It’s baseball history: The Dodgers playing in the World Series for the second straight year.
Not the Los Angeles Dodgers of 2018. These Dodgers played in Brooklyn in 1890. Technically, they weren’t called the Dodgers yet, but the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
The storied franchise had gotten its start just a few years earlier, in 1883, when real estate magnate Charles Byrne and three partners started a minor league baseball team in Brooklyn, then the nation’s fourth-largest city. They built a baseball park that opened about the same time as the Brooklyn Bridge. On opening day, Byrne hired a young bookkeeper named Charles Ebbets.
The next year the team joined the majors as part of the American Association. But the upstart Brooklyn team lagged far behind the perennial pennant winner the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals). The Browns were led by hard-nosed player-manager Charles Comiskey, who sometimes got his players’ attention by punching them in the face.
Today, after 60 years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers are making another back-to-back appearance in the World Series ... but it all started back in Brooklyn.
Byrne finally decided to hire a veteran baseball man to manage the Brooklyn boys. He picked William “Gunner” McGunnigle, an innovative minor league manager who’d invented the catcher’s mitt back when he was a full-time player. He also acquired several of St. Louis’ star players, including pitcher “Parisian” Bob Caruthers. Before the next season in 1888, several players — including Caruthers — got married and sportswriters started calling the team the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
The Bridegrooms still lost out to St. Louis that season. McGunnigle vowed that if the team didn’t win the pennant the next season he would “make a headlong plunge” from the Brooklyn Bridge. But Caruthers came through, winning 40 games in 1889. Brooklyn captured its first major league pennant, edging out St. Louis on the final day of the season.
Brooklyn played its first “World’s Series” against the National League champs, the New York Giants. The powerful Giants were led by six future Hall of Fame players, including second baseman John Montgomery Ward. Brooklyn went up 3 to 1 in the series, but the Giants came back to win five straight to take the best-of-11 series.
In 1890, Byrne — now one of baseball’s most respected owners — moved his team into the National League. Brooklyn roared to its first National League pennant as outfielder Thomas “Oyster” Burns led the league in home runs with 13. The Bridegrooms faced the Louisville Colonels, the American Association pennant winner, for the championship.
Except that it didn’t quite work out. Brooklyn won the first two games, but the third ended in a tie when the sun went down in the eighth inning. Brooklyn and Louisville split the next four games so that they ended up with three wins apiece and a tie game. By late October the weather was wet and cold and the fans were losing interest. By some reports only 300 people went to Game 7. A tie-breaking game never happened.
Even without a championship win, McGunnigle did become the only manager in baseball history to win two straight pennants in two different major leagues. Yet Brooklyn dumped him the next season to hire player-manager Ward.
It was another five years before the sportswriters came up with a new informal team nickname, the Trolley Dodgers, a reference to the electric trolley cars that were rapidly replacing horse-drawn carriages in Brooklyn. In 1932 the team officially adopted the name. Meantime, onetime bookkeeper Charles Ebbets had taken over the franchise and in 1912 built Ebbets Field — the stadium that would become a baseball shrine in the 1950s era of Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese.
Today, after 60 years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers are making another back-to-back appearance in the World Series, this time against the Boston Red Sox. But it all started back in Brooklyn with the likes of Bob Caruthers, Oyster Burns and Gunner McGunnigle, who still has the highest winning percentage of any manager in Dodgers franchise history.
Ronald G. Shafer is the author of “When The Dodgers Were Bridegrooms: Gunner McGunnigle and Brooklyn’s First Back-to-Back Pennants in 1889 and 1890.”