THE 1888 BROOKLYN BRIDEGROOMS
by Clifford Blau
sixth place finish in 1887 had been a disappointment, and club
president Charlie Byrne wasn’t going to allow it to happen
again. He and the other owners opened their wallets to
improve the team. Late in the 1887 season, they had purchased
the Metropolitan club from Erastus Wiman and added hard-throwing (and
drinking) Mickey Hughes from the Newark (International) club.
During the off-season, they made what may have been an even more
significant move than those when they made deals with the champion St.
Louis AA club for three of its star players, pitchers Bob Caruthers and
Dave Foutz, and catcher Doc Bushong, paying over $18,000 for the
trio. They also hired Bill McGunnigle to take over
for Byrne as manager. McGunnigle was a real baseball man,
having had some success as a pitcher for Buffalo, and he had just led
Lowell to the New England League pennant.
With the Metropolitans gone, the American Association awarded a franchise to the Kansas City club of the Western League. Brooklyn, looking to get back some of the money it had invested in new players, sold most of the Metropolitan players, along with some of their own players they would no longer need, to K.C. Of course, they kept the cream of the crop from the Mets, namely first baseman Dave Orr, left fielder Darby O’Brien, center fielder Paul Radford, pitcher Al Mays, and catcher Billy Holbert. Along with their new players, the club acquired a new nickname, as seven of its players were married during the off-season, and Orr became engaged. The newspapers started calling the team the Bridegrooms (or sometimes the Benedicts.)
There were a few other changes in the league, as the rules were adjusted to give the batter only three strikes instead of four, and the admission price was raised to 50 cents to match the National League. The former resulted in a decrease in scoring per game per team from 6.6 to 5.2. Together with the higher ticket price, this resulted in a sharp drop in attendance.
As spring training was about to begin, Mother Nature handed the Bridegrooms a most unspringlike surprise. The biggest blizzard anyone had seen descended on March 12 and shut down the city of Brooklyn. It was days digging out from the storm. Washington Park was reported as being under four feet of snow on March 20. The club was unable to practice outdoors until the day of its first exhibition game on April 1, and that game was played at Ridgewood Park in a hail storm. The eventually played seven preseason games versus college and minor league teams, winning them all.
The championship season began on April 18 with a resounding 10-1 victory over the Cleveland club. Brooklyn was looked upon as one of the favorites for the pennant, but it had a handicap. Despite Byrne serving on the schedule committee, Brooklyn’s schedule called for them to travel 12,412 miles during season, more than any other club. This may have had an impact on them, as the team got off to a good start, building a 6.5 game lead by June 10, but they faded when the weather turned hot. Mickey Hughes proved to be a find, as the Bridegrooms won his first eight starts. Dave Foutz was near his end as a pitcher, however. Although he won two of three starts early in the season, he then stuck strictly to right field or first base, not starting in the box again until the end of July. It wasn’t all smooth sailing in the early going. They barely avoided being no-hit by the Athletics April 28 when Holbert singled off Gus Weyhing in the ninth. The next day Adonis Terry took a tough loss when the Athletics loaded the bases in the sixth and he sprained his ankle on a fielding play. Staying in the game, he immediately gave up a three-run double which gave the Athletics a 3-2 win. But the Bridegrooms righted themselves and set the league afire in May, going 18-4. Caruthers pitched a two-hitter in which he faced the minimum 27 batters on May 20, and Terry topped that a week later, no-hitting Louisville.
They kept up the pace in early June, raising their record to a season-best 33-10 on June 12 as Caruthers’ two homers led the team to an 8-5 victory over Cleveland. Then the team slumped. Injuries took a toll; shortstop George "Germany" Smith was playing with injured finger which made his throws wild. Team captain Dave Orr’s knee was seriously injured in Baltimore in a collision with Blondie Purcell on June 19; he went to Philadelphia with the team but stayed there to recuperate. Brooklyn’s team physician McLean went there to treat him six days later. Second baseman Bill McClellan played with a cold for several days before sitting out. Jack Burdock, released by Boston, was signed to replace him. The lefty-throwing McClellan played some right field when he returned before being sold to Cleveland in mid-September. Burdock had long been considered one of the best-fielding second basemen in the game, but his bat was a black hole, sucking up all the offense in the area, as he finished with a .17 on base average for Brooklyn. He hit ninth many times, although he also hit as high as fifth. McGunnigle, or the various captains, didn’t use a set lineup. Third baseman George Pinkney, in the midst of a record 578 consecutive-games-played streak, hit leadoff in 139 of the team’s 143 games, but no one else hit in the same spot more than 55 times.
Since the beginning of the season, there had been rumors that the team was split into cliques. That was not surprising, given that they were trying to blend the former St. Louis and Metropolitan players into the club. Caruthers was quoted in a St. Louis paper saying the Brooklyn players were more concerned with their stats than winning, unlike the St. Louis players. He was said to be unpopular on the team, and he didn’t help himself when the Benedicts lost 9-8 on June 17 as Caruthers was caught at second on the hidden ball trick with two outs in 9th. Jimmy Peoples was briefly suspended because he kept complaining of a sore arm whenever he was asked to catch anyone other than Terry.
