by Clifford Blau

The St. Louis Brown Stockings, a semi-professional club for the past few years, underwent a rupture late in the 1881 season.  Some of their players formed a new club, which was also called the Browns for a little while before becoming known as the Reds.  Most of the best players, though, stuck with the original Browns, which played in Sportsman’s Park (aka Grand Avenue Park.) The Browns were the top team in the area, and they also played clubs from other cities such as Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.  On November 2, 1881, Browns’ owner Chris Von Der Ahe met with the heads of other independent baseball clubs and organized a new league, the American Association of Base Ball Clubs (AA.)  The original members were the Cincinnati, St. Louis, Eclipse of Louisville, Allegheny of Pittsburgh, Atlantic of Brooklyn, and Athletic of Philadelphia clubs.  In February, however, the Atlantics determined that they would not be able to raise sufficient capital to successfully run the club in Brooklyn, and withdrew.  At the next meeting of the AA, in mid-March, the Baltimore club was accepted as the sixth member.  The AA adopted many of the policies of the better-established National League, but allowed its clubs more freedom, including not banning Sunday games or the sale of alcoholic beverages.  Nor did the AA set ticket prices, leaving that up to the individual clubs. The  Browns charged 25 and 50 cents. Except on holidays, the visiting team did not get a share of the receipts, instead receiving a guaranteed $65.  Von Der Ahe was elected to the AA Board of Directors.

The 1882 Browns club consisted of several players from 1881, including Ned Cuthbert, the manager and captain as well as left fielder.  Ned had been playing top level ball since 1865.  Other holdovers included pitcher George “Jumbo” McGinnis, the Gleason brothers: Jack at third and Bill at shortstop, and right fielder George Seward.  Cuthbert also recruited some players from their 1881 rivals- from the Atlantics and Athletics came second baseman Bill Smiley, change pitcher John Schappert, slugging outfielder-first baseman Oscar Walker and catcher and utility man Eddie Fusselback.  To them was added first baseman Charlie Comiskey from the Dubuque club.  In preparation for what was hoped to be a profitable season, the grounds were leveled, a new fence erected, and a grandstand was built just for women.

Before spring training started, the club suffered a loss when Jack Gleason announced his retirement due to an injury he’d suffered in his off-season job as a fireman.  Jim “Jumbo” Davis of the local Standard club was signed to replace him.  Once spring training commenced at Sportsman’s Park, the Browns added catcher Tom (Sleeper) Sullivan.  Exhibition games began April 1, with the Browns crushing a picked nine 20-6. They also got in some games against the Standards and the Reds, and in mid-April they played a 4-game series against the Detroit National League club, losing all 4.  Their 7-6 defeat on April 15 was the closest an AA team came to beating an NL squad during the spring.  They followed up a week later with a two-game set against the Eclipse, their first meeting with an AA rival.  They would play several exhibition games against AA clubs during the regular season, as well.  Jack Gleason’s injury healed, allowing him to return in mid-April, replacing Davis.

The championship season opened on May 2 with the Browns hosting the Eclipse, and St. Louis swept the three-game series.  Bill Gleason scored four runs in the May 4 game and brother Jack scored seven in the three games.  The Browns wore a white uniform with brown cap, belt, and stockings.  However, each player wore a different color cap, allowing for easy fan identification.

The Eclipse turned the tables on the Browns when the two teams met in Louisville for the next three games, winning them all.  The Browns became the first AA team to be chicagoed on May 6, Tony Mullane doing the honors.  At least one Browns supporter claimed that Mullane was pitching overhand rather than keeping his arm below his hip as required by the rules.

The Browns then traveled to Pittsburgh where three games against the Allegheny club were called off due to rain or flooded field.  Having incurred travel expenses, the Browns claimed the $65 guarantee for the postponed games was due, but the Alleghenies disagreed.  The league ruled in favor of Allegheny.
Their road trip continued, and on May 23 they pounded 17 hits off the Athletics, with Smiley scoring 4 runs.  This gave St. Louis an eight and four record, tied for first.  After two losses, on May 27, Comiskey went five for five and scored 4 runs after being dropped to seventh in the batting order from his previous cleanup spot.  Fusselback pitched well in relief of McGinnis and although the A’s made a triple play, the Browns rallied with two outs in the ninth for a 10-9 win, McGinnis knocking in the game-winner.

