Sunday, January 22, 2012

The National League's First Shutout

April 25, 1876, was the opening day for the new National League of Professional Base Ball Professional Clubs. The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal proclaimed the contest between the Louisville Grays and the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) as the "finest game of base ball ever witnessed in Louisville." It estimated over 6,000 people were in attendance at Louisville Baseball Park and were treated to weather "of the most flattering nature." However, the Chicago Tribune said only about 2,000 people showed up.

On the mound for the White Stockings for Opening Day was Albert Goodwill Spalding. Successfully lured to Chicago in the summer of 1875 by a $2,000 contract, Spalding had won 241 games from 1871 to 1875 for the Boston Red Stockings. Louisville countered with James Devlin. A native of Philadelphia, Devlin had been an infielder with the White Stockings in the old National Association in 1874 and 1875. After the Association folded and was replaced by the National League, Devlin had been converted into a pitcher. He was believed to be the fist pitcher to throw a sinkerball.

Unlike modern-day baseball, a coin toss was held to see who would bat first in the game. The White Stockings won the toss, but Louisville was designated to bat first.

In the bottom of the second inning, Paul Hines led off for Chicago and reached first by an error made by the Grays' first baseman John Carbine. After advancing to third from a single from Spalding, Hines came home when Robert Addy hit a grounder to Carbine.

The next inning, Ross Barnes of the White Stockings got a walk and reached second after Adrian C. "Cap" Anson hit a ground ball to Carbine. Barnes scored Chicago's second run when second baseman Joe Gerhardt made a bad throw to Carbine. Spalding, Robert Addy, and Deacon led off the bottom of the fourth by smacking three consecutive singles. After Devlin started pitching to the next batter, Johnny Peters, he stopped when catcher Charles "Pop" Snyder did not look at him. To the disgust of the Louisville fans, umpire L.B. Warren called a balk, and Spalding came home. However, the White Stockings did not score any more runs in the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Barnes hit a single, advanced to second by an error by Jack Chapman, and scored Chicago's last run when Anson got a base hit. The reporter covering the ball game for the Louisville Courier-Journal thought Warren made a terrible call when he ruled Barnes's single was in fair territory. But he added that an umpire's job "is a sorry one to fill, and we are willing to give Mr. Warren the credit of making decisions only as he truly thought right."

In the top of the ninth, Louisville had one last chance to end the shutout. However, Chapman and George Bechtel hit weak grounders to Spalding, and Devlin hit a pop-up that was caught by Peters. Unlike today, the White Stockings batted in the bottom of the ninth even though they had already clinched the ball game, but they did not score any runs.

While the 4-0 shutout was hardly a game of great athletic merit (both teams committed nine errors, and Spalding made an embarrassing base running gaffe), it was important not just because it was the fist one in National League history. Ultimately, it proved to be a harbinger for both the White Stockings and the Grays. The White Stockings won the first National League pennant with a record of 54 victories and 14 defeats. Over the next ten years, the White Stockings would win five additional pennants.

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