Baseball’s Wildest Season

Three Leagues, Thirty-Four Teams and the Chaos of 1884


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About the Book

At the end of the 1883 baseball season, things looked rosy—attendance had skyrocketed and the National League and American Association were at peace. A year later, however, the sport was in total disarray. A third major league, the Union Association, had come on the scene and waged a bitter war that rocked the baseball world. By the dawn of the 1885 season, the UA had dissolved in a sea of red ink, the AA had dropped four teams, and the minor leagues were desperately hoping to make it through the season.

Amid the chaos of 1884 were some historic moments. Iron-man pitcher Hoss Radbourn won 59 games and led the Providence Grays to victory over the New York Metropolitans in the first World Series. Fleet Walker broke baseball’s first color line. There were a record eight no-hitters and a cast of fascinating figures—some famous, some lost to history—like Radbourn, Hustling Horace Phillips, Dan O’Leary, and Edward (The Only) Nolan. This book tells the story of the momentous yet overshadowed 1884 season.

About the Author(s)

William J. Ryczek is a finance professional from Wallingford, Connecticut, who writes about early baseball, football, the Yankees, and the Mets.

Bibliographic Details

William J. Ryczek
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 273
Bibliographic Info: 23 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9114-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4925-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Introduction: Prologue to Chaos 1
1. “More money is made and expenses are less than is generally supposed” 7
2. The Game 11
3. The Players 21
4. “The blacklist shackle” 33
5. The Magnates 39
6. “More famous for his quaintness and eccentricity than his managerial skill” 47
7. “There are few men in any business who should be clothed with this authority” 63
8. The Drunks 77
9. “There will be no more foolishness this year”: National League Preview 91
10. “Too many—it is going to weaken us”: American Association Preview 102
11. The Wreckers: Union Association Preview 119
12. “He said he’d pitch his arm off to win the flag”: National League Season 131
13. “The Metropolitan Club is a strong one”: American Association Season 150
14. “To keep a correct record of the Union Association is worse than solving a Chinese puzzle”: Union Association Season 169
15. The Pitchers 183
16. “Shadows of their former selves” 190
17. The Others 203
18. “Champions of the world” 213
19. “On the Ragged Edge” 217
Appendix A: Rules of the Brooklyn American Association Club 233
Appendix B: The Lake Front Battleground 234
Appendix C: Players Active in Multiple Leagues 237
Chapter Notes 239
Bibliography 255
Index 259

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “The 1884 campaign had it all—three major leagues, the first momentous challenge to the recently created Reserve Clause, the first Black players to openly play big time ball, the first influx of talent all the way from the West Coast, to cite only a few of the things that make 1884 unique. In Baseball’s Wildest Season it’s all there. All the scandals, stars, scoundrels, minor league mountebanks, and hustlers galore. You name your 1884 favorite figure; chances are excellent Ryczek has something new to say about him.”—David Nemec, author, Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871-1900