Club owners of the upstart American Association and established National League have spent the last two years engaged in bitter roster raiding, and simultaneously increasing players salary through increased competition for their services. The threat of blacklisting those who jump leagues has been a mild deterrent so far. The recent advent of a second professional league has indeed been a boondoggle for players.
At some point, it was inevitable owners of both leagues would come to their capitalist senses, and profits would once again overrule pride. That said, the rivaling circuits brokered peace to end the first popularly known baseball war. In fact, the respective league champions will participate in a post-season series this year, to determine an overall champion of baseball.
However, entering the 1884 season, yet another challenge to the agreed order of baseball threatens to reignite hostilities. Following a blueprint successfully drafted by the American Association just two short years ago, another group of aspiring owners, who have previously failed to gain inclusion into the existing professional circuits, together in concert with several minor league owners who’ve similarly been shunned by baseball’s monopoly, have joined to form the Union Association of Professional Baseball, and commence play this season.
Now with three professional leagues and 34 teams to choose from, player’s resentment towards the reserve clause has grown to an all-time high. Therefore, Union Association member clubs such as the St. Louis Maroons have encountered little problem procuring respectable talent. But, this latest development indeed continues to place high stress upon the existing structure, which effectively keeps salaries at club favorable levels, and the cost of admission low.
New York Metropolitans manager Jim Mutrie and his prize hurler Tim Keefe are no strangers to the process. In 1883, the Mets signed then 26-year old Sir Timothy as a free agent away from the National League’s Troy Trojans.
In his first season with the Metropolitans, Keefe posted a 41-27 record, good for a .603 win percentage, accompanied by a 2.41 ERA. His 41 victories, equaled all his wins earned during three seasons with the Trojans. In 1883, he completed all 68 of his starts to lead the American Association, as well as leading the circuit with 619 innings pitched, an 0.963 WHiP, 359 strikeouts, a 7.1 H/9, and a 5.2 K/9 average.
How will Tim Keefe follow-up such a superb campaign? Considering this season’s rule change, the sky seems the limit, as pitchers are no longer limited to throwing underhand. Pitchers may now throw free of restrictions on arm angles. The number of balls required to draw a walk has additionally been reduced to six.
Fellow right-hander, Jack Lynch returns for his second season with the Mets. After playing his rookie season with the Buffalo Bisons of the National League, he missed the entire 1882 season. Lynch, 27, then signed as a free agent with the Mets and posted a 13-15 record, and 4.09 ERA. He completed all 29 of his starts, and fanned 119 batters in 255 innings pitched.
Unlike the Philadelphia Athletics, who, on their way towards last year’s A.A. championship, employed an innovative 5-man starting rotation, the 1884 Mets will continue utilizing the standard two man rotation.
Both Mets hurlers will have familiar battery mates receiving them. Catchers Bill Holbert and Charlie Reipschlager will resume duties behind the plate. In light of the new pitching rules, all catchers will be faced with making proper adjustments in their technique this season.
Sam Crane is out at second base. He was one of the Mets baseball war casualties. Crane jumped to the Union Association, and will play the 1884 season with the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds. The Mets new second baseman is Dasher Troy, acquired from the New York Gothams. Light hitting Troy hit .215 last season, with 20 RBI, in 316 at-bats.
Candy Nelson returns to play shortstop. With a .305 batting average last season, he was the lone Metropolitan starter to best the .300 mark. Dude Esterbrook returns for another season at third base as well.
With the retirement of John O’Rourke, Mr. Mutrie elected to shift Steve Brady into right field this season. He’ll join regulars Chief Roseman, and Ed Kennedy, who matched O’Rouke with 2 home runs last season.
Although Mr. Mutrie’s first season in the American Association left him somewhat disappointed, the season was not a failure by any stretch. The Mets posted a 54-42 record, and finished in the first division, albeit fourth. Entering this season, the New York Mets are considered one of the circuit’s top contenders, along with St. Louis, Louisville, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
The continuing baseball war is having far more ramifications than just players jumping teams. In response to increased competition, the American Association expanded yet again from 8 teams last season, to 12 this season. The league initially launched in 1882 with 6 teams.
Newest league member, the Brooklyn Atlantics will provide the Metropolitans with a cross town rival this season. The teams are scheduled for 6 games at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, and 6 games at Washington Park in Brooklyn.
The Metropolitans share the Polo Grounds compound with the National League’s New York Gothams, who not coincidentally, are also owned by the same John B. Day – owner of the Mets. The National League and American Association agreed prior to the 1883 season, two teams in New York City would effectively secure the market, and thwart encroachment by other potential competitors. The American Association’s addition of Brooklyn this season, now ensures that.
Lasting peace never really stood a chance. It is competition and chaos that drives our pastime forward. With the arrival of a common enemy, the leagues have effectively been brought closer together. Unlike the deal agreed upon between the National League and American Association, there are no plans in place, nor even a consideration to include the Union Association in any post-season exhibitions.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings won the first ever American Association championship in 1882, but the Mets hadn’t yet joined the league. As noted, the Philadelphia Athletics captured the league title last season, but were particularly impacted by the most recent wave of roster raids. The Mets survived the off-season pillaging virtually unscathed. That is perhaps why, entering the 1884 season, manager Jim Mutrie is feeling quite confident his young men can compete with any and all comers.
Spring has arrived. A tumultuous season of baseball awaits. Let the games begin with haste.