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Quotable!
"Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody's gonna care whether or not I got this guy out."
--Tug McGraw

 

First Major League Baseball Game: May 4, 1871

By Retrosheet/Patrick Mondout

The first Major League game ever played was the May 4, 1871 National Association (NA) match between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and the Cleveland Forest Cities (or the Kekionga Base Ball Club of Fort Wayne and the Forest City Club of Cleveland, for you purists). Thanks to the incomparable Retrosheet, we have full play-by-play for this game below.

This was not scheduled to be the first game. The planned opening was to be a matchup in the nation's capital between the Boston Red Stockings, which featured the Wright brothers and two other former Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Washington Olympics, which featured the other five former Cincinnati Red Stockings starters. That indeed would have been the best possible matchup for the opening game of the year but nature intervened: the game was delayed a day by rain. We are thus left with the Kekiongas versus the Forest Cities. On the bright side, the first pitch was by a future Hall of Fame and another Hall of Famer hit a double in the first at bat off of him (see below).

In search of other accounts of this game, I was able to find a Cincinnati Commercial article syndicated through the New York Times. It contains this delightful description that makes it clear that the new association was seen as something more than that which preceded it, though perhaps it just an overly enthusiastic sportswriter:

"The finest game of base-ball ever witnessed in this country was played on the grounds of the Kekiongas, of this city, this afternoon - the playing throughout being without precedent in the annals of base-ball, the members of both clubs establishing beyond a doubt their reputation as among the most skillful ball-players in the United States."

It has additional commentary and full play by play and I assumed it was the basis for this Retrosheet page. However, the play-by-play ends in the middle of the ninth with the following explanation:

"At this stage of the game the rain commenced falling in torrents, and the game was called, leaving the Kekiongas without the ninth inning at the bat."

Our Retrosheet account has the bottom the ninth played out. I asked members of the Retrosheet group what might account for this discrepancy and Paul Wendt, who chairs the 19th Century Committee at SABR referred me to The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, by David Nemec and this brief passage:

"Since the rules in 1871 required that a full game by played even if the team up last was ahead going into the bottom of the ninth, the Kekiongas took their last raps. Foran and Goldsmith both grounded to Pratt. Moments after Lennon grounded to Bass, rain, which had threatened all day, began coming down in sheets."

Did the a fair-weather Cincinnati Commercial writer leave the game before the final half inning, knowing that the game was in hand? Whatever the reason, it appears the Retrosheet/Nemec account is more complete and it is what we have below. Deacon White was the first batter and his double off Bobby Mathews was the first Major League hit. The next batter, Gene Kimball, lined a shot to second baseman Tom Carey, who turned the first double play (unassisted).

The following intro is edited from the Retrosheet version: The basic play by play information was gathered by Bob Tiemann, who graciously donated it to Retrosheet. Andy Singer, a very knowledgeable researcher on 19th century baseball, did the actual computerization.

Some comments are in order. In 1871, the home team would often bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, even if they were ahead. Ft. Wayne did choose to do so on this day, while leading 2-0. The account of the game indicates that the Kekiongas won the toss and elected to have the Cleveland club bat first. Then there is the matter of determining which batter leads off an inning. The rule was that the man after the one who made the last out would lead off the next inning. Hypothetical inning: Batter A walks, Batter strikes out, Batter C strikes out, and Batter D hits into a force play, with Batter A being retired at second base. The first batter in the next inning is Batter B! He is literally "the next batter after the one who made the last out". There were no cases of this situation in this game. It is also true that batters were out on foul balls which were caught on a bounce. There were three occurrences of this type of out in this game. Andy Singer has very kindly prepared a document with the 1871 rules, which makes fascinating reading.

Not only was this the first shutout in Major League history, but it was the lowest scoring game of the year.

Gary Hull provided weather data for that day. The observations were taken about a mile outside Ft. Wayne and are included in the expanded box score.

What follows below are the full play by play of this historic game along with a modern style expanded box score and a more conventional newspaper style box score. That is, conventional for the second half of the 20th century, but not for 1871!

Retrosheet Play-by-Play Account
Game of Thursday, 5/4/1871
Cleveland Forest Cities at Ft. Wayne Kekiongas (D)

Starting Lineups:

   Cleveland                      Ft. Wayne
1. Deacon White         c         Frank Sellman         3b
2. Gene Kimball		2b        Bobby Mathews         p
3. Charlie Pabor        lf        Jim Foran             1b
4. Art Allison          cf        Wally Goldsmith       ss
5. Elmer White          rf        Bill Lennon           c
6. Al Pratt             p         Tom Carey             2b
7. Ezra Sutton          3b        Ed Mincher            lf
8. Jim Carleton         1b        Joe McDermott         cf
9. John Bass            ss        Bill Kelly            rf

FOREST CITIES 1ST: D.White doubled; G.Kimball lined into a
double play (T.Carey unassisted) [D.White out at second];
C.Pabor popped to B.Lennon in foul territory; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0
LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 0.

