Baseball fans pride themselves on their love, passion, and appreciation for the game’s lore. I was thinking to myself the other day as I watched Sunday Night Baseball, what is the most important year in the history of the game? After doing some digging, I came up with several very strong candidates. I narrowed it down to three pivotal years, and today I bring you one: 1869. The other two candidates: 1920 and 1947.
1869: The Most Important Year in Baseball History?
Why 1869? For starters, the first professional baseball team was formed in that year. While that alone is enough to have garnered a nod from me, the year was so important for several reasons.
As mentioned, the first professional baseball team was established in 1869—the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team played with 10 players, who all received a salary. There were baseball teams before the guys from Cincinnati, however, they were completely amateur. That doesn’t mean they weren’t compensated though. In fact, some teams gave players a portion of the gate, but that doesn’t make them ‘professional’ as it wasn’t guaranteed. The team not only impacted the modern day “Reds“, and created an association of the color with Cincinnati, but it also influenced today’s Boston Red Sox, as well as an African American team who played out of Virginia. See, after the Red Stockings folded a year later in 1870, a new team began in Boston with former Cincinnati manager Harry Wright managing the team – he brought the name with him. Of course, Boston fans will know it went through several name changes.
The first game the Cincinnati Red Stockings played was against the Great Westerns, also of Cincinnati. The game was a drubbing, making today’s contests seemingly tame – the Red Stockings won 45-9. The team went on to record a perfect season, 65 wins with no defeats, and remains the only undefeated season on record. Their final win of the year was in front of nearly 10,000 spectators, which was considered ‘massive’ for the day.
While the lob-sided score seems ridiculous, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Also in 1869, an amateur team from Buffalo defeated a team called Columbias by, get this, 209-10. So much for the “mercy rule”!
Another historic event from 1869 was actually not really baseball related. In that year the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. The obvious impact on baseball had to do with travel, which of course was very, very slow at that time. With the railroad, it exposed teams in different regions to different rules, styles of play, and improved talent levels. One example was how Cincinnati travelled that year across country to battle several teams from California, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. While they were hardly a contest (the Red Stockings won very easily), it completely opened up the game and exposed many new people to what would become the national past time.
Another massive achievement that year was the formation of the Chicago Base-ball Association – the modern day Chicago Cubs. While the team didn’t play that year (they started in 1870), they remain a cornerstone of professional baseball. Interestingly, the original name of the Chicago Cubs was Chicago White Stockings. Confusing, I know.
For interest’s sake, here are just a few of the other teams who competed in 1869: Brooklyn Atlantic, Brooklyn Eckford, Philadelphia Athletic, Philadelphia Keystone, New York Mutual, Washington Olympic, Baltimore Maryland, Washington National, and Cleveland Forest City.
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