The first all-professional team in baseball history was established in 1869: ten salaried teammates, playing to a perfect 65-0 record as the Cincinnati Red Stockings. To date, it’s the only perfect season in major league baseball history. The club voted to dissolve after the 1870 season, when player-manager Harry Wright went to Boston, at the invitation of Ashburnham businessman and Boston Red Stockings founder, Ivers Whitney Adams.
Eight previously amateur clubs went pro for the 1871 season, including the Cubs organization, playing at that time as the “Chicago White stockings”, and not to be confused with the later American League franchise, Chicago White Sox. Today, these are the only two left of the original nine, though the Red Stockings and successor organizations are the oldest continuously playing professional team in American sports, since the Cubbies missed two years, following the great Chicago fire of 1871.
Club names were more fluid in the 19th century than today, and teams were likely to be known by nicknames. When the new Cincinnati Red Stockings formed in 1876, the Boston club was sometimes called the “Red Caps” and later, the “Beaneaters”.
In those days, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and its National League successor represented the pinnacle of professional baseball. There was no post-season, championships were awarded based on the best record at the end of regular season.
Precursors to the modern World Series began with the formation of a second league in 1882, the American Association, but the series themselves were haphazard. Terms of post-season play were negotiated between club owners, with as few as three games in 1884 when the Providence Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans 3-0, and as many as fifteen, when the Detroit Wolverines defeated the St. Louis Browns, 10 to 5.
With the collapse of the American Association in 1891, major league baseball entered an eight-year single-league “monopoly”, where half-season winners squared off in a championship series called the Temple Cup.
1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for business supremacy. The two top teams in baseball changed sports in 1902, opting instead to compete in a football championship.
The Red Caps/Beaneaters roster was decimated in 1901, with the formation of Boston’s American League franchise, the “Americans”. Many stars jumped ship to the new AL club, which was offering contracts that it’s NL competitor couldn’t hope to match.
On this day in 1901, ground was broken for Boston’s 1st American League ballpark, the Huntington Avenue Grounds. The stadium was the site of the first modern World Series in 1903, when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-nine series, five to three. The stadium saw the first perfect game of the modern era, thrown by Cy Young on May 5, 1904.
The playing field was built on what used to be a circus lot and was large by current standards: 530′ to center field, later expanded to 635′ in 1908. It had many quirks not seen in modern baseball stadia, including patches of sand in the outfield where grass wouldn’t grow, and a tool shed in play in deep center field.
During the 1907 season, manager Fred Tenney removed the last bit of red from Red Caps/Beaneaters uniforms, believing that red dyes could cause injuries to become infected. The all-white uniforms gave rise to the unfortunate sobriquet – “Doves”, while Americans’ owner John Taylor was quick to cash in with a name change of his own, a reference to the uniform hose worn by his franchise, since the beginning. The Boston Red Sox, were born.
In 1912, the Doves adopted an official name of their own. National League franchise owner James Gaffney was a member of Tammany Hall, the political machine that ruled New York, between 1789 and 1967. Tammany Hall’s symbol was an Indian chief, its headquarters called a “wigwam”. So it was that, the oldest franchise in major league baseball, came to be called “the Braves”.
The Boston Red Sox moved to their new stadium home that same year, ending the season in a dramatic victory over the New York Giants, four games to three. Frederick “Snow” Snodgrass, one of the best outfielders of his day, dropped a routine fly ball in the 10th inning of the deciding game, allowing the winning run to stay on base, much to the dismay of generations of Giants fans.
Fred Snodgrass went on to become a successful banker, elected city councilman, and a popular mayor and rancher in Oxnard CA, but “Snodgrass’s Muff” would follow him, for the rest of his days. When the man died in April, 1974, the New York Times obituary was headlined “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” Move over, Billy Buckner.
A Boston team won five out of six consecutive World Series championships between 1912-’18, with the NL franchise advancing from dead last to World Champions in 1914, and the Red Sox winning in 1912, ,15, ’16 and ’18.
It was the Golden Era of Boston baseball, and it all came to a halt in 1919. On December 26, theater enthusiast and Red Sox franchise owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to open a play called My Lady Friends, opening on Broadway that same month. Years later, My Lady Friends would become a musical, called No, No, Nanette. The musical wouldn’t open until five years after Frazee’s infamous trade, but indeed, the forerunner was financed by the Ruth sale, to the Yankees.
There ensued one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history, an 86-year period called the “Curse of the Bambino” before the Red Sox’ sixth Championship, in 2004.
With Braves Field under construction in 1914, the Miracle Braves played in the Red Sox’ home field at Fenway Park. The Braves returned the favor the next two years, as Braves Field was the larger of the two.
1915 ushered in a 20-year losing streak for the Braves. Ironically, it was Babe Ruth who was expected to pull it all together, when Braves President Emil Fuchs brought the Bambino back to Boston in 1935.
Things were looking up that opening day, with a 4-2 win over the Giants, and Ruth had something to do with all four runs. Later that month, Ruth hit three home runs in a single game but, no one could know those were the last of his career. Years of high living had done their work. The Bambino’s best years were behind him. The man couldn’t run, and his fielding was so bad that three Braves pitchers threatened to strike, if he remained in the lineup. Babe Ruth retired on June 1, a short six days after one of the finest performances, of his career.
1948 almost saw an all-Boston World Series, but for a single game playoff loss to the Indians.
Boston remained a two-team town until March 13, 1953, when the Braves left, for good. The longest-running franchise in MLB history went to Milwaukee for a time before moving to Atlanta. Brave’s Field was sold to Boston University.
The old Huntington Grounds were demolished in 1912, later replaced with the Cabot Center, an indoor athletic venue belonging to Northeastern University. A plaque and a statue of Cy Young were erected on the campus in 1993, where the pitchers mound and home plate used to be. A plaque on the side of the Cabot building marks the former location of the left field foul pole, about ¼ mile from Matthews Arena, the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world, and the original home to the Boston Bruins. But that must be a story, for another day.