KEKIONGAS 1ST: F.Sellman popped to D.White in foul territory;
B.Mathews popped to D.White in foul territory; Caught on one
bounce; J.Foran singled; W.Goldsmith popped to D.White in foul
territory; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 0.

FOREST CITIES 2ND: A.Allison struck out [A.Allison to first
(error by B.Lennon)]; E.White struck out while A.Allison stole
second; A.Pratt popped to J.Foran in foul territory; E.Sutton
flied to B.Kelly; 0 R, 0 H, 1 E, 1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0,
Kekiongas 0.

KEKIONGAS 2ND: B.Lennon doubled to left field; T.Carey flied to
A.Allison; E.Mincher popped to G.Kimball; J.McDermott singled
[B.Lennon scored]; B.Kelly popped to D.White in foul territory;
1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

FOREST CITIES 3RD: J.Carleton struck out; J.Bass flied to
B.Kelly; D.White popped to B.Lennon in foul territory; 0 R, 0 H,
0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

KEKIONGAS 3RD: F.Sellman popped to D.White in foul territory;
Caught on one bounce; B.Mathews popped to D.White in foul
territory; J.Foran flied to E.White in foul territory; 0 R, 0 H,
0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

FOREST CITIES 4TH: G.Kimball popped to F.Sellman; C.Pabor
popped to F.Sellman; A.Allison popped to B.Lennon in foul
territory; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

KEKIONGAS 4TH: W.Goldsmith walked; B.Lennon popped to D.White
in foul territory; T.Carey forced W.Goldsmith (J.Bass to
G.Kimball) [T.Carey to first]; D.White allowed a passed ball
[T.Carey to second]; E.Mincher popped to A.Pratt; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E,
1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

FOREST CITIES 5TH: E.White struck out; A.Pratt walked; E.Sutton
singled [A.Pratt to third]; E.Sutton was picked off first
(T.Carey unassisted); Out at 1st after foul; J.Carleton flied to
E.Mincher; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 1.

KEKIONGAS 5TH: J.McDermott grounded out (G.Kimball to
J.Carleton); B.Kelly singled; D.White allowed a passed ball
[B.Kelly to second]; D.White allowed a passed ball [B.Kelly to
third]; F.Sellman grounded out (J.Carleton unassisted) [B.Kelly
scored]; B.Mathews popped to D.White in foul territory; Caught
on one bounce. 1 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

FOREST CITIES 6TH: J.Bass flied to E.Mincher; D.White reached on
an error by W.Goldsmith [D.White to first]; G.Kimball popped to
J.Foran; B.Lennon allowed a passed ball [D.White to second];
C.Pabor popped to B.Mathews; 0 R, 0 H, 1 E, 1 LOB.
Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

KEKIONGAS 6TH: J.Foran popped to G.Kimball; W.Goldsmith popped
to D.White in foul territory; B.Lennon popped to J.Bass; 0 R, 0
H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

FOREST CITIES 7TH: A.Allison singled to shortstop; E.White
struck out; A.Allison was caught stealing second (B.Lennon to
T.Carey); A.Pratt popped to T.Carey; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.
Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

KEKIONGAS 7TH: T.Carey grounded out (A.Pratt to J.Carleton);
E.Mincher grounded out (E.Sutton to J.Carleton); J.McDermott
grounded out (J.Bass to J.Carleton); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.
Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

FOREST CITIES 8TH: E.Sutton popped to B.Lennon in foul
territory; J.Carleton grounded out (F.Sellman to J.Foran);
J.Bass popped to W.Goldsmith; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest
Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

KEKIONGAS 8TH: B.Kelly flied to A.Allison; F.Sellman popped to
G.Kimball; B.Mathews grounded out (J.Bass to J.Carleton); 0 R, 0
H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

FOREST CITIES 9TH: D.White singled to center field (J.McDermott
to T.Carey) [D.White out at second]; G.Kimball popped to
B.Lennon in foul territory; C.Pabor reached on an error by
J.McDermott [C.Pabor to first]; A.Allison struck out; 0 R, 1 H,
1 E, 1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

KEKIONGAS 9TH: J.Foran grounded out (A.Pratt to J.Carlton);
W Goldsmith grounded out (A.Pratt to J.Carlton);
B.Lennon grounded out (J.Bass to J.Carlton); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E,
1 LOB.  Forest Cities 0, Kekiongas 2.

