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The Story of the 1870 Cincinnati Red Stockings
or, Why the Red Sox Lost the 1986 World Series

by Kristen D. Cornette

Harry Wright in Cooperstown
Harry Wright's plaque in the Hall of Fame
In 1869, a man named Harry Wright founded the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. He charged fifty cents admission to the games, and paid each player a salary, ranging up to the $1400 received by George Wright, Harry's younger brother. George was worth the investment, though, since he batted .519 with 59 home runs that first year. Harry himself was no slouch; he had hit seven home runs in one game a few years earlier. The Red Stockings traveled around challenging different teams, and by the end of 1869, they had racked up a total of 65 wins without losing a game, and had turned a profit of $1.39.

The Red Stockings became the pride of Cincinnati, and their good fortune continued into the 1870 season, when they began with 27 more straight victories. Then, on June 14, 1870, the Red Stockings traveled to New York to take on the Brooklyn Atlantics.

More than 15,000 people paid the fifty cents to watch the game that fateful day, and what they saw was well worth the price of admission. The Red Stockings jumped out to an early lead, as usual, but the Atlantics came back, and by the end of the ninth, the teams stood tied, with five runs apiece. At the time it was customary to declare a draw if the score was tied at the end of nine innings, and the Brooklyn team was overjoyed at having prevented Cincinnati from winning its 93rd consecutive game. But Harry Wright was not satisfied. He consulted with Henry Chadwick, who had authored several books on the rules of baseball and was in attendance that day. Chadwick finally declared that the game should continue to extra innings, until the contest had been decided once and for all. The game went on.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings
The Cincinnati Red Stockings
The Red Stockings scored twice in the eleventh inning, and looked to escape with the victory. But in the bottom of the eleventh, with Asa Brainard on the mound, a single, a wild pitch, and two more hits had tied the game, and the Atlantics had a runner on first with one out. The next batter hit an easy grounder to first base. All Charlie Gould, the Red Stockings' first baseman, had to do was pick it up and make a routine double play to end the inning and send the game to the twelfth. But instead, he let the ball bounce right between his legs, and the runner headed for home, scoring the deciding run.

It was over. On a routine play missed by the first baseman, the Red Stockings had lost the game and ended their incredible streak. The Cincinnati team was never the same. Attendance dropped off, and their sponsors were no longer interested in financing the players' salaries, which they called unreasonable. The team folded. Harry Wright took three of his best players and moved east, to Boston.

The Red Stockings did well in their new city, and the team was among the founding members of the National League in 1876. They eventually changed their name to the Beaneaters (and later the Braves), and in 1907, John I. Taylor, owner of the American League's Boston team, used the old Red Stockings name as inspiration when he changed his team's name to the Red Sox. Then, on October 25, 1986 - 116 years, 4 months, and 11 days after that game in Brooklyn - the Boston Red Sox faced another New York team, the Mets, for the sixth and potentially deciding game of the World Series. It, too, went extra innings, with the Red Sox in position to win the game and capture the title after nine-and-a-half innings. But in the bottom of the tenth, Asa Brainard came back to consult with Bob Stanley, and the ghost of Charlie Gould stood too close to Bill Buckner. After three hits and a wild pitch had tied the game, with two outs and a runner on second, came the fateful hit that found its way to the same spot on the diamond, and history repeated itself.

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This page and all photos copyright © 1999-2000 by Kristen D. Cornette.