The Chicago/Pittsburgh/Baltimore Unions

The Chicago Unions franchise was meant to be a flagship of the new Union Association, a rival to the powerful Chicago White Stockings, baseball’s premiere franchise. Instead they were one of the league’s most unstable, eventually moving to Pittsburgh in August 1884 and then folding the following month, without completing their schedule.

A.H. Henderson formed the Chicago Unions as a semi-pro outfit in June 1883. Chicago was home to a strong amateur baseball scene, with many local players who either had major league experience or would go on to play in the majors. Henderson secured some land at the corner of Wabash Avenue and 39th Street, which would be named the Union Grounds and the club debuted on June 26, 1883 against the St. Louis Browns. By the end of July, it was reported that Henderson was attempting to secure membership in the American Association along with Indianapolis. Chicago was the stronghold of the National League, so putting a rival A.A. team in the Windy City would be a bold move. The Unions officially made application to the American Association in early August.

In late August 1883, the club hired minor league umpire Ed S. Hengel to manage the club. Hengel would serve as the manager of the 1884 Unions. On August 29, it was announced that the club was going to release all of its players in order to put money and resources into fielding a first class club in 1884. Henderson reported that it was “almost certain” that the club would join the American Association. History bears out that the Unions did not join the A.A. and it is unclear that they were seriously considered for a slot as just under two weeks later at the first meeting of the Union Association in Pittsburgh, Henderson’s club was listed an inaugural member of the Union Association, with Henderson as a member of the board of directors. Some reports suggested the Henry V. Lucas, owner of the St. Louis Maroons and the president of the Union Association was the club’s true owner and bankroll, while other reports had the club being run by a brewing consortium.

In January 1884, the Chicago Unions attempted to make a splash by signing Chicago White Stockings ace Larry Corcoran. The diminutive right-hander signed with the Unions for a reported salary of $3,100 making him one of the highest paid players in baseball. But after being threatened with a blacklist by White Stockings owner Al Spalding, he quickly returned to the National League fold. The club did manage to poach the mercurial and remarkable Hugh “One Arm” Daily from the Cleveland Blues. Daily’s left hand had been blown off in an accident when he was younger. He covered the stump with a pad, that he used to help him catch thrown balls. Despite Daily’s disability, he was a tremendously talented pitcher. The 36-year-old would go on to win 27 games and strike out a staggering 469 batters for the Unions.

Daily was one of the few players the Unions could count on. In 91 games, the club burned through 35 players, with the infield being particularly volatile. 14 different players appeared at second base for the club. This included the aforementioned Daily, you know the guy with one hand. That’s how bad things were for the Unions, they used a guy with one hand as their second baseman on two different occasions (Daily also made appearances at shortstop and in the outfield). Additionally, a mystery man named Richardson appeared in one game at second base and struck out four times in four at bats, before vanishing without revealing his first name. Boston area semi-pro Dan Cronin’s sole appearance at second base for the club resulted in four errors in five chances.

Nine different men appeared at shortstop and third base respectively. Rookie first baseman Jumbo Schoeneck was the infield’s only point of stability, appearing in 90 games for the club. Despite the infield turmoil, the Unions got off to a strong start, reaching a high water mark of 21-14 on June 19. The club drew poorly on weekday home games, but did quite well for Sunday games, as the National League clubs refused to play on Sundays. A season high of 4100 people showed up to see the Unions defeat the eventual pennant-winning St. Louis Maroons in 10 innings on Sunday, June 1, 1884. But the previous day’s game only drew 250 fans and their next home game drew only 400.

The club began a 19 game road trip on June 20, and it was disastrous. The Unions lost the first 11 games of the trip and by the time the club returned home on July 22, the club was 25-29. Any chance of chasing the pennant was destroyed. Chicago’s baseball fans were firmly behind the National League’s White Stockings. In the midst of a costly road trip in August, the club was sold to Harry O. Price of Pittsburgh on August 19.

