The Pirates Are Born: 130 Year Ago Today

On this date in 1882, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association played their first professional game. Pittsburgh won that day over the Cincinnati Red Stockings by a 10-9 score. It was also the first day of games for the American Association, a league that lasted as a second(and sometimes third, see 1884 and 1890) major league to the National League for ten years. Pittsburgh played five seasons in the league before moving to the National League for the 1887 season. Two days ago, I posted the lineup for the first Pittsburgh game in NL history here. Unfortunately for the 1882 team, that isn’t possible as many of the players were gone from baseball when tobacco cards became popular in 1887.

Because the boxscore from that first game isn’t available, there aren’t many details around for that first day but if anyone knows where to find the game summary, the help would be appreciated. Without that boxscore, I will now take you into the mind of a baseball historian on a fact figuring conquest.

Going from what I know, the starting pitcher was Jack Leary, not exactly a good choice to open you franchise history with, you could say. He had an 0-3 record in three starts between the 1880-81 seasons in the National League and he would pitch just three games for the Alleghenys. He mostly played third base and outfield that season and he had a 2-6 record the rest of his career on the mound.

George Strief was definitely in the lineup that day and there is a good chance he started at second base. There is also a very slim chance he was the shortstop that day, see he played all 79 games that season, 78 at second base, one at shortstop. He is the first player in franchise history to hit a home run, connecting in the third inning of game two, played the next day. The opposing starting pitcher both days, as well as game three of the series, was Will White who ended up going 40-12 in 1882. The odd thing about the other home run hit by Strief that year was that it came off of Morrie Critchley, who was on the Alleghenys bench when Strief’s first home run happened.

Also in the lineup for game one was Mike Mansell, the starting left fielder and just like with Strief, he played every game of the season. Unlike Strief, he eliminated the possibility of being somewhere else on the diamond that day by playing every single inning the team played that season in left field. Mansell ended up leading the American Association in doubles and triples that first year.

The other definite in the lineup that day was a familiar name to Pirates fans, a rookie making his major league debut named Charlie Morton. He ended up hitting .282 in 25 games for the Alleghenys and just .144 in his other 63 major league games.

After those four players, the rest of the starting lineup for day one, as of right now, is just a guess but the process to figure it should be fun.

They used twenty players that season(see baseball-reference page here) and a few can be eliminated among the other 16 not mentioned so far. All of the one game players have known dates they played for Pittsburgh because it was either there last or first game, so eliminate Russ McKelvy, Ren Wylie, Morrie Critchley and Jake Seymour. Chappy Lane made his major league debut on May 16th, the second time Pittsburgh played a series in Cincinnati. Billy Morgan made his major league debut on May 4th, the third game of the year. Harry Arundel didn’t make his major league debut until July 19th.  Down to 9 guys for five spots!

Harry Salisbury wasn’t around the first month, he started on June 1st, so he can be eliminated too. Rudy Kemmler played three games for Cincinnati in 1882, prior to joining Pittsburgh. Two more down.

Trying to figure this out, I did it the easiest way possible first. If a guy played every game, he obviously played the first game. I knew the starting pitcher already so that got me three players quickly. The I went to major league debuts and that got me the fourth player, Morton. I then started eliminating players when I got to Jake Goodman. He played ten games that season for Pittsburgh, all as the starting first baseman. He also played his last major league game on May 29,1882 which just happened to be the tenth game of the season for the Alleghenys, so it is safe to say, he was the first baseman in the first game in Pirates franchise history.

That leaves us with:

Leary,P. Goodman,1B. Mansell,LF as definites. Morton probably played centerfield(he played three games at 3B) and Strief was almost positively the second baseman. Four positions left, six players to choose from.

Next up was Denny Driscoll and he doesn’t have any easy dates to look at to eliminate him from contention, but he was only used as a pitcher all season and we already know who started the first game so down to five for four spots.

Unfortunately, that is where the definite players end. The others are just good guesses the rest of the way. Some of them better than others but there are only five guys left so I continue on.

John Peters played 78 games with the team, 77 at shortstop, so there is a good chance he was the starting shortstop on day one, he only missed one game.

Ed Swartwood played 76 games with the team and was signed in November of 1881 by Pittsburgh so there is a very good chance he was there on day one, starting in right field. He was also a lead-off hitter all season so a good guess would put him as the first batter in team history.

Billy Taylor played all over the field and got into 70 games, playing the most at catcher, while the only other catcher that season (not already eliminated) was the team’s backup, Jim Keenan.

Now we get to the last player, Joe Battin. He played 34 games for Pittsburgh, all at third base. He also played in the minor leagues during the 1882 season. In 1883, he was with Pittsburgh the entire year, so there is very little chance he was sent to the minors like they do now with players. Likely, he joined the Alleghenys while the team was playing in Philadelphia in August. It just so happens they had 34 games left in their season after that Philadelphia series so I am going to eliminate him.

If I eliminate Battin though, that means Keenan played that first game and judging by the amount of plays he had in the field at his three other positions, he probably didn’t start a game anywhere else but catcher. So we look at the spots Taylor played, right field, center field and third base. Morton and Swartwood both played the outfield and were signed early in the team’s existence on paper so chances are they started day one in the outfield and Taylor played third base.

So while I wouldn’t recommend this at home, by process of lots of research and elimination, the nine men who took the field 130 years ago today for the first game in Pirates franchise history were(along with their likely position):

Jack Leary(P), Jim Keenan(C), Ed Swartwood(RF), Mike Mansell(LF), Jake Goodman(1B), John Peters(SS), George Strief(2B), Billy Taylor(3B) and Charlie Morton(CF).

Of course, after doing all that, someone probably has the boxscore right next to them as they are reading this and could’ve told me the lineup already.

 

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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