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How Professional Baseball Began

With baseball paying out bigger and bigger salaries and the sport continuing to expand its global reach, it is mind-boggling and consciousness-raising to flash back to its simpler times and simple origins as a professional sport, a time of the  Cincinnati Red Stockings – baseball’s first professional team.

Attorney Aaron B. Chapman organized the team and looked upon it as a way to promote the city of Cincinnati, its products and services. And Chapman looked upon Harry Wright as scout, recruiter, player and manger – as a man to get a job done.

An English-born former jeweler and cricket player and a veteran of a decade of top-drawer baseball competition, Harry Wright was a strict disciplinarian and a shrewd promoter. He decreed that his team was to wear bright red stockings to set off their white flannel shirts and pants and dark Oxford shoes. The garb was a bit outlandish for the time, but the outfit attracted attention and that was what Wright and Chapman were after.

The Red Stockings were referred to as a “picked nine”. That might have been an exaggeration, but it was a nine picked by Harry Wright.

The only native of Cincinnati on the team was first baseman Charlie Gould, nicknamed the “bushel basket” because of his ability to snare baseballs. Other members of the team included Wright’s brother George (a star shortstop), who batted .518, drive in 339 runs and hit 54 home runs in 1869; third baseman Fred Waterman; second baseman Cal Sweasy; outfielders Asa Brainard, Dave Birdsall and Andy Leonard; catcher Doug Allison and pitcher Cal McVey. Harry Wright doubled as a relief pitcher and Dick Hurley functioned as a utility player.

The Red Stockings were the first team to travel across the United States with its players signed and bound to the club for an entire season. Salaries for the team covered the period from March to November and ranged from $800 to a high of $1,400 for George Wright. The lone sub picked up $600. The total payroll for that historic 1869 season was $9,300.

Playing baseball throughout the Northeast and West, traveling 11,000 miles thanks to the new transcontinental railroad, the Red Stockings won all 69 of their games. They were rewarded with a private audience in Washington as President Ulysses S. Grant complimented what he called “the western Cinderella club” for its skills and winning ways.

Although the Red Stockings helped boost business wherever they played and their fame increased each day, the team’s net profit for 1869 was a miniscule $1.39 after all salaries and expenses were laid out.

In 1870, the Red Stockings extended their winning streak to 130 games until the Brooklyn Atlantics broke it.

The team’s impact was not for one season, or for two campaigns, but rather for all time. Baseball as a professional sport was now underway. The success of the Red Stockings made it sunset time for the amateur in baseball and dawn for professionalism.

One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer is an expert on the New York Yankees and has arguably written more books, articles and reviews on the New York Yankees than anyone.

A professor for more than two decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine. He’s also the founder of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com where books he has written can be purchased.

Note: This team is highlighted in Russ Cohen’s upcoming book https://www.amazon.com/Pioneers-Baseball-Russ-Cohen/dp/1628654465/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518529991&sr=8-1&keywords=Pioneers+of+Baseball

 

 

 

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