Baseball in Akron, 1879-81

This article was written by Alvin K. Peterjohn

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


The rapid expansion of major league baseball from eight major league teams in 1881 to 16 teams in 1883 required nearly 100 additional players to stock the new franchises. This article traces the history of the independent Akron, Ohio team of that era and the important role it played in producing a good crop of players for both the new American Association and the established National League.

The creation of the National League in 1876 provided a stable base for the rapid development of professional baseball nearly a century ago. Yet within five years of its creation, major population centers including New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati were excluded from membership. The spirit of enterprise that has been an integral part of this nation’s history quickly moved to fill the void and by 1882 a second major league, the American Association, had been formed and franchises were placed in five of the six large cities listed earlier. New York did not join the American Association in 1882 although its club, The Metropolitans, was offered a franchise in the new league. A year later, after seeing the successful completion of a full season of competition, The Metropolitans joined the AA, along with the Columbus Buckeyes, to form an eight team league.

The rapid expansion of major league baseball from eight major league teams in 1881 to 16 teams in 1883 required nearly 100 additional players to stock the new franchises. This narrative analysis traces the history of the independent Akron, Ohio team of that era and the important role it played in producing a good crop of players for both the new American Association and the established National League. It should serve to indicate the trials of building and maintaining such a team and the fragile nature of the whole enterprise.

In June of 1879, Akron, a bustling community of about 16,000 people, organized an independent baseball team to compete against similar teams in neighboring communities. On July 21, the Akron team met and defeated a team from Orrville 15 to 10. Six days later the new Akron team eked out a narrow 7 to 6 win over Garrettsville.

The playing captain of the new team was a 22-year-old Akron native, Samuel Washington Wise. Sam served initially as a catcher for the new team. Early in August, John Moran, an experienced player with the Worcester, Mass. Team of 1878, was secured to play center field.

While the Akron team campaigned as an amateur team the players were undoubtedly paid for their services. Additional victories totaling six in all followed the initial club successes. Garrettsville, the Ashland Anchors,

Elyria and the Aetnas of Warren, Ohio were bested before Garrettsville snapped the Akron streak 6 to 4 on September 5, 1879.

Especially noteworthy in this victory string was the Akron win over Elyria by an 11 to 7 score. Captain Sam Wise was the hero of this game with a double, triple and home run to show for his afternoon’s work.

After the loss to Garrettsville, the Akron team was further strengthened by additional experienced talent as second baseman Michael Dorsey who had played with Auburn, New York and Rockford, Illinois, joined the team. Victories over Seville, Ravenna, Mansfield and the Forest City club of Cleveland followed, and a challenge game with the new Cleveland National League team was arranged for October 8, 1879 in Akron. Two thousand people turned out and receipts of $204.80 were realized from the game. Admission price was 25 cents and spectators who arrived after the fifth inning were charged ten cents to enter the grounds for the balance of the game.

The Akron club had secured new uniforms of white shirts and breeches trimmed in brown with a letter “A” on each shirt front. Brown stockings and caps completed the home team’s uniform. The Akron lineup for the game with Cleveland included a new pitcher, John Neagle, who had worked for the Cincinnati Reds early in 1879. James Green, a young recruit from Cleveland, served as the Akron catcher as Captain Wise moved to third base. The balance of the infield had Ed Swartwood at first base, Mike Dorsey at second and Charlie Morton from Cleveland at shortstop. John Moran in center provided a tested middle fielder while Darrow and Ed Johnson filled the right and left field spots.

Still the Akron team proved no match for the Cleveland team as southpaw Bob Mitchell easily bested Neagle by a 9 to 2 score. A second game on September 9, 1879 was attended by about 800 fans and saw Cleveland win again by a 12 to 5 score. Two games followed the Cleveland series as Akron easily whipped Kent 31 to 1 and staged a benefit intra-squad contest to conclude the 1879 season. Akron showed a very creditable 17-3 win-loss record for its first season’s effort.

In 1880, the Akron Baseball Association organized again for the new year and a number of the regulars from the 1879 team reported for practice. John Neagle was on hand to do the pitching and Dorsey, Morton, and Wise provided three quarters of the infield while John Moran returned to the center field spot.

