This article was written by L. Robert Davids
This article was published in the 1981 Baseball Research Journal
The 1981 split season, which resulted from a player strike lasting two months in the middle of the year, calls forth comparisons with the only other split season in the majors, that of 1892 in the National League. The main differences, of course, were that the 1892 break was planned and that there was no hiatus between the halves. However, there were some similarities, which will become apparent in a brief review of the 1892 situation.
Major league baseball had been through a trying experience with the players revolt of 1 890 which resulted in the one year operation of the Players’ League, and then the collapse of the American Association after the 1891 season. The National League picked up four AA cities and expanded from eight teams to 12 for the 1892 season. Consideration was given to adopting a first half and a second half of the season based on an apparently successful experiment in the Eastern League in 1891. The Reach Guide for 1893 described it this way:
To add to the novelty which a 12-club league might have, the season was divided into two championships, the first to end on July 15 and the second to terminate late in October. At the same time the complement of championship games was increased from 140 games to 154. So the season began two weeks early and ended ten days later than in 1891. The result was that the opening games were played in weather which was far from being inducive to enthusiasm and that fact threw a damper upon the year’s sport from the beginning.
Attendance was down in many cities and particularly in New York where the Giants got off to a bad start. A real financial crisis developed. The 12 clubs had assumed a debt of $125,000 to cover the four clubs dropped in the consolidation and a sinking fund had been created requiring 10 percent of gross receipts to go to the general treasury. That figure had to be increased to 1 2Y2 percent.
At a meeting in New York in late June, club representatives decided to make a sweeping reduction in salaries all along the line for the remaining half of the season. The player salaries had increased until “they became in general most unreasonable. The wars of 1890 and 1891 had forced salaries nearly 100 percent above what they had been in 1888-89.” The players were now informed that their salaries were cut 30-40 percent. Any player refusing to take the cut was to be unconditionally released. Pitcher Charlie Buffinton of Baltimore was one and his major league career ended right there. Tony Mullane of Cincinnati also quit for the season. Only Pittsburgh and Cleveland made expenses; all other clubs lost money, including Boston, which won the first half by a few games over Brooklyn.
Many clubs reorganized on financial grounds for the second half, which followed without delay. Cleveland, which had finished fifth in the first half, won the second half on the strength of Cy Young’s fine pitching. He was 36 and 10 over the full season and led in winning percentage, shutouts and earned run average. Boston, led by hurlers Jack Stivetts and Kid Nichols, who each won 35 games, finished a close second. The Beaneaters had the best record over-all. The Reach Guide gave this background:
At the close of the second championship, the Cleveland club, winner of the second series, was extremely anxious to meet the champions of the first series, the Bostons, in a series of firsts. But the Bostons expressed an unwillingness to play any such games. They alleged that an impression prevailed among baseball patrons in their city that their team had not tried to win the second series in order that they might, in that way, secure the financial benefit which would arise out of a subsequent struggle for the Championship of the United States. The officials of the Boston club wanted to refute such an insinuation or belief by foregoing any postseason games with the Clevelands, and so decided not to meet the Clevelands in the final games.
But the league insisted that such a series take place and it did. A nine-game play-off was agreed upon to decide the championship. Three games were scheduled in Cleveland, three in Boston and three in New York, if necessary to decide the winner. The series opened in Cleveland on October 17 and almost 6000 turned out to witness a great 11-inning 0-0 pitching duel between Boston’s Jack Stivetts and Cleveland’s Cy Young which was halted by darkness. The next day a crowd of almost 7000 saw Boston nip the home club 4-3, with Harry Staley beating John Clarkson. Clarkson, incidentally, had spent the first half of the season with Boston and pitched for Cleveland in the second half.
On October 19, Boston won another one-run contest, 3-2 (Stivetts over Young) before 6000. After a day off the teams moved to Boston where, on October 21, Kid Nichols blanked the Spiders 4-0 before a gathering of 6547. Boston won its fourth straight the following afternoon 12-7 (Stivetts over Clarkson), wiping out an early 6-0 Cleveland lead. Only 3466 witnessed the contest. After a Sunday rest, Boston won 8-3 (Nichols over Young) on October 24 for its fifth straight and a sweep of the series. The final game drew the smallest crowd of the series, only 1812 showing up on a cold day. Boston fandom showed little interest in the majors’ first play-off champs. Nevertheless, as a reward for winning the championship, the Boston directors gave the team $1000 to split up among the 13 players. Center fielder Hugh Duffy was the batting star, collecting 12 hits in the six games, including two doubles, two triples, and a home run.
It was not a very successful season. As the editor of the Reach Guide stated: “The clubs have this year acknowledged their error in both the double championship and the lengthened season by abolishing both. This year (1893) there will be one continuing season beginning late in April and ending about the first of October.”
The really important change, however, was in the playing rules. In 1893 the pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60½ feet, with the pitcher being required to work off a plate instead of a pitcher’s box. This resulted in increased batting and it proved to be the magic that lured the fans back to the ballparks.
Here are the club records for the 1892 split season.
52 — 22
46 — 30
44 — 31
40 — 33
37 — 39
35 — 41
31 — 39
31 — 42
31 — 43
30 — 47
20 — 55