The 1910’s
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The 1910’s

The ’Teens saw the advent of the modern ballpark. Starting in 1910, teams began replacing their small, wooden, temporary housing with palatial concrete-and-steel structures built to last for half a century or more. By 1916 every team except Buffalo, Cleveland, and New York was playing in a majestic new edifice that would remain their home for the following 40+ years, at least.


Baseball entered a new era this season. Since the league’s inception teams had been playing in inexpensive wooden structures which were easily susceptible to fire, rot and termites. Having long since established itself as a viable commercial commodity, the game was overdue to move into permanent housing. In 1909 a number of clubs drew up plans for multi-decked facilities built of concrete and steel, and by Opening Day, 1910, three of them were ready: Seton Hill Stadium in Baltimore, which housed 29,500; Flatbush Park in Brooklyn, which accommodated 28,000, and the Roman Arena in Cincinnati, which had seats for 32,000. The immediate and dramatic success of these three parks provided all the motivation necessary to motivate the other club owners to follow suit, and within a few seasons every team in the league would be playing in a new park or a refurbished old one.

The new parks provided the excitement that the pennant race could not; only the fans of the repeating divisional champions, Chicago and Brooklyn, had much to cheer about. The Traders won 108 games and took the West by 17˝ games over Cincinnati, while the Bluebirds won 106 to better Philadelphia by 11.

Brooklyn’s Rupert Allen led the league both in batting, at .353, and home runs, with 13. His teammate Dooley Sauer was the RBI champ with 95. Chicago’s Matthew Sullivan again paced the circuit in wins with 34 and strikeouts with 287, but he yielded the ERA crown to his teammate Jacob Norwood, who posted a 1.40 ERA. Sullivan’s 1.59 was the league’s second best mark.

Cincinnati’s Edmund Godfrey finished the season with 2,999 career base hits, second most all-time, just 135 shy of Pierre Ellsworth’s career record. Teammate Prince Lyon, third on the all-time list, retired at the age of 41 with 2,943.

The World’s Series was a rematch, but this time the hard-hitting Bluebirds were deemed to be more or less on equal footing with pitching-rich Chicago. Curiously, the slugfests went the Traders’ way while Brooklyn won most of the pitchers’ duels. Chicago bombed Brooklyn in the opener, 14-0, and also won games by scores of 6-0 and 5-1; Brooklyn won Game Two 2-0, Game Four 4-3, and Game Five 4-0. They saved the best game for last; Game Seven was nail-biter that was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation. In the bottom of the 11th Chicago center fielder Horace Tompkins lined a two-out single over the outstretched glove of Brooklyn’s Pinkney Bingham, a pitcher forced into shortstop duty due to injuries to both Bluebirds short fielders. The clutch single brought home right fielder Marcellus German with the winning run and another championship for Chicago, their eighth.

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A livelier cork-centered ball was introduced, and the league batting average, which had hovered around .245 for the previous seven seasons, shot up to .267; home runs increased by over a hundred.

The Wolverines opened Wolverine Field, the largest ballpark in the nation for the time being, with seats for 37,500 patrons; Pittsburgh unveiled a cozier entry, Allegheny Field, which seated 26,750.

There was a good two-team race in both divisions. Brooklyn won 101 games but that only got them second place, a game behind Eastern champion Philadelphia; Cincinnati battled Chicago all year in the West before pulling away and edging the Traders by three games.

For the third straight year Brooklyn’s Dooley Sauer and Rupert Allen teamed up to sweep the hitting Triple Crown categories; Sauer led in batting at .384 and RBI with 132, while Allen pounded 19 round-trippers. With Chicago’s Matthew Sullivan shelved for much of the year with an elbow injury, it was up to his teammate Jacob Norwood to tackle the pitching Triple Crown awards; he proved up to the task, leading the league handily in ERA (1.72), wins (32), and strikeouts (274).

Edmund Godfrey passed Pierre Ellsworth for first place on the all-time hits list. The 38-year-old Godfrey collected 188 for the season to finish with 3,187.

Cincinnati had bettered Philadelphia in the 1900 and 1901 World’s Series, but the City of Brotherly Love’s faithful got their revenge a decade later when the Quakers took the ’11 Fall Classic in five games for their fourth title.

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Two more modern concrete-and-steel ballparks sprang up, Boston’s Atlantic Avenue Grounds, which held 31,500, and Philadelphia’s massive Penn’s Landing Park, which seated a record (for the time) 41,250.

Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia pitched a competitive battle for the Eastern crown through much of the summer, but the Bluebirds pulled away from the pack by going 24-7 after September 1st, leaving the Quakers six games back. Cincinnati cruised to a repeat Western Division title, winning a league-high 98 games and finishing seven games ahead of Chicago.

