1894 Boston Beaneaters: No Four-Peat For Champions

This article was written by Charlie Bevis

This article was published in 1890s Boston Beaneaters essays

After winning three pennants in a row from 1891 to 1893, the Boston Beaneaters were denied a fourth consecutive championship during the 1894 season when the brawling Baltimore Orioles earned their first National League title.

The team’s prospects for 1894 were derailed early that January when veteran catcher Charlie Bennett lost both of his legs in a train accident. Bennett’s work with the Boston pitching staff, particularly with ace Kid Nichols, had been a significant factor in the team’s pennant streak. He was also a steadying influence in the clubhouse, where his presence was decidedly missed during the 1894 season.

For the 1894 season, manager Frank Selee had a veteran, battle-hardened team. The entire infield returned from 1893, with Tommy Tucker at first base, Bobby Lowe at second base, Herman Long at shortstop, and Billy Nash at third base. Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy continued to anchor the outfield, with newcomer Jimmy Bannon taking over right field. The team’s top three pitchers – Nichols, Jack Stivetts, and Harry Staley – returned as well, with Tom Lovett coming aboard as the fourth hurler. At catcher, Jack Ryan took Bennett’s spot in Boston’s three-man backstop corps, joining holdovers Charlie Ganzel and Bill Merritt.

In March 1894 a significant change occurred in the three-man ownership group of the Boston ballclub. Among the triumvirate, Arthur Soden and William Conant now controlled club policy, since James Billings was no longer a co-equal owner. Billings transferred to Soden and Conant all but one share of his stock in the ballclub in order to raise enough money to pay off the creditors of his bankrupt shoe factory.1 Now a minority owner, Billings, who had a more temperate attitude toward the ballplayers, had little voice in ballclub affairs. During the 1894 season, ownership decisions increasingly spiraled from frugal to downright penny-pinching, resulting in an under-insured ballpark and a more rampant discord among the players than in the previous two seasons

Several players staged holdouts into April, including Nichols, who later said he finally reached an agreement with Soden “to pitch two games a week and receive extra salary for extra games.”2 Early in the season, the disgruntled Boston players openly complained that they “ought to get better pay, because the team was playing good ball and the management was making money.”3 Ultimately, this “simmering discontent on the team” deflated the motivation of the players and thwarted Boston’s chance to repeat as league champion during the 1894 season.4

On April 19 Boston opened the 1894 season at the South End Grounds against Brooklyn to christen the new state holiday of Patriots Day. Replacing Fast Day, which had been held earlier in the month, Patriots Day celebrated the start of the American Revolution.5 The new holiday made an apt date for the opening battle of the baseball season in Boston for many years. Before a crowd of 8,000 for the holiday season-opener, Boston defeated Brooklyn, 13-2, to commence the season atop the National League standings.

During the ensuing three-week road trip, the Beaneaters played inconsistently and returned to Boston in fourth place. The player discontent became public. The Brooklyn Eagle reported, “There is promise of a tall rumpus over the salary question between the Boston players and management.”6 The New York Sun anonymously quoted one Boston player, reputedly McCarthy, who said, “To tell you the truth, the gang doesn’t care whether Boston wins or loses. You see, Soden and Conant cut all of our salaries down this spring, in spite of the fact that we won the championship three times in succession.”7 Once back in Boston, though, a second team-related adversity just four months after Bennett’s disabling accident provided the impetus for the disgruntled players to put aside their conflict with ownership (for a few months) and focus on winning ballgames.

On May 15 in the third inning of the game between Boston and Baltimore, fire broke out in the right-field bleachers at the South End Grounds. The Great Roxbury Fire not only destroyed the ballpark but also burned down 200 buildings in a 12-acre section of the adjacent neighborhood, leaving 1,900 people homeless. One of the homeless was John Haggerty, the groundskeeper at the South End Grounds, who had run to sound the alarm at the local firehouse. “When John got back to the grounds,” the Boston Globe reported, “the whole grand stand was afire, as well as his own little house close by on Walpole St.”8

Despite the personal adversity, Haggerty went to work to shape up the Congress Street Grounds, which the ballclub quickly leased to continue playing the team’s home games.9 However, the old ballpark, last used by a minor-league team in 1893, was in deplorable condition. Besides improving the field conditions, Haggerty had to borrow hundreds of chairs to put in the grandstand, since the ballpark seats had been sold earlier that spring.10

On May 16 Boston defeated Baltimore on the rough playing conditions at the Congress Street Grounds. Boston then moved its home series with Philadelphia to the City of Brotherly Love, to give Haggerty more time to get the grounds into better shape for the remainder of the six-week homestand, which reconvened on May 21. After the homestand ended on June 20, when Duffy poked a three-run walk-off homer to propel Boston to a 13-12 come-from-behind victory over Baltimore, Boston was in second place, a game and a half behind the first-place Orioles.

