We now enter the early days of baseball, going through the stars of the Boston Beaneaters/Red Stockings. The franchise truly started in the National Association in 1871, and they dominated the rest of the century, winning 12 pennants and finishing in the bottom half of the league only six times in 29 seasons. Due to the high amount of player movement around the diamond, I’m just going through the best players, disregarding positions.
Primarily a shortstop in his career, Long played 13 seasons in Boston, able to hit the longball and rating well defensively, good for about 30 WAR. Defense was less than stellar during these times, as Long made 85 errors in 1891 and still finished with an above-average fielding percentage.
Playing 10 seasons in Boston, the third baseman Nash was a good hitter who played solid defense, worth about 27 WAR with the franchise. He was usually among the league leaders in walks, though walks were then considered to be the pitcher’s fault, not the batter’s skill.
Splitting time between center and left field, Duffy was the poster-child of the offensive explosion of 1894. The mound, a new concept in the game at the time, was moved from 50-ish feet to today’s 60’6″ in 1893. Offense jumped that year, but the next year was insane, with the whole league hitting .309/.375/.435. Duffy hit .440/.504/.694 during that season, worth about 1/4 of his 27 WAR with the franchise.
After playing in the NA with CLE and PHI, Sutton was a fixture on the left side of the infield through the 1880’s, providing about 24 WAR in his 12 years. His peak actually came in his mid-30’s, using a high-contact approach.
A steady contributor from 76-88, Morrill moved around the infield before settling in at first base, providing about 22 WAR in his 13 seasons. While his .681 OPS seems iffy, it actually rates about 11% above league average during that time.
The first star of the majors, Barnes led the NA in WAR four of the five seasons it was in existence. The middle infielder was worth 20 WAR in his five seasons before heading to the Cubs, where a fever robbed him of his talent.
The brother of the founder of the first professional team in the nation in Cincinnati, Wright was the star of that first team and was the other half of the middle infield with Barnes. Worth about 20 WAR himself, Wright played with Boston through ’78 before becoming a pioneer of golf in America.
Sliding Billy was in decline at age 30 when he left Philadelphia for Boston, but he was still an OBP machine, worth about 17 WAR in his four years in this century. The center fielder still ran a lot, though his 222 steals was about half the rate of his time in Philadelphia.
Nichols was possibly the best pitcher of the 1890’s, posting over 90 WAR in the decade. His best season was his rookie year in ’90 at age 20, a 12-WAR season in 425 IP. His quality of pitching did not drop with the mound moving back, putting up an 11-WAR season in ’93. Another sign of the change in offense was Nichols’ ’94 season. He allowed 6.8 R/9 that season, but the league average was 7.9 R/9, so Nichols was an 8-WAR pitcher.
The first pitcher of the franchise, the future sporting goods magnate was very good as his nearly 50 WAR would indicate. His 121 OPS+ was another boost to the teams, adding about 5 WAR to his value.
After a couple tremendous seasons with the Cubs, Clarkson was purchased by Boston in ’88. After an average initial season, Clarkson threw 620 tremendous innings in ’89, good for 16 WAR. He had a couple more 9-WAR seasons before his arm gave out (who woulda thunk?).
An extreme strike-thrower, Bond had five straight double-digit WAR seasons, three with Boston, before his arm gave out at age 24. In ’79, he only walked 24 of the 2189 batters faced that season.
A power pitcher of his day, Whitney had four great seasons in the early 80’s, including his 10-WAR ’83 season. During that season, he led the league in fewest BB/9 and most K/9. He was also a very good hitter, posting a 122 OPS+ in Boston.
There will be one more post in this series coming, the All-Time Braves team.