BallNine Editor-In-Chief Chris Vitali better be up on his gas card payments because we’re firing up the BallNine Time Machine as we head all the way back to 1871. We’re in search of the franchise that has played professional baseball for the longest continuous period of time ever.
The Civil War had ended just six years prior, Ulysses S. Grant was president, only six planets had been discovered and Cy Young was just four years old. It was a glorious time.
The Chicago Cubs franchise started play in 1870, but they had to take two years off as the city recovered from the Great Chicago Fire, so the title of longest running uninterrupted professional baseball franchise falls to the current Atlanta Braves.
That’s right, the Braves are older than Babe Ruth, the automobile and 13 American states.
The Braves started play in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings and went through different iterations as the Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves and Rustlers before landing on the Braves. There was a five-year period when they were known as the Boston Bees, but it was their long-standing status as the Boston National League Franchise that was notable. The end of their relationship with the city of Boston is what lands the franchise in this week’s installment of The Stud 400.
The Braves were in Boston for 82 years which spanned two World Wars. That all came to an end in 1953 when they packed their bags for Milwaukee. Their post-war attendance boom waned and while their National League pennant winning season of 1948 helped, the charm wore off fast. Attendance dropped from 1.4 million in 1948 to a measly 282,000 just four seasons later. The relocation to a single-franchise city sent attendance numbers skyward, as the Braves saw an increase to 1.8 million fans in just one season. The team topped two million fans each of the next four seasons as memories of the Boston Braves faded into Cousin Tommy’s clam chowder.
The Braves only spent 13 seasons in Milwaukee, winning the 1957 World Series and birthing Hank Aaron in the process. However, the team was sold in 1966 and shipped to Atlanta where they have remained for 56 years. They’ll need to stay there another 27 years to surpass Boston as the franchise’s longest-tenured home.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
285. Steve Olin and Tim Crews boat crash (1993)
284. First MLB game broadcast on radio (1921)
283. Reds fans stuff All-Star Game ballot box (1957)
282. Tom Gamboa attacked while coaching first (2002)
281. MLB begins Field of Dreams Series (2021)
And now, here’s Episode XXV of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Frankie Frisch traded for Rogers Hornsby (1926)
Swapping a headache for a headache is nothing new in baseball. You can even find trades of this nature in baseball going back 100 years. In 1926, there were few stars in the National League as big as Rogers Hornsby. By his age 30 season, he had won the Triple Crown twice, captured six batting titles and had a .359 career batting average with a .997 OPS. He had also just led the Cardinals to a World Series title over Babe Ruth and the Yankees as the team’s player-manager. The man wanted to be paid, and rightly so. Hornsby asked for a three-year contract at $50,000 per year while owner Sam Breadon offered just one year at that rate. With the two sides at an impasse, Breadon decided to trade the immortal Hornsby.
What type of return could someone get for quite simply one of the best players to play the game? Fellow Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch, who had fallen out of favor with the Giants. Frisch had won two World Series with the Giants early in his career, but his relationship with John McGraw had soured. The Cardinals clearly won the deal as Hornsby played just one season in New York before they flipped him to the Boston Braves. Frisch would go on to become the catalyst of the Gashouse Gang, leading the Cards to four World Series in his 11 years in St. Louis, winning two.
Dwight Gooden’s 1985 season (1985)
We’ve seen athletes light the world on fire plenty of times, but few have done so at such a young age and with the sheer dominance of Dwight Gooden in 1985. We’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves. Doc went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. He led the league with 16 complete games, 276 innings pitched and 268 strikeouts and hurled 8 shutouts. He went 49 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run and he had 33 quality starts in 35 tries. He was the unanimous Cy Young Award winner and became the first pitcher to accrue at least 12.2 WAR since Walter Johnson in 1913. The life he breathed into New York City and the way he commanded Shea Stadium in 1985 cannot be quantified. Perhaps the most incredible part is that he accomplished all of this and didn’t even turn 21 until after the season.
Lefty Grove’s 300th win (1941)
Coming into the 1941 season, there was no denying that Grove was one of the greatest pitchers in the game’s history. Aside from the ghosts of the game’s Dead Ball Era, Grove really had no peers. He was entering his age 41 season and the only thing left for him to accomplish was reaching the magical milestone of 300 wins. Entering the season with 293 wins, Grove had a solid Red Sox team behind him as he sought to become the sixth modern pitcher to reach the mark. Grove had five wins through the end of June and then won his final start before the All-Star break to give him 299 wins going into the second half. After two failed attempts, including one where he pitched into the 10th inning before being walked off on a dropped fly ball, Grove finally turned the trick on July 25 against the Indians. It wasn’t his best performance, as he gave up six runs on 12 hits in a complete game, but the Red Sox scored four in the eighth and Grove retired the side in order in the ninth for the hard-fought win. Grove would make six more starts that season but did not pick up another win. The iconic lefty retired at the end of the season with 300 wins on the nose.
Jimmie Foxx’s lost home runs (1932)
This season, the baseball world was captivated as Aaron Judge chased Roger Maris, Babe Ruth and that mythical threshold of 60 (clean) home runs. A similar chase occurred 90 years ago this season when Foxx presented the first real challenge to the Babe, who socked 60 in 1927. According to the official record books, Double X fell two home runs short in 1932—or did he? In 1980, Glenn Dickey claimed in his book The History of the American League that Foxx lost three home runs that were hit into a screen that was erected in Sportsman’s Park in right field to create a faux “green monster” because of the short distance in right. However, there were other accounts that Foxx may have lost up to 12 home runs into the screen that season. Foxx himself claimed that he lost about seven home runs and at times, the number also appeared to be four. Clearly, any of those numbers would have given Foxx the home run record over Ruth. In 2013, Robert Schaefer completed more extensive research and was able to document all 11 of the games Foxx played at Sportsman’s Park in 1932. He found that he hit just one ball into the screen and batted a paltry .225 at the park that season. Foxx’s lost home runs of 1932 are a fine tall tale from the game’s early days, but that’s exactly what they are—a tall tale.
Boston Braves move to Milwaukee (1953)
In 1912, there were eight teams in each league with five cities having representatives in both the National and American League. The Boston National League franchise was going into its first season as the Braves after being known as the Rustlers the previous season. Aside from a five-year period where they attempted to rebrand as the Bees, the Boston Braves were a National League stalwart and rival of the Red Sox for 40 years. Due to abysmal play on the field and a 1952 season that saw the total attendance plummet to 282,000 for the entire season, the Braves packed their bags and moved to Milwaukee just before the start of the 1953 season. The Braves had played continuously in Boston since 1871 before ending the 82-year relationship with the city. The franchise’s Boston roots date back to the days of Harry Wright (born in 1835) and Al Spalding and featured everyone from Babe Ruth to Old Hoss Radbourn, but even that long history couldn’t save them. The Braves stayed in Milwaukee through the 1965 season before hitchhiking to for Atlanta where they have remained since the 1966 season.
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Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 when we revisit one of the all-time media meltdowns by a manager, celebrate a Hall of Famer who played much of his career with a serious health problem and check in with one of baseball’s biggest villains of the early 2000s. Eighty five percent of the world is working. The other 15 read The Stud 400.