June 12, 1872: Boston Red Stockings bury the Philadelphia Athletics
Wednesday June 12, 1872, was a hot, sultry day at the South End Grounds in Boston, as Harry Wright and his Red Stockings faced their rivals, the Athletics of Philadelphia. Despite the midweek date and the heat, so many Red Stockings fans flocked to the ball park that the 3:30 P.M. game time had to be delayed by 20 minutes so that ropes could be put up around the field to accommodate the overflow. Many of those unable to get inside the park climbed onto nearby roofs or stationed themselves precariously atop fences adjacent to the park.
Meanwhile, gamblers from both cities snaked through the grandstand offering odds to anyone interested in a wager. In the middle of it all sat the French national band, honored guests who had recently performed in Boston. Called the best national band in the world by the Chicago Tribune, the visitors eagerly awaited their first baseball experience.1 By game time as many as 10,000 patrons, the biggest baseball crowd in Boston history, awaited the first pitch.2
The game had special significance for the Red Stockings and their supporters. Featuring several of the game’s best players, the two teams were expected to contend again for the league championship. The previous year, the National Association’s inaugural season, the Athletics finished two games ahead of Boston and won the championship. More importantly, in the 12 games Boston had played thus far in the 1872 season, their only loss had come six weeks earlier to the Athletics, 10-7. Meanwhile, Philadelphia entered the game with an 8-1 record.3
The anxious fans did not have to wait long to see what they had come for. After escaping a first-inning bases-loaded threat, the Red Stockings set the stage for the rest of the afternoon. In the bottom of the first, shortstop George Wright led off with a fair-foul double and his keystone counterpart, Ross Barnes, followed with a walk. Wright and Barnes scored when the Athletics shortstop, Dickie Flowers, “threw wide to first base,” making the first of his team’s 13 errors in the game.4 Base hits by catcher Cal McVey and pitcher Al Spalding, and a stolen base that included an overthrow, put the home team up by four runs before the visitors had recorded their first out. A single by Fraley Rogers added another tally to the scoreboard and gave Boston a five-run lead after just one inning of play.
In the third inning a one-out error by the Athletics’ first baseman, Denny Mack, followed by an overthrow and then an error by Philadelphia’s young third baseman, Adrian Anson, accounted for the sixth Boston tally. (Anson was already recognized as one of the league’s better hitters, but it would be several years before he became more famously known as Cap, after he was named captain and manager of the Chicago White Stockings in 1979. His Athletics teammates had dubbed the 20-year-old the Marshalltown Infant, after his age and his Iowa birthplace.) Anson finished the game hitless and with three errors, and this afternoon was undoubtedly one in his Hall of Fame career that Anson would have chosen to forget.
Three more Red Stockings scored in the fourth. The first two came in after a double by McVey. An out later Charlie Gould lifted a fly ball to left field. Athletics outfielder Fred Treacey misplayed the ball so badly that McVey scored easily and Gould was able to circle the bases as well. The inning ended after another Philadelphia error, a stolen base, and a single by right fielder Fraley Rogers that drove in Boston’s third run of the inning.
After sailing through the first four innings, Red Stockings pitcher Al Spalding ran into his first bit of real trouble in the fifth. Down by nine runs, the Athletics strung together a one-out single by pitcher Dick McBride, an error by third baseman Harry Schafer, a walk to Flowers, and Wes Fisler’s fly ball that “amid applause” plated McBride.5 The tally had little effect on Spalding. Considered to be one of the league’s top pitchers, the Boston hurler had won 19 games the previous season and was on his way to doubling that number in 1872. Over the next four years he would win 185 games, easily the best record in the National Association.
The Red Stockings matched the Athletics’ fifth-inning effort with a run of their own in the sixth. After a popout to the catcher, Schafer reached base on Anson’s second error. He stole second and one out later sprinted home on a single by George Wright.
Over the last three innings both teams scored three more times. Two of the Athletics’ runs came in the seventh on a walk to Ned Cuthbert, McBride’s second hit of the day, another free pass, and a single by Treacey. Philadelphia might have scored more runs in the inning had it not been for a defensive gem by center fielder Harry Wright. With two out, two on, and two runs already in, Anson smacked a Spalding pitch into deep right-center field. Wright galloped after the ball and made a magnificent running catch “which gained him continued applause” from the Boston fans.6 Philadelphia’s final run came in the ninth on a double by outfielder Levi Meyerle and a single by Flowers.
Weary from the long, hot, and unproductive afternoon, the Athletics gave up three final runs to the home team in the bottom of the ninth. Though they had already won the game, the Red Stockings used their last turn at the plate to add to Philadelphia’s gloom. George Wright’s second hit of the day, a wild pitch, and an error followed by Spalding’s single added two to Boston’s total. The game ended a batter later when Charlie Gould singled and then “danced between Mack and Fisler” just long enough for Spalding to scamper across the plate with his team’s 13th run.7
With shadows beginning to stretch across the field the throng of happy Boston fans filed out of the ballpark satisfied by the afternoon’s contest. Their team had outplayed Philadelphia both at the plate and in the field. During the next four months the two teams would meet again seven times, with the Athletics getting a bit of revenge by taking three of those games, with one tie. However, the Red Stockings in 1872, managed by their legendary leader Harry Wright and featuring star pitcher Spalding, went on to win the first of their 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.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also reviewed coverage of the game in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
1 “Amusements,” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1872: 6.
2 Crowd estimates ranged from 8,000 in the Boston Journal to “at least ten thousand” in the Boston Globe. All agreed it was the largest crowd on the Boston grounds.
3 Officially Philadelphia’s record stood at 8-1. However, the league had voided a 7-4 loss on May 20 to the Baltimore Canaries because of a dispute with the umpire, and declared the game a tie.
4 Boston Journal June 13, 1872.
5 “Out-Door Sports,” Boston Globe, June 13, 1872: 5.
6 “Base Ball: The Bostons Still Victorious. The Athletics Badly Defeated – Score 13 to 4,” Boston Journal, June 13, 1872.
7 “Out-Door Sports,” Boston Globe, June 13, 1872: 5.