This article was written by Richard McBane
For sheer head-to-head doggedness, few pitching matchups in baseball history can match the exhibition contest waged between Akron’s Tony Mullane and The Eclipse of Louisville’s John Reccius on a Sunday in June of 1881.
The independent professional baseball club of Akron, Ohio, had its start in 1879 when it chalked up a 17–3 record, with two of the losses coming late in the season to Cleveland’s National League entry. The Akrons posted a 19–12–1 record against substantially stronger competition in 1880, including a 1–9 record against National League opponents. The single victory was a solid 4–3 victory in September over Cap Anson’s Chicagos, the League champions.[fn]Summit County Beacon, October 29, 1879; Peterjohn, Alvin K., “Baseball in Akron, Ohio, 1879-1881, A Case Study,” undated paper in the Akron file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library; New York Clipper, September 18, 1880, p. 205; Akron Sunday Gazette, September 12, 1880.[/fn]
Heading into the 1881 season, the reputation of the Akrons was such that the National League arranged its schedule so as to give every club open dates in Cleveland to be filled with exhibition games against the Akrons. In fact, the Cleveland Leader newspaper called them “… the strongest non-league club in the country.”[fn]Summit County Beacon, Sept. 29, 1880; Peterjohn, op.cit.; Grismer, Karl. Akron and Summit County (Akron, Ohio: Summit County Historical Society, undated), p. 229; Cleveland Leader, April 27, 1881, July 23, 1881.[/fn]
But when the team departed for Louisville in late June to play four games with the Eclipse, its prospects looked bleak. The strength of the team made it difficult to find local opponents, and it had fared badly against the National League teams, dropping all five of those games. It took to the road with only six wins and six losses. It would be “reorganized,” or, perhaps, disbanded on its return.[fn]Worcester Evening Gazette, May 14, 1881; New York Clipper, May 21, 1881, p. 138; Cleveland Leader, May 14, 16, 17, 24, 25, 27, 28, 1881; Akron City Times, May 25, June 22, 1881; Summit County Beacon, June 22, 1881.[/fn]
The Eclipse, which would join the American Association in 1882, was a solid, experienced semi-pro club led by Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning and Fred Pfeffer, both destined for productive major-league careers. Browning, then just 20 years old, was still three years short of acquiring the original Louisville Slugger bat. He went on to win two American Association batting titles and a third in the Players League. Pfeffer, a Louisville native, played 16 major-league seasons as a sure-handed second baseman, mostly in an era when fielders were still gloveless.[fn]Tiemann, Robert L. and Rucker, Mark, eds. Nineteenth Century Stars (Society for American Baseball Research, 1989), pp. 19, 102.[/fn]
In all, seven members of the 1881 Eclipse club eventually played in the majors. At the same time, of the 19 players who played all or part of 1881 season with the Akrons, 14 played in either the American Association or the National League in 1882. Chief among these were Bid McPhee and Tony Mullane. McPhee, a second-base counterpart to Pfeffer, spent his entire 18-year major-league career with Cincinnati, during which he led his league in double plays in 11 seasons and in fielding average in eight seasons. Mullane was both talented and strong-willed, and his ego frequently led him into conflicts with management. Nevertheless, in 13 major-league seasons he racked up 284 victories, including five 30-win seasons in his first five full seasons in the American Association.[fn]Ibid., pp. 91, 97.[/fn]
All of that was in the future when the Akrons arrived in Louisville for their four-game engagement beginning on Tuesday, June 21. The Eclipse was undefeated at the time, and the fact that the Akrons triumphed 9–1 before a crowd of about 800 at Eclipse Park served as a wake-up call. The following day, with Louisville hosting the Midsummer Encamp- Louisville’s John Reccius. ment of Masonic Lodges, the game was held at Central Park before a crowd estimated at 7,000. Jimmy Green was the starting pitcher for the Akrons and, as the Louisville Courier-Journal reported, “… the home boys got on to Green, and they just batted him all over the field.” The Eclipse chalked up an 11–6 victory.[fn]New York Clipper, July 2, 1881, p. 233; Summit County Beacon, June 29, 1881; Louisville Courier-Journal, June 22, and 23, 1881.[/fn]
After two days of rest, the Akrons returned the favor in a Saturday game with a 10–6 victory in which the Eclipse was charged with 13 errors. That set the stage for the Sunday game.
Mullane pitched for the Akrons on Sunday and the Eclipse countered with John Reccius. Batting first, the Eclipse took the lead in the second inning when Fred Pfeffer tripled and scored, the game’s only run until the bottom of the seventh inning. Then Daniel “Link” Sullivan, Akron’s center fielder, singled and scored on two Eclipse errors. The Eclipse took the lead again in the top of the eighth on a run-scoring double by Pete Browning, only to have the Akrons tie it again in the bottom of the inning on errors.
The Eclipse, in fact, was charged with 10 errors for the game, but neither team could score again, although the Akrons came close in the bottom of the 18th inning. Ed Swartwood attempted to score from second on a hard hit by Mullane, but was thrown out at home on what the game report in the New York Clipper called “a wonderful throw by Pfeffer from left field.” Since Pfeffer played second and the only Louisville outfielder credited with an assist was center fielder Ike Van Burkalow, it is more likely that Pfeffer’s “wonderful throw” was a relay of a throw from Burkalow.[fn]New York Clipper, July 9, 1881, p. 252.[/fn]
The 19th inning was scoreless and the game was then called due to darkness. Mullane and Reccius had each gone the distance. But neither team was content with a tie, so the Akrons remained in Louisville an extra day and a fifth game was played at Eclipse Park on Monday. Mullane and Reccius each started again, but the Courier- Journal termed the result “a general disappointment” following Sunday’s showing. Reccius was pounded for five runs in the first inning, and the Akrons headed home with a 14–5 victory, as well as three wins, a loss, and the 19-inning tie from their visit to Louisville. It was enough to save the team that was, indeed, “re-organized” when it reached Akron.[fn]New York Clipper, July 9, 1881, p. 252; Louisville Courier-Journal, June 28, 1881; Summit County Beacon, June 29, 1881.[/fn]
This essay was originally published in “Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century” (2013), edited by Bill Felber. Download the SABR e-book by clicking here.
Akrons of Ohio 1
Eclipse of Louisville 1
If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.