On St. Patrick’s Day, 1871, nine base ball clubs gathered at Collier’s Pub in New York City to form baseball’s first major league, The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The league was comprised of all professional clubs, for the first time in baseball’s history. Prior to this historic event, clubs were mainly amateur until 1869. From 1869-1871, the National Association of Base Ball Players allowed a professional and amateur category for clubs. By St. Patrick’s Day, 1871, the professionals made a clean break from the NABBP, forming the first professional major league. Of the nine club’s Cleveland’s Forest City club was a member.
The Forest City Club, which was originally a cricket club that played at old Case Commons, was the areas prominent base ball club since the mid-1860’s. They had been members of the NABBP since they were an amateur club, and, in 1871, were entering their first season as an all professional nine. Pitcher “Uncle” Al Pratt, catcher Deacon White and Right Fielder Art Allison were their club leaders.
The Forest City Club was slated to start their season on May 4, 1871, against the Ft. Wayne Kekiongas in Ft. Wayne. However, the match was not scheduled to be the first played in the new league. That honor was slated for the Boston Red Stockings and the Washington Olympics, but the game was rained out. As a result, and though neither team knew it, the Forest City’s of Cleveland and the Kekiongas of Ft. Wayne were to be the first baseball teams to play in a major league game.
The game was played at Hamilton Field ballpark, land that once served a a Civil War camp, and was donated by Allen Hamilton. It was a rainy day, and attendance was low, with estimates of 200-500 people at the game. The match started at 3:00, and was umpired by John L. Bloake, of Cincinnati. Deacon White recorded the first hit and first double in Major League history in the league’s first at bat. He also led all players by hitting 3 for 4 from his lead-off spot. This combined with a solid pitching performance from Al Pratt were not enough for the Cleveland’s to prevail in the match. They fell 2-0 to the Ft. Wayne’s, and history was made.
The New York Herald reported on the match:
“The finest game of base ball ever witnessed in this country was played on the grounds of the Kekiongas of this city this afternoon, the playing throughout being without precedent in the annals of base ball, and the members of both clubs establishing beyond doubt their reputation as among the most perfect ball players in the United States."
The game was considered an anomaly, due to the low scoring of the match. During early baseball, it was very common for scores to be in the double digits for both sides in a match. The Fort Wayne Gazette thought the game was more significant because of the final score, than the fact it was the first major league game ever played:
“This is undoubtedly the best game on record. We know of nothing like it that has ever happened before. Just think of it, only two runs made in nine full innings!”
Cleveland’s newspapers headlines had a more familiar reaction:
“The First Dose of 1871 – A Whole Nest of Goose Eggs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0”
- Cleveland Leader
Overall, the game is a major first in baseball history, and Cleveland was a big part of it. Hopefully, the Cleveland’s will do better on Opening Day in 2011!
Base Ball on the Western Reserve, James Egan Jr.
The Baseball Almanac
National Association of Base Ball Players, Marshall D. Wright
Blackguards and Red Stockings, William J. Ryczek
Ft. Wayne Gazette
New York Herald
1st - 1869 Cleveland Forest City's - Western Reserve Historical Society
2nd - Deacon White - A.G. Spaulding Base Ball Collection
3rd - 1871 Ft. Wayne Kekiongas - BaseballChronology.com