May 10, 1882: Pittsburgh hosts its first major-league game
The charter Allegheny club of the fledgling American Association played its first four games of the circuit’s inaugural season of 1882 on the road against the Red Stockings in Cincinnati. The visitors from Pittsburgh won the opening match by 10-9, then lost two in a row to the home side by 7-3 and 19-10 before rebounding with a stellar 2-0 victory, greeted in the Cincinnati Enquirer with the headline, “The Smoky City Lads Shut Out the Porkopolitans.”1
With a 2-2 record, the Allegheny team returned home for a debut in a city deprived of quality baseball for three seasons.2 On May 9, the St. Louis Brown Stockings came to western Pennsylvania after splitting their first six games. The Alleghenys were leading 8-2 with one on and one out in the third inning when the game was called because of rain, part of a weather system that also canceled Cincinnati’s game at Louisville. An anonymous Enquirer writer warned the Browns in print about the strong hitting of the Pittsburgh team: “One can safely wager before the latter delegation leaves the Smoky City their eyes will be protruding several feet from their heads.”3
On the following afternoon, May 10, about 2,000 people gathered at Exposition Park, a diamond built on the north shore of the Allegheny River across from downtown Pittsburgh on a field susceptible to flooding. The previous day’s rains were followed by heavy morning showers, leaving the field damp and soggy. Despite the poor conditions, the game went ahead.
Six months earlier, representatives of several prospective teams had met in Cincinnati to forge a new independent baseball association. The representatives who gathered at Gibson House, a fine hotel, sought to create a money-making rival to the stuffy National League. The ambition was to make money by selling beer in the stands and playing games on Sunday, both of which had been outlawed by the senior circuit. With teams based in rollicking river cities with large immigrant populations, such as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the American Association would be dubbed the Beer and Whiskey League.
Each club was expected to have at least $5,000 (and preferably more) in capital from which to launch the new league. Louisville was represented by J.H. Pank of the Kentucky Malting Company, while wholesale grocer Chris von der Ahe sought membership for St. Louis. The Pittsburgh owner was 33-year-old Harmar Denny McKnight, an iron merchant and the son of a lawyer elected to Congress. McKnight was elected the league’s president at the Cincinnati meeting.4
The return of professional baseball after a three-year hiatus shared headlines with other news. Elsewhere in the state, Republicans gathered in convention at Harrisburg to nominate James Beaver, a Civil War general who lost his right leg in battle, for governor. He would lose, only to gain the office in an election four years later. Across the state line in Ohio, a forgotten stick of dynamite killed a worker in a tunnel in Steubenville. In Pittsburgh, the Kirkpatrick grocery on Liberty Street announced the arrival of a shipment of prunes, plums, and apricots from California.
At waterlogged Exposition Park, the visitors took to the field to start the game. (In earlier games, the order of batting was determined by a coin toss.) Pitching for St. Louis was George Washington McGinnis, a 196-pounder known as Jumbo. He kept the home Alleghenys off the scoreboard for three innings before being touched for two runs in the fourth.
The Pittsburgh hurler was Harry Arundel, a right-hander who had pitched in a game for the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association in 1875. He gave up two runs in the second, two more in the fifth and a final tally in the sixth.
“Arundel did not let up once in the entire game,” the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette reported. “He pitched effectively from beginning to end. He has coolness and nerve. Some of his best work was done when the bases were all covered and none out.”5
The Alleghenys broke the 2-2 tie in the fifth inning. The tall first baseman Jake Goodman drove a McGinnis pitch deep into center field for a double. John Peters popped out to St. Louis third baseman Jack Gleason. (Peters and Arundel would be the only two Alleghenys to go hitless in the game.) Arundel walked. George Strief’s base hit knocked in Goodman to give the Pittsburgh side a lead it would not relinquish. The catcher Jim Keenan, batting ninth, sent a towering fly to center under which Oscar Walker settled.
McGinnis failed to limit the damage in the inning, as Ed Swartwood and then Billy Taylor reached base on hits. Three more came home, as Arundel, Strief, and Swartwood all scored. When Swartwood again came to the plate in the eighth, McGinnis had had enough. He “deliberately sent him to his base on balls, refusing to pitch even one of which he might strike with some show of success.”6
Both starting pitchers finished the game, with Arundel and the Alleghenys prevailing by the score of 9-5. Arundel would go 4-10 for the season, the poorest result on a three-man rotation including Harry Salisbury (20-18) and Denny Driscoll (13-9).
