COMMENTARY | A recently discovered 148-year-old baseball card of the Brooklyn Atlantics baseball club is expected to fetch more than $100,000 when it is auctioned off next month. Rare sports collectible attracting big dollars is nothing new, but the Brooklyn Atlantics? Who?
The card -- actually a photo mounted on a card -- depicts the 1865 Atlantics. The Associated Press reported it as being discovered at a yard sale in rural Maine, a long way from where it began its journey from a Brooklyn photography studio.
The Atlantics (officially the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn) were organized in 1855 -- almost 50 years before the New York Yankees were founded -- as part of the National Association of Base Ball Players and played their home games on the Capitoline Grounds. The field's bleachers bordered Nostrand Avenue and Halsey Street in what is now Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
The team went undefeated in 1864 and 1865, years in which the squad was recognized as national champions. In 1865, according to Paul Healey, who operates the Project Ballpark website, the Capitoline Grounds saw visiting player Eddie Cuthbert take second base from first during a pitch. When it was discovered that there was no rule against this, the stolen base was born.
According to Healey's site, there was a round brick outhouse in right field, and anyone who hit a home run over the building won a bottle of champagne. If the Atlantics won, a bell was rung and, after the game, the losing team would give a speech and present the game ball with the final score painted on it to the winners. In 2010, one of these balls (from 1859) was appraised on PBS's "Antiques Roadshow" as being worth $20,000 to $30,000.
The team's most memorable victory in June of 1870 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings in what was later dubbed the "the finest game ever played." The Atlantics beat the Red Stockings 8-7 in 11 innings, stopping Cincinnati's two-year, 81-game winning streak.
In 1884, the American Association ballclub that would later become the Brooklyn (and now the Los Angeles) Dodgers was named the Atlantics in tribute to the original club, which eventually disbanded in 1882.
Tributes to the original club continue to this day. A Smithtown, New York "vintage team" calls itself the Atlantics in honor of the original 1864 team. The Long Island team plays games according to 19th-century rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, and on-field customs.
The 1865 Atlantics baseball card is scheduled to be auctioned off Feb. 6 by Saco River Auctions.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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