These games took place against a backdrop of profound uncertainty. It remained unclear what form the reconstructed nation would take. A constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, ratified by the northern states, remained stalled—waiting for southern states to take it up. President Andrew Johnson, himself a southerner, was pushing for a rapid restoration of the Union as it was before the war. “The people must be trusted with their government,” he wrote the day of the first game. But he had a particular vision of what that meant. “This is a country for white men, and by G-d, so long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men,” he told the governor of Missouri, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported at the time.
The games riveted the federal city. The stands were generously sprinkled with the stars of general officers, and tinged blue with their staffs. Thousands of Washingtonians, and at least two members of the Cabinet, turned out to watch the Athletic trounce the hometown club, 87–12. The following day brought a crowd that may have numbered 20,000. The president, one participant later recalled, “permitted the government employees to suspend work and join the throng on the White Lot.” This time, the Nationals posted a more credible tally of 19 runs and kept their lead into the seventh inning. But, dear reader, it will surprise you not to learn that it was the Atlantic that prevailed—posting 22 runs in the final two frames. “The Atlantic Victorious,” proclaimed the next day’s paper.
The Athletic had made a visit to Congress and the White House before the tournament kicked off, but the president had not been available to meet with them. But on August 30, the host Nationals took the newly crowned champions to meet Andrew Johnson. One by one, the Atlantic players filed in, were introduced to the president, and shook his hand.
The last to be introduced was a reporter, not a player. The New York Times’ Henry Chadwick—often described as the “Father of Baseball”—stepped forward. He urged Johnson to meet with another club set to visit the following month, for “such countenance of the game would give a national stamp to it.”
This, of course, was the whole point; national unity through baseball. The White House visit that day had been arranged by the ambitious young president of the National club, Arthur Pue Gorman. He was a political client of Johnson’s, who had arranged for his patronage appointment as postmaster of the Senate. Like Johnson, Gorman identified as a conservative, white southerner who favored restoring the Union as it had been, not trying to make it more perfect. He saw baseball as a tool to accomplish that goal; the White House visit he arranged provided a presidential imprimatur to that project.
In 1867, Gorman was elected president of the National Association of Base Ball Players, one of the sport’s first governing bodies. Gorman’s installation, the Ball Player’s Chronicle, was an effort to demonstrate that “sectional prejudices did not rule the fraternity of the North.” The installation of a white southerner was an explicit invitation, an effort to reconcile on southern terms, and to enshrine baseball as a national game—a game for a reunited nation. But if sectional prejudices did not rule baseball, it was because racial prejudices did.