: September 25, 2008
From Frank Ceresi: The History of the Temple Cup
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It\'s almost over, September that is, and that means the baseball postseason is about to begin with all its attendant drama. Seemed a good tie to step into the Wayback Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody, to visit a time when the word "postseason" play had little meaning, a period before baseball even had a World Serious (sic).
he Temple Cup Championship Games by Frank Ceresi (Washington, DC)
The Origin of the Temple Cup
As Executive Director of Collections at the newly opened National Sports Gallery in downtown Washington, D.C., I have had the good fortune of being able to showcase some of the rare artifacts from our national pastime. Though many collectors have graciously loaned us significant items for display purposes, it is a special treat when we are able to work with other museums on special projects. Thanks to the efforts of Greg Schwalenberg, Curator of the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, we are showcasing memorabilia from the 1895 Baltimore Orioles, including a program from the notorious game four of the Temple Cup championship series. That was the year they played one of the most unusual and controversial championship series ever staged.
The Baltimore Orioles were one of the most dominant teams of the 1890’s. Some historians compliment them for ushering in an era of “scientific” play. For example, after the pitching distance was increased, the club is credited as being the first team to consistently practice bunting in order to capitalize on the extra distance to attempt a hit. The team also perfected cut-off plays and bluffing the base stealer in order to confuse the opposing pitcher. In fact, Ned Hanlon, the manager and future Hall of Famer, is credited with being the first manager to ever platoon batters consistently.
Another darker side of the team emerged during the mid 1890’s as they gained a reputation for doing anything, including stretching the rules to the breaking point, in order to win. They were a tough lot. It was not unusual for the Baltimore infielders to trip opposing players on the base path, and John McGraw, their star third baseman, was said to occasionally grab the runner’s belt who was rounding third base in order to prevent the opposing team from scoring a run! Whether the team was considered “scientific” or “dirty” can be endlessly debated -- however, they certainly dominated baseball during the Temple Cup years.
What is the origin of the Temple Cup and why did it commence? In 1893, entrepreneur William C. Temple from Pittsburgh offered an ornate $800 cup, 30 inches high, to the winner of a seven game series between the first and second place teams in the National League -- remember, the American League would not be formed until the turn of the century. The series was formulated as a way of extending the regular season to allow for more patrons -- with their wallets -- to come to the ball park. Thus, a post-season championship series for the Temple Cup was born and continued through the mid 1890’s.
Four Temple Cup championship series were played between the years 1894 and 1897. Ned Hanlon’s scrappy Orioles, National League Champions in 1894, 95 and 96, participated in all four series but lost to the second place club twice. As it turned out, the games were not simply about baseball . . . they were rough and tumble “events” that dominated baseball talk for years.
The Rough and Tumble Game of Baseball
I know when we think of the 1890’s our minds conjure up a scene of gaiety and polite society. Didn’t men and women take their picnic baskets and sip wine under a shady tree as big league teams perfected their craft? Walt Whitman dubbed baseball “America’s Game” fifty years earlier, so weren’t spectators representative of a happy and healthful people as the 20th century approached? Wouldn’t the Temple Cup championship series be the jewel on the crown of our great national pastime? I think not!
The 1890’s may have been gay in some respects, but big league baseball was anything but. Hooliganism, fierce wrangling with umpires, fights on the field and in the stands, betting, and rowdyism were the mark of the day. It is said that coaches at first and third base were so abusive towards opposing players and umpires that the idea of abolishing coaching from the sidelines was actually seriously considered.
By the end of the 1895 baseball season, the Orioles, who had the worst reputation for rowdyism, were to face Patsy Tebeau’s equally tough Cleveland Spiders. As the series unfolded, fans from both cities came to their ballpark armed with fruit, cabbages, rotten eggs, and even silver dollars to pelt opposing players with. Hooliganism, betting and alcohol all mixed for what many historians called the “Temple Cup riots of 1895.”
As one glances at the rosters printed in the program, we see two great teams and can only imagine how spectacular it must have been to go to any of the games. The Baltimore lineup featured six players who hit at least .300 for the year. They were led by the incomparable Wee Willie Keeler who hit an astounding .391. When asked to account for his extraordinary ability to produce base hits, the 5’ 4” and 142 pound dervish laconically replied, “I hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Keeler was followed by shortstop Hughie Jennings (.386), the lead off batter John McGraw (.369), outfielder and clean-up hitter Joe Kelley (.365), Steve Brody (.348), and second baseman Kid Gleason (.309). This team knew how to hit a baseball!
On the other side, the Cleveland Spiders’ success as a team can be traced directly to two individuals -- the great Cy Young and left fielder Jessie Burkett. Incredibly, Burkett batted an astounding .423 in 1895, besting his .409 average from a year earlier. At 28 years of age, the strong armed pitching ace Cy Young won 35 games which included a perfect seven and zero record in seven relief appearances. In one late season nine game stretch, he won five games. Cy was primed to go!
