Sign of the Times: Baseball in 1890

Back on February 29th, I posted a “This Date” article called “Which Date in Pirates History?” which briefly mentioned all of the players in franchise history that don’t have an exact known birth date. Some are missing just the day of the month, some missing the month and four of the players don’t even have a year they were born. One of those players mentioned was George Ziegler, a pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the worst team in franchise history. Today I found out something interesting about Ziegler, which really puts the difference between baseball in 1890 and baseball now in perspective.

The first thing about George was that he was born in 1872, that much is known. He pitched just one major league game, taking his turn in the pitcher’s box(there were no mounds back then) on June 19,1890 in the second game of a doubleheader that day against the Cleveland Spiders. The Alleghenys won game one, giving them three straight wins, moving their record to 12-32 on the year. They would go 11-81 the rest of the way that season, with the first loss being credited to Ziegler, who gave up seven runs over six innings in the 7-1 defeat. It was a tough way to end a major league career, after all, he may have only been 17 years old at the time, depending on when in 1872 he was born.

Ziegler had played minor league ball as early as 1889 and he played until 1896. The Pittsburgh Press called him “formerly of Wheeling” referring to the team known as the Wheeling Nailers of the Tri-State League, where he played in 1889 and 1890. About his game, which was merely a tryout(not something uncommon in that day), it was said that he “suffered considerably at the hands of the visitors”, which might explain why he only pitched once in the majors. The fact that I found most interesting though is that he was released immediately following the game and paid $50 for his services.

A lot is still unknown about Ziegler, and the researchers at SABR search through newspaper clippings endlessly for players from this era, trying to find out whatever they can. One thing that is known now, at least to me, is the price of a starting pitcher back in 1890 was apparently $50 a game. Imagine a pitcher now being paid $1600 a year to make his 32 regular starts in the rotation.

As a side note, I had also read awhile back that a player in 1912 was given that same offer, only it also came with the caveat that whoever he found to play a position other than pitcher, was to be paid just $25 for the game. The game, which was referenced here under Joe Sudgen’s bio, was pitched by an amateur baseball player named Al Travers, who never pitched before(or after), but he decided to take the mound once he found out the pitcher was being paid twice the amount.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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