In the 19th century, baseball team nicknames were not nearly as solidified as they are today. Different papers would often refer to teams as different names. From 1871-1909, Boston's National League team went by several names; the Rustlers, Beaneaters, Nationals, Doves, and at their inception, the Red Stockings.

The Politics Of Baseball

In 1911, James Gaffney, a well-connected member of New York City's political machine in Tammany Hall, bought the Boston Pilgrims and renamed them the Boston Braves, in tribute to the organization he personally headed. At the time of Gaffney's arrival as owner, the Braves had been languishing in last place over the past few seasons.

Gaffney's first major move was hiring Gene Stallings as manager. 1913 again proved to be a wash for the club. Desperate for success, Gaffney traded away popular second baseman Bill Sweeney for the Chicago Cubs' aging Joe Evers (of Tinkers to Evers to Chance fame). Immediately he became the laughing-stock of the league, trading away stars for has-beens. When the 1914 season began, the Braves had little hope of doing much better than their previous years.

Business As Usual

Right on cue, the Braves lost their first 3 games. They played terrible baseball through May, June, and July, and on Independence Day, 1914, they were 26-40, 12 games out of first place. The ultimate insult came when the Buffalo Bisons, a minor-league team, clobbered them on July 7, 10-2.

The Miracle

However, the Braves apparently took this slight personally. They began accumulating wins at a furious pace - an 8-game winning streak, followed by an 11-game winning streak, including a sweep of the league-leading New York Giants. By September 6, they had pulled off the impossible: they were tied for the league lead with the Giants. The first battle was set: the Braves would play the Giants in a doubleheader on the 7th, Labor Day.

To accommodate the expected crowds, the games were moved from Boston's home field of the South End Grounds to the newly erected Fenway Park. The Braves would begin a 25-game homestand here, and the excitement in the air was palpable. The Braves were up against stiff competition: the great Christy Mathewson would pitch for the Giants. Down 4-3 in the ninth inning, the Braves rallied to score 2 runs (both with 2 outs!) to win the game and upset the Giants to take the lead in the pennant. However, things quickly returned to normal as the Giants pounded the Braves in the second game, 10-1.

Over the next 23 games, the Braves went a spectacular 20-3. They continued this torrid pace throughout the rest of the season, and clinched the pennant, propelling them into their first World Series, where they would face Connie Mack's $100,000 team, the Philadelphia Athletics. However, the Athletics' talent proved little challenge to the Braves, who swept the series, the first time that feat had been accomplished in Major League history.

Dubbed "The Miracle Boston Braves of 1914," the team indeed had done an improbable 180 on their way to the championship. And Johnny Evers, the has-been second baseman acquired at the beginning of the season, was awarded a Chalmers automobile at the end of the year as the National League's Most Valuable Player. The team could also now afford a field of their own to sell out: Braves Field was erected that winter, the largest one in baseball. Things were looking up for the Braves.

The Aftermath

However, things never really turned around for the Braves after that season: they traded for Philadelphia Phillies superstar Sherry Magee, who promptly broke his collarbone during spring training and had his worst season in the majors. The Braves managed to finish second, but they showed little of the spark and tenacity of the previous year. In 1916, the team was again sold - Gaffney profited $350,000 - to Percy Haughton, one-time Harvard football coach. Again, the team performed well, finishing third in the league, but again lacking the drive to return to the World Series.

By 1919, the Braves had sunk back into the abyss of last place. To stave off their oncoming debacle, the team signed legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. Unfortunately, Thorpe was well past his prime, and the team finished last again. Over the years, the team again and again signed superstars in hopes they would provide the impetus for a major turnaround: Rogers Hornsby won the National League batting title for the Braves in 1928, but the team only won 50 games that year; in 1930, it was future Hall of Famer George Sisler, at the twilight of his career; in 1935, the Braves signed the greatest baseball player in Major League history, Babe Ruth, but he was already 40 years old, and it showed in his .187 average - he retired mid-season, and the Braves finished last again. At the end of the season, when Haughton could find no buyers, he sold the team back to the National League. Trying to change the team's luck, management elected to change the team's nickname to the Boston Bees after a nationwide contest to rename the team. By 1941, the team took back their Boston Braves nickname.

The End

Despite the Braves' woes, many famous players spent all or part of their careers with the team: Rabbit Maranville, Burleigh Grimes, Wally Berger, Al Lopez, Ernie Lombardi, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain (see Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain), Joe Medwick, Sam Jethroe (1950's National League Rookie of The Year), and Eddie Matthews all played there, and the great showman Casey Stengel managed there throughout the early 1940s. The team even managed to win the National League pennant in 1948, but lost the World Series to the Cleveland Indians. By 1953, the in-town competition with the American League's Boston Red Sox proved too costly, and the team was relocated to Milwaukee. In the Boston Braves' final game, third baseman Matthews hit 3 home runs to win the game, a final tip of the hat to the hometown crowd.

Boston Bees | Boston Doves
Major League Baseball Teams

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