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Union Association
Sport Baseball
Founded 1884
No. of teams 12
Country(ies) United States
Ceased 1884
Last champion(s) 1884-St. Louis Maroons

The Union Association was a league in Major League Baseball which lasted for only one season in 1884. St. Louis won the pennant and joined the National League the following season. Chicago moved to Pittsburgh in late August, and four teams folded during the season and were replaced.

Although the league is conventionally listed as a major league, this status has been questioned[1] by a number of modern baseball historians, most notably Bill James in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. The league had a number of major league players (on the St. Louis franchise, at least), but the league's overall talent and organization was notably inferior to that of the two established major leagues. For example, the league's only "star" player, Fred Dunlap, never achieved similar success in any other major league.

A relatively modern comparison could be the World Football League of the early 1970s contrasted with the National Football League. The WFL similarly resorted to putting clubs in small cities and collapsed in the middle of a season.

Contents

Union Association franchises

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Midseason replacement teams

History

The league was founded in September 1883[2] by the young St. Louis millionaire Henry Lucas. His favoritism toward his own team doomed the league from the beginning. He acquired the best available players for his St. Louis franchise at the expense of the rest of the league. The Maroons won 94 games while losing only 19, for an .832 percentage. For comparison, if extrapolated to the length of a modern 162-game schedule, that would translate to 134 wins.

The lopsided competition and the revolving-door nature of its franchises and schedules was a continual problem, and the league was derisively dubbed "The Onion League" by its detractors in the two established leagues. Four different franchises folded during the season, forcing the league to scramble to replace them from lower classification leagues or from scratch. The Altoona team was the first to fold in May, and was replaced by a newly-formed team in Kansas City. After the Philadelphia franchise folded in August, the Unions recruited the Wilmington Quicksteps from the Eastern League; the Quicksteps lost many of their best players, and dropped out of the Association in September. The Chicago franchise had moved to Pittsburgh in August and finally disbanded about the same time as Wilmington, and both teams were replaced by two teams from the disbanding Northwest League, Milwaukee and St. Paul. On January 15, 1885, at a scheduled UA meeting in Milwaukee, only the Milwaukee and Kansas City franchises showed up. The league was promptly disbanded.[3]

The St. Louis franchise itself was deemed to be strong enough to enter the National League in 1885, but it faced heavy competition within the city, as the St. Louis Browns were a power in the American Association. Thus, the lone survivor of the Union folded after the 1886 season, having compiled records of 36-72 and 43-79 in NL play. These figures perhaps reveal the gulf in class between the UA and the established major leagues.

Perhaps the most obvious impact of the short-lived league was on the career of a player who did not jump to the new league: Charles Radbourn. With a schedule of a little over 100 games, most teams employed two regular pitchers. The Providence Grays' entry of the National League featured Radbourn and Charlie Sweeney. According to the book Glory Fades Away, by Jerry Lansche, Sweeney fell out of grace with the Providence team in late July after he refused to be replaced in a game while drunk, and was expelled. Rather than come crawling back, Sweeney signed with Lucas' team, leaving Radbourn by himself. Leveraging his situation, Radbourn pledged to stay with the club and be the sole primary pitcher, if he would be granted free agency at season's end. Radbourn, who already had 24 wins at that point to Sweeney's 17, pitched nearly every game after that, and went on to win an astounding 60 games during the regular season. For an encore, he won all three games of 1884's version of the World Series, pitching every inning of a sweep of the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. His performance in 1884, along with a generally strong career topping 300 wins overall, assured his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Notable players

The best hitter of the 1884 Union Association was Fred Dunlap of the Maroons. Dunlap led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, total bases, and home runs (with just 13, typical for the era). Dunlap hit .412 in 1884, but after the league folded, he never hit more than .270 in a career that ran through 1891 - another measure of the inferior quality of the Union Association. Star pitchers for the UA included Jim McCormick, Charlie Sweeney, Dupee Shaw and Hugh Daily. Players that made their debut in the Union Association included Jack Clements, remembered as the only man in baseball history to play a full career as a left-handed catcher.[4]

Highlights

The Union Association saw two no-hitters in its brief existence: one by Dick Burns of the Outlaw Reds on August 26 and one by Ed Cushman of the Brewers on Sept. 28. On July 7, Hugh Daily struck out 19 Boston Reds in a nine-inning game, an "MLB" record that would stand for 102 years, until Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters in a game in 1986. Henry Porter and Dupee Shaw got 18-strikeout games. The Chicago Browns executed a triple play on June 19.

Standings

Union Association W L GB Pct.
St. Louis Maroons 94 19 -- .832
Milwaukee Brewers 8 4 35.5 .667
Cincinnati Outlaw Reds 69 36 21.0 .657
Baltimore Monumentals 58 47 32.0 .552
Boston Reds 58 51 34.0 .532
Chicago Browns/Pittsburgh Stogies 41 50 42.0 .451
Washington Nationals 47 65 46.5 .420
Philadelphia Keystones 21 46 50.0 .313
St. Paul Saints 2 6 39.5 .250
Altoona Mountain City 6 19 44.0 .240
Kansas City Cowboys 16 63 61.0 .203
Wilmington Quicksteps 2 16 44.5 .111

References and external links

  1. ^ Baseball Prospectus | Unfiltered
  2. ^ The Chronology - 1883 | BaseballLibrary.com
  3. ^ The Chronology - 1885 | BaseballLibrary.com
  4. ^ 1884 Union Association Baseball Debuts / Rookies by Baseball Almanac
  • David Pietrusza Major Leagues: The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present Jefferson (NC): McFarland & Company, 1991. ISBN 0-89950-590-2
  • Union Association at baseball-reference.com.
  • Union Association and 1884 in baseball at baseballlibrary.com

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