December 22, 2014

Part One: The Story Of The 1888-1889 New York Giants

July 16, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

March 8, 1888 was the day the New York Giants arrived in Jacksonville, Florida to begin preparation for the upcoming National League season. The team, entering its sixth year of play in professional baseball, was coming off an 1887 season which saw them finish 4th in the National League. There was, however, plenty of reason for optimism inside the Polo Grounds.

The one-two punch in the pitching rotation, consisting of Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, were both coming back. Keefe was coming off his fifth consecutive 30+ win season and at the age of 31, would shoulder most of the pitching duties. The other side of the tandem, Welch, was entering his fifth season with the Giants and was only a year removed from a 44-win season. With both hurlers on their side, expectations would be high for the New Yorkers.

The majority of the roster remained the same. Shortstop Monte Ward was expected to lead the team on offense after enjoying the best season of his career in 1887, when he hit .338 and stole 111 bases. Buck Ewing (catcher/third base and recently named captain), Roger Connor (first base), and Danny Richardson (second base) all remained in their infield positions. The outfield was a man down with veteran Pete Gillespie announcing his retirement, but Mike Tiernan, George Gore, and veteran Jim O’Rourke would remain.

Six days before the season opener, on April 14th, the Giants held an intra-squad game at the Polo Grounds. Ward received a big cheer when he hit the field; it was revealed a day earlier that he was in the midst of a contract dispute with team management, despite being the highest paid shortstop in the game. The five-inning contest saw Buck Ewing’s team defeat Jim O’Rourke’s by the lonely score of 1-0. But the man many fans came to inspect was new outfielder Mike Slattery, who had not played pro baseball since 1884, when he suited up for his hometown Boston Reds of the Union Association as a 17-year-old. Now 21, Slattery collected one hit and looked very sharp in the field.

Slattery, in fact, impressed manager Jim Mutrie so much that he was placed in the leadoff spot and in leftfield for the season opener against Washington, a game the team won 5-0. However, the team remained cool throughout the first month of the season. Ward, who finally settled his contract situation, struggled at the plate and was banged up as well. Gore’s body was also going through some injuries and he had yet to find himself at the plate. On top of that, rumours were flying around that certain team veterans were indulging themselves in the New York nightlife, consequently affecting their play.

June came and went and the team continued to play below expectations. Ward and Ewing both missed several games with different ailments and, without their presence, the team looked disinterested. On the 16th of the month, the Giants went out and got veteran third baseman Art Whitney from Pittsburgh, in exchange for fellow third baseman Elmer Cleveland, who had gotten into Mutrie’s doghouse for being out of shape. The team then began to get on track towards the end of the month, including a five-game winning streak that culminated on Independence Day, when the Giants took both ends of a doubleheader from the Detroit Wolverines.

July 20th. That was the day the light switch turned on for the New York Giants. Entering a game in Philadelphia, the Giants weren’t playing poorly, but they weren’t playing great either. They sat 3 ½ games back in third place of the National League standings. The hometown Quakers grabbed a 6-1 lead heading into the seventh. However, the Giants clawed back and grabbed two runs in the 7th. With the score now 6-4 in the eighth, Roger Connor stepped to the plate. With two outs and runners at second and third, he drilled a shot to right field. The ball sailed just over the reach of outfielder Jim Fogarty, allowing both runs to score and tying the game at 6. Then, in the tenth, O’Rourke completed the comeback by notching an RBI single that sent the Giants to the extra-inning victory.

The victory began an eight-game winning streak for the Giants, who tied Detroit for the NL lead during the streak. The streak ended with a 9-1 loss at home to Washington on July 30th, but then the team started another winning streak, this one consisting of nine games. Highlighted by late-inning comebacks and extra-inning victories, the Giants were 7 ½ games up on the rest of the National League when their second streak ended on August 10th.

