Baseball’s First League Game: May 4, 1871

On September 25 last year, Major League Baseball marked a contest between the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park as its 200,000th game. As I noted on this blog, the counting commenced with the first game played in the National League, on April 22, 1876, between the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics. Because of its erratic scheduling and ephemeral franchises, games of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-75) were not included in the computation. All the same, the NAABP, generally abbreviated today simply as NA, presented a fascinating history, and nearly all of the men who played in the NL’s first season had come from its ranks.

On the rainy evening of March 17, 1871, delegates from ten professional baseball clubs met at Collier’s Rooms in New York City, an upstairs saloon run by thirty-two-year-old character actor James W. Collier at the corner of Broadway and 13th Street, just across from Wallack’s Theatre, where he frequently trod the boards. The clubs had come together at the invitation of the Mutuals to establish a new professional National Association, based largely upon the rules and regulations of the amateur National Association of Base Ball Players from which they had just departed.

Of the ten clubs present that evening, eight plunked down the mandatory ten dollars to join: the already established Athletics (Philadelphia), Mutuals (New York), Olympics (Washington), Haymakers (Troy), White Stockings (Chicago), two Forest City clubs (Rockford and Cleveland), plus Harry Wright’s newly founded Red Stockings of Boston. The Eckfords of Brooklyn and Nationals of Washington sent delegates to the meeting, but held tight to their wallets and did not join the new National Association for play in 1871. The Atlantics of Brooklyn, who might have been expected to join, did not send a delegate, deciding to retain so-called amateur status.

In the days that followed, a surprising ninth club came across with the dues: the Kekionga of Fort Wayne, Indiana, named for the Miami Indian settlement around which Fort Wayne grew. In the Miami language, Kekionga meant “blackberry patch.” Woefully uncompetitive against the big clubs in previous seasons, the Kekiongas had lost two games to the unbeaten Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 by scores of 86–8, and 41–7, then took a 70–1 pasting in the following year. Yet now the Fort Wayne hayseeds declared themselves a fully professional nine, based on their having picked up, in August 1870, several stranded players from the Maryland Club of Baltimore, which had run out of funds while playing in Chicago. The star of the Marylands had been diminutive pitcher Bobby Mathews, who would now pitch for the Kekiongas. Eleven days after the meeting at Collier’s Rooms, the Kekionga directors dispatched George J. E. Mayer—the club’s secretary, catcher, and captain in 1870—to New York to acquire additional professional players, which he did.

The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players launched its inaugural season with a single game on May 4, 1871. The Forest City of Cleveland, a strong club led by Jim “Deacon” White, came to Fort Wayne to play the revamped Kekionga, none of whose players had yet cut much of a figure in the baseball world except Mathews, who was only nineteen. Mayer had given up his position in the nine to Billy Lennon, a stronger catcher he recruited from the Mohawks of New York.

In what the Fort Wayne correspondent to the Chicago Tribune called “the finest game on record in this country,” Mathews shut out the visiting Forest Citys by 2–0 in a game in which there were no errors by Cleveland and only three by Fort Wayne, a marvel in those days of bare hands and rutted fields. Moreover, the low score was unprecedented among top-level clubs, the previous “model game” being the victory of the Cincinnati Red Stockings over the Mutuals by a score of 4–2 on June 15, 1869.

The outcome was also a great upset. The Cleveland Herald had written of their darlings beforehand: “The Forest Citys left yesterday for a brief Western tour. The first club that they are expected to slaughter is the Kekiongas, of Fort Wayne, which little job is to be performed this afternoon. If the Kekiongas play half as bad as their name sounds, they will be awful tired tonight. Kekionga! Ugh! Big Injun!”

The day after the game, the same newspaper felt compelled to report:
There were ten very badly surprised young men at Fort Wayne last evening, not to speak of some others who remained in Cleveland. The ten went out to Indiana to begin the slaughtering for 1871, but what little slaughtering there was happened to be on the other side.

Because of threatening weather, only 200 spectators witnessed this historic game at Fort Wayne’s Grand Dutchess ballpark. Play was finally stopped by rain after the top of the ninth inning had been concluded, depriving the Kekiongas of their completed final at bat, although some box scores indicted that each side had recorded 27 outs. (It was not yet the custom for the home club, leading after eight and a half frames, to dispense with its final turn; this practice was a vestige of baseball’s original purpose, field exercise.)

