Friday, September 4, 2015

Laboring on Labor Day

Doubleheaders have been part of professional base ball since at least July 4, 1873 when, in an attempt to boost holiday attendance against the visiting Elizabeth Resolutes, Harry Wright of the Boston Redstockings staged a morning-afternoon affair with, of course, separate admissions.  Over the centuries and decades, base ball has had a sort of love-hate relationship with doubleheaders.  From when I first became interested in base ball in the 1950's through at least my college graduation in 1968, doubleheaders (two games for the price of one) were both scheduled and promoted.  Today, of course, twin bills are seldom, if ever, scheduled and when caused by weather conditions or some other reason almost always end up as separate admissions.  Twin bills with one admission which were the norm in the 1950's and 1960's are avoided like the plague today.  It doesn't appear, however, that there was ever a time when a lot of consideration was given to going a step further and playing three games in one day.

1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys - one of base ball's worst teams

But even though the idea of three games in one day never got a lot of attention, that doesn't mean it's never happened.  At the major league level, there have actually been three different times when clubs played three games in one day.  The only 20th century instance took place in 1920 on the last day of the season when the Pittsburgh Pirates were trying to catch the Cincinnati Reds for third place and, more importantly, the last share of World's Series money.  That event, which was, in fact, the only time fans got three games for the price of one admission, has been covered by A. D. Suehsforf in the Baseball Research Journal, published by SABR found here  To my knowledge, the two 19th century examples of the three in one experience have received far less attention so the rest of this post will focus on the days when fans with enough quarters could see their heroes play thrice. Interestingly, both instances have a number of things in common, beginning with the somewhat ironic fact that the players had to work the base ball equivalent of overtime on Labor Day, then a relatively new holiday.  In addition both match ups pitted the league's best team against its worst with some interesting connections between the two days, some six years apart.

1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms - Brooklyn's first National League team

Not surprisingly, the decision to play three was driven by rain outs, although the initial one, on September 1, 1890 in Brooklyn, seems like it could have been avoided.  On that date the Brooklyn Bridegrooms were already scheduled to play a morning-afternoon doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys so a second afternoon game was added to make up a May 15th rain out.  What's surprising about the decision is that there seems to have been more than ample opportunities to make up the game.  Not only did Pittsburgh play in Brooklyn on July 17-19th, but, in keeping with the practice of the time, another three game series in early August was moved to Brooklyn because of anticipated poor attendance in Pittsburgh.  That anticipation was well founded since the Pittsburgh club had been decimated by Players League defections and would ultimately finish 23-113-2, a mere 66.5 games out of first place.  Pittsburgh's already depleted roster almost literally took another hit the previous Saturday when New York Giants star pitcher,  Amos Rusie hit George "Doggie" Miller in the neck with a pitch.  According to the (NY) Sun, Miller went down "as if he had been touched by an electric wire."  So scary was the moment that  it appeared "the blow was fatal," but Miller proved to be a "very plucky little fellow," and was back at third base the following inning.

George "Doggie" or "Calliope" Miller

After losing both games of the Saturday twin bill to the Giants, the Alleghenys enjoyed a legally mandated Sunday off before turning up for the first pitch at 10:30 on Monday morning at Washington Park.  Whether it was the early start or the intimidating Bridegrooms lineup, Pittsburgh quickly fell behind 4-0 and trailed 10-0 when they came to bat in the ninth, only three outs away from another dismal defeat in a dismal season.  Although Pittsburgh had been shut out thus far by Bob Caruthers, one of Brooklyn's ace pitchers, they managed to load the bases, but only after two were out.  Then, however, things got interesting as Guy Decker, Ed Sales and the .096 hitting Mike Jordan all contributed two run singles closing the difference to 10-6.  Given Brooklyn's natural affinity for the underdog, it's not surprising that some Brooklyns fans reportedly began rooting for the visitors with one "bleaching board occupant" supposedly yelling for the "plucky little" Miller to hit a game tying grand slam.  "Doggie" did his best to oblige, belting a long drive to the left field corner, scoring all three runners and heading for the plate himself in an heroic attempt to tie the score.  Brooklyn was not, however, about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and a Darby O'Brien to Germany Smith to Bob Clark relay, nailed Miller at the plate or at least that's what the umpire and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle thought.  A contrary view was offered by the New York Clipper which labeled the call "dubious."

