On the playing field, the Pythian Baseball Club was stellar.
Octavius Catto acted as team captain and Jacob C. White handled the finances, scheduling and other administrative
duties. Colonel Jacob Purnell, an Underground Railroad and Civil War hero was elected club president.
Black politicians, educators, and lawyers joined the Pythian Baseball Club; however, similar to white baseball clubs of
the time, the majority of the roster was comprised of artisans, proprietors, and clerks. The average age was twenty-
eight and many of the players were involved in other black social and civic organizations.
The club used the Jefferson Street Grounds, home of the all-white Philadelphia Athletics, as a home field. The club
also played in Fairmount Park and Camden, New Jersey.
The Athletics respected the Pythian Baseball Club and outside of granting use of their home field, often offered
personnel to umpire and act as game officials.
“We have secured the grounds of the Athletics B.B.C., and all its conveniences have been put at our disposal,” Catto
wrote in a letter regarding a match with the Alert Baseball Club of Washington, D.C in 1869.
Similar to their white counterparts, scheduling games with black clubs was a formal process. To arrange a match, a
club first issued a written challenge to the club it wished to oppose. The challenger had the option to accept or reject
the invitation. To ensure fairness, the captains would mutually agree on an umpire and notify the press of the
In September of 1867, the Bachelors from Albany were the first black team to visit Philadelphia and face the Pythians.
Weeks later the Mutual and Alert baseball clubs of Washington, D.C., visited the city. Of note, the Mutual club had on
its roster third baseman Charles R. Douglas, son of Frederick Douglas.
The Pythians finished 1867 with a 9-1 record but suffered a setback on October 16 in Harrisburg when the club applied
and was denied admission into the Pennsylvania State Convention of Baseball, a state organization designed to
promote a professional approach to the game.
“The committee reported favorably on all credentials except for the ones presented by the Pythians, which they
intentionally neglected,” noted author Michael Lomax.
The National Association of Amateur Baseball Players upheld the Pennsylvania State Association’s ruling and adopted
a formal ban on the inclusion of black players and clubs.
Never one to settle for defeat, Catto and the Pythians carried on and continued to play all-black clubs throughout 1868
and won six of seven contests, the lone non-victory being a tie with Active B.B.C. of West Chester.
In September of 1869, Colonel Thomas Fitzgerald, a former president of the Athletics and editor of a local newspaper,
the Philadelphia City Item, arranged a contest between the all-white A’s and the Pythians to determine city supremacy.
The Athletics declined the contest but Fitzgerald was able to successfully schedule a contest between the Olympic
Baseball Club, another all-white baseball club based in Philadelphia, and the Pythians for September 4, 1869.
The Olympics won the match, 44 to 23.
Two weeks later, on September 18, 1869, the Pythians faced Fitzgerald’s all-white City Item team and won, 27-17.
“The emergence of interracial contests was significant to the history of black baseball,” said Lomax. “It marked the
beginning of what would later be described as a symbolic relationship between black and white clubs. This relationship
would be vital to the success of black baseball clubs. As black clubs improved, entrepreneurs capitalized upon whites’
fascination with African American clubs playing on the same level as white clubs on the diamond.”
Catto was fatally shot in the back on October 10, 1871, while walking home after exercising his newly-won right to vote.
He was 32-years-old.
The Pythian Baseball Club soon disbanded after Catto’s death and Philadelphia’s regin as the capital of black baseball
April - 2008
On the field, the Pythian Club was rivaled by few
Catto led a stellar organization