The rest of the way, the Giants hold at the top of the National League standings was never threatened. They cruised through the rest of August and the month of September and captured their first ever National League pennant with a record of 84-47. Throughout the year, the team got terrific pitching from their star hurlers, Tim Keefe (35-12, 1.74) and Mickey Welch (26-19, 1.93). The pitching staff also got 23 starts (and 22 complete games) out of 21-year-old southpaw Cannonball Titcomb, who finished with 14 wins and an ERA of 2.24.

Buck Ewing led the team offensively with a .306 average and first baseman Roger Connor drove in 71 runs while posting an on-base percentage of .389. The biggest disappointment offensively came from Monte Ward. After battling injuries early on, Ward never got on track and hit only .251 and stole 38 bases, significant downgrades from the year before.

The Giants would head off to the World’s Series against the American Association champion, the St. Louis Browns, who would be appearing in their fourth consecutive series. The Browns, managed by Charlie Comiskey, were a well-rounded team but they were led by two major stars: outfielder Tip O’Neill and starting pitcher Silver King. O’Neill, the AA Triple Crown winner in ’87, led the league in batting average for the second straight year with a .335 mark and also drove in 98 runs. Meanwhile, King led the AA in wins (45), ERA (1.63), and innings pitched (584.2) in only his second full big league season.

The best-of-ten series started out at the Polo Grounds for the first three games. On October 17th, the series opened in rainy, cold weather. Only 5,000 fans gathered at the Grounds to watch the two aces, Keefe and King, go head to head. Before the game, the Browns said that Keefe was not a cold weather pitcher and they would knock him out of the game early. However, St. Louis could not keep their word. Keefe only allowed three St. Louis hits and the Browns managed to get just four batted balls to leave the infield. Despite a good performance from King, St. Louis dropped Game 1 of the series by a score of 2-1. Mike Tiernan scored the game-winning run in the second inning when Browns catcher Jack Boyle committed a throwing error while Tiernan was stealing second base.

The Browns evened up the series the next afternoon thanks to a complete game shutout from Elton Chamberlain. In a rematch of the first game, Keefe once again outpitched King. The Giants grabbed a 2-0 lead early in the game and never looked back on the way to a 4-2 win. Keefe again went the distance, allowing only four hits. The Browns were again sloppy in the field behind King, committing five errors, running their total for the series to 14 over three games.

The Giants grabbed a stranglehold of the series within the next three days. Game 4 was played in neutral-site Brooklyn, a game won by the Giants by the score of 6-3. Ed Crane picked up the victory on the hill for the Giants. Game 5 shifted back to New York, a game won again by the Giants, this time the score was 6-4. Tim Keefe picked up his third straight win in the series over Silver King. Then in Game 6, played in Philadelphia, New York extended their series lead to 5-1 with a 12-5 victory. The Giants, down 4-1 after five, rallied for three runs in both the sixth and seventh inning, then closed out the game by exploding for five in the eighth. The best the Browns could do now was hope for a tie of the series, with the final four games being played in St. Louis.

The Browns won Game 7 by a count of 7-5, after scoring four in the final inning to stave off elimination. But in Game 8, the Giants put the icing on their first World Series victory in team history. The two stars from the eighth and deciding game were the battery, Tim Keefe and Buck Ewing. For Keefe, it was his fourth complete-game victory of the series, in as many starts. Ewing hit a home run and a triple in his first two at-bats to kick start the Giants, who scored 6 in the ninth, en route to an 11-3 win. The Browns won the final two games at home but it didn’t matter, the Giants were World Champions.

Comments

One Response to “Part One: The Story Of The 1888-1889 New York Giants”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    Actually, Ward’s best season to date had been 1879, when he had a WAR of 9.2. 1887 was his best since he quit pitching, though.

    Slattery had indeed been playing professional baseball in the intervening years, unless you are telling me Haverhill, Newburyport, and Toronto didn’t pay him the three years he played for those teams.

    Gillespie must have changed his mind about retiring, since he played for Albany and Troy in the International Association in 1888.

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