Brother Piano Legs: One of the Dead Ball Era Greats
Only the most die-hard of Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, or St. Louis Cardinals fans would recognize the name of Brother Piano Legs. However, there is no doubt that for a time, the Saccarrappa, Maine native was one of the game’s best. In an 1880 season that saw the National League Homerun Title split between the Red Stockings’ Jim O’Rourke and the Ruby Legs’ Harry Stovey at a whopping six homeruns, Brother Gore leg the league with a .360 batting average – even if the statistic wasn’t accepted until 1887. Other stats that Brother Gore would have led that season had they existed were On Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), On Base Plus Slugging (OPS), On Base Plus Slugging+ (OPS+). In layman’s terms, in 1880 George Gore was a stud at the plate.
Gore made a name for himself playing amateur and semi-pro ball around New England. Eventually he caught the eye of future Hall of Fame player/manager Cap Anson. He made his Major League debut with the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) on May 1, 1879 – two days prior to his twenty-fifth birthday. However, the rookie Gore made headlines before stepping foot on the field when he became the first reported hold-out in MLB history.
Prior to the 1879 season Albert G. Spalding (one of baseball’s first stars and founder of Spalding Sporting Goods) offered Gore a contract for $1,200 ($31,389 in 2021) while Gore countered with $2,500 ($65,395 in 2021). Gore became a “hold-out” by refusing to play or report to team facilities until the contract was properly negotiated. Eventually they agreed to $1,900 ($49,750 in 2021) for the 1879 season.
Gore would go on to play fourteen major league seasons, which included four visits to the equivalent of the World Series, winning two (the modern world series began 1903). After the 1886 season Gore was traded from Chicago to the New York Giants. Gore made news by publicly showing is displeasure for the trade. Perhaps it was the displeasure of being in New York, or maybe it was the wine and women that distracted him from the game, but Gore’s numbers slipped after arriving at the Polo Grounds. While the remainder of the his major league career would be spend at least in-part in New York (1892 was split between NY and St. Louis Browns) not all of those seasons were spent with the Giants of the National League.
In 1886 the United States saw labor issues taking the main stage. The Great Southwest Railroad Strike saw 200,000 railroad workers strike. Later that year the Bay View Tragedy and Haymarket Riot led to 11 deaths (including one child) and over 100 injured between the two events. Even New York laborers made national news with the Collar Laundresses Strike in Troy – The Collar City. It is not a big surprise then, that the American Federation of Labor was founded the same year.
Baseball was not spared from its own labor dispute (the first of many), when in 1885 future Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward founded the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. In just five short years this union created its own separate league. The Players League may have only lasted for the 1890 season, but the Players’ League may have had more talent than any other major league that season. Among those that played in this new league owned by the players, was baseball’s first holdout, George Gore. After his season with the Players’ League New York Giants, he returned to the National League team with the same name for the 1891 season. In 1892 George Gore was traded to the Saint Louis Browns (Cardinals) to complete the 1892 season as their player/manager.
Written by Bro. Nathan Tweedie
Co-Editor, Craftsmen Online NY Masonic History column
Senior Deacon and Historian, Ostego Lodge #138
Junior Warden, Delaware River Lodge #439
Central Leatherstocking District