St. Louis’ 28-year-old rookie second baseman Francis Presley surprised everyone by hitting .358 to capture the batting crown, while his teammate Dean Sullivan matched Chicago’s Carl Kessler for the home run title with 10. Another “experienced” rookie, 29-year-old Lyman Williamson of Baltimore, led the loop in RBI with 109. On the slab Chicago’s Jacob Norwood repeated as the league’s ERA champ (2.09) and top winner (31), but gave way to Philadelphia’s Joshua Crowder in the strikeout derby. Crowder fanned 224, 4 more than Norwood.

In the World’s Series, Brooklyn exacted revenge for the sweep they suffered at the hands of Packers in 1908. After splitting the first six contests, Dooley Sauer’s record three triples in Game Seven led the Bluebirds to a 5-0 victory and their third world title.

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St. Louis, a solid team in the ABBA in the 1880’s but a loser most years since, celebrated their first season in sparkling new 33,000-seat Castle Point Field with their second consecutive winning season—a feat the club had not achieved since 1887. The league-wide stadium-building frenzy subsided a bit after 1913, but there would continue to be new facilities unveiled through 1930.

Cincinnati battled Cleveland for awhile in the West but eventually left the Bobcats—and the rest of the division—in their dust. At season’s end the Packers led all competition by 12 games or more. The Eastern race was much more exciting. Boston and Brooklyn battled all summer, the Terriers finally clinching on the second-to-last day of the regular season and winning the first division first flag in their history by 3 games.

Fish Bassett of New York hit .357, edging Cleveland’s Maurice Rivers by one point to earn the batting crown. Perhaps aided a bit by Brooklyn’s cozy Flatbush Park, Rupert Allen hit 21 home runs—a league record. He also led the league in RBI with 105. Cincinnati’s Elijah Graves won the pitchers’ Triple Crown, posting a miserly 1.74 ERA, notching 29 victories (a mark he shared with Hampton Bunker of St. Louis), and 235 strikeouts.

It was another exciting World’s Series, won by Boston, their second league crown. In an epic Game Seven, the Packers, trailing 5-3 in the ninth, had the bases loaded with no outs and one run already in against Terriers’ starter Crab Paxton, but Paxton retired the next three batters on flyouts to notch a compete-game victory and Boston’s first title since 1889.

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The deadball era returned from its short vacation—the league average dropped to .249 and the league scored 500 fewer runs than in 1913.

Chicago and Brooklyn won their divisions with relative ease, the Traders finishing six games ahead of Cincinnati and the Bluebirds ending up eight games better than Buffalo and Philadelphia. Boston not only failed to defend their title, they dropped all the way to last place; but the Terriers weren’t actually that bad a team, finishing just 10 games under .500. The West housed the two teams that turned in truly dismal records: Detroit and Cleveland, who lost 201 games between them.

Octave Hood of Philadelphia hit .344 to win the league’s batting crown; Ebenezer Holbrook of Brooklyn hit the most home runs, 11, and Gustav Claiborne of Baltimore drove in the most runs, 92. Pittsburgh’s Mudcat Noland posted a league-best 1.93 ERA, while Brooklyn rookie Clay Baldwin paced the circuit both in wins (30), and strikeouts (223).

Edmund Godfrey announced his retirement after the season. The longtime Cincinnati star, who finished his career with a 5-game stint with Baltimore, retired as the all-time leader in hits (3,507), doubles (522), triples (344), and home runs (153).

The World Series was a quick five-game affair, as Brooklyn dropped the first game at Chicago, 9-0, but then bounced back to win four close ones in a row. Baldwin pitched two complete game victories, including the clinching Game Five shutout, to cap off an extraordinary debut season.

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In the 34th year of their existence, the St. Louis Explorers finally made a postseason appearance for the first time. A team that had lost 100 games as recently as 1909 was suddenly the best in the league, going 101-57 and streaking to the Western Division crown with a 21-game edge over second place Cincinnati. In the East, New York edged Brooklyn by 3 games.

It was another pitcher-dominated season, with home runs extremely scarce: Pittsburgh’s Fennimore McCaffree was the only player to reach double digits in four-baggers. MaCaffree, who hit 16, hit twice as many as any other player and in fact out-homered Boston and Detroit. The batting champ was Boston’s Eddie Hensley, who hit .338, and the RBI king was Buffalo’s Frenchy Irving, who paced the circuit with just 79. Cincinnati’s Joel Solomon won the ERA title with a 1.68 mark while Brooklyn’s Milton Boyett was the top winner with 30 victories and his teammate Clay Baldwin topped the loop in strikeouts with 201.

The Explorers were heavy favorites in the World Series, and they did not disappoint, although the Knicks played them tough; only one game was decided by as many as three runs. The decisive Game Six was a thriller, as the Knicks plated a run in the top of the ninth to tie it 6-6 only to see a .238 hitter, shortstop Jake Tripp, single and steal second in the bottom of the frame, setting up Francis Presley’s game winning RBI-single.

