Most baseball fans are familiar with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the 1st openly professional baseball team, and their undefeated season in which they went an astounding 57-0. But do you know the story of how this team finally lost a game?
First, a little background before we get to June 14, 1870. Harry Wright recruited the best players in the game to play for the Red Stockings, starting with arguably the best player in the country, his brother George Wright. Harry managed and played outfield, and George played shortstop. The rest of the team included pitcher Asa Brainard, outfielders Cal McVey and Andy Leonard,1st baseman Charlie Gould, 2nd baseman Charlie Sweasy, 3rd baseman Fred Waterman, and catcher Doug Allison. Dick Hurley was the lone substitute. All this for a team salary of $9300.
After their 57-0 season wowed the country, all the players returned for the 1870 season. Sporting a perfect 24-0 record the Red Stockings arrived at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn to face the Atlantics on a hot early summer day. The Capitoline Grounds were the 1st fully enclosed baseball grounds and was used as a skating rink during the winter. It was also used to host the Barnum Circus each spring. (The pre-Bailey circus)
Fans needed to take the ferry from Manhattan to cross the East River into Brooklyn to attend the game. The Brooklyn Bridge was currently under construction and wouldn’t be finished for another 13 years.
An estimated crowd of between 12,000-15,000 jam packed a ball park that would normally hold 5,000, all paying 50 cents, most anticipating a Brooklyn Atlantic upset. Wishful thinking; the last time these 2 teams met the Red Stockings had edged the Atlantics 32-10, and the Atlantics had already lost 3 games this season.
The Atlantics would be represented by Dickey Pearce-ss, Charles Smith-3b, Joe Start-1b, John Chapman-lf, Bob Ferguson-c, George Zettlein-p, George Hall-cf, Lipman Pike-2b, and Dan McDonald-rf.
George Wright lead off the game with a single to left, and 2 outs later scored on singles from Doug Allison, and his brother Harry. Allison scored on Harry’s single when rightfielder Dan McDonald misplayed the ball for an error, giving the Reds an early 2-0 lead.
The Reds increased their lead to 3-0 in the 3rd inning on hits from Fred Waterman and George Wright.
The Atlantics broke through in the 4th on singles off the bats of Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, and Bob Ferguson. A throwing error by Fred Waterman aided in the scoring. After 4 innings the Reds lead 3-2.
In the 6th the Atlantics took a surprising 4-3 lead, but in the Reds 7th they plated 2 runs on a smash off the bat of George Wright giving the Reds a 5-4 lead.
In the Atlantics’ 8th Charles Smith tripled with 1 out in the inning. Joe Start hit a drive down the right field line that was caught on a brilliant play by Cal McVey. Smith tagged and headed home, but a great throw from McVey beat him to the plate, unfortunately, for the Reds, Doug Allison dropped the ball allowing Smith to score the tying run.
No runs scored in either half of the 9th leaving the game locked at 5.
The rules of the day allowed for tie ballgames, and the Atlantics were perfectly satisfied with a tie against the invincible Red Stockings. Harry Wright and club President Aaron Champion were not satisfied with a tie and insisted the game continue. With the crowd storming the field happy with the tie as well, Henry Chadwick, who was in attendance, was asked what the official ruling should be. Because both captains of the teams had to agree to letting the game end in a tie, and Harry and the Red Stockings would not agree to this, Chadwick declared that the game must resume.
After clearing the field the game continued. The Reds did not score in the 10th, and the Atlantics mounted a rally in the last of the 10th. With Dan McDonald and Dickey Pearce on 1st and 2nd with 1 out, Charles Smith hit a pop fly on the infield. George Wright camped under the ball, and then let it drop, thus turning an easy inning ending double play. With no infield fly rule the play was perfectly within the rules.
In the 11th the Red Stockings seemingly put the game away, scoring 2 runs to take a 7-5 lead. Asa Brainard doubled, Charlie Sweasey lifted an easy flyball that fell when the Atlantic outfielders collided. A Cal McVey flyball scored Brainard, and George Wright came through again with an rbi single to score Sweasy.
Following the rules of the day, Charles Smith lead off the 11th for the Atlantics. Despite being the batter that hit into the inning ending double play in the 10th, Smith was not the last player put out in the inning, and was allowed to lead off the 11th. Smith promptly singled and went to 3rd on a wild pitch from Brainard. Joe Start hit one deep to right field that landed near the overflow crowd. When McVey grabbed the ball a spectator leaped on his back allowing Start to reach 3rd. Years later McVey would deny that any spectator leaped on his back, but regardless, Start was the tying run at 3rd with no outs. An infield groundout failed to score Start, and the normally right handed hitting Bob Ferguson came to the plate batting left handed. He wanted to make sure he pulled the ball away from the sure-handed George Wright at short. Ferguson proceeded to smash a ball past Sweasy at 2nd to tie the score. George Zettlein smacked a groundball to 1st baseman Charley Gould. He made a dangerous throw to 2nd to try to force Ferguson, but his throw bounced in to the outfield allowing Ferguson to score all the way from 2nd. The Atlantics had ended the Red Stocking’s winning streak at 81 games, by a score of 8-7.
The Red Stockings had proved mortal, the crowds stopped coming out to see them play, and they actually lost 5 more games in the season. With the advent of the National Association in 1871 the team broke up, with George and Harry Wright, Charley Gould and Cal McVey playing for the National Association Red Stockings
The Cincinnati Red Stockings had captured the nation with a glorious winning streak, but a loss on a hot Brooklyn summer day may have turned the game of baseball into America’s game.