1871 Boston Red Stockings

From BR Bullpen

1871 Boston Red Stockings / Franchise: Boston Red Stockings / BR Team Page[edit]

Record: 20-10-1 Finished 3rd in National Association

Board of Directors:

  • Managed by: Harry Wright
  • Team Captain: Harry Wright


History, Comments, Contributions[edit]

A New League is formed[edit]

It was a rainy night on March 17th, when delegates from about 10 baseball teams met at Collier’s Room, an upper floor saloon located at 13th and Broadway. It was here that the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players or National Association was established. It was not the first league, that honor goes to the National Association of Base Ball Players. The origins of the league came about due to a fiery league meeting the previous November over the direction of the league. Prior to the start of the 1869 season, the league had allowed for the teams to start paying their players. By 1870 the league was divided into 2 camps, those who wished for the league to remain professional and those who wanted the league to return to its amateur roots. In the end the two groups would go their separate ways. That National Association was made up of established teams: the Philadelphia Athletics, New York Mutuals, Washington Olympics, Troy Haymakers, Chicago White Stockings and two Forest City clubs: the Rockford Forest Citys, and the Cleveland Forest Citys. The Boston Red Stockings and Fort Wayne Kekiongas were the lone newcomers. It was reported that at least two of the owners were stingy with their money, as a result the Brooklyn Eckfords and Washington Nationals did not join the league for the 1871 season. Likewise the Brooklyn Atlantics opted not to join the league as well.

Due to the lateness of the league’s formation, the delegates did not put down a set of guidelines particularly when it came to determining how the teams would be ranked in the standings. It was generally agreed upon that the teams would play each other 5 times with the first three matches being considered “championship” games. The unasked question was would the teams be ranked by the number of games won or the number of series won. Because of the league’s failure to address this problem, newspapers across the nation would rank the baseball teams differently from city to city on any given day.

1871 Season[edit]

The 1871 Boston Red Stockings were a team full of famous baseball pioneers. Harry Wright at age 36 was a decade older than anyone else on the team except Dave Birdsall. Wright both managed the team and played center field, as well as serving as a backup pitcher. His younger brother George Wright, appearing in 16 games for the team (about half the games), had the second highest batting average at .413 and the highest slugging percentage at .625. The highest batting average belonged to Cal McVey, one of the decade's great hitters, who hit .431 at age 21. Ross Barnes, also 21, would go on to win three batting championships in the 1870's. Birdsall, at age 32, had been famous as a catcher in the amateur days of the 1860's, but played outfield in 1871, his only full season in the National Association. The regular pitcher was Al Spalding, a dominant pitcher during the 1870's and later to found the Spalding sporting goods business. Spalding, who was only 20 in 1871, would go on to win as many as 55 games in 1875. Of course, he could not win nearly as many in 1871 because the team only played 31 games.

The team practiced for three weeks before the team’s first game against Picked Nine club on Fast Day, April 6th. The Picked Nine was made up of players from the Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club, the Lowells and Harvard College. The Red Stockings won 41-10, but several of the Picked Nine’s runs came as a result of Red Stockings’ errors. While the game may have been a means to see how the team would operate as well as correcting and fine-tuning mistakes, the game was a sign of things to come for the up-coming season. The team’s next game came on the eighth and was a win against the Lowells. Boston would travel to Washington D.C. in early May for a game against the Olympics on the fourth, but the game was rained out. Had the game not be rained out, it would have been the first major league baseball game. The game was made up the next day with the Red Stockings rallying to defeat the Olympics 20-18. The next exhibition game came on April 8th, a 25-0 win over the Brooklyn Atlantics at Capitoline Grounds, the site where the Cincinnati Red Stockings suffered their first loss the previous June.

The next day the team then travelled to Troy, NY to take on the Haymakers. The Red Stockings won the game 9-5, but lost George Wright to a leg injury when he collided with Fred Cone when both tried to get a fly ball. This happened when Cone failed to hear Wright yell for possession of the ball due to a passing train that was blowing its whistle at the time. Wright would be out for more than two months. A week later found the team at their home park to officially open the season at home. 2,500 fans were on hand to watch the hometown team play the Haymakers. The game began at 3:30 with the Red Stockings batting first as Wright lost the coin toss. Spalding pitched for the home team, while John McMullin, who lost the first meeting, pitched for the visitors. The Red Stockings led until the 4th inning when Troy took the lead at 11-7 and would hold on to win 29-14. As with the match against the Picked Nine sloppy play contributed to the Haymakers scoring. It would be the only time that season that the team would give up 20+ runs. The team would get its first home win on April 20th which was a 11-8 over the Athletics.

