I had the opportunity to attend a lecture this evening on baseball in Richmond Virginia during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The speaker was brilliant and really knew his early baseball history, and the crowd was engaged and interested. On the whole, the evening was well spent.
The speaker brought up some fascinating points I will highlight here. He dismissed the idea that baseball has ever been played for simply the joy of the game, arguing that from its most recognized inception in the 1830s it’s always been all about the business.
The New York style of play the Knickerbockers spread was a less harsh style than that played elsewhere, as it banned the practice of throwing the ball at the runner to record the out. It also introduced strike outs and foul territory, which eliminated the practice that some of the batters engaged in where those who hit right handed would stand on the left side of the plate, and after the ball was pitched they would let it go past them and then take a right-handed swing to make the ball go behind the plate and well out of the reach of any fielder. Those early players were quite devious.
In 1885 Richmond’s pro team was two years old and was so good they played themselves out of existence. They had helped form the Eastern League that year, which was the predecessor of the Independent League, and by July they were dominating their opponents. Up by 9 games, no one doubted they would win the pennant. Early in the season they were averaging 2000 fans a game, but their success caused fans to stop coming to the ball field. Newspapers commented that going to watch a game was not enjoyable when the result was already known, and attendance dwindled to averaging 200 fans a game. By mid-August the team was forced to declare bankruptcy. The players attempted to overthrow management and finish out their schedule, but their attempts failed. The team folded and withdrew from the league. Therefore, in under two months, a pro baseball team’s success caused them to go from pennant winners to league dropouts. What a story.
Oh, and apparently there was a baseball game tonight in Baltimore that the Atlanta Braves participated in. And by “participate”, I mean continue their grand experiment in trying to see if it is possible to play a game of baseball without any offense at all. So far they have been able to complete whole games, an achievement for which they should receive some accolades.
Mike Foltynewicz pitched pretty well, going six innings giving up two solo home runs while striking out eight. David Aardsma relieved him and finished out the game in perfect fashion. He’s been a great piece of the bullpen since he’s been with the team.
When you decide to try to play baseball without an offense, you shocking don’t score any runs. And when you don’t score any runs, winning becomes pretty tough. So Folty was the sacrificial lamb who had to take the loss tonight. Someone had to do it.
Working with a bunch of Orioles fans will make my life insufferable tomorrow. I should probably call in sick.
But on to the big question of the night (with the Furcal Rule still strongly in effect): will this team have Alex Wood on it tomorrow? What about Luis Avilan or Jim Johnson? I don’t see that there’s any way Johnson is with the team after the trading deadline, and I predicted in my player write up on Avilan this past winter that if he made it to the Openig Day roster he wouldn’t be there for game 162. If Wood leaves, though, I’ll be sorry to see him go. He’s fun to watch and is the type of player who’s easy to root for. I wish him nothing but the best, and I sure hope that if/when a trade like this goes down, it truly does make the Braves a better team by the time they’re in a position to compete again.