Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Chicago Nine Play their First National League Game

The First Champions of the National League, 1876.

On April 25, 1876 the Chicago professional baseball club known then as the White Stockings played their first game in the infant National League.

The club had been founded in 1870 as the baseball craze swept post-Civil War America.  Like most such teams, it featured mostly local amateurs mixed with a handful of key paid players.  They played all comers including local rival teams, and barnstormed to other cities to play the local favorites.  There were no leagues and the lowliest pick-up teams playing in dusty small towns competed with a handful of elite teams.

On February 2, 1876 the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs was formed at the invitation of The Chicago White Stockings.  Teams also included the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Stockings, Hartford Blue Ducks, Mutual of New York, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings, and Louisville Grays.

Over that winter Chicago owner William Hulbert had signed away dissatisfied top players from the dominant teams in the pre-league era, Boston and Cincinnati.  He assembled a virtual all star team including Albert Spaulding, Cap Aaronson, Ross Barnes, and Deacon White.

Spaulding pitched a 4-0 shut out at the old West Side Grounds over the Louisville game in that inaugural contest.  The team would go on to romp to the very first National League Championship with a record of 52-14.

The club became the first professional baseball dynasty winning six National League pennants between 1876 and 1886, five of those under the leadership of Aaronson who became player-manager in 1880.

In the 1890’s when the club had to rebuild under Aaronson with young players, the press hung a new nickname on them—the Colts.  When Spaulding, by then both a sporting goods tycoon and club owner, finally let Aaronson go as manager in 1897, they got a new name the Orphans.

Other informal monikers were tossed around in the newspapers until everybody seemed to settle on the Cubs in 1902 for a new batch young players.  That squad evolved into a second Chicago dynasty with stars like infielders Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance and pitcher Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown which won four pennants and two World Series titles over a five-year span, the last championship in 1908.

After that…well shall we say things tapered off for a few years with occasional rallies to pennants or the status of top contenders with a lot of colorful players thrown in.  I’ll spare you the details.

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