Aug 6, 2018
Professional baseball was barely into its adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware―the Quicksteps―got the opportunity of a lifetime.
Led by prototypical early era stars like loud-voiced outfielder/team captain Tommy “Oyster” Burns (aka the “Wilmington Growler,” who sold shellfish in the off-season), and Canadian-born curveball pioneer Edward “The Only” Nolan (who was briefly blacklisted from the National League for lying about missing a game to attend a funeral when he was, instead, out drinking) – the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble style befitting the major league style of the era.
Managed by a cricket-playing New Yorker and bankrolled by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who ran illicit gambling rings by night, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town and the East Coast baseball establishment – accruing an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own (and occasionally winning) in exhibitions with big league clubs.
The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry Lucas established a third major league that year―the Union Association―the pro game erupted into chaos.
When the ensuing battle for players and fans overwhelmed the upstart circuit’s Philadelphia Keystones midway through its inaugural 1884 season, the Quicksteps were invited and abruptly promoted to the Union Association to take their place in a single mid-season fell swoop. Their arrival in the majors, however, was anything but a dream come true.
Author Jon Springer (Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps) joins the pod to describe the story of the briefly major league team loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, comical misfortune, and behind-the-scenes drama that, for a tumultuous and remarkable summer, was driven and ultimately destroyed by its own dream of success – while yielding a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.
Thanks to our new friends at OldSchoolShirts.com sponsoring this week’s show!