Apr 29

The District’s First Professional Baseball Game

RM Larner, the distinguished sports writers takes pen in hand to reminisce about the first professional base ball game played in Washington, 5 July 1866.

The first time the people of Washington were called upon to pay an admission fee to witness a game of baseball in this city was in the summer of 1866. In those days they did not call it a race for the pennant, but contests between the home and visiting clubs were designated as “tournaments.” On the occasion referred to the contestants were the Excelsior’s, of Brooklyn, and the Nationals, of this city.

The visiting team was composed of Asa Brainard, pitcher; Frank Norton, catcher; Joe Leggett, short stop; Whiting, Finley and James Mitchell on the bases, and Anthony Elmendorf, John Clyne and George Fletcher in the field. The Nationals were represented by Will Williams, pitches Harry Berthrong, catcher; Eb Smith, shortstop; Hodges, Ed Parker and George Fox on the bases, and Sy Studley, Harry McLean and Randall in the field.

The visitors were met at the depot by a reception committee and afterwards entertained by excursions up the Potomac River to Great Falls and down to Mount Vernon and also a banquet at Willard’s Hotel. The arrangements for the tourney were admirably handled and about six thousand persons witnessed the struggle for supremacy between Brooklyn and Washington. The visitors were the winners by a score of 33 to 28. The diamond was laid out directly south of the President’s House and the ball ground was partially closed by the erection of an amphitheatre of seats behind first and third bases to the right and left of the catcher. For seats in the amphitheatre a charge of twenty-five cents was made, and a number of official dignitaries were presented with complimentary tickets. About 2,000 people paid for seats and the crowd generally viewed the game outside of the rope line drawn from the end of the seats down to the ”Willows,” then on the north bank of the old canal.”

Notes, Brooklyn won 46 to 33. Candy Cummings, the noted pitcher played for Brooklyn in 1866. Asa would later pitch for Washington and some say the word “Ace” is form him. Fox was one of the best if the not the best power hitters of his time. Berthrong was a catcher and the fastest player of his era.