Wright and the Reds
Commodifying Leisure | Elysian Fields | Wright and the Reds | National Association | William Hulbert
"Middle-Class Paradise" | "Beer and Whiskey League" | A. G. Spalding | The Brotherhood | Unimagined Baseball

In 1869, a group of Ohio investors financed the first openly professional team. Harry Wright, a British-born son of a professional cricket player, managed the team. Claiming that the public would gladly pay "seventy-five cents to a dollar-fifty to go to the theatre, and numbers prefer base ball to theatricals," Wright was sensitive to the game's commercial potential if the games were "worth witnessing."1 His eminently skilled younger brother, George, rightfully commanded the highest salary at $1,400 for the season -- $200 more than Harry.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings completed the 1869 campaign with 65 wins and zero losses, while turning a profit of $1.39. Cincinnati now replaced New York as the baseball capital of the world, although only one of the Red Stockings was actually from the city and most were in fact New Yorkers. A fan told a visiting reporter, "they've advertised the city, advertised us, sir, and helped our business, sir."2 Wright, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, "eats base-ball, breathes base-ball, thinks base-ball, dreams base-ball, and incorporates base-ball in his prayers."3

Wright's prayers weren't the only place baseball was being incorporated. After finally losing, to the Brooklyn Atlantics, in their 93rd game, the city of Cincinnati was devastated and fans quit going to games. Investors withdrew, and the Cincinnati Gazette claimed, "the baseball mania has run its course. It has no future as a professional endeavor."4 New England promoters believed

otherwise, coercing Wright, his best players, and even the team name, to Boston. Wright agreed, stating: "Baseball is business now and I am trying to make them pay, irrespective of my feelings, and to the best of my ability."5

The Sporting Life later gave this assessment of Wright's contribution to baseball and the country:

Every magnate in the country is indebted to this man for the establishment of baseball as a business, and every patron for furnishing him with a systematic recreation. Every player is indebted to him for inaugurating an ocupation by which he gains a livlihood, and the country at large for adding one more industry to furnish employment.6

Red Stockings lose to the Brooklyn Atlantics

1 Geoffrey C. Ward, Baseball: An Illustrated History (New York: Knopf, 1994) 4.
2 Ward, Baseball, 21.
3 Ward, Baseball, 21.
4 Ward, Baseball, 23.
5 Ward, Baseball, 23.
6 Ward, Baseball, 23.

Ben Lisle -- American Studies at the University of Virginia -- December 2000