The Kansas City Cowboys joined the American Association in 1888, becoming the third team by that name in three different major leagues within the previous four years.1 Despite Kansas City’s one-season tenures in the Union Association (1884) and National League (1886), the AA had selected it over Buffalo, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse as a replacement for the departing New York Metropolitans.2
The American Association Cowboys started their inaugural season slowly, winning just two games in April and only five more in May. By the beginning of June, the Cowboys were in the league’s cellar, 15½ games behind the league-leading Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Kansas City won five of its first nine games in June to move up to seventh place. After a loss to St. Louis, the Cardinals prepared to host a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. The first game of the series was played on June 13 at Kansas City’s “nicely-sodded pastures,”3 Exposition Park.
The batting star of the game was Kansas City’s Sam Barkley, who hit for the cycle in a losing cause. Barkley was in his fifth major-league season. In his four previous seasons, spent with three different clubs, he batted a cumulative .268; although he led the AA with 39 doubles as a rookie in 1884, he hit just six home runs in four seasons.
Barkley was sold by the NL’s Pittsburgh Alleghenys to the Cowboys in early April of 1888.4 At the time of the acquisition, the Kansas City Times reported that “[a]s a second baseman, Barkley has few superiors, and he is also a heavy hitter and daring base runner. His acquisition was a master stroke and makes the club strong in the infield.”5
Barkley struggled at the plate for much of the 1888 campaign, finishing with a .216 batting average, but the Cowboys as a team batted a paltry .218 and the Association’s overall batting average was only .238). Making his big day against the Reds even more unexpected, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, was that coming into the game, “Sam Barkley was not feeling well.”6
Rookie right-hander Lee Viau pitched for the Reds, making his 12th start of the season. Viau finished the season with a 27-14 record; his .659 winning percentage was the fifth highest total in the AA.7 Opposing Viau was southpaw Steve Toole. Toole had come to Kansas City as part of an offseason nine-player sale from the Bridegrooms.8 This was his fifth start of the season.
The game started promptly at 4:00 P.M., and the Cowboys batted first. Jim McTamany led off with a walk. After Barkley flied out, McTamany attempted a steal of second base, but umpire Joe Ellick called him out on a close play. Jumbo Davis then drove the ball “high upon the bank in the right field corner”9 and legged out a home run for a 1-0 lead. Bill Phillips singled but was caught stealing for the inning’s third out.
The Reds responded in the bottom of the first, scoring twice without a hit. Hugh Nicol reached on an error by Cowboys shortstop Henry Easterday and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Bid McPhee walked. With Frank Fennelly batting, Nicol stole third base. Toole’s second wild pitch of the inning allowed Nicol to score, and McPhee made it to third. Fennelly’s fly out plated McPhee, giving Cincinnati a 2-1 lead.
Kansas City put another runner on in the second when Myron Allen drew a base on balls with two outs, but he too was caught trying to swipe second base. The Reds responded with Hick Carpenter’s leadoff double in the bottom half, followed by George Tebeau’s RBI single, pushing the Reds’ lead to 3-1.
After Easterday struck out to start the top of the third, Toole grounded a ball between Viau’s legs, reaching on the error. McTamany’s single put runners on the corners. Barkley singled past second baseman McPhee, and Toole scored to cut the deficit to 3-2. Right fielder Nicol tried to catch McTamany moving to third, but the throw was late, and Barkley moved up to second.
One out later, Phillips singled to center, and McTamany scored the tying run, while Barkley held at third. Viau fielded a weak grounder by Jim Donahue and made a bad throw to first for his second error of the inning. Player-manager Dave Rowe came to bat with the bases loaded, but he became the third strikeout victim of the inning, and all three runners were left on base. Rowe had been ill before the game started. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rowe had been in bad health, “having Missouri chills with fever.”10 In the previous game against Louisville, Rowe was confined to his room, and a note in the next day’s Kansas City Times reported that “Rowe was full of quinine and could hardly see the ball.”11
McPhee started the bottom of the third with a single and steal of second base. Fennelly walked, and both runners moved up a base on Jim Keenan’s groundout to second baseman Barkley. Pop Corkhill’s single drove in both runners for a 5-3 Cincinnati lead.
The see-saw scoring battle continued in the fourth. Allen and Easterday hit back-to-back singles, but Viau retired the next two Kansas City batters, bringing up Barkley. He “lifted the ball over the right field fence”12 for a home run, giving the Cowboys three runs and a 6-5 lead.
Viau found his groove at this point and kept the Cowboys off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. The Kansas City Times reported that although the Cowboys continued to put runners on base, “the hit that was longed for never came.”13
The Reds, however, kept up the attack. In the bottom of the fifth, Keenan doubled with two outs and scored on Corkhill’s single. Another single by Carpenter and a walk to Tebeau loaded the bases. Kid Baldwin, the next batter, reportedly ran to the batter’s box saying, “O, maybe I won’t do something here!”14 He promptly lined a pitch over third baseman Davis’s head, driving in two runs. Tebeau was thrown out trying to take third base, but the Reds now had an 8-6 lead.
