1878: Rhode Island was an early hotbed for baseball talent, thanks in part to powerhouse teams at Brown University. A semipro team was founded in Providence in 1875 and had immediate success, with strong attendance. After the Hartford Club folded, the National League invited the Providence Grays to join. Before playing their first game the Grays, looked to be seriously disorganized, as General Manager Benjamin Douglas was fired for incompetence and insubordination by Owner Henry Root. The Grays would even change managers, than referred to as captain as Tom York replaced Tom Carey. Despite the launch problems, the Grays has a decent inaugural season, finishing in third place with a record of 33-27. Paul Hines was the leading hitting for Providence, batting .358 with four home runs and 50 RBI. Making his debut as a pitcher, John Montgomery Ward was the Grays star on the mound, posting a record of 22-13 with an ERA of 1.51.
1879: After ending their first season, by winning 8 of their last 12 games the Providence Grays carried over their strong finish in year two, winning the National League Pennant with a record of 59-25 five games better than the second place Boston Red Stockings. John Montgomery Ward had a dominating season on the mound, posting a record of 47-19 with an ERA of 2.15 with 230 strikeouts. Paul Hines again was the Grays leading hitter, batting .357 with two home runs and 52 RBI. Jim O’Rourke also had a fine season, batting .348 with 46 RBI, while Tom York hit .310 with 50 RBI. Some research in recent years has uncovered that the Providence Grays may have had the first appearance by an African American baseball player, as William Edward White appeared in a game on June 21st collecting one hit in four at bats and scoring a run. A 1920 census report lists a Walter E. White originally from Rhode Island listing his race as black. Little is else is known about White who was a student at Brown, and got the start at first base for an injured Joe Start and never played again.
1880: After capturing the pennant in their second season the Providence Grays had a tough act to follow. Unfortunately they were unable to maintain their successful hitting stats, as Tom Hines lost 50 points on his average, finishing the season with a .307 average with three home runs and 35 RBI. John Montgomery Ward again started on the mound, with a record of 39-24, with an ERA of 1.74 and 230 strikeouts. Despite another strong season from Ward, and George Bradley backing him up with a record of 13-8 a 1.38 ERA, the Grays only finished in second place with a record of 52-32. The highlight of the season came on June 17th at Messer Street Grounds as John Montgomery Ward pitched the second Perfect Game in Major League history a 5-0 whitewash of the Buffalo Bisons.
1881: Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn shared the pitching duties with Jon Montgomery Ward and posted a team best record of 25-11 with an ERA of 2.43, while Ward posted a record 18-18 with a 2.13 ERA as the Providence Grays again finished in second place with a record of 47-37. Tom York would lead the Gray in hitting .304 with two home runs and 47 RBI.
1882: Harry Wright, who managed the Cincinnati Red Stockings as the first professional baseball club takes over as manager of the Providence Grays. The move pays off as the Grays spend most of the season atop the National League, before suffering a three game sweep on the road against the Chicago White Stockings with first place on the line in September. The Grays would lose the pennant by three games, posting a record of 52-32. Old Hoss Radbourn emerged as the Grays top pitcher, posting a record of 33-20 with an ERA of 2.09 and 201 shutouts. In his final season with the Providence Grays, John Montgomery Ward went 19-12 with an ERA of 2.59. The Grays would sell John Montgomery Ward to the New York Gothams after the season, feeling his best years were behind him. On the mound they were right as arm trouble prevented Ward from pitching much in New York, but he would go on to become one of the National League’s top hitters. After the season ended, they played a three-game postseason series against the Boston Red Stockings for the “Championship of New England.” Providence won the series, two games to one, thanks to shutouts pitched by Ward and Radbourn.
