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Cincinnati Red Stockings

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The Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 were baseball's first openly all-professional team. The Cincinnati Base Ball Club formed in 1866 and fielded competitive teams in the National Association of Base Ball Players 1867 to 1870, the time of a transition that ambitious Cincinnati, Ohio businessmen and English-born ballplayer Harry Wright shaped as much as anyone. In 1969 Major League Baseball recognized those events officially by sponsoring a centennial of professional baseball.

Thanks partly to their on-field success and their tours of continental scope, the Red Stockings established styles in team uniforms and team nicknames that have some currency even in the 21st century. They also established a particular color, red, as the color of Cincinnati (and serve as the ultimate origin for the use of "Red Sox" in Boston as well).

Baseball club Edit

The Cincinnati Base Ball Club, or simply Cincinnati Club, was established June 23, 1866 at a downtown law office, drawing up a constitution and by-laws and electing officers including Alfred T. Goshorn, President. A few years later Goshorn earned international fame as Director-General of the (U.S.) Centennial Exposition held 1876 in Philadelphia. Founding member George B. Ellard led the Union Cricket Club, and the relationship between clubs proved decisive for the Cincinnati's success.[1]

After playing four matches that summer, Cincinnati joined the NABBP for 1867 and concluded an agreement to play at the Union Cricket Club grounds. George Ellard's son says that "a great number of the cricket club members" joined and so "the team was greatly strengthened and interest in baseball gained a new impetus." Plans for a new clubhouse and "more substantical" enclosing fence were approved in April and the commercial basis was approved in June: members of both clubs admitted free to all matches; otherwise "ten cents for home matches and twenty five cents for foreign matches. Ladies free." (Ellard [1908]: 23-27).

The team was soon nicknamed "Red Stockings" in reference to the main feature of the uniforms designed by Ellard: red stockings, worn with short white trousers. Long stockings were then a novelty in team uniforms.[2]

Harry Wright had immigrated from New York in 1866 for a job as "club pro" at the Union Cricket Club. Next year he picked up similar baseball duties, but the lingo is commonly stretched to call him a "manager" from that time. His first team may have been local to a man, but he both developed and imported players to represent the club in competitive play for the 1868 season. The first won 16 matches with regional opponents and lost only to the touring Nationals from Washington. As for most hosts on the tour, it was a "bad loss" on the scorecard but an instructive one for Cincinnati: the players, the club, the fans, and perhaps the local newspapers. Everyone learned advanced points of play and, from their different perspectives, witnessed the gulf playing strength.

About half of the 1868 Red Stockings were eastern imports, presumably compensated somehow. The two leading batsmen, John Hatfield and Fred Waterman arrived from the New York Mutuals, one of the strongest teams and another one pushing the bounds of the amateur code. Asa Brainard had been the Excelsiors regular pitcher for four seasons, succeeded in 1867 by Candy Cummings. Catcher Doug Allison was from the Geary club of Philadelphia, one of the stronger local clubs in that city. One strong local player arrived, too, from the rival Buckeye club: Charlie Gould at first base. Harry Wright remained the first pitcher, sharing that position and second base with Brainard, and three others remained in the outfield and at shortstop. The 1868 team played a heavy schedule including a late tour of the East, once again dominating the western teams but losing seven of 43 matches in all.

First professional team Edit

When the National Association of Base Ball Players permitted professionalism for 1869, Wright and probably George Ellard organized a fully professional team: ten men on salary for eight months, March 15 to November 15. Wright played center field and coordinated the team defense, a novelty. Younger brother and shortstop George Wright, new to the team in 1869, was its best player, maybe the best of his time.

The professional Cincinnati Red Stockings club played their first game May 4th, 1869 with a 45-9 win over the Great Westerns of Cincinnati. The team won 57 games without defeat, counting only those games against National Association clubs. The Red Stockings played over 70 games in the first season counting games against other collegiate and amateur teams. Its commercial tour of continental scope, visiting Boston and San Francisco, was unprecedented and may be essentially unrepeated. In its final game on November 6, 1869 they defeated the Mutuals of New York, 17-8.

For 1870 the team was essentially unchanged and it continued to win regularly, perhaps 24 games before losing 8-7 in eleven innings to the Brooklyn Atlantics in Brooklyn on June 14. The Red Stockings remained one of the few strongest teams on the field, losing only six games, but attendance declined badly, especially at home.

