Baseball History: Remembering the New York Mutuals

Four years before the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, the first baseball convention was held. This 1857 conventions established the rules and guidelines which would eventually lead to the formation of the first professional league, known as the National Association of Base Ball Players. This league, which began playing ball in 1871, included teams such as the Brooklyn Eckfords, the New York Knickerbockers, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Chicago White Stockings, and the New York Mutuals.

While many of these teams soon faded into obscurity after the demise of the National Association of Bass Ball Players, the New York Mutuals, along with seven other clubs, became charter members of a new professional league, which became known as the National League in 1876. Sadly, the New York Mutuals only lasted for one season the National League, finishing the 1876 season in sixth place.

The team’s demise was largely due to financial hardship. Unable to afford the cost of travel, the club was unable to finish its season and had to forfeit the remainder of their games. The New York Mutuals were thus expelled from the league, effectively putting an end to their 19-year existence as a major league ball club.

Today, the Mutuals are known as one of the charter teams of the National League, which now includes teams such as the Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies. While the players who donned the Mutuals uniform are all but forgotten to modern-day baseball fans, some of their names are worth remembering. Here are a few of the team’s star players:

– Lip Pike (outfielder). Considered by many to be the first “professional” baseball player, Pike was also the first Jewish baseball star. In his days as a New York Mutual, he was the equivalent of Barry Bonds in his prime- a feared power-hitter who displayed blazing speed on the basepaths. Pike was considered to be one of the fastest runners of his era, and in 1873 he actually won a highly-publicized 100-yard race against a horse. Lip Pike finished his career with a batting average of .321, winning four home run titles along the way. Although Pike’s career numbers seem rather unimpressive (20 home runs, 638 hits), it is important to remember that he played in an era when a “full” season consisted of only 70-100 games.

– Joe Start (first baseman). Start is the Mutuals all-time record holder for hits, runs, home runs, doubles, and RBIs. He retired in 1886 with 1417 hits, 544 RBIs, 852 runs, and a .299 batting average. Start racked up seven seasons in which he batted .300 or higher. Like many players of his era, he rarely played more than 100 games in a season. By today’s 162-game season standard, he would’ve averaged 215 hits per season.

– Bobby Mathews (pitcher). Despite being small in size (5’5″, 140 pounds), Mathews was the first pitching superstar in baseball. He played 16 seasons of pro ball, compiling a career record of 297-248, with 1366 strikeouts, 525 complete games, and an ERA of 2.89. He ranks 24th in all-time pitching wins. His best season was in 1874 with the Mutuals, when he compiled a record of 44-22, with an ERA of 1.90.

Although none of these players are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, their accomplishments and contributions to the game are worth remembering. These players were in their prime before legends like Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth were even born, making them the “founding fathers” of the game which has become the Great American Pastime.

(Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, BaseballLibrary.com)