Home runs were hit unusually often at the Congress Street Grounds. In the renovation of the ballpark, the playing field likely was reoriented, resulting in an incredibly short 225-foot distance from home plate to the left-field fence.11 During the 27 games played at the Congress Street Grounds, players hit 86 home runs. This volume of four-baggers represented 14 percent of the league’s total of 629 home runs stroked in the 799 games played by all 12 teams that season. On May 30, 1894, Boston second baseman Lowe became the first major leaguer to hit four home runs in one game.

High-scoring games were also the norm at the Congress Street Grounds. For example, in the Decoration Day twin bill on May 30, Boston won the first game, 13-10, and, when Lowe hit his four home runs, won the second game, 20-11. In the Bunker Hill Day holiday twin bill on June 18 (the holiday, normally June 17, fell on a Sunday in 1894), Boston scored 16 runs in the first inning.

During the entire 1894 season, Boston scored 1,220 runs, which today remains the major-league record for the most runs scored by a team in a season. The Beaneaters averaged 9.2 runs per game over the 132-game season, averaging 10.6 runs at home and 7.9 runs on the road. Boston exploited a home-field advantage because visiting teams were unfamiliar with the Congress Street Grounds as well as the rebuilt South End Grounds (where Boston won an August doubleheader by the scores of 18-3 and 25-8). The Beaneaters also exploited the sore arms of the league’s pitchers that season.

The standard explanation for 1894 being a big-hitting year was that batters took advantage of the poor adaptability by pitchers to the longer pitching distance instituted in 1893 (from 55 feet to 60 feet 6 inches), since there were no major changes to the batting rules in 1894 (the infield-fly rule being the most significant change). “Pitchers, in exploring how to adjust to the new circumstances, exhausted their arms in 1893 by trying to sustain the customary pitching loads of the past,” one historian explained. “They then found themselves in 1894 not only struggling with the greater distance but also toiling with throwing arms made lame by the overwork of the previous year.”12

Nichols, Boston’s ace pitcher, was one of the few pitchers unaffected by the 1893 pitching-distance change.13 He led the 1894 Boston staff with a won-lost record of 32-13, his fourth consecutive season of 30 or more victories. This consistency before and after the rule change was the direct opposite of the experience of most pre-1893 star pitchers. Nichols made the adjustment in his delivery to maintain the speed of his fastball and the break of his curveball, so his arm was better conditioned to the longer distance.

Despite the success of Nichols, pitching scuttled the pennant chances for Boston in 1894. While Stivetts proved to be a capable number-two pitcher (26-14), Staley (12-10) was inconsistent and Lovett was released in early July, replaced by George Hodson in August. Selee tried out a half-dozen recruit pitchers, to no avail. Catching also presented complications. In mid-June Boston signed Fred Tenney, a left-handed catcher, to try to compensate for Bennett’s absence.

Hitting, on the other hand, was exceptional in 1894. During Boston’s four-week road trip, from June 21 to July 18, Duffy raised his batting average nearly 50 points, from .375 to .422, to solidify his stake as one of the league’s top batters in 1894.14 “Mr. Duffy has grown to be a full blown sunflower in the batting department of the game since the champions started out in dead earnest for that piece of [pennant] bunting,” the Boston Globe remarked.15 Duffy went on to lead the league with a .440 average, which remains the high-water mark for a single-season batting average in the major leagues.16 Five other Boston players hit over .300: McCarthy (.349), Lowe (.346), Bannon (.336), Tucker (.330), and Long (.324), as the Beaneaters compiled an eye-popping .331 team batting average.

Bennett, recovering from his leg amputations, attended Boston’s game in Pittsburgh on July 2 as well as the exhibition game the next day in Sharon, Pennsylvania, a few miles from Bennett’s hometown. Bennett’s presence seemed to inspire the Beaneaters. After splitting the Independence Day twin bill in Pittsburgh, Boston obliterated Cleveland, 22-7, on July 5 to move into a virtual tie for first place with Baltimore. Duffy had a 5-for-5 day and another four players garnered four hits apiece. “From the very start, the batters at the top of Boston’s list began to hit the ball,” the Boston Globe reported. “They kept it going until the tongues of the Cleveland fielders were hanging out from exhaustion.”17

Boston held first place for 10 days in July during the road trip before dropping back to second place at the trip’s conclusion, just one game behind Baltimore. On July 20 the Beaneaters returned to play in the rebuilt, now fireproof, South End Grounds. Because the former ballpark was not fully insured, the new structure was less grandiose than the previous facility and had just a one-story grandstand to replace the more regal double deck. For 1894, only one of three grandstand sections was completed, but there was ample bleacher seating.18

On July 21 Boston returned to first place as Nichols defeated third-place New York. After defeating Baltimore in three straight games at Baltimore in late July (taking the season series eight games to four), Boston was in first place with a five-game lead, its largest lead of the season. Boston seemed headed to its fourth consecutive pennant, but not everyone in the league agreed with that prognostication.

