Dodgers Celebrate 122nd National League Anniversary

A few weeks ago, the Dodgers became the most expensive sports franchise in the history of the world. Just today, they celebrate their 122nd anniversary in the National League. And it’s a storied history. On this date in 1890, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms made their debut in the National League by playing the Boston Beaneaters (the future Braves). Boston won the game 15-9, but the Brooklyns had the last laugh, winning the pennant by three games over Cap Anson‘s Chicago Colts (later known as the Cubs) and 12 games ahead of the fifth-place Beaneaters. Their first National League season yielded their first National League pennant and the first of 19 20 overall for the franchise. That’s the second-highest total in National League history, behind tied with the Giants’ 20. (The Cardinals are in third place with 18.)

The Bridegrooms were playing in their second league and under their third name: the franchise had begun in 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics of the American Association. Then they played three years as the Grays, eleven as the Bridegrooms or just Grooms, and then thirteen as the “Superbas,” a nickname coined to describe the superteam that resulted from a mixture of the best Bridegrooms and the best players from Ned Hanlon‘s legendary 1890’s Baltimore Orioles — they finished in first place their first two years under that name, 1899 and 1900. The name “Dodgers,” a contraction of “Trolley Dodgers,” was first used in 1911-1912, but the team then spent 18 years as the Robins before the present name stuck for good.

The Bridegrooms were not the only team in Brooklyn. There were actually three major leagues in operation for the 1890 season: the National League, the American Association, and the Players’ League, which folded after that one season. And Brooklyn was represented in each. After the Bridegrooms left the AA — they were the reigning champions of the league, having won the pennant in 1889 — the Brooklyn Gladiators were formed to replace them, but they finished in last place, 26-72, and folded after the season. The Gladiators’ best pitcher was also one of their starting outfielders, Ed Daily; tragically, he died of tuberculosis the next year at the age of 29.

The Brooklyn Wonders finished in second place in the Players’ League: also known as Ward’s Wonders, they were led by John Montgomery “Monte” Ward, the main who masterminded the Players’ League, a pitcher, shortstop, manager, and lawyer who played a major role in forming the first players’ union. He took over the Grooms as manager in 1891. Ward was a remarkable man. As Bill James has written, Ward was essentially comparable to Addie Joss as a pitcher and to Maury Wills as a hitter. Moreover, as a labor lawyer and activist, he was basically an early progenitor to Marvin Miller.*

*By the way, the word “bridegroom,” meaning the man who’s getting married, and the word “groom,” meaning someone who takes care of a horse, are linguistically distinct. “Bridegroom” is actually a corruption of the original term “bridegoom”; the word “bride” had basically the same meaning back in the 14th century, but “goom” meant “man” or “hero.” Meanwhile, “Groom” comes from the root “grom,” which apparently meant “boy.” If you ask me, it’s a shame no one uses the word “goom” any more. But it’s even more of a shame that Marvin Miller still isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

The 1890 Bridegrooms didn’t have any Hall of Famers. Their best player was Parisian Bob Caruthers, whom Bill James called the best starting pitcher not currently in the Hall of Fame, in his 1995 book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?” (It was originally published in 1994 as “The Politics of Glory.”) Caruthers went 218-99 with a 2.83 ERA (a 78 ERA-) as a pitcher, and he had a 126 wRC+ as a hitter. Pitcher fWAR aren’t available back then, but if you add his 18.8 hitting rWAR to his 52.6 pitching rWAR, you get a guy who probably deserves to be enshrined.

The problem is that he really only played nine seasons, and his last season came in 1892, when he was just 28. Moreover, he compiled most of his stats in the American Association, which was markedly inferior to the National League. As a 21-year old with the St. Louis Browns in 1885, he went 40-13 with a league-leading 2.07 ERA, and earned his nickname that offseason by conducting contract negotiations with Browns owner Chris von der Ahe via telegram from Paris, France.

The Bridegrooms had a lot more great nicknames — Lady Baldwin, Dave “Scissors” Foutz, Adonis Terry, Oyster Burns, not to mention manager Gunner McGunnigle — but really only one other notable personality. Rookie George Stallings caught four games for the Brooklyns that year, and he’d only make it into three other games in the majors. But he played 13 years in the minors, managed for 13 years in the majors, and managed in the minors for another 21 years. And most importantly of all, he later became “The Miracle Man,” manager of the 1914 Miracle Braves.

The Bridegrooms didn’t win the 1890 World’s Series. In fact, no one did. The Series ended in a 3-3-1 tie with the Louisville Colonels; the same result occurred in the 1885 World’s Series between the Chicago White Stockings and Caruthers’s St. Louis Browns. And after 1890, Brooklyn fans had to learn to live with a lot more misery than success. Ward’s Wonders and the Gladiators both folded, and the Brooklyn Atlantics and Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association of the 1870s were long gone. There was now just one baseball team in Brooklyn. Their fans quickly learned that one team was composed of a bunch of bums, and they learned to mutter “Wait ’til next year.”

The first championship came more than halfway into their history in the National League. For their first 65 seasons in the NL, the team went 0-7-1 in eight World Series appearances. Indeed, following the 1890 tie, Brooklyn wouldn’t make it back to the postseason until 1916, when the Robins were stomped 4-1 by the mighty Red Sox. They lost the 1920 World Series to the Indians, and then burrowed deep into the second division for the next two decades. They lost the 1941 World Series in heartbreaking fashion (Mickey Owen‘s famous dropped third strike).

