Antiochiana has old-timey baseball on its mind more than usual. Unmitigated love of the game has had this space devoted to the topic of Antioch baseball more than once as dedicated readers have surely noticed. The Antioch connection to the early history of the game has been one of the College’s more cherished legends ever since May 1869 when it hosted what amounts to the first professional rainout. A century-and-a-half later, that cancelled game will finally be played by two vintage baseball clubs on May 31, with the Red Stockings of Cincinnati playing themselves and the Champion City Reapers of Springfield representing the Antioch Nine.
Antioch’s contributions to the game would not be possible without the energy, influence, and vision of one of its many highly accomplished dropouts, Aaron B. Champion, who attended 1856-1860. A thrice-removed first cousin of Champion’s, Steve Moseley, visited campus recently to see the place that helped mold AB into the great man he was. Steve presented Olive Kettering Library with a memoir of his esteemed ancestor and was a guest of honor at commemorative events held in Cincinnati on May 4th.
Champion was much more than the founder of the first-ever professional baseball team, a feat he accomplished at the age of 26. He was an an able attorney whose practice flourished in the city he adopted as his own. He was active in Democratic politics as a candidate for Hamilton County Prosecutor and delegate to the party’s National Convention that nominated Horace Greeley to run for president in the election of 1872. Having already demonstrated a knack for organizing sports clubs, in the 1880s Champion put together several successful annual exhibitions of local art, culture, and industry. As a result, he was consultant for the even more successful exposition Cincinnati put on to celebrate its Centennial in 1888.
As one of its more effective Trustees, he was also considerably more to the College than a distinguished and loyal Antiochian. The Board minutes from his tenure clearly indicate the substantial effort he put toward keeping Antioch on something like a sound financial footing.
Following the Board meeting in the summer of 1895, in which he presented a long, detailed Treasurer’s report, Champion left for Europe. Sources say he headed to Germany on the recommendation of his physician seeking a cure for an illness, possibly throat cancer. The minutes give no clue to his declining health, and the next thing anyone at Antioch knew, the seemingly indefatigable Aaron B. Champion was dead at age 53. The stunned and saddened Antioch College community published the following resolution in the September 1895 issue of The Antiochian.
One hundred and fifty years to the day that they launched the first professional baseball season, Champion and his historic team were honored by the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame with a memorial pavilion, its columns made to resemble 19th century baseball bats. Go Reds.
All friends of Antioch are grieved to hear of the death of her faithful and zealous friend, A. B. Champion. He died September 1, at London, Eng., of heart disease, while seeking the restoration of his health. Aaron Burt Champion was born at Columbus, O., Feb. 9, 1842. He was the telegraph operator at Benwood, O., at the age of 13. He was a student at Antioch under Horace Mann’s presidency and graduated in 1860. For many years he has been a trustee and the treasurer of this institution. He was admitted to the bar in 1863, and a year later began practice in Cincinnati, where he has been prominent in benevolent and public institutions, and active in the promotion of athletic organizations.
The following resolutions we adopted by the faculty and students of Antioch college:
We, the committee for the students and faculty of Antioch college, wish to express our sense of the almost irreparable loss we have met in the death of Hon. A. B. Champion, so long associated with this institution as student, trustee and friend. He was to her a friend indeed, faithful and true, standing firm in the darkest hours and without hope of reward laboring unceasingly for her welfare. He has left us with his work well done, and we gather comfort from the thought that no worthy cause claimed help from him in vain. To his bereaved family and friends we extend our deepest sympathies, trusting that the All-Father will comfort them.
“Songs From the Stacks” is a regular selection from Antiochiana: the Antioch College archives by College Archivist Scott Sanders.