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The Brooklyn Superbas of Washington Park (1898-1912)

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  • The Brooklyn Superbas of Washington Park (1898-1912)

    The Brooklyn Base Ball Club of the National League began play in Washington Park at the start of the 1898 season. This ballpark was located in the neighborhood known as South Brooklyn, and was bounded by 1st and 3rd Streets and 3rd and 4th Avenues. The capacity was 18,800, and had dimensions of 335’ (LF), 500’ (LCF), 445’ (CF), 300’ (RCF), and 215’ (RF) during that first season. In 1899 the right field fence was pushed back to 295’. In 1908, the dimensions were changed to 376’ (LF), 443’ (LCF), 425’ (CF), 300’ (RCF), and 302’ (RF). The backstop was 90’ behind home plate from 1898 through 1907 and 15’ behind after the 1908 renovations. The fences were 12’ high from left field through center field, and 13’ high in right field with a 29’ canvas attached that made a 42’ barrier to home runs. Despite this impediment, three different left-handed batters led the National League in home runs during the seasons that the Brooklyn club played in this location (Jimmy Sheckard, 1903; Harry Lumley, 1904; Tim Jordan, 1906 and 1908).

    Washington Park 4.pngWashington Park 1911.jpg
    Last edited by RUKen; 01-05-2015, 05:34 AM.

  • #2
    The club was often called the Bridegrooms by the press in 1898, an alliterative nickname that had stuck since 1888 when several of the players were newly married. An alternate nickname was the Dodgers, shortened from Trolley Dodgers, which was a term applied to the residents of Brooklyn where trolley lines proliferated. (Eastern Park, the Dodgers’ home prior to Washington Park, was particularly enmeshed by trolley lines.) The Bridegrooms finished in 10th place (of 12 teams) that year, but their fortunes were about to change. Charlie Ebbets had become team president (and was co-owner with Gus Abell), and he also managed the team for the last 104 games of the 1898 season. In February of 1899, Ned Hanlon and Harry von der Horst, owners of the Baltimore Orioles, swapped stock with Ebbets and Abell, making the four men co-owners of two teams. (Several other pairs of NL clubs were similarly owned.) Controlling interest in both clubs was retained by von der Horst. Hanlon had also been manager of the Orioles, but he switched to the Brooklyn team for 1899, and brought with him hitters Dan McGann, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, and Willie Keeler, and pitchers Jim Hughes, Doc McJames, and Al Maul. The press rechristened the team Hanlon’s Superbas, because coincidentally a stage show entitled Superba produced by the Hanlon Brothers (unrelated to Ned) was on a successful run in New York City. Under the leadership of Ned Hanlon, and with a roster bolstered by transfers from the three-time NL champion Baltimore Orioles (and also highly-regarded shortstop Bill Dahlen from the Chicago Colts), the Superbas won the National League championship in 1899. Prior to the 1900 season, the league eliminated four teams, including the Baltimore Orioles. The Superbas then won a second league championship, and participated in a post-season, best-of-5 series with the second-place Pittsburg Pirates sponsored by the Chronicle-Telegraph of Pittsburg (the ‘h’ in Pittsburgh had been dropped after a decision by the United States Board on Geographic Names). With all of the games played in Pittsburg, and the Superbas managed by Joe Kelley because Ned Hanlon had returned to Baltimore to take care of business interests, Brooklyn won three out of four.

    Washington Park 1899.png
    Last edited by RUKen; 06-24-2013, 09:55 AM.


    • #3
      The Superbas finished in third place in 1901 and in second place in 1902, as they began to lose players to the American League. By 1903, essentially none of the players who had come from the Orioles prior to 1899 were still with the team, and that season they finished in fifth place. (Jimmy Sheckard had begun his career with Brooklyn in 1897 and 1898, played one season for Baltimore in 1899, and then returned to Brooklyn. Hughie Jennings played six games for Brooklyn in 1903, but injuries had made him ineffective at the major league level.) The decline continued with a losing record and a sixth place finish in 1904, and then things got interesting.

