Thorn: Last hurrah for the Cincinnati Red Stockings

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on January 8, 2018:

Call them Cincinnati’s first “Big Red Machine.” Traveling 12,000 miles from coast to coast, the city’s Red Stockings were undefeated in 1869. They are a fabled club, in more ways than one, as commentators accord them a monumental status that obscures their real accomplishment: they were the team that made baseball famous.

It is often written that the Cincinnati Reds were the first professional club, which is not so, as many professional clubs had dotted the Northeast in the years after the Civil War. Those inclined to a more nuanced definition will declare the Reds the first openly professional club, which is not quite true either, as any of the several clubs paying their players no longer had to hide that fact after 1868, when the national amateur association recognized a separate professional class of clubs.

Many Cincinnati fans believe that their current club descends in a straight line from the Reds of 1869, but this famous club was blown up after the 1870 season. While baseball returned to the Queen City with the advent of the National League 1876 it vanished yet again in midseason the following year. Today’s Reds may trace their lineage only as far back as the 1882 club in the American Association, which was a ten-year major league in its debut campaign.

So: what may rightly be said about the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869–70? They were the first all-salaried team; other professional clubs at that time paid some of its players a salary and let others share in turnstile receipts, or were full “cooperative nines,” dividing a portion of the gate. And while Cincinnati did not field a club in baseball’s first professional league — the National Association of 1871 (NA) — its players of 1869–1870 helped to usher in the new league as stars on other clubs. The players’ affection for the city that had made them national heroes was so deep that even after the directors of the club had sent them packing, they returned for one final reunion game in mid-1871, little noted until now.

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Originally published: January 8, 2018. Last Updated: January 8, 2018.