After a scoreless first inning, the Kekionga broke through for a run in the bottom of the second. Lennon led off with a double. Tom Carey lifted a fly to center, where Cleveland’s Art Allison made a running one-hand grab, “the finest fly catch ever made, he falling and rolling over two or three times.” Ed Mincher also was retired, but Joe McDermott singled to bring Lennon home. The Kekionga added a run in the fifth, needless as it turned out. Each club registered only four hits.

“The Cleveland boys were well satisfied with the result,” reported the Cincinnati Gazette, “and that they are recorded as playing the finest game in the country.” For the citizens of Fort Wayne, however, this glorious victory turned out to be very nearly the club’s high water mark. After winning three of its next four contests, the Kekionga went 1–11; despite winning two games at home in late August, it chose to disband on that relative high note.

7 Comments

Like every article on the Kekionga team, this posting contains multiple errors. In interest of space I will pick five representative errors and provide citations for correction.
1. There never was a ball park named “The Grand Duchess.” The Grand Duchess was the nickname of the central grandstand of the Kekionga ball grounds, which was named after its counterpart on the Union Grounds in Cincinnati where Kekionga played on May 10. 1869. The term “Grand Duchess” was never used for the entire grounds.
June 15, 1870 & June 16, 1870 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette
July 14, 1870 Fort Wayne Daily Democrat

2. The game was not rained out in the ninth inning. The downpour came approximately ten minutes after the game was finished. The probable reason for the confusion is that the Kekionga grounds did not have telegraph service until the next game. A correspondent probably left to dispatch his story and when the rains came thought or hoped the game had been rained out since it had already been decided.
May 5, 1871 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, May 9, 1871 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette
May 10, 1871 Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel
3. Eight teams did not pay at the meeting. The May 1, 1871 New York Times clearly states that neither Forest City team had yet paid. This is supported by the July 24, 1871 Brooklyn Daily Eagle which states: for the others alluded to, we understand paid the required entrance fee—not, it is true, within time set by the Association, but within few weeks after the expiration thereof

4. The Marylands team was not stranded in Ft Wayne. Kekionga had lost its previous three games 32-3, 70-1 and 110-5. When the lowly Marylands arrived they were persuaded to play another game after defeating the locals 28-10. After the second game, won 29-6 by the Marylands, Kekionga in desperation enticed several Maryland players to break their contracts and eventually join Kekionga. The Marylands left for Pittsburgh, the night of August 9th, the date of the second game. Matthews and Carey joined Kekionga on August 18th for a game against the Clippers of South Bend. Thomas Forker arrived for the October 6th game with the local Keystones. Bill Lennon, Matthew’s catcher, and Frank Sellman arrived for the October 19th game with the White Stockings. Lennon came from the Baltimore Marylands, not the Mohawks. Sellman came from the Baltimore Pastimes.
Fort Wayne Daily Gazette August 9, August 10, August 19, October 7, October 20
Fort Wayne Daily Democrat August 9, August 10, August 19, October 20
See Brian McKenna’s excellent website on the history of Baltimore baseball for further confirmation.
5. The team absolutely, positively did not disband on any semblance of a high note. After the defection of Matthews and Carey they did not feel they could field a legal team. The acrimony against Matthews and Carey, who were alleged to have broken their contracts, and baseball in general, was so great that the game virtually disappeared for nearly a decade in Fort Wayne. The September 13, 1871 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette called baseball a swindle and a curse that led young men to habits of “rowdyism and Idleness” and warned against the stupidity of putting “fingers in the fire once again” by attempting to field a team the following season.
These are five examples of many. There is no accurate History of the Kekiongas yet written.

Thanks for your interest, Bill.
1.Modern ballpark historians have used the terms Grand Duchess and Hamilton Park interchangeably, but this may well be wrong.
2. I have a news reports indicating the ninth inning was rained out: May 5, 1871, Cincinnati Daily Gazette. I do see a full play-by-play n the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette of May 5, not previously available to me, so I am inclined to agree with you.
3. A niggling point as to when they paid their fees, but OK.
4. The Marylands were stranded in Chicago, not Fort Wayne. You misread the passage. George J.E. Mayer was dispatched to retrieve them with an offer to play in Fort Wayne.
5. Irony is lost on you, sir. But you do know a lot about Kekionga baseball, so you might wish to write that history without errors.

