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Enter Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton was not very big (5’6”, 160 pounds), but boy, was he fast, and boy, could he hit a baseball. Purchased from the Kansas City Cowboys after the 1889 season, the 24-year-old burst upon the Philadelphia baseball scene like a cyclone. He played left field, hit .325 with an on base percentage of .430, stole 102 bases, and scored 133 runs. They called him “Sliding Billy Hamilton”.
The Phillies put together a 16-game home winning streak in July to end the month with a game and a half lead over the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Say what? It’s true, the Brooklyns won the 1889 American Association pennant, then switched leagues and won the 1890 National League flag on their first try. The Bridegrooms established a winning formula that has become axiomatic over the long years: beat up on the losers and play the better teams even up. In 1890 the champions went 35-5 against the 7th place Cleveland Spiders and the 8th place Pittsburgh Alleghenys; they were 8-10 against the Phillies. The Cincinnati Reds also joined the National League in 1890, and the Chicago White Stockings changed their name to the Chicago Colts, but were still the Cap Anson-led beat-me-if-you-can competitors who edged the Phillies for second place after the Phils endured a losing August to drop out of the race.
Kid Gleason took over as Phillies pitching ace, 38-17, 2.63 ERA, 506 innings, followed by Tom Vickery, 24-21. Lefty Phenomenal Smith put in 204 innings for the Phillies in 1890, but was not very effective, losing 12 of the 20 games he started.
Jack Clements, the Phillies lefthanded throwing catcher, hit .315, but struggled as usual defensively with 35 errors and 36 passed balls, although he did throw out 89 runners trying to steal a base.
Sam Thompson had a down year by his standards: .313 batting average, only four homeruns, but 41 doubles, 9 triples, 116 runs scored, and 102 RBIs.
It was a tough year for manager Harry Wright. The skipper was having trouble with his eyes and midway through the season had to step aside because he couldn’t see. Jack Clements, owner Al Reach, and shortstop Bob Allen, all took a turn at managing as Wright tried to recover his sight.
The 1890 season was the one and only year of the Players’ League. It all came about because of player-management issues. Players were being bought and sold without any input into the process and began to insist that they should share in whatever profits team owners gained from the dealings. The owners scoffed at the idea, but the players were serious and in November of 1889, with financial backing from various sources, they formed a new eight-team league, called the Players’ League. In 1890, Philadelphia had three professional baseball teams, the American Association Athletics, the National League Phillies, and the Players’ League Quakers. The 1890 Quakers’ roster contained most of the players who were on the Phillies in 1889. Ed Delahanty played the 1890 season with the Cleveland Infants of the Players’ League. The Quakers played a 130 game schedule at Forepaugh Park located at Broad and Dauphin streets in North Philadelphia and outdrew the Phillies 170,399 to 148,366. On April 30, 1890, 17,182 baseball cranks paid to see the Quakers play the Boston Red Stockings.
For more on the Players’ League, see: “A Structure To Last Forever”: The Players’ League and the Brotherhood War of 1890, by Ethan M. Lewis.
The Players’ League folded in December, 1890 because of disagreements between financial backers, and players were returned to their old teams. Except for a shrimpy second baseman named Lou Bierbauer who jumped from the Phillies and signed with Pittsburgh. Newspapers accused the Pittsburgh team of being pirates and the Pittsburgh Pirates were born.
In a footnote to the 1890 season, a big (6’2”, 210 pounds) righthander named Cy Young played his rookie season with the National League Cleveland Spiders. In a 21-year career, Young won nine of his eventual record 511 wins in 1890.By max blue