The Boston Red Stockings burst out of the gate in 1872, winning 22 of their first 23 games. After they lost their next two contests, including a 9-1 defeat at the hands of their arch-rival Athletics of Philadelphia, the declared champions of the National Association the previous season, the New England press was concerned. “The Boston Base Ball Club appears to be losing the laurels so easily won in the opening season,” opined the Lowell Daily Citizen and News.”1 The Boston Globe suggested that the loss to the Athletics made the club “careful.”2 The doom and gloom about baseball in general extended to Philadelphia, where the Inquirer pronounced, “It is coming, slow, it is true, but surely nonetheless, the new national pastime, Base ball, has grown monotonous.”3
On paper, the matchup between Boston and the Brooklyn Atlantics on Monday, July 29, 1872, looked like a laugher. The Red Stockings had beaten Brooklyn in their three previous meetings, outscoring them 49-13. The pride of the National Association, Boston had some of the league’s most acclaimed players; 21-year-old pitcher Al Spalding had led the NA in wins in ’71 (19), and had notched each of the 22 Boston victories thus far in ’72. Second baseman Ross Barnes and shortstop George Wright, each of whom batted in excess of .400 in the inaugural season of the NA, were arguably the most feared hitters in the league. Brooklyn, in its maiden season in the NA, lost its first nine games, and had a record of 2-10. The Atlantics had been outscored 164-65. Other than player-manager Bob “Death to all Flying Things” Ferguson (who also served as president of the NA), the club consisted almost entirely of local young, green players with no previous professional experience. James Britt, the Atlantics’ pitcher, was just 16 years old, en route to leading the league in losses (9-28). Brooklyn, however, was a proud club that traced its lineage to 1855. Named after Atlantic Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Brooklyn, the Atlantics were a charter member of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857 and were declared the NABBP champions in 1864 through 1866, and in 1869.
The game between the Red Stockings and Atlantics took place at the Capitoline Grounds, located in the Bedford neighborhood of Brooklyn. “Now that the prestige of invincibility has fallen from [Boston], there was little curiosity to see them, but the counter argument of a close game brought out a good attendance,” opined the New York Times, which estimated that 1,000 spectators were there for the 3:35 starting time.4 John Hatfield, player-manager of the Mutuals of New York, served as umpire. Boston won the coin toss, and chose to take the field first.
Brooklyn, playing its first game since July 8, got on the board first when Tom Barlow reached on first baseman Charlie Gould’s error, stole second, and then scampered home on what the Brooklyn Eagle described as “wild throwing” by catcher Cal McVey and center fielder/manager Harry Wright.5
After Boston tied the score, “the Atlantic boys went in lively” in the second inning, scoring five runs.6 The hitting barrage was led by England-born Al Thake, who smashed a “splendid” triple, and Herb Worth, who rapped a double.7 By all accounts, this was Worth’s only professional game and his only hit; he also scored a run. “This sort of playing astonished the Reds,” mused the Brooklyn Eagle.8 The Atlantics tacked on a run in the third to make the score 7-1.
“It looked as if the Boston boys were going to be beaten badly,” wrote the Eagle, “and the enthusiasm of the spectators was very great.”9 Scoreless for three straight frames, Boston tallied two runs each in the fifth and sixth innings to make it 7-5. A wild pitch by Britt and a dropped ball by center fielder Jack Remsen contributed to Boston’s scoring.
Just as it appeared that momentum had shifted to Boston, the Brooklyn youngsters pounded Spalding in the seventh for five more runs. “The Atlantic piled the ash vigorously,” wrote the Times excitedly.10 Thake “came to the rescue” by walloping another triple to give the Brooklyns what appeared to be an insurmountable 12-5 lead.11 Thake’s two three-baggers proved to be the only ones in his career; the 22-year-old outfielder died tragically about a month later, on September 1, in a drowning accident while fishing.
No lead was safe when playing Boston, which averaged 10.9 runs per game, tied with the Troy Haymakers (who ceased playing after their July 23 game) for second most in the league behind Philadelphia’s 11.5.
