1881 – Song of Sing Sing

The New York Knights, and their larger-than-life owner Charles Bigsby, were no longer around. The Knights had been dismal in 1880, and this was to some extent due to the legal troubles of the club’s owner. Those troubles ended with Charles being sent to Sing Sing Prison and his ballclub folded. The younger Bigsby (Miles), still ran the show in Brooklyn (and many felt also ran the various illegal business that had led to his sibling’s incarceration) but for the first time in the short history of the Century League there would be no club playing in the nation’s largest city. Filling the void in the lineup were the Providence Gems – a solid touring performer playing in what would be the league’s smallest city.

Surprisingly, Providence more than held its own against the Century League’s other clubs. The Gems won 49 games against 34 losses, good for a second-place tie with Philadelphia, four games behind the champion Chicago Chiefs. Providence had a potent lineup and led the league in runs scored. The Gems had a trio of potent bats: 1B William Joyner (.337, 11 HRs), C Tommy Allen (.311 and a league-high 80 RBIs) and CF Ira McKelvie who hit .347, good for third in the batting race. Three veteran pitchers: A.W. Morton (late of NY), Henry Page (Brooklyn) and Daniel Fallow (Boston) kept the opposition down on most days. Still, it wasn’t enough to catch the Chiefs.

Chicago won the pennant for the second time – interestingly, through six seasons, three teams (Philly, Brooklyn and Chicago) had won championships and each now had a pair of titles. The Chiefs relied largely on their stellar pitching. Young, but veteran, ace Hartigan O’Carroll (19-11, 2.73) was joined by rookies Edwin Dudley (21-8, 1.32) and Henry Newcomb (14-12, 2.34) in the league’s stingiest pitching staff. The offense ranked just sixth in runs scored but the overall result was a 54-31 record and the championship.

Brooklyn’s Jim Jones emerged from two seasons sitting on the bench in Cleveland to lead the league in hitting with a .388 average. He was followed by Detroit second sacker Sam Haggins (.349) and McKelvie of Providence (.347). For the first time ever, two men reached double figures in homers as Joyner was joined by Boston rookie Jimmie Casimir (10). Chicago’s Dudley led the league by a mile in ERA his 1.32 more than a half-run better than Brooklyn ace Elmer Manuel’s 1.92 mark. Cleveland’s Jack Manning was third at 2.29. Jason Young pitched a lot for Boston, and won 42 of his club’s 45 games. He also led the league in strikeouts with 245. Apparently when you pitch 640-plus innings, you can rack up some numbers.

But as the season drew to a close, the biggest news wasn’t really about any of the above – it was all about the rumors circulating that Cincinnati Monarch club owner James Tice was looking to make a splash in a big way.