Swartwood and Billy Taylor each had three hits in the game, half of the Allegheny dozen (four doubles and eight singles). The visiting Browns also had 12 hits (one double and 11 singles), but failed to bunch them.
McGinnis, the losing pitcher, would finish 43 of the 45 games he started in 1882, going 25-18. St. Louis third baseman Jack Gleason, the Brown Stockings’ leadoff man, wielded a big bat for the visitors with a double and a trio of singles, though he was stranded each time, failing to score a run. His younger brother, shortstop Bill Gleason, also a St. Louis product, batting second, had a single in five plate appearances. Each Gleason brother committed an error, as did teammate Bill Smiley at second base. The Allegheny errors were charged to Taylor at third base and Goodman at first.
Gone unnoticed in game reports of the two-hour match was the tall, 22-year-old St. Louis first baseman, a right-hander born in Chicago by the name of Charlie Comiskey. Batting fourth, he hit a single and struck out once in five plate appearances, and made nine putouts at first without error. Of all the men on the field on May 10, 1882, he went on to have the greatest impact on baseball as an owner of the Chicago White Sox and builder of a ballpark in his hometown bearing his name.
The Browns were skippered by player-manager Ned Cuthbert in their inaugural season, but Comiskey would be a sometime playing manager in the following two seasons before taking over the reins full-time in 1885, leading the Browns to four consecutive American Association pennants and an 1886 world-championship victory over the Chicago White Stockings of the National League.
The Alleghenies were managed by Al Pratt, a Civil War veteran and a former pitcher for the Cleveland Forest Citys of the National Association.
The May 10 game got good reviews from sportswriters, who were even then given to ballyhoo and hyperbole. The Gazette’s writer liked the Alleghenys’ 32-year-old shortstop, the oldest starter on either team. “Peters merits credit, not only for his good general work,” he wrote, “but because he plays to win, and not to make an individual record.”7 In a brief report, the Pittsburgh Daily Post stated: “The attendance of spectators was quite large and the game was good enough to be thoroughly enjoyable.”8 The Cincinnati Enquirer promised: “Look out for some bold, bad, wicked work to-morrow.”9 As it turned out, the next day’s game would be rained out.
The Alleghenys ended the American Association season in fourth place in the six-team league with a 39-39 record, a whopping 20½ games behind Cincinnati (55-25). The Pittsburgh team finished ahead of St. Louis (37-43) and the woeful Baltimore Orioles (19-54), while trailing the Eclipse of Louisville (42-38) and the Philadelphia Athletics (41-34). Pittsburgh was runner-up to Louisville for the most doubles with 110 (Swartwood led the league with 18; teammates Mike Mansell and Taylor tied for third with 16), while the Alleghenys’ 18 home runs (four by Swartwood) led the circuit. Swartwood also led the league in runs (87) and total bases (161).
In the great card shuffling of late nineteenth-century baseball, the clubs would swap leagues and nicknames, the Brown Stockings becoming the Cardinals and the Alleghenys the Pirates, National League rivals to this day. The city of Allegheny was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907, erasing a historic name from the geographic record books, though of the course the river from which it took its name was one of the Three Rivers for which the Pirates’ ballpark was named when it opened in July 1970.
This article appears in "Moments of Joy and Heartbreak: 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh Pirates" (SABR, 2018), edited by Jorge Iber and Bill Nowlin. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also relied on baseball-almanac.com, baseball-reference.com, and retrosheet.org.
1 “Chicagoed, The Smoky City Lads Shut Out the Porkopolitans,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 9, 1882: 2.
2 An earlier team, also known as Allegheny, is credited with playing the city’s first professional game, defeating the Xanthas of the International Association by 7-3 at Union Park on April 15, 1876. The team disbanded midway through the 1878 season, according to William E. Benswanger’s article “Professional Baseball in Pittsburgh,” originally published in 1947. upress.pitt.edu/htmlSourceFiles/pdfs/9780822959700exr.pdf.
3 “Base-Ball Notes,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 10, 1882: 5.
4 “Well Done,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 2, 1881: 5.
5 “A fine game, the St. Louis beaten by the Alleghenys,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 11, 1882: 4.
8 “Alleghenies win again, by a score of 9 to 5,” Daily Post (Pittsburgh), May 11, 1882: 4.
9 “The Alleghenys win from St. Louis,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 11, 1882: 5.