PRE-SALE: SLATED FOR RELEASE DECEMBER 2021
The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys hold the worst record in Pittsburgh Pirates franchise history. Yet, prior to the season their owner, J. Palmer O’Neil proclaimed that this would be the best team in Pirates history. It was that unfortunate quote that sent John Dreker down the rabbit hole of historical coverage of this team, finding stories that you wouldn’t ever hear about in today’s game.
The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Worst Team in Pittsburgh Pirates History is slated for release in December 2021. Tim Williams and John Dreker sat down recently for a quick Q&A to preview the upcoming release of the book.
Tim Williams: Aside from the obvious worst record, what drew you to wanting to write about this team?
John Dreker: The amount of obscure players that they had for the club, using 30 rookies that season, and they all had a story to tell. I found many discrepancies over the years, with stats and stories, and wanted to get everything I already knew into one place, while also looking to see what else I could find that I didn’t know. There was a lot once I started going day-to-day, reading every local paper from the time, as well as numerous outside sources.
TW: Why do this? Why torment a fan base that has mostly known losing for the last three decades with a book about the worst losing team in history?
JD: I don’t think tormenting anyone really played in my mind, but it was clearly a low point in franchise history and they bounced back from it nicely over the years. If anything it shows how bad things really got at one point and it happened 11 years before they went on a three-year run of National League pennants, including the best team in franchise history.
Tim’s Cat: 3422222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222′.
JD: They didn’t quite give up that many runs, but it was a lot.
JD: Doggie Miller was just a nickname, not an actual dog.
TW: I feel like we celebrate champions for the obvious reason that they are so good. We lament losing teams for the same reasons. But once we’re removed from the losing, there tend to be more entertaining stories surrounding the worst teams. What was your favorite story from this team?
JD: There are so many great stories from that year, but probably the most entertaining one looking back on it was the owner claiming in the local papers that he believed this was the best team that he had put together in their brief franchise history. The team was so bad that at the end of the year at the National League meetings, they gave them a huge banner with 114 stars, one for each loss they suffered during the season, and owner J. Palmer O’Neil proudly accepted that flag and displayed it for a time for all to see.
TW: It’s safe to say that was their day’s version of “The Best Management Team in All of Baseball…”
JD: While O’Neil gets no credit now because of that record, the fact that he kept the team going and then helped put the Player’s League out of business after one year, has helped the National League stay in existence since 1876. It might not be around still if not for what he did to help keep the team afloat, making deals for them to play most of their games on the road, where they actually made more money than at home games. Despite piecing together a team, there were still instances of him spending money to try to improve a last place team late in the season.
TW: What’s the next project you’re working on?
JD: It involves going back an entire year to the 1889 season. I just started writing the beginning of it this week, but the outline has been in place for a year or so, and I’ve been collecting notes. It involves the Johnstown Flood and how it possibly changed the course of four young pitchers who were with the Alleghenys at the time. This one is a bit more specific to a small time-frame from the season (most of it takes place within one month). It’s a fascinating story of getting a chance in the majors that is interwoven within a real tragedy that takes place at the same time not far away. The four players are the main story, but there will be info on the rest of the 1889 team and the famous flood, which directly affects them.
TW: Anything else you want to add?
JD: I think people who have no real clue about the 1890 team are still going to enjoy this because there are so many interesting things that happen during the years that you just won’t see happen now. There was a guy who hit the ball over the fence, but he decided to stop at third base and there was an actual explainable reason behind it. A pitcher for the Alleghenys was the second of three pitchers used that day and he recorded all 27 outs of a nine-inning game. I don’t want to give away too much, but there were countless odd situations that popped up throughout the season that make this book so interesting for everyone.
The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Worst Team in Pittsburgh Pirates History is slated for release in December 2021. An exact date will be given once we receive one from the printer.