Thank you very much for responding. You got me on the irony part. I apologize. You could not be more correct when you state modern baseball historians may be wrong. They are not only wrong, they are wrong to the point of absurdity. This frustrates me beyond belief. There are five sites claimed locally for the May 4, 1871 game and as you already guessed four of them are wrong. Here are the facts: Believe it or not, Hamilton field never existed. There never was a professional baseball park, or any other kind of park or playing field of which I am aware, named Hamilton field in Fort Wayne Indiana. The capsulated version is this. The property owned by Hamilton that was dedicated in 1862 for a ball field was part of a large track of land that stretched from present day Lewis Street to Pontiac Street between Calhoun and Barr streets. That area, usually cited as Hamilton Field, was quickly abandoned and platted by Hamilton’s heirs on July 17, 1865 as part of Hamilton’s Third Addition. The part south of the Railroad became known as the Hamilton field. The term “field” had absolutely nothing to do with baseball. The term was always preceded by the definite article. The train station to the north was built in the Hamilton field, as was the city reservoir, several blocks to the south. Golf was even played at the Hamilton field. Circuses were held at the Hamilton field etc.
The place where Kekionga played from 1866 to 1868 was called the railroad grounds because it was a block south of the railroad. It was a small part of the Hamilton field. The term “Hamilton Field” does not appear in the Fort Wayne newspapers until 1883 and then without any mention of baseball. The term “Hamilton Field” does not appear until well into the twentieth century.
In 1869 Kekionga moved to Camp Allen after having played there occasionally from July 4, 1867. The grandstand was built in 1870 after backing out of a lease of Fry’s grounds which were north of Main Street to the west. To the best of my knowledge there was no seating at the Railroad Grounds.
The Grand Duchess burned down in 1871 two days after the November 3rd meeting in Philadelphia, which Kekionga attended It was fully insured, but given the times, who knows if they ever collected. It was never rebuilt. Every Kekionga home game in Fort Wayne from 1869 until the team’s demise 1871 was played at the Kekionga ball grounds. See the SABR posting I co-authored with Jim Nitz. I know of no source that correctly locates the ball field used from 1866-1868. Locally, they are lucky to get it on the right planet.
I dispute the fact that the Marylands were stranded in Chicago. The only reference I find to that is in an interview of Mayer published July 17, 1899 in the Fort Wayne News. However, the facts in the interview are confused beyond the point of absurdity. He claims the team “held together” until 1873 and the only defeat they ever suffered was in Boston. He was either senile or a candidate for the world’s biggest liar. The remainder is equally flawed. Note the following from the aforementioned paper.
“It was in 1871 that we had the first professional base ball team,” continued Mr. Mayer. “The Baltimore club came on a western trip and at Chicago they stranded. We formed a stock company here in Fort Wayne, of which I was a member. The others were Max Nirdlinger, Judge Dawson, S.C. Lumbard and Robert Fisher. I WENT TO CHICAGO AND BOUGHT THE CLUB FROM COLONEL GEORGE F. WEIGEL AND BROUGHT THE PLAYERS BACK WITH ME. (Caps mine) We made some improvements in the club, but kept all the good men. I was the only local player on the team who went back of the bat.”
The clip below is from the first game with the Marylands. There is absolutely nothing to imply the team had been sold to Mayer, Kekionga or anyone else.
The August 9, 1870 Fort Wayne Daily Gazette
“Those of our citizens interested in Base Ball matters missed one of the most interesting games of the season. The “Marylands” are a good club, well organized and well managed. The players are younger than those of the other professional clubs, hence their good playing is all the more credible. They have decided to remain and play another game with Kekiongas to-day. “

There is also nothing here or anywhere else to suggest that the Marylands had been stranded in Chicago or were currently stranded in Fort Wayne.

