September 10, 1899: The Cincinnati Reds win a split double-header, beating the hapless Cleveland Spiders in the first game, 10-2, and then beating the local rivals Louisville Colonels, 8-7, in the second game, played later that evening.
The day marked the major league debut of a future Hall of Famer, “Wahoo” Sam Crawford. On Crawford’s first day in the majors, he collected five hits, including the first of his career major league leading 309 triples. Crawford, nicknamed “Wahoo Sam” for his hometown of Wahoo, Nebraska, joined the Reds when former star pitcher turned outfielder Elmer “Mike” Smith left the team after his wife had died of a long illness (“Redleg Journal“, by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder).
Smith had posted the third best ever WAR season for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1887 (not that he knew that…) when he went 34-17 with a 2.94 ERA (148 ERA+). He won 22 games in 1888 but began losing effectiveness. He left the majors after the 1889 season and returned with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an outfielder in 1892. He was traded to the Reds in a multi-player deal in November, 1897. He has the unique distinction of being a 30-game winner as a pitcher and he’s 68th in major league history as a hitter with a .398 OBP.
Smith was batting .294 (OBP of .381) when he left the team in September. The 19-year-old Crawford joined the team and batted .307 in 31 games (.782 OPS, 111 OPS+, seven triples in 133 plate appearances). By 1901, at age 21, Crawford had become one of the biggest sluggers in the game, batting .330 with a league leading 16 home runs (second place had 11), 16 triples (good for 3rd place), and 104 rbi (third place). In 1902, he led the majors in triples (22) and total bases (256), while batting .333 (2nd) with an OPS of .848 (3rd). Crawford’s 16 home runs in 1901 remained the Reds home run record for 29 years until Harry Heilmann hits 19 for the 1930 Reds.
Then…he jumped to the American League’s Detroit Tigers in a contract squabble and he was no longer a Red. Crawford and the Reds became the pawns that brought unity and the end of player raiding between the American and National Leagues…and the Reds lost their best player, a future Hall of Famer who played alongside Ty Cobb and batted .309 for his career, with 1525 rbi, 1391 runs scored, 2961 hits, 458 doubles, and the major league record 309 triples.
The 1899 Reds team consisted of several Hall of Hall of Famers. Manager Buck Ewing (consider by many as the best catcher of the 19th Century), first baseman Jake Beckley, second baseman Bid McPhee , and Crawford. Also on the roster was a rookie pitcher with Hall of Fame talent in Noodles Hahn, an all-star caliber young infielder Harry Steinfeldt, and an all-star caliber outfielder Kip Selbach. The 1899 Reds finished the year with a record of 83-67, in sixth place among 12 teams, and 19 games behind the league champion Brooklyn Superbas.
For the season Beckley batted .333 with 99 rbi (.392 OBP, 132 OPS+), McPhee hit .279, Selbach .297, and young Steinfeldt .246. Hahn finished his rookie season 23-8 with a 2.68 ERA (147 ERA+). This was Ewing’s last year to manage the team. He managed the team for five consecutive teams and all were winning teams, finishing his Reds managing career with a 394-297 record. Unfortunately, the Reds declined in their finish each year from 2nd-3rd-4th-5th-6th as the league balance become more and more uneven during the decade.
The Cleveland Spiders and Louisville Colonels were both in their last years as National League teams, as were the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles were a powerhouse, but the other three were not. In fact, the Spiders completed the 1899 season with a record of 20-134. Their attendance was so bad, they canceled their home schedule and played 34 of their last 35 games on the road. The Colonels finished a respectable 75-77, but the Colonels owner also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates. He folded the Colonels and transferred the best players to the Pirates, who built an early 20th Century powerhouse out of those two teams. These transferred players included arguably the best player in baseball history before Babe Ruth, the great Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, who batted .341 (145 OPS+) in 1899. Hall of Fame outfielder and manager Fred Clarke was also on that Louisville team.