Posts Tagged ‘Bill Kelly’

The First Big League Game

March 3, 2010

It rained in Washington on the 4th of May 1871. The Boston Red Stockings and the Washington Olympics were scheduled to kick off the inaugural season of the newly formed National Association professional league. The rain stopped that from happening, so the first game between professional teams in a professional league was played in Fort Wayne, Indiana with the local team, the Kekiongas (named after an old Miami Indian settlement), facing the Cleveland Forest City. The powers that be in modern Major League Baseball don’t recognize the league as a Major League, but that idea is easily dismissed as silly. If you got two teams playing professional baseball at the highest level possible then that’s the Major Leagues and this is an account of the first game.

In Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball there is a play by play account of the first Major League game taken from the New York Herald  (and the stats differ slightly from Retrosheet’s version). I don’t propose to copy it, you can read it for yourself. I do want to look at four innings and make a couple of comments.

In the first inning Cleveland catcher Deacon White doubled, then was out on a double play when he wandered away from second on a line shot to Fort Wayne second baseman Tom Carey. A foul out ended the inning. In the bottom of the first with two outs Fort Wayne’s Jim Foran singled but died at first when the inning ended on another foul out. You have a couple of firsts here. Deacon White recorded the first hit, and the first extra base hit in big league play. Tom Carey got the first ever unassisted double play in big league history. Jim Foran had the first single and the first hit by the home team.

In the bottom of the second, catcher Bill Lennon led off with a double, then scored with two outs on center fielder Joe McDermott’s single. Here we have the first run scored and the first RBI in the big leagues.

There was no more scoring until the bottom of the fifth when Fort Wayne’s Bill Kelly singled, advanced two bases on two passed balls  and scored on a ground out by Frank Selman. That ended the scoring for the day. In the top of the ninth, Deacon White again led off with a hit (a single), but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. Then a fly out, and outfielder Art Allison struck out to end the inning, but not the game. Under existing rules, the game had to have a bottom of the ninth. Fort Wayne went in order to finish the game and win the first ever big league game.

The line scores read Fort Wayne two runs on four hits while Cleveland had no runs on five hits. The winning pitcher was Bobby Mathews, who threw the frst ever big league shutout (it was also the lowest scoring game of the season), with Al Pratt taking the loss. Mathews line was nine innings pitched, four hits, no runs, one walk, and six strikeouts. Pratt had nine innings pitched, five hits, two runs (one earned), one walk, and no strikeouts. The game took two hours and someone named J.L. Boake was the umpire.

Pratt ended up 10-17 while Mathews went 6-11 with one shutout (this game). Pratt only pitched only two years, going 12-26 while Mathews pitched all the way into 1882 going (National Association and National League stats combined) 297-248. Deacon White, who got the first hit, was probably the biggest star to come out of the game. There are a handful of 19th Century players not currently in the Hall of Fame who might have, if properly studied, potential to reach the Hall. White is one of them.

On the one hand, the game wasn’t particularly important. Cleveland managed to finish seventh in a nine team league and Fort Wayne finished just behind them in eighth, folding at the end of the season. But it is one of the most significant games played in the last 140 or so years. Why? Simply because it was first.