1871 Edit

The Executive Board now led by President A.P.C. Bonte recommended November 21 that the club not employ a nine for 1871, for that had become too expensive. The spokesmen anticipated "a development of the amateur talent of our club, such as has not been displayed since we employed professionals." The officers subsequently decided to disband the club (the team having disbanded via the market) and a public meeting of the members put that decision into effect (Ellard [1908]: 155-56).

Harry Wright was hired to organize a new pro club in Boston and he signed three Cincinnati teammates to join the 1871 Boston Red Stockings in the first professional league, as it turned out. Ex-Cincinnati Red Stockings moved around some (see the note on Team members) but Boston retained both Wright brothers throughout the five years of the National Association.

Because Cincinnati is the birthplace of professional baseball, the current Cincinnati Reds club and some people identify the Cincinnati Red Stockings with the modern Cincinnati Reds, a major league club from 1882, or with the National League club of 1876-1880. [1] Rather, the Red Stockings established a point of reference for 'Red' nicknames and a basis for fan identification and club marketing in Cincinnati. The distinct Boston Red Stockings, comprising some of the same people, did much the same in Boston. Over time the Boston Red Stockings eventually would change their name to the Boston Braves. The franchise now resides in Atlanta, and still retains red trim as one of its uniform colors.


From 1867 Harry Wright fulfilled the duties of modern field managers, general managers, and traveling secretaries. He and Brainard shared the pitcher and second base positions in 1868 with Allison, Gould, and Waterman already manning the other bases. For the crosstown rival Buckeyes, Sweasy and Leonard played second and third with Hurley a substitute. Among them only Gould was a Cincinnati native; the others were from the East, presumably compensated somehow by club members if not by the clubs. George Wright and McVey played in New York and Indianapolis, primarily at shortstop and pitcher.[3]

After disbanding, Gould, the Wright brothers, and McVey played for the Boston Red Stockings in 1871; Brainard, Allison, Sweasy, Waterman, and Leonard for the Washington Olympics in 1871; Hurley briefly for the Olympics in 1872 but the club went out of business midseason. Leonard joined Boston in 1872, Gould left in 1873, McVey left for 1873 only, then again in 1876 (NL). Harry Wright won his last two championships as non-playing manager in 1877-1878 with Leonard and brother George still members of the Nine.

To see the lithograph print "First Nine of the Cincinnati (Red Stockings) Base Ball Club", visit the Library of Congress - American Memory site [2] and search for Cincinnati Red Stockings. The first item listed is the 1869 lithograph including the nine portraits. A high quality image can be downloaded.


Before Cincinnati hired its professional nine in 1869, the strongest clubs were located between Washington and Troy, New York, inclusive. In 1867 and 1868, Cincinnati was beaten only by clubs from that eastern corridor, winning 16 and 29 games without defeat against western opponents.

Year Games Won Lost Tied Rank in games (or wins)
1867 18 17 1 0 16 (10th in wins)
1868 43 36 7 0 3 (4th)
1869 57 57 0 0 1 (1st)
1870 74 67 6 1 3 (2nd)

Championship matches with professional teams 1869-1870

Year Games Won Lost Tied Rank in games (or wins)
1869 19 19 0 0 8 (1st in wins)
1870 34 27 6 1 4 (2nd)

Source for season records: Wright (2000) has published records for dozens of NABBP teams each season, relying on a mix of game and season records in contemporary newspapers and guides. Dozens of leading clubs by number of matches are included, as are many others. The records do not consistently cover either all games played or all championship matches between NABBP members.


  1. George Ellard's son Harry, writing forty years later, is the principal source on the cricket club and the relationship between the two clubs, as well as George's personal role. The Union Cricket Club was established 1856; George Ellard was president in 1867, span not reported, and he signed Harry Wright in 1865.
  2. Ellard (1908) credits his father with designing the first version, including a white flannel shirt (plain?), and with responsibility for the annual order. "As the long red stockigns were necessarily made to order, they were quite expensive, for they were up to that time unknown. Mrs. Berthra Bertram of Elm Street made the uniforms for Cincinnati and many other clubs through the early eighties.
  3. Marshall Wright (2000) lists multiple fielding positions where known, including a total of 16 listings for the Nine in 1868, all in the infield. Cincinnati's best batsman was left fielder John Hatfield of New York, who jumped back to the New York Mutuals in 1869. But the incidence of leading players in the infield was high before advancing professionalism concentrated the best on a few teams. For annual rosters and other playing data see Wright (2000) on 1857-1870 and Baseball-Reference on the major leagues from 1871.

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