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Epic Pitchers' Duel Propels Bisons Into First Place

By: Brian Frank

The Buffalo Bisons were sitting just a game behind the first-place Chicago White Stockings in the National League standings after winning the first two games of a three-game series against the Boston Red Stockings.[1] The final game of Buffalo's series at Boston’s South End Grounds in June 1881 would turn out to be a classic pitchers’ duel between both teams’ aces – James “Pud” Galvin for Buffalo and James “Grasshopper Jim” Whitney for Boston.

The game of baseball in 1881 was still developing the modern rules and equipment that are familiar to fans of today’s game. Among some of the more obvious differences from the modern game were that: most players still played the game without gloves; pitchers were not allowed to deliver a pitch above the waist (although many would push the bounds of that rule); batters were allowed to call for a low or high pitch; and eight balls were needed for a base on balls.[2]

Bisons' ace Pud Galvin was the first pitcher to win 300 games.

Galvin set the tone early. He retired the side in order in the first inning on three groundouts to second baseman Davy Force. The Little Steam Engine, as Galvin was known, was only getting started.

Buffalo got what would be a rare baserunner when Hardy Richardson doubled to lead off the second inning. However, after Deacon White flied out, John Peters “sent a difficult fly to center field, but (John) Richmond captured it and returned the ball to Burdock, catching Richardson off the base and making a neat double play.”[3]

Galvin allowed the first two batters to reach in the third inning – walking Ezra Sutton and surrendering a single to Pat Deasley. After Bill Crowley flew out and Ross Barnes grounded into a fielder’s choice, Whitney launched a fly ball into left-center field. The Boston Globe reported that the ball: “seemed certainly good for two bases, but (Dan) Brouthers made a wonderful run for it, and scooped the sphere with his left hand before it touched the ground, retiring the side and winning prolonged applause.”[4]

Brouthers’ sensational grab ended the inning and prevented Boston from scoring at least two runs. Brouthers was playing in just his fifth game with the Herd. The Sylvan Lake, New York, native had played in the N.L. before – he hit .274 in thirty-nine games for the 1880 Troy Trojans. He briefly played for the Trojans in 1880 and also played for various other teams outside the N.L., including the Rochester Hop Bitters. While with Rochester, Brouthers played in three exhibition games against the Bisons, making such a good impression that Buffalo signed him in late May 1881.[5] Although he started out playing in the outfield for the Herd, Brouthers eventually went on to become Buffalo’s regular first baseman and developed into one of the most feared hitters of the nineteenth century.

Big Dan Brouthers led the N.L. in batting average four times.

Galvin worked out of a slight jam in the third inning. John Morrill singled, advanced to second on a passed ball, and moved to third on a groundout. But the veteran hurler was able to get Joe Hornung to pop out to first baseman Deacon White to end the frame.

Boston had a promising start to the sixth inning. Barnes reached base when shortstop John Peters was unable to handle his groundball. He stole second and moved to third on a fly out to right field. But Galvin was once again up to the task and got John Richmond to foul out to catcher Jack Rowe and Morrill to bounce back to the pitcher to keep the game scoreless. Buffalo suffered a key loss that inning however – as Rowe split his thumb and had to be replaced by Sleeper Sullivan “who did finely.”[6]

That would be the Red Caps last semblance of a rally. Galvin didn’t allow another batter to reach base for the next seven innings. Whitney matched him pitch for pitch. Going into the ninth inning of the scoreless contest, Buffalo only had one hit off Grasshopper Jim – Richardson’s double in the second – and Boston only had three hits off Galvin.

Davy Force reached base for Buffalo in the ninth inning on a wild throw to first by Whitney. Grasshopper Jim followed that up with a wild pitch that “allowed little Force to shuffle around to third base.”[7] Boston escaped the inning when “Galvin fell victim to Whitney’s science” and Foley flew out to Hornung in left. The Boston Globe noted that Hornung’s catch was “remarkable.”[8]

The Bisons got another baserunner in the eleventh inning, when Deacon White singled. However, the next batter, John Peters, hit into a double play.

