Entering the 1883 season, the upstart American Association continued its assault on the National League by expanding from six to eight clubs, and planting a flag in New York City. After declining the league’s invitation to join last year, owner John B. Day reconsidered, finally deciding to forego his team’s valued independent status, and entered the New York Metropolitans as a member club.
Finishing in the top half of a new circuit was no consolation to manager Jim Mutrie. After three seasons playing exhibitions versus more established National League clubs, Mr. Mutrie envisioned a better showing versus the team’s latest competition. However, he isn’t about to denounce the club’s 1883 achievements just yet. Despite a fourth place finish, in their first season as a member of the rival American Association, Jim Mutrie’s men posted a 54-42-1 record.
The Philadelphia Athletics captured the regular season pennant with a 66-32 record, striking a league high 149 doubles and scoring a league leading 720 runs. They completed the regular season just a mere game over the gamely St. Louis Browns, who posted a 65-33 record. Jim Mutrie’s Mets finished eleven games out of first place, only scored 498 runs this season, but surrendered a league low 405 runs to the competition.
The third place Cincinnati Red Stocking wielded big sticks this season. They finished five games out, but led the circuit with 35 home runs, a .362 team batting average, and a .364 slugging mark. However, they lacked defensive competency, committing a circuit high 383 errors. The Mets connected on six home runs this season, and batted .250 as a team. Philadelphia’s Harry Stovey led the league with 14 home runs and 212 total hits.
Mets pitching led the American Association with 97 complete games and 480 strikeouts, while posting a season 2.90 ERA. The Athletics issued a league low 95 bases on balls, and posted a season 2.87 ERA. The Brown set the league’s best mark with a 2.33 ERA. While St. Louis and New York employed two standard pitchers this season, the Philadelphia Athletics, to the chagrin of many, opted for a five pitcher strategy. But who’s laughing now? Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s Will White led all pitchers with a 43-22 record, as well as a leading 2.09 ERA.
New York’s new ace hurler, Tim Keefe performed marvelously. In his fourth season, and first with the Mets, Smiling Tim had his best season to date. He completed all sixty-eight of his starts this season to post a career best 41-27 record, and a 2.41 earned run average. His previous best was 18 victories (18-27, 3.24 ERA) in 1881 for the National League’s Troy Trojans. His 619 innings pitched this season led the American Association. He only allowed 488 hits, walked 108, and struck out a circuit leading 359 opposing batters. His pitching mate, Jack Lynch, also in his first season with the Mets, hurled 255 innings in 29 starts. He posted a troubling 13-15 record, and 4.09 ERA. He did well to limit his walks at 25, and struck out 119 batters.
Offensively, shortstop Candy Nelson was the only Metropolitan player to hit above the .300 mark. He batted .305 in 417 at-bats. He also led the team with a .353 OBP and a .732 OPS. Outfielders John O’Rourke and Ed Kennedy, and reserve first baseman Dave Orr each struck two home runs apiece to lead the team. Candy Nelson and O’Rourke shared the team lead with 19 doubles. Pittsburgh Alleghenys first baseman Ed Swartwood led the American Association with a .356 batting average.
After two years out of base ball, John O’Rourke returned to play one season with the New York Metropolitans before retiring at the age of thirty-three. In 315 at-bats this year, he batted .270, but posted a .315 OBP, his second best career mark. He also hit five triples and scored 49 runs in his swan song. Four years earlier in 1879 while playing in the National League for the Boston Red Stockings, he led the league with 62 runs batted in, a .521 slugging average, and an .877 OPS. He is the brother of Jim O’Rourke, 32, currently the outstanding player for the National League’s Buffalo Bisons.
So went the 1883 Metropolitans season at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds.
On the horizon, growing disdain for the reserve clause continues to fuel wild rumors of yet another rival base ball league, only this time, it will be inaugurated through a players revolt, and from it, they plan to form the Union Association. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The American Association and National League seem poised to fight this battle together, unlike the bitter war they’ve waged against each other over the last two years.
New York owner John Day’s decision to have the Mets join the American Association, while simultaneously entering a second new club, the New York Gothams into the National League is a major cooperative offensive between the leagues to thwart the players potential venture into entrepreneurship. Owners in both leagues have also publicly stated they will blacklist players who jump, unlike the contentious roster raiding tolerated during the last two seasons.
With respect to the game itself, the next base ball convention will debate the merits of decreasing the number of balls required for a walk yet again, from seven to six. The required number has steadily decreased from nine to eight in 1880, then down to seven for the 1881 season. There are also grumblings that batters should no longer be able to call for a high-ball or low-ball as has been the established custom, and instead base ball should adopt a standardized strike zone.
The 1884 American Association season, as well as that of the established National League, are already poised to become game changing events. A tumultuous winter for base ball lies ahead. Let Spring arrive with haste.