The Boston Braves, 1871-1953by Harold Kaese, Richard A. Johnson (Other), Warren Spahn (Other)
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After eighty-two colorful and often glorious baseball seasons, the financially-strapped Boston Braves abruptly moved in 1953 to Milwaukee, en route to Atlanta, breaking the hearts of the team's faithful, die-hard fans. During its reign in Boston, the storied franchise, now the longest continuously active club in the history of baseball, had captured ten National League pennants and a world championship, and fielded thirty-eight Hall of Famers, including Kid Nichols, Warren Spahn, King Kelly, Rabbit Maranville, John Evers, Hugh Duffy, Eddie Matthews, and the Wright brothers.
In this classic work, first published in 1948 and updated in 1954, famed sports scribe Harold Kaese brings to life the dramatic moments and brilliant players in the baseball legacy of the Braves in Boston. Richly illustrated with vintage photographs and cartoons, many published here for the first time, the book chronicles both the hapless and spectacular seasons from the Braves' founding in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings in the National Association to their move to Milwaukee. Here one relives the remarkable dynasties in the nineteenth century, the "Miracle Braves" of 1914, the glory year of 1948, when the rallying cry was "Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain," and the lackluster final seasons in Boston. This edition includes a new index by Jonathan Fine of the Boston Braves Historical Association and a statistical appendix by Richard A. Johnson, editor of Northeastern's Sportstown series.
This vivid look back at the Braves' years in Boston will appeal to both historians and baseball enthusiasts. It will also spark cherished memories of New England's still beloved team—the Boston National League club that "left behind an indifferent population, an ugly ball park, and the Red Sox."
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The BOSTON BRAVES 1871-1953
Chapter OneTOO GOOD TO LAST
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There once was a baseball team so remarkably good that to end its parade of successes it was found advisable to dissolve the league it played in. Thus, cries of "Break up the Yankees!" so common a few years ago, amused the few Bostonians still living who remembered the Boston Red Stockings of 1871-75. How quaint a remedy! There had been no idle talk of breaking up those powerful old Boston champions. They just slipped the rug from under the Red Stockings by breaking up the league instead, then started all over again from scratch.
The club that broke up a league still flourishes today as the Atlanta Braves. It is the only club that has been continuously represented since the first professional league was formed in 1871. It is the oldest club, and in tradition, the glory of past achievement, and the pride of the illustrious players, to say nothing of promise of the future, it is one of the richest clubs.
The Boston Red Stockings won four successive championships, from 1872 to 1875, in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. In 1875 they lost only 8 out of 79 games and won the pennant by 20 games.
It was through no accident that Boston monopolized the championship of the first professional circuit. Boston had a rich baseball heritage to start with. Albert Goodwill Spalding once said, "Just as Boston was the cradle of liberty for the Nation, so also was it the cradle in which the infant game was helped to a healthy maturity."
The exact age of baseball in Boston is not known. The boys who first played Rounders on the Common did not bother to erect a tablet commemorating the event Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, however, once told a reporter than he had played baseball while at Harvard, and he graduated from Harvard in 1829. Dr. Holmes must have been mistaken, of course, for history says that Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball until 1839, or ten years after Dr. Holmes thought he had played it. Dr. Holmes must have played Rounders, Three Old Cat, One Old Tomcat, or some other vulgar form of today's national game.
Spalding, never wanting in boldness, without hesitation traced baseball back to Plymouth Colony, where Governor William Bradford three centuries ago was alleged to have broken up a ball game while it was being played on Christmas Day by men who refused to work because it was "against their conscience." As yet, however, no Boston historian had suggested that the Pilgrim Fathers jumped off the Mayflower to play a game of baseball, using Plymouth Rock for home plate.
Early baseball split into two major branches, the Massachusetts game and the New York game. The Massachusetts game, as played by Boston's West End teamsters, firemen, and mechanics, was a virile sport in which a runner could be retired by being "soaked," or hit, by a thrown ball. After a quarter century or so of serving as live targets, even Boston players welcomed the more effete game when it was introduced by a New Yorker, E. G. Satzman, who infiltrated their lines in 1857. Somehow, it seemed a more congenial way to spend an afternoon.
The first clubs organized to play the Massachusetts game were the Olympics in 1854, the Elm Trees in 1855, the Green Mountains in 1857, and the Hancocks in 1857. The Olympics and Elm Trees met in the first recorded match in 1855. Satzman organized the Tri-Mountain Club in 1857, and the first game under the New York rules was played on the Common in 1858, the Portland Club of Maine beating the Tri-Mountains, 47-42. Other clubs were soon organized to play the New York game, including the Baseball Club of Harvard College, the Bowdoins, the Lowells, and the Flyaways of East Boston. The Lowells, most famous of these clubs, lasted until December, 1878. The first college game, involving several Boston boys, was played at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, July 1, 1859. Amherst defeated Williams, 73-83, with each side using its own ball while at bat. Nobody knows yet if the better team or the livelier ball won.
