The Cincinnati Base-Ball Club of Cincinnati (popularly known as
the Red Stockings) receive credit as the first all-professional
baseball team. They are perhaps the most celebrated team of the
Reconstruction Era despite never winning an official NABBP
championship nor lasting long enough to participate in the National
The Red Stockings were not the first team to pay a player—charges of
that date to at least 1860, the rules were amended to disallow pros in
1858 (presumably because it had become a problem), and the 1866 Athletic
of Philadelphia were investigated for paying, among others, Lip Pike—but
they were the first openly, all-professional team (teams in New York soon
The club was organized July 23, 1866 at the Cincinnati law office of
Tilden, Sherman & Moulton as the Resolute Base Ball Club of
Cincinnati, but outfielder William Johnson soon convinced the others to
that it should simply be called the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. The club
was nicknamed the "Red Stockings" for the color of the stockings
they wore beginning in 1868. The color red has been used by professional
baseball teams in Cincinnati ever since.
The club's origins in a law office was no accident. Many of the players
on the first team were Cincinnati-area lawyers.
The team's first season in the NABBP can be termed a success as their
only loss was to the Washington
Nationals (by a score of 53-10), who were on the first big baseball
tour—something the Red Stockings would duplicate in two years. It should
be noted, however, that Cincinnati's 16 wins in 1867 were against obscure
regional teams from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio and the team was by no
means one of the best in the country.
The club used a park called the Millcreek Bottoms near Richmond Street
before leasing the Union Cricket Grounds. The opening game at the grounds
took place on July 4, 1867 and saw the home team blow out Louisville 60-24
(such scores were common in the early days; they averaged over 80 runs per
game in their three games against a team from Newport, Kentucky that year
and had 31 homers in one of those games, including 7 by John Howe).
As baseball replaced cricket as the spectator sport (in
Cincinnati and the nation), club officials were able to come to an
agreement with the Union Cricket Club of Cincinnati that allowed many
members of the cricket team to join the baseball club. This included Harry
Wright, a former New York Cricket Club star who had been attracted to
the city by the offer of $1200 a year from the Unions' George B. Ellard in
1865 to be both a player and instructor. Wright had also been a catcher
for the Knickerbockers.
Club and city officials wanted a first rate
club to give prestige to Cincinnati and gave Harry Wright the green light
to bring in better - and more expensive talent. Despite the NABBP still
officially being an amateur organization (cheating and baseball have a
long and glorious history), the Red Stockings signed
some of the best ballplayers in the country over the next three years.
Brainard and John
Hatfield of the Mutuals of New York and Charlie
Gould of the Buckeyes of Cincinnati (a close rival) were enticed to
join and the result was a club capable of competing with any club in the
The club played a schedule that included several of the finest clubs in
the nation in 1868 and managed a record of 36-7, which was fourth best in
the NABBP. The New
York Clipperoffered gold medals to players that they rated the
best in the country at each position. Three medals were won by Red
Stockings: J. Hatfield, as left fielder; Fred Waterman, as third baseman,
and J. William Johnson in right field.
Club officials believed they were close to competing for the
championship and, as we might say today, just needed a few more pieces to
win in 1869.
The first move was to bring in Harry's brother George, who was
certainly one of the top five players in the game and who had played for
the Nationals in 1867 and the champion Unions of Morrisania the previous
Leonard and substitute Dick
Hurley were secured from the rival Cincinnati Buckeyes (who had gone
21-5 in 1868) and eighteen-year-old catcher/outfielder Cal
McVey was brought in from Indianapolis, where he had played for the
Active Club. This improved the team dramatically and shifted the balance
of power in baseball from the East to the Midwest for the first time. But
it was a costly decision. The club was able to raise $3,000 from a stock
offering in November of 1868, but that still left it $6,000 in debt.
[Note: Harry Ellard wrote a book
covering Cincinnati baseball in the 1860s called Baseball
in Cincinnati that was published in 1907. Ellards's book is the BaseballChronology
Book of the Month selection for
June, 2008. Read it in its entirety here.]
The next month, the NABBP finally gave in
to the growing trend and created a separate classification of
professional teams within its ranks. Teams could now openly sign players
and the Red Stockings, who would soon be as much as $16,000 in debt (that
is approximately $413,000 in 2005 dollars, using the Calculated
Consumer Price Index), were the most open of all and soon embarked on
a legendary tour to take on the best clubs in the land as the Washington
Nationals had famously done in 1867.
