The 1890 St. Louis Browns: Growth Through Chaos
After their streak of four straight American Association (AA) pennants was terminated by Brooklyn in 1889, the Browns found themselves having to completely regroup for the 1890 season. While the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players (Brotherhood) was composed of National League (NL) players, when it organized the Players’ National League, most of the Browns’ players decided to jump to the new league. They were eager to escape from the Browns’ overbearing owner, Chris Von Der Ahe. The Browns were able to resign only three regulars, shortstop Shorty Fuller, right fielder Tommy McCarthy, and center fielder Charlie (Home Run) Duffee, as well as pitchers Jack Stivetts, Elton (Ed) Chamberlin, and Tom (Toad) Ramsey. Lost were captain/first baseman Charles Comiskey, second baseman Yank Robinson, third baseman Arlie Latham, left fielder Tip O’Neill, catchers Jack Boyle and Jocko Milligan, and ace pitcher Silver King. To make matters worse, Duffee, who led the club with 16 homers as a rookie in 1889, fell ill in the winter and didn’t play until June 10. Adding to Von Der Ahe’s woes was the resignation of his right hand man, George Munson, in January, after Von Der Ahe accused him of being an agent for the Brotherhood.
All was not lost, however. In the chaotic 1890 season, the Browns could still be contenders. Besides Brooklyn and Cincinnati jumping to the NL, Baltimore split for the Atlantic Association and Kansas City for the Western Association. New teams were added in Syracuse, Rochester, Toledo, and Brooklyn, but the league was clearly weaker in playing strength than in 1889. All the Browns had to do was find adequate replacement players.
Von Der Ahe went shopping all around the country, and here’s what he found. Pat Hartnett at first and Billy Klusman at second were veteran minor leaguers. James (Chief) Roseman, in center when the season started, had played in the AA for five years but had been out of organized baseball in 1889 with the independent Metropolitan club. Roseman was not in the best shape of his career, his mythical Indian name being “Big-Man-Around-The-Belt” according to the Sporting News. He would be one of the Browns’ best hitters, though. Pete Sweeney, Latham’s replacement, had been released after a brief trial with the Browns in 1889 but was resigned after an impressive stint in the California League. Bill Whitrock was the only new pitcher when the season opened; he was in just his second season as a professional.
The catching situation was the worst, with both Dad Meek and James Adams having scant experience. A few days into the season, the Browns were able to sign the veteran Billy Earle and drop Adams. In early May they added John Munyan when he was released by Columbus to replace Meek; he would end up doing most of the catching.
Hartnett was dropped in mid-May and replaced by another AA veteran, John Kerins, but he was found wanting. Pete Sweeney was shifted to second and third baseman Jumbo Davis was brought back for his third stint with the club; he was cut loose after a month. Davis helped throw away a game on June 8 against Toledo. The Browns were leading 4-1 when Davis got into an argument with the umpire and threw the ball away in disgust without asking for time out, allowing George Tebeau to score, starting Toledo’s comeback to a 8-4 win. Joseph Herr, another former Browns’ player, was brought in to replace Davis; he only lasted a couple of weeks. With all the changes in players and positions, the team fielding, usually a strength, suffered mightily. The team’s Defensive Efficiency Record was .643, ahead of only Brooklyn and the latterly farcical Athletics, and down from .662 the year before.
The Browns spent most of the first two months of the season hanging around the .500 mark. Finally, Von Der Ahe made the move that turned the club around, purchasing Count Campau, Bill Higgins, and Jake Wells from Detroit (International Association) on June 25. Campau, whose only previous big league experience was with the NL Wolverines in 1888, filled a corner outfield spot, replacing Tom Gettinger, who after a good start, struggled with the bat. Campau provided offensive fire power, leading the club in triples and home runs. Higgins provided solid play at second base. (Third base was never settled. Duffee led the team with 33 games there.) Campau was appointed team captain after a few days and led the club to a 27 and 14 record, taking them from fifth to second place. Ed Cartwright was signed in early July, not without controversy, as Rochester claimed they had purchased his contract from Hamilton (International Association). He was awarded to St. Louis and took over first base and hit well, finishing just one home run behind league leader Campau.
