The Louisville Colonels didn’t have many bright spots during their major-league-record 26-game losing streak1 in 1889, but Pete Browning’s cycle on June 7 was one of them. Browning’s feat came in Louisville’s 9-7, 11-inning road loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.
The Colonels entered the game losers of 13 straight American Association games and followed it by losing 12 more in a row. Their 26-game losing streak lasted from May 22 to June 22. The Athletics came in winners of eight in a row and 10 of their last 11.
It was a dry, sunny day with a southwesterly breeze and temperatures in the 80s at Jefferson Street Grounds.2 The game was originally scheduled for four days earlier,3 but it was postponed because of the Colonels’ travel delays getting to Philadelphia from Columbus – where the Solons had outscored them 38-12 in a four-game sweep.4
John Gaffney, who was nicknamed King of Umpires, was the umpire for the game. Gaffney had a varied baseball résumé. He umpired in the American Association for two years, the National League for 11 years, and the Players’ League for its only season, and managed the Washington Nationals during their first two years in the National League.
Both teams donated their gate receipt money (which totaled $500) to victims of the Johnstown Flood, a catastrophe that struck Johnstown, Pennsylvania, seven days earlier.5 Johnstown’s South Fork Dam collapsed after days of heavy rain and the ensuing flood devastated the city and killed more than 2,200 people.6
Lefthander Toad Ramsey got the start for Louisville. While the origins of his amphibious nickname are unknown, what is known is that Ramsey had tremendous movement on his drop ball.7 Ramsey went 1-16 for Louisville in 1889 and was traded to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher-outfielder Nat Hudson on July 17. Hudson refused to report to the woeful Colonels and never played in the major leagues again.8
Righty Ed Knouff started for Philadelphia. It was the 44th and final major-league appearance for the 22-year-old Knouff. He spent the rest of the 1889 season, as well as the 1890, 1891, and 1892 seasons, in the minor leagues. Knouff later became a firefighter in Philadelphia and died at age 33 after an accident happened while he fought a fire at a store.9
The Athletics batted first in their home ballpark, which was fairly common in the nineteenth century. Both teams scored once in the first inning and neither team scored in the second. Philadelphia brought home two runs in the top of the third and Louisville countered with a run in the bottom of the third. It was 3-2 Philadelphia entering the fourth.
Two runs by Philadelphia in the top of the fourth made it 5-2 in favor of the Athletics. Singles by Browning and Bill Gleason, along with an error by Philadelphia left fielder Harry Stovey, gave the Colonels a run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
With the score 5-3 Philadelphia entering the bottom of the fifth, Farmer Weaver and Guy Hecker each singled, bringing up Browning with two men on. “‘Gladiator’ Peter Browning sent the ball over the left field fence and brought in three runs,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.10 It was Browning’s first of two home runs in 1889 and the 31st of his career. The three-run homer put the score at 6-5 Louisville at the end of five innings.
The Colonels added another tally in the sixth inning when Ramsey scored on Chicken Wolf’s RBI single to take the lead, 7-5. Neither team scored in the seventh.
Philadelphia tied the game in the top of the eighth “amid a scene of wild enthusiasm.”11 Jack Brennan led off the rally with a double over center fielder Weaver’s head. The next two batters reached on a walk and an error to load the bases. Back-to-back fly balls by Stovey and Denny Lyons tied the score, 8-8. Neither team scored in the ninth or 10th.
Lyons doubled to the center-field fence to begin the top of the 11th. Lou Bierbauer followed with a double of his own to score Lyons. Bierbauer came home later in the inning on Frank Fennelly’s double. The three Philadelphia doubles gave the Athletics a 9-7 lead.
With the Colonels trailing by two in the bottom of the 11th, Browning came up to bat with two outs and nobody on base. While it’s unclear what inning Browning hit his double, an analysis of the postgame media coverage shows that Browning entered this extra-inning at-bat needing only a triple for a cycle. The Philadelphia Inquirer had an entertaining description of what happened next:
“There was a viscious [sic] look on the ‘Gladiator’s’ frontispiece as he walked up to the plate and lifted his cap to the numerous cries of ‘Hello, Pete!’ Peter picked out a good ball and lined it down the right field line. The cheers of the crowd only ceased when Peter landed, badly winded, on third base.”12
It was the second time in his career that Browning hit for the cycle. His first cycle took place on August 8, 1886, in the Colonels’ 11-6 win over the New York Metropolitans at Eclipse Park in Louisville. Browning’s 1889 cycle was the fifth American Association cycle at Jefferson Street Grounds.13
Gleason followed Browning and grounded out to second base to end the game. Philadelphia won 9-7 in an 11-inning contest that took 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete. There were 1,600 fans in attendance. The win moved the Athletics’ record to 24-15, while the Colonels dropped to 8-34.