New York Clipper - September 6, 1890

Apparently not demoralized by coming up just short in such heart breaking style, Pittsburgh mounted another ninth inning comeback in the first afternoon game, this time from a more modest 3-1 deficit.  After Fred Osborne walked to start the inning, Brooklyn's Hub Collins made a great catch which the Eagle said "probably saved the game."  Pittsburgh did not go quietly, however, as Ed Sales drove in the second run, only to be thrown out at the plate when he tried to score on a ball hit to shortstop.  As weak as the Pittsburgh lineup was, they understandably didn't have much of a bench so pitcher Dave Anderson batted for himself and was struck out by Brooklyn's Tom Lovett to end the game.  Having come perilously close to two embarrassing losses to the lowly Alleghenys was more than enough for the Bridegrooms who scored seven times in the first two innings of the third game en route to an 8-4 win the Eagle called "featureless."  That not withstanding, the win was no less important than the first two as the day's work put real distance between Brooklyn and second place Boston.  In addition to being major league base ball's first triple header, it was the only day in major league history when a team gained 2.5 games in the standings in a single day.  While Brooklyn was completing its sweep of Pittsburgh, Boston Beaneaters were in the process of losing both ends of a doubleheader to Chicago, increasing the Bridegrooms lead to 5.5 games, a lead they never surrendered.

Bill McGunnigle as he apparently dressed for games

At least two participants in the 1890 event, "Doggie" Miller and Brooklyn manager, Bill McGunnigle, could have been forgiven if another Labor Day triple header some six years later gave them a feeling of deja vu.  McGunnigle at least had some choice about the 1896 triple header, but this time the former Brooklyn manager had switched roles from leading a first place club, to managing the league's worst team, the Louisville Colonels.  Labor Day weekend in 1896 found McGunnigle and his team, including part time player, "Doggie" Miller in Baltimore to take on Ned Hanlon's first place Orioles.  There had been two rain outs on Louisville's last visit to Baltimore so the plan was to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Monday, but  rain once again interrupted, wiping out Saturday's twin bill.  Determined to make up the games, no matter what, the two managers agreed to play three on Labor Day followed by a doubleheader on Tuesday.  Baltimore's motivation was probably a combination of money and anticipated easy victories, while the last place Louisville club badly needed their share of the gate receipts.

Baltimore's Union Park

Although not as bad as the woeful, 1890 Pittsburgh club, Louisville would finish the season with a cellar dwelling record of 38-93-3, some 53 games out of first place.  Given that record, any competitive effort against Hanlon's powerful team was a surprise, but the lowly Colonels gave Baltimore all it could handle in the morning game which the Baltimore Sun called "one of the most beautiful games played at Union Park in some time."  On the mound for Pittsburgh was 18 year old Bill Hill, a "lithe long-armed, left handed product of the Tennessee mountains," who allowed the defending National League champions only six hits.  Louisville actually led 2-0 before Baltimore tied it in the fifth, only to see the upstart Colonels take a one run lead going to the bottom of the seventh.  Baltimore matched Louisville's run in the seventh and came to bat in the bottom of the eighth with the game still tied.  John McGraw was at bat when his reportedly, and not surprising "abusive" language led to his ejection.  McGraw's replacement Joe Quinn completed the strike out, but in the best inside base ball tradition Willie Keeler beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored what proved to the winning run on Hugh Jennings single.

1896 Baltimore Orioles

After the morning game ended about 12:30, the two clubs took a lunch break before the afternoon doubleheader started at 2:00.  Whether it was due to unwillingness to subject himself to more abuse from McGraw or, as he claimed, a leg injury, umpire John "Bud" Lally declined to work the afternoon contests.  Both clubs then contributed a player to umpire with Louisville represented by none other than "Doggie" Miller.  Reportedly the umpiring for the rest of the day was both "fair and impartial,"  but that may be more a reflection of the one sided 9-1 and 12-1 Baltimore victories as the Sun said the visitors lacked "their snap and excellence" of the first game.  As in the earlier triple header in Brooklyn, the lineups throughout the three games remained pretty much constant except, as one might expect for pitchers and catchers, which makes it even more impressive that Oriole captain and catcher, Wilbert Robinson caught all three games without making a single error.

That was not, however, the end of the portly Baltimore backstop's herculean labors as there was still a doubleheader to play the next day.  Although he did make one error, Robinson once again caught both games.  For some unexplained reason, the clubs were again without an umpire so "Doggie" Miller filled in once more, but just for the first game as he played the second contest.  After three straight losses, it would have been understandable if Louisville threw in the towel, but the last place Colonels were made of sterner stuff and actually led the first game 8-5 before falling 10-9.  Bill Hill, took the mound in the second contest and gave another impressive performance in the 3-1 defeat.  Hill lost 28 games in 1896, hopefully they weren't all as frustrating as these two games in Baltimore.  Unlike the three games in Brooklyn, the Baltimore sweep didn't significantly increase their lead, but the Orioles still coasted to a third consecutive first place finish.  No information survives as to how many Brooklyn or Baltimore fans actually saw all three games, but those who did would have agreed with the Sun that "nobody could complain about the scarcity of base ball."

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