June 13, 1882: The Cincinnati Red Stockings defeat the Philadelphia Athletics, 4-3, to win their sixth game in a row to take over first place in the new upstart American Association. The Red Stockings go on to win 10 in a row and never look back, giving Cincinnati it’s first major league title and becoming the first ever champion of the American Association. The Red Stockings finish the season 55-25, 11 1/2 games ahead of the second place Athletics. Their .688 won-loss record percentage is the best in Cincinnati major league history.

According to “The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball” by David Nemec, the 1882 Red Stockings were the pre-season league favorites. The Red Stockings had been expelled from the National League in 1880 for leasing their park for other activities, selling beer, and allowing teams to play on Sundays. When they entered the American Association at its inception in 1882 many of their former players joined them. In fact, 11 of the 15 players on their AA roster had previous major league experience, a higher percentage than any other AA team. However, their preseason was filled with injuries and losses to the other new major league teams. They started the season 8-9, but kicked into full gear at that point. They went 46-17 the rest of the way, playing at a .746 clip and more than doubling their opponents runs scored during that time, outscoring them 380-166.

“The Ball Clubs” (by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella) says “the Reds were the sartorial hits of the new league, with each player wearing a different color cap and silk shirt.” Manager-catcher Pop Snyder wore scarlet; third baseman Hick Carpenter wore gray and white; Hall of Fame second baseman Bid McPhee wore black and yellow; and star pitcher Will White wore sky blue to name a few.

White and Harry McCormick were the team’s two pitchers. White led the league with 40 wins, ten more than runner-up Tony Mullane (a future Red). White also led the league with 52 complete games, 480 innings pitched, a .769 winning percentage (he was 40-12), was fourth in strikeouts with 122, and was fourth in earned run average at 1.54. McCormick (14-11) was third in ERA at 1.52. White’s ERA+ was 173 and McCormick’s was 176 to show how dominant they were on the mound.

White’s secret weapon was his intimidation of hitters. According to Nemec’s 19th Century Encyclopedia, the 1883 Red Stockings were damaged in the (pitcher’s) “box” when

“Cincinnati ace Will White, the Association’s biggest winner in 1883, was robbed of one of his chief weapons, the ability to intimidate batters by hitting them without penalty, when the Association in 1884 became the first league to give a batter his base if he was struck by a pitch.”

White led the AA in hit batsman in both 1882 (35 in 80 games) and 1883 (27 in 112 games). Batters required seven balls to get a walk and the AA required pitchers to keep their deliveries below shoulder level to prevent pitchers from overpowering hitters. To this day, White holds or is one of the leaders in most major Reds pitching categories, sporting a lifetime 229-166 record with a career 2.28 ERA.

Third baseman Carpenter was the star hitter. He was second in the league in batting average at .342, fifth in slugging percentage (.422), third in on base percentage (.360), third in runs scored (78), and first in hits with 120 (runs batted in totals are not available). Carpenter’s OPS+ for the season was 155 (Joey Votto’s 2010 OPS+ thus far is 146 to put Carpenter’s offensive performance into perspective). Outfielder Joe Sommer had his best season, batting .288, finishing fifth in OBP and second in runs scored. It was Hall of Famer McPhee’s first season and he batted only .228, but his best seasons were yet to come.

For some other examples of how things have changed….”The Ball Clubs” says that…

“Second baseman Bid McPhee played all eight seasons with the Reds in the American Association without using a glove. He did not adopt the new fashion until 1896, six years after he had moved with the club to the National League. Amazingly, he made more putouts than any other second baseman in history, and ranks fourth in assists on the all-time list.”

Also, this little tidbit about reserve first baseman Henry Luff:

“Footnote player: Backup first baseman Henry Luff was fined $5 in 1882 for being about a century ahead of his time. The penalty was levied by manager Pop Snyder for making a one-handed catch. Luff’s reaction was to quit the team.”

There was no World Series at the time and there are conflicting stories about the two-game “series” played between the American Association champion Cincinnati Red Stockings and the National League champion Chicago White Stockings. The White Stockings were the “disputed” National League champions over the second place Providence Grays, winning the pennant by three games. Providence said they had lost the league title due to a controversial schedule change that swapped out some home/road games, so the White Stockings agreed to play the Grays in a nine-game postseason series to determine the National League undisputed champion.

However, the White Stockings agreed to play the Red Stockings in a two-game series before the National League playoff. The AA had forbidden any of their teams to play any National League team, so “The Ball Clubs” says that the Reds formally released all of their players and had them sign brief contracts with a dummy organization to permit them to play the NL White Stockings.

The White Stockings stopped in Cincinnati on the way to Providence to play. Hall of Famer Cap Anson was manager of the Chicago team and “perhaps overconfident” (says Nemec), he left his star player (former Red) King Kelly in New York and played pitcher Larry Corcoran at shortstop. Kelly was a .305 hitting slugger, while Corcoran was a .207 hitting pitcher. Will White shut them out in the first game, 4-0, but Corcoran followed with a 2-0 shut out of his own the next afternoon to tie the series, getting the benefit of two first inning unearned runs.

The “series” ended at that time so that the White Stockings could get to Providence to play their league championship series. The White Stockings won that playoff, five games to four, but only after losing their first three games to the Grays–it was suspected that the games were (mis)played in order to maximize game receipts for all nine games.

The American Association Red Stockings did not win another AA title, but did finish second twice in the league’s nine-year run. They never finished worse than fifth and only once had a losing record. The Cincinnati squad rejoined the National League as the “Reds” in 1890.