It might just be that the city of Louisville is the most underrated town for major league sports in America. Much of that is because Louisville’s major league past is often forgotten. The Derby City—which bridges teams like the Reds in Cincinnati, the Cardinals in St. Louis, and the Braves in Atlanta—seems to be stuck in an interminable shadow of larger and more established sports markets in the region. While the city on the Ohio seems to revel in its Triple A and college teams, and for good reason as both prove to be a source of success and pride, the town is no stranger to the spectacle of professional sports; and, for more so than boasting the most exciting minute in the sporting world, which alone would make any town proud.
At least that is the point that I’ve tried to make for years to friends from Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis and other cities, an argument which is completely accurate. So, I took it upon myself to do something that I refused to do in high school: research.
After the now iconic Louisville Slugger produced its first bat in 1884 (at least that’s what’s believed, though there is current debate in the company) for big leaguer Pete Browning, the city became synonymous with America’s national past time. Although Browning was known as a great hitter across the country, he didn’t wear a Yankees uniform, Red Sox, or Cubs, but that of the Louisville Eclipse, a team out of the American Association League that lasted from 1882–1884. After its three-season run, the Eclipse compiled a record of 162–123. It was during that last year that the team made the easy transition and name change to the Louisville Colonels; perhaps foreshadowing a future professional basketball team, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The American Association (AA) had 13 teams in 1884 and subsequently faced unsteady ground on that front bouncing between a league of eight and nine teams. Many of these concerns were put to rest when the Colonels became a member of the National League in 1892. Ironically, Louisville was actually in the first grouping of cities to receive a national league team a few years earlier with the Louisville Grays who played two seasons with the league beginning in the inaugural year of 1876. When the Colonels joined the league, they finally faced a steady competition of 12 teams. Among these were the New York Giants, the Boston Beaneaters, and the Philadelphia Phillies. And yes, you did read that correctly. At one time, there was a professional baseball team called the Beaneaters. The Colonels name was retired in 1899 with a record of 831–1197 and one pennant appearance.
It wasn’t until over 80 years later that The Redbirds arrived in The Ville. In 1982, the Redbirds were the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that the Colonels had squared off against years earlier when they were known as the St. Louis Browns. After a name change to the Riverbats and finally the Bats and the construction of a new stadium, the team today stands atop the International League, playing out of the West division of the top farm league in America. And, with that, I think I’ve made my point.
Thanks to my sources:
- Kendrick, S. Louisville Bats- Profile. About.com: Sports. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from http://baseball.about.com/od/internationalleague/p/louisville.htm 
- Louisville Colonels. Reference.com. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/LOU/ 
- Louisville Grays. Reference.com. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/LGR/ 
- Our History. Louisville Slugger Museum. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from http://www.sluggermuseum.org/sluggerhistory.aspx