October 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I guess it started when my son began playing in Little League baseball this spring and summer, but this past year I’ve been really taken with baseball. I’m Boston born and raised, so I took a strong interest in the Red Sox’s season. I’ve been accused of being a “fair-weather friend” in the past, so I wanted to try to keep up with the team a little more this time. I grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway with my father, and the history of the team and ballpark seem entwined with my own history as a native of Massachusetts. So when in the last half of this year I discovered that an ancestor of mine became a professional umpire in the National League, I was super excited. Researching his career has led to a invigorated curiosity and interest in the history of the game, especially of those teams and games in which my distant cousin was involved with. What follows is my own little history of those times and events.
I recently began watching Ken Burns’ terrific film on the history of baseball, and I was really excited when, during the national anthem played at the beginning of the film, several shots of the South End Grounds, early home of the National League Boston Braves, are shown. I don’t know how many folks in Boston today realize that Boston was, and might have stayed, a two-team town. Imagine that rivalry! The Boston Braves would eventually move and become the modern Atlanta Braves, but the club can trace its earliest days back to Cincinnati when a small franchise was established in 1839 and known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
The club was the first professional team in the history of the sport, but after early succes the team was disolved. Some of its members moved to Boston where they founded the Boston Red Stockings (sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But it’s not who you think…!) and eventually became one of the founding teams of the National League. Meanwhile, Cincinnati spawned yet another team, also known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, so the Boston club was sometimes called the Redcaps, but eventually settled on the Beaneaters by 1883.
Meanwhile, the American League Redstockings (also known as the Americans, as in the American League) were making a name for themselves, playing well and winning many games. They grew so successful that some players from NL Beaneaters jumped ship and joined their rival club. During the period between 1900-1913 the Beaneaters did terribly, and in 1907 the team owners dropped the color red from the uniform altogether, although it would only prove temporary. The American League Redstockings took advantage of this and renamed themselves the Red Sox, a name which stuck.
In 1912 the Beaneaters became the Braves, and in 1914 turned their bad forturne around, but at first the season didn’t have a good start. By July their record was a terrible 26 wins and 40 losses, putting themselves in last place, 15 games behind the first place New York Giants. Despite this record the Braves settled into a winning streak and by September were now 41-12 and actually took first place away from the Giants. They entered the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, and although they were not favored to win, swept the A’s in four games (this should stike a chord with modern day Red Sox fans….). The Braves’ home field at the time, the South End Grounds, were too small to host the contest, so the series was played at the AL home, Fenway Park. Largely considered the greatest upset in sports of all time, the 1914 Braves became know as the “Miracle Braves.” The success of the 1914 season inspired the Braves’ owners to build Braves Field, off Commonwealth Ave in Boston, and at the time was the largest ballpark in the league and offered fans easy access through public transportation.
My own ancestor, Thomas Dunn, who was a National League Umpire, would work many games at both Braves Field and Fenway Park. The Braves success would eventually wane, and the franchise was moved, ultimately to Atlanta. Braves Field was largely demolished, although some of the original stands are still part of the modern sports complex that stands there today. I have really enjoyed learning this chapter of baseball history and relish my own personal connection to it. Too bad the Sox did so piss poor this post-season. But hey, how about them Cardinals!?