The following is part of a new feature to the site from Pirates Prospects contributor John Dreker. 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 recaps the first Opening Day for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the first professional team to play in Pittsburgh.
I mentioned in an earlier article about the first game in NL history played by our current Pittsburgh Pirates, so I figured I’d post about that game this week. The Alleghenys had played well their last season in the American Association in 1886 finishing second and for the most part,they were the same team that made up the first Pittsburgh team in the NL the following year. Eleven players returned for the 1887 season, which at that time was basically an entire team as most teams carried eight position players, a reserve catcher and 2-3 pitchers on their active roster. They would use just 16 players total during the whole season and not all of them were with the team when the season opened on April 30th in Recreation Park.
The rules of the day back then said the home team had the choice of when to bat, either top or bottom of the inning and Pittsburgh decided to leadoff. The first batter in Pittsburgh NL history was leftfielder Abner Dalrymple who was purchased from the Chicago White Stockings (current day Cubs franchise) during the offseason. As fate would dictate, the first game was against his former team who thought he was on the downside of his career and they had better options in his place and they would be right. His Pittsburgh stats were no where near what he had accomplished in a Chicago uniform, hitting 80 points less in his two full seasons.
The pitching matchup for that game was an amazing one for the day. For the Alleghenys on the mound was James “Pud” Galvin who had 254 wins at the time,just 40 behind the career leader Bobby Mathews who was still active but nearing the end of his career. By late 1888 Galvin would be the all-time leader in wins, a spot he would hold for 15 years before being passed by Cy Young. Galvin’s opponent on the mound that opening day was John Clarkson, the owner of a 100-38 record at the time. Between the two pitchers before they retired they would combine for a total of 693 career wins and both were elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Pirates lineup for that April 30,1887 game was as follows:
LF Abner Dalrymple
CF Tom Brown
C Doggie Miller
2B Sam Barkley
RF John Coleman
1B Alex McKinnon
3B Art Whitney
SS Pop Smith
P Pud Galvin
The White Stockings lineup included the player some consider the 19th centuries best player, Adrian “Cap” Anson, who is top ten in hits, runs and RBI’s. This was despite not only playing half his career in an era where teams played less than 100 games per season, but he was already a star player before the major leagues started in 1871. They also had outfielder Jimmy Ryan who is high on many historian’s lists of 19th century players deserving of HOF induction. The shortstop Ed Williamson was a star player on the day and the player who’s record of 27 homers in 1884 was broke by Babe Ruth in 1919. Their leadoff hitter was Billy Sunday, who would join the Alleghenys in 1888 for 2+ seasons before ending his career to go on to eventually becoming a world famous evangelist. As a baseball player many considered him to be the fastest player of his day but he had trouble getting on base to show off that speed hitting just .248 with a low walk total.
As for the actual game, just under 10,000 fans showed up for Opening Day, which was considered a good crowd for the day. The Alleghenys started off strong scoring two runs in the first, one in the second inning and two more in the fourth before the White Stockings could get on the board. When the dust had settled, and in just one hour and 35 minutes, the Alleghenys emerged victorious by a score of 6-2. Galvin outpitched Clarkson but neither were on their game that day. Despite allowing just two runs he gave up ten hits, a walk, a hit batter and struck out just two. Alex McKinnon was the big bat of the day getting four hits including a double and triple (one of 3 by the team) and he scored two runs. Pittsburgh was also helped by three unearned runs due to three errors by Chicago.
Before the season started, Pittsburgh manager Horace Phillips had predicted his team was good enough to compete for the title and for at least this day, he was correct as the White Stockings were the defending NL champs. During the second game of the season the Alleghenys beat Detroit who would go on to win the NL crown in 1887 with Pittsburgh finishing a distant 6th, twenty-four games back.