THE 1884 INDIANAPOLIS CLUB

by Clifford Blau

The Indianapolis baseball club was formed in the early spring of 1883, but too late to have a good selection of players to choose from. At the beginning, the independent team lost consistently, but player-manager Dan O'Leary turned over the roster, acquiring new players whenever good ones became available. In particular, the club was strengthened by the addition of a strong battery, 17-year-old pitcher Larry McKeon and veteran catcher Jim Keenan. By mid-summer, the club was winning steadily, and finished the year with a record of 95 wins and 47 losses. The same strategy would prove much less effective in 1884, however.

In December 1883, O'Leary and club president Joseph Schwabacher represented the club at the meeting of the American Association, where Indianapolis was admitted by unanimous vote as the league expanded from eight to twelve clubs. However, O'Leary wouldn't make it to the start of the season. There had been several incidents involving heavy drinking during the previous year, and due partly to fines, O'Leary found himself in debt to the club. He was actually fired twice during the winter; the board of directors reversed itself after 10 days the first time, but the second chance didn't last long, and due to his unpaid balance due, the club blacklisted him. That didn't much bother O'Leary, as he jumped to the outlaw Union Association. Veteran manager James Gifford was hired to replace him.

The club held spring training at their normal home park, 7th Street Grounds; as was customary in this time period, they had to use a different park, Bruce Park, on Sundays in order to avoid blue laws. Bruce Park was located just outside the city limits. They played games against minor league teams from Ft. Wayne and Grand Rapids as well as the St. Louis Reserves, and Major League clubs Louisville, and Chicago.

They opened on the road on May 1 and lost 14 of their first 15 games. They would also lose 16 of their last 17 decisions, and didn't do much better in between. In a time when clubs generally carried 11 or 12 players at a time, Indianapolis went through 35 players during the season, but all the changes made little difference. The club had a record of 15-39 in the first half and 14-39 in the second half. Their best record for a calendar month was 7-13.

Of the nine players in the opening day lineup, only four made it to the end of the season with the club, and three of those were suspended during the year. Those survivors were McKeon and Keenan as well as shortstop Marr Phillips and left fielder John Peltz, another holdover from the 1883 team. First baseman John Kerins nearly made it, but he was suspended and dropped from the reserve list late in the season and replaced by Bob Blakiston.

Ed Merrill, on Fort Wayne the previous year, started the season at second base, but he jumped the club in early July due to his poor play and sensitivity to criticism. He returned but was replaced by Chub Collins on July 21 as part of an influx of talent from the disbanded Bay City club in the Northwestern League.

Shortstop Phillips was purchased from Ft. Wayne in the spring after a contract dispute between the two clubs, Indianapolis paying $500 paid for his release. He earned his suspension late in the year by showing up drunk for a game.

At third base was another holdover, Pat Callaghan. He was replaced in late July by Bill Watkins, one of the Bay City refugees, who also took Keenan's place as captain. When a beaning put Watkins out of commission, young Jim Donnelly, signed after the Terre Haute club disbanded, replaced him and made a good-enough impression to replace Watkins on the reserve list at the end of the season. Watkins, meanwhile, added manager to his titles, taking over on September 10, as Gifford was fired in an effort to save money. Although Watkins went on to a long career managing in the National League, winning a World's Series in 1887 with Detroit, he was very unpopular with some of the players in Indianapolis, leading to the rebellious behavior of Phillips, Keenan, McKeon, and others.

The catching position was the least stable. As was typical for this era before the catcher's mitt was developed and what protective equipment there was was primitive, their catchers were frequently hurt and they were often forced to try out newcomers. Indianapolis used 11 catchers during the season. Collectively they committed 175 passed balls, second worst in the league. Their 137 assists also were second worst. This wasn't the only position where they were weak, though. The club allowed 317 unearned runs, 48 more than any other club in the AA. Their .617 DER was the worst among the 11 full-season clubs, and their 45 double plays were second worst of those 11. Keenan was suspended in September for drunkenness, but managed to catch over half the team's games. Holdover Tug Thompson shared time behind the plate in the early going, while Charlie Robinson, another of the players obtained from Bay City, was Keenan's main backup the second half of the season.