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The NBBL became the NBL as the league acquiesced to the growing consensus that what once was sporadically known as “base ball” should be standardized as “baseball”. The nation’s typesetters and copy editors rejoiced.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Traders joined the building boom, unveiling 36,500-seat Union Field on Opening Day.

Cincinnati unseated St. Louis in the West, outdistancing the Explorers by a comfortable 11 games. In the East it was a close race from beginning to end, with New York outlasting Philadelphia by 3.

Fenn McCaffree of Pittsburgh was again the home run king, for the second year in a row matching, nearly matching, or outright beating the total put up by several other teams. With 16, he was one of only two players in double digits. Randolph Swift of Philadelphia was the batting champion with a .335 average and Togie Alford of Chicago won the RBI derby, driving in 99. Buffalo’s Seth Stewart didn’t start a single game but relieved in 86 of them, logging 158 1/3 innings, just enough to qualify for the ERA crown, which he won handily with a 1.53 mark. Cincinnati’s Joel Solomon was the loop’s top winner with 29 victories and Brooklyn’s Clay Baldwin made it three strikeout titles in his first three seasons, fanning 235. 

The World Series featured closely-contested battles in all but the first game, which New York won 5-0. With the Knicks taking the first two contests at Cincinnati, the Packers were in a hole from the get-go, and ultimately could not emerge from it. New York won it in six, their eighth league title.

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The United States entered the Great War eleven days before the NBL season started, but aside from the unintentionally humorous display of ballplayers performing close order drills with baseball bats substituting for rifles that some teams insisted upon prior to games, it was business as usual for the league in 1917.

Chicago won a tight race in the West, beating St. Louis by 1 game and Cincinnati by 5, while Philadelphia made a shambles of the Eastern race, finishing a not-insubstantial 13 games ahead of second-place Boston.

Chicago’s Jake Bradley was the batting champion with a .325 average. Haywood Glover of Pittsburgh and Wiley Woodcock of Cincinnati topped the loop in home runs with 11 apiece, and Philadelphia’s Randolph Swift was the RBI king with 81. St. Louis’ Edgar Bath posted a league-leading 1.63 ERA, as Soloman Carlson of Philadelphia was the circuit’s top winner with 30 triumphs and Boston’s Milton Boyett fanned 211 to earn the strikeout title.

In the World Series the home team won the first six games, putting the momentum on host Philadelphia’s side in Game Seven, but Chicago stunned the Quakers with two runs in the top of the ninth to win 5-3. It was the Traders’ ninth title.

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“Work or Fight” was the mandate; draft-eligible men in “non-essential” occupations (which, alas, included professional baseball) were required to either apply for employment directly related to the war effort or enlist. The draft would sort out those who failed to comply, with the not-so-subtle implication that draftees would soon find themselves on the front lines. The deadline was set at July 1st, which threatened to put quite a crimp in the baseball season; NBL owners negotiated a reprieve, agreeing to shorten the season so that it would be over by Labor Day. The result was a 128-game whirlwind campaign that indeed ended with a doubleheader in every park on Monday, September 2nd.

St. Louis swamped its Western competition, running away from the pack and finishing ten games ahead of Chicago and Detroit. Philadelphia won the East in a much more hotly contested battle, but still put six games between themselves and second-place Brooklyn.

Howard Russ of Brooklyn hit .335 to win the batting crown. Fenn McCaffree’s five home runs was more than anyone else could muster, and Bump Mullin of Cincinnati drove in 83 runs, 20 more than his closest competitor. Brooklyn’s Clay Baldwin’s 1.79 ERA was the best in the league, while St. Louis’ Edgar Bath led in both wins (23) and strikeouts (146).

The Explorers won the first two World Series games at home, but dropped the next two in Philadelphia; Game Five looked like a must-win for both teams. St. Louis took it decisively, 9-2, and returned home needing only one win over the next two games. But the Quakers won Game Six in extra innings and seemingly shifted the momentum, setting the stage for Clay Easton’s dominating complete game 4-1 win in the finale and Philadelphia’s fourth world title.

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With the war over, the league resumed its standard 158-game schedule, although as far as the pennant races were concerned, the added games seemed redundant; both of last year’s winners ran headlong into their World Series rematch, wrapping up repeat divisional titles early: St. Louis went 101-57 to win the West by 21˝ games, while Philadelphia went 99-59 to take the East by 14.

Chicago’s Smith Cambell won the batting title with a .351 average while Pittsburgh’s Fenn McCaffree led the circuit in home runs with 18, and Chicago’s Kary Wilkin topped the loop in RBI with 92. St. Louis’ Pinkney Quinlan was the ERA champ, posting a miserly 1.82, while Philadelphia’s Leon Hawkins paced the loop in victories with 26. St. Louis’ Edgar Bath was the strikeout king, fanning 187.

Philadelphia repeated their 1918 World Series victory with another seven-game series triumph, led by shortstop Frosty Young, who hit .438 against the Explorers.

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