The Worcester Brown Stockings (sometimes also called the Worcester No-Names and the Worcester Ruby Legs) were a major league baseball team from 1880 to 1882 that called the city of Worcester, Massachusetts home. The team is perhaps best known as the primary rival of the Troy Trojans as well as being the team that had the first perfect game in pro baseball history. Over their three years of existence, the team compiled a sorry 90-159 record, never having a winning season and never finishing higher than fifth place in the National League.
The Brown Stockings began play in 1879 as an independent minor league team in the city of Worcester. When the Syracuse, New York team in the National League folded after the 1879 season, two serious competitors to take their place in the league were Worcester and Albany. Much of the league favored Worcester, primarily the Boston franchise due to the short travel distance to the city. However, the Troy Trojans opposed this and cast the sole dissenting vote towards granting Worcester the franchise. Under the National League rules, a city must have had a population of at least 75,000 or they could not be awarded a franchise, but the other owners in the league bent the rules a bit and allowed Worcester to include residents within a four mile radius of the city limits, allowing them to top the 75,000 mark and join the league. Naturally, this made the Worcester Brown Stockings and the Troy Trojans natural rivals.
The team played its home games at the Worcester County Agricultural Fairgrounds. The site today is marked with a notable plaque and can be found by wandering along Sever Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.
During their inaugural 1880 campaign, the team was managed by Frank Bancroft, perhaps the earliest legendary ballplayer. He was widely respected as a manager as well and was often called the "prince of baseball managers." Worcester finished 5th in its debut campaign with a record of 40-43, led by pitcher J. Lee Raymond and shortstop Arthur Irwin.
The most notable event of the 1880 season was J. Lee Raymond's pitching performance on June 12, 1880, where he retired twenty seven batters without a single batter reaching base. This was the first recorded perfect game on a professional level. Five days later, Monte Ward would pitch the second perfect game in history, but the next National League perfect game would not occur until June 21, 1964, more than eighty years later.
At the end of the 1880 season, though, Bancroft left for a much more lucrative managing job in Detroit and he took with him four of the better players on the team. After this defection, the franchise was never really the same.
The 1881 season, in which the team went 32-50 and finished in last place in the National League, showed a much less lively team, although they did play a key game early in the season against the Detroit franchise that had butchered their roster. The team drew their largest crowd ever for a game (3,652) and Bennett, who was still adored by the Brown Stockings faithful, was given a gold watch by the crowd. Worcester went on to win the game, but it was largely downhill from there. The team fired manager Mike Dorgan about two-thirds of the way through the season, replacing him with Harry Stowey, who fared about the same.
1882 was even worse, as the team finished 37 games out, in dead last place, with a record of 18-66. The team rotated through three managers in their final campaign (Freeman Brown, Tommy Bond, and Jack Chapman) but none of them were able to turn things around in the slightest. The low point was a late season game against Providence which drew a crowd of 18 fans. The handwriting was on the wall.
The Brown Stockings were disbanded after the 1882 season by the National League, which was facing competition from the upstart American Association and was looking to reorganize. The vacant Worcester franchise was picked up by sporting goods mogul Al Reach, who started the Philadelphia Phillies in 1883, though it had none of the same players or personnel. Yet the Philadelphia Phillies still claim their heritage from the Worcester Brown Stockings.
Interestingly enough, when the club folded, the city of Worcester (along with the city of Troy
, whose rival Troy Trojans
were also contracted) received a letter signed by all of the owners in the National League
promising that, when the financial problems that had forced the contraction were resolved, that a new team would be placed in Worcester, Massachusetts. No major league baseball team has called Worcester home since then.