Philadelphia Pythians

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Philadelphia Pythians
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
League affiliation(s)

The Philadelphia Pythians (also Pythian Base Ball Club or Pythian Baseball Club) were founded in 1867 as the first black baseball club. It was founded by young African-American leaders: Jacob C. White Jr. and Octavius V. Catto. The Pythians were composed of primarily business and middle class professionals from the surrounding areas of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Just two years after the Civil War ended, in 1867, the Pennsylvania State Convention of Baseball, located in Harrisburg, denied the "Pythian Base Ball Club" out of Philadelphia.[1] They played in the National Colored Base Ball League in 1887 and went 4-1.[2][3]

History and founders

Catto and White believed baseball was another way in which African Americans could assert their skills and independence, and prove their right to full citizenship and equality.[4] They had been childhood friends and they emerged as prominent figures in the Philadelphia community.[5] Catto injected himself into local politics with the hope of aiding black civil liberties and led efforts to gain equality and equal access to public programs. This continued until he was murdered in 1871. Up to this point, baseball has been denied to African Americans and was considered a route to American cultural assimilation. After the American Civil War, Negro baseball grew exponentially. Octavius Catto pioneered the racial shift in baseball. By 1902, the Pythians had morphed into the Philadelphia Giants which went on to win five championship games in the Eastern League.[6] Baseball had become something that exuded equality and optimism, a reconstruction.[7]

First full season

The first full season took place in 1867 under Catto. Their first game was played at Diamond Cottage Park in Camden, New Jersey because they could not gain access to the Parade Grounds at 11th and Wharton in Philadelphia. Although they played in Fairmount Park, the Pythians used Liberty Hall for their club house.[8] The Pythians believed that credibility and acceptance could be promoted by competing against "our white brethren" on a baseball diamond.[9] In September 1869, the Pythians beat the all-white Philadelphia City Items; likely one of the earliest interracial games recorded.[10]

Fighting racism

The Pythians were refused membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players based on their race. The NABBP banned "the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.".[11] The association feared divisions among players if colored clubs were admitted. Ultimately, this set the precedent for segregated Major Leagues and independent leagues which flourished in the twentieth century. Therefore, the club was the first attempt to integrate African American males into the segregated baseball league.[12] By 1871, the National Association of Base Ball Players dissolved and the team was no longer restricted by such rules.[1] Finally, after the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision to sanction racial segregation in United States Baseball through the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Overall, the sport helped to close the color gap and provided the African American community with a sense of pride and respect. Once admitted into the major leagues, America's segregation issues began to crumble.[clarification needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lewis, Jason (2011-07-06). "Black History: First Black Major League Baseball Player". LA Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Book 1
  3. Book 2
  4. Society, Historical. "Pythian Baseball Club Headquarters". PhilaPlace. Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Jacob C. White, Jr. (1837-1902) Historical Marker
  6. "Honoring The Stars | Hidden City Philadelphia". 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Biddle, Daniel R. (2010-09-13). "An early quest for equality on the diamond -". Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Society, Historical. "Pythian Baseball Club Headquarters". PhilaPlace. Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Jerrold Casway (2007). Octavius Catto and the Pythians of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Legacies 7.1. pp. 5-9.
  10. "McFarland". Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Hogan, Lawrence D. (2006), Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, Washington DC: National Geographic, p. vii, ISBN 0-7922-5306-X<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Society, Historical. "Pythian Baseball Club Headquarters". PhilaPlace. Retrieved 2013-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>