Union Association

From Academic Kids

The Union Association was a league in Major League Baseball which lasted only for one season in 1884. St. Louis won the pennant and joined the National League the following season. Chicago moved to Pittsburgh in late August, and four teams folded during the season and were replaced.

Union Association franchises

Midseason replacement teams

The league was begun by young St. Louis millionaire Henry Lucas, and his favoritism toward his own team doomed the league from the beginning. He acquired the best available players for his St. Louis franchise at the expense of the rest of the league. The team won 94 games while losing only 19, for an .832 percentage. Extrapolated to the length of a modern schedule, that would be 134 wins.

The lopsided competition and the revolving-door nature of its franchises and schedules earned the UA the dubious nickname "The Onion League". The league was desperate to fill out its schedule, and began picking up strays, as it were. The St. Paul franchise was acquired from a failed minor league, and played 9 games, all on the road, trying to earn enough money to get train fare home for the players. In more recent history, failures such as the World Football League of the early 1970s are an apt comparison.

The St. Louis franchise itself was strong enough to enter the NL in 1885, but it faced heavy competition within the city, as the St. Louis Browns were then the strongest team in all of baseball. Thus the lone survivor of the Union folded after the 1886 season.

Perhaps the most obvious impact of the short-lived league was on the career of a player who did not jump to the new league: Old Hoss Radbourn. With a schedule of a little over 100 games, most teams employed two regular pitchers. The Providence entry of the National League featured Radbourn and Charlie Sweeney. According to the book Glory Fades Away, by Jerry Lansche, Sweeney fell out of grace with the Providence team in late July, and was expelled. Rather than come crawling back, Sweeney signed with Lucas' team, leaving Radbourn by himself. Leveraging his situation, Radbourn pledged to stay with the club and be the sole primary pitcher, if he would be granted free agency at season's end. Radbourn, who already had 24 wins at that point to Sweeney's 17, pitched nearly every game after that, and went on to win an astounding 60 games during the regular season. For an encore, he won all three games of 1884's version of the World Series, pitching every inning of a sweep of the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. His heroic performance in 1884, along with a generally strong career topping 300 wins overall, assured his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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