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On This Date in Sports March 15, 1869: Going Professional

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Transcendental Graphics. Getty Images.

With the permission of the National Association of BaseBall Players (NABBP), the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team. The team was organized by Harry Wright, who played outfield and managed the team on the field. Among the players on the team was Harry’s brother George the best player of the era. The Red Stockings would win all 57 games, ushering in the professional era.

According to lore, baseball was born in Cooperstown as the brainchild of Abner Doubleday. A future Civil War General, while on vacation from West Point. The Doubleday myth was mainly created to make baseball into the National Pastime after the Civil War, tying in a war hero and the pastoral setting of upstate New York. Abner Doubleday's only connection with baseball is that his great grand nephew Nelson Doubleday once owned the New York Mets.

The truth about the creation of baseball is a bit more complicated. For eons, games have been played when sticks struck a ball, from the old English games of Rounders and Cricket and the New England game called Rounders. Using some of the same rules from both of these sports, a group of New York firemen called the Knickerbocker Club wanted to create new variations of the old games. The firemen in the Knickerbocker Club would sail over from New York to Hoboken, New Jersey, at the Elysian Fields to begin playing a sport they first called “base ball.”  The leader of the group Alexander Cartwright, first came to write down the rules and helped develop the baseball diamond in 1845. Baseball continued to grow in popularity in and around New York harbor, but it was not until the Civil War that the game began to take on greater prominence. During the war, Union Soldiers would play the game in their downtime; witnessed by Prisoners of War, the game spread to the south, while locals helped it spread elsewhere, witnessing the soldiers playing their game.

Baseball grew in New York and spread; among those playing in the early games run by the National Association of BaseBall Players (NABBP) was Harry Wright, born in Sheffield, England, on January 10, 1835. His father, who played Cricket in the old country, immigrated to the United States three years later, settling in Yonkers, New York. Harry Wright would begin playing baseball as a young boy, as would his brother George, who was born on January 12, 1847.

As baseball boomed after the Civil War, Harry Wright moved to Cincinnati to help run a team. Feeling it was impossible to retain players, so he asked permission from the NABBP to begin giving his players a small payout for playing with the Red Stockings. Players had been paid in the past, though it had never been officially allowed until Cincinnati requested to pay players over eight months from March 15-November. Among the players on the team was brother George Wright, the best player of the era.


George Wright was the team’s highest-paid player at $1,400, while Harry made $1,200 as part of the team's $9,300 payroll funded by Henry Eller. Charlie Gould was the only local player from Cincinnati, and he was paid $800. Other salaries included $1,100 paid to pitcher Asa Brainard. Fred Waterman made $1,000, while Doug Allison, Charlie Sweasy, Andy Leonard, and Cal McVey made $800. Cincinnati’s lone bench player Dick Hurley made $600.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings played their home games in Lincoln Park. Their first official game was against another local team called Great Western of Cincinnati on May 4th. The Red Stockings won the game 45-9, singling the dominance that was ahead. The professional Red Stockings played games cost to cost, making trips to the East in June and California in September. When the 1869 season was over, the Red Stockings were 57-0, having never faced a real challenge.

The Red Stockings' success led to other professional teams, and in 1870 after winning their first ten games, they tasted defeat for the first time on June 14th against the Brooklyn Atlantics. Harry Wright would leave Cincinnati with George in 1871, organizing the first professional team in Boston that took the same Red Stockings name. The Red Stockings were a part of the first organized league called the National Association. They would win the championship in four of five seasons before the league folded with the National League. After joining the NL, the Boston Red Stockings became the Boston Red Caps, winning the pennant in 1877 and 1878. They would later become the Boston Beaneaters before becoming the Boston Braves. The name Red Stockings would be revived in a shortened form, with the American League team adopting the name Red Sox in 1906.

The original Cincinnati Red Stockings would not join National Association in 1871 but reformed with the start of the National League in 1876. The original Red Stockings would later run afoul of the rest of the league when it decided to sell beer to fans watching their game. As a result, they were expelled from the NL in 1880. After a year hiatus, the Cincinnati Reds were reborn in the upstart American Association, winning the new league’s first championship in 1882. In 1890, the Cincinnati Reds were invited back to the National League. Today the Cincinnati Reds recognize the 1869 team as their founding, as they have been granted the right to open every season at home. For years the opener in Cincinnati was the official start of the season. While others now start games simultaneously, the Reds opener remains a major civic event, as it is a City Holiday, complete with a parade and school closings in Cincinnati.