Why Did Cincinnati Abandon Cricket To Become America’s First Baseball Powerhouse?

When the Queen City’s sporting pastimes shifted.
Cricket requires a large and rather elaborate playing ground, so Cincinnati cricket teams competed in outlying areas including Camp Washington, Walnut Hills and the far West End.

From The Illustrated London Almanack 1859, Digitized by Google Books

You can blame the Civil War for Cincinnati becoming the home of professional baseball. Well into the 1860s, this was a cricket town with “town ball” and “base ball” taking a distant second place to bowlers and wickets.

The curious researcher can still find references to Cincinnati’s early cricketers today, but most often as footnotes to the history of baseball. However, it is not too much of a stretch to say that baseball would not have prevailed in Cincinnati without the boost it received from the old-time cricket clubs.

Cincinnati’s cricket clubs were formidable opponents, hosting international matches with Canadian teams and participating in home-and-away rivalries with cricket clubs in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Cincinnati cricketers were professionals long before the nascent Red Stockings decided to pay their players.

Cricket was most definitely an Englishman’s game and Cincinnati before the Civil War was largely a city of English origins. The Cincinnati Gazette [6 October 1853] summed up the popularity of the “manly old game”:

“Cricket matches are now quite in fashion. We see notice of them in numerous exchanges, East, North and West. Wherever Englishmen are found, there a Cricket Club is found with them.”

Although Cincinnati newspapers carried stories about out-of-town cricket matches as early as the 1820s, local cricketers didn’t get organized until the 1840s. The Queen City Cricket Club convened in 1843 every Thursday at 2:00 p.m. at “Wade’s Woods” northwest of the intersection of Liberty Street and Central Avenue. By 1845, the Western Cricket Club offered some stiff competition to the Queen City club and the two teams battled it out on grounds located “at the foot of Eighth Street” in the Millcreek bottoms near the Whitewater Canal. It appears that the players were solidly middle-class – salesmen, plumbers, carpenters and shopkeepers – the sorts of folks who could spare a weekly afternoon to indulge in outdoor recreation.

By 1850 the Union Cricket Club, apparently a merger of the Queen City and Western clubs, was the dominant local team. Cricket grounds were hard to come by and the Union Club played variously at the Orphan Asylum lot where Music Hall now stands, on a wood-ringed field off Madison Road in East Walnut Hills, near the canal in Camp Washington and at the back of what later became known as Lincoln Park, location of Union Terminal today. From time to time, reports indicate that adherents of “town ball” or “base ball” also made use of the Union Cricket grounds, but only on days when the cricketers were otherwise occupied.

Among the Cincinnati cricket stalwarts back in the day was Jonathan Hattersley, born in Sheffield, England, in 1835. Hattersley emigrated to the United States as a young man, arriving in New Orleans and working his way up the rivers to Cincinnati. After a failed start as manager of a weaving operation, he set himself up as the sales agent for a number of British steel refineries. He later joined the firm of Thomas Turner, manufacturer of cutting and slicing equipment. Hattersley married the owner’s daughter, bought out his father-in-law, and set up a saw manufactory with his son, Harry. Before the Cincinnati Fire Department went professional in 1853, Hattersley battled blazes with the Franklins, one of the amateur companies active in the city. He was among the founders of the Western Cricket Club and later became president of the mighty Union Cricket Club. His office in the saw blade factory on Third Street served essentially as the club’s headquarters.

The Union Cricket Club dominated Cincinnati cricket from the 1840s into the 1870s. Its bench was so deep that the club supported two teams – the stars and a farm team both under one roof. While the “first eleven” participated in matches from Chicago to the East Coast, the “second eleven” kept the hometown fans occupied by playing clubs from Northern Kentucky, Lawrenceburg and some smaller Ohio towns. The Union Club even challenged a championship English club then touring the states but couldn’t reconcile schedules. About half the Union Cricket Club players were paid professionals.

Cricket was, and is, a sport associated with the British Empire and was enjoyed in America wherever English immigrants settled.

From Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 31 August 1878, Digitized by Google Books

It was Jonathan Hattersley who recruited George and Harry Wright to Cincinnati from New York’s stellar St. George Cricket Club. Although the Wright brothers carried the original Cincinnati Red Stockings to baseball glory, they arrived in the Queen City as professional cricket players. Harry Wright was also from Sheffield, born the same year as Jonathan Hattersley. One may assume they had met in childhood. In an interview with the Enquirer [20 August 1875], Harry, by then manager of the Boston Red Stockings, recounted his arrival in Cincinnati:

“I was under contract, and was offered very fine inducements to leave New York. When I arrived in Cincinnati cricket was all the rage, but it finally subsided, and from the club I managed the old Red Stockings of that city was organized. I would like to say in this connection that the uniform I used as the cricketer was adopted by the Base-Ball Club.”

Wright glosses over what specific factors caused the “rage” for cricket to “subside,” but baseball scholars generally point to the Civil War, which brought young men from all over the United States together and gave them a great deal of free time when they weren’t busy shooting each other. Simon Worrall, writing in Smithsonian Magazine [October 2006] describes the wartime conditions that promoted baseball over cricket:

“A year before the Civil War broke out, “Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player,” published in New York City, sold 50,000 copies in the United States. Soldiers from both sides of the conflict carried it, and both North and South embraced the new game. It was faster than cricket, easier to learn and required little in the way of equipment: just a bat (simpler to make than a cricket bat, which requires sophisticated joinery), a ball and four gunnysacks thrown on a patch of ground, and you’re ready to play.”

By the time the war ended, Cincinnati seethed with baseball fever. Even Jonathan Hatterley’s son, Harry, took up baseball, catching for the junior-league Pickwicks in Cincinnati. A group of young executives – many of them Civil War veterans – organized the Cincinnati Base Ball Club on 23 July 1866 and quickly allied with the Union Cricket Club, who already had very nice facilities ready for play. According to Harry Ellard’s 1907 “Baseball in Cincinnati”:

“In 1867 the club moved to the grounds of the Union Cricket Club, with which was made a quasi alliance. These grounds were situated at the foot of Richmond Street. They were used in the summer for cricket and baseball and in winter were flooded and used for skating purposes, where great enthusiasm was manifested in this winter sport, with a series of interesting carnivals.”

Harry Wright and his brother George were convinced to give up cricket to lead America’s first professional baseball team. The rest, as they say, is history. Still, Harry, George and the rest of their team did not totally abandon cricket. It is not often reported that the Cincinnati Red Stockings, during their undefeated inaugural season, actually played a cricket match. In San Francisco, on 28 September 1869, the Cincinnati baseball team engaged the “All California Eleven.” According to Ellard:

“For the sake of variety and amusement they played a game of cricket with the California eleven, in which they showed that they could play cricket as well as baseball.”

The former cricketers now known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings prevailed 118 to 79.

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