Germany Smith had five hits versus Louisville on June 28 in a game won by Brooklyn 9-7. They fell out of first on July 1, but then won six of seven to open up a 4.5 game lead. The highlight of this stretch was a four-game series in St. Louis that started with a parade in honor of the former Brown Stockings players. It ended with a sweep, making Brooklyn the first team to capture four straight games there since 1882. Dave Foutz doubled in two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the game on July 8 in which the Bridegrooms only had 3 hits. In the July 10 game, St. Louis took the lead in the top of the ninth on Ed Herr’s three-run homer; Brooklyn tied it in the bottom half and Caruthers tripled in the winning run in the 10th. Things headed straight downhill after that, though. The AA had passed a rule allowing the use of players as substitute umpires on July 6; on July 14 Brooklyn forfeited a game in Kansas City when they got in a dispute with K.C. player Donahue who was umpiring along with Terry, and walked off the field. Then they were swept in Cincinnati July 17-19 despite the return of Darby O’Brien, who had been out ten days with an injured hand. A one-hitter in which Caruthers walked and hit no one on July 21 temporarily halted their fall, but they dropped out of first for good when they lost at home to the Athletics the next day. Brooklyn was still 22 games over .500 then. They fell to 16 games over and fourth place by the last week of August, 11.5 games out of first.
Unofficial statistics in late July showed four Brooklyn pitchers in the top seven of ERA in the league while the team was only fifth in scoring per game. Pinkney was leading the league in runs scored, and he would finish first with 134. However, they were getting minimal production from Burdock and most of their catchers. The Bridegrooms won an 11-inning game on July 26 on a wild pitch/passed ball with the bases loaded after two batters had failed to get the run in; Caruthers and O’Brien combined to score seven runs. Dave Orr returned to the lineup July 27, but they lost to Kansas City on a run in bottom of ninth. Caruthers scored once in that game and three more in the next for eight in three games.
Orr was suspended in a bizarre episode on August 3. He was supposedly home sick, but when the doctor the club sent there arrived, he was told Orr was at Coney Island. Orr later claimed he had tired of waiting for the doctor and gone to his mother’s house, and told his housekeeper to say he’d gone to “Coney Island... or anywhere else she felt like saying.” He was out until August 25. Darby O’Brien was appointed acting captain. About this time, Byrne and Bushong were accused by Chris Von Der Ahe of the St. Louis club of tampering with their star hitter Tip O’Neill during the July series. Nothing came of the charges. Meanwhile, with attendance around the league suffering, the AA decided to reduce admission back to 25 cents.
The club made a move to beef up its offense when it purchased “Oyster” Tom Burns from Baltimore August 9. They won a thriller in Cincinnati August 11, coming back from 4-0 deficit after six innings to win with two runs in the bottom of the eleventh, overcoming the Reds’ one in the top of the inning; O’Brien doubled in the winning runs. They won the next day 1-0, but after leaving Cincinnati, they lost 10 of 13 the remainder of August. Their three wins in that period were by scores of 18-7, 10-2, and 12-6, but they couldn’t win the close ones. On August 17, they helped K.C. to score 6 runs in the last two innings with eight errors, losing 7-4. They blew a 5-0 lead the next day, and showed the reversal in their form by losing all three games in St. Louis. They had only two hits on August 20 and one on both August 22 and September 1.
Brooklyn started turning things around on September 2 and they did it without George Smith, who missed the rest of the season with a broken wrist. Burns (and sometimes Peoples) filled in at shortstop. After Foutz yielded four runs to Cincinnati in the top of ninth, Burdock homered to tie the score and the Bridegrooms got one more to win. They then swept a twin bill from St. Louis the next day, with the bottom of the order providing the only run in second game, with Radford drawing a walk, Burdock sacrificing him to second, and Bushong singling him home. Attendance was nearly 20,000 for the two games. Burdock’s experiment of hitting left-handed seemed to be paying off. The team went 29-9 after September 1, winning their last 10 games. Some additional personnel changes helped. They released Holbert in mid-September, and purchased center fielder Pop Corkhill from Cincinnati on Sept. 23. Corkhill was regarded as one of the best fielders in the game, and was a better hitter than Radford, who had proved a disappointment. In fact, of the players obtained in the purchase of the Metropolitans, only Darby O’Brien made a solid contribution. Orr hit less than expected, and between his injury and behavioral problems missed over 40 games. Al Mays was the last man in a five-man staff, managing a record of only 9-9. Holbert was always a weak hitter, and he had hit rock-bottom by 1888.
They had some struggles down the stretch. With Adonis Terry out for over a month with a lame arm, Dave Foutz was now pitching regularly (he made 14 of his 19 starts after August 18) and had a few bad outings. He allowed 9 straight hits in the September 22 game in Cincinnati. The club lost another three in a row in St. Louis at the end of September with Foutz giving up 17 hits in the second game and Hughes walking 12 in the finale. Brooklyn made its final acquisition of the season on September 30 when they purchased Hub Collins from Louisville. Although he had primarily played outfield until then, Brooklyn installed him at second base. He had some difficulties defensively, but he was a tremendous asset on offense, scoring 16 runs in his 12 games for Brooklyn. They took over second place for good on October 4, and their winning streak allowed them to open up a 3.5 game lead over the Athletics at the end. They won the final game by scoring five runs in bottom of the ninth; Foutz pitched underhanded for the first seven innings. With a star player at every position now, this strong finish served notice on the American Association that there was a new power to be reckoned with. For the story of the 1889 club, see Jean-Pierre Caillault’s A Tale of Four Cities.