It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when athletes didn’t demand multi-million dollar contracts. Believe it or not, baseball players competed for fun until 1869 when Harry Wright organized the first professional team in Cincinnati. The team was named the Red Stockings after the most prominent feature on their uniforms. The Cincinnati Red Stockings consisted of 10 players who were under contract from March 15th – November 15th. Annual salaries ranged from a couple hundred dollars to $1,400 (approx. $24,000 today) paid to George Wright, Harry’s brother. George was believed to be one of the best baseball players of his era.
The Red Stockings won their first game as a professional team on May 4, 1869 with a convincing 45-9 win over the Great Westerns of Cincinnati. They finished the 1869 season with a record of 57-0. It is the only perfect season in baseball history. The team eventually won 81 games before they finally lost on June 14, 1870 to the Brooklyn Atlantics. Wherever the team traveled, the Red Stockings would attract fans in the thousands. They helped nationalize the sport and put Cincinnati on the proverbial baseball map. The team eventually folded in 1870 due to financial constraints however reorganized later in that decade. Today’s Cincinnati Reds identify with the history of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and were a charter member of the National League.