The Browns returned home in June.  The June 8 game had an exciting finish with Cuthbert knocking in 2 in top of ninth to give St. Louis a 6-5 lead; in the bottom of the inning the Alleghenies had runners on first and third with no outs but the Browns got two outs on a dropped third strike with a throw to first and a return throw to nip the runner on third trying to score.  A four game winning streak in mid-June gave them a 16-10 record, just a half-game out of first place. However, things weren’t as rosy as they seemed, since ten of their first 26 games were against the hapless Baltimore club, of which the Browns won 9.  They were under .500 against the other clubs, and they wouldn’t play the first place Cincinnati club until July 29. 

The Browns reinforced their club by adding Harry McCaffrey, captain of the Standard club in mid-June.  He became assistant captain on the Browns, played 5 positions, and hit well, his 14 extra base hits in 38 games being just one fewer than Comiskey managed in 78.  However, Harry left late in year to return to the Standards.  Although they weren’t playing particularly well, the Browns were drawing big crowds at home, with reported attendance at some games as high as 12,000.  The fans got some exciting ball to watch.  On June 20 the Athletics got six runs in the first but Browns scored six of their own in the third and won 11-9, with Bill Gleason bowling over catcher O’Brien for one run.  On June 25 McGinnis a pitched 3-hitter against the Eclipse and struck out Pete Browning 4 times.  Also, there was a fireworks display before the June 29 game.  The Browns won that day on a forfeit when the Eclipse left the field while leading 5-4 in 5th after objecting to the umpire’s call. They also failed to play games scheduled for the next two days and St. Louis claimed forfeits for those as well but the league ordered those games played.  Then at the July 2 meeting, the league eliminated the practice of having the home team supply the umpires and decided to hire three regular umpires.

One of the Browns’ weaknesses was pitching.  While McGinnis was fine, Shappert was barely adequate, and when he went down with a sore arm in mid-season, he was released and St. Louis tried a succession of lu-lus.  First came Morris Critchley, but before he reported, McGinnis was also hurt and they had to rely on Fusselback and Comiskey as well as local amateur Eddie Hogan in the box.  After Critchley lost all four of his games, John Doyle, late of the Metropolitans, was tried, and he was blasted for 33 runs in three games.  The little lefty Bobby Mitchell came next, and was quickly discarded after allowing 13 runs in the only championship game he tossed for the Browns.  Meanwhile, the Browns were planning for the future, signing Arlie Latham and Tony Mullane to 1883 contracts in July, with Horace Phillips acting as a scout.  They also announced the signing of several National League players, but all except Tom Deasley would renege.

St. Louis gave up its different colored caps in favor of solid blue ones July 30. They had fallen to a 25-25 record then, and matching up frequently with the Reds, they could only go 7-12 in August.  In their August 6 game, two Browns were called out for walking back to first on foul balls, but they still won 6-3 over Cincinnati.

Phillips turned his attention to helping the current team in late August, and sent pitcher Bert Dorr and second baseman Charlie Morton.  The club also added catcher Joe Crotty and Chicago amateur Ed Brown.  Fusselback was released in late August along with Smiley and Seward.  With weak hitting at first and second base as well as right field and catcher, the Browns had no chance to compete.  Dorr pitched well, although he had some tough luck, but the new hitters were no improvement.       

The revamped team won an exciting game on August 27 as Walker threw out two runners at home and Ed Brown knocked in the winning run in ninth.  Brown was a hero again two days later when, running all the way for McGinnis, he circled the bases on pitcher Landis’ wild throw to score the winning run, as St. Louis got three runs in the ninth to overcome a 2-0 Baltimore lead.    McGinnis ran for himself in the seventh inning of that game but didn’t run out a grounder to short which took a bad hop and he was thrown out 7-6-3.  On August 31, the Browns lost to Baltimore as Bill Smiley, having signed with the latter club, knocked in the winning runs.  Ed Brown was finally signed on September 3 due to his good playing.  On September 7, left-hand-hitting Walker surprised the Cincinnati outfielders who were all playing in right field by hitting a triple to left; he later scored the Browns’ only run.  Playing just 11 games after August, the club finished at 37-43, fifth in the six-team AA.  Thanks to their aggressive recruiting for 1883, however, better times were ahead.                                   

Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis by Jon David Cash
Missouri Republican       
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
New York Clipper
SABR Triple Play Database           

Much of the research for this article was done by Ralph Horton.

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