John Sneed and holdover Jerry Dorgan were the opening day center fielder and right fielder, respectively. Sneed was signed in spring training and was replaced by Podge Weihe June 21 after Jim Holdsworth and Thompson were tried there. Jon Morrison, the last of the Bay City reinforcements, took over center and Weihe shifted to right while Dorgan was released in late July. Dorgan was one of club's best hitters (he scored three runs in their May 27 win and seven runs in three games starting May 30) but was a poor fielder (he made six errors in back-to-back games and finished with a .793 fielding average in right), was fined for drinking, suspended in late June for two weeks, and was out several times with injuries. Indianapolis tried out Marshall Locke and Bill Butler in July, but neither showed enough to stick. Weihe was released in early October, with Keenan and Donnelly getting some outfield time at the end of the season. Left fielder Peltz had a strong arm and led the team with 17 triples. He didn't hit much else, though, and batted at the bottom of lineup most of the season, but after a hot streak he moved to cleanup in early September.

Besides McKeon, the team started the season with Mac MacArthur at pitcher. The slow-working McKeon struggled in the early going, losing 14 of his first 16 decisions, allowing 7.2 runs per nine innings. Even pitching a no-hit, no-run game with no runners left on base on May 6 didn't get him a win, as Cincinnati managed to hold Indianapolis scoreless until the game was stopped by rain after six innings. As in 1883, his drinking was a problem, earning him a suspension just days after the no-hitter. He claimed a sore arm was to blame for his troubles. Jake Aydelott was signed to replace him, and there was talk of releasing McKeon. But Aydelott quickly developed a sore arm and MacArthur was ineffective. His last game was on June 9; they added lefty pitcher and first baseman Al McCauley in late June. He lasted until August 4. In mid-July, they persuaded Tommy Bond to jump from the"outlaw" Union Association. Bond had been the best pitcher in the world just a few years earlier, but he was a has-been now. His only solid outing came in an exhibition game against an amateur club from Madison, in which he pitched eight no-hit innings before giving way to McKeon. Next they tried Bob Barr, signing him in mid-August when Washington went belly-up, but he didn't pitch as well for Indianapolis as he had against them; like Bond, his best game was an exhibition against Louisville August 17 when he struck out 15 batters.

Meanwhile, McKeon's arm got better, and he did his best to salvage the season for Indianapolis. He started 60 of the club's 110 games in the box, finishing all but one, as he set the AA record for losses with 41.  He was often hurt by a lack of run support, the team being shut out in seven of his starts. Some of his tough losses: June 29, 2-1 to Brooklyn on an unearned run in the tenth, 1-0 on June 16 to Washington, another 1-0 game July 18 to Toledo, with the run scoring in the bottom of the ninth, and a 2-1 loss July 29, with the deciding tally scoring on a rundown error. From June 22 until Gifford's firing, he allowed 4.3 runs per nine innings (league average 5.2). He didn't stay out of trouble, though; he missed a scheduled start on August 10 when he was off gallivanting with a woman at a resort.

After the change in managers, McKeon's pitching and behavior went bad. He allowed 7.7 runs per nine innings under Watkins as he and some of the others, such as Keenan and Kerins, sulked about Gifford being replaced. The change came at an inopportune time, as the club was playing its best ball of the season. In Gifford's next-to-last game, on September 6, the club came from behind in the bottom of the ninth, scoring four times on four consecutive extra-base hits to win 6-5. Their victory in the next game gave them a record of six wins in their last 12 decisions (they also played one of their three tie games in this stretch). They would split their first four games under Watkins before losing 16 of their last 18 decisions, finishing with the worst record among the full-season clubs. At .271, they were worse than the replacement Virginia club as well.

The move seemed to be financially necessary, however. After a profitable 1883, the additional expenses in salaries and travel from being in the AA caused a loss projected in late August to be $3-4000 for year. The club was forced to recapitalize, with many small shareholders being wiped out. Following the season, although the club went about signing new players for 1885, the AA voted at its annual winter meeting to return to an eight-club arrangement, with Indianapolis being one of the clubs dropped. In 1885, the club joined the Western League, but after a couple of months, the owners sold out to Detroit of the National League, and the club passed into history.


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

New York Clipper
Indianapolis Times
Indianapolis News
Indianapolis Journal
Indianapolis Sentinel
Cincinnati Enquirer
The Sporting News
The Sporting Life
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet

Some of the research for this article was done by Bob Bailey.


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