When the Cincinnati Red Stockings rolled into Brooklyn in the spring of 1870 to face the Atlantics, a top eastern nine, there were few fans who thought the home team had a chance. The year before the Red Stockings had gone undefeated in 65 games on a 12,000-mile coast-to-coast tour and had continued the string by winning 27 straight victories this season. True, the Haymakers of Troy had tied them but only by walking off the field to save their bets when the score stood 17-17 at the end of the fifth. Unjustly, the game went into the books as a tie. The record, then, on June 14, 1870 as the Red Stockings invaded Brooklyn was: 92 games played; 91 won; one tie. (It still stands as the longest undefeated string in baseball history.)
George Ellard, owner of a Cincinnati sporting-goods store, organized the remarkable Cincinnati nine with the help of Harry Wright, a professional cricket bowler who had switched to baseball. The game was then supposedly amateur although most crack teams carried hired players and paid them off under the table. The Cincinnati baseball club decided to go the whole hog, turn openly pro and publicize salaries. They raided several eastern clubs and brought a collection of stars to Cincinnati. Among them was George Wright, Harry's 22-year-old brother, lured from the New York Unions, who was the best shortstop in the land. George topped the salary list with $1,400 ($200 more than Captain Harry got) and earned it by batting .640. Pitcher Asa Brainard, who threw a fast, twisting ball, drew $1,100. Behind the plate was Doug Allison ($800), who stood directly over the bat and without glove or mask held Asa's hottest deliveries from a distance of 45 feet. Big Charlie Gould, the only Cincinnati boy, played first and gathered in throws with such ease that he was called the "bushel basket."
It was a brilliant nine, and no less brilliant were the uniforms designed by Ellard and made to order by Mrs. Bertha Bertram, a Cincinnati seamstress. The revolutionary knee-length pants and bright red stockings were ridiculed at first. "Say, Harry, you've got whiskers like a man and pants like a boy," fans yelled at the captain.
But there was nothing ridiculous about the way the team played. At the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn, the Atlantics' home field, it looked like the same old story again as the Reds led 3-0 at the end of the third, and the betting odds soared from 5-to-1 to 10-to-1 on the Westerners. But the Atlantics, playing tight ball, refused to go to pieces. They scored twice in the fourth and got two more runs in the sixth to lead 4-3. Then the Reds bounced back with a pair of runs to take the lead once more. But the Atlantics put a run across in the eighth, and now the score was tied at 5-all.
The well-played, seesaw contest had the crowd of 20,000 continually on edge. The picture above, drawn by a Harper's Weekly artist, shows the Atlantics on the field, attired in long trousers, the standard cricket uniform. Note how close to the bags the first and third basemen played, ready to dart either way because of the fair-foul rule. (A grounder hit fair which rolled foul before reaching the bags was fair and playable at that time.)
At the end of the ninth, with the game still deadlocked, the Atlantics started off the field in the belief that a game constituted nine innings and was, therefore, over. Harry Wright, dashing in from center field, insisted that the game go on and was backed by Henry Chadwick, the official scorer. After a long rhubarb, play was resumed. There was no score in the 10th but in the 11th, when the Red Stockings put two across to lead 7-5, the end seemed in sight for the Atlantics.
But the unheard of happened when they came to bat. Asa Brainard suddenly lost his stuff and the Atlantics teed off on him. Right Fielder Cal McVey, stooping to retrieve a ball, was knocked flat by a Brooklyn fan who jumped on his back. Then Second Baseman Sweasy made a costly error and followed it with a bad throw. Before the air cleared the Atlantics had scored three runs and won the game 8-7.
The defeat was a bitter one for Cincinnati but they took it in good spirit. After the game Aaron Champion, president of the Red Stockings, sent this wire to Cincinnati: "Atlantics 8; Cincinnati 7. The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly, but fortune was against us.... Though beaten, not disgraced."