In June, 1870, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, first professional baseball team, visited Boston and defeated such spirited broad-A rivals as the Lowells, Tri-Mountains, and Harvards by such lopsided scores as 40-12 and 46-15. Harry Wright's team opened the eyes of Boston baseball followers. The Boston amateurs were comparative novices beside the Cincinnati players when it came to batting, throwing, and catching a baseball.
"Why can't we have a team like that?" asked Boston fans.
"Why not indeed?" said Ivers Whitney Adams, a leading businessman and sports lover. He resolved that Boston should have such a team. He sold the idea to his friends.
"Where will we get the players?" he was asked.
"Don't worry. We'll get them some place," promised Adams. Then the Cincinnati Red Stockings lost their first game, after having won 87 consecutive victories in two seasons, to the Atlantics in Brooklyn. A few weeks later, the Red Stockings disbanded. Adams knew then where he would get his players.
The first meeting and organization of the Boston Red Stockings Club took place at the Parker House, January 20, 1871. The club was incorporated with a capital of $15,000, with Adams elected as its first president. Stockholders included Henry L. Pierce, John F. Mills, Eben D. Jordan, Edward H. White, James A. Freeland, F. G. Welsh, Harrison Gardner, John A. Conkey, and others. Harry and George Wright were present at the meeting, and arrangements were made for Harry to secure players for Boston's first professional team.
Boston can now boast of possessing a first class professional Base Ball club, as all the efforts tending to establish an institution of this kind culminated yesterday, when at a meeting of the shareholders in the organization, the business transactions of Mr. Ivers W. Adams, who has been laboring for the last twelve months to establish such an institution in this city, were heartily approved and the club regularly organized, the officers chosen for the ensuing year, and all preliminary steps taken looking toward an animated base ball campaign in this section, in which the model club of the country, the Boston Base Ball Club, will constitute the main attraction.
So wrote the Boston Journal of January 21, 1871, in one of the longest sentences ever dedicated to baseball up to that time.
The Wrights were sons of an English cricketeer who had come to this country and settled in New York. George was born near the present site of the Polo Grounds, at 110th Street and Third Avenue, January 28, 1849. Of the brothers, he became the most famous, although the tenacious Harry was the most natural leader. A third brother, Sam, excelled only at cricket.
When he was sixteen years old, "Little Georgie" visited Boston as a bowler and "mid-wicket-off" on the famed St. George Cricket Club. Craving more action than cricket offered, he and Harry turned to baseball, first playing with the Gothams in New York. In 1867 he took a job as a government clerk in Washington, to play with the Nationals, and in 1868 he rejoined Harry with the Unions of Morrisania, New York.
They hit the jack pot with the first outright professional nine, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869 and 1870. Harry was captain of the team, pitching and playing center field. George was the shortstop. George was paid $1,400, more than any other player, while Harry received $1,200. Harry seemed always destined to be outdone by his younger brother.
If Harry Wright had not stubbornly insisted on playing extra innings, the Cincinnati Red Stockings would not have lost to the Atlantics, 8-7, in eleven innings in 1870, and their winning streak might be going yet. It was in this game that George started the first double play. Instead of catching an infield fly with two Atlantics on base in the tenth inning, he trapped the ball and forced out runners at third and second.
Harry Wright, playing at Newport, Kentucky, in 1867, had hit seven home runs in a game, but George had a better reputation as a hitter. He hit 59 homers in 52 games in 1869, when the ball was dead, fields were open, and the pitchers delivered the ball underhand from a distance of 45 feet. He batted .518 and scored 339 runs. James O'Wolfe Lovett wrote of him: "He assisted one hundred and seventy-nine times and made eighty-two fly catches out of eighty-six chances, thus making good his title to 'King.'" George W. Howe, early Cleveland authority, called George "incomparable" in the field.
George could and did play every position, although not simultaneously, but he settled down at shortstop. Only a little bigger than Rabbit Maranville, he had a powerful throwing arm, which enabled him to play deeper than most early shortstops. He was admired above all other players of his time in Boston, and was called, "Our George." But George had something in common with many modern players. He disliked curve-ball pitching. When pitchers started bending them around 1875, George's batting average nose-dived. Not only was George a star cricket and baseball player, but he pioneered the game of golf in this country.
Asked once which was the best game of them all, George surprised his interrogator by replying, "Tennis, because it is the hardest game to learn." His sons, Beals and Irving, were tennis champions.
George Wright, the model player of his age, the quiet little fellow who flashed his teeth in bright smiles under his mustache as he gave juggling exhibitions with Andy Leonard and Jim O'Rourke, lived to be ninety years old.
