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. Last week John reviewed the 1890 Alleghenys, owners of the worst record in franchise history. This week John looks at the hitters from that 1890 Alleghenys team.
Continuing on from my previous article, I’ll now summarize the powerhouse offense that led the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys to 597 runs scored. That number would be just 33 runs behind the second worst scoring team and “only” 638 runs less than they gave up. Let that number sink in for a minute.
The team’s leading hitter in 1890 was Doggie Miller, one of the few returnees from the previous season. His .273 batting average was 2nd on the team while his .707 OPS and 66 RBI’s led the team. A regular catcher prior to the season, he mainly played 3B but also caught ten games which makes his accomplishment of playing all 138 games that season all the more impressive. Miller also had 68 walks with just 11 strikeouts in 621 plate appearances.
Catcher Harry Decker was the team’s next best hitter which explains a lot. Prior to 1890, Decker had played for 5 teams over three seasons (1884, 1886, 1889) and had just 59 games experience. He started the year with the Phillies but played just 5 games the first five weeks. The Alleghenys bought his contract and made him the regular catcher. He hit a team leading 5 home runs and hit one point higher than Miller to lead the team in batting. Despite the decent stats, he never played in the majors again.
John “Tun” Berger was a 22 year old local kid in 1890 with no major league experience. He would end up playing 104 games in 1890, starting at seven different positions and he hit .266 with 40 RBI’s, tied for second most on the team. Although he had a long career in pro ball, he would only play 69 more games over two seasons in the majors. Like some of his teammates from 1890, he was a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh.
Sam LaRocque prior to 1890 had two games of major league experience through age 26. Afterwards he would play just another 11 games but for one magical season he was good enough to be the regular 2B with some time at shortstop as well. He actually played decent defense, had the second most games played and plate appearances and his 40 RBI’s tied Tun Berger for 2nd on the team as well.
If you’ve read the prior articles you’ll know that Bill Sunday was a speedy CF who was one of, if not the, fastest players of the day. He was a singles hitter who didn’t hit enough singles and didn’t walk enough to properly utilize his blazing speed. In 1890 he continued his strong fielding performance, still stole 56 bases but hit just .257 with 32 walks. He was likely the team’s best overall player still until they traded him away in August for two players and cash. That was his last season in the majors, he voluntarily left prior to the next season, eventually becoming a world famous evangelist.
Things get a little dicey here on out, if the previous five were the worst hitters the team may not have been so extremely bad, but they were the best of the bunch. The team’s manager, Guy Hecker, who was a one time batting champ just four years earlier was basically playing out his career. He came into the season as a career .290 hitter but hit just .226 with 38 RBI’s as the team’s regular 1B, occasional pitcher, in what would be his last season.
Bill Wilson is an interesting story. He was a 22 year old rookie catcher who played some other positions as well. He hit just .214 in 83 games and then played in the minors up until 1897 when he would hit .213 for Louisville and no doubt throw some balls into CF on stolen base attempts, where a 23 year old rookie named Honus Wagner would be there the retrieve them. Wilson played pro ball until age 40 although he never appeared in the majors after age 30.
In mid-July the Alleghenys were in need of a light hitting SS with questionable defensive skills so they signed 29 year old Ed Sales who played for many teams in Pennsylvania as a minor leaguer but his only major league experience came in 1890. He made 51 starts, all at SS and hit .228 before returning to the minors for good.
About the same time Ed Sales was joining the team, leftfielder John Kelty was leaving the team. He opened the season with the team,a 19 year old rookie with a couple years of minor league experience but like so many other Alleghenys 1890 was his debut season. He hit just .237 and despite playing just 59 games he had the second most strikeouts on the team behind Bill Wilson’s 50.
Fred Roat was another rookie, joining the team in early May to play 3B. He hit just .223 in 57 games and after the season he was sold to the Reds for the pricey sum of $300. He never played for them but he did appear in the majors again in 1892 for eight games finishing out his major league career.
