Results tagged ‘ Cleveland Spiders ’

Performance Enhancing Drugs – In 1894?

What’s fun about turning over baseball’s rocks is that it often turns out that beneath them there are…other rocks.

The rediscovery here of photographs of the preparations of the New York Giants before the final game of the 1894 Temple Cup inside the pages of The Illustrated American magazine led the Hall of Fame’s Senior Curator Tom Shieber to an unexpected and startling conclusion: as they swept the Orioles in the closest thing that era had to the World Series, two members of the Giants thought they were using PED’s:

Two of the Giants
made the telling plays in the Temple Cup games, just as they did two weeks ago
in Chicago. …  “You wish to know why these two particular men, and
how they did it? This is the solution.” The speaker held between his
finger and thumb a diminutive three-cornered blue phial. He continued:
“May be, you all do not know that R—- … is a pretty good doctor.
… When we got to Washington he asked W—- and myself to go with him one morning
to call on a doctor who is supposed to be thoroughly up in Isopathy. The visit
was most interesting, and when we left, R—- and W—- had promised to test the
virtue of the elixir contained in these little bottles. The opportunity
occurred in Chicago September 18th. The score was 1 to 1, each team having
tallied in the sixth. R—- was now up, but before taking the bat I saw him pass
something to his mouth and then look up for quite two minutes. His eyes
brightened and the veins across his temples and the arteries down his neck
knotted like cords as he stood at the plate. … R—- met the ball … and he put
his 230 pounds in the lunge he made; … the ball was bound for the outer world,
and would not have stopped if the fence had been twice as high. Three runs were
tallied, and, as it proved, they were just about the number needed…They used
the Washington physician’s elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that
is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—- and W—- will both
tell you so.”


Shieber goes on to source what the miracle “Isopathy” elixir was supposed to do (provide accelerated heartbeats and thus an instantaneous surge of strength), what it was supposed to be made of (mashed up ox brains), what it actually was (nitroglycerine), and who apparently used it (Amos Rusie and John Montgomery Ward).

A cardiac specialist friend of mine says it must’ve been 100% placebo, or, maybe even pure luck that it didn’t kill either of the 1894 Giants. Patients given nitroglycerine for heart-related chest pain are urged to lie down immediately because blood pressure drops.

Still, psychology tells us that placebos often work – and in the 1880’s and 1890’s when “glandular extracts” from animals were supposedly the cutting age of medicine, this might’ve been more true than at other times. Ironically, while Rusie and Ward were very-forward thinking in terms of supplements, they should’ve looked backwards. In 1889, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin openly enrolled in “medical experiments” in Pittsburgh testing the efficacy of testosterone drawn from monkeys.

A good moment to pause for illustrations:1895Temple.jpg

That’s the cover of the scorecard from Game Four of the 1895 Series, supposedly the one owned by Orioles’ right fielder Wee Willie Keeler. One thing you’ll notice right away, that helped doom the Series. Baltimore finished first in the regular seasons of 1894 and 1895, but were upended in the Temple Cup by the second-place Giants in ’94 and the second-place Cleveland Spiders in ’95. Yet the Orioles, and their fans, still considered themselves the NL champions – and put it on the front cover of the scorecard for the series that was supposed to determine the champions!
This would be the only game the O’s would win in either the ’94 or the ’95 Series (they would win in ’96 and ’97). Here’s the scorecard itself:1895TempleScorecard.jpg
The hero for Baltimore was their third starter – the equivalent of a fifth starter today – Duke Esper. He threw a no-hitter for four and ended up with a five-hit shutout, winning 5-0 while the faithful Orioles fans pelted the Spiders with projectiles ranging from rocks to eggs. There were no fewer than seven Hall of Famers in this game, including the O’s first four hitters (John McGraw, Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley, plus catcher Wilbert Robinson, Cleveland left fielder Jesse Burkett, and home plate umpire Tim Keefe). An eighth, Cy Young, had one of his few days off. There were five games in the 1895 Temple Cup, and Young pitched and won three of them!
Much of the program is devoted to very formal, very professional photographs of the Baltimore players. Most pictures of the great McGraw show him as the aged, even pudgy manager of the Giants. He’s only 21 or 22 here…1895TempleMcGraw.jpg

The Philadelphia Spiders?

The Phillies, who have brought new meaning to the phrase “home away from home,” are in St. Petersburg tonight, giving us time to contemplate the insanity of a divisional leader having lost 22 of its first 35 games in its own park. For the record, in the NL East only the Mets are at .500 or better at home, and that 13-22 mark for the Phils compares unfavorably to Washington’s 12-23 home start.

Futility at home always brings back fond Collective Baseball Consciousness Memories of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, baseball’s all-time worst team, and the last to actually abandon their home city in midseason. Cleveland was the National League’s third most successful franchise during the monopoly years of the 1890’s, but in those days there were no rules about the same people owning more than one franchise. When the St. Louis Browns slid into bankruptcy before the season of 1899, the Cleveland owners, the Robison Brothers, bought that team as well. 
With St. Louis then being a far larger market, and less than three weeks before Opening Day 1899, the Robisons promptly transferred all 20 of the Spiders’ top players – including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace – out of Cleveland. The Spiders, filled with has-beens, reserves, and occasionally local amateurs signed for cameos, lost 20 of their first 23 games, and managed to draw a total of 3,179 fans for their first 16 home games (you not only read that right – less than 200 fans a game – but many contemporary reports suggested that those numbers were padded).

It quickly went from bad to unbelievable, even for the fluid standards of 19th Century baseball. By a July 1st home doubleheader split with Boston, the Spiders were 11-48. It was at this point that the Robisons decided that there was very little purpose in playing any more games in Cleveland. They would perform in front of the home fans (fan) only eight times thereafter, and as a wandering tribe of dispirited players, they finished the year with the remarkable record of 20 wins and 134 losses (9-33 at home, 11-101 on the road, and 0-13 in Cincinnati). Cleveland ended up in twelfth place, 84 games behind first-place Brooklyn and 35 games behind eleventh-place Washington. And of course it got worse as it went along. The Spiders lost 35 of their last 36 games (only one of them played in Cleveland).
Necessarily the Spideys produced some horrific statistics, especially for pitchers. Coldwater Jim Hughey, the staff ace, was 4-30 (and the majors’ last thirty game loser). Charlie Knepper finished 4-22, and Frank Bates, 1-18. Among the position players, Lave Cross is a longshot Hall of Fame candidate (and after suffering as player-manager until June, was ransomed back to St. Louis). Saddest of all, the man who might have been the most talented athlete in the game’s history, Louis “Chief” Sockalexis, was already so far lost to alcohol that he lasted just seven games with history’s worst team, and was dropped on May 14.
Thus at 13-22 at home, the ’09 Phils are already guaranteed to do better than this gothic nightmare out of the pages of the history of baseball greediness.
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