What’s In A Team Name? Bridegrooms…Superbas…Dodgers! Oh My! The Birth of Brooklyn Baseball in the 19th Century (Part 2 of 3)

Professional baseball for Brooklyn began about 125 miles south in a doubleheader against the ISBA’s Wilmington, Delaware team on May 1, 1883. The teams split the games.  Wilmington won the first game 9-6, Brooklyn won the second game 8-2.

On May 9th, Brooklyn played its first home game under professional auspices. Sort of.

Because Washington Park was not quite ready for a game, Brooklyn used Prospect Park to avoid a forfeit of the scheduled game against Harrisburg. Brooklyn won 7-1.  But Harrisburg’s complaints turned off the crowd of approximately 2,000. “The visitors were beaten by the Brooklynites, and disgusted the Brooklyn players as well as the onlookers by their continual growling at the decisions made by the umpire.”[i]Washington Park debuted on May 12th. Brooklyn beat Trenton 13-6.

On the same day that Byrne unveiled Washington Park, he hired a 23-year-old office worker who performed with the aplomb expected from a factotum extraordinaire with an impressive curriculum vitae.

“[H]e did a little bit of everything for the club. He kept the books, sold tickets and scorecards, and tidied up around the office. The job might have seemed small potatoes to man of [his] background. Though barely of mature years, he had already been an architectural draftsman, a small-time book publisher, and served as an assemblyman in the State Legislature. But it was in baseball that [he] saw the cast of his future, and the future was approaching rapidly.”[ii]

His name was Charles Ebbets. Future Brooklyn Dodgers owner and builder of Ebbets Field.

An explosion of marital bliss overwhelmed Brooklyn’s players during the winter of 1888. Unknowingly, the press bestowed the nickname “bridegrooms” on the squad.

It began with the April 6, 1888 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle: “Eleven of the Brooklyn team are blessed with charming wives, and they have something to work for beside their own individual pleasure. Most of these Benedicts are yearling bridegrooms. The other five are unlucky bachelors who are likely to be caught out by some Brooklyn belles this season.”[iii]

On April 11, 1888, the same day that future automobile innovator Henry Ford married Clara Bryant and later claimed as “the greatest day of my life,” The Sporting Life popped a marriage question that buttressed the bridegroom label: “Now isn’t this a ‘bridegroom’ team?”[iv]

The name stuck. At least for awhile. Brooklyn would find that its team enjoyed several labels, sometimes simultaneously. In 1890, the Bridegrooms joined the National League. The Bridegrooms’ league change was set against a backdrop of baseball buccaneering involving a renegade league. The Jolly Roger should have been its official flag.

The Players League started the “Brotherhood War” by raiding the rosters in the National League and the American Association. The result was a tornado that whipped through baseball’s infrastructure and left a trail of debris. Destroyed by its own force, the Players’ League folded while the American Association limped along to an 1891 season that would be its last. Such is the way of things.

Out of chaos, there is profit. And so it was for George Chauncey and Wendell Goodwin after baseball’s Brotherhood War. Chauncey and Goodwin were successful businessmen in real estate and rail lines, respectively. As principal owners of the Brooklyn Wonders in the Players League, they reaped financial benefits beyond ticket receipts. For example, Goodwin’s trolley and rail lines were prevalent in the proximity of Eastern Park, the Wonders’ home field.

The chaos inspired a meeting with the established Brooklyn ball club of the National League. And baseball would never be the same.

I gave this presentation at the Society for American Baseball Research’s Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Baseball Conference on April 20-21, 2012 held at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Tomorrow:  Part 3


[i] The New York Times, May 10, 1883.

[ii] Cohen at 4-5.

[iii] Shafer at 75, citing Brooklyn Eagle, April 6, 1888

[iv] Id. at 75, citing The Sporting Life April 11, 1888

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