The Forgotten True Story of the Worst Team in Major League History
Professional baseball was in its fitful adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware – the Quicksteps – got the opportunity of a lifetime.
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 curveball. Managed by a wise cricket veteran
and owned by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who by night ran illicit gambling rings, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town, playing to an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own in exhibitions with big league clubs.
The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry V. Lucas establishes a third major league that year – the Union Association – the pro game erupts into chaos.
When the ensuing battle for players and fans claims the life of the Union Association’s Philadelphia Keystones, the Quicksteps in an extraordinary move are abruptly promoted to the league to take their place – team, stadium and city in a single fell swoop. But their stay the majors was anything but a dream come true.
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 resign the Quicksteps to a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.
Loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays and behind-the- scenes drama, ONCE UPON A TEAM tells the forgotten true story of a tumultuous and remarkable summer; a team driven and summarily destroyed by its own dream of success.
ONCE UPON A TEAM publishes May 15 by Sports Publishing LLC and may be preordered online. An autographed copy makes a great gift: Email for details.
Jon Springer is the creator of the acclaimed Mets By The Numbers project. He is the author of METS BY THE NUMBERS (with Matthew Silverman) published in 2008 and 2016 by Skyhorse, and is a contributor to several books on baseball history through SABR. A business journalist, Jon resides in Brooklyn with his family.