Octavius Catto

  • Card series: Pioneer Portraits I: 1850-1874
  • City: Philadelphia
  • Team: Pythian B.B.C.
  • League: National Colored Baseball League

Octavius Valentine Catto (1839-1871) died a martyr for civil rights in Philadelphia amid violent Reconstruction Era political strife when he was shot three times and killed while on his way to vote. Only a few years before, he had been a pioneer in the early days of baseball as founder of the Pythian Base Ball Club in 1867. The emerging national game was shedding its elitist roots of pre-Civil War days and Catto was trying to make it a truly all-American sport. He sought membership for his club in the National Association and, in 1869, organized the first inter-racial match in Philadelphia versus the Olympic Ball Club. Catto had dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom. He was an educator and mentor of black men, a military leader during the war, and ended his life in the forefront of the political struggle, including the integration of Philadelphia’s transit system. He brought to baseball the same passionate devotion that characterized his all-too-short life.

  • The “gentlemen’s agreement” adopted by white baseball executives in response to Catto’s bid held sway – with very few exceptions – until 1947 when another talented infielder finally broke the color barrier

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