Baseball History: Remembering the Washington Olympics

Today’s National League is a direct descendant from an earlier baseball league, which was known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. Commonly referred to as the National Association, the league was founded in 1871 and continued to operate until 1875. After the league disbanded, many of the 25 National Association teams went on to become the National League, such as the Boston Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings, and the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

The Washington Olympics franchise, which competed in the National Association in 1871 and 1872, constituted the only major baseball club in the nation’s capital until 1886, when the Washington Nationals were formed. Despite compiling a lackluster 17-22 record during the team’s National Association existence, the Olympics team featured some talented players who became Washington’s first professional sports celebrities. Some of these players include:

Fred Waterman (Third Baseman). Waterman was considered by many to be the best hitter for the Olympics, and before joining the club he was a member of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869. In 1871, he batted .316 for the Olympics, followed by a .378 batting average the following season.

Asa Brainard (Pitcher). Though he compiled a dismal career win-loss record (24-53), “Count” Brainard was already a well-known American sports figure by the time he joined the Olympics in 1871. Brainard was the star pitcher for the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869, and was brought to Washington by team manager Nick Young, along with four other members of the famed Cincinnati club. According to baseball folklore, the term “ace pitcher” was derived from “Asa pitcher”, a term used by contemporary ball clubs to describe their leading pitcher, in reference to Asa Brainard.

Doug Allison (Catcher). Best remembered as the first player to use a glove, Allison was another Red Stockings star who was brought to Washington. Allison batted .331 for the Olympics in 1871, and later went on to play for the Hartford Dark Blues, one of the eight charter teams of the National League. Of all the Olympics players, Allison had the longest career, playing 10 seasons in the National Association and the newly-formed National League. Allison’s long tenure was probably due to the fact that he was one of the game’s first “specialists”. During Allison’s era, the position of catcher was given to anyone who wasn’t busy playing another position. Allison is the first player to embrace and refine the position of catcher.

These three men deserve to be remembered because they were a few of the game’s early pioneers, helping to refine the sport of baseball from a rowdy and haphazard game played by amateurs, to the professional sport we know today. Before legends like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were even born, men like Fred Waterman, Asa Brainard, and Doug Allison were laying the foundation for the Great American Pastime.

(Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, BaseballLibrary.com, MLB.com)