George Wright would return on June 17th, the team at this point was in the midst of what would become a 3-game losing streak. The streak would end four days later in a 21-0 shutout of the Kekiongas and was Spalding’s only shutout of the season. This was not the time the team would have a three-game losing streak in the National Association. The team would have another one in 1874, but at that time the team was in first place and on their way to winning a third pennant. The team would then began a long road trip, starting with a 20-8 loss to the Athletics on the 26th, which was the last time the team would be in 6th place. In early July saw the Red Stockings take a slight detour to Cincinnati. Along with Washington Olympics, the two teams were invited to play a baseball game at Union Grounds on July 4th. The game was preceded by an exhibition game on July 3rd, which saw the old Cincinnati Red Stockings players reunite and play against a Picked Nine club made up of the Olympics and Red Stockings players. Of the old Red Stockings players, only George Wright did not participate, but former Cincinnati Red Stockings substitute Harry Deane, now with the Ft. Wayne Kekiongas, would take Wright’s place. The old Red Stockings lost to the Picked Nine 15-13. According to the New York Clipper, George Wright’s absence was felt and noted on Charlie Sweasy’s ineffective play at both bat and immobile field. When the game started the next day at 3:30, 5,000 spectators showed up to watch the Red Stockings take on the Blue Stockings (as the Olympics were also known as ). This time the Harry Wright’s Red Stockings won the game 7-3. The game showed that Cincinnati fans were still willing to watch a baseball game, professional or not. According to today’s rules, the Red Stockings would move into 3rd place on August 3rd and would remain there for the rest of the season. But back in 1871, the team would not move into 3rd until August 8th.

August 29th, Fort Wayne would be the first team to fail to complete their season. The Kekiongas who were a cooperative club, relied entirely on gate receipts as opposed to an actual salary. Because of this the team had a lot of financial difficulties and were not able be competitive as many of the other salary-based teams. Their “spot” was taken over by the Brooklyn Eckfords, but were not officially included in the standings as they did not officially join the league. Rockford would become the second team to not finish the season following their 16-8 loss to Cleveland on September 15th. The Great Chicago Fire which took place between October 8th and 10th, nearly forced the White Stockings to drop out, but the team would manage to complete the season on October 30th and compiled a 19-9 record. This was accomplished with players wearing an odd assortment of baseball uniforms from various baseball teams. For the Red Stockings their season had ended on October 7th, with the team in first place.

The fall league meeting took place on Friday, November 3rd at the Girard House in Philadelphia. The Red Stockings’ President Ivers W. Adams would represent the team at the meeting while Harry Wright would represent Fort Wayne. Among the items discussed were a clearer set of guidelines in determining a championship; scheduling of games and umpires; Championship and exhibition games as well as the fate of the teams that had dropped out, including the White Stockings. In the end the Kekionga, Eckford issues as well as the determining of the winner of the league pennant was referred to a championship committee and that a decision and all other unresolved points would be decided by November 18th by which point the Athletics were the winners of the inaugural pennant.

OnDecember 7th at the stockholders meeting, Ivers Adams was unanimously re-elected team president, but he had declined to continue for another season, and instead decided to focus on his business. He was succeeded as team president by John A. Conkey. The Association was also either re-organzied or was officially incorporated.

Boston Red Stockings Uniform: 1871

Further Reading[edit]

  • Matthew Baker, Thomas J. Miceli, William J. Ryczek “The Old Ball Game: Organization of the Nineteenth Century Professional Base Ball Clubs,” University of Connecticut, 2002
  • Christopher Devine: “Harry Wright: The Father of Professional Base Ball, McFarland, 2003, pp 85-86
  • Richard Hershberger: "1871 Winter Meetings: The Winter of Three National Associations", 1871
  • Harold Kaese: Boston Braves: 1871-1953, Northeastern University Press, Boston, MA, 2004. ISBN 978-1555536176. Originally published in 1948.
  • Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin: Boston's First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016. ISBN 978-1-943816-29-3