Then, of course, they broke baseball’s color line by bringing up Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe and Junior Gilliam and Sam Jethroe and won seven of 13 league championships from 1947 to 1959. In 1955, they did what no other team in the history of the borough — neither the Atlantics, nor the Eckfords, nor Ward’s Wonders, nor the Gladiators, nor the Tip-Tops of the 1914-1915 Federal League — had ever done before. They won the World Series.

Welcome to the National League, Dodgers!

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

13 Responses to “Dodgers Celebrate 122nd National League Anniversary”

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  1. samuelraphael says:

    Once his time with the Bridegooms expired, Oyster Burns has made his legend known by turning up on the undersides of a unfortunate buffalo.

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    • It seems that his nickname is a matter of some dispute!

      Oyster Burns, to me, always had one of the more unusual nicknames in baseball. I chose him for this year’s biography just to find out how he got the name. I still don’t know how he got his name.

      Some sources claim that he got the name because he worked on an oyster farm during the off season. While other sources, such as Bill James, claim that this nickname was bestowed upon Thomas P. Burns by historians to distinguish him from another Tom Burns that played in the 1880’s and 90’s. When he died in 1928 there was no mention in his obituary of his molluskian moniker. (Molluskian is not a real word, but it should be.) Both baseball cards that I could find of him has him listed as just Burns. So during his playing days he may have just been Tom Burns, but to me he’ll always be Oyster.

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      • samuelraphael says:

        Wow, this is a heck of a story. Being the original Oyster, is an honour like being the original T-Bone, or Spike.

        He seemed to be a hell of a hitter. 16 Home Runs is unheard of pre-20th century.

        There are a lot of oysters on Brooklyn/Long Island, it is geographically plausible.

        There is a citation on wikipedia to a book, which claims he sold oysters in the offseason, and was a loudmouth.

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      • Yeah — Burns led the team in RBI in 1890, 1891, and 1894. He wasn’t the best hitter on the team, though. In 1890 it was probably third baseman George Pinkney, who led the team with a .411 OBP (Burns’s was just .359). In 1892, they got Big Dan Brouthers, who is in the Hall, and though Dan was 34, he was easily their best hitter that year.

        Oyster’s 13 homers and 128 RBI in 1890 were both league-leading figures. His RBI were by far the most; 38-year old Cap Anson was in second place with 107. But in homers he was tied with Walt Wilmot and Silent Mike Tiernan. Tiernan was a real bopper; he led the major leagues with 16 homers in 1891, and cranked another 14 in 1893. Tiernan hit 106 homers before 1900. He’s tied with Brouthers for the fourth-highest total among 19th-century major leaguers.

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  2. samuelraphael says:

    I’m also curious if the Orioles thru 1899, are considered the precursors to the modern yankees. They folded and switched leagues, but when they were born in the new AL in 1901, they retained John McGraw, providing some continuity. Does that year off technically make them a separate franchise?

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    • Basically no. The old Orioles were basically folded into the Superbas. In 1900, the twelve-team National League contracted into an eight-team superleague, with a number of teams like the Superbas composed of the best players from other teams. In 1901, the American League appeared and the major leagues were suddenly composed of 16 teams. The new Baltimore Orioles, who became the New York Highlanders and later New York Yankees, are certainly related to the same baseball tradition in Baltimore that produced Hanlon’s team, but they’re generally seen as a distinct franchise.

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  3. Paul says:

    Conan’s old timey baseball skit was clearly transformative for you, Alex.

    Great stuff, and while I know you will deny it, I will choose to believe that you threw in the fWAR crap about Caruthers because Cameron originally refused to post without it.

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  4. Jack says:

    Both the Giants and the Dodgers have 21 pennants, not 20 and 19 respectively.

    But on that subject, with just a little research, I was astonished at how close the Giants/Dodgers rivalry is. Both teams have 6 world series victories, and 21 pennants. Both started in New York and moved out to California in 1958. The all time record between them lead by the Giants 1098-1083 (Giants w/ a .503 winning percentage). They competed in two of the most classic pennant races in 1951 and 1962. The two franchises are almost identical.

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    • And yes, I totally agree: the Giants/Dodgers rivalry is one of the most perfect in all of sports. But just to be clear, I’m only talking about league championships: in other words, I’m just counting World Series appearances. I’m not counting division championships or playoff appearances. The Giants have appeared in 20 World Series and won eight of them (two of them pre-modern, in 1888 and 1889); the Dodgers have appeared in 20 World Series, won six, and tied one (in 1890, of course).

      I have corrected the above.

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  5. Ron Shafer says:

    The Bridegrooms and the N.Y. Giants faced each other in the 1889 “World’s Series,” with the Giants, led by Buck Ewing, prevailing. Brooklyn won the 1890 N.L. pennant despite injuries to outfielder-captain Darby O’Brien and centerfielder Patsy Donovan as manager McGunnigle alternated pitchers Adonis Terry and Bob Caruthers in left field and even sent catcher Doc Bushong to center. In researching my book When the Dodgers Were Bridegrooms, I never found any mention of the team being called the Atlantics or the Grays. It was the “Brooklyns,” until 1888, and then Bridegrooms. Trolley Dodgers and even Dodgers actually began appearing in the 1890s. Dodgers was officially adopted in 1932.

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    • Ron, that’s very interesting — thank you very much! In that case, the information on is incorrect. I’m sure Sean Forman would be glad to know.

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