Since its beginnings, baseball has been dominated by great teams. Back in the Deadball Era there were the Cubs and Athletics. Since 1920 the Yankees have dominated. In the 1880s, there were the Browns. And before any of these, all the way back in the 1850s and 1860s there were the Atlantic.
The great hotbed of 1850s and 1860s baseball was Brooklyn. At this time Brooklyn was an independent city, not one of the boroughs of New York. It had its own civic pride, its own commercial district, and more great baseball teams than anywhere else. The best of these were the Atlantic. The singular form of the word is correct, but as it sounds absolutely goofy to the modern ear, I’ll begin calling them the Atlantics. They were occasionally known as the Atlantic of Brooklyn and they were far and away the best of the era.
The Atlantics were founded in 1855 and joined the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players that same season. BTW Base Ball as two words is correct for this era. The modern Baseball comes later. They were a typical club of the period, all amateurs (at least officially), men who worked a day job and used baseball as a hobby and medium for exercise. I’m not sure of the initial roster, but I was able to find the following list of players for the 21 October 1855 game, so let’s celebrate them: Caleb Sniffen (P), Willet P. Whitson (C), Thomas Powers (1B), Tice Hamilton (2B), Isaac Loper (3B), William Babcock (SS), William Bliss (LF), John Holder (CF), and A. Gildersleeve (RF). The Atlantic defeated the Harmony (of Brooklyn) club 24-22 that day. Can you imagine a “Harmony” team in this day and age?
The Association was a consortium of teams and players that met to create a uniform set of rules, and ultimately to choose a winner for the league. They did not crown a champion from 1855 through 1858, but the Atlantics did well, producing a 7-1-1 record in 1857 and going 11-1 in 1858. Beginning in 1859, the Association decided to determine a champion and did so through 1869. In those 11 years, the Atlantics won seven titles: 1859, 1860, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, and 1869. No other team won more than two (Brooklyn Eckfords).
In their seven titles, the Atlantics never played more than 21 championship caliber games prior to 1868, so they are dominant over a small sample of contests and thus it’s difficult to gauge their true abilities. Another problem is the rapid turnover of players. By the first championship team of 1859, not one player from the 1855 team was still around. It seems that’s true to a great degree for most teams of the era. It’s not exactly “free agency”, after all no one is supposed to be paid, but it does appear that the clubs had very open membership and that good players tended to gravitate toward the better teams. This begins to change in the early 1860s when you begin seeing a lot of the same names on the same clubs. Here’s a picture of the 1865 Atlantcs:
From left to right, the players are Frank Norton, Sid Smith, Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, Charlie Smith, John Chapman, Fred Crane, John Galvin, and Tom Pratt. The man in the middle in the civilian suit is manager Peter O’Brien. The association winning team of 1860 included Pearce, Charlie Smith, and Peter O’Brien as a player. In 1869 Pearce, Start, Chapman, and Charlie Smith were still around for the final championship team. Here’s another view of the 1865 team. If you click on it, it blows up so you can read who’s who:
As the reigning league champions in 1869, the Atlantics drew the attention of the all professional Cincinnati Red Stockings team. They engaged in a match for the ages in 1870. It’s nicely detailed at Kevin’s excellent DMB Historic World Series Replay site (link in the blogroll), so I’m not going to go over it except to say the Atlantic won in 11 innings. It was their high point. In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed to play professional games. The Atlantic decided to set it out and most of the great players jumped to other teams in the new league. In 1872 the Atlantic joined the new league, but with all their good players gone, they floundered, never finishing higher than sixth (of eight). When the National League was formed in 1876, the woeful Atlantics were left out. They hung around trying to play good ball with little success. In 1882, the newly formed American Association wanted a team in Brooklyn. They chose the Bridegrooms. It was the end for the Atlantics. They folded, although the name hung around for a while as the Bridegrooms were informally know at the “Atlantics” for a number of years.
It was a sad end to a great team, but the Baseball God’s weren’t quite through with them yet. In looking for info on this team, I ran across a site dedicated to a modern team called the Atlantic that plays 1860s style Base Ball in honor of the old team. In the words of a contemporary of the old Atlantic, Abraham Lincoln, “It is altogether fitting and proper” that they do this.