Browning went 5-for-6 with two singles, a double, a triple, a home run, and a stolen base. Fennelly led the way for the Athletics, going 4-for-6 with three singles and a double.
The Kansas City Times suggested that Browning’s performance should prove some of his doubters wrong. “Dizzy old Pete Browning was at bat six times in yesterday’s Athletic game and pounded out a home run, a triple, a double and two singles. Yet there are people who aver that the gladiator can not get his eye on the ball and others have had him driving a street car,” the newspaper observed.14
The article in the next day’s Louisville Courier-Journal was headlined “Slugged for the Sufferers,” with the subheadline “Browning Finds the Ball Five Times, but It Did No Good.” The paper’s summary reported, “The game was characterized by hard hitting and brilliant fielding, which elicited constant applause from the spectators.”15
The Cincinnati Enquirer described the game in colorful terms: “It was a slugging match, and the air was full of line-hit thunderbolts. At the end of the game the outfielders looked like worn-out racers.”16
The Athletics finished the 1889 season 75-58, in third place, 16 games behind the American Association pennant-winning Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The 1889 Colonels were one of the worst teams in major-league history, finishing 27-111 and 66½ games out of first. They were the first major-league team to lose 100 games in a season.17 Louisville had four different managers that year.
Browning was suspended by Colonels management for the final month of the 1889 season for excessive drinking.18 In December of 1889, he sued the team for $650 in back pay, claiming he wasn’t paid during the suspension and that his contract prohibited him from accepting offers from other American Association clubs.19
Browning fled to the Cleveland Infants of the Players’ League in 1890 and hit .373 to lead all major leaguers. It was the last of Browning’s three major-league batting titles. The Colonels won the 1890 American Association pennant in his absence.
From 1891 to 1894, Browning bounced around, suiting up for five different major-league teams. His final major-league game was with the Brooklyn Grooms on September 30, 1894. He played 13 major-league seasons and accumulated 1,646 hits in 1,183 games.
Browning’s .341 career batting average is the 13th-best in major-league history and it’s the highest among players with at least 10 years of major-league time who spent their entire career in the nineteenth century. Browning has been a Hall of Fame candidate five times, making it onto initial screening lists or Veterans Committee ballots in 1977, 1995, 2003, 2005, and 2007.20
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, and Retrosheet.org.
1 Lyle Spatz, Historical Dictionary of Baseball (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2012), 201.
2 AccuWeather, email correspondence with certified consulting meteorologist Steve Wistar, March 23, 2021.
3 1889 Louisville Colonels Schedule, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/LOU/1889-schedule-scores.shtml.
4 “The American Association,” Buffalo Courier, June 4, 1889: 8.
5 “A Big Batting Contest,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 8, 1889: 6.
6 “Over 2,000 Die in the Johnstown Flood,” The History Channel, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-johnstown-flood.
8 “Will Louisville Get Hudson?,” Louisville Courier-Journal, July 29, 1889: 2.
9 “Has Fought Long for Life,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 1900: 7.
10 “A Big Batting Contest.”
11 “A Big Batting Contest.”
12 “A Big Batting Contest.”
14 “Sporting Notes,” Kansas City Times, June 8, 1889: 2.
15 “Slugged for the Sufferers,” Louisville Courier-Journal, June 8, 1889: 6.
16 “Terrific Slugging,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 8, 1889: 5.
17 Spatz, Historical Dictionary of Baseball, 201.
18 Philip Von Borries, “Requiem for a Gladiator: Pete Browning,” Society for American Baseball Research, 1983 Baseball Research Journal, https://sabr.org/journal/article/requiem-for-a-gladiator/.
19 “‘Pete’ Browning, ‘the Gladiator,’” Knoxville Evening Sentinel, December 4, 1889: 1.
20 Graham Womack, “Known Veterans & Era Committee candidates, 1953-current,” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1yuFmN8hBv73rxZiaR1OdputmK2_4a09wuuNrJP05Y28/edit#gid=0
Philadelphia Athletics 9
Louisville Colonels 7
Jefferson Street Grounds
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