“They are all picking Boston to win the pennant. I don’t know about that,” Brooklyn team president Charlie Byrnecommented in mid-July. “Outside of the wonderful playing of four members of the Boston team, who have been playing lucky as well as brainy ball, I can’t see wherein they have a ‘cinch’ on the pennant. The showing of the Baltimores in the race is more clear cut than of Boston for Manager Hanlon’s men have hit the ball as well as fielded it, and hitting the ball is the thing after all.”19 Byrne turned out to be very prescient.

Boston merely chugged along in first place, maintaining just a slim lead during the first four weeks of August. Nichols began to falter on the pitching rubber during the dog days of August, but luckily Stivetts became a steadying force and newcomer Hodson helped to plug the gap. And Duffy continued to lead Boston’s hit parade. What little momentum Boston had in first place stalled after the August 25 game, an 8-3 victory over Cleveland, when a disappointingly small crowd of “3773 spectators were full of enthusiasm, and applauded the good plays of the game liberally and in a non-partisan manner, such as Boston is noted for throughout the country.”20 Despite the team contending for a pennant, home attendance was dismal all season.

Total attendance for the 1894 season was just 152,000 people, down substantially from 193,000 in 1893 and nearly half of the 283,000 drawn back in 1889. The economic depression was one reason for the tepid attendance. Another was the beginning of a shift in spectator composition at the ballpark. Businessmen, the primary spectator base, were moving their residences out to the streetcar suburbs that were far from the ballpark. They were slowly replaced by emerging middle-class Irish-Americans, who lived within a short trolley ride of the ballpark.21 Simply put, 1894 was a transition year for attendance, as the rowdier Royal Rooters began to attend games at the South End Grounds and would soon emerge at the dominant base of spectators during the next few years. 

President Soden blamed attendance for the team’s failure to repeat as champions. “I attribute the loss of the championship very largely to the apathy of the home crowds toward the home team. Time and again I have heard complaints from our players about this fact,” Soden said after the season ended. “If our people rooted as hard for their own players as the crowds do in Baltimore and Pittsburg[h], the club would undoubtedly have more [winning] games to its credit.”22

The largest crowd of the 1894 season at the South End Grounds attended on August 27 at the benefit game for Bennett, when 9,000 people bought tickets to generate a $6,000 donation to the double-amputee.23 However, the emotion of the benefit game appears to have negatively impacted the psyche of the Boston ballplayers, resuscitating their latent disgruntlement, as the team went into an immediate tailspin.

On August 28 Nichols surrendered four runs in the seventh inning as St. Louis broke a 5-5 tie and went on to defeat Boston, 9-5. Boston lost two of the three games with the lowly St. Louis Browns, which dropped the Beaneaters into a first-place tie with Baltimore on August 30. On August 31 the Beaneaters faded to second place when the New York Giants defeated them, 5-1, as Nichols lost his second straight game. On September 6, after losing to last-place Louisville in the season’s final home game, Boston fell to third place as the Boston Globe reported the obvious fact that “the outlook for the pennant is very doubtful.”24

During the season-ending three-week road trip, the energy was zapped from the Beaneaters as they played moribund .500 ball against weak opponents. Even the reward of postseason cash from the newly instituted Temple Cup series, to be contested by the top two teams in the league standings with the net proceeds going to the ballplayers, failed to motivate the Boston team. There was really no fight for second place between New York and Boston, as Boston finished the 1894 season in third place with an 83-49 record, eight games behind pennant-winning Baltimore.

