The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Atlantic and the Red Stockings, 1870

Way back on 14 June 1870 the Cincinnati Red Stockings, winners of over 80 consecutive games rolled into Brooklyn to play the champion Atlantic. When the game ended the Atlantic had broken the streak 8-7 and the game had gone 11 innings. It seems to be the first recorded example of “extra innings” (but it’s possible such had occurred before, we just don’t know). Henry Chadwick was in attendance and proclaimed the game the greatest. Over the years it’s gotten lost due to time and distance and most of us would probably pick some other game as the greatest ever (like Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 world Series, for instance).

Box scores of the game are available and that means we can determine the players in this famous game. For the Atlantic the team consisted of a battery of George Zettelein in the box (today it would be a mound) and Bob Ferguson behind the plate. The infield was, from first over to third Joe Start, Lip Pike, Dickie Pearce, and Charles Smith. The outfield was John Chapman in left, center fielder George Hall, and Jack McDonald in right.

Over the years around here I’ve done posts on six of the nine (Start, Pike, Pearce, Smith, Chapman, and Hall). So I thought it was time to introduce you to the other three members of the winning team in one of the most famous of all games. They were members also of the great juggernaut of 1860s baseball, the Atlantic, and deserve at least a little recognition as some of the founders of our favorite game. So over the next little while, I want to do some of my normal short baseball bios of Zettelein, Ferguson, and McDonald. Hope you will find them interesting.

Easily the most obscure is Jack McDonald. His name was Daniel McDonald and I’ve been unable to ascertain why he was called “Jack.” The most likely reason is a middle name of Jack or John, but I can’t assure you that’s true. Occasionally he shows up in box scores as “Dan McDonald,” but the “Jack McDonald” is much more common. He seems to have served in the Civil War and, after a short stint with the McClellan’s, a junior team in the Brooklyn hearchy, joined the Atlantic in 1866. He remained as their more or less permanent right fielder through 1872. In the famous 14 June game he got one hit.

When the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in 1871, the Atlantic opted out and McDonald stayed with the team. Both joined the Association the next season, with McDonald playing four games in right for the Atlantic, then transferring to the Eckford for a single game, followed by an 11 game return to the Atlantic (I have no idea what happened there). He hit .242 with nine runs scored, four RBIs, three doubles, a triple, no walks, and a strikeout. He also committed 11 errors in the 16 games, four of them in the single game with the Eckford. That may explain why it was his only professional league year.

He never played again at the Association level and died in November 1880 (making him 38). I’ve been unable to determine the cause of death. And that, team, is all I have on McDonald. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who knows more. I hate to leave any player at this level, but there’s almost nothing available.

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6 Responses to “The Greatest Game Ever Played”

  1. glen715 Says:

    I think it’s interesting that they had single names for baseball teams back then. For example, the Atlantic, instead of the Atlantics, or the Eckford, instead of the Eckfords.

    Was the namesake of this team called the McClellan’s at all related to General George McClellan, the Civil War general in chief, as far as you know? What was the ballplayer’s first name?

    On a more flippant note, I’ve always wondered if Lip Pike was related
    to Leo Durocher.

    Glen

  2. Miller Says:

    Do you actually call this the greatest game ever played? Without thinking much, and knowing that there’s lots of bias in my perceptions, I think about last year’s 7th game, the 6th in 1975, and the 1920 Oeschger/Cadore match-up. And of course game four of the 2004 ALCS.

    • verdun2 Says:

      No. My personal choice would be Larsen in 1956 (I got home from school in time to see the last about 3 innings–I think three) but game 7 in 1991’s World Series might make it too. I got to listen to Koufax’s perfect game on the radio, so maybe it. At the time (1870) it was certainly referred to as the greatest game. I was simply playing off the contemporary reports.
      v

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