For more than 200 years, Ohio has had a fundamental impact on sports in the United States.
In 1869, Harry Wright, a baseball enthusiast living in Cincinnati formed the first baseball team made up entirely of professional players, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The Red Stockings demonstrated baseball was a viable business enterprise, and paved the way for professional baseball in America. Although Wright moved the Red Stockings to Boston after the 1870 season and joined the newly formed National Association of Professional Baseball Players, widely considered the first-ever professional sports league, Ohio’s relevance to professional baseball continued. The Cleveland Forest Citys emerged as one of the original nine teams in the league, perhaps most famous for playing in the league’s first game ever.
Professional baseball has continued to thrive in Ohio through two Major League Baseball franchises, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. The Reds have won a total of five World Series Championships (1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, & 1990) and the Indians have won two (1920 & 1948).
Notable baseball players from Ohio include Hall of Famers Walter Alston (Venice), Roger Bresnahan (Toledo), Ray Brown (Alger), Ed Delahanty (Cleveland), Buck Ewing (Hoagland), Rollie Fingers (Steubenville), Elmer Flick (Bedford), Jesse Haines (Clayton), Miller Huggins (Cincinnati), Rube Marquard (Cleveland), Mike Schmidt (Dayton), George Sisler (Manchester) and the most successful pitcher in Major League history, Newcomerstown native Cy Young, after whom the “Cy Young Award” (annually given to the best pitchers in the Major League) is named. Other notable Ohioans include Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Neikro and his brother Joe (Blaine), who are the winningest brother combination in baseball history, Pete Rose (Cincinnati), who holds the Major League Record for most career hits, and seven-time Cy Young Award Winner, Roger Clemens (Dayton).
Other Ohioans have made notable contributions to baseball off the playing field. As a front-office executive, Branch Rickey (Flat) made two of the most important changes in major league baseball in the 20th Century. As general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947, he signed African-American Jackie Robinson to play in the majors, breaking baseball’s color barrier. Rickey is also credited with developing the farm system that still exists today in professional baseball. Another executive, Cleveland businessman George Steinbrenner purchased the New York Yankees in 1973. Under his 30-plus years as owner, the Yankees have won the World Series seven times.
Ohio was a leader in developing modern-day professional football from its beginnings in the early 20th Century. The American Professional Football Association was founded in 1920 in Canton, Ohio, and later adopted the name of the National Football League (NFL). Five of the league’s first teams were from Ohio: The Akron Professionals, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Tigers, Columbus Panhandles and the Dayton Triangles. Because the history of the NFL is so deeply rooted in Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was opened in Canton in 1963, and has since expanded its museum to include five buildings over 80,000 total square feet, and has approximately 200,000 visitors per year.
Today, Ohio is home to two NFL franchises, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
As a coach, Norwalk native Paul Brown was one of the most influential people in football history. Brown achieved success in every level of football in the Buckeye State. He posted a stellar coaching record at Massillon Washington High School before moving to the bench at The Ohio State University, where he led the Buckeyes to their first national championship. Brown was also the first coach of the Cleveland Browns and was one of the original owners of the Bengals. Other notable Ohioans in professional football include Hall of Famers Paul Warfield (Warren), Roger Staubach (Cincinnati) and the only coach to win four Super Bowls, Chuck Noll (Cleveland).
A true pioneer of the game, Bill Willis (Columbus) was Ohio State’s first black All-American football player. When he signed his first pro contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1946, Willis became one of four African-Americans to permanently break professional football’s color barrier. Willis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Ohio also contributes something important to every NFL game: the football. Ada (Hardin County) is home to the Wilson Football Factory, the only dedicated football manufacturing plant in the world. Every ball used in the NFL comes from the Ada factory.
Ohio has been home to several professional basketball teams but it wasn’t until 1970 that professional basketball fully developed in Ohio, with the expansion of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and creation of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs struggled through their early years, but enjoyed several winning seasons and playoff berths in the 80s and 90s. In 2007 the Cavs earned their first Eastern Conference Championship and trip to the NBA Finals.
Notable Ohioans in professional basketball include Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas (Middletown) and John Havlicek (Martins Ferry).
Ohio was an important part of the resurgence of women’s professional basketball with the Women’s National Basketball League’s (WNBA) formation in the late 90s. The Rockers called Cleveland home from 1997 to 2003 and contributed to the WNBA’s instrumental role in leveling the playing field for women’s pro sports.
Hockey and Soccer
The National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) have found warm receptions in Ohio. Columbus is now home to the Blue Jackets hockey team and Crew soccer team, both franchises bringing new venues and adoring fans to their respective sports. In 2009, the Crew also brought a championship to Ohio; winning the MLS Cup, the league’s highest honor.
In 1899, Cleveland’s Coburn Haskell and Akron’s Bertram Work partnered to develop and patent the design from which all golf balls are made today.
One of the most notable professional golfers of all-time, Jack Nicklaus, is a native of Columbus. Nicklaus is the only player to complete a career “Grand Slam” on both the regular and senior tours, which consists of winning all four of golf’s major championships.
Ohio is also the home to the first African-American ever to design and construct a professional golf course. William Powell created the Clearview Golf Course in East Canton, which is the only course designed, built, owned and managed by an African-American in the United States.
Inverness Club, located in Toledo, has hosted its share of major golf champions including most recently the U.S. Senior Open in July of 2011. The Inverness Club has also hosted other major golf championships including the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur Championship, PGA Championship and the NCAA Championship. Ohio is also the home of the Memorial Tournament held at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin. In 2013 the club will host the Presidents Cup, becoming the first club in the world to host three of golf’s most prestigious international team competitions -- The Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup.
With more than 50 colleges and universities throughout the state, Ohio has been a perennial leader in collegiate sports. The Mount Union College Purple Raiders football team holds the NCAA record for consecutive victories, accumulating 55 straight wins in Division III play between 1996 and 2003. The Ohio State University (OSU) has won 34 Big Ten championships (outright or shared) and seven national championship titles. OSU players have also won seven Heisman Trophies, the award presented annually to the best college football player, including those won by native Ohioans Vic Janowicz (Elyria), Howard “Hopalong” Cassady (Columbus), Troy Smith (Cleveland), and the only two-time winner in NCAA history, Archie Griffin (Columbus). The namesake of the award, John Heisman, was a Cleveland-native. Ohio is also home to the Mid-American Conference (MAC), headquartered in Cleveland, with six of the 12 full member schools located in the state. The MAC boasts the highest graduation rates among all 11 NCAA Division I conferences.
Other notable Ohioans in college athletics include Massillon-native Bob Knight and Clifton-native Woody Hayes, legendary OSU football coach.
Ohio is not short on its share of Olympic medal winners. Scott Hamilton, originally from Bowling Green, won a gold medal in figure skating at the 1984 Olympics, Cleveland-native Madeline Manning brought home the gold in track in the 1968 summer games, and Jesse Owens, who grew up in Cleveland, won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Summer Games. Ohio is also home to many other individuals who have earned medals at the Olympic Games. Click here for a list of gold medalists at the summer Olympics and here for a list of gold medalists at the winter Olympics from Ohio.