1883: Once again the Providence Grays were one of the best teams in the National League, as they were in a four way fight for first place all season against the Boston Beaneaters, Chicago White Stocking and Cleveland Blues. The Grays would fall just short once again, finishing in third place five game short of the Beaneaters with a record of 58-40. Old Hoss Radbourn, dominated on the mound for Providence posting a record of 48-25 with an ERA of 2.05 and 315 strikeouts, which included a No Hitter against Cleveland on July 25th. Radbourn was also on the mound on August 28th, when the Grays slammed the Philadelphia Quakers in the biggest shutout in Major League history a 28-0 win at the Messer Street Grounds. One player of note that season was Shortstop Arthur Irwin, who broke his hand fielding a baseball. At the time only first basemen and catchers used gloves. Irwin would use an oversized buckskin driving glove, padded it and sewed the third and fourth fingers together to allow space for bandages so he could continue to play as he healed. After healing Arthur Irwin continued to use a glove as nearly every other player in baseball began using the same design, ending the period of barehanded baseball.
1884: With the combo of Old Hoss Radbourn and Charlie Sweeney on the mound, the Providence Grays were the class of the National League. Sweeney was in the midst of a dominant season, posting a record 17-8, with a 1.55 ERA and 145 strikeouts, which included a record setting 19-strikeout game against the Boston Beaneaters on June 7th, leading the Grays to a 2-1 win on the round. Just a month later, Sweeney stunned the Grays by defecting to the St. Louis Maroons in the Union Association. The move came following an exhibition game on July 21th in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Sweeney, who had allegedly been drinking throughout the game, refused to return with the team to Providence, and chose stay in Woonsocket with a lady he had escorted to the park that day. Waking the next morning, he realized he missed morning practice and raced to make it back to Providence for his start that afternoon. Though most players in the day were held to temperance clauses during the season, the Grays manager was left with little choice but to pitch his drunkard ace. After five effective innings, Manager Frank Bancroft attempted to make a pitching change, but Sweeney refused to leave the game and continued to pitch another two inning. The prevailing sentiment of baseball at the time was a pitcher must finish the game, and to remove him was to question his manhood. Before the start of the eighth inning, Bancroft ordered Charley Sweeney to vacate the mound and move to right field. When Frank Bancroft threatened the pitcher with a $50 fine, Sweeney told him to take his fine and the rest of his salary and shove it and, promptly quit the team. Charlie Sweeney would spend the remainder of the game watching the game in the stands with two prostitutes. Without Charlie Sweeney the Grays had to rely on Old Hoss Radbourn the rest of the season. Before the Sweeney incident Radbourn had been fuming over his salary, but upon finally receiving a raise, Old Hoss Radbourn agreed to start every game the rest of the season. Old Hoss would carry the Grays the rest of the way, posting a record of 59-12 with an ERA of 1.38 and 441, highlighted by a 20-game winning streak in August. Providence would go on to win the National League Pennant with a record of 84-28. After the season the Grays would face the New York Metropolitans, Champions of the American Association in the first postseason series between the two rival leagues. Viewed more as an exhibition than an official championship the Grays dominated the series, winning all three games by a combined score of 21-3. A total of just 3,800 fans attended the series that would be played following the season up until 1890. Despite it matching up the two league champions it never caught on as having any true meaning and was only created to draw more revenue.
1885: After winning a second pennant, the Providence Grays struggled as their lack of offense caught up to them. Old Hoss Radbourn was once again successful on the mound, with a record 28-21 with an ERA of 2.20. However, the second pitcher on the Grays staff, Dupee Shaw pitched in hard luck all season, posting a record of 23-26 despite a respectable 2.57 ERA. Joe Start and Paul Hines were the only hitters to average better than .250 as the Grays ranked last in the National League with a .220 team batting average. As a result of the poor hitting the Grays suffer their first losing season, finishing in fourth place with a record of 53-57. Following the season due to financial troubles the board of directors of the team would fold the Providence Grays, selling off most of the roster to the Boston Beaneaters.
©MVI Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, statistics, logos, and team names are property of Major League Baseball. This site is not affiliated with the Providence Grays or Major League Baseball. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on July 21, 2016. Last updated on July 21, 2016 at 10:25 pm ET.