The Cleveland Spiders were a Major League Baseball team which played between 1887 and 1899 in Cleveland, Ohio. The team played at National League Park from 1889 to 1890 and at League Park from 1891 to 1899.
The Spiders began their history in the old American Association (then a major league) in 1887. They were a weak team in their early years, but started to improve in 1891, two years after moving to the National League thanks in large part to their signing future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young.
The Spiders had their best season in 1892, when they finished 93-56, good for second in the league. Other than standout second baseman Cupid Childs, the Spiders had an unremarkable offense. Their success in 1892 was built on pitching strength; Young was the NL's most dominant hurler, and 22-year-old Nig Cuppy had an outstanding rookie year. Following the season, a "World's Championship Series" exhibition was played between Cleveland and the first-place Boston Beaneaters, but the Spiders could only muster one tie in six games.
In 1895, the Spiders again finished second, this time to the equally rough-and-tumble Baltimore Orioles. Young again led the league in wins, and speedy left fielder Jesse Burkett won the batting title with a .409 average. The Spiders then won the Temple Cup, an 1890s postseason series between the first- and second-place teams in the NL. Amid fan rowdyism and garbage throwing, the Spiders won four of five games, against Baltimore, including two wins for Cy Young.
The 1895 championship was the high-water mark for the franchise. The following season, Baltimore and Cleveland again finished first and second in the NL. But in the battle for the 1896 Temple Cup, the second-place Spiders were swept in four games.
The Cleveland Spiders finished fifth in each of the next two seasons, albeit with a winning record both times. Young threw the first of his three no-hitters for the Spiders on September 18, 1897. Then came 1899.
1899: the debacle
In 1899, the Spiders' owners, the Robison brothers, bought the St. Louis Perfectos baseball club, but also retained ownership of the Cleveland club, an obvious conflict of interest that was later outlawed. They decided that a good team in St. Louis would draw more fans, so they proceeded to transfer most of the Cleveland stars, including future Baseball Hall of Famers Young, Burkett and Wallace to St. Louis.
According to various individual pages in baseball-reference.com, most of this activity took place on March 29, 1899, just 17 days before the beginning of the new season:
- Frank Bates, Nig Cuppy, Cowboy Jones, Pete McBride, Jack Powell, Zeke Wilson, Cy Young to St. Louis
- Kid Carsey, Jim Hughey, Harry Maupin, Willie Sudhoff to Cleveland
- Lou Criger, Jack O'Connor to St. Louis
- Jack Clements, Joe Sugden to Cleveland
- Jimmy Burke, Cupid Childs, Ed McKean, Ossee Schreckengost, Bobby Wallace to St. Louis
- Patsy Tebeau to St. Louis (to be manager)
- Joe Quinn, Suter Sullivan, Tommy Tucker to Cleveland
- Lave Cross to Cleveland (to be manager)
- Harry Blake, Jesse Burkett, Emmet Heidrick to St. Louis
- Tommy Dowd, Dick Harley to Cleveland
There was further action on June 5:
- Willie Sudhoff, Lave Cross back to St. Louis
- Frank Bates, Ossee Schreckengost back to Cleveland
Deprived of its talent, the last year of the Spiders team was the worst in major league history, as the club finished 20-134 (.130) and lost 40 of their last 41 games of the season. The 1899 Cleveland team trailed 84 games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Superbas. Cleveland was 35 games behind the next-to-last (11th) place Washington club.
Due to lackluster attendance, other NL teams refused to travel to Cleveland's park. The Spiders were thus forced to play the final 36 games of the season on the road, of which they lost 35. In so doing, they set a number of negative records, including one that is truly unbreakable due to baseball's schedule: 109 road losses.
The 1899 Spiders were 11-109 (.092) on the road, and 9-25 (.265) at home. The team's longest winning streak of the season was two games, which they accomplished once: on May 20 and May 21. Spiders opponents scored ten or more runs 49 times in 154 games. Pitchers Jim Hughey (4-30) and Charlie Knepper (4-22) tied for the team lead in wins. 6,088 fans paid for Spider home games in 1899, an average attendance of 179 per game.
Lost in the well-known 1899 debacle was the fact that the 1898 St. Louis team had also been one of the worst in history, at 39-111, in 12th place. In 1898, Cleveland finished fifth, at 81-68. In 1899, St. Louis finished fifth, with only 3 more wins than Cleveland had had the previous year. Effectively, what amounted to a team-for-team swap was a wash for both clubs, at best. That was because they were not the only team indulging in this player-shuffling game.
Ironically, the pennant-winning Dodgers had done much the same thing to the Baltimore franchise, transferring several future Hall of Famers from the old Orioles (who had won the final two Temple Cups and finished second in 1898) to the new Dodgers. Brooklyn had finished the 1898 season at an unimpressive 54-91, while the Orioles were 96-53. But the Dodgers had at least left Baltimore with a decent club, which actually finished in fourth place, ahead of St. Louis. The Perfectos had added 45 wins to their horrific 1898 total, but Brooklyn had gained 47 wins from their own roster moves, and finished ahead of the previous year's pennant winner, Boston.
The Robisons' decision to reduce Cleveland to minor league standards, along with other intra-league raiding such as that conducted by the Dodgers, unwittingly helped pave the way to the National League's loss of its major league monopoly. The 12th-place Spiders were one of four teams contracted out of the National League at the end of the 1899 season. The others were the 11th-place Senators, the ninth-place Louisville club and, surprisingly, the fourth-place Baltimore club. The very next year, the then-minor American League fielded a team in Cleveland, as well as Chicago. By 1901, Cleveland and Chicago were joined by replacement clubs in Washington and Baltimore, as well as further direct competition to the Senior Circuit in Boston and Philadelphia, beginning a reshaping of the major league baseball map that would last for five decades.