Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1947 . . .
Before Luis Castro played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 . . .
There was a team that had both an African-American and Hispanic player and a pitcher whose record was 59-12 that year alone.
That team was the Providence Grays whose major league existence as limited to 1877-1885 in the National League. During that period, the team won two pennants and won the first post-season matchup between the American League and National League by sweeping the New York Mets 3-0.
On January 21, 1878, Providence applied for membership in the NL, and was officially approved on February 6.
On April 10, Root took over ownership of the team, fired Douglas for incompetence and insubordination, and hired Tom York to replace Carey as captain.
On May 30, the Providence Base Ball Association was incorporated by the Rhode Island General Assembly.
While the team practiced at the Dexter Training Ground in the spring of 1878, preparations were made to provide them with “the best baseball plant in the country”. Construction on the Messer Street Grounds began on April 1 and took exactly one month to complete; the final nail was hammered a mere five minutes before the opening game got underway on May 1.
In a break with tradition, the National League’s newest addition adopted gray flannel instead of white for their home uniform and the team became known as the ‘Grays’.
One of the leading players from the 1879 pennant winner was Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward.
The team had a putative claim to being the first Major League Baseball team to field an African-American baseball player, William Edward White, a Brown University student who played one game for the Grays on June 21, 1879. Evidence is strong but not conclusive: Peter Morris of the Society for American Baseball Research has researched this issue, as reported by the Wall Street Journal on January 30, 2004. However, it has been acknowledged that White, who had at least one Negro ancestor, lived his life as a white man, and his race sparked no controversy when he was hired by Providence. Brothers Dan and Cliff Falk, who were both starting pitchers on the club during the 1883 season, may also have been of partial Negro ancestry.
The 1884 team was led by ace pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn (sometimes spelled Radbourne), who won a record 60 (59, according to some sources) games that year and led the Grays to the pennant. When the team’s other star pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, defected to the rival Union Association league in July, it looked like the Grays’ season was doomed, but “Old Hoss” offered to pitch the rest of the team’s games. The Grays went on a 20-game winning streak and topped the league ahead of their ferocious New England rivals, the Boston Red Stockings.
At the close of the season Providence officials accepted New York Metropolitans” (AA) manager Jim Mutrie’s challenge to a three game postseason match. All of the games took place at the Polo Grounds in New York and were played under American Association rules, which forbade overhand pitching.
On October 23, 1884, the Providence Grays (NL) whitewash the New York Metropolitans (AA), 6–0, behind Radbourn, in what is considered to be the first official postseason interleague game. Radbourn would allow two hits and strikeout nine. Tim Keefe is the loser.
The very next day, Radbourn three hits the Metropolitans and wins 3–1 in a game called after seven innings due to darkness. Grays third baseman Jerry Denny hits a three-run homer in the fifth inning. It is the first homerun in World Series history. Tim Keefe loses for the second time.
On October 25, 1884 the Providence Grays defeat the New York Metropolitans, 11–2, in the final game of the series. Radbourn wins for the third time in three days. Buck Becannon takes the loss as Tim Keefe, New York Metropolitans losing pitcher in games 1 and 2, umpired the contest.
Although post-season games prior to 1903 were considered exhibitions, the 1884 World Series is recognized today as the first inter-league postseason championship.
This would be Providence’s last appearance in a National League final. Due to financial problems, the team folded in 1885.
Other memorable highlights of the Grays’ short existence include a no-hitter by Radbourn on July 25, 1883, the second perfect game in MLB history, pitched by John Montgomery Ward on June 17, 1880, and pitcher Charlie Sweeney striking out 19 batters in a nine-inning game on June 7, 1884, a record that would stand until broken by Roger Clemens 102 years later. They also still hold the record for the largest score in a shutout victory, with a 28-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on the 21st of August, 1883.
|1879||59-25||.702||Won National League Pennant|
|1884||84-28||.750||Won National League Pennant|