By mid-June the new grounds at Perkins Street west of Union Street were ready including a grandstand for 800 fans. The opening game on June 16, 1880 saw John Neagle pitch Akron to an impressive 7 to 3 win over Elyria. The catcher for the Elyria team was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who in 1884 would become the first Black professional baseball player in the major leagues with Toledo of the American Association. Interestingly, the Akron team’s substitute pitcher, Ed Johnson, was also a Black. Ed also played first base and in the outfield for Akron during the 1880 season. After beating Elyria a second time, the Akrons faced the Cleveland National League team on July 1, and received a 14 to 0 lacing.

Robert Iredell, who had been listed as the Akron manager, resigned on July 16, and was replaced temporarily by Clarence P. Knight as the business manager of the club. Jim Green and Ed Swartwood were also back in town and ready to rejoin the club at mid-season. Akron responded to these changes by whipping the famous Findlay Nine Spots 15 to 5, the Cleveland Whites 5 to 1, Norwalk, Ohio twice, and Elyria 9 to 7 before the end of July, 1880 was reached. A resounding loss to the Worcester, Mass. National League team was followed by wins over the amateur Cleveland Greys, Norwalk, and Ravenna.

On August 10, Charles Morton became the Akron team manager and he immediately began to recruit a number of new player prospects. Anthony J. Mullane came from Pennsylvania to join the Akron team. Samuel Leech Maskrey, Mike Mansell and Rudolph Kemmler also joined the team in August as the team began to shape up. Cleveland defeated Akron by a 9 to 6 score on August 28. Neagle and Green were the battery for Akron with John Mansell at first base, Dorsey at second, Morton at shortstop and Wise at third. Mike Mansell patrolled center field as Maskrey and Mullane filled the other outer garden points. A loss to Boston followed the Cleveland game and on September 1, 1880 second baseman Mike Dorsey, disappointed with his hitting, announced his intention to retire at the close of the season.

On September 8, Akron upset the famous Chicago White Sox 4 to 3 with about 600 fans on hand. Tony Mullane pitched the upset win for Akron and Rudolph Kemmler was his catcher. Mike Mansell with four hits in four at bats was the hitting star for Akron.

Cleveland and Cincinnati followed Chicago into Akron and defeated the local heroes although the Reds just got by with a 3 to 2 win. A late season loss to Buffalo completed Akron’s meetings with NL teams. The team did play an intra-squad game and decisively defeated the Western Reserve College nine on September 29, 1880 before the season’s close.

Statistics published by the Akron club for the season showed the team with six hitters over the magic .300 mark including Tony Mullane, John Mansell, Mike Manaell, Sam Wise, John Moran and Jim Green. The business dimensions of this, season were revealed in the financial report made for the season. (Note that the breakdown of bills is 22 cents short of the listed total.)

 

Akron Baseball Association, 1880

     
Receipts   4023.15
     
Bills (total)   4948.44
     
  Salaries 1505.02
  Guarantees 1606.23
  Suits 112.92
  Supplies 58.5
  Construction 916.79
  Travel 314.11
  Sundries 112.08
  Advertising 322.57
     
Balance Owed   925.29

 

The Akron Baseball Association, preparing for its third season, held a reorganization meeting on April 20, 1881. George W. Crouse was chosen the club president and Charles Morton was named team manager, a position involving duties of the business manager and traveling secretary. Ed Swartwood was named the field captain.

Team personnel showed substantial continuity from the 1880 club. John Neagle was retained as the starting pitcher although Tony Mullane was expected to join the team as a second hurler. Only at second base was a new face expected and for this spot Akron secured John A. McPhee, who had played the same position for Davenport, Iowa in 1880. Bid McPhee became a regular at once and held the spot all season long. He was 22 years old in 1881. Leech Maskrey, John Mansell and Jim Green were the early season outfielders for Akron.

Cleveland routed Akron 25 to 1 in the opening game of the 1881 season, but two victories over the Cleveland Whites early in May gave the Akron rooters hope for the new season. Tony Mullane reported and replaced John Neagle on the mound for these victories. When Tony wasn’t pitching he played in the outfield because of his hitting ability.

Losses, to Boston, Troy and Worcester of the National League produced no great outpouring of local fans. Receipts for the Boston game totaled only $80.15 indicating that about 400 to 500 fans witnessed the game. Late in May, Akron whipped the Beaver Falls, Penn. team and also amateur teams from Cleveland, the Malleables and the Whites. In June, John Neagle left the team and headed East to join the newly organized New York Metropolitans for a reported salary of $100 a month.

