Baseball’s First Professional Club Forms

The Cincinnati Red Stockings startled the baseball world by fielding an all-paid team and winning eighty-three consecutive games, becoming organized baseball’s first fully professional club. The Red Stockings helped revolutionize the game and set the standard for excellence in the sport.

Summary of Event

By 1867, Ohioans were feverish for baseball, as the sport exploded in popularity after the U.S. Civil War. Cincinnati started to field respectable clubs by that year. The club that would become the professional Red Stockings in 1869 faced stiff competition from the equally able Buckeyes. Baseball
Cincinnati;baseball club
[kw]Baseball’s First Professional Club Forms (1869)
[kw]First Professional Club Forms, Baseball’s (1869)
[kw]Professional Club Forms, Baseball’s First (1869)
[kw]Club Forms, Baseball’s First Professional (1869)
[kw]Forms, Baseball’s First Professional Club (1869)
Cincinnati;baseball club
[g]United States;1869: Baseball’s First Professional Club Forms[4270]
[c]Sports;1869: Baseball’s First Professional Club Forms[4270]
[c]Organizations and institutions;1869: Baseball’s First Professional Club Forms[4270]
Champion, Aaron
Wright, Harry
Brainard, Asa
Gould, Charlie
Wright, George

The 1860’s was a time of city boosterism, and urban areas looked to gain civic prestige. At the time, Cincinnati was locked in a struggle with Chicago Chicago for regional economic dominance. Often called Porkopolis because it was a bustling Ohio River meatpacking center, Cincinnati feared that it was losing the battle to the Great Lakes city. However, baseball success was quickly becoming a reflection of the city’s image and prospects.

In 1867, during what was otherwise a successful season for the Red Stockings, a Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.;baseball club , club bombarded the home team with a score of 53-10. The following season, in 1868, the Cincinnati club hired four professionals and toured in the east. It won forty-one out of forty-eight games, providing a glimpse of things to come. Determined to avenge those seven losses and the 1867 drubbing by the Washington team, the club declared itself a fully professional team in 1869. Aaron B. Champion Champion, Aaron , a young lawyer who was also a commissioner for Ohio baseball, became the team’s nominal owner. He empowered the team’s manager, Harry Wright Wright, Harry , to recruit the players and pay them accordingly.

This was not the first time that ballplayers received payment for their skills. Jim Creighton Creighton, Jim , a young player for the New York Excelsiors, may have been receiving a salary as early as 1858. During the 1860’s, clubs such as the Philadelphia Athletics reportedly had three or four paid players, attempting to mask the salaries with indirect charity collections. For example, at the game there might be a collection for shortstop Dickey Pearce’s sick aunt, a ruse to put money in Pearce’s pocket. By 1866, players were jumping from team to team, seeking better deals so frequently that it precipitated a scandal of “revolving.” Club owners clamped down on player mobility with the 1879 Reserve Rule. No team, however, challenged the doctrine of the National Association of Base Ball Players concerning the game’s amateur status as boldly as did the Red Stockings.

The decision to become professional was timely. Especially after the Civil War, Americans were eager for professional entertainment. Before the war, customers would pay to see the best Shakespeare Shakespeare, William
[p]Shakespeare, William;in nineteenth century theater[Nineteenth century theater] troupes, hear singers such as Jenny Lind, and experience P. T. Barnum’s circuses, but the desire grew as the decade progressed. Postwar crowds demanded even better performances and were willing to pay for them. The Red Stockings fulfilled part of the public demand.

Harry Wright Wright, Harry , born in England, was the son of a cricket player. Once in the United States, he developed his skills as a cricketer, but by 1858, he switched to the rising sport of baseball. He played with the famous Knickerbocker Club of New York City New York City;baseball in , but by 1866, he moved west to Cincinnati. A jeweler by trade, baseball commanded most of his attention. He fielded the finest team money could buy. Searching for a shortstop, Harry selected his younger brother George Wright, George , who had established himself as a star with the Washington Nationals. George, with his flashing speed, quickly became professional baseball’s first true superstar. He was also its most highly paid with a listed annual salary of $1,400, although he confessed later that the actual amount was more than $2,000.

