Know Ohio: Baseball History

Spring has sprung, and, for baseball fans, that means one thing: Opening Day! Here in Ohio, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians opened their 2016 seasons this week. But Ohio’s baseball history goes waaaaay back – and, up next, Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau takes a swing at telling you about some of Ohio’s historic baseball teams.

Hi! I’m just getting ready to knock this Know Ohio out of the park, because I’m talkin’ baseball today – and it’s a pretty big deal here in the Buckeye State. Not only do we boast two major league teams – but we also have a bunch of minor league teams from the Toledo Mud Hens to the Columbus Clippers.

And, historically, Ohio has seen many more teams – in fact, professional baseball began here. In 1869, ten men in Cincinnati were the first to earn a salary for playing baseball as part of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The manager of the team, Harry Wright, also played on the team as a center fielder – and the Red Stockings went undefeated in the 1869 season, but just a year later the team disbanded and Harry and many of his teammates moved to Boston to start the Boston Red Stockings – which laid the groundwork for a couple teams you may have heard of: The Boston Red Sox and The Atlanta Braves.

But baseball was alive and well in Ohio! Up in Cleveland, the Forest Citys were another early professional team. And early Cleveland baseball boasted some big stars like legendary pitcher – and Ohioan – Cy Young…of course, there were also some rough patches, like, for instance, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders -- who, to this day, hold the unfortunate distinction of “worst team in baseball history,” after a record 134 losses.

But the sport known as America’s pastime was not open to all Americans – for instance, African Americans, although excellent ballplayers, were not usually included in these early professional teams. One notable exception was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a talented catcher from Mount Pleasant, Ohio who became the first African American to play major league baseball. Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings 63 years before Jackie Robinson is credited with breaking baseball’s color barrier. Unfortunately, Walker was only able to play a few seasons before an official rule was passed banning African Americans from professional baseball.

In response, some enterprising African Americans set up their own leagues – and Ohio had many teams in the so-called Negro Leagues such as the Dayton Marcos and the Cleveland Buckeyes.

Obviously, baseball has come a long way since the Cincinnati Red Stockings, but if you’re interested in seeing how the game used to be played, there are teams that play vintage baseball – like the Ohio Village Muffins in Columbus, whose version is a bit more gentlemanly than what we’re used to today.

Instructional Links

Website Article: Ohio History Connection, Baseball

Website Articles: National Baseball Hall of Fame, Ohio

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