October 2, 1873: Red Stockings take over first place from Philadelphia White Stockings
In the early going of the 1873 season, the White Stockings of Philadelphia enjoyed the kind of success the Boston Red Stockings had enjoyed the previous year. The Quaker City’s “second” team lost but three of its first 30 games, putting together two separate streaks of 10 consecutive victories, and spent much the better part of five months — late April through late September — in first place in the National Association. By contrast, the “veteran” Philadelphia Athletics, winners of the first NA pennant, struggled all season to do better than third place but never quite made it, fading to fifth place at the finish.
Meanwhile, it certainly appeared that the Red Stockings would be hard-pressed to retain their championship title. As of July 15, their record was a middling 16-10 — not bad by any means, but far off the pace of the 1872 Boston team that did not lose its fourth game until September 7! They were nine games behind the White Stockings, with Baltimore and the Athletics in the queue ahead of them.
The Whites seesawed with the Canaries of Baltimore at the top of the pack for two weeks or so in late August, but by the end of that month the Philadelphians were back in sole possession of the lead, and stayed there through the last day of September.
After spending most of August engaged in exhibition games on a Western tour, the Boston nine began a steady, rapid climb in the NA standings. The men from the Hub chalked up 12 wins against one loss (plus one tie) in September. Defeating the Atlantics in Brooklyn on October 1, they rode a seven-game winning streak into the City of Brotherly Love for a contest with the White Stockings the following day. The clubs were in a virtual dead heat: The Whites’ record was 34-14, the Reds’, 33-13-1.
On Thursday afternoon, October 2, at 25th and Jefferson Streets, a very large crowd — estimates ranged from 4,000 to 5,000 — turned out in very fine weather to witness the crucial match. The park at the Jefferson Street Grounds was the first home of pro ball in Philadelphia: The Athletics had played there since the inaugural NA season of 1871.1 It would become the site of the first game in National League history, on April 22, 1876, when the Athletics hosted (and lost to) the Boston Red Caps.
Thus far the two clubs had evenly split the season series, four wins apiece; this was to be the ninth and final match between them in 1873.
Doing the twirling for the White Stockings was George Zettlein, a right-hander who had been in organized ball since 1865 and famously was the winning pitcher for the Brooklyn Atlantics when they snapped Cincinnati’s epic undefeated streak in June 1870.
For reasons still unclear, though perhaps influenced by his team’s poor 2-4 record since mid-September, player-manager Jimmy Wood had held Zettlein out of the Phillies’ previous two games, starting instead the team’s right fielder, George Bechtel, who, with all of three games’ prior pitching experience (in 1871), proceeded to lose both contests, albeit by relatively close margins (10-6 and 14-13).2 For the highly anticipated Boston match, Wood went back to his number-one pitcher, and hoped for the best.
Things started with a bang, as each club scored four runs in its first inning. For the Quakers, who batted first after losing the coin toss, Ned Cuthbert, Levi Meyerle, Wood, and Bechtel all tallied, the production being helped by three Boston errors. In the bottom half, the home team, “[n]ot to be outdone in courtesy to the visitors … went into the muffing business”3 as well. Two botched plays by first baseman Denny Mack aided the Reds in getting their four tallies.
The second inning saw the rivals again go halves on the scoring, as Wood for the Whites and Ross Barnes for the Reds each scored his second run of the day.
The Phillies suffered the first “Chicago” of the game as they went one-two-three in the third. Boston took the opportunity to pull into the lead with a pair of runs, Jim O’Rourke and Harry Schafer contributing key hits.
In the fourth inning, rookie utilityman Jim Devlin, yet to embark on either his promising pitching career or his damnable gambling career, entered the game at first base for the Phillies, replacing the shaky Mack. Devlin reached on a hard hit to right but two grounders handled by George Wright and a fly out to left fielder Andy Leonard left him stranded.