Barkley doubled in the sixth for his third hit of the game, but he was stranded there. The Cowboys’ Donahue reached on an error in the seventh and advanced to third on Viau’s wild pitch and another Reds error, but he too proceeded no farther.
In the bottom of the seventh, Keenan led off with a walk. Corkhill and Carpenter each singled, but Keenan was thrown out at the plate. Corkhill and Carpenter had moved into scoring position on the play, and both crossed the plate when Tebeau singled.
Cincinnati added a final run in the eighth. With two outs, Fennelly walked and advanced to second on a passed ball. He scored when Keenan “knocked the ball to the rocks for two bags.”15
Barkley batted once more, leading off the ninth. He stroked a triple “under the club house.”16 Viau retired the next three batters in order, ending the game, leaving Barkley at third base. The visitors had prevailed, 11-6.
Barkley was 4-for-5 at the plate. His triple in the ninth completed his cycle. He had scored a run and knocked in three. Teammates Phillips and Allen each collected two hits. The Cowboys hit Viau “hard enough to win any ordinary game.”17 Viau, however, struck out nine Cowboys batters18 to quell a few rallies. Toole had allowed 14 hits and five walks, and his three wild pitches negated any advantages his offense might have provided. Toole made only one more start for the Cowboys after this game.
Barkley’s cycle was the second of the 1888 season. He followed Harry Stovey (May 15, Philadelphia Athletics against the Baltimore Orioles, AA), while Jimmy Ryan (July 28, Chicago White Stockings against the Detroit Wolverines, NL) and Mike Tiernan (August 25, New York Giants against the Philadelphia Phillies, NL) added two more cycles to the list.
The Cowboys lost 10 of 12 games to finish the month of June. With a record of 14-36, Rowe was replaced by Barkley as player-manager on July 1. Barkley’s tenure at the helm lasted 58 games and resulted in a 22-36 record; he was replaced by Bill Watkins after a 5-0 victory over Louisville on September 14.
Watkins was a full-time skipper, having retired from playing in 1884. He had spent four seasons managing the Wolverines and had captured the NL pennant in 1887. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Watkins’ reign started too late in 1888, and the Cowboys finished dead last in the AA.
Barkley played 45 games for Kansas City in 1889, batting .284, before being traded to Toledo in the International Association on July 15. He never appeared in another major-league game after that.
This article was fact-checked by Stew Thornley 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 In 1884 the Cowboys played in the short-lived Union Association, finishing the season in 11th place with a record of 16-63-3. In 1886 the National League invited the Cowboys into its league, and Kansas City went 30-91, finishing in seventh place (out of eight teams). Now, two years later, the Cowboys had been invited to play in the American Association. The New York Metropolitans had departed the league after five seasons in the AA, creating a vacancy. The Mets had captured the pennant in 1884 but then placed seventh in each of the next three seasons. John B. Day, president of the NL’s New York Giants, remarked, “The Metropolitan franchise is a thing of the past. If the American Association attempts to put a club in New York city it will violate a clause in the national agreement.” See Joel Rippel, “1887 Winter Meetings: Harmony After a Fire Sale,” found online at /journal/article/1887-winter-meetings-harmony-after-a-fire-sale/. Accessed April 2022.
2 Teams from Buffalo and Pittsburgh played in the Player’s League in 1890. The Milwaukee Brewers joined the American Association in 1891 for just one season. The Syracuse Stars joined the AA in 1890 for one season. The Cowboys played in the AA in 1888 and 1889.
3 “Hard Slugging,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 1888: 2.
4 His transfer to Kansas City was reported in both the Pittsburgh Daily Post and the Kansas City Times on April 4. According to the Post, Barkley was sold for $2,000 and was reported to receive a salary of “probably $400 or $500.” See “Sam Joins the Cowboys,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 4, 1888: 6.
5 “Sam Joins the Cowboys,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 4, 1888: 6, and “Sam Barkley Signed,” Kansas City Times, April 4, 1888: 3.
6 “Hard Slugging.”
7 Viau and Bob Caruthers both had winning percentages of .659; however, Caruthers (29-15) was at .65909091, which is a little ahead of Viau, .65853659.
8 Toole was sold by Brooklyn to Kansas City on January 22, 1888, with Jim Donahue, Bill Fagan, Frank Hankinson, Bill Phillips, Henry Porter, Ed Greer, Ed Smartwood, and Jim McTamany. The cost was $7,000.
9 “Beaten by Cincinnati,” Kansas City Times, June 14, 1888: 3.
10 “Grand Stand Chat,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 13, 1888: 8.
11 “Notes of the Game,” Kansas City Times, June 14, 1888: 3.
12 “Beaten by Cincinnati.”
13 “Beaten by Cincinnati.”
14 “Notes of the Game.”
15 “Beaten by Cincinnati.” According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the “rocks” lay in deep center field. See “Hard Slugging.”
16 “Beaten by Cincinnati.”
17 “Beaten by Cincinnati.”
18 “Hard Slugging.”
Cincinnati Reds 11
Kansas City Cowboys 6
Kansas City, MO
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