19to21: August 28, 2007
The Rangers Bash the Orioles and Other Blow-outs
19 to 21
No, that’s not how many runs the Rangers scored in one inning against the Orioles, it’s...Baseball, then and now...
News Item: August 23, 1950 – John Shiffert and Anne Weidner are married in Advocate Lutheran Church in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
OK, so that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball, except that one of the participants was a good-field, no-hit first baseman. On the other hand, some of you may not be sure what a 30-3 game has to do with baseball either. Yet, that’s what happened last night at Camden Yards in Baltimore, where that thud heard across the nation was the sound of a once-proud franchise finally hitting rock bottom. The 0-22 start of the 1988 season aside, and Erik Bedard’s current exploits to the contrary, the Baltimore Orioles reached a nadir of their existence last night, getting nuked by the normally-innocuous Texas Rangers, 30-3, in a game that set both a 20th Century and a 21st Century major league record for runs scored by one team. Not since 1897 had an erstwhile major league team given up more than 29 runs in a game, and that disaster hadn’t happened in 52 years, since the White Sox traveled to Kansas City to take on the impotent Athletics.
But maybe you knew that already. You might even know that the Red Sox also dropped 29 runs on the Browns in Fenway Park in June 1950 (a day after scoring 20 against the same team). And, it’s possible, if you’ve been listening carefully over the past half a day or so, that you know that the Louisville Colonels were torched 36-7 in June 1897 by the Chicago Colts (now better known as the Cubs.) But, do you really know that history of major disasters in baseball? Before we look at some other real blow-outs from the 19th Century, let’s discuss the more recent manifestations.
First, last night’s game. Despite actually leading 3-0 going into the fourth inning, the O’s managed to lose by 27 runs to a team with a 54-70 record, which happened to be worse than every other team in the American League, with the exception of Tampa Bay. And, it’s not just that the Orioles lost to a bad team, they lost to a bad team that had recently given away its best player, Mark Teixeira, to the Braves for a mess of pottage. Bereft of Mr. Teixeira’s bat, the Rangers fielded a lineup with a paucity (as Matt Coyne would say) of talent. A lineup that featured: Travis Metcalf, who had been called up from the minors that same day, batting clean up; the one and only Marlon Byrd – who was once traded for Endy Chavez -- hitting fifth; and the mess of pottage, aka Jarrod Saltalamacchia, batting eighth. (Note to Rangers’ fans: In the John Schuerholz Era, the Braves have traded exactly one young position player who has turned out to be any good at all – Jermaine Dye. So don’t get too excited by Salty’s seven RBIs yesterday.) Missing from the lineup entirely were the 604 home runs and team-leading 72 RBIs of Sammy Sosa.
As Texas proved last night, it doesn’t take a powerhouse lineup to score a lot of runs. Maybe the moon has to be in the right phase, or the opposing pitchers are out of phase. Or something. While it is embarrassingly true that Daniel Cabrera (six runs), Brian Burress (eight runs – in two-thirds of an inning), Rob Bell (seven runs) and Paul Shuey (nine runs) didn’t exactly shine for the O’s (if Earl Weaver was still around, he would have pulled in a spare outfielder or the bullpen catcher to throw an inning or two), they probably weren’t much more mortified than the Athletics hurlers who lost 29-6 to the White Sox on April 23, 1955. Although the Sox did have Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso and George Kell on that team (three marginal Hall of Famers, two of whom are actually in the Hall), they were far from a powerhouse, boasting little real power and finishing fourth in the American League in runs scored.
Conversely, it doesn’t hurt to have a high octane lineup if you want to run up a big number. The 1950 Red Sox scored 1027 runs and had, in addition to Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr (HOF), Johnny Pesky, Junior Stephens, Dom DiMaggio and that year’s batting titlist, Billy Goodman. On June 7 and June 8 of they proved just what such a lineup could do in Fenway Park, scoring 49 runs on the hapless Browns (who got just four in each game.) Of course, the Red Sox pitchers then promptly gave up 30 runs combined in the next two games (12 to the Browns and 18 to the Tigers), which is why Boston finished third that year.
