In an era of rowdy teams, the Cleveland Spiders (1887–1899) were baseball’s rowdiest. Managed by Oliver “Patsy” Tebeau, a quick-tempered infielder, the Spiders seemed to heap abuse of one kind or another on everyone—umpires, opposing teams, even the fans. Their aggression never brought home the pennant, but Cleveland’s battles with the league’s top clubs, including an 1895 Temple Cup victory over the Baltimore Orioles, are now legendary.
Yet the story of the Spiders amounts to more than a 12 year free-for-all. There were top-flight players like Ed McKean, George Davis, Jesse Burkett, and Cy Young. There was the racially progressive signing of Holy Cross star Louis Sockalexis, the first American Indian in the major leagues. And then there was the team’s final season, 1899, when a club ravaged by syndicalism set the standard for baseball futility.