The Bostons cranked out another four runs in the bottom half, and as with much of the scoring in this game, the cause had more to do with shame in the field than sharpness at the bat. With George Wright and Barnes having reached ahead of him, pitcher Al Spalding popped one up in the vicinity of second. Center fielder Fred Treacey came in toward the ball while second sacker Wood angled back for it. Neither succeeded in actually capturing the ball, and it dropped between them to their mutual consternation. Wright scored easily. Then, while Wood and Treacy were, in the words of the New York Clipper, “indulging in some chin music,”4 Barnes bolted home all the way from second. Even the Philadelphia patrons were amused, the Clipper noting that this happened “amid shouts of laughter.”
The slapstick wasn’t over yet. Shortly after this, Wood bungled a potential double play and, no doubt completely flustered by the course of events at this juncture, simply threw the ball down “in a pet,” allowing another Red Stocking to score and drawing more laughter from the spectators.5 At inning’s end, Boston led 11-5, having yet to record a single earned run.
The Quakers came back with a run in the top of the fifth, but the Reds piled on four more in the bottom. Spalding blanked Wood’s crew again in the sixth, and Wright’s nine refused to be kept off the board, adding two runs to their total.6 The seventh inning saw Philadelphia again fail to diminish the Reds’ lead, although Zettlein was finally able to whitewash the visitors.
In the eighth the clubs matched single runs again, the White Stockings making several changes in the field as Boston went to bat. Shortstop Chick Fulmer, possessor of even less pitching experience than George Bechtel, relieved Zettlein. The latter was installed at first, Devlin moving over to third, and Meyerle then plugging the gap at shortstop. Wood’s motives, again, are unclear; the position switches made little sense … and little difference.
Harry Wright pulled one switch himself to start the ninth inning, catcher Deacon White and first baseman Jim O’Rourke exchanging places. The White Stockings, down to their last ups, came alive a bit — but all too late. They managed four runs before umpire Nick Young rang the curtain down on account of the creeping October darkness. Because the inning was incomplete, the score reverted to where it stood at the end of the eighth: 18-7 in the visitors’ favor. Boston had wrested first place from the upstart Pennsylvanians.
As Bill Ryczek aptly puts it, the Reds and Whites, though still neck-and-neck at this point, “had merely intersected while traveling in opposite directions.”7 For the Philadelphians, the brilliant promise of the season’s first half faded ignobly in the second, as they could manage only nine wins in their final 23 games. The Bostonians, on the other hand, after a so-so 18-11 start, breezed through their second half with a 25-5-1 record. They held the Phillies and the other clubs at a comfortable distance the rest of the way and brought home a second pennant.
This article was originally published in "Boston’s First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings" (SABR, 2016), edited by Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 Philip Lowry, Green Cathedrals (New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2006), 171.
2 This Philadelphia NA team was known by various nicknames, including both White Stockings and Blue Stockings. (Since Chicago disbanded its NA club after the catastrophic 1871 fire, there was not another “White Stockings” team in competition.) They were sometimes also called the Phillies, but should not be confused with the modern-day National League Philadelphia team, which is a different franchise altogether.
3 New York Clipper, October 11, 1873.
4 Ibid. This “chin music” is not the modern baseball slang for a high tight pitch that brushes a batter back from the plate, but rather old American slang meaning someone “jawing” away at another, arguing, verbally harassing, etc.
6 The Clipper states clearly that two runs were put up by Boston in the sixth.All other accounts of the game consulted, including the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Daily Globe, Boston Journal, and the Washington Daily National Republican, report only one run here, and give the final score as 17-7. The sketchiness of the accounts, including that of the Clipper, makes it unlikely the discrepancy can be resolved.The only other relevant detail provided in the papers is that the Clipper’s box score credits Bob Addy with one run scored in the game, while all other sources give him a zero.
7 Bill Ryczek, Blackguards and Red Stockings (Wallingford, Connecticut: Colebrook Press, 1992), 127.