Go back in time to look at baseball history’s first trade – MLB.com

It’s strange to think that there was ever a “first” trade. After all, baseball and the trading of players to strengthen your roster have been around long before you, or I, were ever on this Earth. So it seems absurd that two teams wouldn’t sit down and say, “Hey, we’re bad at pitching and you’re really good at it; meanwhile, we’ve got a bunch of second basemen whereas you currently have a sack full of hay with a face painted on it. Let’s make something happen.” Kind of like having a Facebook account and not using it to try and make your ex-significant others jealous with all the cool stuff you’re doing. 

But before Nov. 15, 1886, it had never been done before.* On that day, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association sent rookie catcher Jack Boyle and $400 (roughly $9,700 in today’s dollars) to the St. Louis Browns in exchange for outfielder Hugh Nicol. 

While Boyle, who was nicknamed “Honest Jack,” went on to have a 13-year career, he unfortunately didn’t perform very well for the Browns. Between 1887-89, Boyle hit just .223/.274/.280, good for a 54 OPS+. He would soon go on to the Chicago Pirates in the Players League, back to the Browns, then the New York Giants and finally the Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 1898. Oddly enough, Honest Jack Boyle played with Dirty Jack Doyle while on the Giants in 1892, which is the kind of thing you’d expect to read about in some children’s book. “Honest Jack Boyle tells his mother when he’s spilled a glass of juice on the floor. Dirty Jack Doyle pretends it’s hot lava.”  

As for the diminutive 5-foot-4 Nicol, while he hit only .215 in his first season with the Reds, he did set a then-Major League record with 138 stolen bases. Of course, steals were recorded a little differently back then — when runners took extra bases, like going from first to third on a single, it counted as a steal. 

Unfortunately for the Red Stockings, Nicol’s steals weren’t enough and they would finish in second place to the Browns in 1887. The Browns would then lose their World Series-like exhibition series to the Detroit Wolverines of the National League, 10 games to five, with Boyle going 5-for-24 with 2 RBIs in the not-yet-Fall Classic. 

*As with all things in baseball’s early history, there is some debate about this. Some place the date as Nov. 12, while others claim that baseball’s first trade happened on Aug. 29, 1885, when the Louisville Colonels traded John Connor (A TERMINATOR?!) and $750 to Chattanooga for Toad Ramsey. Ramsey is also credited as the accidental inventor of the knuckleball, as an accident with a trowel gave him unique movement on his pitches.

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