Baseball’s history in Dayton: From the ‘Gem Citys’ of 1884 to the surging Dragons of today

In the early summer after the first professional baseball team was formed in Cincinnati, the Dayton Baseball Club invited the Red Stockings to Bimm’s Park for a game.

These were the George Wright-led Red Stockings, who began paying their players the season before, winning all 57 of their games. That streak would reach 130 by the middle of June 1870, just a couple of weeks after the May 26 game in Dayton.

It was considered an accomplishment of sorts that the Dayton club held Cincinnati to just six runs in the first inning that afternoon. And, during the course of nine innings, the Dayton team scored nine runs, which today would be a high number. It wasn’t nearly enough against the Red Stockings, who made it back to Cincinnati packing a 104-9 victory.

Professional baseball in Dayton ebbed and waned for more than a century.

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According to The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball compiled by Baseball America, Dayton’s first association with a professional league was in 1884 when the city participated in the Ohio State Association. After that, Dayton had teams in the Tri-State League, Interstate, Western Association, Central, Middle Atlantic, Ohio State and Central League again, through the 1951 season.

Also playing were the Dayton Marcos, who participated in the Negro Leagues when “Organized” baseball did not welcome blacks. The Marcos played mostly at Westwood Field.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Dayton teams were called the Gem Citys, Reds, Old Soldiers, Veterans, Aviators, Ducks, Wings and Indians. They finished first (1884, ‘98, ‘00, ‘11, ‘14, ‘28, ‘49 and ‘51), last (1909, ‘15 and ‘30) and didn’t finish the 1890 season. You’ve heard of Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer pitching back-to-back no-hitters in 1938; but how about Clarence Wright beating him to that feat by no-hitting Columbus, 9-0, and Grand Rapids, 2-0, in consecutive starts for the Western Association Dayton Old Soldiers on Sept. 1 and 4, 1901?

Dayton teams from that era played at old Fairview Park on the corner of North Main and Fairview Avenue.

The Pittsburgh Pirates came to town for an exhibition game April 14, 1901, and beat the Old Soldiers, 3-2, in 11 innings with a young right fielder - later shortstop - knocking in two runs. His name was Honus Wagner, and 2,000 fans watched him play on that cold day.

Two days later, the Reds came to town and beat the Dayton team, 7-3. Bid McPhee, who will go into baseball’s Hall of Fame this summer, was Cincinnati’s manager.

Credit: marvin christian

Credit: marvin christian

On April 26, almost 99 years ago to the day that the Dragons will open at home, Robert Wicker pitched a 3-hitter as Dayton beat Columbus, 15-1, in front of 900 fans.

Out of pro baseball a year, Dayton returned with a team in 1903 in a reorganized Central League. By 1905, Elmer Redelle, manager of the Victory Theater, became secretary of the Dayton team, and later president.

In 1910, shortstop Dolly Stark - who later became a major-league umpire - was purchased by Brooklyn for $3,000 from the team now called the Dayton Veterans.

Credit: copy of DDN

Credit: copy of DDN

Dayton played games at Fairview Park until 1913, then moved to Highland Park in East Dayton, near Santa Cruz Avenue. That move created a transportation problem as no streetcar lines reached that destination. Still, 4,661 fans appeared on Opening Day 1913.

Dayton stayed in the Central League through the 1917 season, when the league folded.

After a decade of no professional baseball in Dayton, the sport returned in 1928, again in the Central League. This time, the Dayton franchise had a working agreement with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association.

Editor’s Note: This story first published on April 6, 2000, in the days leading up to the inaugural Dayton Dragons season

Here’s a look at Dayton’s complete minor league baseball history

YearLeague (Class)NameRecord
1884Ohio State AssociationGem Citys55-21
1889Tri-State LeagueReds48-54
1890Tri-State LeagueReds17-19
1897Interstate LeagueOld Soldiers74-51
1898Interstate LeagueOld Soldiers85-66
1899Interstate LeagueVeterans55-85
1900Interstate LeagueVeterans90-43
1901Western AssociationOld Soldiers84-55
1903Central League (B)Veterans61-76
1904Central League (B)Veterans67-70
1905Central League (B)Veterans72-64
1906Central League (B)Veterans78-71
1907Central League (B)Veterans66-71
1908Central League (B)Veterans77-63
1909Central League (B)Veterans56-77
1910Central League (B)Veterans74-63
1911Central League (B)Veterans86-51
1912Central League (B)Veterans73-56
1913Central League (B)Veterans62-77
1914Central League (B)Veterans85-49
1915Central League (B)Veterans43-79
1916Central League (B)Veterans73-57
1917Central League (B)Veterans44-68
1928Central League (B)Aviators76-59
1929Central League (B)Aviators68-69
1930Central League (B)Aviators56-81
1932Central League (B)Ducks77-64
1933Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks71-63
1934Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks71-54
1935Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks69-55
1936Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks70-59
1937Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks61-65
1938Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks58-72
1939Mid-Atlantic League (C)Wings60-69
1940Mid-Atlantic League (C)Wings60-65
1941Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks50-75
1942Mid-Atlantic League (C)Ducks74-53
1946Ohio State League (D)Indians58-79
1947Ohio State League (D)Indians62-73
1948Central League (A)Indians84-55
1949Central League (A)Indians80-57
1950Central League (A)Indians69-63
1951Central League (A)Indians87-50
2000Midwest League (A)Dragons70-67
2001Midwest League (A)Dragons82-57
2002Midwest League (A)Dragons73-67
2003Midwest League (A)Dragons61-78
2004Midwest League (A)Dragons48-92
2005Midwest League (A)Dragons60-79
2006Midwest League (A)Dragons67-73
2007Midwest League (A)Dragons78-62
2008Midwest League (A)Dragons66-72
2009Midwest League (A)Dragons59-80
2010Midwest League (A)Dragons53-85
2011Midwest League (A)Dragons83-57
2012Midwest League (A)Dragons60-78
2013Midwest League (A)Dragons65-74
2014Midwest League (A)Dragons68-70
2015Midwest League (A)Dragons71-68
2016Midwest League (A)Dragons47-93
2017Midwest League (A)Dragons71-69
2018Midwest League (A)Dragons58-80
2019Midwest League (A)Dragons58-82
2021High-A Central (A)Dragons65-55

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