by: Scott A. Horstmeier
Every baseball fan loves this time of year. Pennant chases in the National and American Leagues to finally get to the World Series. Most baseball fans will tell you that the first World Series was in 1903 between the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates, with the Americans winning it in eight games.
Fans in Cincinnati will watch the World Series with envious eyes, since our beloved Redlegs will not be playing. But, did you know the Reds played in what could be viewed as the first World Series in 1882? Strange but true, and another first for the Reds franchise.
The Cincinnati Reds were kicked out of the National League in 1880 for selling beer at their games. The National League in that time had a rule of no liquor at the games. The German population of Cincinnati would not stand for that.
In the winter of 1881 the Reds joined a new league called the American Association of Base Ball Clubs that would begin play in 1882. This new upstart league sold beer at the games, let fans bring liquor to the games, and even had games on Sunday. The Reds finished the season in first place in the rookie season of the upstart American Association. Over in the National League the Chicago White Stockings finished in first place.
The White Stockings were led by “Cap” Anson who managed and played first base, shortstop Mike “King” Kelly (who did not play in the series games), and a two-man pitching rotation; with one of the pitchers being Larry Corcoran. Corcoran would become the first pitcher to throw three no-hitters.
The Reds were led by player-manager Charles “Pop” Snyder, second baseman Bid McPhee, pitcher Will White, and left-fielder Joe Sommer. Later in his career Sommer would become the first and only outfielder in history to earn three assists in one inning, with all three assists coming on throws to home plate. The Reds were a weak hitting team known for their fielding. Matter of fact, their fielding was so good that each position starter led the American Association in fielding percentage at their position that year.
The Reds management wanted to make some extra money and as champions of the American Association wanted to play the champions of the National League. The American Association president, H. D. “Denny” McKnight, forbade any of his American Association players from playing games with teams from the National League. His rationale was that baseball players were not serious about exhibition games and might even throw the game on purpose. To circumvent McKnight’s rule the Reds released all of their players and then re-signed them to special contracts.
White Stocking fans did not take the challenge too seriously. The Reds were seen as just a minor league team. The White Stockings must not have taken the challenge too seriously either. They played a three game exhibition against the New York Metropolitans, ending two days before their first game against the Reds.
On October 6, 1882 the two league champions were set to square off at Bank Street Grounds in Cincinnati. 2,700 fans showed up to watch this historic occasion. The Reds surprisingly won the first game with a 4 – 0 shutout victory. They were led by the normally weak hitting McPhee who paced the team with three hits. The game ended on a throw-out at home plate. The local paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, compared the Reds to the Spartans historic stand at Thermopylae against the Persians.
The second game was the next day at the same ball park. This time 3,500 fans showed up, fueled by the surprising victory of the Reds from the day before. This game was a pitchers duel, with the White Stockings getting four hits and two runs and the Reds getting three hits and no runs. The White Stockings had returned the favor and evened the series. Anson would not let his White Stockings lose what he viewed as exhibition games to what he viewed as an inferior team again.
McKnight, the American Association president, heard of the games by this time and telegraphed the Reds. He threatened that if they played again they would be expelled from the Association. The Reds not wanting to get kicked out of another League discontinued play. They were fined $100 for going against Association rules.
This may not officially be viewed as the first World Series, but it was the first time in baseball history that two champions from their respectful leagues played in a post-season series. Reds fans may be upset this year that their team did not even make the post-season. However, they can enjoy the fact that their team won the first ever post-season game between two league champions.
Lansche, Jerry. (1991). Glory Fades Away: The Nineteenth-Century World Series Rediscovered.
Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing.