Aaron Burt Champion

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Aaron Burt Champion

Biographical Information[edit]

Aaron Burt Champion was the President of the first professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He assembled the team with the help of Hall of Famer Harry Wright and made it tour the country where it was unbeaten for 81 straight games before its first defeat in 1870. The team played a huge role in promoting baseball throughout the country, but Champion has since largely been forgotten by baseball circles.

A lawyer active in municipal politics, before assembling his baseball team, Champion had been involved in the Union Cricket Club of Cincinnati, OH starting in 1865. The Cincinnati base ball Club was organized later that year, and he was elected its first president. Harry Wright, who had played baseball in New York, NY before the Civil War and had since moved to Cincinnati, was a cricket player at the time. He returned to baseball when the new baseball club became active, taking a number of cricket players with him. The club was able to charge admission and soon became the best team in the Midwest, losing only one of 18 games in 1867. The team's 1868 uniforms featured for the first time knickers instead of long trousers; these made the players socks visible, and the team adopted bright red ones, to go with the crimson "C" for their home city on their shirts. They thus became known as the "Red Stockings". They went 36-7 that year, but the lack of quality opposition was a problem: many of the wins were lopsided, and spectators' interest declined. Champion and Wright decided to address the issue by creating a traveling team that would take on the best that the game had to offer. In order to do do this, the team had to become fully professional, paying its players.

Champion was responsible for the business side of the enterprise, while Wright was in charge of recruiting players.; he was so successful that the most talented amateur players in the country joined the squad, creating a veritable juggernaut. The club thus consisted of 10 paid players: P Asa Brainard, C Doug Allison, 1B Charlie Gould, 2B Charlie Sweasy, 3B Fred Waterman, SS George Wright (Harry's brother), LF Andy Leonard, CF Harry Wright, RF Cal McVey and substitute Dick Hurley. Harry Wright was the highest-paid at $1400, while others usually received between $600 and $800. The Red Stockings played their first game as a professional team on April 17, 1869, facing local opposition that was completely over-matched. They began an East Coast tour on May 31st and defeated the best amateur teams in the country. On June 26th, after defeating the Washington Nationals, they were received at the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant. they returned to Cincinnati in early August, still undefeated, and were greeted by a parade and presented with a 27-foot wooden bat which still exists in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. On September 19th, they headed west, taking the newly-built transcontinental train to California and defeating all teams along the way, from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA. When they defeated the New York Mutuals in November, they ended their inaugural season 57-0. They would not lose a game until June 14, 1870, to the Brooklyn Atlantics, having by then won 81 straight times. Even that loss was close, 8-7 in 11 innings.

Dissension racked the club in 1871 however, with a faction led by the Wright brothers, Charlie Gould and Cal McVey wanting to curb what they saw as excessive drinking and lack of discipline. Champion resigned as club president, and his successors decided to return to amateur status. The dissidents thus moved to Boston, MA, where they formed the Boston Red Stockings, who would dominate the newly-formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.

Following his foray into baseball, Champion continued to be active in politics in Cincinnati, with the Democratic Party. He was a delegate at the party convention that nominated Horace Greeley for President in 1872 (he lost to Grant). He traveled extensively in Europe in later years, gathering ideas for celebrating Cincinnati's centennial, which was celebrated in 1888. He served as director of the city's Industrial Exposition from 1885 to 1888, then ran the street railway system in Charleston, WV for a few years. he was involved in a number of charitable and civic causes in Cincinnati and was a member of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Antioch College. He died in London, England on September 1, 1895, a victim of typhoid fever.

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