The End of the Streak
Baseball’s first professional baseball team seemed unbeatable. As soon as they declared themselves professional for the 1869 season, the first team to ever do so, the team assembled by Harry Wright trampled over opponents. When they reached New York City, home to many past NABBP champions, many people thought the Red Stockings would be in for a tough test. On the first day in the city, Cincinnati beat the current champs, the Mutuals of New York, 4-2 and on the third day, they trampled over the Brooklyn Eckfords 24-5. However, the real test was supposed to come on the second day in New York when the Red Stockings played the Brooklyn Atlantics.
The Red Stockings fielded a nine like no one else in the country at the time. Asa Brainard and Harry Wright took turns pitching and playing centerfield; with Brainard doing the majority of the mound work. Harry’s younger brother George was one of the clubs’ best hitters and played shortstop on a regular basis. Filling out the remainder of the Red Stockings starting nine were Doug Allison (catcher), Charlie Gould (first base), Charlie Sweasy (second base), Fred Waterman (third base), Andy Leonard (leftfield), and Cal McVey (rightfield).
The Atlantics lineup featured no slouches either, fielding good ballplayers such as Joe Smart, Lip Pike and Bob Ferguson. Some thought the Atlantic team was good enough to defeat the Mutuals to take home the NABBP title at the end of the year. Early on in the game, the crowd’s enthusiasm for the home team drained. Cincinnati followed a five-run first with thirteen more in the second. By the time Brooklyn added a run to the scoreboard, the game was already over. Cincinnati cruised to a 32-10 victory and hushed the cocky Atlantic fans right out of the ballpark. The New York newspaper, who had unkind words for the Red Stockings a few days before, said that the Atlantics were â€œan impenetrable wall [but the Red Stockings]Â easily … battered the wall down.â€
The Cincinnati victory over Brooklyn was just one of their 57 wins in 1869 against no losses. Altogether, the team’s unbeaten streak had reached 65 contests dating back to the ’68 season. Meanwhile, despite being embarrassed by the Red Stockings, the Atlantics would take the championship at the end of the ’69 season by defeating the Mutual of New York baseball team in a best of two out of three game set, like some had predicted. No matter who the NABBP decided were the champions, Cincinnati was undoubtedly the best team in the country (Writer’s Note: Cincinnati told the NABBP they would not compete for championships when the team was founded). But, a rematch with now-champion Brooklyn was being hyped up throughout New York. It seemed if there was a team to stop the Red Stockings, it was the 1870 version of the Atlantics.
The teams would have their rematch on June 14th at the Capitole Grounds and both teams’ rosters had hardly changed from the last meeting. Cincinnati arrived the day before in New York City and then before setting down their suitcases in their hotel, they beat the Mutual 16-3 at Union Grounds. It was their 24th win of the season with no losses on the record. The victory against the Mutual was also the team’s 89th consecutive victory against another club team, an unheard of number. The Atlantics also played the day before and lost to the Forest City Club of Cleveland. According to the papers, Brooklyn appeared ‘half-demoralized’ from the defeat and had little chance at defeating Cincinnati.
The hot New York sun was out on a clear, humid day in the borough of Brooklyn. An estimated 20,000 fans were ‘in and around’ the Capitole Ball Grounds and many of them would not miss a pitch in what turned out to be a fantastic ballgame from start to finish. The umpire for the afternoon’s contest was Mutual catcher Charlie Mills and the lineup cards handed to him before the game looked like this:
CINCINNATI RED STOCKINGS â€“ 1. George Wright â€“ SS, 2. Charlie Gould â€“ 1B, 3. Fred Waterman â€“ 3B, 4. Doug Allison â€“ C, 5. Harry Wright â€“ CF, 6. Andy Leonard â€“ LF, 7. Asa Brainard â€“ P, 8. Charlie Sweasy â€“ 2B, 9. Cal McVey â€“ RF
ATLANTICS OF BROOKLYN â€“ 1. Dickey Pearce â€“ SS, 2. Charlie Smith â€“ 3B, 3. Joe Start â€“ 1B, 4. Jack Chapman â€“ LF, 5. Bob Ferguson â€“ C, 6. George Zettlein â€“ P, 7. George Hall â€“ CF, 8. Lip Pike â€“ 2B, 9. Jack McDonald â€“ RF
George Wright got on base to lead off the ball game and him and Allison would score the two Cincinnati runs in the top of the first to give the Red Stockings a quick lead. The lead was extended to three as the Red Stockings would scratch across another run in the third but the Atlantic replied with a pair in both the fourth and sixth innings to put themselves ahead 4-3. A single run lead wasn’t much, but in a tightly contested affair such as this one, it was a big advantage. The pitching from Zettlein and Brainard had been sharp as well as their respective defenses, who were making few fielding errors.