That still leaves 19 other position players who made at least one appearance for Pittsburgh in 1890. I won’t go into detail about all of them because some players just don’t have many details. Also, five players played just one game. Fred Clement had just one career AB playing his only game on June 24th. He did get to make 3 errors at SS and didn’t even play the whole game. Frank McGinn played his game June 9th, went 0-4 with two strikeouts and he caught the only ball hit to him in CF and that’s the extent of his known pro career. Fred Traux played LF on August 18th,went 1-3 with a walk and an RBI and was gone the next day. Phil Routcliffe played LF during the 2nd game of the season, made three clean plays, got a hit, RBI, stolen base and his walking papers although he had a decent minor league career that started when he was 14!
Jim Gray does get his own paragraph and why not. He played six total major league games, all for Pittsburgh but in three different major leagues (Player’s League, NL, and American Association) and there was a nine year span between his debut and his last game. He hit .304 (7-23) but made nine errors in those six game including three for the 1890 team in his only game.
The two members of the two games club were brothers, John Gilbert and his younger brother Harry. They were also a double play combo for one day, June 23rd which just happened to be a doubleheader in Philadelphia. Both played flawless defense as the Alleghenys lost 13-0 and won 12-8. They were teammates for a team from Pottstown in the minors and that’s where they would return following the game with Harry getting the only two hits between them.
Two returning players appeared briefly as mentioned last article. John Coleman played just three games hitting .182 and Fred Dunlap lasted just 17 games before being released in mid-May. Pitcher Charlie Heard went 0-6 on the mound and played another 6 games in the field hitting just .186 overall.
It took Mike Jordan until age 27 to make the majors and he surprisingly lasted 37 games. The little outfielder joined the team late August and hit just .096 in what was his only major league experience. Another small outfielder named William “Ducky” Hemp lasted 21 games and hit .235 while starting games at all three outfield positions. The 27 year old had just one game of major league experience before 1890, and played just nine more games after Pittsburgh released him. Henry Youngman was a 25 year old rookie infielder who was in the opening day lineup but was gone by June 2nd due to his .128 average and subpar fielding.
Paul Hines played 31 games for the Alleghenys and hit just .182 before being released. Just saying that would do injustice to a player who had a great career because Hines was actually the first Triple Crown winner (1878) and he hit .302 career with 2,133 hits. He’s also on many historian’s lists of 19th century players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately by the time 1890 came around he was already 35 years old and near the end of his career.
Eddie Burke was acquired in the Bill Sunday trade and unlike most rookies for the 1890 team, he was just beginning what would be a good major league career. He hit just .210 in 31 games for Pittsburgh but over an 855 game career he finished with a .280 career average including a .340 mark in 1896. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh gave up on him following the 1890 season so they didn’t get to enjoy any of his success. Dad Lytle made his major league debut on August 11, 1890 vs the Alleghenys as a member of the Colts (current day Cubs) and he liked the 19-70 team so much he decided to stay and play out his major league career, 15 more games in which the 28 year old hit .145 with zero RBI’s. He was actually a decent minor leaguer, lasting until 1900 as a player.
Sam Crane is a hard player to figure out. He didn’t make the majors until age 26, two times after that he spent two full seasons in a row in the minors without a cup of coffee in the majors, played for eight different teams over his seven seasons, hit just .203 career, didn’t take walks or steal bases and he was no better than an average fielder. So who knows how he kept getting chances but with the Alleghenys he fit in just well hitting .195 over 22 games before being returned to the Giants, the team he started the year with.
Finally, I saved my favorite player for last, a man who lasted just eight games over a 20 day span but was able to bat .300 yet never played in the majors again. That man was William Walter “Peek-A-Boo” Veach. The outfielder, 1B, sometimes pitcher, supposedly got his nickname in 1884 as a rookie when his team would put on pickoff plays but they would have different players or the coaches give the signal. Eventually other team’s caught on when they would see Veach looking all around for the signal and the plan obviously lost it’s effectiveness. He only played 100 major league games but he’s got one of my favorite nicknames ever.
No Pirates team since 1890 has had a lower team batting average or a lower OPS and this team set a now unbreakable team record with 607 fielding errors. They allowed 254 more runs than any other team in franchise history and the 2nd and 3rd highest total runs allowed were during two of the highest offense seasons in baseball history, 1894 and 1930, so those numbers are even a little skewed.