April 20, 2024

The 1891 Pennant Controversy

October 12, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The 1891 National League season ended on October 3rd. However, the champion Boston Beaneaters were not awarded the pennant until over a month later because of charges laid on the team by the runner-up Chicago Colts.
On June 10th, the Beaneaters were looking like anything but a pennant contender. After losing their second game in a row to the Colts, they were sitting in fifth place, 6 ½ games back of the Chicago club, led on the field by the legendary Cap Anson, who wore the dual cap of player-manager.

The Beaneaters picked up the pace, though, going 32-16 in July and August, and closing to within three games of Chicago, with the clubs scheduled to meet six times in September. Boston lost two out of three in Chicago early in September and when the Colts came to town on September 14 for a three-game series, Boston lost the first two games to drop 6 ½ back of Chicago. After the second win, the Chicago Tribune stated about Anson’s club, “The good captain’s men are champions.”

On the 16th, Boston started a magical run. Behind a solid pitching performance from Kid Nichols, previously winless versus the Colts, Boston defeated Chicago 7-2. Then the wins started to pile up, with the help of some weak opposition. After winning a doubleheader in Brooklyn on the 23rd, one writer summed up the Bridegrooms’ play by saying, “Brooklyn stumbled about like a drunken man on stilts.” The pair of victories increased Boston’s win streak to eight games and closed the gap between them and Chicago to two games.

With the win streak at 11 games on the 28th, and with eight to go, the New York Giants came into town for three games, with Chicago still in front by a game and a half. However, when Giants officials arrived in Boston, they decided to reschedule two games that were previously rained out, making the 29th and 30th both doubleheaders.

The Giants came to town without many of their star players. Pitching studs Amos Rusie and John Ewing stayed home with fatigue and slugging first baseman Dan Connor was given the day off. Boston won the only game scheduled, 11-3, with New York playing so poorly that even the Boston fans booed their effort. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Spiders, behind a masterful performance by Cy Young, defeated Chicago 4-2.

The lead was now down to a half a game with a doubleheader slated between Boston and New York on the 29th, while Chicago and Cleveland would play another that day as well. Once again, the Giants’ play was terrible. They lost both games, 13-8 and 11-3, and made a combined 11 errors on the day. Boston had no trouble at the plate, outhitting New York 28-17. With Chicago winning a wild game in Cleveland, 14-13, the two teams were now tied in the standings.

Boston was in a position to take over the league lead with two wins on the 30th. Once again, their hitters came to play, scoring 21 runs in the two games, which they won by 16-5 and 6-3 scores. The offense in the second game was led by Jack Quinn and Steve Brodie, who had four hits apiece. Thanks to Chicago’s loss, Boston not only took the lead, but was up 1 ½ games on the Colts. Chicago president James A. Hart said, “things looked suspicious” in the five-game sweep, but made no formal complaint about game-fixing to the National League (yet).

He did, however, file a complaint about the back-to-back doubleheaders, saying his club was not informed of them and multiple doubleheaders required permission from the league and the other seven teams. The league rule at the time was that multiple doubleheaders would be allowed if at least six teams agreed. Boston president Arthur Soden told the Boston Globe that he received telegrams from the other six teams to allow them to play the games.

The Beaneaters went on to extend their win streak to 18 and ultimately won the pennant by 3 ½ games over Chicago. After the last pitch of the season was thrown, Hart and his club filed an official complaint against Boston and the other ‘eastern’ teams, including New York, for lying down during games against Boston late in the season to allow them to win the pennant. Hart said that the veteran-laden teams of the east did not want to embarrass themselves by losing the pennant to the young Chicago team.

Much of two complaints were filled with questions pertaining to the Boston-New York series. Why was New York president John Day quoted as saying he would like to see Boston win the championship? Why did Boston and New York schedule two more games after President Day arrived in Boston? Why did New York agree to the doubleheaders if they were riddled with injuries and ailments? Why did New York leave many of its star players home for the trip to Boston?

National League president Nick Young ordered an investigation into both of Chicago’s complaints and withheld the pennant until they were complete. Members of the media were curious as well. Writers for The Sporting News agreed that the Giants played suspiciously bad in the series and a reporter for the Boston Globe wondered if Soden actually had telegrams from six teams to allow him to schedule back-to-back doubleheaders.

The first investigation into the matter was conducted by the Giants, who were taking most of the hits delivered by Chicago in the media. In their report, the club exonerated itself of any wrongdoing, particularly why so many of their regulars did not participate in the series, including Rusie, Ewing, and Connor. The report cleared the names of everyone in the Giants organization who was accused by Hart of throwing the Boston games. President Young accepted the report and took it in for consideration before handing down his decision. Officials from the Chicago club weren’t satisfied with the report, wondering aloud, how can a team clear itself of charges this serious?

On November 11th, the National League made its decision and awarded the Beaneaters the pennant. President Young dismissed Chicago’s first complaint about the rescheduling of the two extra games, saying that proper procedure was followed. He also said he received evidence that six teams gave their consent to the doubleheaders, and no league rules were broken. Young also found the report generated by the Giants to be sufficient and accepted it, clearing them of any league tampering charges. In addition, Young found Chicago’s assertion of the games against Boston being thrown, unsubstantiated.

However, the evidence against the eastern clubs, particularly the Giants, was pretty strong. Anson thought the league ignored evidence against the other teams and was always convinced the games were thrown in Boston’s favor. In his autobiography, Anson said, “a conspiracy was entered into whereby New York lost enough games to Boston to give the Beaneaters the pennant.”

Boston’s 18-game winning streak to help capture the National League pennant is tied for the fifth longest in NL history. Arguably, it is one of the greatest stretch runs by a team in baseball history. However, fairly or unfairly, because of these events, the streak will always be tainted.

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