When digging through old records, the 1897 Chicago Colts are usually given the nod as the major league record holder for runs in a game, with 36. And that really should also be the “modern” record. Declaring “modern” records as starting in 1900 is an artifice, brought about by everyone’s love of round numbers. Baseball’s modern era really began in 1893, when the pitching distance was moved back to the present 60 feet, six inches. Be that as it may, that ninth place Chicago team was only fourth in the 12-team National League in runs scored, their 832 total being dwarfed by the 1025 scored by the first place Boston Beaneaters. This Colt/Cub team had Cap Anson at the end of his long career, Bad Bill Dahlen, and Bill “Little Eva” Lange, but that 36 run outburst was clearly a fluke against a horrid, 11th place Louisville team. The Colts only made double figures 18 more times (with a high of 16) in 1897, one of the typically high-scoring years of the 1890s.
If you really want to see a high-scoring time in baseball history, you’ll go back to the 1860s. But first, the real record holder for runs in major league game. On June 18, 1874 the New York Mutuals hosted those same Chicagos – known at that time as the White Stockings – in a National Association game. Although, starting with the original MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969, the National Association has been downgraded from major league status, the fact is that the NA was not only a professional baseball league, it was the ONLY professional baseball league from 1871 to 1875. If that, by definition, doesn’t make it a major league (THE major league, for that matter), then may William Hulbert come back from the grave and give Cap Anson back to his rightful team, the Philadelphia Athletics (But that’s another story.) For some reason, maybe to give pitcher George “The Charmer” Zettlein day off, or maybe because he’d recently defeated the all-conquering Boston Red Stockings 8-3, Chicago started 19 year old Dan Collins in the pitcher’s box. Big mistake. Collins lasted two innings and gave up 14 runs to a really pretty average lineup boasting only one real star, long-time first baseman Joe Start (the first player to be nicknamed “Old Reliable”). Although the Mutes would score 501 runs in 65 games (7.7 per game) that was way less per game than the Red Stockings and also less than the eight runs per game scored by both the Philadelphia teams, the Athletics and the Pearls, or Phillies. For some reason, maybe because the game was already lost, and/or maybe to save Zetttlein’s arm in a lost cause, shortstop Davy Force took the box for Chicago after Collins’ exit. In the remaining seven innings, Force gave up 24 more runs, and the Mutuals rolled to a 38-1 win behind little Bobby Mathews. And that’s the record for runs scored in a major league game.
And yet, that was peanuts compared to some of the atrocities visited upon (usually) small town teams during baseball’s developmental years during and immediately after the Civil War. Top “amateur” teams like the Athletics, the Washington Nationals, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and many of the New York teams (including the Mutuals) would often tour the countryside, playing local club teams as means of spreading the game of base ball, giving the hinterlands a taste (and a good gate) of the game’s top level, and much in the manner of present-day college football powerhouses at the start of the season, picking up easy wins. Examples of this practice were common among the top teams. To just give a few examples from one team, the original Philadelphia Athletics… On June 14, 1866, the Athletic club opened its season with a game against the Alert club of Danville, PA. Final score – Athletic 92, Danville 2. Later that same year, Athletic stayed home to play another Alert club, this one also from Philly. That score was 100-5. On July 15, 1867, Athletic played Tyrolean of Harrisburg. This one ended up 118—11… guess who had the 118? In 1869, Athletic toured the state of Pennsylvania, defeating Mountain City (107-2), Riverside (69-7) and Independent (114-5) on three consecutive days. And none of those games topped what happened during the Athletics’ tour to Williamsport to 1865. In an October 20 three-team doubleheader that most assuredly did not include any Little League teams, Athletic beat Williamsport 101-8 and Danville 162-11 – a record for a doubleheader that far surpasses the 39 runs scored by Texas in last night’s twinbill.
Finally, according to Francis Richter, writing in the 1920s, the record for runs in a game involving a high-level team was set by the Niagara club of Buffalo in an 1869 win over the Columbia club… 209-10. Word has it that it was a close game until the eighth inning, when Niagara scored 58 runs. So maybe the Orioles shouldn’t feel too bad after all.
-- John Shiffert