The baseball world buzzed with anticipation as the series opened on October 2, 1895 at Cleveland’s League Park. Cy Young, of course, threw out the championship game’s first pitch. Nearly 7,000 Cleveland fanatics had come out in predictable strong force -- they were noisy and boisterous as they tooted tin horns, banged on cow bells, shook homemade rattles and threw garbage at the Orioles. The Orioles must have felt at home if one examines page 10 of the interior of the Baltimore scorecard that we are featuring (see “Potatoes and Beer Bottles” in the advertisement featured in the photo).
Some say that the ninth inning in the very first game set the tone for the entire series. In the top half, the Orioles took a four to three lead when Wilbert Robinson doubled and scored on John McGraw’s clutch two out single. However, in the bottom of the inning, the great Jessie Burkett smashed a double into the left field crowd. Burkett tied the game after Ed McKean scratched out a single. The next two batters also managed infield hits, and the bases were loaded with no one out. Eventually, Chief Zimmer, who would later become gain fame when he headed one of baseball’s first players’ unions, hit safely sending Cupid Childs across the plate with the winning run. The crowd poured onto the field and carried the victorious Spiders off on their backs. The Cleveland crowd was in a frenzy!
This was quite an exciting start for the 1895 Temple Cup series. The second game was a sell out as 10,000 fans crowded a dozen deep behind ropes which stretched all around the outfield to the foul lines. This group was even noisier than patrons from opening day thanks, in part to one fanatic who brought to the ball park a custom-made eight foot horn with several tubes strategically pointed towards the three Baltimore outfielders. That contraption allowed no less than seven fans to blow simultaneously one note melodies towards the clearly irritated Oriole outfielders. This monstrosity lasted nine innings, however, the Orioles didn’t, and the game was essentially over after Cleveland scored seven runs in the first few innings. The final score was seven to two.
The Orioles had two days to gather themselves but they had the daunting task of facing the incomparable Denton True Young, nicknamed “Cy,” short for “Cyclone.” Cy had already managed to beat the Orioles earlier in Cleveland and was clearly pitching at the top of his game. Despite a veritable “murderers row” of hitting specialists, “Cyclone” handcuffed the Orioles and led his team to a seven to one victory. The game was never close and by the time Ned Hanlon led his team from Cleveland, his ears were still ringing from 12,000 screaming fans rubbing it in as he left the playing field.
The Riot of Baltimore: Game Four
As the series moved to Baltimore, the hometown papers stoked the ire of the angry Baltimore faithful. The Cleveland Spiders, the City of Cleveland, and everything they stood for was trashed by the poison pen. The only thing the police feared more than a Baltimore loss would be a Baltimore victory and nearly 10,000 rabid fans came to Union Park to cheer their team on.
The day was cloudy and foreboding and the air cracked with apprehension. To avert violence, the Spiders received a police escort yet it took a full five minutes for the team to make a 15 foot journey from the team wagon to the entrance of the ball park. The police escort had wanted to slip the Spiders in under the grandstand towards their dugout, but the hometown fans would have nothing of it. The Spider players, and police alike, were pelted with rotten vegetables and fruit, eggs, and eventually chunks of dirt, sticks and even bricks. Eleven arrests were made and the first pitch of the game had not, as yet, been thrown!
How in the world has a program survived the mayhem from that game? Somehow a resourceful fan preserved a neatly scored program from the notorious game four -- a championship battle that one journalist has dubbed “a fan riot” accompanying a baseball game. Now, over a century has passed and we are fortunate to be able to showcase this program at the National Sports Gallery. What it shows, and what was witnessed by the faithful that day, was a game that would produce Baltimore’s sole victory during the rowdy championship series. McGraw, Keeler, and the others finally stung the Spiders’ pitching staff with five runs, and Baltimore’s Duke Esper silenced Cleveland’s screaming bats by pitching a shutout. The final score was five to zero and the Orioles averted a sweep. However, as Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau beat a hasty retreat from the ball field, it was obvious that he was not too concerned by the loss. “One swallow don’t make a summer,” he said, “And we’ll get that Cup for they have to face Cy Young again tomorrow.”
True to form, “Cyclone” ended the season for the Orioles in front of their stunned and saddened fans. Cy Young again showed why he has set the standard by which all subsequent pitchers have been judged. He was masterful. Not only did he score as many runs with his bat as the entire Baltimore team, but he quelled nearly every scoring opportunity that the Orioles managed. The Cleveland Spiders beat the Baltimore Orioles five to two and the 1895 Temple Cup series was history.
Some people think of a museum as merely housing dry artifacts. I take strong exception to that. In fact, one need only flip through the pages of the Temple Cup championship program of 1895, imagine being present at a game where seven future Hall of Famers battled not only each other but the fans in the stands as well, and you can almost hear the sound of fruit and vegetables whistle past your ear! The chance for redemption, of course, is the hallmark of the great game of baseball, and history tells us that exactly one year to the day after the Orioles lost, they swept the Cleveland Spiders to win the 1896 Temple Cup championship. After 1897, the Temple Cup championship series ended and four years later, in 1903, the first modern World Series was played featuring the best team from the newly formed American League challenging the best team from the “old” National League.
Frank Ceresi is the curator of the National Sports Gallery in Washington, DC.