THE 1891 PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION CLUB

by Clifford Blau



 

Most of the drama for this club came before the season started.  The winter of 1890-91 saw the American Association in disarray again.  Due to the Brotherhood War in 1890, one club had dropped out of the 1890 pennant race, and another barely crawled to the finish line.  Three other clubs were regarded as weak.  But the failure of the Players National League presented an opportunity to revitalize the AA.  The first order of business was replacing the Athletics, ejected from the league following their bankruptcy.  There were two groups competing for the franchise, one being the minority shareholders of the old club.  The other was the Philadelphia Players club, owned by the Wagner Brothers.  Deeming the latter to be stronger financially, the AA awarded the franchise to the Wagners.  Then Toledo, Rochester, and Syracuse were bought out, and the Boston Players club, along with new franchises in Washington and Cincinnati, replaced them.

The Philadelphia club now had the challenge of putting together an entirely new team.  Billy Sharsig was chosen as manager.  While the AA and the National League had agreed that the jumpers would be returned to their former teams, the Athletics management had only reserved the players who finished the 1890 season on the team, making the 1889 players free agents.  After Lou Bierbauer and Harry Stovey signed with National League teams, the Philadelphia club filed a protest, but the National Board, consisting of 3 league presidents, ruled against them.  The AA used this as an excuse to abrogate the National Agreement, turning the AA into an “outlaw.”   

Sharsig managed to sign 3 players from the 1889 Athletics, first baseman Ted Larkin, backup catcher Lave Cross, and star pitcher Gus Weyhing.  He also signed 3 players from the 1890 Philadelphia Players club, second baseman Billy Hallman, third baseman Joe Mulvey, and left fielder George Wood.  Philadelphia was also able to purchase hard-hitting catcher Jocko Milligan from the Browns, ambidextrous pitcher Elton "Ed" Chamberlain from Columbus, and wide-ranging shortstop Tommy Corcoran from the minors.  Corcoran had played for the Pittsburgh Players club the year before.  To round out the team, they added outfielders Pat Friel and Jack McGeachy, pitchers Will Calihan and George Meakim, and third-string catcher Dave McKeough.  Wood was appointed team captain.   
                                   
Center field would prove to be a problem throughout the season, but it was nearly a strength.  Dummy Hoy was signed in the off-season, and then was released when an agreement was reached with the even-better-regarded Mike Griffin.  Griffin, however, reneged and jumped to the NL.

The team would continue to use its 1890 field, Forepaugh Park, on Broad and Dauphin Streets.  In contrast to its past policy, the league chose not to allow the eastern clubs to play championship games on Sundays; Philadelphia did play some Sunday exhibitions at Gloucester, New Jersey, though.
           
The club trained at home.  Due partly to typical early spring weather, Philadelphia played only 5 preseason games.  Another reason was that because the AA was no longer part of the National Agreement, a 12-game series previously scheduled with the Phillies was cancelled.

Their lack of practice showed as the club started the season slowly.  After a 6 and 11 start, the popular Sharsig was fired, and replaced by Wood.  The club then got hot for a little while, wining 6 of its next 8 decisions.  Tommy Corcoran was the club’s leading hitter in the early going, with .35 BA as of May 9, and a 6-RBI game versus Louisville on May 11.  However, he soon slumped due to his lack of patience and overswinging.  His fielding remained an asset, though, as he led the league in range factor and fielding average.  When he stopped hitting, Jocko Milligan started, and he didn’t let up.  Milligan finished with 58 extra base hits, including a league-leading 35 doubles, 106 RBI, and a .91 OPS that was good for second best in the AA.  The highlight of the year for the Philadelphias on the field probably came on June 17 when they swept a twin-bill in Boston against the eventual pennant-winning Reds.  They had to overcome a 6-run Boston lead in game 1 and Milligan led the way, driving in 6 runs, and 2 more in the second game.  Denny Lyons said that Forepaugh Park had the best diamond in the league, but that it was dangerous to play anywhere in the infield when Milligan was batting.

After treading water for a couple of weeks, they finally got above the .500 mark in late May, and then slumped again, losing 12 out of 15, and were never in the pennant race.  While the club had a solid infield and two of the best catchers in the league, there were several weak points.  The club quickly realized Pat Friel was inadequate, and upon learning that Pop Corkhill had recovered from the sore arm he suffered in 1890, signed him as a replacement.  Corkhill was soon moved to center, where he proved to still be an excellent fielder.  His hitting was unacceptably weak, however.  Philadelphia never did settle on a regular right fielder, using 12 different men there during the season.  Also, while Weyhing and Chamberlain were both solid pitchers who combined to pitch nearly 70% of the team’s innings, the other two hurlers both finished with ERAs over 6.  In mid-June, the club managed to add Ben Sanders, who had pitched for the club in its Players National League incarnation, but had given up the game to finish his engineering degree.  Philadelphia then dropped Calihan and Meakim, and went to a 3-man rotation starting June 16.  From then until mid-August, when Sanders developed a sore arm, the team went 29-16.  However, in that time it still fell another 3.5 games behind first place.

McGeachy was  released mid-June; right field was covered by either Cross or Larkin with Milligan playing first and sometimes Sanders.  “Kid” Cross had a breakthrough season; never before a regular, he got more than 400 at bats in 1891.  Beside catcher and right, he also played third base while Joe Mulvey was out and proved a natural there.  That would become his main position from 1894 to 1907.  Mulvey missed a few weeks in June and July; although he claimed to be sick, the local papers noted he was well enough to go to the track every day to play the ponies.  He was called the best third baseman in baseball by the Boston Herald, but in truth he was in decline, and his career would end the following year.  The blue-stockinged Philadephias added right fielder Ed Beecher in late June after he released by Washington, but he suffered from rheumatism and was dropped in a month.  Corkhill was released at the same time, and Jim McTamany was signed to play center field.  He didn’t hit much better than Corkhill, though, and couldn’t do the job in the field.  They also added Pete Lohman as backup catcher to let Cross become the regular in right, but Lohman was injured and never got in a game.

After Sanders’ sore arm, lefty Sumner Bowman from the Cape May team was signed to replace him.  Although he pitched better than he had for the Phillies and Pittsburgh Innocents the previous year, he only managed a 2-5 record.  The club continued to have its ups and downs the rest of the way.  A late surge brought them up to third place after their last game with a 73-66 record, but Baltimore had 2 more games to play, and won them both, passing Philadelphia by percentage points.

Following the season, the Wagners moved quickly to improve the team.  Billy Barnie was hired away from the Orioles to manage the club.  Dummy Hoy again was signed to play center, and Roger Connor and Danny Richardson jumped from the New York Giants.  Richardson would replace Hallman, who had jumped to the Phillies, while Connor’s presence at first would allow Larkin to move to right field.    The acquisition of Connor also resulted in George Wagner becoming a Giants shareholder, as he bought Connor’s 10 shares as part of the deal.  However, with the interleague war again threatening to bankrupt every one, the NL and AA finally reached a peace accord in December.  This resulted in four AA clubs joining an expanded NL, and the other 4, including the Philadelphia club, being bought out.



Sources


Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia Press

The Sporting Life

The Sporting News

Baseball Reference.com

Retrosheet


Return to table of contents

 

www.000webhost.com