The Greatest Teams of All Time
by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein
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Baltimore lost its National League team in the consolidation that happened after the 1899 season, when the league contracted from twelve to eight teams. Unlike the Cleveland Spiders, who were totally non-competitive in 1899 because their owners had placed all of their good players on the other N.L. team they owned, Baltimore still had a decent team before the consolidation took place. In 1899, Baltimore's 86-62 record was good enough for fourth place in the twelve-team league. It is true that Baltimore's attendance dropped sharply after the 1897 season, even more sharply than the league as a whole. The Orioles' combined turnout for 1898 and 1899 was less than it had been in any one of the years from 1894 through 1897.
The St. Louis Browns of the American Association (then a major league) won four straight pennants from 1885 through 1888. Like the 1890s Orioles, the Browns were known for their rough play and for trying to intimidate opponents. Their first baseman and manager was none other than Charlie Comiskey, who would one day own the Chicago White Sox. The first three of these teams won the pennant by a double-digit margin, and two of them (1885 and 1887) posted winning percentages over .700. Take a look at the pitching staff for the 1885 St. Louis Browns:
Pitcher G GS CG IP W L ERA Bob Caruthers 53 53 53 482 40 13 2.07 Dave Foutz 47 46 46 408 33 14 2.63 Jumbo McGinnis 13 13 12 112 6 6 3.38
Don't ask where the rest of the pitchers are, because there aren't any more. Browns pitchers started 112 games and completed 111. Of course, that really wasn't unusual for that time in those days. Every American Association team had between 102 and 111 complete games in 1885. The Browns' 2.44 ERA was the best in the league (league ERA, 3.24).
If we had to pick one of these four teams as the best, we would pick the 1887 team for reasons that might best be explained by a chart:
Runs Runs Next-Best Year Scored Allowed Differential Differential SD Score 1885 677 461 +216 +73 +2.79 1886 944 592 +352 +163 +3.74 1887 1131 761 +370 +147 +3.04 1888 789 501 +288 +233 +2.49
Or perhaps the 1886 team was the best; that team won the only undisputed World Championship for an American Association team. You see, although most people think that the World Series began in 1903, the champions of the National League and American Association did play each other in postseason series from 1884 through 1890. The 1886 St. Louis Browns defeated the Chicago N.L. team, then called the White Stockings, in that "World Series."
Tip O'Neill had a phenomenal year with the bat in 1887 for the Browns' AA team. For that year only, walks were counted as base hits when computing averages. The modern encyclopedias don't use that rule. With the rule as we know it, O'Neill still hit .435 with a .490 OBP and a .691 slugging percentage, scoring 167 runs and driving in 123 in just 124 games. The league averages were .273 batting, .337 OBP, and .367 slugging. O'Neill led the league in runs, hits, doubles, homers, total bases, runs batted in, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. It probably goes without saying that he led the league in runs created and runs created per 27 outs.
From Baseball Dynasties by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein.
Copyright © 2000 by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein. Reprinted with permission.