Harry Wright Wright, Harry also recruited Charlie Gould Gould, Charlie , the only Cincinnati native on the squad. Having only one local player was somewhat of a departure from baseball norms because clubs usually drew all or most of their players from the local community. Gould was a defensive wizard at first base at a time when the absence of gloves made fielding an adventure. The unpredictable Asa Brainard Brainard, Asa handled the pitching duties expertly. Although underhanded pitching was still the style of the day, Brainard threw very hard and included a curveball in his repertoire of pitches. He reportedly drew a salary of $1,100. Rounding out the squad were talented star players lured from other Eastern teams: Doug Allison at catcher, Fred Waterman at third base, Charlie Sweasy at second base, and Andy Leonard, Cal McVey (from Indianapolis, Indiana), and Harry Wright in the outfield. A substitute player, Dick Hurley, had a $600 contract.

The Red Stockings revolutionized the game, both on and off the field. At practice, they drilled incessantly, simulating hit-and-run plays and hitting a relay man on throws from the outfield. Harry Wright Wright, Harry maintained a tight rein on his team off the field as well. The Red Stockings had to conform to a morality code, which included a curfew. Even their uniforms reflected the new approach to the game. Prior to 1869, ballplayers usually wore long pants. Outfitted in flannel knickers, the team was not only speedy on the base paths and on the field but also flashy in their red stockings.

For the 1869 season the Red Stockings remained undefeated, and it was not until June 14, 1870, that the team lost a contest on an error and an overthrow, which permitted the Brooklyn Atlantics an 8-7 extra-innings win. The winning streak of 1869-1870 totaled eighty-three games (ninety-five games since losing in October, 1868). One game, in Troy, New York, ended in a controversial 17-17 tie, as gamblers pulled their home team off the field after six innings to avoid losing bets. Thus, the Red Stockings did not win that match technically. In any case, their eighty-three-game streak stands as the all-time record for a professional sporting franchise. The Red Stockings showed the rest of the nation how to win at baseball.

The only disappointment for the Red Stockings was financial. The club entered the 1869 season heavily in debt, not only because of the new payroll but also because of the construction of a stadium the year before. Transportation costs were substantial. The Red Stockings were among the first passengers on the newly constructed transcontinental railroad, as their tour took them to California. Shady dealings at a couple of games and missing gate receipts undercut potential profits. Owner Aaron Champion Champion, Aaron , after subtracting all operating expenses, found that the 1869 net profit was a measly $1.25, but the club’s winning ways pointed the way to profitability for other clubs in the future.

For all their glory, the Cincinnati Red Stockings did not stay together for long. After finally losing a game in June, 1870, they started to face tougher competition. Losses came more frequently, as other clubs caught up to their standard. After the 1870 season, many of the star players left Cincinnati, several of them heading for Boston, taking the name Red Stockings with them and establishing the preeminent team of the newly created National Association, baseball’s first professional league. The Cincinnati Red Stockings had helped complete the inevitable transformation to professionalism.


By the 1860’s baseball had become the national pastime, a term linked to it by the 1850’s. The older ideal of amateur play, however, was under severe pressure from competition and from commercial forces. When the Cincinnati Red Stockings recruited an all-professional team for the 1869 season and vanquished virtually all challengers for a year and a half, professionalization of organized baseball was set. Some older, more traditional clubs, such as the New York Knickerbockers, tried to keep amateur baseball alive, but they were fighting a rearguard action.

Further Reading

  • Alvarez, Mark. The Old Ball Game. Alexandria, Va.: Redefinition Books, 1992. A useful survey of the early trends in the game.
  • Block, David. Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. The definitive study of baseball’s origins.
  • Brock, Darryl. I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back. New York: Crown, 1990. delightful fictionalization of the 1869 Red Stockings season told in the context of a time-travel episode by a modern sportswriter.
  • Brown, Randall. “How Baseball Began.” National Pastime 24 (2004): 51-54. A discussion of William Wheaton’s connection to baseball and the Knickerbockers.
  • Goldstein, Warren Jay. Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. A sociological and historical study of the amateur period in early baseball and the trend toward professionalization.
  • Guschov, Stephen D. The Red Stockings of Cincinnati: Base Ball’s First All-Professional Team. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998. The best book focusing on the history of the Red Stockings.
  • Kirsch, George B. The Creation of American Team Sports: Baseball and Cricket, 1838-1872. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. A scholarly study of the decline of cricket and the rise of baseball in the United States.
  • Wright, Marshall D. The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000. Examines the early history of the first organization to manage baseball.

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