In mid-September, Jake Morse, baseball writer for the Boston Herald, blamed the pennant derailment on the loss of Bennett. “Game after game has been lost to the champions this year by the poor work of the catchers,” Morse wrote, then blandly added that “a club which has won the pennant three years in succession is not likely to play the ball that a club will which is after the pennant for the first time.”25

During the season finale in Pittsburgh, Tim Murnane, baseball writer for the Boston Globe, explained a more sinister reason for the team’s collapse in 1894. “Nearly every one of the old men is anxious to get away from Boston,” Murnane wrote about the undercurrent of dissension on the team. “Several of the boys claim they have grievances against the owners of the club.”26

Boston barnstormed its way home from Pittsburgh by playing exhibition matches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as New York swept Baltimore in the inaugural Temple Cup series. Upon the team’s return to Boston, Duffy, the league batting champion, was feted at a banquet and opened a bowling alley in partnership with fellow outfielder McCarthy.27Nichols returned to his home in Kansas City, where he kept his right arm limber by competing in a bowling league.28

During the fall of 1894, both ownership and the ballplayers hoped to make more money in 1895. After producing an estimated $30,000 profit in 1894, the triumvirate looked forward to the completion of the rebuilt South End Grounds, which would encourage a greater number of spectators to make the trek to the ballpark.29 Talk of reviving the American Association to compete with the National League raised player hopes for higher salaries, but these expectations were dashed when that movement collapsed by year-end. The tussle over money would continue into the 1895 season.

CHARLIE BEVIS is the author of seven books on baseball history, most recently Red Sox vs. Braves in Boston: The Battle for Fans’ Hearts, 1901–1952. A member of SABR since 1984, he has contributed more than four dozen biographies to the SABR BioProject as well as several to SABR books, including The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox. He is an adjunct professor of English at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire, and lives in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.


1 “Business Failures,” Boston Globe, March 22, 1894: 7; “Treasurer Billings Fails in Business,” The Sporting News, March 17, 1894: 1; “Broken at Last: The Famous Boston Triumvirate Now Dissolved,” Sporting Life, March 17, 1894: 4.

2 Richard Bogovich, Kid Nichols: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Pitcher (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012), 79.

3 “The Boston Row: The Triumvirs Do Not Relish the Floating Talk,” Sporting Life, May 19, 1894: 8.

4 Donald Hubbard, The Heavenly Twins of Boston Baseball: A Dual Biography of Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 108.

5 “Fast Day Goes: House Votes to Abolish Historic Holiday: April 19 Takes Its Place on the State’s Calendar,” Boston Globe, February 17, 1894: 10; “League Schedule: Season Opens in Boston on April 19,” Boston Globe, February 28, 1894: 2.

6 “Byrne Calls on Keefe,” Brooklyn Eagle, May 12, 1894: 2.

7 “Trouble Among the Champions,” New York Sun, May 10, 1894: 4.

8 “1900 Persons Homeless,” Boston Globe, May 16, 1894: 4.

9 “Grounds for the Present,” Boston Post, May 16, 1894: 5.

10 “The Boston Fire,” Sporting Life, May 26, 1894: 3. 

11 Correspondence dated July 13, 2015, with Ron Selter, an expert in re-creating ballpark dimensions. The distance to left field in 1894 was shorter by 15 feet from the distance in 1890 and 1891 when the ballpark was used for games in the Players League and American Association.

12 Reed Browning, Cy Young: A Baseball Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 35.

13 Browning, Cy Young, 36. Two other successful converts were Amos Rusie and Cy Young.

14 Averages are from the estimated statistics published every Monday in the Boston Globe.

15 “Fine Stick Work,” Boston Globe, July 22, 1894: 7.

16 “Duffy Heads the List,” New York Clipper, October 27, 1894: 543. At the time, Duffy had a recorded .438 average, which has since been adjusted to .440 under modern rules.

17 “Poor Old John,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1894: 2.

18 “New Grand Stand, South End Ball Grounds,” Boston Globe, June 24, 1894: 16; “Must Be a Brick Stand,” Boston Globe, June 13, 1894: 4.

19 “Diamond Field Gossip,” New York Clipper, July 21, 1894: 312.

20 “Clever Hodson,” Boston Globe, August 26, 1894: 2.

21 Charlie Bevis, Red Sox vs. Braves in Boston: The Battle for Fans’ Hearts, 1901-1952 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2017), 46-47.

22 “Diamond Field Gossip,” New York Clipper, October 13, 1894: 511.

23 “Benefit to Bennett Was a Grand Success,” Boston Globe, August 28, 1894: 1.

24 “Champions Fall Before Battered Colonels,” Boston Globe, September 7, 1894: 2.

25 Jake Morse, “Reconciled to the Loss of the Pennant,” Sporting Life, September 22, 1894: 6.

26 Tim Murnane, “They May Quit: Boston Ball Players Are Not Satisfied,” Boston Globe, September 29, 1894: 1.

27 Hubbard, Heavenly Twins, 119.

28 Bogovich, Kid Nichols, 76.

29 Morse, “Reconciled to the Loss of the Pennant.”