The Red Stockings stormed back, scoring six runs in the seventh. Accounts of this game in Boston newspapers were very limited, probably because it was an out-of-town game; New York and Brooklyn papers provided primarily information about the Atlantics’ scoring. In the bottom of the eighth, Ross Barnes, en route to leading the NA in hitting (.430) and slugging (.583), tied the game “by his wonderful base running.”12
The game went into extra innings after a scoreless ninth. The Brooklyn Eagle reported that “it was getting dusky” after a scoreless 10th, but the teams decided to continue playing. Another option could have been to declare the game a tie; Boston had one tie in 1872; Brooklyn had none.
After Spalding tossed his fourth straight scoreless frame, Boston’s McVey, who finished with a .431 batting average in 1871, runner-up to Philadelphia’s Levi Meyerle (.492), reached first base. Spalding lined to shortstop Jack Burdock, who caught McVey off base, but his throw to first was wild, enabling McVey to scamper to third. The next batter, Charlie Gould, hit to second baseman Edward Beavens, driving in McVey for the winning run, 13-12.
“There was little interest taken in the game after [McVey scored],” wrote the Brooklyn Eagle.13 As the spectators filed out of the Capitoline Grounds, the game continued until Boston recorded three outs. Anticlimactic as it was, and though it would startle later generations of baseball fans, this was the way the game was played at the time. The Red Stockings tacked on four more runs to conclude the game in 2 hours and 50 minutes.14 It was the longest game of the season for both clubs.
“The earnestness of the contest rendered it decidedly exciting,” opined the New York Times.15 Boston pounded out 24 hits, led by Barnes’s six; Brooklyn tallied 17 safeties, paced by Bob Ferguson’s four. Leadoff hitter George Wright led all players with four runs scored.
The game was not without some tense moments between the players and umpire. “Owing to the peculiar ‘fair-foul’ style of batting adopted by both sides, but chiefly by the Bostons, the umpire was called upon to make many close calls,” noted the Times.16 In all likelihood, the Times probably directed its comment to Ross Barnes, the undisputed master of the fair-four hit, a legal hit in all five seasons of the NA and the inaugural campaign of the National League in 1876. Unlike most practitioners of the fair-foul, the right-handed Barnes took a hard swing at the ball, chopping it in such a way that it would land in fair territory, bounce in front of the third baseman, and then roll into foul territory.
As exciting as the hitting was, the New York Times lamented the fielding, which it described as “the poorest of the season, the nines being equally bad.”17 Boston committed eight errors, well above its season average of 5.8; however Brooklyn’s seven miscues were considerably better than its average of 9.7 per game. The Times reserved its harshest judgment for shortstop George Wright, whose fielding (three errors) it described as a “weak point.”18
The two clubs met again later that week at Boston’s South End Grounds, but the games were never in doubt. On August 2 the Red Stockings exploded for 12 runs in the second inning en route to an overpowering 26-3 victory. The following day, Boston scored three in the first and coasted to an 8-1 lead behind Spalding’s six-hitter. Notwithstanding the press’s concern with Boston in the wake of its two-game losing streak in late July, the Red Stockings finished the season with a 39-8 record to capture their first of four consecutive National Association championships.
This article was originally published in “Boston’s First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings” (SABR, 2016), edited by Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 Lowell (Massachusetts) Daily Citizen and News, July 30, 1872: 2.
2 “Out-Door Sports,” Boston Globe, July 30, 1872: 5.
3 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1872: 4.
4 “Base-Ball. Atlantic vs. Boston – The Latter Wins in Eleven Innings – Score 18-12,” New York Times, July 30, 1872: 5. [Note: The score was 17-12; the Times misstated it in the headline.
5 “Sports and Pastimes. Base Ball,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 30, 1872: 3.
10 New York Times.
11 According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Thake had two triples; according to Retrosheet, he had only one.
12 Brooklyn Eagle.
14 According to the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Times, the game lasted 2 hours and 55 minutes. Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet give the game time as five minutes shorter.
15 New York Times.
Boston Red Stockings 17
Brooklyn Atlantics 12
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