The club was transferred to Pittsburgh with A. H. Henderson retaining management of the club. The newly christened Pittsburgh Unions (not the Stogies, which appears to be the name given the team posthumously and erroneously by researchers) would play their games at Exposition Park. In a slight bit of irony, the rival Alleghenys of the American Association played their games at Union Park. The club made their first appearance in Pittsburgh on August 25 against first place St. Louis. Hugh Daily lead the club to an incredible 3-2 victory in 11 innings in front of 3,000 excited fans. The club continued to draw well in their new home, as the club drew 10,000 fans over the course of the five game series with the star-studded Maroons. The club went on the road and never returned to their new home as they disbanded on September 19. The franchise reportedly suffered an $18,000 loss on the year. The Milwaukee club from the disbanded Northwestern League took their place to complete the Union Association schedule.

A cadre of the club’s better players joined the Baltimore Unions. The Baltimore American reported that the both Pittsburgh and Baltimore shared the same management and indeed Baltimore was managed by Bill Henderson, who happened to be the brother of W. H. Henderson. So while the currently accepted belief is that the Chicago/Pittsburgh club folded, there is a reasonable case to be made that the club actually merged with the Baltimore franchise.

The joy and pain of researching the Union Association is that there is so much left to learn, but also that the more you know, the more muddled it gets.

The franchise had six players appear in the Old Judge set.

1. Bill Krieg

Bill Krieg was a 25-year-old rookie catcher for the Chicago Unions. He hit a modest .247/.276/.330 in 71 games, but in the light hitting Union Association that was good for a 103 OPS+. He was one of the league’s best defensive players, putting up a 1.3 dWAR, a mark good enough for 4th place in the league. Aside from his solid rookie year, Krieg was never able to find regular work in the major leagues, despite putting up decent numbers in short stints with the dismal Washington Nationals in 1886-87. One of the nice things about working on this project is discovering the unexpected. In this case, my discovery was that Krieg was a spectacular minor league player. You could make the case that he was the first great minor league player (only rivalled by fellow Union Association alumni Perry Werden, who will be talked about in a later post). Bill James posited that Krieg was the greatest minor league player of the 1880’s. Krieg was a masher in the minors. After his release from the Nationals in 1887, he moved on to Minneapolis of the Northwestern League, where he hit .402 with 8 home runs in just 59 games. After a down year in 1888, he would go on to over .300, eight different times in the minors, including a high of .452 with Rockford of the Western Association in 1895. Krieg’ career ended in 1901 with Terre Haute. He died at age 71 in 1930 in Chillicothe, Illinois.

Krieg is featured in a staggering 10 different poses covering his time with Washington, Minneapolis and St. Joseph’s.

Krieg’s hypnotic eyes peering through the primitive tools of ignorance will haunt your dreams forever. The sharpness of the photo really adds to the effect. Some of these cards are truly transcendent and I think this is one.

 

 

2. Jumbo Schoeneck

I wrote about Schoeneck in my post on the Baltimore Unions.

3. Gid Gardner

I wrote about Gardner in my post on the Baltimore Unions.

4. Frank Foreman

Frank Foreman was just beginning his 30+ year baseball journey in 1884. The 21-year-old right-hander from Baltimore was only with the Chicago Unions for about a month, making four starts, garnering one win against two losses. He was released and joined the Kansas City Cowboys, making one start in June and then was released. Foreman joined the Lancaster Ironsides of the Eastern League to close out his rookie year. Foreman bounced around between the majors and minors for the next couple years, before emerging as a thoroughly average starter who never stayed in one place very long. From 1889 to 1896, he appeared for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore and New York, winning 20 games in 1889. Foreman returned to the minors for several years, re-emerging in the American League in 1901. He won 12 games for the AL version of the Orioles as a 38-year-old. His major league career ended with two disastrous starts for the Orioles in 1902. Foreman and Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson are the only two players to appear for the AA, NL, and AL versions of the Orioles. Foreman hung around baseball as a de facto scout and minor league umpire. His greatest discovery was 300 game winner Eddie Plank, whom he recommended to Connie Mack. Foreman was also the discoverer of the ephemeral Bob McKinney, one of two major leaguers with whom I share a last name (and coincidentally the subject of the first SABR biography I wrote). Foreman remained in Baltimore the rest of his life, passing away at age 94 in 1957.

Foreman is the rarest of breeds, the player with only one pose in the Old Judge set. He is pictured with the Baltimore Orioles in 1889.

