Major League Baseball Season Recap: 1880

League Champion: Chicago White Stockings

The National League arguably entered 1880 in the best shape it had been in yet. Only one franchise had left the circuit; Syracuse was replaced by another small market, Worchester. The league’s top organized competitor (at least in terms of an alternative way to organize ball clubs), the International Association, had bitten the dust on September 29, 1879. On that same day, the league adopted a reserve clause that allowed each team to reserve five players each year.

The reserve clause was the brainchild of Bostons’s Arthur Soden, one of the three “triumvirs” who owned and operated the club. Soden had a reputation as a skinflint, and he was still smarting over the defections of Jim O’Rourke and George Wright to Providence. The rule did not draw much immediate outrage from players, who initially saw being reserved as a status symbol, but of course would become a matter of contention for nearly a century of baseball to come. Most teams used the reserve powers on their battery and three other players.

As usual, there were a fair number of on-field rule alterations. A foul ball fielded on the first bounce was once again an out after a year of using the modern rule. The number of balls needed for a walk was reduced to eight, and a third strike had to be caught on the fly for an automatic out. Additionally, the bottom of the ninth was no longer required to be played out if the home team had secured victory.

The pennant race was not much of one. The perpetually under achieving Chicago White Stockings blew the NL away, winning by fifteen games with a 67-17 record (good for an unsurpassed winning percentage of .798). Any doubt was removed in June, when Chicago caught fire–on July 8, they won their twenty-first consecutive game, improving their record to 35-3. Providence was next in line at 21-16, thirteen and a half games back. The two were essentially equal from that point; the White Stockings went 32-14 while the Grays went 31-16.

The dull season did include several impressive individual feats. On June 10, Charley Jones of Boston became the first player to hit two homers in the same inning. On June 12, John Richmond of Worcester pitched the first perfect game in major league history, a 1-0 triumph over Cleveland. Just six days later, perfect game #2 was turned in by Providence’s Monte Ward in a 5-0 win against Buffalo. On August 20, Buffalo got a 1-0 no-hitter from Pud Galvin against Worcester, and Larry Corcoran of Chicago handed the league’s newest member another no-no in a 5-0 game on September 20. Worcester and Buffalo thus both pulled the neat trick of pitching a no-hitter as well as being no-hit.

The off-season would yield some drama as Cincinnati was expelled from the league in an absurd morality play.