September 13, 1871: In rare relief appearance, Harry Wright saves the day for Boston
The game to be played on Wednesday, September 13, 1871, between the Boston Red Stockings and the Troy Haymakers (aka Unions) was touted as a “Base Ball Grand Match for Championship.”1 “Championship” applied to the team with more wins in regular-season meetings. At this point in the season, Troy held a two-wins-to-one advantage over the Boston nine. Should the Red Stockings win this meeting, a fifth game would be needed to determine a champion. Tickets for this game could be purchased for 50 cents each at Wright and Gould’s sporting goods shop at 18 Boylston Street in Boston.2
Play started at 3:00 P.M. and continued for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Pitching for the Red Stockings, making his 26th start of the season, was right-hander Albert Goodwill Spalding. John McMullin, a left-hander making his 23rd start of the season, was on the mound for the Troy (New York) Haymakers. Harry Wright, manager and starting center fielder for the Bostons, would make his ninth pitching appearance, changing positions with Spalding, in the seventh inning and would earn his only win of the season. The manager and second baseman for the Haymakers was Bill Craver. Umpiring duties fell to J.C. Goodwin of the Harvard Club. Despite “threatening weather,”3 a crowd of nearly 2,000 gathered at the South End Grounds to witness the contest.
Troy took to the field in the top of the first and surrendered six runs, three unearned, to the Boston nine. In the bottom half of the inning, Boston also allowed six runs, all unearned. While errors dominated first-inning play, both teams did exhibit batting skills – shortstop George Wright and second baseman Ross Barnes both hit doubles, and catcher Cal McVey, Spalding, and Harry Wright each reached first. For the Haymakers, center fielder Tom York and shortstop Dickie Flowers had “3-base hits.”4
Neither team scored in the second inning. However, fielding had improved with each team completing sparkling double plays. In the top of the second, with the Red Stockings at bat and Barnes on third, shortstop Flowers caught McVey’s sharp liner and threw to third baseman Steve Bellán, who promptly put the tag on Barnes as he tried to return to third, having broken for home. In the Haymakers’ half of the inning, York and Flowers singled, but Red Stockings tird baseman Harry Schafer snared Clipper Flynn’s sharp grounder, stepped on third, forcing York, then quickly threw to Charlie Gould at first to catch Flynn.
The Red Stockings scored four times during the middle innings while the Haymakers scored six. Although the Haymakers “were by no means punishing [Spalding],”5 manager Harry Wright sent the pitcher to center field and assumed the pitching duties himself. No runs were scored in the seventh inning, but the crowd saw fine fielding, including a play by Red Stockings right fielder Dave Birdsall. Troy left fielder Steve King hit to center and, when he saw the ball pass Spalding, broke for second base. Birdsall, backing up Spalding, made a “perfect throw” to second base, where Barnes tagged King out.
At the end of the seventh inning, Troy had a 12-10 advantage. However, the Red Stockings put more men on base in the top of the eighth. George Wright reached first base on an error, Barnes “earned first base,”6 and Birdsall walked. McVey then hit safely, allowing Wright and Barnes to reach home and tying the score at 12-all. By the end of the inning, with solid hitting by Schafer and left fielder Frank Barrows, the Bostons held the lead, 15-12.
The Haymakers answered the Red Stockings’ five runs with one run in their half of the eighth inning as John McMullin tripled and Lip Pike drove him in. The inning ended abruptly as Bellan flied out to center, on a fine play by Spalding, and second baseman Bill Craver and catcher Mike McGreary popped up.
George Wright opened the ninth inning with a hit over the head of Pike in right field. Barnes drove in Wright and scored himself on a hit by Birdsall. Harry Wright ended the inning on a popup to Pike, and the Reds led by seven runs, 20-13.
By “wielding the bat heavily,”7 Flowers, Flynn, Pike, and Bellan brought the Haymakers to within three runs of the Red Stockings. However, they could not score the seven runs they needed to tie, or the eight runs to win.
This game was remarkable for the many errors (28) and unearned runs (22) surrendered by both teams. Also, it was the only game of the season in which Spalding neither won nor lost, and it was the Wright’s only win of the season. The Red Stockings now boasted a 16-9 record, with one tie and a four-game winning streak, and were in third place in the Association behind the Chicago White Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics.
Boston Red Stockings
- George Wright, ss
- Ross Barnes, 2b
- Dave Birdsall, rf
- Cal McVey, c
- Al Spalding, p, cf
- Charlie Gould, 1b
- Harry Schafer, 3b
- Frank Barrows, lf
- Harry Wright, cf, p
- Mike McGeary, c
- Tom York, cf
- Dickie Flowers, ss
- Clipper Flynn, 1b
- Steve King, lf
- John McMullin, p
- Lip Pike, rf
- Steve Bellán, 3b
- Bill Craver, 2b
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.
In addition to the sources indicated in the notes, the author also consulted:
Wilbert, Warren N. Opening Pitch: Professional Baseball’s Inaugural Season, 1871 (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
1 “Multiple Classified Advertisements,” Boston Daily Advertiser, September 13, 1871.
2 John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 154.
3 “Base Ball – The Red Stockings Defeat the Haymakers,” Boston Daily Advertiser, September 14, 1871.