July 1, 2022

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

August 6, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Every player was smiling when the New York Giants departed the bus that had brought them home from St. Louis, where they had just captured the franchise’s first World Series. Even President John Day, who was feeling the effects of a flu he’d contracted on the trip, was in a talkative mood about the series. Then a reporter took the opportunity to ask Day about the status of shortstop Montgomery Ward, who was embroiled with the Giants in a contract dispute earlier in the year. Day responded:

“There is nothing new. I have not received any offer for my shortstop. Boston, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh claim they would like to have him, but as yet none have made any offers. If they do, and the figure suits me, Ward can go. Of course Ward is a good player, but he appears to want a change, and under these circumstances, I would not hesitate to part with him or any other member of the team.”

One month later, it appeared Ward was on his way out. According to the New York Times, Day had agreed to release Ward to Washington in exchange for a $12,000 sum. The deal, though, could not be completed without Ward’s consent, as he was traveling in Australia at the time. However, when Ward came back, he refused the move to Washington.

The Giants began to have off-field problems in February. On the 9th of the month, the Giants awoke to find out that their ballpark, the Polo Grounds, no longer had any fences. Back in July of the previous year, the city’s Public Works department had said they would have to rip through Polo Grounds in order to build the new One Hundred and Eleventh Street. The Giants had gotten a temporary restraining order and were allowed to complete the season, but since, that order had been removed. Both issues involving Ward and the stadium would find more definitive answers in the week leading up to the season opener.

The Giants awaited word on the fate of their old stadium up until a day before the season opener, when New York Governor David B. Hill placed the final nail in Polo Grounds’ coffin, removing the final legislation order that was barring the city’s Public Works department from building a street through Polo Grounds. The Giants would open up their season at Oakdale Park in Jersey City for the first two games before moving to the St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island for the next few months, a site which was also temporary.

Meanwhile, the day wasn’t too kind for Monty Ward either. A report in the New York Times said many of his teammates grew sick of Ward’s antics during the last season and some had vowed never to play with him again, given the chance. President Day even said himself that there appeared to be a strong resentment towards Ward. One player, speaking anonymously, told the Times:

“Ward is a very jealous man and he could not bear to see the club win with Ewing as Captain while he had made failures year after year. He clearly showed this last season, and nearly all the boys felt sore. Ward, while a good ball player, is afflicted with self-esteem, and thinks he knows more than anybody else about the game, while in reality, Ewing knows more in one minute than the little shortstop will ever know…I voice the sentiment of nearly all the players when I say that the Giants can play good ball and win the championship without the services of Ward.”

The next day, the Giants opened up their season at Oakdale Park with Monty Ward in the line-up, despite the shortstop not having a contract signed yet. The club lost the season opener 8-7 to Boston but rebounded the next day with an 11-10 win. The next day, the Giants and 3,000 fans showed up at Staten Island to watch the team’s first game at St. George Cricket Grounds. During their four-game series against Washington in Staten Island, the Giants won them all, including the last two by scores of 16-3.

New York’s offense was explosive early on, scoring double-digit runs in 9 of their first 23 games. However, their pitching was not holding up well in the first month. Mickey Welsh was sick and had not yet pitched at 100%. Tim Keefe would not sign a contract and pitch until May 10th. Cannonball Titcomb, who had pitched well as a #3 starter the year previous, was not in great shape.  Ed Crane, another arm, was hurt. The Giants were even forced to use Captain Buck Ewing in a start.

On June 14th, the Giants said goodbye to Staten Island with a 14-4 win over Philadelphia. New York would go on a lengthy road trip and upon their return in July, they would return to play at Manhattan Field (later Polo Grounds II), located on 155th Street and Eighth Avenue. Returning from their trip on July 8th, the Giants had a record of 32-22, sitting three games back in a tight National League pennant race. New York christened their new home by winning nine of their first ten games at the park, moving them a game back of first place Cleveland. After playing the first bit of their season in less-than-favorable conditions in Staten Island, Giants manager Jim Mutrie said of Manhattan Field, “The Giants have struck the right spot.”

The Giants added two more healthy bodies on July 27 to help them down the stretch, between legs of a home-and-home against Washington. The first was the addition of Washington pitcher Hank O’Day. O’Day had been pitching well for the last-place Washington club and his arm would prove to be crucial down the stretch for New York (went 9-1 after going to New York). Meanwhile, the Giants also purchased the contract of outfielder Harry Lyons from the Jersey City Club. He would serve as a reserve outfielder the rest of the way for New York.

On August 14th, after sweeping Cleveland on the road to extend their winning streak to five games, the Giants grabbed the lead in the National League for the first time since May 10th. However, they soon followed that up with a six-game winless streak, dropping them 3.5 games out of first. Then on September 14th, they swept Chicago in a doubleheader at home, placing them a half game back of Boston for top spot. That day, though, marked the final regular season home game on the Giants’ calendar. To capture the pennant, New York was going to have to do it on the road; 19 games in 20 days.

The trip started out great. The Giants swept Washington and followed that up by taking three games from Philadelphia, tying the other game in the series. During the same stretch, Boston had won four of its last five and the Giants found themselves clinging to a one-game lead atop the National League standings.

On September 30th, each team had six games remaining. New York would play three games in Pittsburgh, followed by three in Cleveland. Boston had the same schedule, only reversed, starting in Cleveland and finishing in Pittsburgh. That day, Boston beat Cleveland 6-3 and that, coupled with a New York tie in Pittsburgh, saw the two clubs tied atop the standings:

Boston  80-43  —
New York  79-42  —

Boston would take the lead in the race the very next day. New York allowed a six-run, fifth inning to Pittsburgh en route to a 7-2 defeat. The Giants would rebound for a 6-3 victory the next day, thanks to the pitching of Ed Crane, who got the start when Tim Keefe was a late scratch due to illness. Boston lost in Cleveland that day allowing, once again, for the clubs to be tied for first place with only three contests remaining for each.

New York won its next two games by scores of 9-0 and 6-1; however, Boston equaled the Giants win for win, ensuring the pennant would be decided on the next day. Manager Mutrie of the Giants left his team for the final game to Pittsburgh to make sure that Boston did not do anything to undermine the championship race. Before he left, he announced Tim Keefe would start the final regular season game. In turn, Keefe announced he had never felt better and predicted he would pitch the best game of his life.

The Giants got started right away. George Gore led off with a four-pitch walk and the very next batter, Mike Tiernan, sent the ball way over the right fielder’s head. Tiernan and Gore were able to circle the bases and the Giants took a 2-0 lead. They would never look back. Keefe threw the ball with more velocity and accuracy than he had all season. He stifled the Cleveland hitters and received solid defense behind him. In the end, the Giants walked out 5-3 victors, never having their lead in jeopardy.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the hometown Alleghenys jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first. When the score of the New York-Cleveland game was read across the PA system, Boston became lifeless and did not battle throughout the rest of the game. Pud Galvin allowed only 6 Boston hits over nine innings and Pittsburgh clinched fifth place in the National League with a 6-1 victory. More importantly, New York was able to lay claim to their second pennant in as many years.

Next week will feature the 1889 World Series between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.


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

    The Polo Grounds used in 1889 was LATER called Manhattan Field, not the other way around. This was after the Giants took over the Players League park and named it Polo Grounds.

    Also, “Boston 80-43 –
    New York 79-42 –” is not a tie. New York was in first, which is determined by winning average, not games ahead/behind. And I’m not clear on why you keep referring to John Ward as “Monty” (sic) or Montgomery.

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