In 1884 the city of Philadelphia had three Major League baseball teams; the National League Quakers, the American Association Athletics, and the Union Association Keystones. The Keystones finished 50 games behind the St.Louis Maroons who blew away the league with a 94-19 record. The Athletics had a respectable 61-46 record but only good for 7th place in a twelve team league, 14 games behind the winning New York Metropolitans. And then there were the Quakers. They won 22 games more than the 1883 team but their 39-73 record still left them 45 games behind the winning Providence Grays and their 600-pound gorilla pitcher, Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn who posted an eye-popping record of 59-12 with 441 strikeouts and a 1.38 ERA. Charlie Radbourn was not called “Old Hoss” because of his size, a modest 5’9’’, 165 pounds, but more likely because of his stamina – 678 innings pitched in 1884.

But 1884 was the year Harry Wright arrived in Philadelphia and began to teach the boys how the game of baseball should be played. When 21st century Phillies’ manager Charlie “Old Hoss” Manuel tells his team about the importance of “playing the game right”, there may be an unintended pun involved because Harry Wright is generally credited with being the first one to figure out what that term meant. Wright to his outfielders: “Gentleman, do not stand like statues, back up the play.” Wright to his infielders: “Stay down on the ball, charge for the hop, don’t let it play you. Keep your eyes on the ball.” Somebody was listening – the 1884 Phillies with Harry Wright cracking the whip made 103 fewer errors than in 1883. In all fairness to the beleaguered fielders, with gloves about the size of hands and stuffed with old rags, and with dirt and often muddy infields strewn with pebbles, it could be seen as a marvel that there were not even more errors.

In 1871, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players was formed, and Harry Wright was hired to manage the Boston Red Stockings who five years later changed their name to the Boston Red Caps. In 11 years Wright’s Boston teams played 726 games, won 479 for a .664 percentage, and won six pennants. Following his Boston years, Wright managed the Providence Grays for two years with a 100-72 record. So when Harry Wright showed up in Philadelphia in 1884 to take over the Phillies, the dreadful 1883 Phillies, he was received with much excitement as a proven winner who would lead his team to the top. Team attendance in 1884 almost doubled from 1883 to 100,475, well over the league average of 77,041. In 1953 Harry Wright became the second Philly to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The season began on May 1 with a 21-game home stand, and from the start Philadelphia spectators (called cranks) saw that under Harry Wright, things would be different – Johnny Coleman would not pitch every game. Wright began by alternating Coleman with another slim righthander, Charlie Ferguson, a 21 year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate with star-quality written all over him, arguably the first true Phillies’ star player. As  the season progressed, Wright developed what might have been the first sign of a pitching rotation when, in addition to Coleman and Ferguson, Jim McElroy, and Bill Vinton pitched more than 100 innings. Ferguson clearly was the best of the lot and became the staff ace with 21 wins 25 losses and a 3.54 ERA. Coleman slipped as the season moved on and was released in August with a 5-15 record.

Manager Wright was clearly at sea with the catchers position; in 1884 he used 13 different players at the position. When it was over he could only shake his head in despair at the 129 errors and 200 passed balls racked up by the guys he might ironically refer to as his backstops.

By max blue

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Bill Vinton, Boston Red Stockings, Charley Radbourn, Charlie Ferguson, Harry Wright, Jim McElroy, New York Metropolitans, Old Hoss, Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Quakers, Providence Grays, Union Association


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