Both Galvin and Whitney cruised into the thirteenth inning with the game still scoreless. In the bottom of the thirteenth, Brouthers, who’s catch back in the third inning helped keep the game scoreless, stepped up to the plate with one out. The big left-handed slugger “sent the sphere down into the right field corner for three bases.”[9] The next batter, Hardy Richardson, hit a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to allow Brouthers to tag and come home with the game's only run.[10]

The Bisons managed to win the thirteen-inning affair, even though they only had three runners reach base the entire game – two of whom were retired on double plays.

The game featured numerous standout defensive plays. Besides Brouthers outstanding catch, Joe Hornung played “superb” defense in left field for the Red Caps.[11] The former Bison – he played for the Herd in 1879 and 1880 as a starting outfielder – caught nine balls during the game. The Boston Globe said that three of the catches were notable for their difficulty and that “the spectators were liberal with their applause.”[12]

Despite the loss, Boston baseball fans enjoyed the marathon game. The Boston Globe reported: “The Bostons were handsomely whitewashed, but there were so many fine plays and the contest was so exciting that the spectators were good natured, and heartily enjoyed the sport.”[13]

Boston's Grasshopper Jim Whitney led the N.L in multiple statistical categories in 1881.

Both team's aces lived up to their billing. Galvin pitched thirteen shutout innings, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out four. Whitney allowed one run on three hits and no walks while fanning five Bisons. The Buffalo Express wrote that the two hurlers “covered themselves with glory” in their duel.[14]

Galvin went on to finish the season 28-24 with a 2.37 ERA. In his career, he was the first pitcher to win 300 games, winning a total of 365 games. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965. Whitney had a huge season for Boston - leading the N.L. in wins (31), losses (33), complete games (57) and innings pitched (552.1) in 1881. He finished his career with a 191-204 record and a 2.97 ERA.

Buffalo’s newest acquisition and future superstar, Dan Brouthers, also had a big day in both the field and at the plate. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser noted that: “It is pleasant to know that the credit of the victory belongs as much to Brouthers, the new man, as to any one member of the team. By a wonderful catch in the third inning he checked two runs, and in the thirteenth, after O’Rourke had been retired, Brouthers hit for three bases and was brought in by Richardson’s fly to Richmond.”[15]

It was a significant win for the Herd. Buffalo’s victory, coupled with Chicago's 7-6 loss to Worcester, moved the Bisons into a first-place tie with Chicago – both teams with a 15-9 record.

Buffalo managed to move atop the National League with an epic victory, led by their ace, Pud Galvin, and their newest star, Dan Brouthers. The Buffalo Express called the game “one of the most wonderful ever played” and the Commercial Advertiser summed up the battle, writing: “It was the best game of the year Boston patrons have had, and few struggles in the history of the National pastime will compare with it.”[16]

[1] The Red Stockings were also sometimes called the Red Caps at the time. After a series of name changes, most notably the Beaneaters, Rustlers, Doves, and Bees, they became known as the Boston Braves in 1912. [2] Peter Morris, A Game of Inches, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006. Morris notes that “Until sometime in the 1880s, almost all reliable sources agree, most catchers and first basemen were wearing no more than simple finger gloves, and most other fielders were bare-handed.” [3] “Thirteen Innings – 1 to 0,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1881. [4] Ibid. [5] Roy Kerr, Big Dan Brouthers, Baseball’s First Great Slugger, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013. [6] “A Battle of Giants,” Buffalo Courier, June 10, 1881. [7] “Thirteen Innings – 1 to 0,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1881. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] The Boston Post accused Brouthers of leaving third base before the center fielder caught the ball. This may have just been a case of sour grapes, as none of the other newspapers, including the Boston Globe, made note of this. [11] “A Battle of Giants,” Buffalo Courier, June 10, 1881. [12] “Thirteen Innings – 1 to 0,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1881. [13] Ibid.

[14] “Thirteen Innings,” Buffalo Morning Express, June 10, 1881. [15] “Sporting News,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, June 10, 1881.

[16] “Thirteen Innings,” Buffalo Morning Express, June 10, 1881. “Sporting News,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, June 10, 1881.


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