three-bagger. That double completed the cycle for Ryan. In five at-bats, he had collected 10 total bases and had scored three runs. Hutchison set down the Spiders in the ninth, and Chicago won, 9-3.
The Colts lineup produced nine extra-base hits. According to the Chicago Inter Ocean, “By some happy chances most of these scorching doubles and triples and homers galore were massed in two innings”14 – the fifth and sixth. Ryan’s teammate Wilmot also had a great day at the plate. He “raked off a double and two screaming triples.”15 Only Carroll was held hitless for Chicago.
This was the second time in his career that Ryan had hit for the cycle. His first cycle had occurred three seasons earlier, on July 28, 1888, also at Chicago’s West Side Park (when the team was called the White Stockings). Coincidentally, both cycles had the same sequence of base hits – a single, a home run, a triple, and a double. Ryan became the fifth batter in major-league history to hit for the cycle for the second time in his career.16 He remained the only player in Chicago franchise history to have hit for the cycle until Hack Wilson’s rare event, on June 23, 1930, almost 40 years later.
Ryan’s feat was the first of two cycles in 1891. The second was accomplished by Milwaukee’s Abner Dalrymple on September 12, against the Washington Nationals. In that game Dalrymple’s home run “sailed over the fence and went through the window of a dwelling-house nearly a block away”17 – making it another cycle whose home run hit a house.
The Colts swept the three-game series against Cleveland. For the season, Chicago beat the Spiders in 16 of their 20 scheduled games. Chicago went on to win 46 of its final 76 games, surpassing the Giants, but a strong surge in August and September by the Beaneaters gave Boston the pennant, keeping the Colts in second place when the season ended.
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
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 “Anson Regains His Place,” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1891: 6. According to Retrosheet, the attendance was only 1,200.
2 See Gregory Wolf, “Bill Hutchison,” SABR Biography Project, found online at sabr.org/bioproj/person/Bill-Hutchison/. Accessed September 2022. In 1892 Hutchison continued leading the NL in many categories, including appearances (75), starts (70), complete games (67), innings pitched (622), strikeouts (314), and wins (36). In three consecutive seasons for the White Stockings and Colts, Hutchison won 121 games. He retired after eight seasons in the National League (and a few games in the Union League in 1884) with 181 victories.
3 “Anson Regains His Place.”
4 For the season, Gruber had started five games against the Colts. Chicago had won all five, scoring a combined 61 runs. Coincidentally, Chicago’s Hutchison started in three of those five games. Despite allowing over 12 runs per game to the Colts, Gruber’s overall earned-run average in 1891 was 4.13.
5 This was second-best behind Cap Anson at .344.
6 “Anson Regains His Place.”
7 “Anson Regains His Place.”
8 The Inter Ocean reported that the Spiders got seven hits, but the Chicago Tribune credited the visitors with only six. See “Chicago 9; Cleveland 3,” Chicago Inter Ocean, July 2, 1891: 2.
9 “Anson Regains His Place.”
10 “Anson Regains His Place.”
11 “Anson Regains His Place.”
12 Anson led the National League with 120 RBIs in 1891, at the age of 39. He batted .291 for the season, and it was the first time his batting average was below .300 for a season. In fact, in 27 seasons, Anson finished a season with a batting average above .300 25 times.
13 “Anson Regains His Place.”
14 “Chicago 9; Cleveland 3.”
15 “Chicago 9; Cleveland 3.”
16 The first player to hit for the cycle twice in his career was John Reilly (Cincinnati Red Stockings, September 12, 1883, and September 19, 1883). Reilly hit for the cycle a third time on August 6, 1890. The other two-time cyclists (before Ryan) were Dave Orr (New York Metropolitans, June 12, 1885, and August 10, 1887), Pete Browning (Louisville Colonels, August 8, 1886, and June 7, 1889), and Tip O’Neill (St. Louis Browns, April 30, 1887, and May 7, 1887). Several record books credit Mike Tiernan (New York Giants) with hitting for the cycle twice, on August 25, 1888, and June 28, 1890. However, a careful inspection of the newspapers shows that Tiernan was 2-for-4 in the 1890 contest with a single and home run. Perhaps he did hit for the cycle a second time in his career. If so, it was not on June 28, 1890. See box scores at (1) “Knocked Out of the Box,” Philadelphia Times, June 29, 1890: 2; (2) “The Reds Pounded Rusie’s Curves,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 1890: 3; and (3) “Cincinnati 12, New York 3,” Boston Globe, June 29, 1890: 8. The Globe gives Tiernan credit for three hits. Other box scores support the fact that Tiernan did not get four hits in this game against the Reds; therefore, if the papers reported the truth, he could not have hit for the cycle.
17 “Nearing the Tail End,” Washington Post, September 13, 1891: 3.
Chicago Colts 9
Cleveland Spiders 3
West Side Park
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