The August 10th Fort Wayne Daily Democrat included this: “The game of Baseball took place first, and resulted in favor of the “Marylands,” by a score of 19-6 (Typo! Actually 29-6 as shown by the line score in the other paper). THEY LEFT LAST NIGHT FOR PITTSBURGH IN ECSTACY OVER THE TREATMENT RECEIVED FROM OUR CLUB.” (Caps mine) There is still nothing to remotely suggest the team was stranded here, Chicago or anywhere else. The non-stranded team left for Pittsburgh in ecstasy.
I have read every existing local newspaper in this time frame and cannot find even the slightest conformation of the Marylands stranding anywhere. I am sure it never happened!!!! Robert Fisher who actually did found the team and one of their directors Mayer cited above was quoted in an April 1, 1908 article in the Fort Wayne Daily News as saying that the team stranded in Fort Wayne and does not mention Chicago.
“Of course, as many of the fans know, the thing which made our team so strong was the Stranding of the Maryland team from Baltimore which enabled us to pick up half a dozen of its best players, among them Bobby Matthews, a star in baseballdom of those days. THE TEAM STRANDED HERE, (caps mine) and we had sense enough to take advantage of our opportunity to pick them up. With their assistance, we felt strong enough to lick anything in existence, and we came pretty near doing it to.”
This is the official local mythology. I am sure the stories were invented to cover up the fact that they had induced the Marylands’ players to join Kekionga. At least one of them must be wrong! There are no more facts to support this than Mayer’s delusion, unless one considers the Marylands stranded after Kekionga “poached” (Brian McKenna’s term) the Marylands’ players. There is nothing to remotely support Kekionga buying the team or bringing anyone back from Chicago. It completely contradicts it.
Brian McKenna on his Baltimore history website states the team did not disband until the winter and that Kekionga “poached” several players. I wrote to him about this and am convinced he is correct, at least about the poaching. It is inconceivable to me that the team could have stranded anywhere and not be mentioned in the local papers. It is equally inconceivable to me that given the extent of Brian’s knowledge that he would be unaware of a monumental event such as the team being sold in Chicago or disbanding in Fort Wayne. However, the most unbelievable of all would be for one director to forget that another went to Chicago, bought the Marylands and brought the players back, then invent a story that the team stranded in Fort Wayne.
If Kekionga had bought them the least they could have done was let Kekionga win at least one of the two Fort Wayne games. Without going into all the details, all the remaining evidence points to McKenna being correct. For the record, Fisher’s memory is equally flawed. He doesn’t even remember when he founded the team. (1866 not 1868 as he claimed). In any case, neither account has a single bit of evidence to support it. Perhaps ironically, when the Marylands caught the train for Pittsburgh, they probably left from the station located in the Hamilton field.
To give you an example of my frustration I have attempted to get numerous websites, including Baseball Reference, to correct their errors on Kekionga team and have found only three that have.
Baseball Reference, for example, states the Kekionga Professional team played at Hamilton Field, which as stated above, never existed. They state the Grand Duchess was built at League Park (by location, not name) in 1883, twelve years after it burned to the ground. They basically switch League Park with the Grand Duchess, which as stated before was a grandstand, not a ball field. They also fail to realize there were four different League Parks, three in the same general area and one at Lakeside which existed from 1893 until 1898. Sol White played at the Lakeside location. The uptown League Park had its grandstand moved to the Lakeside League Park in 1893 and ceased to exist until 1899 when it was rebuilt and expanded. As far as I can find, Baseball reference does not mention the Kekionga ball grounds, where Kekionga actually did play. They could hardly have screwed it up worse. There must be at least one hundred other sites that apparently copy or at least agree with all the Baseball Reference errors.
For the life of me I cannot explain how things that are so obvious became so thoroughly convoluted other than the difficulty of checking original sources until very recently. Everyone, including all National Sources, has at least part of the story wrong. The writers I respect the most have some of the most inexplicable mistakes.
In any case I greatly admire the work you have done and the service you have provided. My knowledge and interest is confined to Fort Wayne baseball from 1862 to 1902. I somewhat have an advantage because I spent nearly 40 years in the title insurance business and am completely familiar with all the old plats, locations and landmarks of this era. There are, for example, a few game stories that recount the ball going into the river. No one remotely familiar with this area could devise any way a ball hit from any part of any location claimed to be Hamilton Field could reach the river, absent a tornado or cannon.

Bill, thanks for your informative comments. Legend always trumps fact, it seems, even among participants in the original events. I truly hope that you will consider writing on the subject, perhaps for the journal Base Ball.

John, I would like to make three clarifications/corrections.
1. The Kekionga ball grounds did not acquire its name until the Grand Duchess was built in May/June 1870. Before that it was known by variants of Camp Allen, Old Camp Allen and the Camp Allen grounds.
2. The Hamilton field’s west boundary was present day Lafayette Street, the ball ground’s eastern boundary was present day Barr Street.
3. Since I do not know where all the train stations were in 1870, it would be better to state that the Marylands passed through the Hamilton field on their way to Pittsburgh.

John, I would be more than happy to contribute in any way I can to expanding the knowledge of the Kekionga team and early Fort Wayne baseball. If you could provide a mechanism for evaluation I will gladly submit an example of things I have written for my own amusement.
Once we are both convinced that the writings can likely be amended to meet your standards of style and accuracy I will be glad to do so.

Bill, I think your work might be well suited for the journal Base Ball. You may email me directly at john.thorn AT mlb.com, where “@” replaces “AT.”

A correction of a correction. The western boundard of the Hamilton field was Lafayette street as stated. The western, not eastern, boundardy of the ball grounds was Barr street. The ball grounds lay within a portion of the central section bordered by present day Calhoun, Williams. Barr and Murray streets. Kekionga moved from these grounds to the Camp Allen grounds in 1869.

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