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Alternative Baseball History 1861

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Posted 09-04-2017 at 03:43 PM by retrogamer

1861: Washington Takes Both The Battlefield And The Playing Field

Grand Army of the Potomac marches in Washington D.C.

For many baseball fans the 1860 season had been one of the most exciting yet. Many of the seasons games were high-scoring affairs but the season had many exciting surprises: from the first game that saw the defeat of the 1859 champion Brooklyn Eckfords at the hands of the rookie club Philadelphia Athletics, to the shocking upset of the Brooklyn Atlantics by the upstart New York Mutuals, to the further upset of the former champion Eckfords at the hands of their arch-rivals the Atlantics, and to the final game where the Atlantics routed the Athletics to claim what some considered the first National Baseball championship … that is everyone but the Mutuals.

The Mutuals argument was a valid one they had defeated the Atlantics 2 games to 1 in their series … the only team to defeat the Atlantics but because the Eckfords were defeated by Philadelphia and then the Atlantics and the Mutuals never played Eckfords the championship belonged to the Atlantics. As a result of the 1860 season the Mutuals resolved to take on all comers and win the championship.

As the American Civil War began two new baseball clubs rose to prominence in the Washington D.C. area, the National Club of Washington and the Olympic Club of Washington. With many government clerks working in the city and buoyed by players from every where coming to the capitol as soldiers Washington D.C. became the second capitol of baseball after New York City.

Washington Nationals and Washington Olympics logos

Patriotism ran high among many of the spectators and players alike in the union cities as the baseball season began and many baseball contests were set up around July 4th Independence Day. The Brooklyn Atlantics began their season with a game against the Troy Haymakers travelling to Troy to play the club on June 15th. The Atlantics nine remained unchanged from 1860 while the Haymakers lost their catcher and two outfielders who had enlisted in the Army. Philadelphia also experienced some changes to their lineup with three players leaving the nine (the 2B, SS and RF). So the Atlantics scheduled games against these two teams early on to help them get ready to defend against the Mutuals and Eckfords later on. The Atlantics easily beat the Haymakers 6-1 on June 15th and then faced the Athletics on June 22nd. As they had the previous season to the Eckfords the Athletics stunned the Brooklyn champions winning 3-1.

The Mutuals then undertook to play first Troy and then Philadelphia as well. On June 29th the Mutuals journeyed to Troy and beat the Haymakers in a narrow 3-2 contest. Once again the Athletics shocked the New York baseball world by soundly defeating the Mutuals 7-2.

The same day the Washington Nationals widely regarded as the best baseball club in Washington D.C. suffered their own setback when they were defeated by the Washington Olympics in a hard fought 4-3 contest.

The setback for the Mutuals deflated their plans to be competitive and champions of 1861. For the fans of the Philadelphia Athletics they were elated now believing they were the best in baseball in the country. On July 13th the Athletics journey to Brooklyn to defend their “title” against the Brooklyn Eckfords who had challenged Philadelphia to a game, both the Atlantics and Mutuals had accepted challenges sent out by the Athletics in early June. The Eckfords with home field advantage won the day in what was an exciting contest that was very close 3-2. On that same day the Washington Nationals and Olympics played a return match at the Nationals home field this time and the Nationals pitcher Gideon Robinson threw a 9-0 shutout and tied the series.

Gideon Robinson

On July 20th the two Washington teams faced off again at the Olympics home field for the rubber match in their series. Meanwhile in New York City the Mutuals had challenged the Eckfords to a game at their home grounds. The Nationals once again dominated the Olympics proving the Olympics earlier win was something of a fluke. In New York the home club, the Mutuals, defeated the Eckfords in hard fought 2-1 victory. The return match was held again in New York on July 27th as the Eckfords home field was unavailable and the Eckfords lost again 3-2. Disappointed Eckford fans cried foul but the Mutuals had won the series and therefore were champions.

The Battle of Brooklyn still took place as it had now become a long-standing tradition also the Atlantics were hoping that a clear victory over the Eckfords would give them the right to challenge the Mutals and reclaim the title. The Atlantics won the first game of the series on August 17th at the Eckfords home field by a score of 4-3. The second game held on August 24th at the Atlantics home field saw the Eckfords rebound and win 9-2. The rubber match in the series too place on August 31st at the Eckfords home grounds. The Eckfords won again 7-4 and the arguments began that if the Eckfords had had home field advantage on the return match with the Mutuals on July 27th then they might well be the champions.

There were reportedly two more games played in November one between the Mutuals and Athletics and another between the Athletics and Washington Nationals. Whether these November games occurred is lost though box score records do exist for a series of games in November 1861 from Washington, Philadelphia and New York but the nicknames of the clubs are lacking and the thought was that the games occurred to declare a champion and the official scorers and historians for the National Association of Baseball include these in their totals which indicate the Washington Nationals were the National champion of 1861 despite contemporary news reports of the day.

Irregardless the 1861 season became something of a watershed moment not just because the American Civil War had begun raging around the country but because the drive to win for the baseball clubs and their fans was becoming more important than the emphasis for the game to be a leisurely gentleman’s sport. The game was beginning to take its first steps towards professionalism.

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