While the 1882 American Association Red Stockings were the first Cincinnati league champions, Cincinnati’s first major league team was not nearly as successful.

The 1876 National League was a new major league, replacing the National Association which existed from 1871-1875. The National Association was predominantly a northeastern-midwestern league with teams from as far east as New Haven, Boston, Hartford, New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia from the northeast and St. Louis, Chicago, and Keokuk, Iowa, representing the midwest . While not discussing the drama that ended the NA and began the NL, the new league promised solid and honest leadership. That principal worked until 1877 when some Louisville Grays players were found to be throwing games, costing the Louisville team first place, four expelled players, and bringing an end to one of the original NL teams.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings that played in 1876 had little resemblance to the famous 1869 Red Stockings team, the first acknowledged fully professional team. In fact, many of those of 1869 players were now members of the Boston Red Caps, who had won four consecutive National Association titles. Former Cincinnati stars George Wright and Andy Leonard were still playing with Boston in 1876, with Harry Wright now managing the Boston squad and another former star Red Stocking, Cal McVey, now playing for the Chicago White Stockings. The new Cincinnati team had two original Red Stocking players, 2b Charlie Sweasy and 1b Charlie Gould, but they proved to be more of sentimental value rather than stars that would help the team win.

Let’s just say the new Red Stockings would have been much better served if they could have had the other original Red Stocking players on their team. The 1876 squad finished the season with a record of 9-56, finishing last in the eight team league, a full 42 ½ games behind the league champion Chicago White Stockings. The seventh place team was the Philadelphia Athletics, who finished their season 14-45.

It was a great start. Cincinnati won their opening game (at home), defeating the St. Louis Brown Stockings, 2-1. They won their second game of the season, 5-2, again over the St. Louis team that would eventually finish third with a 45-19 record. The Red Stockings were tied for first!!

Then the wheels fell off the wagon. The White Stockings handed the Red Stockings their first loss of the season, 11-5, and then beat them again, as the Reds fell into an 11-game losing streak which sent them to the bottom of the league standings where they eventually finished.

“Long Charley” Jones was their best player, batting .286 with four homers and 38 rbi. His four homers were good four second place in the league. He was the only Red Stocking to have more than seven extra base hits for the year (he had 17 doubles, four triples, and four homers, thus being the only Red Stocking with a slugging average over .300 (Jones’s was .420). As for the two original Cincinnati Red Stockings on the team, Gould batted .252 with 11 rbi, and Sweasy batted .204 with 10 rbi.

The Red Stockings had two 20 game losers as pitchers. Dory Dean, in his only major league season, finished his career with a 4-26 record and 3.73 ERA. Cherokee Fisher finished his season 4-20 with a 3.02 ERA. Dean’s ERA+ was 59, and Fisher’s was 73 during a time when unearned runs far exceeded earned runs. In other words, don’t be fooled by the low ERAs. Dean’s won-loss percentage of .133 is the worst ever by a one-year pitcher involved with at least 20 decisions.

So, how did the Red Stockings move from being the worst team in the league to being the 1882 American Association champion? By 1878, Red Stocking owners had tired of losing (their 1877 record was 15-42). So, they did what any team in a free agent era would do…they signed free agents at high salaries (sound familiar?). They went and signed star players Cal McVey (original Red Stocking) and catcher Deacon White, and signed Deacon’s younger brother, Will White, to pitch. They moved all the way up to second in the standings in 1878, finishing 37-23. The team disintegrated during 1879 due to clubhouse dissension when their three highly paid stars (Deacon White, McVey, and newly acquired future Hall of Famer Ross Barnes) wanted to run the team, and the remainder of the team resented their attitudes.

The details are stranger than listed here. There were actually three different Cincinnati major league franchises between 1876 and 1880, with the team folding due to financial issues on two different occasions. The team even disbanded mid-season in 1877, missing seven games before a second ownership group took over the team.

Eventually the National League kicked Cincinnati out of major league baseball following the 1880 season for selling alcohol on Sunday at the games and for leasing their field for other uses besides baseball.

They began contending in the upstart American Association after being granted a franchise and bringing back many of their National League players to form the nucleus of their 1882 championship team.

Most of this information was found in the book, “The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball” by David Nemec. Additional information was found in the book, “Ball Clubs” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella.