There was a time in baseball history when the National League reigned supreme. The National League has always been referred to as the senior circuit and a lot of that has to do with the fact that NL baseball can be traced back to 1876. The American League formed in 1901, but before that, there was the American Association that lasted from 1882-1891 and the Players League which only funded itself to last the 1890 season.
To provide a little backdrop for the 1894 season, please let me describe professional baseball at that time. While baseball had earned its stripe as "America's Pastime," the National League had grown into an empire. During this time, the league ran unopposed- in other words, there was no other Major League at the moment. The beforementioned American Association disbanded in 1891 and even though there was talk of organization, nothing had materialized to this point. The National League consisted of twelve teams. The following eight are all still active in the current National League- Boston Beaneaters, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Colts, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Browns, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants, and Brooklyn Grooms. Boston is now the Atlanta Braves, the Colts are now the Cubs, the Browns are now the Cardinals, the Giants are now in San Francisco, and the Brooklyn Grooms are now the Los Angeles Dodgers. The other four teams would be contracted after the 1899 season- Baltimore Orioles, Washington Senators, Cleveland Spiders, and Louisville Colonels. Three of the four contracted cities would get new teams in the American League, which played its first season in 1901.
The National League of 1894 had a 130 game season and the Baltimore Orioles won the Pennant with a 89-39 record. Teams played as many as 132 games and as little as 128. The Louisville Colonels finished at the bottom of the league with a record of 36-94. While six teams finished with winning records and six with losing seasons, every team except for the Colonels had a winning record at home. Conversely, only the League Champion Orioles and New York Giants finished with winning records on the road.
Many times, 1968 is referred to as the year of the pitcher. 1894 was the year of the hitter. Or maybe, the year of the bad pitcher. The collective batting average of the NL in 1894 was .309 and the cumulative earned run average for the league was 5.33. The ERA number is a little misleading though. There were a total of just over 13,381 innings pitched for the entire season. There were a total of 11,796 runs scored, even though just 8187 of them were earned. That would result in a run average of 7.93. That was right on par with the 7.38 runs averaged per game, per game.
Another baffling instance was the amount of stolen bases that season. The twelve teams stole a total of 3148 bases during the 1894 season. The same twelve teams struck out a total of 3333 times. Compare that to the National League during the season of 2019, when its 15 teams stole a total of 1133 bases but struck out a total of 21,048 times! "Sliding" Billy Hamilton of the Phillies led the league with 100 stolen bases. Tom Brown of the Colonels led the league with 76 strikeouts. No other NL player struck out more than 43 times.
Two teams stood out as the NL batted a collective .309. The Philadelphia Phillies hit .350 as a team and had four of the top five in the NL batting champion race. Even though Hugh Duffy of the Braves won the NL Batting title with a .440 batting average, the four Phillies are part of something we will never, ever, see again. Outfielders Sam Thompson (.415), Ed Delahanty (.405), and the before mentioned Hamilton (.403) all hit over .400. Back up outfielder Tuck Turner qualified for the batting title due to his 382 plate appearances. He actually finished second in the NL with his .418 batting average. That means five players, four from the same team (and the same outfield) all batted over .400. Hamilton also led the league with 198 runs scored, a MLB record that stands to this day. Unfortunately, the Phillies finished in fourth place.
Home runs were not yet a big thing- Duffy of the Braves led the league with 18. However, a total of nine players had 20 or more triples, led by Baltimore Orioles second baseman Heinie Reitz with 31. Speaking of the Orioles, they hit .343 as a team and their entire lineup hit over .300. Outside of Reitz, every regular Orioles player hit at least .335.
While it was clearly the year of the hitter, not every pitcher had poor results. Yes, batters hit .309 collectively for the season and pitchers not only had an ERA of 5.33, but a run average of 7.93. There was one qualified starting pitcher who managed to finish the season with an ERA under 3.70. Amos Rusie went 36-13 with a 2.78 ERA and led the league with 1.41 walks and hits per inning pitched. His 195 strikeouts led the league, but so did his 200 walks. In spite of his 188 ERA plus, which adjusted his ERA according to the variance of the ballpark, he did give up another 91 unearned runs.
The last thing worth mentioning about this season is the unbelievable amount of Hall of Famers that played (and managed) in the National League in 1894. Not to mention three players whose accomplishments may have been overlooked by the Baseball Hall of Fame- George Van Haltren, Bill Dahlen, and Dummy Hoy. I can also make a fair case for Kid Gleason and Pete Browning. The Orioles alone had seven Hall of Famers- manager Ned Hanlon, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Joe Kelley, Hughie Jennings, Willie Keeler, and Dan Brouthers. Other Hall of Famers include manager Frank Selee (Bos), Duffy (Bos), Tommy McCarthy (Bos), Kid Nichols (Bos), Cap Anson (Chi), Clark Griffith (Chi), Charlie Comiskey (Cin), Cy Young (Cle), John Clarkson (Cle), Jesse Burkett (Cle), Buck Ewing (Cle), Bobby Wallace (Cle), Fred Clarke (Lou), Rusie (NY), Roger Connor (NY/ SL), George Davis (NY), John Montgomery Ward (NY), Thompson (Phil), Hamilton (Phil), Delahanty (Phil), Jake Beckley (Pit), and Connie Mack (Pit). That is 29 Hall of Fame players, managers, and pioneers that changed the game forever!
If I was to pick a season to simply embrace the history of, it would be difficult to top 1894. It is incredible to absorb some of the events and occurrences of this season. Of course, the game was played differently than it is now. The fielders used the equivalent of dish rags for gloves, resulting in the record amount of errors committed. At least for one person, this was a fun season to recap. It is unfortunate many baseball fans try to forget about baseball before the live ball era. Yes, the game is different now, but the 29 Hall of Famers did not just earn a participation trophy. The game of then has made the game we witness in the day we are fortunate to live in. Here is my own version of the 1894 National League baseball season epilogue-
NL Pennant winning team- Baltimore Orioles
Most Valuable Player (Unofficial)- Hugh Duffy (Bos)
Cy Young (I know the pitcher the award is named after is only in his fifth season)- Amos Rusie (NY)
Rookie of the Year- Fred Clarke (Bos)
Rolaids Relief Man of the Year (LOL)
Cast Iron or Rock Glove Award Winners (Award for Fielding Futility)-
Charlie Irwin (Chi)- 91 errors
Bones Ely (SL)- 81 errors
Tommy Corcoran (Brk)- 76 errors
Bill Dahlen (Chi)- 75 errors
Germany Smith (Cin)- 74 errors
Paul Radford (Was)- 73 errors
Shorty Fuller (NY)- 73 errors