The Tampa Bay Rays have started the Major League Baseball season in red-hot form and, in the modern era, have tied the longest winning streak for starting a year.

Their 13-0 record has equaled that set by the 1982 Atlanta Braves and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers. A 14th win when the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night would eclipse those two teams’ records, but it would still leave the Rays way short of the best-ever start in a major league.

That record is held by the St. Louis Maroons, who in 1884 won the first 20 games of the season, with the likes of Buttercup Dickerson and Sleeper Sullivan leading the way.

Tampa Bay Rays
Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot and Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays react after scoring against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
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The Maroons played in the Union Association, which was formed in 1884 and designated a major league by the Special Baseball Records Committee in 1968-69.

During their record-breaking run, the Maroons outscored their opponents 92-19 during a remarkable eight-game stretch and went on to win the 12-team league with a 94-19 record, nearly 40 wins more than the second-place team.

Their +458 run difference is still a Major League record, and it would translate to a 135-37 winning record if this were a 162-game season.

Speaking to MLB’s official site, MLB official historian John Thorn has been very dismissive of the quality of the teams that the Maroons faced. He said that they would have been only a middling team if they had played in the National League or the American Association.

“The Maroons were indeed a fine club, easily outdistancing the second-place finisher in the Union Association, but some contemporaries estimated that they would have finished at best in the middle of the pack in the National League or American Association. The Union Association was that weak,” he said.

Thorn continued: “The quality of play beyond the first-place Maroons was poor. Students of the game tend to dismiss or downgrade such accomplishments as the club’s record of 94-19.”

St. Louis Maroons
Jack Gleason played for several St. Louis teams between 1877 and 1885, including the Brown Stockings, the Browns and the Maroons.
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The founder of the Union Association was St. Louis millionaire Henry Lucas. It was said that he ensured the Maroons had the pick of the players, leaving very little in the talent pool for the other 11 teams to fill their rosters.

After just one season, the league disbanded after only two teams declared themselves ready to play the following season. The Maroons headed to the National League and moved to Indianapolis, changing their name to the Hoosiers.

After a few losing seasons against better players, the Hoosiers called it a day and disbanded.

A win against the Blue Jays would still mean the Rays need to win another six games to eclipse the Maroons’ record. But Thorn said that the quality, competitiveness and pressure of modern-day baseball mean that the Rays’ record-tying 13-0 achievement should still be hailed.

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