Originally posted March 31, 2007:
Well, the Major League Baseball 2007 season will start tomorrow night, April 1, with a night game between the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the National League Eastern Division Champion New York Mets. But I won’t be talking about that. What I will be talking about is a tradition that appears to have all but disappeared within the last decade or so, that baseball no longer starts its season in Cincinnati. Before any of you say what do you mean, since Cincinnati plays a home game Monday afternoon, what I mean is that when I was growing up, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I and I’m sure of lot of other baseball fans did as well, knew that the season had started once we’d heard that the first pitch had been thrown by the Cincinnati Reds’ opening day starter against the first batter of his team’s opponent for that day.
Now, if you’re wondering about the tradition behind it, it goes like this: In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the possible ancestors of the present-day Cincinnati Reds or Redlegs, which had been formed earlier in 1866 as an amateur team, became the first team in the country to pay all of their players. Before then, all teams, the majority of which came from the East Coast and were mostly formed from members of gentlemen clubs, were made up of amateur players, which meant that they only played the game part-time. With that year’s Cincinnati club, people were now being paid to play baseball full time. This is important as these full timers went across the country, or rather across the Eastern half of the country, to play against the more traditional amateur teams, as well as some college clubs, and for the that year the team went 57 and 0. The following year, in 1870, the team won 24 more games in a row before it finally was defeated, 8-7, by the Brooklyn Athletics in Brooklyn on June 14. So, for over a year, the team won 71 games in a row before finally losing a game. The team was disbanded in 1871, as the club that own the team couldn’t afford putting together another team of professionals for that year.
Meanwhile, after seeing what a team made up of paid professionals could do, several other organizations started to create teams that were made up of paid players. This in turn led to the first organized league of professional teams, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. This would in turn lead to the creation of the present-day National League in 1876, which replaced the NA because that league had been dominated by one club, was inflicted by franchise instability, lacked a central authority and had been corrupted by gambling.
Anyway, as far as I know, the long standing tradition, or at least the tradition was during the years that I was growing up and until lately, had opening day beginning with a home game being played first in Cincinnati in honored of that particular team. But now, it appears that that tradition is now a thing of the past. I don’t know why it happened, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be because the guys who are presently running major league baseball no longer honor certain traditions.