Meanwhile, the pitching was proving adequate. The five main pitchers used during the season were nearly equally effective, their ERAs ranged from 3.39 to 3.69. The veteran Chamberlin wasn’t one of them, though. Credited with 32 pitching wins in 1889, he got off to a poor start and suffered a couple of suspensions, either because he was trying for his release, according to Von Der Ahe, or because of a sore arm, according to Chamberlin. His arm did seem to recover as soon as he was sold to Columbus on June 18. This left the Browns short of pitching until Billy Hart was added in July. Tom Ramsey seemed like his old self at times, striking out 13 in one game, pitching a one-hitter in another. At other times, he seemed like his other old self, getting in trouble for drinking. His poor fielding also undid him frequently; he led the league with 16 errors and had a .729 fielding average. Jack Stivetts was the club’s leading pitcher, throwing over 400 innings, and also hit effectively, with a .500 slugging average. On April 27 against Columbus, he struck out the first seven batters. In the June 10 match against Toledo, his second homer of the game, a grand slam in the ninth, provided the winning runs.
The revolving door continued. Pitcher Joe Neale, catcher Mike Trost, and center fielder Dusty Miller were added in mid-August, and infielder Joe Gerhardt was signed later that month. Roseman and Wells were dropped. Ramsey was released in September following a four-error game. Cartwright set a Major League record in a September 23 game against the (replacement) Athletics by driving in seven runs in one inning on two home runs, while teenager George Nicol, who had joined the team on a trial basis, pitched a no-hitter in his debut. He would allow the Athletics one hit in his next start, but would prove ineffective against any other team, even in an exhibition against a minor league club. Even Campau and Higgins were dropped at the beginning of October. Fuller, a bright spot throughout the season, was hurt in October and missed the last week.
They forfeited a game on April 20 in Louisville, refusing to play on after disputing an umpire’s interpretation of a ground rule in the third inning. The second game of the July 4 twin bill had one of the strangest endings ever. Trailing by one run, the Browns had runners on first and third and one out, they scored the tying run when Wells ran out of the baseline to avoid a tag and keep Brooklyn from making a double play. Umpire Kerins, until recently a Browns player, didn’t call Wells out and Brooklyn walked off the field in protest. But the next day Kerins ruled Wells was out and awarded the game to Brooklyn. Duffee had a disappointing season after the promise of 1889, but he did have some notable games. His three-run homer in the tenth inning was a game-winner on June 25, and on September 20, he had a RBI triple in the top of the tenth and made a game-saving catch with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the inning. Future Hall of Famer McCarthy would, on the other hand, have his first big year at the bat, his .898 OPS exceeding his previous career best by .186, and he led the league in stolen bases, as then defined.
The team went through four captains. Tommy McCarthy, widely regarded as one of the smartest players in the game, began the season in that role, but was replaced after the poor start and an incident in which several of the players were out late carousing. Oddly, one of the night owls, Chief Roseman, was chosen to replace McCarthy. He gave way to Campau, and team rallied under him, but another wild night caused him to be replaced briefly by McCarthy and then the newly acquired veteran Joe Gerhardt. John Kerins was mentioned in some sources as another captain, but it doesn’t appear he ever was so appointed. Meanwhile, Von Der Ahe, as manager, sometimes sat on the bench and frequently fined players for bad play, which tended to be demoralizing.
Attendance suffered. A crowd of approximately 5000 people in mid-August was called the biggest of the season; in past years they would usually draw several crowds of over 10,000. At least twice they called off games due to low attendance. Von Der Ahe resorted to lowering the admission price to 20 cents on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but apparently suffered a big financial loss for the season. Following the season the Browns played a series for the championship of Missouri against the Kansas City club, winning three games to two.
The Browns’ official record of 78-58 is in error. They only won 77 games. The problem came about because a game that was rained out in Brooklyn was made up in St. Louis on August 11 without the required consent of the other teams. The league forced them to replay the game in Baltimore, the latter club having replace Brooklyn. The Browns won that game on August 29, but both that game and their victory in the August 11 game were included in the standings.
After suffering devastating losses from players jumping to the Players League, the Browns had to rebuild quickly. The team Von Der Ahe put together mostly struggled early, falling to a record of 24-27 on June 23. He kept bringing in new players and getting rid of others. The team finally gelled in mid-season, climbing to second place, going 49-22 through September 27. But they couldn’t catch up with the Louisville Cyclones, who led them by 7 games, and Von Der Ahe couldn’t contain himself, making several more roster moves and the team faded to third place.
How the Browns lineup changed during the 1890 season:
|Position||Beginning of season||End of season|
The Sporting News
The Sporting Life
Much of the research for this article was done by Bob Tiemann