History of baseball in Washington, DC
Washington Baseball: 1859-75
The history of professional baseball in Washington, DC, the nation's capital, dates back to the first season of the National Association, 1871, when the Washington Olympics joined the new circuit. They were joined the following season by the Washington Nationals. Both teams had been established years before as amateur teams. The Nationals name was destined to have a long history in Washington, DC. The 21st-century Washington Nationals are one of several D.C. teams to use the name
Washington has fielded a team in all but two of the major leagues that have existed, the exceptions being the Players League and the Federal League. The Nationals name dates back to when the club was first formed in November of 1859. The Nationals, along with the rival Potomac Club, were mostly made up of government clerks. Both teams were often found practicing on the grounds of the White House. When the Civil War broke out, the Potomacs closed up shop, while the Nationals kept going, and by the end of the war, had managed to become a local powerhouse team. One of its players Arthur P. Gorman would rise through the ranks to become a local celebrity, and then would go on to serve as President of the Club, and then president of the NABBP before becoming a US Senator.
The Nationals joined the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first national baseball organization, on December 12, 1860. Early on, the team played an average of only 5 games a season, including a combined 121-31 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics and the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1865. Two years later, the team embarked on a tour of the United States, becoming the first team to travel East of the Allegheny Mountains. They posted a 29-7 record including a 53-10 win over the Cincinnati Red Stockings. It has been said that the Nationals might deserve more credit for the creation of what is now Major League Baseball as opposed to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, because of this national tour. Along with the Red Stockings, the Nationals were one of the first teams to turn professional for the 1869 season, but unfortunately posted a 4-12 record. The team joined the National Association in 1872, but lasted only 11 games, all losses, before dropping out after a 9-1 loss to the Baltimore Canaries on June 26th.
A second Nationals team joined the National Association for the 1875 season. This time the team managed to win 5 games, but they also dropped out of the league, this time on July 7th. It is not known whether this Nationals team is the same as the previous Nationals team or whether not the Nationals have any ties to the 1873 Washington Blue Legs, who also played in the NA. It would be nine years before Washington would have a professional baseball club and the name the Nationals would return.
Starting in the late 1860s, and going to about 1873, the Nationals were not the only team in the nation's capital. The first team to challenge the Nationals was the Olympic Base Ball Club or the Washington Olympics. This team would field a team from the late 1860s until 1872. They were one of the first clubs to turn professional in 1869 and were one of the founding members of the National Association. The team's biggest claim to fame was the hiring of five former players from the Cincinnati Red Stockings for the 1871 season which was the team's best year at 15-15-2. The Olympics folded on May 28, 1872.
The next team to challenge the Nationals lasted only one season. This team was the Washington Blue Legs and was managed by former Olympic's manager Nick Young. The Blue Legs posted a record 8-31 and then folded when the season ended.
Washington Baseball: 1884-1889
The 1884 season saw the appearance of two Washington teams with the Nationals nickname, though in reality the team in the Nationals of the American Association were also called the Statesmen. By August the Statesmen had dropped out after posting a 12-51 record. The Union Association Nationals lasted only one season as a major league team, as the league folded after a single season. The name Nationals survived the 1880s, with the Nationals playing in the Eastern League in 1885, before joining the National League for the rest of the decade (those would be the Washington Nationals (1886-1889). All three Nationals teams were managed by Mike Scanlon, providing some continuity.
Washington Baseball: 1890-1899
Even though the Nationals would fold following the 1889 season, the city would not be without a team. Noted journey manager Ted Sullivan organized a team called the Washington Senators. This team would play ball in the Atlantic Association for the 1890 season.
- Brett L. Abrams: Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, D.C., McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009.
- Frederic J. Frommer: The Washington Nationals 1859 to Today: The Story of Baseball in the Nation's Capital, Taylor Trade Publishing, Lanham, MD, 2006.
- Frederic J. Frommer: You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions, Taylor Trade Publishing, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2013. ISBN 978-1589798434
- Norman L. Macht: "Washington Nicknames", in Bob Brown, ed.: Monumental Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Capital Region, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 39, 2009, pp. 93-94.
- Peter Morris: But Didn't We Have Fun?: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843-1870, Ivan R. Dee Publishers, Chicago, IL, 2008, p. 138.
- Shirley Povich, The Washington Senators, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1954, pp. 3-4
- James C. Roberts: The Nationals past times: the history and new beginning of baseball in Washington, D.C, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2005.