After the Civil War, many of the returning vets brought the game of Baseball back to their cities, towns and boroughs. In the following years, the popularity and fondness for the game grew. Here in Cincinnati, Ohio, The Cincinnati Baseball Club was formed in 1866 and played in the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) League from 1867 to 1870.
The club was started by a group that included easterner Harry Wright, a native of Scotland, and his younger brother George Wright. They would eventually be known as the Red Stockings from the red hosiery they wore during their games. It was a similar style that the elder Wright borrowed from his time spent with the Knickerbockers of New York City.
1975 Fleer Pioneers of Baseball, #2 Harry Wright
Any discussion of baseball in Cincinnati or the sport in general must include the Cincinnati Red Stockings. To overlook this team and its impact on the sport skips past an important part of American History. The country was expanding after the war and the game of Baseball helped heal old wounds and was a bridge between the two coasts.
Professional players dotted the lineups of many teams after the Civil War but in 1869 Harry Wright made the bold move by fielding the first all-professional team of ten players. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, would take the field on May 4, 1869 at the Union Grounds, site of the present day Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, in the West End of Cincinnati. They would make history that day as the first starting team of nine all professional players. They completed a 45-9 win over the Great Westerns of Cincinnati that afternoon.
Mosaic Wall Art of the First Nine at Great American Ball Park (GABP) in Cincinnati (2003)
During the 1869 season, the Red Stockings would go undefeated with a 65-0 record by defeating teams from all over America. They would later be nicknamed the "First Nine" to signify their status as the first all professional lineup.
"First Nine of the Cincinnati Red Stockings" lithograph from 1869
The team would reel off another streak of nearly 20 straight wins in 1870 but lost its first game on June 14, 1870 to the Brooklyn Atlantics. After winning a combined 84 straight games since their start in 1869 they would finish the 1870 season with a 27-6-1 record.
Whether it was complacency or boredom with the constant winning, attendance would continue to dwindle during the 1870 season. Coupled with the expense of paying the ten professionals, the club decided not to field a team in 1871.
Wright was then hired by a group in Boston to start a professional team. He would take several teammates with him including his brother George. The Boston Red Stockings would begin play in the first professional league in 1871. This team would later be called the Boston Braves and are the same franchise that resides in Atlanta today after a stop in Milwaukee. Harry Wright would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953 for his contributions to the early pro game in Cincinnati and as a manager there and in Boston, while his brother George was inducted in 1937 for his success as a player throughout his career.
1977 Bob Parker Baseball HOF “Cartoon Card”, #53 George Wright
In 1901 a new team would be founded in Boston as part of the original eight teams of the American League. Around 1908 this club revived the old team name of Red Stockings and changed it slightly into the Red Sox. In 1975 the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox would meet in one of the most dramatic World Series in baseball history.
Back in Cincinnati, professional baseball would not appear until 1876 when a new version of the Red Stockings was formed. Sadly this team finished with a 9-56 record and finished last in the newly created eight team National League. However for Cincinnati and baseball in general, this season would mark the beginning of a permanent franchise in Cincinnati up to the present day.
Baseball and Cincinnati are synonymous around this area. It is a part of the fabric of the community and provides an identity for those of us native or living in the southwest Ohio area. The fan base draws from surrounding states of Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.
For many years Cincinnati was granted the first game of the new baseball season to commemorate their status at the first professional team. Unfortunately Opening Day isn't the national event it was in the past due to media giants like ESPN and Fox Sports. However the annual Opening Day parade is something that has endured since 1920 and is one of the iconic annual events for the city.
As the song goes, "Hooray for the Cincinnati Reds, the first team in the history of base ball"...