      Washington Park 2.pngWashington Park 3.png
      Last edited by RUKen; 06-24-2013, 09:59 AM.


      • #4
        The April 1st, 1905, edition of Sporting Life reported that controlling interest of the Brooklyn club had been bought from Harry von der Vorst by Charlie Ebbets and Henry Medicus (also a resident of Brooklyn), and also included the following: “MANAGER HANLON has signed a Brooklyn contract that will expire on October 15, for a salary of $9,000 and no reserve clause. It is understood that Hanlon will not manage the Brooklyns after this year. Hanlon, in a signed statement, reiterates his charge of treachery of Mr. Vonderhorst. He claims that he loaned money to Vonderhorst with an agreement that if Vonderhorst ever desired to sell outright Hanlon would receive the first chance to buy. Hanlon further declares that Vonderhorst, after redeeming his stock, broke the alleged agreement between them by selling out to Ebbets and Medicus so quietly that Hanlon knew nothing of the deal until he saw it in the newspapers. In this way Hanlon says that he was left at the mercy of Ebbets and Medicus, and was compelled to accept a reduction in salary because all of the other managerial berths had been filled.”

        Washington Park 1908.png

        On April 8th, Sporting Life reported: “ALLEGED SCHEMES. It leaked out yesterday that (Clark) Griffith and Hanlon went to C. H. Ebbets some weeks ago and tried to buy F. A. Abell’s stock in the Brooklyn Club. Ebbets didn’t like the looks of things, so hurriedly bought out H. R. Vonderhorst’s stock in the club and proceeded to cut Hanlon’s salary down. This move on the part of Griffith and Hanlon was in line with a scheme to organize another major league with Buffalo, Brooklyn, Baltimore and Washington in the East, George Tebeau supplying four cities from his American Association in the West.”
        Last edited by RUKen; 06-24-2013, 09:57 AM. Reason: Inserted a newly found photo of Washington Park


        • #5
          The Baltimore rumors flared up again later in the year. As the team was on its way to a last-place finish, the September 13th edition of Sporting Life reported: “THE LATEST YARN Is That Baltimore Will Supplant Brooklyn in the Old League. It was stated on high authority yesterday that the way had been prepared for the switching of Baltimore into the circuit of the National League, to fill a vacancy to be made by the exit of the Brooklyn team. By this arrangement Greater New York would have but one representative in the National League the big team managed by John J. McGraw. It was announced from Cincinnati on Friday that Edward Hanlon, manager of the Brooklyn team, had purchased Fred D. Burchell, Hugh Jennings, J. T. Jordan, J. W. Byers and J. H..McNeil. …This action of Mr. Hanlon is considered as indicating his plan to band together a set of players worthy of representing Baltimore in the National League. Baseball prophets point out that the playing fiasco of the Brooklyn team this season, either by accident or design, is well calculated to make easy the exit of the Brooklyn team and the entry of Baltimore into the National circuit. …That the men at the fountain head of Baltimore base ball have laid, and are still laying, wires to bring about this movement, is the belief of those in touch with these men. Whether the plan will actually be attempted and the results will become known only at the next winter meeting of the controllers of the National game in this country.”

          On October 14th, Sporting Life reported that American League President Ban Johnson had said that he believed that Baltimore “would be awarded the Brooklyn franchise when the magnates decided upon a circuit for next season.”

          Washington Park 1909.png
          Last edited by RUKen; 06-24-2013, 09:58 AM.


          • #6
            Hanlon’s plan failed, however, because he could not gain controlling interest in the Brooklyn team. On February 17th, 1906, Sporting Life reported: “It is given out at headquarters that the story about Brooklyn being superseded by Baltimore next year is worth less than the price of a tallow dip. 'Baltimore can't break in,' said one of the Brooklyn owners, 'until we are ready to break out. When we are ready to quit there may be others in the city who will be willing to take up the fight where we leave off. The present management hasn't said that it is tired of its bargain. When that comes off it will be time to talk about a change in the National League circuit.'"

