Building A Team, 1888 Style

The following is from Pirates Prospects contributor John Dreker, as part of his ongoing Pirates History feature. The feature focuses on the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and every Sunday, John will take a look at a different piece of that history. This week John looks at how the 1888 team was built.

In their first season in the NL, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys finished a disappointing 55-69, in 6th place (out of 8 teams) and 24 games back of the leader. In this article I’m going to break down how the team, led by returning manager Horace Phillips, attacked their first offseason, way back before relievers and a deep bench were part of team’s off-season checklist.

First I’ll start with the who was new for the beginning of the year. Right after the 1887 season ended they acquired a veteran 2B, 28 year old Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, for the price of approximately $4,000 from the first place Detroit Wolverines. In the previous article I noted that Sam Barkley took over at 1B when Alex McKinnon died. Barkley wasn’t much of a hitter for a 2B so you could imagine how his bat played at 1B where even back then many teams stuck their best slugger. Dunlap was a consistent hitter with some strong seasons to his credit, but he was a very strong defensive player with sure hands and great range. By putting him at 2B and eventually selling Sam Barkley the team was able to put an All-Star type player at 2B and look elsewhere to fill the 1B void with a strong bat.

Al Maul

To start the season the Alleghenys used an odd combo of players at 1B, regular outfielder John Coleman, who started his career as a pitcher and an outfielder they bought from the Philadelphia Quakers named Al Maul (pictured to the right) who would end his career having pitched 187 games with a respectable 84-80 record. Maul was just 22 years old with very little major league experience although in 16 games in 1887 he hit .304 with 15 walks. The team started off slow with these two splitting time there which led them to eventually make a terrific transaction, purchasing future Hall of Famer Jake Beckley from St. Louis of the Western Association, a top minor league at the time. I’ll cover this deal in more detail in the next article.

The team returned with Pop Smith at SS for his 4th season with the franchise. He wasn’t much of a hitter but played strong defense and showed some speed. Teamed with Dunlap, they were as good as any double play combo in the NL. They probably would’ve liked to have Art Whitney, who had been with the team since 1884, play some SS and 3B but he was a holdout and eventually got traded to New York for Elmer Cleveland in what was a one sided trade for NY. Cleveland wasn’t that good to begin with, his claim to fame was being related to President Cleveland. However, since Whitney wasn’t going to play all season they had to take what they could get for him.

The starting 3B for 1888 was Bill Kuehne, a team regular since 1885 who jumped all around during his five seasons in Pittsburgh. He was a decent defensive 3B, not much anywhere else they tried him, and he was coming off what would be his best career season at the plate. He would go on to start a league high 138 games in 1888. At the catcher spot the team had the same three as the previous year with Doggie Miller and Fred Carroll splitting most of the time. Miller was an average hitter with better defense while Carroll had the better bat and suspect defense, although early in his career he was much better. Jocko Fields was the team’s 3rd string catcher. Due to poor equipment back then and more injuries, most teams carried three catchers and they would usually play another position while giving themselves a break from the wear and tear.

In the outfield, Abner Dalrymple, along with Coleman, Maul and the three catchers all would get time out there although Coleman had the high among the group with 91 games played. The teams main addition to the OF was Billy Sunday, a blazing fast outfielder they bought from the Chicago White Stockings. Just 25 at the time, Sunday was coming off his best season but was still available for just $2,000 when Pittsburgh came calling in mid-January. He was a top notch CF with what some said, was the best speed in the game at the time. His problem in every season except 1887 was the fact he couldn’t get on base to use that speed enough. For example, in the 1888 season, Sunday stole 71 bases, good enough for 3rd in the NL and he did that despite a .256 OBP. Despite his lack of on base skills, the team still probably felt pretty good going into the 1888 season with his speed and defense in CF and the two veterans, Coleman and Dalrymple manning the corners with Maul and a couple good hitting catchers taking turns in the 4th outfielder spot.

The two man pitching rotation was strong for 1888 with Ed “Cannonball” Morris and the future HOF’er James “Pud” Galvin taking turns in the pitcher’s box. Both were reliable pitchers but the only other option the team had to start the year was Hardie Henderson, a 25 year old pitcher with an 80-118 career record and his best years well behind him. They eventually acquired a young hurler named Harry Staley who came along in the Beckley deal but to start the season their plan was Morris and Galvin and pray their arms didn’t fall off. With a decent 3rd stringer, it’s possible the team would’ve done much better in 1888 because they were 8 games over .500 with Staley going regularly despite his personal .500 (12-12) record on the season. In 1887 they had 265 game winner James McCormick getting a regular turn along with Galvin and Morris, but he retired. As it was, they finished 66-68, jumping just one spot in the standings to 5th place.

Here’s the complete list of new players for the 1888 season and players from 1887 who didn’t return:

Who was new?

Fred Dunlap (purchased for approx. $4,000 from Detroit NL), Billy Sunday (purchased for $2,000 from Chicago NL), Al Maul (purchased for $1,000 from Philadelphia NL), Jake Beckley and Harry Staley (purchased for $4500 from St Louis[minors] in June), Elmer Cleveland (Received in trade for Art Whitney in June), Pete McShannic-rookie, Phil Knell-rookie, Henry Yaik-rookie, Sam Nicholl-rookie, Bill Farmer-rookie, Cliff Carroll-free agent, Hardie Henderson-free agent.

Who was gone?

Alex McKinnon (passed away), Sam Barkley (sold to KC of the American Association right before the season started), Bill Bishop-released, Jim McCormick (retired), Ed Beecher-released, Tom Brown (released August 15,1887), Art Whitney (traded to New York NL).

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John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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