Chicago Baseball Museum

July 31, 2007 A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization   VOLUME 2007 ISSUE 3  
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Pre-National League Excerpt
Chicago Aces: The First 75 Years
by John Freyer and Mark Rucker

Baseball first appeared in Chicago as early as 1856, at least that’s what’s been documented.  I’m sure it was there even earlier.  Recent research suggests that the pioneers of the North-West (our Midwest), were playing townball in Rockford in 1848.  Even Alton, Illinois has a nugget of a town ballgame circa 1832. The Hunkidoris of Joliet and the Sleepers of Lockport faced off for a match in August of 1851.
Right before the Civil War, in the years of 1859 and 1860, baseball was taking seed in Chicago. In 1859, the first recorded baseball game was played in Chicago.  The Atlantic and Excelsior clubs faced off in a 31 to 17 affair which was won by the Excelsior team: the winning pitcher, Mr. J. Malcolm, the loser, A. L. Adams.  Little did they know they would be regarded as the first known pitchers in Chicago’s long history of baseball.
Chicago is steeped in baseball history.  Chicago had one of the first professional teams, the White Stockings in 1870, who are now the Cubs.  The National League was formed here in 1876 by Chicago businessman William Hulbert.  Charles Comiskey and Clark Griffith in Chicago played a significant role in the development of the American League.  Sixteen inch softball was invented here in the 1890s by tying a string around a boxing glove so men could play baseball inside in bad weather.  It was then known as “Indoor Baseball.”   Sixteen inch softball is Chicago’s indigenous sport.  No other city in the country plays the “Chicago Game.”
After the Civil War, the Excelsior club of Chicago was considered the best in the newly developed North-Western Association, which included the Atlantic club of Chicago, along with teams from Detroit, Dubuque, Freeport, and Bloomington, to name a few.  A gentleman named Kennedy was the Ace of the 1866 staff that won the Championship of the first tournament of the North-West in Rockford, defeating the Empire club of Freeport, 26-24.  In 1867, Kennedy gave way to a chap named McNally who became the Ace until the demise of the Excelsiors after the 1868 season.
In 1869, businessmen in Chicago began to pool their money to draw top players from the East to Chicago, emulating what the Champions of 1869 - the Cincinnati Red Stockings - did to put together a team that went 69-0. 
In 1870, Chicago introduced the White Stockings club, featuring top of the line pitcher Ed Pinkham, who had pitched for the Brooklyn Eckford club in 1869.  The White Stockings were one of the top teams that year registering a 65-8 record. 
In 1871, the National Association was born, the first all professional leagues.  The White Stockings grabbed the services of George Zettlein (He of the Big Feet) from the Brooklyn Atlantics, who had failed to join the new association because they felt their amateur status was more profitable.   The White Stockings lost their home, Lakefront Park, and their uniforms and equipment in the Great Chicago Fire in October, while leading the league.  They lost the Championship to the Philadelphia Athletics in a one-game playoff, 4-1.  It has been written that the men were homeless and weak from the ordeal of losing all that they had in the Fire.
The team reorganized in 1874, with Zettlein and Jimmy Devlin in the box until 1876 when Hall of Famer Albert Spalding came along and won the inaugural National League Championship.


Click here to purchase your copy of Chicago Aces: The First 75 Years (© John Freyer and Mark Rucker: Arcadia Publishing, 2005) or visit for more information.

Chicago Aces: The First 75 Years
Chicago Aces: The First 75 Years
Published by Dr. David J. Fletcher
Copyright © 2007 Chicago Baseball Museum. All rights reserved.
The Chicago Baseball Museum is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
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