            It is interesting to contemplate how the major league baseball landscape would have changed had the Superbas relocated to Baltimore. The Browns would not have moved there in the early 1950’s, so perhaps they (or the Cardinals) would have moved to California instead…or maybe to Houston, which was another potential relocation that did not occur.

            Washington Park 6.jpgWashington Park postcard.jpg
            Last edited by RUKen; 08-15-2012, 06:56 AM.


            • #7
              Meanwhile, back on the field, the Superbas were managed by Patsy Donovan for the next three seasons, and finished fifth, fifth, and seventh. (Although Hanlon was no longer connected with the team, sportswriters continued to call them “the Superbas” interchangeably with “the Dodgers” for another decade.) Tim Jordan, one of the players mentioned as having been purchased by Ned Hanlon to play for the team, led the NL in home runs during his rookie season (1906) and again two years later. Donovan was replaced as manager for the 1909 season by outfielder Harry Lumley, and after a sixth-place finish Lumley was replaced by Bill Dahlen, who had been the shortstop on the turn-of-the-century champions but was returning as a mostly-bench manager. The Superbas finished in sixth place in 1910 and in seventh place the next two seasons.

              Washington Park 1912 opening day.jpgWashington Park 1912 opening day crowd.jpg


              • #8
                Charlie Ebbets had been buying land in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1908, and in 1912 began the construction of the ballpark that would be named after him. On April 5th, 1913, the Dodgers played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in Ebbets Field, and opened the regular season four games later against the Philadelphia Phillies. Washington Park was bought and renovated by the owners of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League in 1914, and the “BrookFeds” played their home games their during the two seasons that the Federal League operated. After the demise of that league, the ballpark was abandoned, and is now the site of a utility company that provides power to the surrounding area. An outfield wall that had been constructed during the Federal League renovation is all that remained of the old ballpark at the end of the twentieth century.

                Washington Park 1912 3.png


                • #9
                  Whereas team photographs are publicly available of the other top major league teams of the late nineteenth century, the only photos that I have found of the Brooklyn champions are two composites of the 1900 team. (I am hoping that someone who reads this far will be able to rectify this situation.) Similarly, photos of the individual players in uniform prior to 1902 are hard to come by (except for some low-resolution photos from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle beginning in 1900), and most of the available photos from 1902 through 1912 were taken when the team visited Chicago each year. Notable exceptions are the beautiful photos by Charles Conlon taken 1910-1912 of Tim Jordan, Bill Bergen, Nap Rucker, and Zack Wheat in their home uniforms.

                  Photos of the Brooklyn team from prior to 1898 are in the following thread:
                  Last edited by RUKen; 04-29-2014, 07:18 AM.


                  • #10
                    1898 Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers

                    1898 NL Brooklyn 2.jpg

                    1898 Brooklyn Pitchers
                    1898 Bill Kennedy.jpg1898 Ed Stein.jpg
                    Last edited by RUKen; 03-03-2013, 01:50 PM.


                    • #11
                      1898 Brooklyn Hitters

                      1898 Billy Shindle.jpg1898 Mike Griffin.jpg
                      Last edited by RUKen; 03-03-2013, 01:51 PM.


                      • #12
                        1899-1905 Superbas Manager Ned Hanlon

                        Manager Ned Hanlon.jpg


                        • #13
                          1899 Superbas

                          1899 Jim Hughes.jpg1899 Joe Kelley.jpg1899 Willie Keeler.jpgDahlen Bro.jpg
                          Last edited by RUKen; 10-13-2014, 08:56 AM.


                          • #14
                            1899 Superbas team composite (brown tint) and 1900 Superbas team composite (green tint)

                            1899 NL Brooklyn.jpg 1900 Brooklyn.jpg

                            1900 Dodger practice.jpg
                            Last edited by RUKen; 04-30-2013, 05:30 AM.


                            • #15
                              1901 Brooklyn Superbas
                              1901 NL Brooklyn.jpg

                              1901 Kitson Kennedy Hughes McCann.jpg1901 Kitson.jpg
                              1901 Kennedy.jpg1901 Daly Dahlen Kelley Sheckard.jpg
                              Last edited by RUKen; 05-01-2013, 06:56 AM.


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