By Now, You've Heard of the Blue Sox. But What About the Covington Stars?
The Covington Stars were an amateur baseball team in the late 1860s and early 1870s. They had a reputation as being one of the strongest teams around.
“While researching for my Covington Blue Sox doc in the late Nineties, I discovered the box scores of the 1875 Covington Stars," said filmmaker Cam MIller. "It wasn’t until almost a decade later when I was in production on a Crosley Field film for the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum that I found out just how good the Stars were and how important they are to the history of the National Pastime.”
The Stars decided to become a professional club in April of 1875, signing local and national players. 2015 marks the 140th anniversary of their first professional season.
After the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional team, disbanded after 1870, there was no pro team in the area until both Ludlow and Covington formed independent clubs in 1875.
The Stars began their professional era at the beginning of June 1875 with a 6-game, week-long tour of the state playing semi-pro and amtateur teams, and crushing them. The Stars outscored their opponents 101-20 in the six games. They arrived back in Covington on June 11, 1875 with thousands of fans greeting them at the railroad station and a special banquet was held that night at Drexeilus Hall in their honor.
The Stars played their first home game on June 14, 1875 against the St. Louis Reds of the National Association (the professional baseball league before Major League Baseball) at the newly constructed Star Base Ball Grounds which sat on a lot at 17th and 18th Streets between Madison Avenue and Scott Boulevard. The St. Louis club beat the Stars 17-0.
“Star Base Ball Grounds was built on the lot where Family Dollar on Madison Avenue sits today," said Miller, of Dayton. "It was a wooden structure, costing just over $1,000 to build. There was a covered portion of the grandstands that was reserved for ladies. At the time, Star Base Ball Grounds was considered one of the finest parks in the game.”
Despite the Opening Day drubbing, the Stars would play VERY well that season. Several National Association teams would visit Covington to play the Stars including the famous Boston Red Stockings led by Harry Wright (founder of professional baseball's Cincinnati Red Stockings) and teams from Philadelphia and Chicago White Sox.
“I find it extraordinary that Hall of Famers like Harry Wright, the father of professional baseball, and Candy Cummings, the great pitcher who is often credited for inventing the curveball, players of that caliber played the game right here on Covington soil," Miller said. "It’s something the city should be proud of. This is a part of the city’s history that needs to be told.”
The Stars were a huge draw taking in several hundred and even thousands of fans for bigger games at Star Base Ball Grounds. By July of 1875, Cincinnati businessmen began to realize that baseball fandom was alive and well. They re-formed the Cincinnati Reds and a rivalry was born. There was instant animosity between the two clubs. They could never agree on game times or pricing for patrons. After weeks of back and forth bickering, they finally took the field in Covington on August 31, 1875, playing to a 12-inning 5 to 5 tie with the game called because of darkness. 3,000 fans were in attendance. They would play again on Sept. 11, this time in Cincinnati's newly built ballpark, in a game that was advertised “to decide tie-game”.
The Stars beat them 6-2.
“Reading through the telegrams that were sent between the Stars and Reds was fascinating," Miller said. "There wasn’t much room for compromising. They couldn’t even agree on ticket prices for their much anticipated match. The Reds plan had always been to squash the Stars. They felt threatened by them and wanted them for all intents and purposes to just go away. The Stars on the other hand were not going to go down without a fight. They considered the Reds to be bullies.”
In 1876, The National League formed and the new Reds were admitted. The Reds, along with other clubs in the new National League instituted rules, one of which ensured that independent clubs like the Stars could not play against other pro teams. Losing their biggest draws, the Stars knew that playing only amateur clubs spelled doom. They were forced to disband in the summer of 1876.
“If the Stars weren’t as successful as they were, would the Reds have even re-formed? There were a lot of factors for the Reds re-forming and joining the National League, but it was no secret that they wanted what the Stars had and specifically reorganized to beat the Covington club," Miller said. "Cincinnati had the money and baseball reputation to kill off the Stars and they did just that.”
“As little that was known about the 1913 Covington Blue Sox, the story of the Stars is even more obscure. And it can be argued that the history of the Stars club is even more fascinating.”
Miller's new film, Our Shining Stars, debuts at the Kenton County Library on June 14. Follow Cam Miller Films on Facebook for updates.