1884: Richmond Joins The Major Leagues

Our story so far … On August 2, 1884, after an atrocious 12-51 record, the Washington Nationals of the American Association folded mid-season. The Richmond Virginians, playing in the lesser Eastern League, were tapped to complete the remaining games on Washington’s schedule. Those games represent the only major league games in Richmond baseball history.

If you’re going to picture Richmond, Virginia’s history of major league baseball – 71 days and 46 games in 1884 – you’re going to have to use your imagination.

They played at Virginia Ball-Park.

And, the outfield – rocky and uneven, but wider and deeper than most outfields – was over here, more or less …

… where the controversial statue of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart stands today on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

And, the front gate, home plate, and wooden grandstand where the brass band would play were over here …

… where the even more controversial statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee now stands just a few blocks away.

That’s Richmond, Virginia in a nutshell. Its history is a wonderful pastoral pastime and its history is a conflicted and ugly war. And, sometimes they converge.

Like they did in 1884.

Because, remember, the Civil War had ended just 19 years earlier.

(“Just 19 years earlier” point of reference: Remember that Smash Mouth song “All Star”?  And, how it’s both nostalgic, but sort of doesn’t seem that old? It was a hit 19 years ago. See? Nineteen years isn’t that long ago.)

Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy, had a lot of digging out to do back then.

By the 1880s, Richmond still commemorated the Civil War – aka the War of Northern Aggression – with citywide parades and veteran marches. In 1883, the commemoration day concluded with a baseball game played by the locals followed by a gala ball.

It was the Civil War that brought baseball to the South, after all. Most Northern soldiers knew some version of a somewhat similar bat-and-ball game and the game spread to Confederate soldiers (often taught to them by Union POWs).

Lithograph of a drawing by Maj. Otto Boetticher. Courtesy of the National Archives

Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, N.C., 1863. 

By the end of the war, “base ball” had morphed into a game with a pretty standard set of rules.

Baseball and the Civil War were entwined. And, that seems especially so in Richmond.

“It was difficult not to remember the Confederacy when attending a Virginias’ game,” historian Robert Gudmestad wrote in 1998.

William C. Seddon, the president of the Virginia Base-Ball Club that formed in 1883, had made his fortune in a wholesale grocery business and was the son of the Confederacy’s Secretary of War. Eight of the 18 directors of the Virginia Base-Ball Club were Confederate veterans.

It was Seddon and his Club that put together a team and invested $100 in 1884 to join the Eastern League, in order to have a regular supply of games against teams of generally the same quality.

It wasn’t major league quality. It was no National League or American Association. It wasn’t the quality of the new Union Association, either, which had declined Richmond’s request to join. But, it wasn’t bad.

Admission was a quarter, and women sat in one section, renting seat cushions for comfort, away from the whiskey, beer, and “rowdyism” of the men. And, just like in most every American ballpark then, black patrons sat far away from the white patrons in seats that were not nearly as nice, though they paid the same price.

The Stonewall Brigade Band, a brass band from Staunton, Virginia that had served in the war and was then made up of Confederate veterans, would often play at Richmond games. (The band still exists today and is the oldest continuously active community band in the nation.)

By August, Richmond was a so-so 28-30.

When the Washington Statesmen/Nationals of the major league American Association chucked it in after winning just 12 games, the Richmond Virginians were invited to take their place.

It happened pretty quickly. Richmond’s first American Association game came just four days after Washington’s last.

Richmond Dispatch, August 9, 1884

The Virginians lost.

Richmond Dispatch, August 6, 1884

(The Eastern League grumbled about Richmond’s jumping, arguing that the team still owed $44.50 in dues and fines and ultimately expelled them from the League they had already left.)

While Richmond still seemed very much tied to its Confederate roots, and most of the club’s directors remembered the war firsthand, the players were decidedly, almost peculiarly, Northern.

Of the 19 players that we know played for Richmond during those 46 games, just five came from the South. Four were born in Richmond and one was from Louisiana. The rest came from New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Massachusetts.

“Steady Pete” Meegan

Then there was pitcher Pete Meegan, who came from San Francisco and I’m not sure how or why he ended up in Richmond.

“Steady Pete” started 22 of those Richmond games. He finished 22. Think about that, 21st-century baseball fans. He had 22 complete games in 10 weeks’ time. And, a 4.32 ERA.

Meegan grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District. His cousin, and next-door neighbor, was Philip Brady, great-grandfather of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I’m guessing you’ve heard of him.

(Some of you have just decided that Tom Brady is the greater athlete of the Brady-Meegan clan. But, with “Steady Pete’s” 22 complete games over 10 weeks and a 4.32 ERA, I respectfully disagree.)

The second-best Brady-Meegan athlete.

“Steady Pete” was one of the good Virginians.