During the last two weeks in June 1881, Akron journeyed to Louisville and engaged in a memorable series with the famous Eclipse Club of that city. The series attracted national attention as Akron won three of five games played. It was the game that Akron neither won nor lost that received the greatest newspaper acclaim. Akron and Louisville played 19 innings to a 2 to 2 tie on June 24. Tony Mullane and John Reccius of Louisville toiled in vain to record a win that would never come. Pete Browning, the original Louisville slugger who made Hillerich and Bradsby bats famous, was in the Louisville lineup that day for the Eclipse Club.

After this successful trip, the Akron club returned home and talk of disbanding was heard in the local press.

However, by mid-July, the club was reorganized and new players were on hand. Billy Taylor, formerly of Worcester and William A. “Blondy” Purcell from Cleveland were signed to Akron contracts.

Detroit edged Akron 8 to 7 on July 18, as Purcell took the mound loss. Cleveland shut out Akron four days later, but the local’s defeated Meadville and Mercer, Pa. teams and the Cleveland Whites before the end of July.

After defeating Canton 24 to 0 with Mullane pitching a no-hitter, the Akrons traveled to Louisville and edged the Eclipse club by a 5 to 4 score on August 4. On August 10, Akron met and defeated Buffalo on its home grounds in Akron by a score of 9 to 4 with Mullane the winning pitcher. Pud Galvin, the Buffalo pitcher and a Hall of Fame member was knocked out of the box in the second inning and finished the game in left field. Billy Taylor played first base for Akron and Andy Piercey, formerly of the Chicago NL team, was the new shortstop. Purcell covered center field.

Two days later Buffalo, stung by this loss, battered the Akrons 17 to 4. After whipping East Liverpool, Akron dropped a 4 to 0 game to Detroit on August 15. Four days later the local heroes bounced back and defeated Detroit 8 to 6 as Tony Mullane gathered the mound victory. Receipts for the game reached $65.00.

There followed a trip to St. Louis where Akron split two games with the Browns, and added another win, 14 to 2 over Louisville, before coming home to close the season on September 7, with a 14 to 0 win over the Oberlin team.

Later in September 1881, some of the Akron players, as a barnstorming group, played in St. Louis, but the team officially disbanded for the season on September 9. Most of the players were hired by major league teams for 1882 and Akron did not field a professional team that year. Late season reports indicated that the Akron club cleared about $400 on its trip to St. Louis in August 1881. The Akron fans had seen excellent baseball for three seasons and a number of major league players jumped to the big show from this Akron team.

Tony Mullane pitched for Louisville in the AA in 1882, winning 31 games and losing 23. He had a batting average of .255 working in the outfield on a part time basis. Mullane, the idol of feminine fans in his day, played 13 years in the majors and won a total of 287 games while losing 214 during that period.

Bid McPhee became the Cincinnati Red regular second baseman in 1882 and held that position for a total of 18 years in the AA and NL. Bid played in 2125 games for Cincinnati during a span of nearly two decades and finished with a lifetime batting average of .281.

Cyrus Swartwood joined Pittsburgh of the PA in 1882 and led that league in batting in 1883 with a .369 season average. Ed finished nine years in the majors with a .309 lifetime batting average. Billy Taylor and Charles Morton also played with Pittsburgh in 1882. Morton served as Toledo’s only major league manager in the years 1884 to 1890. Leech Maskrey became a regular Louisville outfielder in 1882, while Rudy Kemmler spent time catching with both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. John Mansell did limited work in the outfield for the Philadelphia Athletics.

Blondy Purcell was with Buffalo of the NL in 1882 and he continued in the major leagues through 1890. Sam Wise, the local hero and Akron native, joined Boston of the National League and played 77 games at shortstop and third base for the beantown team after leaving Akron. Sam played ten more seasons in the majors and was the leading Akron baseball star until George Sisler reached the majors in 1915.

By actual count, ten of 16 Akron players of 1881 were playing major league baseball in 1882. It may be truly said that long ago Akron, Ohio, a city of slightly over 16,000 people, produced a baseball team that helped to make a new major league possible. Financially the team was never a success and obviously a city of this size could not support a major league team, but it is interesting to know that this team produced ten major league players in 1882. The Akron team further demonstrated ample ability to meet major league teams on nearly an equal basis during several seasons of active competition.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved