Before the Boston Red Sox popped into existence there were the original Red Sox – the Boston Braves. Time to pay homage to the Red Sox naming predecessors.
This is a Boston Red Sox site but maybe I will wander off the RSN reservation and discuss the original Boston Red Sox, a spin-off of the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings who started the professional ball rolling by going 57-0 in a cross-country tour in 1869.
The Reds were led by Harry Wright – an Englishman cricket player enraptured with this new game – who in 1871 along with his brother and shortstop George Wright moved to Boston and took along the name and half the players as the Reds became temporarily defunct. They became the original Boston Red Sox (Stockings) and one of the greatest franchises in the budding days of professional baseball.
The Red Sox in 1872 became part of the National Association (NA) which was the precursor to the National League (NL) formed in 1876. This Red Sox team was a steam roller in the NA having the best record each season until the NL was created. The Red Sox. or sometimes the Red Caps and Beaneaters, won titles in 1877 and 1878 and would win eight pennants before the American League (AL) was formed in 1901.
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The formation of the AL resulted in high-level pilfering to stock the Boston Americans – eventually the Red Sox – that brought dark times to the Braves as they became perennially losers in the NL. The Americans even pilfered the name of yore – the Red Sox in 1908 after several other naming attempts.
Then came a miracle and in baseball term the “Miricle Braves” that came from 15 games down to win the pennant in 1914. The miracle continued when the Braves made a clean sweep of the A’s in the World Series. That was it until 1948.
The Braves and Red Sox have a commonality in their history – Babe Ruth. Ruth started in Boston with the Red Sox and finished off with the 1935 Braves. Both franchises also were mired in misery for much of the 1920s and 1930s with wretched teams, dismal attendance, and questionable talent.
For the Red Sox, they turned the corner thanks to Yawkey’s infusion of cash before the Braves became a brief post World War II success. In 1948, maybe if the Red Sox choose someone besides Denny Galehouse (8-8, 4.00) in a one-game playoff loss to Cleveland there could have been a trolley series. The Braves captured the NL flag and then got whacked by the Indians in six games.
I attended graduate school at Boston University and remnants of Braves Field are still present. Most of the structure was long gone when I arrived (1976) but Nickerson Filed – its bastard offspring – still had some seats to give homage to its paternal roots for an impressionable eight-year-old experiencing his first major league baseball game.
Reflecting back with the experience of adulthood the park was a wreck. History shows the ownership best noted as “The Three Little Steamshoves” wished to construct a new ballpark and play at Fenway Park while either reconstruction or suburban move took place. This was simply what had been done when the park was built in 1915 and the Braves played at a newly commissioned Fenway Park.
Tom Yawkey refused his competitor’s requests and the Braves soon became history. A shameful legacy of Yawkey, but not as shameful as the Red Sox history of racial neglect. The Braves were on the cusp of a team that would in a few years bag a World Series flag that could have been Boston’s and not Milwaukee’s.
The field to my young eyes was immense and that is certainly been proven accurate as I have researched the park and the team that was my first baseball love. Braves Field sat 40,000 which was one reason why the 1915 and 1916 Red Sox played their World Series at the park – more fans and that means a larger player share.
The bloodlines to Braves Field is typical of baseball as it transition from the fire plagued wooded structures to the then state of the art steel and concrete. The older parks that were all called South End Grounds are merely footnotes since this is about the park and the team I remember. The original configuration had a 550’ centerfield that was the deepest in baseball and an old-timer pointed that out to me at my first game.
In that first game, I saw two players who were early heroes – Eddie Mathews and Sam Jethroe. Mathews was a 20-year-old left-handed slugger who would go o to a Hall of Fame career. Jethroe was a fleet outfielder who had been Rookie of the Year in 1950 and was the player who broke the color barrier in Boston – nine years before the Red Sox brought up Pumpsie Green.
One of the few memories I have is Matthews hitting a home run. A monumental blast to right-field that brought wonderment that a ball could be hit that far. The previously mentioned old-timer also mentioned the name of a “colored boy (this was 1952)” who they signed out of the Negro Leagues – Hank Aaron. Much later in life I understood what the minor leagues and Negro Leagues were.
When the Braves left, an emotional vacuum was created. Boston had that “other” team so I became a Red Sox fan. But I did get to see a face-off between the two teams as a benefit for the Jimmy Fund in 1961 with the Braves winning and Warren Spahn tossing a one-inning start. That migrates into what-if territory.
If the Braves had stayed and become the formidable power would that have affected the Red Sox into a possible move? In later years Yawkey had actually contemplated that action, but my perception is it would represent a competitive challenge. Yawkey may have also been forced to actually sign black players to compete.
Could Boston support two teams? Boston is a baseball city and I have little doubt that two teams would have both a strong fan base and a large metropolitan area to get the seats filled. New England – at least that part not called Connecticut – is Red Sox territory and could be Braves and Red Sox territory. A delicious rivalry with plenty of media dollars.
There is also the specter of losing Fenway Park. Braves Field was a competitive answer to Fenway Park and possibly the Red Sox would have examined another ballpark. That surfaced in the late 1950s and has periodically been mentioned.
The Red Sox history began with the partial destruction of the Braves. Jimmy Collins, Ted Lewis, Buck Freeman, and Chick Stahl all took that leisurely stroll to the Huntington Avenue Grounds for a new team and an elevated paycheck. Collins, Freeman, and Stahl were instrumental in the first championship in 1903 and the Red Sox fans got to know that feeling a few decades later when the Yankees picked clean the Red Sox.