MINORS 1899

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1899 Atlantic League

This league in transition, shorn of its southernmost Norfolk and northernmost Hartford, and bolstered in Pennsylvanian coal country failed miserably as Jake Wells' Richmond won their second straight flag, this time in blowout fashion. Richmond, led by a four man pitching staff that included Jack Chesbro, Sam Leever, and Tully Sparks and slugging outfielder Socks Seybold, was 50-16 one week after the Fourth of July, and had an 11.5 game lead. League president Ed Barrow, stopped the fight, and called a split season with Paterson and Scranton having dropped out. Alas, Richmond was in the lead again in the second half when the sponge was thrown up for good August 6th.

Paterson's 5-12 start was too much for that ownership and the team was forfeited to the league's control, Barrow himself taking a turn at managing them and using league funds to purchase the entire semi-pro New Orleans team from Abner Powell. This included a pitcher named Switzer who was 6' 8" tall. The Southern League had disbanded (as usual) June 4th and New Orleans was not the only team sold: Mobile went to Houston in the Texas League.

Dumb Horace Fogel, the man who tried to make Christy Mathewson a first-baseman, tried to resurrect this league in 1900 but it died for good shortly after Memorial Day. The only good coming out of the league was perhaps itŐs seeding of the Eastern League with itŐs talent. The distance between cities in a league should be proportional to the size of the cities. That is, the major leagues can afford to span the country because the cities visited offer the most attendance. San Diegoans will come out to see a New York team, but if a team from Tijuana flies to Martha's Vineyard, forget it. That was the problem with the 1898 Atlantic League which the 1899 edition didn't fix: the size of the cities couldn't justify a 650 mile train ride from a "Hartford" to a "Norfolk."

I can't think of a successful split-season format in any league on any level. One of the beauties of a pennant race is the personality of each team. After a winter of no baseball, teams develop a personality in Spring training and let it shine in the standings in the first months of the season. Then the stage is set for the stretch run: the favorite, the contenders, the underdog, the under-achievers, the horrendous, etc. These personalities take months to grow on fans. A split seasonŐs 0-0 record for all teams in mid-July fails to take this into account. It's an arbitrary, anti-climactic mulligan where if the first half champs don't win the second half, it looks suspicious. What an interesting September we would have had in 1981 if baseball did not adopt the split season.

A league should never fear blowouts. The American League in 1966 was a blowout, followed by an incredible race in 1967. Perhaps the blowout the previous year made the great race special. Sometimes I think all of baseball history post-1951 was for baby boomers to recreate Bobby Thomson's "shot heard round the world", (i.e., his playoff game pennant winning homerun of that season.) Power numbers steadily increase without restriction past 1998, and "playoff games", once pinnacles of excitement, became an added obligatory feature in 1969. The advanced marketing of our culture wants to produce a "1951" every year, but what made 1951 great was not so much what Bobby Thomsom did, but what baseball did 1871-1950.

 

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