Baseball in Atlanta has a long and exciting history. But did you know that the city’s first real team appeared almost 140 years ago in the hard days of Reconstruction? At that time, it is probable that the people of Atlanta needed the community unifying appeal of a successful baseball team more than ever.
Created in 1874, the amateur players formed the Osceolas baseball team. Why they selected the name of a Seminole leader from Florida is not known. According to one writer who knew some of the original players, however, the team was composed of “well-known and prominent citizens who played for glory and renown and not for salaries.” Two of the Osceolas, George E. Johnson and Edward T. Payne were shown in their uniforms in a picture published in 1914.
Rules in the old days were never clear cut from all reports. Most Georgia cities and towns had baseball “clubs” like the Osceolas who competed against each other. Fights and open betting on games was common. There were umpires who had to deal with all this from both fans and players. The only firm “rule” seems to have been that any player who disputed an umpire’s call could be barred from further play. Walks were not always granted after four balls either. Sometimes more were allowed and there were usually two catchers – one playing as a “backstop.”
Other than an extra catcher, the positions were the same ones we see today. The Osceolas were very successful at first, winning the state “championship” by defeating all opponents. Then disaster struck when the Rome Club, organized by Henry Grady, hired a pitcher from New York City, who proved to be unhittable. The Atlanta club subsequently disbanded, never to play again.
The original players were Edward Payne (pitcher), Oscar Collier (shortstop), Lem Butler (right field), W. Woods White (center field), Lewis Morris (left field), Charles Pemberton (catcher), George Johnson (second base), John Savage (first base), and Bud Lester (third base). Johnson later served as Atlanta City Recorder (a judge) and Payne as City Tax Collector [in photo, Johnson is on the left].