The final day of the 1892 baseball season in the nation’s capital featured two clubs on the opposite ends of the spectrum. One of four former American Association teams to join the consolidated 12-team National League in 1892 following the former’s economic collapse, the Washington club had changed its nickname from the Statesmen to the Senators, but the narrative was the same. “The season has been especially disappointing in this city,” declared the Evening Star.1 The reigning pennant-winning Boston Beaneaters, on the other hand, had rolled over competition the entire season. With the NL’s schedule expanded to 154 games (up from 140) and divided into a split-season format, the Beaneaters were already preparing to play in a special postseason series pitting champions from the first and second halves.
“The name of the Washington Baseball Club is Calamity, and it’s a relief to everyone, to President [George W.] Wagner, to the players, and last, but not least, to a long-suffering public, that the season of 1892 is over,” opined the Washington Post.2 After a mediocre 35-41 record in the first half, the Senators had imploded in the second. Player-manager Danny Richardson’s club was in last place (23-50) and had lost 16 of its last 21 games.
Manager Frank Selee’s Beaneaters were cruising. The first-half champions (52-22) had played “phenomenal ball during the last month,” gushed the Boston Globe.3 They had won 12 of their last 14 and were in second place (48-26), 3½ games behind the Cleveland Spiders, whom they would battle in a best-of-nine championship series beginning in the metropolis on Lake Erie two days later. With a 100-48 record, the Beaneaters were the first team in NL or AA history to reach the century mark in victories.
On a pleasant autumnal Saturday afternoon with weather “more balmy” than on Opening Day, according to the Post, a mere 993 patrons ventured to Boundary Field, located on the northern outskirts of Washington, for the national pastime.4 Inclement weather the previous day had forced the scheduling of a doubleheader.
A well-rounded club, the Beaneaters were the league’s second-highest-scoring team despite ranking in the middle of the pack with a .250 batting average. They were led by future Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy, who paced the team with a .301 batting average and 125 runs scored. He formed with Tommy McCarthy (119 runs) and Herman Long (115 runs) the league’s most disruptive trio, each of whom also swiped at least 50 bases.
But the Beaneaters’ true strength was its pitching. As John Thorn and Erik Miklich have explained, the 1892 season was the last during which pitchers hurled from a 5½-foot deep by 4-foot wide pitcher’s box, the back of which was 55½ feet from home plate. The following season it was replaced with a pitcher’s rubber, located the now recognizable 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate.5 While the Spiders boasted arguably the league’s best pitcher (Cy Young), the New York Giants the hardest thrower (Amos “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” Rusie), and the Chicago Colts the most durable (Bill Hutchison), no team featured a duo like Kid Nichols and Jack Stivetts. They ended the season with identical 35-16 records, one win behind Young and Hutchison for the league lead. They also combined for 94 complete games in 99 starts and logged 868⅔ innings.
In what the Globe called an “easy day,” the Beaneaters gave Nichols a four-run led in the first inning of the opener, and the 22-year-old hurler cruised, holding the hapless Senators scoreless through seven innings to win, 7-4.6 Nichols improved his career record to 95-52 in three seasons, and reached the 30-win mark for the second of what turned out to be seven times in an eight-year stretch (1891-1898).
On the mound for the Beaneaters in the second game was Stivetts, a 6-foot-2 right-hander from Pennsylvania. He had spent his first three big-league seasons with the St. Louis Browns in the American Association, compiling a 72-50 record. The pitcher, nicknamed Happy Jack, had clashed with mercurial Browns owner Chris von der Ahe and reportedly signed with the Beaneaters before the 1891 season concluded.
Both teams laid claim to the player for 1892, but Stivetts was awarded to the Beaneaters. Acknowledged not only as one of the greatest pitchers in the league, according to Sporting Life,7 Stivetts was also a menacing slugger and occasional outfielder, who batted .296 and slugged .408, just points behind Duffy’s team-high .410.
Stivetts’ 1892 season reads like a highlight reel. One day after playing in the outfield and belting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of a scoreless game against the Brooklyn Grooms,8 Stivetts took the mound against them on August 6 and tossed the first no-hitter in Beaneaters history. In what was described by the Brooklyn Eagle as the Grooms’ “Waterloo defeat” in front of more than 7,000 spectators in Eastern Park in Brooklyn, Stivetts fanned six and walked five, and also scored twice in the 11-0 victory.9 Stivetts also started and won both games of a doubleheader against the Louisville Colonels on September 5, yielding just three runs.
