Pittsburgh’s First Minor League Team

Since this site started as a minor league site (that has expanded to cover every aspect of the Pirates) and we try to give you as much minor league information as possible, why not make a history column about the first minor league team that actually played in the city of Pittsburgh.

On February 20, 1877 the International Association was founded in Pittsburgh,Pa. The league consisted of seven teams that played from Ohio to Canada to New Hampshire. They played between 18 and 22 games each. The season started in mid-April and ran through the beginning of October. It is considered to be the first minor league in baseball history.

The Pittsburgh team was named the Allegheny(no S like the major league team that was five years away). They used twelve players that season and amazingly all 12 made the majors. No other team in the league used so few players or had a 100% graduation rate to the majors, although some of these guys already had major league experience prior to joining the team.

The star of the team was the starting pitcher, James “Pud” Galvin, the Hall of Fame pitcher with 365 wins. He would later play for the Pirates/Alleghenys from 1885-89 and 1891-92, winning 126 games for the franchise. He started all but one game for the 1877 Allegheny, going 12-6.

The leading hitter, with a .259 average, was Jack “Candy” Nelson, who played 13 major league seasons.

The team also included Ned Williamson, making his pro debut. He would go on to set the major league home run record of 27 in 1884 that stood until topped by Babe Ruth in 1919.

George Creamer was a second baseman for the Allegheny. He would later play in the majors with the Alleghenys in 1883-84 and also manage the team for eight games during that 1884 season. He was 0-8 as a manager.

Russ McKelvy was an outfielder who pitched the only game not started that year by Galvin, and he won. He would later go 0-4 in one game for the 1882 Alleghenys.

Tom Dolan was a catcher who would end up playing pro ball until 1895. He spent parts of seven seasons in the majors.

Chick Fulmer was a shortstop who spent nine seasons in the majors and played all five seasons the National Association was in existence. The NA was the league that pre-dated and also led to the formation of  the National League in 1876. Despite his major league experience at the time, he hit just .100 for the Allegheny, going 4-40.

Jack Goodman was a first baseman who hit just .176 with the Allegheny, but earned a major league job for the following season. He would play one more season in the bigs, playing for the 1882 Alleghenys, where he hit .317 in his only ten games.

Bill Holbert caught for 12 seasons in the majors and while he hit just .208 with no homers in 623 games, he was known as a strong defensive catcher which helped him stay around so long. He hit .098 in 17 games for the Allegheny

The manager of the team was Denny McKnight, a lifelong Pittsburgh native who later went on to manage the 1884 Alleghenys for 110 games.

Outfielder Johnny Ryan played just two games for the Allegheny, both in late September. His five year major league career was already over at that point, at age 23.

Billy West didn’t last long with the team and he was the only player from the club who also played for another International Association team that season. He played seven games between the two clubs and hit .083 in 24 AB’s. Just like Ryan, he was 23 at the time and his big league career was over.

Al Nichols lasted nine games with the team before he signed with the Louisville Colonels of the National League to finish the season.

The Allegheny would finish the season with a 13-6 record, the second best winning percentage in the league. The league existed for one more season and while none of the players from 1877 returned to the team, the roster did include future Pittsburgh Alleghenys(AA) players in Chappy Lane and George Strief, the man who hit the first home run in the history of the Pirates franchise. They also had Jack Glasscock, a great shortstop who played for the 1893-94 Pirates and an 18 year old pitcher named Mickey Welch making his pro debut. He would go on to win 307 major league games and gain induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.