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Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic…
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Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps (edition 2018)

by Jon Springer (Author)

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In 1884, professional baseball was still in its infancy. The National League was less than a decade old, the National Association (which had been around since 1871) was now defunct, the American Association (which began two years earlier) were nipping at the NL's heels, and a new league-the Union Association-was in its first year. With all that going on, a hard-playing, hard-drinking club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware-the Quicksteps-were so dominating their minor-league opponents that they would receive the opportunity of a lifetime. At 51-12, the Quicksteps were easily handling the struggling Eastern League, which was still in its inaugural season. Led by archetypal stars Tommy "Oyster" Burns and Edward "The Only" Nolan, the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble approach to the game that was only then coming into style, including Nolan's revolutionary delivery: the curve ball. They clinched the league title with six weeks left in the season, and then did something no other team had ever done before. The UA's inaugural season wasn't going as well as they had hoped. Four teams folded before the season's conclusion, and the red-hot Quicksteps were slated to be promoted to the professional league-something which, then and now, is unheard of-replacing the defunct Philadelphia Keystones. Unfortunately, things did not go as well for Wilmington in the UA as it did in the Eastern League. As the first shots are fired in a near century-long battle for player rights, mass defections, and a comedy of on-field error and misfortune resigned the Quicksteps to a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility. In 18 games, the Quicksteps went 2-16, giving them a .111 winning percentage (compared to their .810 winning percentage in the Eastern League). The UA would fold at seasons' end-as would the Quicksteps. Loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, and behind-the-scenes drama, Jon Springer (Mets by the Numbers) tells the forgotten true story of a tumultuous and remarkable summer; a team driven and summarily destroyed by its own dream of success.… (more)
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Title:Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps
Authors:Jon Springer (Author)
Info:Sports Publishing (2018), 240 pages
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Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps by Jon Springer

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Generally, I would not be prone to pick up a book about 19th-century baseball in Wilmington, Delaware, but I know the author, and I appreciate his writing on baseball. Jon Springer uses a wealth of primary documents to provide a lot of detail and quotes about the rough and tumble early era of professional baseball. It's common to think that "baseball as a business" is a recent phenomenon, but in these pages are stories of players jumping from team to team for better contracts, teams moving to new cities hoping for more profits, and snarky sportswriters covering it all.

With a preamble on the history of amateur and professional baseball clubs in Wilmington, the heart of the book focuses on the 1884 season of the newly formed Wilmington Quicksteps. 1884 is a year where professional baseball supersaturated America's cities. The National League and their rival American Association were joined by the upstart Union Association. The new league set out to challenge the reserve clause, the means by which teams retained rights to players after their contracts expired, keeping players in a state of indentured servitude. Nevertheless, the Union Association found it difficult to lure away talented players from the two existing leagues.

The Wilmington Quicksteps began 1884 as part of the Eastern League, a minor league that was a forerunner of today's International League. Lead by colorful characters like Oyster Burns and The Only Nolan, the Quicksteps dominated the rest of the teams in the league. The downside to this is that the team was so far ahead they had trouble drawing spectators and found themselves in a financial pickle. The Quicksteps played exhibition games against major league teams passing through Wilmington in order to bring in spectators and money, and often played competitive games.

By August, with clubs in the Union Association folding, and the Quicksteps seemingly too good for the Eastern League and in need of a financial boost, it seemed like a natural decision for Wilmington to join the Union Association as a replacement team. But fortune was not on Wilmington's side. They played only 18 games in the Union Association and won only 2 of them. The experience brought the Quicksteps to their demise, and the Union Association was unable to return for the 1885 season.

This well-researched book is an engaging read and will be of interest to anyone curious about baseball history. ( )
  Othemts | Jul 20, 2018 |
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In 1884, professional baseball was still in its infancy. The National League was less than a decade old, the National Association (which had been around since 1871) was now defunct, the American Association (which began two years earlier) were nipping at the NL's heels, and a new league-the Union Association-was in its first year. With all that going on, a hard-playing, hard-drinking club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware-the Quicksteps-were so dominating their minor-league opponents that they would receive the opportunity of a lifetime. At 51-12, the Quicksteps were easily handling the struggling Eastern League, which was still in its inaugural season. Led by archetypal stars Tommy "Oyster" Burns and Edward "The Only" Nolan, the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble approach to the game that was only then coming into style, including Nolan's revolutionary delivery: the curve ball. They clinched the league title with six weeks left in the season, and then did something no other team had ever done before. The UA's inaugural season wasn't going as well as they had hoped. Four teams folded before the season's conclusion, and the red-hot Quicksteps were slated to be promoted to the professional league-something which, then and now, is unheard of-replacing the defunct Philadelphia Keystones. Unfortunately, things did not go as well for Wilmington in the UA as it did in the Eastern League. As the first shots are fired in a near century-long battle for player rights, mass defections, and a comedy of on-field error and misfortune resigned the Quicksteps to a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility. In 18 games, the Quicksteps went 2-16, giving them a .111 winning percentage (compared to their .810 winning percentage in the Eastern League). The UA would fold at seasons' end-as would the Quicksteps. Loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, and behind-the-scenes drama, Jon Springer (Mets by the Numbers) tells the forgotten true story of a tumultuous and remarkable summer; a team driven and summarily destroyed by its own dream of success.

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