But it was Harry, christened William Henry Wright, who put the Boston Red Stockings together. George once said of him, "He had a quiet, gentlemanly bearing, but Harry also had a peculiar knack of securing the esteem of men in his charge." Harry was the first of the mental-giant managers. He was so shrewd that a rule was passed prohibiting the manager to sit on the bench unless he was also playing.
Harry was not a good hitter but he was a good center fielder and change pitcher. When he was made captain of the Boston Red Stockings, he at once visited Rockford, Illinois, where he signed Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Fred Cone, who had played for the Forest Citys. He added Charlie Gould and Cal McVey from the defunct Cincinnati Red Stockings and got Harry Schafer from the Philadelphia Athletics, Dave Birdsall from the Unions of Morrisania, New York, and Samuel Jackson, an Englishman, from the Flour City Club of Rochester, New York.
Most of these men were famous players in their day. Barnes was so clever an infielder that he was tried at shortstop ahead of George Wright, although soon moved to second base, where he was in a class by himself. Of Barnes it was written that he could run so fast that he could steal second and third without sliding, and only dirtied his pants when stealing home.
But the player on the first Boston team destined to become best known was Spalding, the pitcher. As a native of Rockford, Illinois, one of baseball's early capitals, Spalding was subsidized like a modern college football player. He went to work as a bill clerk in a wholesale grocery concern in Chicago, with the understanding that he would pitch for an amateur team every Saturday.
"I wasn't a very good bill clerk but I was a pretty good pitcher," Spalding once admitted.
Wright persuaded Spalding to come to Boston by giving him $2,500, $500 of it spot cash. He might have made a better bargain if he had known that Spalding was eager to visit Boston because of a Back Bay girl he had met while visiting in Rockford. The girl became Spalding's wife, and her father helped establish him in the sporting-goods business, which made him a millionaire.
When Harry Wright had signed up his players, the Boston Journal wrote: "This nine has been selected with great care, and is regarded as one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the country."
Where was the new club to get its competition? Ivers Adams took care of that problem by entering the team in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, when the first professional league was formed in the congenial surroundings of Collier's Saloon in New York, March 4, 1871. The league was formed because pure amateurism was no longer possible in baseball, and because of the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 and 1870.
For a park, the Boston club had leased the grounds known as the Union Base Ball Ground at South End, near Milford Place. New seats were built, and the best seats even had a roof over them. The question of the uniform was left to Harry Wright, and naturally he borrowed from the Cincinnati Red Stocking pattern. "It consists of a white flannel suit, of shirt, knee breeches and cap, red stockings reaching to the knees, and a red belt," went a description. "On the shirt front the word 'Boston' in red German text will be worked, which, with the usual canvas gaiters, will complete the uniform."
By March 31, all the Boston players were in the city training from two to four hours daily at the Tremont Gymnasium as they awaited suitable weather for outdoor practice. The players lived in the Highlands, next to Harry Wright's house, so he could keep them "under his eye at all hours."
The opening match of the Boston club was against a picked nine April 6, 1871. The new professionals won, 41-10, with Spalding pitching. The Boston Journal expressed its satisfaction as follows:
The prediction that the establishment of a professional club in Boston would develop an interest in the game, hitherto unknown, bids fair to be proved true, for there assembled on the grounds of the club yesterday afternoon, full five thousand persons to witness the opening game of the Boston Nine, this being the largest number ever assembled before in these grounds.
People stood on the top of the fence and watched from the roof tops. It was Boston's biggest crowd except for the Peace Jubilee. When Boston later played a game against Harvard, the crowd numbered 2,000 spectators. They saw George Wright at shortstop make stops and throws that excelled anything ever seen before in Boston. Furthermore, "the umpiring of Mr. Ellis of the Athletics was in strict accordance with the rules."
That was more than could be said of the umpiring of H. A. Dobson, baseball editor of the New York Clipper, who officiated at the first league game played by Boston. The game was played in Washington, and it was "generally remarked in the stands that Boston was playing both the Olympics and umpire." But Dobson had lost a leg in the Civil War, and credit was given him for moving about nimbly on crutches, although "the umpire received an ugly blow on his only leg in the eighth inning, which keeled him over on the grass, but he was soon recovered."
Excerpted from The BOSTON BRAVES 1871-1953 by Harold Kaese Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan S. Fine. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
HAROLD KAESE (1909-1975), a baseball, basketball, and track star from Lynn, Massachusetts, traveled with the Red Sox and Braves for nearly forty years as a sportswriter and columnist, first for the Boston Transcript and then for the Boston Globe.
RICHARD A. JOHNSON is curator of the Sports Museum of New England and the author of A Century of Boston Sports, also published by Northeastern University Press.
WARREN SPAHN was the winngest left-handed pitcher in history, with 363 victories, all but seven coming with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. He died November 24, 2003, and his foreword was completed shortly beforehand.
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