Professionalism was probably more common in baseball quicker than we’d like to believe. In the 1860s Jim Creighton was being paid under the table. He’s frequently called the “first professional” but there’s no evidence he was actually first. Lip Pike was also being paid under the table, but Pike was more open about taking the money (leading to a famous case that could have destroyed the first league had not common sense intervened). But it was still an era when many of the players were indeed amateurs. It was the period of the National Association of Base Ball Players (to be differentiated from the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players that existed from 1871-75). It’s a sport we would recognize as baseball (sorta) and it was dominated by one team, the Atlantic (of Brooklyn). They won several Association titles (they weren’t pennants yet). For my money the best of the team prior to the 1869 Red Stockings and avowedly professional teams was the 1865 version of the Atlantic, the team in the picture above (you can click on it to see it larger). Although I’ll have to admit I don’t have the statistical evidence (the traditional way baseball arguments are solved) to prove they were better than the 1866 version, they still get my vote.
The 1865 Atlantic went 45-0 with a tie. Now you can argue it’s not a lot of games, but it was a fairly standard amount for the era. They scored a lot of runs. While 30 runs in a game was not uncommon in the age, they did it with disturbing frequency. They hit well up and down the lineup and fielded well, again for the era. There aren’t a lot of stats available, but from the box scores I can find and the articles I read, it is evident that they were just head and shoulders above the competition.
All that leads to the very obvious question, “just who were these guys?” That’s what I’m setting out to discover. If you recall, a few months ago I took the picture of the 1860 Excelsiors and looked up what I could find on the nine players on the team. It took a long time and so will this. So don’t expect the next five or six articles to be about the 1865 Atlantic. Some of them (three in particular) are easy to find because they went on to make a mark in the world (especially the baseball world) while others are, at this point, total unknowns (again, three). Hopefully I’ll be able to find out as much as I did about the Excelsiors, which in a couple of cases was admittedly almost nothing. If you go to an article from 13 December 2010 titled “‘Start’-ing at First” you’ll find my look at first baseman Joe Start (in the above picture he’s the man on the right end of the middle row), the player who had the best post-Atlantic baseball career. So one down.
And so far, and I’ve only begun, they aren’t nearly as colorful a group as the Excelsiors (no one seems to have ended up in prison or manufactured baseballs), although as a rule they went further in baseball (but it’s also five years later). But hopefully, they’ll still be interesting.