COVID-19 ruins another tradition involving baseball and the White House
The 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers won’t be going to the White House to celebrate. COVID-19, the great kill joy, ensured that no invitation would be extended.
Baseball teams first visited the White House in 1865 during Andrew Johnson’s administration. Like Abraham Lincoln before him, Johnson, who labeled baseball the “nation’s game,” was a true fan who once gave the entire federal bureaucracy a day off to watch a three-team round robin played behind the White House.
In June 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings traveled to Ulysses S. Grant’s White House, journalists couldn’t decide which was more popular – the undefeated Cincinnati powerhouse, or the recently elected Civil War hero. As one scribe wrote, “This season, the whole country seems to have baseball on the brain.”
Legend has it that Grant would sometimes join in games young boys played near the White House. In the 1868 presidential campaign, teams that supported Grant and his challenger, former New York governor Horatio Seymour, once played a game against each other. The results are unknown.
The Red Stockings were baseball’s first professional team, and the ballclub took the nation by storm. Anchored by captain and team manager Harry Wright and his 22-year old shortstop brother George, the Red Stockings made the most of their $10,000 budget to attract baseball talent across America. In 1869, George, considered the original Babe Ruth, hit .630, and 49 home runs. The Wright brothers are in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
By the time the Red Stockings were puffing stogies with the cigar-loving Grant, the team was 25-0, on its way to a 57-0 season, and an eventual 81-game winning streak that spanned two seasons. When the team returned from the White House to Cincinnati’s Union Station, 4,000 delirious fans awaited.
On Opening Day, when it hammered its Cincinnati Picked Nine opponents 24-15 and the next day administered a 50-7 drubbing, the Red Stockings served notice to the baseball world that it was a force. The Red Stockings scored runs in abundance, and averaged 42 scores each game. Once, the Cincinnati nine tallied an amazing 103 runs in a single game. As the Red Stockings racked up win after win, America fell in love with the team. Celebrated in newspaper stories and in song, “The Red Stockings’ March,” fans couldn’t get enough. The Red Stockings helped Cincinnati emerge from a destitute post-Civil War slaughterhouse capital to an emerging cosmopolitan metropolis to rival New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Even though ticket prices doubled to .50 cents, fans continued to flock to the yard. In Chicago, an overload of Red Stockings baseball bugs, as fans were called in the game’s early days, caused the bleachers to collapse. During September 1869, seven years before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Red Stockings embarked on a wild and woolly train journey to the west coast. As the train zig-zagged along the rough rails, inhospitable Native Americans roamed the plains. One correspondent wrote that standing up straight while the train was in motion or jumping the tracks was impossible. Once in California, however, the Red Stockings obliterated Sacramento and San Francisco teams. They had accomplished their mission to introduce eastern style baseball to westerners.
The Red Stockings good fortune continued in 1870 when the team peeled off 27 more straight wins. Then, on June 14, the Red Stockings lost an 11-inning, 8-7 road thriller to the Brooklyn Athletics; the streak ended. The first defeat in more than 100 games cost the Red Stockings its fickle fan base, and its sponsors. The team moved to Boston where it became known as the Bean Eaters, and then the Braves.
More than a century later, baseball historians dubbed the Red Stockings as the “First Boys of Summer” and properly credited the team with making baseball famous coast-to-coast. Some dismiss the Red Stockings’ achievements as insignificant, ancient history. But the 1869 Red Stockings were trailblazers, adhered to the 19th century’s rules, took on all comers, and traveled through hostile territory to crush California’s teams.
In the process, they won all their games, a feat no other professional baseball teams can claim.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright 2020 Joe Guzzardi, All Rights Reserved. Credit: Cagle.com