After a brief dalliance with Jack Chapman for the job, the New Haven Elm Citys found their first captain. Billy Arnold announced at a meeting of the club’s board of directors that Charles Gould of Cincinnati had agreed to play first base and lead the new franchise.
The role of captain was a significant one in the 1870s. Being captain wasn’t an honorary title, or a recognition of stature (think of Derek Jeter) with no formal responsibilities. The captain of the Elm Citys was the manager as we understand the role today – he set the lineups and ran in game strategy. He was also expected to be a prominent contributor on the field.
Gould, 27, was considered an excellent choice. Popular and good-natured, he appears to have been something of a phemonenon in Cincinnati during the early years of the sport’s popularity after the Civil War. In 1867, he won a local baseball contest for farthest throw with a toss of 302 ft. He played with dominant amateur teams and the nation’s the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, going undefeated nationally in 1869.
When Harry Wright, the godfather of the sport and manager of the Cincinnati nine, decided to start a franchise in Boston, Gould was one of the men he brought along.
It was a team that had tremendous success, amassing a 59-18 record in 1871 and 1872, winning the National Association the second year. He hit .267 over that time period, leading the league in triples in 1872. He took a year off in 1873 to go into business – in the offseasons he worked as a bookkeeper for his father’s company – but the lure of the diamond appears to have been too great. He returned to the National Association in 1874 with the Baltimore Canaries, a team that had nine wins and 38 losses. Gould did not perform well, hitting only .224.
He was tall for the time period, 6 ft. tall and 172 pounds, and had long arms and legs, something his contemporaries felt made him a particularly good fielder.
Despite numbers that would appear his career was on the downswing, his signing was met with excitement by the local press. “He is keen and energetic and free from dissipation, an excellent player at his base and at the bat,” the New Haven Daily Palladium wrote on March 5, 1875.
Arnold reported that he had signed eight other players, the vast bulk of the team when rosters tended to be about 12 players or so.
Two rookies, Stud Bancker, a 22-year-old catcher out of Pennsylvania, and Tricky Nichols, a 24-year-old pitcher, made up the team’s battery. “Nichols has never played before on a professional nine, but earned a good record last year with the T.B.’s of Bridgeport. His delivery is prompt and effective and at the bat he will do his share,” the Palladium said.
Billy Geer, the second baseman, had the record of being the youngest man to ever play in the majors. At the age of 15, he played in two games with the New York Mutuals in 1874, going 2 for 8 (.250). His immature behavior figures prominently in the upcoming season.
Johnny Ryan, the left fielder, was also a retread from the disastrous 1874 Baltimore Canaries, hitting .193. He was 21 years old.
Jim Tipper, the center fielder and a 26-year-old Middletown native, appears on paper to have been a good signing. He was one of the only bright spots on the 1874 Hartford Dark Blues (16 wins and 37 losses), hitting .305. He also played with his hometown Middletown Mansfields in 1872, hitting .264.
Jim Britt, 19, had been out of professional baseball in 1874. He took a brutal beating as the main starting pitcher for the hapless Brooklyn Atlantics in 1872–73. Britt had a record of 26 wins and 64 losses with an earned run average of 4.26 in an era when pitchers gave up about three earned runs per game. He led the league in losses both seasons, and batted .223. He was intended to be the team’s “change pitcher.” There were no relief pitchers as we understand them, so Britt would be kept around to pitch on occasion if Nichols was injured.
Herm Doscher, an outfielder with seven games of part-time service over two seasons with the Brooklyn Atlantics (10-30, .333), was also expected to contribute. (And, contribute he would, just not to the Elm Citys. He was the first big leaguer to father another big leaguer, Jack Doscher, and he was the scout responsible for finding Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler).
Another man, a right fielder named Hamilton was signed, but I couldn’t find any additional information on him, including his first name. He, along with Doscher, Geer and Britt, were signed to what was deemed a conditional contract. “They are engaged for the term of two months, and if their duties are perfectly satisfactory they will be retained upon the nine,” the Palladium reported.
With four of the players around on a temporary basis, Arnold had to explore more options in the days and weeks ahead.
There is wisdom in retrospect, but there is no way Arnold, nor Gould, for that matter, could have thought this team of fringe players and rookies would compete successfully in the National Association against great teams like Boston Red Stockings or the New York Mutuals. Perhaps Arnold sold a bill of good to the board of directors, a tactic that would be his undoing.