Thursday, March 6, 2014

Whoa... This is Heavy, Doc!

Alright people, time to hop into your DeLorean, TARDIS, or any other time travelling device you might have because in today's post we're taking a look at 3 players who haven't been active since Grover Cleveland was President! It was a strange time, when the Cubs were the White Sox (Stockings), they were actually the premier team of the era and I'm pretty sure a velociraptor started at second base.  OK, I might be exaggerating a touch on that last one.

Today's mail contained three cards that I recently bought through eBay from 1994's highly under-appreciated set from American Archives Publishing:  Origins of Baseball.  This 100-card set delved into the earliest days of baseball from 1744-1899, spotlighting players, events and landmarks of baseball's prehistoric era.

It's a beautiful, glossy set that gives off the vintage aura without trying too hard.  Plus, with the pictures being so old, one can hardly tell that this set was unlicensed; it certainly doesn't drag down the set.  At any rate, this set has proved useful for me. Here are the 3 cards that I acquired:

Mark Baldwin was a right-handed power-pitcher in his day, regularly considered one of the fastest in the league.  As a White Stocking he went 31-32 with a 3.12 ERA in 70 games from 1887-88, all but 1 of which were starts. But, in an era when walks required 5 pitches outside of the zone, Baldwin had a 4.2 walks per 9 innings over the course of his career, much higher than normal in those days.

He was let go by the club after Cap Anson's famous world tour due to alleged drunkenness and hooliganism, but it was speculated that the motivation was actually fear that the new four-pitch walk rule to be implemented in the following season would affect him exceptionally hard.  He joined upstart leagues - the American Association and the Player's League - in the following two seasons before being poached by the NL Pittsburgh team.  It was his poaching from the Player's League (among other athletes) that led the team being referred to as "Pirates."

Paul Hines playing career pre-dates the National League by 4 years.  He started in the National Association (the de-facto major league of it's day) with the Washington Nationals (no relation to any other Washington franchise).  After a single season there, he made his way to Chicago where he helped rebuild the club in their first season after the Great Chicago Fire, manning center field from 1874 until the NL was formed in 1876.  He then made his way to Providence for 8 seasons with the Greys before bouncing around the league to finish his career in 1891.

His biggest claim to fame is that he has been credited as Major League Baseball's first Triple Crown winner. In the 1878 season (his first year in Providence after leaving Chicago, of course), he hit .358 with 4 homers and 50 RBI in 60 games.  This of course was not acknowledged at the time as RBI were not yet an official stat.

Last but not least, Bob Caruthers played a singular game in a Chicago uniform.  Bob starred on the mound for the St. Louis and Brooklyn American Association teams of the 1880's, winning 40 games twice and leading the league in ERA in 1885. Sidenote - both teams eventually merged into the NL and became the Cardinals/Dodgers that we know and loathe today.

However, wear and tear started taking it's toll on the pitcher by 1892. He returned to St. Louis that season and started just 10 games on the mound and made 6 relief appearances. In his new-found down time, he decided to morph into the original Rick Ankiel and started as the regular right fielder for the club, getting 604 plate appearances batting .277 with 3 homers and 69 RBI.

Decent numbers, but he was released before the start of the next season; he only played in 14 more games after 1892. One of those contests was as a center fielder for the then Chicago Colts in 1893, going 0-3 with a walk.  He caught on with Cincinnati later in '93 for 14 more games before finally calling it quits.

All told, the earliest years of the Cubs franchise and baseball in general are some of the most fascinating.  When it comes to my collection, I both love and hate the fact that I gather players from this time.  As a history nerd, I greatly appreciate discovering these long-forgotten stars; I hate that I'll never be able to fully complete the Cubs roster as many of these men never had a baseball card.

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