Very shortly after these pioneering interracial clashes, another pair of matches occurred that may be even more significant. Possibly inspired by happenings in Philadelphia, the Alert Club of Washington, D.C., issued a challenge to the Washington Olympics, at that time one of a dozen or so openly professional teams in the country and (along with the Nationals) one of the two leading clubs in Washington—and their challenge was accepted.
Reports of the game, played on September 20, 1869, made their way into the Washington dispatches of a number of northeastern newspapers. I haven’t found a box score, but the Washington Star reported the lineups:
(Washington Star, September 20, 1869)The Olympics featured a number of familiar names, including Davy Force and eventual National League president Nick Young. The figure most associated with the black baseball scene in D.C. at the time, Frederick Douglass’s son Charles, doesn’t appear among the Alerts’ players, and may by that time have moved to the city’s other important black club, the Mutuals.
The game didn’t go well for the Alerts on the field, but the event drew a big crowd, and was generally interpreted as a positive development:
About three weeks later, on October 12, the Olympics played another match against a black team, the Mutual Club. This time the time the result was much closer:
I haven’t been able to find any box scores or any other mentions of the Mutuals/Olympics game so far. Nor have I found any evidence that competition between white and black clubs in D.C. continued into the 1870s, although the Mutuals were active for a number of years after this. Still, this means we can trace contests between the top levels of the black and white baseball worlds all the way back to 1869, which is considerably earlier than is usually understood.
Incidentally, the scores for both the Olympics/Alerts game and the Olympics/Mutuals game are reported by Marshall Wright in his book, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. He makes no special note of them, however, while mentioning the Pythians’ game against the City Items, so I’m guessing that he didn’t realize they were matches against African American clubs.
UPDATE 5:14 p.m. Charles Douglass had indeed moved on to the Mutual Base Ball Club by September 1869; among the Pythians’ papers is a letter dated September 10, 1869, from Douglass in his capacity as the Mutuals’ corresponding secretary, proposing that the Pythians and Mutuals play a series in Washington.
UPDATE 10/17/2009 I should have remembered that Randall Brown mentioned the Olympics’ 1869 matches against both the Alerts and Mutuals in his excellent article “Blood and Base Ball” in the Spring 2009 issue of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.