The Chicago White Stockings won a seesaw affair at its home field, Lake Front Park, defeating the Olympic Club of Washington, 12-11, before a crowd estimated between 5,000 and 6,000 people.
1871 marked the first year of play in baseball's first organized professional baseball league, the National Association. And while the game was baseball, it might have been hard to recognize it, with no players wearing gloves, pitchers standing 45 feet away and throwing underhand, and batters calling for high or low pitches. Even more confusing would be determining who was ahead in the standings (more on that later).
The Olympics, led by captain Nick Young (who would later become president of the National League from 1885 to 1902), had Asa Brainard starting at pitcher for him and batting cleanup. Brainard was the star pitcher for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings team, baseball's first openly all-professional team. Second baseman Jimmy Wood captained Chicago and had George Zettlein pitching.
Washington scored three runs in both the first and second innings and led Chicago 6-2 after just two innings. And then 7-3 after four innings. But in this era, deficits were not hard to overcome. And in the fifth, Chicago tied the game with four runs, scored in a manner which I still haven't been able to decipher from the game story in the Chicago Tribune.
In the sixth, Brainard got wild and walked a batter, third baseman George Pinkham. Brainard was credited with just 14 called balls all game, but he likely threw many more as many pitches were just ruled "no pitch" if they weren't in the right zone. This bit of wildness would eventually lead to three runs for Chicago and a 10-7 lead after six.
The Olympics took advantage of some Chicago errors (they committed 10) and pushed across a run in the seventh to cut the deficit to 10-8. But Chicago matched it to make it 11-8
In the eighth, Washington got runs from third baseman Fred Waterman and Brainard to pull within 11-10. Chicago catcher Charlie Hodes made two errors to lead to the runs.
Chicago tallied another run in the bottom of the eighth and Washington came up in the ninth needing to make up two runs, trailing 12-10.
Washington right fielder John Glenn put a ball into orbit, but it was straight up and caught by Chicago first baseman Bub McAtee. Glenn had actually made the last out of the eighth, but he led off the ninth because his last out in the eighth was a force out at second. Under the rules of the time (in place until 1878), the batter who led off the next inning would be the man who batted after the last player who was put out on the bases. Left fielder Tommy Beals (listed in the boxscore as Thomas) reached on an infield single. Shortstop Davy Force singled to center to move Beals up a base. Second baseman Andy Leonard forced out Force at second. Waterman reached on an error by Ed Duffy to allow Thomas to score. But Brainard grounded out on a squibber to the catcher and Chicago held on for a 12-11 win. Chicago still batted in the bottom of the ninth but went down in order.
The big news in the Tribune story was that Chicago had won the season series from the Olympics, three games to two. At the time, some teams thought that the championship of the league would be determined by which team won the most season series (best of five). This was the only one decided at this point for Chicago, who had won 15 games and lost five overall. The Philadelphia team had won 16 games and lost just 4.
Just who would win the pennant would be influenced by two things: 1) just what system was going to be used to determine the winner, overall wins or series wins and 2) would Chicago be able to play any more games after October 9, 1871, the date of the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed the White Stockings Park.
As it turned out, Chicago could not complete its schedule, failing to finish one of its series, that one against the Troy Haymakers. Chicago finished 19-9 overall and won four series overall. They lost one to Philadelphia. The series against Cleveland and Fort Wayne also couldn't get finished although Chicago had the edge in those.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia and Boston both won six series. So when the season was over, the teams got together to decide who would be declared the winner. With two teams winning the same number of series, the Association decided to award the pennant to the team with the most wins. And Philadelphia won 21 to Boston's 20. Or at least that's what I've been able to piece together. Starting in 1872, the series idea was dropped and the NA gave the pennant to the team that won the most games. And from 1872-1875, that would be Boston each time. Chicago sat out the 1872 and 1873 seasons as the city tried to rebuild. Boston's franchise is the lineal ancestor of today's Atlanta Braves and the White Stockings are the ancestor of today's Chicago Cubs. The Olympics finished 15-15 in 1871, with three series wins.
Even more confusing than trying to figure out the sequence of events in this game and who won the pennant at the end of the year, is trying to decipher the box score. These letters identified columns: A, O, R, B, T, L, F, G, C, M, P, H, and E. Do you know what they stood for? Some are hitting and some are fielding and I listed them in the order they appeared. You can find the answer here if you're interested. And if you've read this far, you're very brave.
Yes, it was baseball. And these were some of the best players around. Pro baseball had to start sometime, even if it was far from organized.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Wikipedia (sorry, I had to!), Baseball-reference.com, Retrosheet, This site helped too