Today marks a big anniversary for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was 125 years ago today, on Nov. 18, 1886, that they entered the National League, where they have been ever since. This move would be a turning point not just for Pittsburgh, but for the National League itself.
(Well, if you want to get technical, they were the Pittsburgh Alleghenays back then, but nickname change notwithstanding, it’s still the same franchise).
Previously, Pittsburgh had existed as a major league club, but in the American Association. Though there is a current minor league called the AA, this was a different one. In the 1880s, the AA was a major league operating as a rival to the NL. Essentially, it was the AL of its day, though not quite as successful or as good.
In fact, the departure of the Pirates from the AA to the NL highlights a central problem the American Association had. While it had some good teams, it couldn’t seem to keep them in the league. In fact, half of the pre-expansion NL teams first began life as AA clubs.
The AA began as a six-team enterprise in 1882. Its clubs included Pittsburgh, the Cincinnati Reds, and the St. Louis Browns (who later changed their uniform colors and name to become the Cardinals). Two years later, league expansion brought a new team in Brooklyn, later known as the Dodgers.
By 1885, the AA appeared to have a pretty stable league. Aside from the four future NL clubs, the league still had its other three original pioneer clubs from 1882—the Baltimore Orioles, Louisville Colonels and Philadelphia Athletics. The eighth club was the New York Metropolitans.
All eight clubs were around in 1884 and still there in 1886; an impressive stability for the day. (Admittedly, the league AA lost several others clubs from 1884 when it rashly over-expanded to 12 clubs, but the teams that survived that season showed staying power).
The NL could only envy that stability. Three of the NL clubs in 1884 were gone by Opening Day 1886. After 1884, the NL waved goodbye to its struggling Cleveland franchise. In its place the NL adopted a St. Louis club—which would also flounder.
In 1884, the Providence Grays won the NL pennant, but 1885 was their last year in existence. Similarly, 1885 would be the last team the league put a team in Buffalo. In 1886, the NL would install Kansas City and Washington clubs in their place.
In part, the NL was looking for greener pastures, as Providence was too small a town to support a major league team. That said, the newer teams were struggling. St. Louis finished sixth in 1886, ahead of only the even newer Kansas City and Washington clubs.
For 1887, the NL was looking for new changes. The western outposts of St. Louis and Kansas City would be dropped. Two new teams would be needed in their place. They’d put one in Indianapolis, and for the second—well, that’s where the AA’s Pittsburgh club came in.
To date, no franchise had moved from the AA to the NL, but the NL saw no reason why they couldn’t do just that now. Pittsburgh agreed and just like that the NL solved its problem by poaching a team from the competing major league.
The arrangement worked well, and the eight teams in the 1887 NL all survived into 1888, something nearly unprecedented in league history.
When the NL next had to replace a team, it fell back on the same strategy that worked well with the Pirates. The NL’s Detroit club couldn’t survive after 1888? That’s no problem—take the Cleveland Spiders team out of the AA. In fact, the Spiders were the club the AA replaced Pittsburgh with just two years earlier.
At the conclusion of the 1889 season, with the National League’s Washington franchise tanking, the NL used the same strategy again, drafting the AA’s Brooklyn club into its league for 1890.
No more teams were robbed after 1890, but the 1891 season proved to be the last for the AA, always the lesser of the two circuits. In the fallout from its demise, the NL drafted four teams from it—Baltimore, Louisville, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The NL stood strong with a dozen franchises. Aside from a league-wide decision to slim down to eight squads after 1899, the league never lost another club.
By 1892, though the AA was no more, five of its original six teams still played, and seven of the 12 NL teams had begun in the AA. When the National League downsized to eight teams after 1899, four of the surviving teams were former AA clubs: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and St. Louis – and all are still with us now.
But the AA-raiding began by the NL 125 years ago today, with the claiming of Pittsburgh.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold:
1,000 days since the Twins sign Joe Crede as a free agent.
2,000 days since the big league debut for Matt Kemp.
6,000 days since Paul O’Neill gets his 1,000th career hit.
6,000 days since officials at Busch Stadium jump the gun. When Ray Lankford drives one deep for an apparent home run, they set off the fireworks for what turns out to be only a double.
7,000 days since Javy Lopez makes his big league debut.
30,000 days since Bill Carrigan manages his 1,000th game. His record: 486-500.
Also, in similar news at some point today it will be 1,000,000,000 seconds since the birth of Dan Uggla.
1873 Deacon McGuire, the first player to appear in 26 different seasons, is born.
1882 Jack Coombs, who won 30 games in a season for the Philadelphia A’s once, is born.
1895 Boston sells Tommy McCarthy (an ill-deserving Hall of Famer) to Brooklyn for $6,000.
1913 The White Sox and Giants begin a world tour that will take them to Japan, Ceylon, Australia, Egypt, Italy, France and England. Chicago owner Charlie Comiskey pays for it.
1914 The Cubs sign Roger Bresnahan as their new manager.
1925 Gene Mauch is born.
1926 Roy Sievers is born.
1943 Phillies owner William Cox writes to the baseball commissioner, Judge Mountain Landis, that he’s decided to devote his time to his other businesses. Cox has recently been found to gamble on his team’s games, violating league rules.
1954 The Royals hire Lou Boudreau as their manager. He’ll be their first skipper in Kansas City.
1958 Red Schoendienst is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He’ll appear in five games in 1959.
1960 Charles Finley makes formal bid to buy the AL’s expansion club set to start up in California. His bid will be rejected.
1962 Jamie Moyer is born.
1963 Dante Bichette is born.
1963 Detroit trades Rocky Colavito to the A’s in a five-player deal.
1966 In a stunning move, Sandy Koufax announces his retirement.
1966 The Mets name Wes Westrum their official manager.
1967 Tom Gordon is born.
1968 Gary Sheffield is born.
1974 The Padres trade slugging first baseman Nate Colbert to the Tigers for Ed Brinkman and two others. San Diego immediately trades Brinkman to the Cardinals for Sonny Siebert, Rich Folkers and Alan Foster.
1975 David Ortiz is born.
1979 Freddie Fitzsimmons dies.
1981 The Padres hire Dick Williams as manager.
1997 Atlanta sells Fred McGriff to Tampa Bay.
1997 The Devil Rays and Diamondbacks take players in their expansion draft. Among others, Arizona gets Jeff Suppan from Boston, Cory Lidle from the Mets, Damian Miller from the Twins and Joe Randa from the Pirates. Tampa Bay gets Bobby Abreu from Houston, Miguel Cairo from the Cubs, Dmitri Young from the Reds and Randy Winn from Florida.
1997 The Tigers trade Travis Fryman to Arizona for Joe Randa and two others.
1997 Tampa sends Dmitri Young to the Reds to complete a trade from a week previously.
1997 Tampa Bay signs Roberto Hernandez as a free agent.
1997 Florida trades Robb Nen to the Giants for three players.
2002 The Marlins trade Mike Hampton to the Braves.
2003 Ken Brett, pitcher, dies.
2004 The Tigers sign Troy Percival as a free agent.
2005 Orel Hershiser resigns as Texas pitching coach to become the team’s executive director.
2006 The Blue Jays sign Frank Thomas as a free agent.
2007 The Braves sign Tom Glavine, allowing him to return to Atlanta.
2010 Bud Selig says major league baseball is considering expanding by two teams.