In the box for the Senators was hulking 6-foot-2 Frank Killen, who, like Stivetts, had a confrontational personality and liked his beer. After debuting with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers in 1891, he was assigned to the Senators upon the AA’s dissolution. The NL’s most productive southpaw, Killen would finish the season with a 29-26 record, complete 46 of 52 starts, and log 459⅔ innings pitched.
“Big John had his curves and speed with him,” praised the Globe about Stivetts’ overpowering, albeit abbreviated performance.10 Through five innings, he yielded only one baserunner, a walk to Paul Radford in the second inning. Two groundout forces followed in succession so that no runner reached second base. “The Senators did not develop any batting streak and were perforce blanked,” proclaimed the Globe.11
As in the first game, the Beaneaters first-inning rally provided enough runs for an eventual victory. With two outs, Duffy drew a walk. Charlie Ganzel, the team’s second catcher in a three-player rotation, doubled. Billy Nash belted a “home run over Radford’s head,” reported the Globe, to give the Beaneaters a 3-0 lead.12 Nash finished the season with four home runs and a team-high 95 RBIs.
Boston tacked on another run in the fifth. Duffy and Ganzel connected on successive singles and one of Killen’s two wild pitches enabled the former to score the game’s fourth and final run. (Some box scores, such as from the Globe, show Stivetts with a triple and a run scored, but it seems impossible that he scored the game’s final run since he batted ninth, five batters behind Ganzel. Other box scores, such as in the Washington Post, show Stivetts with no runs and a single.)
Longtime infielder Tom Burns, who had retired earlier in the season to become an umpire, halted the game after five innings. He “was just as tired as the players,” reported the Globe “and called the game to enable the Bostons to take the train to Cleveland.”13
“Stivetts was simply invincible,” wrote the Washington Post, if only for 15 outs and 16 batters.14 He fanned two and did not throw a wild pitch.
Two days later, the Beaneaters were at League Park in Cleveland to kick off the NL’s first postseason championship series. “The Bostons expect to clean the earth with the ‘Spiders,’” predicted the Globe, and the Hub daily was correct.15 Stivetts emerged as one of the stars of the series. He dueled Cy Young in an 11-inning scoreless tie in Game One on October 17, beat Young 3-2 in Game Three, and won a wild 12-7 affair against John Clarkson in Game Five at the South End Grounds in Boston. Nichols defeated Young in Game Six for the Beaneaters’ fifth straight victory to capture the championship. In a career-defining performance, Stivetts went 2-0 with an 0.93 ERA in 29 innings. The NL discarded the split-season and postseason series in 1893 and it was not until 1903 that another postseason championship series would return.
For 99 years, Stivetts was counted among the few pitchers to hurl two no-hitters in the same season. That changed in September 1991, when the Committee for Statistical Accuracy, chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent, amended the definition of a no-hitter to include only those games that last at least nine innings and end with no hits. An estimated 36 abbreviated no-hitters were removed from the ranks, including Stivetts’ abbreviated one in Washington.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 “The Base Ball Season of 1892 Ends,” (Washington) Evening Star, October 15, 1892: 12.
2 “League Season Wound Up,” Washington Post, October 16, 1892: 6.
3 “Season Closed,” Boston Globe, October 16, 1892: 6.
4 “League Season Wound Up,” Washington Post, October 16, 1892: 6.
5 Erik Miklich, “The Pitcher’s Area,” 19C Base Ball. http://www.19cbaseball.com/field-8.html; and John Thorn, “A Brief History of the Pitching Distance,” Our Game, February 27, 2015. https://ourgame.mlblogs.com/a-brief-history-of-the-pitching-distance-3210e7874d5c#:~:text=From%201845%20to%201880%20the,effect%20creating%20the%20pitcher’s%20box.
6 “Season Closed.”
7 Sporting Life, October 29, 1892: 9.
8 “Umpire Lynch Did It,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 6, 1892: 3, 5
9 “Not a Hit off Stivetts,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 7, 1892: 8.
10 “Season Closed.”
11 “Season Closed.”
12 “Season Closed.”
13 “Season Closed.”
14 “League Season Wound Up.”
15 “Season Closed.”
Boston Beaneaters 4
Washington Senators 0
Game 2, DH
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