Brooklyn has an immense baseball history. From the middle of the nineteenth century, baseball has been played, cheered, derided and discussed. A number of teams based themselves in Brooklyn and reveled in idiosyncratic namings and identities. The initial baseball convention was fully one-half Brooklyn. Among those early clubs, a trinity of teams ran the Brooklyn game in those first decades. They were the Excelsior, the Atlantic, and the Eckford. The rivalries between these clubs fostered much debate in early baseball ‘fanatic’ circles, helping the sport achieve a definite degree of commercial success. The first recorded example of spectators paying to watch a match came with a trio of all-star match-ups, pitting Brooklyn against New York. More than this, Brooklyn can also boast having had the first proper ball-grounds, the Capitoline along with the Union. As you can imagine, having these devoted spaces sped up the journey from the game’s amateur root-stock towards the budding professional era of the inside game, flourishing before WW1.
The First Brooklyn Clubs
The early popularity and eager strides of baseball in Brooklyn did not translate to longevity for that first generation of clubs. After the Civil War, the Excelsiors never posed a real competitive threat, staying resolutely amateur, and eventually fading into obscurity. The Atlantics (below) and Eckfords did make moves towards professional baseball; but not until the relatively late date of 1872. The clubs had lost the edge by hesitating, no longer having the player strength they once had, Within a quartet of seasons both clubs were gone.
In 1876 came the advent of the National League, doing away with the old professional arrangement and ushering in a new approach. The National allocated regional supremacy to its roster of teams, taking a territorial approach for the first time. It would be perhaps too much to call it the first step towards franchises, but things were changing. The obsolescent Atlantics were snubbed by the National, who favored the Mutuals of New York. The snub hurt all the more as the Mutuals shared their ground with the Atlantics; it cannot have been an easy time!
Back to Back Titles in Two Different Leagues
In time, the Mutuals got themselves kicked from the League; this opened up a slot rapidly taken by the Brooklyn Hartfords (formerly the Hartford Dark Blues), but things were not to last. They played at the Union Grounds for just about a year before they disappeared from the record. The club now world-famous as the Dodgers was formed a little after the Hartfords quit. Originating as the Brooklyn Grays, businessman, (and baseball ‘fancier’) Charles Byrne brought in family and friends to get the club off the ground. Building a ground, patriotically named Washington Park, the club played their first home tie on May 12, 1883. Winning some minor league titles saw them rise to first the American Association and then National League. The Grays achieved the remarkable feat of winning the AA title in 1889, then the NL title in 1890; the only club to do so.
The Rivalry Begins
Indicating the shape of things to come, they played the New York Giants for the 1889 World Series, losing then going on to tie the following season’s World Series, playing the Louisville Colonels. Contributing to this great run of success was the hoovering up of players from other clubs that had been forced to close shop, teams such as the Metropolitans and the delightfully-named Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders.
The adoption of the new name, the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, came in 1895. Brooklyn had started to change over from horse-drawn conveyances to electrically-driven trolleys. Faster than the older horse-drawn cars, the new trolleys had a reputation as hurtling manglers, and Brooklyn’s citizens soon developed the knack of dodging the cars. The Brooklyn Dodgers were born.
In our next blog, we will examine the origins of the Giants, and revisit that 1889 World Series. From there we can chart the great rivalry to the present day- and season!
Originally published at No Halftime.