5. Moxie Hengel

The younger brother of Chicago Unions manager Ed Hengel, Emory “Moxie” Hengel was a fixture of the mid-western baseball scene for over a decade. As a 26 year-old rookie in 1884, Hengel was tasked with holding down the second base job for his older brother’s fledgling squad. Hengel hit a dismal .203/.234/.257 with an .840 fielding percentage and 15 errors in 19 games at second base. Moxie’s poor play earned him the ire of his brother and his release at the end of May. Hengel quickly found work with St. Paul in the Northwestern League and held down their second base job for the remainder of the season. He made a not so triumphant return to the Union Association when the St. Paul was admitted to the league in late September to replace the recently folded Wilmington club. The club went 2-6 in eight road games and they appear to be the only major league team never to play a home game. Hengel appeared in six games for the 1885 Buffalo Bisons and then played another 9 years in the minor leagues as a good field, no hit second baseman, primarily in the Western Association. His career ended in 1896 and he died in Forest Park, Illinois on December 11, 1924.

Hengel is featured in six poses in the Old Judge set, capturing his time with the Western Association’s Chicago Maroons in 1888 and Minneapolis in 1889. In perhaps my favorite Old Judge pose, Hengel is captured sliding into a base with an unusual foreshortened perspective like the photographer was referencing Andrea Mantegna’s The Dead Christ or something.

 

 

6. Kid Baldwin

Clarence “Kid” Baldwin was a 19 year-old catcher in 1884. Baldwin was a precociously talented defensive catcher who possessed a toxic mix of youthful naiveté and unscrupulousness. He began the 1884 season involved in a contract imbroglio between the Quincy club of the Northwestern League, who had reserved him for the upcoming season and the St. Louis Maroons reserve squad, with whom he had also signed. The Kid offered Quincy a staggering sum of $500 to obtain his release, but the club wisely stood their ground and when the season began, Baldwin was Quincy’s starting catcher. He quickly became a lineup fixture due to his strong play, but the Quincy club was in financial trouble and Baldwin jumped the club in July (earning himself a place on organized baseball’s blacklist) to join the Kansas City Cowboys in the Union Association. Baldwin was offered a salary of $350 a month, which would have made him one of the highest paid players in the league. The Cowboys were hastily formed to replace Altoona after they folded in May, and despite an atrocious record and a constantly changing roster, they were one of the top drawing clubs in the league. Baldwin played 50 games for Kansas City and established himself as a strong backstop, but hit just .194. Off the field, Baldwin was already showing a tendency to spend money faster than he got it and at one point he naively endorsed a $250 check to a stranger in hopes that he would cash it. Baldwin never saw the guy again.

His sole appearance for the Chicago/Pittsburgh franchise was as an injury replacement on September 18, in the final game in franchise history. When Pittsburgh catcher Tony Suck (and boy did he) was hurt in the sixth inning, Baldwin was called in to replace him.

Baldwin joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association in 1885 after a confusing off-season that involved signing with multiple clubs and petitioning to get off baseball’s black list. He would serve as their starting catcher until 1890. During that time, he became a popular figure in the media thanks to his outsized personality and off-field exploits. At one point he was fined $27 dollars after being arrested during a raid on a cock fight. Like so many 1880’s ballplayers, Baldwin was a drinking man and his inability to control his “demons” directly lead to him being done as a major league player in 1890 at the ripe old age of 25.

Baldwin bounced around the minors for the next few years playing all over the U.S., while his drinking continued to worsen and eye troubles began to set in. He was treated for blindness in 1895, and after his old teammates raised funds for surgery, he was able to get his sight back. Baldwin enjoyed a brief return to health, but a stint of sobriety was undermined by his job running a saloon in Cincinnati. By 1897, at age 32, Baldwin was homeless and living on the streets of Cincinnati, where he experienced bouts of madness and he was eventually institutionalized in July 1897. He died just a week later on July 10, 1897, just 12 years after his major league career began in earnest in Kansas City. Credit to David Ball’s great SABR biography for info on Baldwin’s tumultuous life.

Baldwin is featured in six poses with multiple variations during his time with Cincinnati circa 1887-1888.

A svelte and dashing Baldwin in impossibly tight pants at the peak of his all-too-short life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Justin

I am 19th century baseball nerd living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I write about dead and obscure baseball players at my blog medium.com/@baseball_obscura. Other than that I like pro wrestling, Magic: The Gathering, and Kanye West.

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