1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
While the team managed to go undefeated in 1869 (57-0,
including 19-0 against other pro teams; the
Troy Haymakers played them
to a 17-17 tie on August 27, though the umpire declared them the winner in
a disputed match in which Troy left the field), the strange
rules of the NABBP prevented the team from winning the championship.
In fact, they did not lose a game from late 1868 until June 14, 1870 (when
Brooklyn beat them 8-7 in extra innings), including a series to end the
'69 season with the 1868 champion New
York Mutuals. The Brooklyn
Eckfords beat them to the punch by beating the Mutuals in a series
first, making the team from Brooklyn champions until the Brooklyn
Atlantics knocked them off later in the 1869 season. The Atlantics
finished the season without anyone else beating them twice and were thus
champions for that season. The method of determining the champion was both
confusing and controversial and most considered the Red Stockings the true
champions of 1869.
Wright had what might today be called a "career year." In
483 times at the plate, he walked 56 times, hit 49 homers, and stuck out
zero times. That latter number has something to do with the rules of the
day, but his statistics were unparallel in the sport.
The 1869 Red Stockings traveled 11,877 miles to play before an
estimated 200,000 spectators (as "fans" were then known as), and
had a player payroll of $9,300. The team headed as far west as California
and as far south as New Orleans, but high cost of travel and salaries
meant that the team was still $1000 in debt despite the most successful
on-the-field performance in baseball history. The table on the right
shows the salaries it paid from March 15 to November 15 of 1869.
The team hoped to make up the difference during the ice skating season.
All but hardcore 19th Century baseball fans will wonder what I could
possibly mean by that, but the club had assumed ownership of the Union
Grounds as cricket became less popular and many northern ballparks were
set up for ice skating during the winter months. The weather did not
cooperate in the winter of 1869-70 and the team had to look to civic
leaders for funds to undertake the 1870 season.
The team found the necessary funds and had a more successful
(financially) eastern trip and found itself with over $2,000 in the bank
for the first time by August of 1870. Officials of the team, who had been
hiding the bad economic news from the shareholders, took the opportunity
to share these positive figures with shareholders. But local investors had
apparently had enough.
A contemporary report claims that the club "officers would have
retained George and Harry Wright, Gould and McVey, if too much money had
not been demanded" and that "others were not wanted (back) on
account of objectionable habits or traits." Teams in Boston and
Washington took on these overpaid players of objectionable habits (or
traits) and didn't complain. These sour grapes remind one of the Texas
Rangers owner who openly complained about how salaries were out of control
about a year after signing a certain shortstop to a quarter of a billion
dollar contract. Who created the problem?
The team thus disbanded on or about November 24, 1870 without ever
competing in the first Major League.
(Queen City fans who thought they could trace their Reds back to this team—and
that includes the folks who created the
Reds official history site—need a
history lesson.) It should be noted that while the unusual rules of
the day prevented Cincinnati from winning a championship, most followers
of the game considered them the champs of at least 1869 if not 1870 as
How good were the '69 Red Stockings? The Wrights, McVey, and Gould
signed with the '71
Boston Red Stockings and formed the nucleus of a team that never
finished lower than second in the National Association and won four
A contemporary print
featuring the "first nine" of the
Cincinnati Red Stockings, who were the first
openly professional baseball team (by a few
months) in 1869 and, with the highest
payroll in baseball, the New York Yankees of
their day. Despite some mythmaking by
succeeding generations, this team had
nothing whatsoever to do with the later
Cincinnati Reds except that both played in
the same city.
To learn much more about the Red Stockings, check out the 1907 book by
Harry Ellard (his father George was the right fielder on the 1867 squad)
Ball in Cincinnati, which was our BaseballChronology Book of the
Month for June, 2008.
NOTES: The source for most of the story above is from Cincinnati
Commercial articles of August 3, 1870 and November 25, 1870 and the
October 1907 issue of Baseball Magazine. Most of the statistical
information and rosters come from Marshall Wright's groundbreaking book, The
National Association of Base Ball Players 1857-1870 (see bibliography
below) and Charles
Peverelly's American Pastimes. Any "rosters"
are compiled from surviving boxscores and/or Wright's book and may not be
complete and players may have played at more positions than indicated.
Accounts and boxscores come from many sources including the New York
Times, the Brooklyn Eagle, the New York Clipper, and Spirit
of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, and Field Sports.
Information on years of NABBP membership are from Henry Chadwick's Base-ball
Manual for 1871. Read more about our
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Harry Wright built the Red Stockings in Cincinnati, then took them to Boston.
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