Game Rewind: The Craziest Half Inning in Pittsburgh Pirates Franchise History

If you were one of the few Pittsburgh Alleghenys fans in 1890 and your newspaper of choice was the Pittsburgh Press, you would have no idea that you favorite team, in their ninth season of existence, played an inning that might never be topped in franchise history. By September of 1890, the Pittsburgh Press stopped dedicating anything more than minimal paper space to the National League team. Heck, they barely wrote about the Player’s League team in town and they were at least a .500 club with some bigger name players. The NL club known as the Alleghenys limped in September with a 19-89 record, including 1-27 in August. They had a tripleheader in Brooklyn on Monday, September 1st, the first of three tripleheaders in MLB history, something that isn’t allowed by the rules now. Brooklyn was the NL champion in 1890, and they played much better at home than on the road. Newspapers back then rarely sent writers on the road, so anything coming in about the game would be a Brooklyn account of the contest.

With all of those things considered, maybe you could forgive the writers for the Pittsburgh Press on September 2, 1890, who summed up the three games played the previous day with their complete write-up of Monday’s action, which read:

“The National League gang broke all records and lost three to Brooklyn.”

That’s it. I didn’t leave out a single word. Their complete recap of three games was 12 words long. I’m about to write 800+ words on one half inning from that day.

I couldn’t find a complete game recap from game one of the tripleheader on September 1, 1890, but all you really need to know is that the Alleghenys trailed 10-0 going into the bottom of the ninth and they had two more games left to play that day. This game started at 10:30 in the morning, while the teams took a break afterwards, then came back to the park for two afternoon games, played in front of a different crowd. The afternoon crowd numbered over 7,000, while the morning attendance was 935, and the local papers noted that many of those fans had left already by the end of the ninth due to the one-sided score.

As a side note, the umpire for this game was George Strief, the man who hit the first home run in Pirates franchise history. If you don’t know 1890 baseball that well, when I say “the” umpire, I mean that as in there was one umpire for the game and it was Strief. Some teams tried out two umpires in 1890, but it was deemed to be unpopular and unnecessary by some.

Back in 1890, the home team had the choice to bat in the top or bottom of the inning and they usually took the top. That helped this game become a little more noteworthy. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Alleghenys had two hits and one walk off of Bob Caruthers, one of the all-time great pitchers who still doesn’t get enough credit to this day.

This game was so out of hand that the Alleghenys left their starting pitcher in to take his hacks in the ninth. Young Kirtley Baker already gave up ten runs on this day, so what harm could he do by batting in the ninth? To be fair, the boxscores say that only two of the runs were earned, but he still gave up 16 base runners and threw three wild pitches. Also, substitutions were extremely rare and all teams carried very few extra players on the road to save on travel costs.

Baker started off the bottom of the ninth inning quietly with a ground out to third base. The two clubs were now two outs away from gathering for a big lunch held between games (seriously) while the old crowd was pushed out and the new crowd was shuffled in to their seats for the afternoon affairs.

The second batter was Eddie Burke and he lined what seemed to be a harmless double into the outfield. Doggie Miller then grounded a ball to second base, where it was booted for an error by Hub Collins.  Tun Berger then took his base on balls, but Bill Wilson hit a foul ball that was caught by Collins near first base. The bases were loaded with Alleghenys, yet they trailed 10-0 and had two outs. Surely any small bit of hope of a comeback was soon to be dashed, right?

Guy Hecker, the manager/first baseman/occasional pitcher, lined a ball into center field and two runs scored. Caruthers was thrown off of his game at this point you would imagine, because he plunked Fred Osborne to reload the bases. The next batter was light-hitting shortstop Ed Sales, who hit a hot liner back at Caruthers. The ball bounced off of his pitching hand and he hustled to pick it up, but threw wildly to first base. Two runs scored on the play and multiple papers made mention that Caruthers appeared to be injured. However, he remained in the game, because why would you take your injured star pitcher out due to injury? That’s a rhetorical question, 19th century players would play through almost anything.

With the score 10-4, outfielder Mike Jordan, an .096 career hitter, picked up one of his 12 career base hits and made it a 10-5 game. That brought it back to Kirtley Baker, who hit .147 that year with no extra-base hits. He also hit an RBI single and now it was 10-6, with two men on base. Caruthers was up for some dramatics apparently. He hit Eddie Burke, loading the bases and bringing up Doggie Miller, who was the best hitter for the Alleghenys at the time.

Miller connected hard with a Caruthers’ offering and sent it over the head of left fielder Darby O’Brien, and as the Brooklyn Citizen would say “nothing but a homer was looked for and eight legs flew around the bases.”

Jordan scored easily on the play, making it 10-7. Baker was right behind him, taking off on the hit I presume, since there were two outs. O’Brien reached the ball at the fence and threw to center fielder Adonis Terry. This might sound odd, but they played with a dead ball and the outfielders were stationed shallow, so it didn’t take much for Terry to get into a good cutoff spot once the ball went over O’Brien’s head. O’Brien’s throw was slightly off-line as the speedy Eddie Burke crossed the plate, while Miller had a full head of steam about to round third. Terry picked the ball up and tossed it to shortstop Germany Smith, who turned and fired to catcher Bob Clark as Miller dashed towards home plate with the potential tying run. The throw was just in time and at 12:01 in the afternoon, Clark tagged out Miller to end the game, sending what remained of the crowd into a frenzy. It was said that the crowd also applauded the Alleghenys for such a valiant effort in the inning. Miller argued to umpire Strief over the call, but none of the live accounts of the game said that he had a case.

The Alleghenys were used to losing at this point, but this was obviously a tough way to pick up their 90th loss of the season. Things didn’t get much better in the second game when they scored a run in the ninth to make it 3-2, but couldn’t get the tying run home from third base with only one out. There were no dramatics in the third contest, which was an 8-4 loss. The three games took four hours and 48 minutes total to play.

 

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