1879 – Eight is Enough

Cal Jones, Chicago

For 1879, William Whitney was determined to find two new clubs for the Century League; the goal was to have eight teams in the loop and the desertions of Cincinnati and St. Louis had meant playing the 1878 season with six. Though both Cincinnati and St. Louis were still intact and playing independently of the Century League, Whitney did not approach either of them but looked for other quality independent clubs. He found two – and though neither was good enough to actually challenge for the pennant, both finished ahead of two of the existing clubs in their first season.

The newcomers were the Milwaukee Brickers and the Cleveland Cuyahogas. Both had been straddling the line between amateur and professionalism for several years and Cleveland in particular had a strong reputation. Milwaukee turned out to be slightly better in 1879, going 39-46 and finishing in fifth place while Cleveland posted a 34-47 mark and a sixth-place finish. Cleveland did have two standouts in SS Ned Dupree who finished 2nd in the batting race (.363) and pitcher/1B Martin Tucker who was third in ERA (1.45). Milwaukee one-upped Cleveland by boasting the league’s batting champ, 2B Charlie Dozier (.365).

Brooklyn returned to the top of the standings with a 59-20 mark and did it with a roster vastly different from that of their previous championship club. Citing costs, Miles Bigsby had shipped out much of his high-priced talent and replaced them with cheaper, but still productive, players. Foremost among these players were a pair of pitchers found in Syracuse, NY. 25-year-old pitcher Billy Roberson made 38 starts, posted a 31-7 mark, a 1.39 ERA and 299 strikeouts – all three were league-bests. Jimmie Williams, at age 22, made 41 starts, posted a 28-13 mark and a 2.15 ERA. Brooklyn appeared set for years to come – if they could afford to keep their new stars.

Chicago finished second again, this time with a very strong 57-26 record. New 1B Sam Sorenson, a 25-year-old plucked from the St. Louis touring club (Whitney likely enjoyed sticking it to one of his rebellious former comrades) hit .362, good for third place in the batting race and also a league-best 8 home runs. With Hartigan O’Carroll (14-11, 2.63) nursing a sore arm through much of the summer, newcomers Elmer Manuel (20-6,1.71) and Willie Davis (19-3, 1.41) picked up the slack. Manuel also played right field when not pitching and hit a solid .330 for the year.

Philadelphia finished third at 41-36, followed closely by Boston (41-43) and the two new clubs. Detroit, still struggling financially, finished seventh with a 28-54 mark and New York was in the basement with a 22-49 record.