Final Totals      R   H   E  LOB
 Forest Cities    0   4   0   4
 Kekiongas        2   4   3   3



Retrosheet Expanded Box Score

Game of Thursday, 5/4/1871 -- Cleveland at Ft. Wayne (D)

Cleveland        000 000 000- 0
Ft. Wayne        010 010 000- 2

--------------------------------------------
CLEVELAND           AB  R  H BI BB SO  PO  A
--------------------------------------------
D.White, c           4  0  2  0  0  0   9  0
G.Kimball, 2b        4  0  0  0  0  0   4  1
C.Pabor, lf          4  0  0  0  0  0   0  0
A.Allison, cf        4  0  1  0  0  2   2  0
E.White, rf          3  0  0  0  0  3   1  0
A.Pratt, p           2  0  0  0  1  0   1  3
E.Sutton, 3b         3  0  1  0  0  0   0  1
J.Carleton, 1b       3  0  0  0  0  1   6  0
J.Bass, ss           3  0  0  0  0  0   1  4
--------------------------------------------
Totals              30  0  4  0  1  6  27  9
--------------------------------------------
BATTING
2B: D.White (off B.Mathews).
RBI, scoring position, less than 2 outs: G.Kimball 0-1;
  A.Pratt 0-1.
BASERUNNING
SB: A.Allison (2nd base off B.Mathews/B.Lennon).
CS: A.Allison (2nd base by B.Mathews/B.Lennon).
Team LOB: 4
FIELDING
PB: D.White 3.
--------------------------------------------
FT. WAYNE           AB  R  H BI BB SO  PO  A
--------------------------------------------
F.Sellman, 3b        4  0  0  1  0  0   2  1
B.Mathews, p         4  0  0  0  0  0   1  0
J.Foran, 1b          4  0  1  0  0  0   3  0
W.Goldsmith, ss      3  0  0  0  1  0   1  0
B.Lennon, c          4  1  1  0  0  0  10  1
T.Carey, 2b          3  0  0  0  0  0   6  0
E.Mincher, lf        3  0  0  0  0  0   2  0
J.McDermott, cf      3  0  1  1  0  0   0  1
B.Kelly, rf          3  1  1  0  0  0   2  0
--------------------------------------------
Totals              31  2  4  2  1  0  27  3
--------------------------------------------
BATTING
2B: B.Lennon (off A.Pratt).
2-out RBI: J.McDermott.
RBI, scoring position, less than 2 outs: F.Sellman 1-1;
  T.Carey 0-1; E.Mincher 0-1.
BASERUNNING
Team LOB: 3
FIELDING
E: B.Lennon (drop fly); W.Goldsmith (fumble);
  J.McDermott (fumble).
PB: B.Lennon.
Outfield assist: J.McDermott (D.White at 2B).
DP: (1). T.Carey, unassisted.
---------------------------------------------
PITCHING        IP  H  R ER BB SO
---------------------------------------------
CLEVELAND
A.Pratt   (L)   9.0 4  2  1  1  0
FT. WAYNE
B.Mathews (W)   9.0 4  0  0  1  6


DP: (1). T.Carey, unassisted.

GAME DATA -- T: 2:00; A: 200; Temp: 56; Wind:
  from the southeast (12 MPH); Sky: cloudy
UMPIRES -- HP: J.L. Boarke




     Game of 5/4/1871 -- Cleveland at Ft. Wayne (D)

  Cleveland       AB  R  H RBI    Ft. Wayne       AB  R  H RBI
White D, c         4  0  2  0   Sellman F, 3b      4  0  0  1
Kimball G, 2b      4  0  0  0   Mathews B, p       4  0  0  0
Pabor C, lf        4  0  0  0   Foran J, 1b        4  0  1  0
Allison A, cf      4  0  1  0   Goldsmith W, ss    3  0  0  0
White E, rf        3  0  0  0   Lennon B, c        4  1  1  0
Pratt A, p         2  0  0  0   Carey T, 2b        3  0  0  0
Sutton E, 3b       3  0  1  0   Mincher E, lf      3  0  0  0
Carleton J, 1b     3  0  0  0   McDermott J, cf    3  0  1  1
Bass J, ss         3  0  0  0   Kelly B, rf        3  1  1  0
                  -- -- -- --                     -- -- -- --
                  30  0  4  0                     31  2  4  2

Cleveland        000 000 000 --  0
Ft. Wayne        010 010 000 --  2

  Cleveland      IP  H  R ER BB SO
Pratt A (L)     9.0  4  2  1  1  0

  Ft. Wayne      IP  H  R ER BB SO
Mathews B (W)   9.0  4  0  0  1  6

E -- Lennon B, Goldsmith W, McDermott J
DP -- Ft. Wayne 1
LOB -- Cleveland 4, Ft. Wayne 3
2B -- White D, Lennon B
SB -- Allison A
CS -- Allison A
PB -- White D 3, Lennon B
T -- 2:00
A -- 200

National Association sources/bibliography:
Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game by David Block.
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch.
Blackguards and Red Stockings by William J. Ryczek
The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 by Marshall D. Wright.
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein.
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William J. Ryczek

David Nemec, the tireless 19th Century Baseball researcher, has also written a novel called Early Dreams, which takes place during this era and features real-life characters such as Cap Anson, George Wright, and Henry Lucas.

General Baseball History sources/bibliography:
Baseball: A History of America's Game
by Benjamin G. Rader.
Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS DVD)
The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present by David Pietrusza.
The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 2nd Edition by David Nemec.
Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972 by Dean A. Sullivan
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Baseball by Albert Spalding
Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia by John Thorn, et al.

 



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DEACON

Deacon White had the first Major League hit - a double - in this game.


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