New Haven’s foray into Major League Baseball began the way most things do.
A guy wanted to make some money.
On January 8, 1875 the New Haven Register carried a brief item that one W.S. ‘Billy’ Arnold of Middletown was taking his $3000 investment in a new ballclub and dividing it into 125 shares at $25 each. “It remains to be seen what support our citizens will give to the project,” the Register reported.
The New Haven Elm Citys, or New Havens in the newspaper parlance of the time, would be joining the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. All you needed was a nominal entry fee, and a local nine could call themselves professional.
Arnold, 24 at the time, made his professional playing debut with the 1872 Middletown Mansfields, a team that had since disbanded. He went 1-7 with two runs scored in a couple of games in the outfield and apparently decided that playing the game was not to be his forte.
Arnold had secured the use of the Howard Avenue Grounds (“a fine lot on the line of the West Haven Horse Railroad”) for games and had already begun negotiations with a possible club captain, a playing equivalent of the modern day manager, an on field tactician.
Jack Chapman, 31 years old, would have been a fine choice for the new ballclub. A quiet and courteous man with impeccable credentials and a history with the game dating back to 1860, he had played the 1874 season with the Brooklyn Atlantics, one of the most hapless franchises of the National Association era. His .246 lifetime batting average was middling even in that low scoring era but he had the honor of being one of the players dubbed with one of the best, and longest, nicknames in baseball history: “Death to Flying Things.”
You would think with such an original nickname, Chapman would be the only one that would bear it. Not so. A contemporary of his, Bob Ferguson, an honest, yet pissy player, umpire and manager, got the name because of his defensive prowess. According to Wikipedia, a modern outfielder, Franklin Gutierrez of the Seattle Mariners, also has the nickname, although I’ve never read anything that refers to him in that manner.
Back to Chapman. The relationship was not to be. “We are informed that Chapman of the Atlantics was offered captaincy of the proposed new organization, but as he had already signed the papers of the Regulars of St. Louis, he was forced to decline,” the Register reported.
Chapman played the whole season for the St. Louis entry, a team that went 39-29, batting .223 over 43 games in the outfield. That performance, well below the league average of .254, would have made him one of the best players on the 1875 Elm Citys.
He finished his playing days in 1876, and moved exclusively to management, leading the Louisville Grays (1876-77), the Milwaukee Grays (1878), the Worchester Ruby Legs (1882), Detroit Wolverines (1883-84), Buffalo Bisons (1885), and the Louisville Colonels (1889-1892). He compiled a record of 351 wins and 502 losses.
The search for a field boss would continue.