Trying to put together a team in a too-far-South city with mediocre prospects, not much money, and a board of directors that didn’t know much about baseball, wasn’t easy.

Which is probably how the team ended up with players like infielder Terry Larkin, a Brooklyn native with a bum arm, who’d kicked around with a bunch of other teams before landing in Richmond.

In 1883, Larkin, an alcoholic, had tried, unsuccessfully, to kill his wife, a police officer, and himself (twice) in a drunken spree, and ultimately spent six months in prison. At one point, in Richmond’s brief season, he just disappeared for 10 days.

But four of those 1884 Virginians were born in Richmond, making them part of my Virginia Born Baseball Project.

Ed Ford played two games – one at short, one at first – for Richmond on October 9 and 10. He went 0-for-5. After that, he played another minor league season in Chattanooga, then managed a couple minor league teams.

Ed “Mouse” Glenn was an outfielder who played in 43 of Richmond’s big league games, batting .246 with one home run. He had a few more big league seasons with Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Boston.

Billy Nash was the one Richmonder who turned his Virginians opportunity into a career. A third baseman who played in 45 of Richmond’s games, Nash batted a meager .199 but was a pretty serviceable fielder. And, speedy. He spent the next 14 seasons with the Boston Beaneaters, Boston Reds, and Philadelphia Phillies. He ended his career with a .275 batting average and 269 stolen bases.

Jim Powell played first base in 41 of Richmond’s games, with a .245 batting average. He played for the Philadelphia A’s in 1885.

Billy Nash

With the exception of Nash, there’s not a lot of there, there.

Richmond had it tough. Players didn’t want to play there. The other big league teams played them grudgingly. The thousands of fans that turned out at the early games started to dwindle.

And, the costs of sending the team by train to so many far-flung Northern cities about broke the club.

They ended their abbreviated major league season 12-30. (Four games ended in a tie which usually meant the game was called due to darkness.)

But hey, they won 12 games, the same as the Washington Nationals did, and lost far fewer. So, while they were still pretty crummy, they weren’t as crummy as the team they replaced.

Richmond wasn’t good enough – or rich enough – to stay in the majors, and in 1885 they slipped quietly back into the Eastern League. (I guess the Eastern League “un-expelled” them.)

Thirty-five major league players, including those four 1884 Virginians, called Richmond their birthplace, by far the largest concentration of big leaguers in Virginia. One additional Richmond-born player never had the opportunity to play in the majors, but was one of the greatest to play in the Negro Leagues and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. We will get to him, and maybe a few others, in a future post.

Five are currently active, including Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jackie Bradley, Junior, one of the best players in the game today …

Check out that catch.

Today, Richmond is home to the Flying Squirrels, a AA farm club of the San Francisco Giants.

And, yes, that might have been me you heard guest announcing for a brief time during a Squirrels game last month. (Just as I was getting into the groove, my inning – and sports announcing career – was over.)

Richmond still grapples with its past – it is a strange mish-mash of both diversity and funky neighborhoods and an uncomfortable history deeply tied to the Confederacy.

It is J.E.B. Stuart at one end of Monument Avenue and Arthur Ashe at the other.

Richmond still hasn’t figured out what to do about its past.

But, just for the record, I can tell you this. Its past includes baseball. And, for 10 weeks in 1884, Richmond had a big league team.

Sources: I’m indebted to the research of Robert Gudmestad in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Summer 1998), Scott P. Mayer and his Master’s Theses The First Fifty Years of Professional Baseball in Richmond (2001), W. Harrison Daniel and Mayer’s book Baseball and Richmond (2003), and the continuing coverage of baseball and its history in the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

And, I’m grateful to the Richmond Dispatch editors who, in 1884, generally put all the baseball box scores on the front page in the second column from the right. (Trust me, continuity was not a thing in 19th-century newspapers, and box scores were buried all over the place back then. Thank you, Richmond Dispatch.)

Read Part 1 — 1884: Those Other Washington Nationals here.

Read more from my Virginia-Born Baseball Project here.

Photos: Richmond, Virginia. July 2018. © The Baseball Bloggess

5 thoughts on “1884: Richmond Joins The Major Leagues

  1. Now I know why you “inconspicuously” took those photos of Confederate monuments in Richmond. And why you said to remember the number 12. Baseball sure has a long history with surprising twists. Thank you for telling us these fascinating stories.

  2. Pingback: 1884: Those Other Washington Nationals | The Baseball Bloggess

    • It was the PA announcing “Now batting …” gig. I gave myself props for using Nolan Arenado as the basis for correctly pronouncing Flying Squirrels’ Jonah Arenado’s name during his AB. (I later discovered that Nolan and Jonah are brothers … so I gave myself a nice pat on the back for that one.) I was so nervous about getting names right — and making sure the right player was on the on-deck circle — that I couldn’t even enjoy the inning. It was fun, but back to the bleachers for me!

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