The Red Stockings regained the lead in the seventh by posting a pair of runs of their own on a George Wright basehit. But in the eighth, Brooklyn again responded, with Cincy catcher Allison dropping the baseball trying to tag the go-ahead run out. The run scored and the game was now all tied up at fives. In the ninth inning, Cincinnati was unable to plate the game-breaking run against Zettlein and the crowd at the ballpark got loud as they believed their Atlantics would score that one needed run to win the ballgame. Not fazed by the noise, Brainard, Allison, and the seven behind them disposed of Brooklyn promptly, leaving the game at a tie.
As Cincinnati came into the dugout to prepare to hit for the 10th inning, one of the directors of the Brooklyn team, last name Henry, approached umpire Mills and told him he believed the game should end in a draw. No doubt, the Atlantic players and managers were very happy with the result as it was. A draw against this seemingly unstoppable Cincinnati team seemed as good as any victory. Only once during their remarkable streak had a game been declared a draw, and today, that result is up for debate. In a game with Troy in 1869, the two clubs were tied up at 17-17 when the Troy club left the field in the fifth inning after a dispute with the umpire. While some consider the game a draw, some historians give Cincinnati credit for the victory. Depending on your view of the game, Cincinnati’s 89 game unbeaten streak could be an 89 game winning streak.
Back on the field, Harry Wright strolled over to the home plate area where Mills and Henry were having their conversation. When Mills asked Wright if the Cincinnati club would consent to a draw, Wright firmly responded no. At the exact same moment, Jack Chapman, the Atlantic leftfielder and a member of the team’s directors group, gathered up the club’s equipment and waved his team over to the dressing facilities. The excited crowd saw what their home team was doing and many rushed the field, chanting for the players to play and tried to prevent the Atlantics from reaching the change rooms. Nonetheless, Brooklyn went off the field and began changing into their street clothes as the fans and Cincinnati players were trying to comprehend what was happening.
In the midst of confusion, Wright sought out the ‘Father of Baseball’, Henry Chadwick, who was covering the game for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Chadwick told both Wright and the umpire that extra innings should be played to finish the extraordinary game. After a few minutes of mass confusion, umpire Mills decreed ‘Play!’ and gave Brooklyn an allotted amount of time to return to the playing field or the game would be rewarded to the visitors.
As the crowd cleared themselves off the diamond, the Atlantics returned to a cheer from the crowd. Zettlein did not appear to have lost his stuff during the lay-off and set the Red Stockings down without a run for the 3rd straight inning. So far, Zettlein had been the hero for the home side, holding a team that routinely put up large run totals â€“ they had posted triple digits in runs three times so far in 1870 â€“ to only five scores. Once again, the crowd cheered loudly as the Atlantics charged into the batters box with an opportunity to win and this time, they might have done so if it wasn’t for a great play by a great player.
With one out and baserunners on first and second, the Atlantics seemed poised to strike for a run when a Brooklyn hitter skied a pop-up in the direction of George Wright at shortstop. However, instead of catching it, Wright let the ball bounce off the infield and turned a quick, easy, and game-saving double play while reminding everyone reading this now why the infield fly rule exists today. Still, the strategic piece of fielding had forced the game into the 11th inning and Cincinnati was going to do everything in their power to make sure it would be the last.
The eleventh inning, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, were commenced in silence by the crowd. The crowd somehow got even quieter when George Wright knocked in Brainard and Sweasy on a two out single that flew by the Atlantic second baseman Pike. The Red Stockings had themselves a 7-5 lead now and its seemed like the upset was now inconceivable.
There are many different accounts to what happened in the eleventh inning but this one seems like the most likely scenario. Charlie Smith led off the inning for the Atlantics and got things started the right way by beating out a ground ball placed in the middle of nowhere on the infield. The next batter, Joe Start, took advantage of a mistake pitch by Brainard and sent it into the crowd for a triple, scoring Smith. With the tying run standing at third and no one out, Chapman couldn’t cash in on the situation and was retired.
Bob Ferguson was the next man up and took his at-bat as a left-hander, hoping to hit the ball away from the sure-handed Wright at short. The strategy paid off as he made contact and drove in Start with a base hit to tie the ball game. Zettlein was the next man up and he ripped a grounder through the legs of Gould at first base. A bad fielding error allowed the inning to continue with Ferguson representing the tying run at second base with one out. Some accounts have Ferguson scoring on Gould’s fielding gaffe but according to the game story in the Daily Eagle, Ferguson stopped at second base.
The next play wasn’t transcribed clear cut. Hall hit a ground ball to Wright at short who made a strong throw to Sweasy at second base to try and turn a double play to sent it into another extra inning. However, Sweasy muffled the receiving end of the throw but somehow managed to make an out on Zettlein at second base. As he was making the out at second base, Ferguson flew around third base and scored on the play for the winning run. Whatever happened during the last two batters of the ballgame is still up for debate but the result was the same, Ferguson scored the game-winning run and Brooklyn ended Cincinnati’s unbeaten streak with a thrilling 8-7 victory in 11 innings.
Writer’s Note: A huge thank you to Eric Miklich and his website, 19cbaseball.com, for providing me with lots of the information found in this article. Without Eric’s personal help, much of this article would have been impossible for me to write. I encourage you to check out his website as it is full of lots of interesting information pertaining to baseball in the 19th century.