It was a particularly bad winter in New Haven early in 1875. Winter storms encased the city in ice, the thawing of which created incidents of flooding throughout the city. The Board of Alderman was concerned with the grading of Congress Avenue and the addition of cross street from High to College streets. A special election was going to be held to replace two aldermen who’d died in office.
Despite the continued coverage of the New Haven Daily Palladium, baseball appears to have been the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
The local burghers who made up the Board of Directors of the New Haven Elm Citys huddled up in the Tontine Hotel first week of March to receive a bit of news they cannot have been happy with.
However, before we get to that, let’s talk about these board meetings. The newspaper accounts of the time period are diligent about reporting on these meetings but they give no sense of the tone of them. No sense of whether they were contentious in any way. No sense of the personalities of the people involved, although an individual voice might emerge in the accounts.
Here is what I think they were like, based on nothing but speculation and imagination. The board members all walked to the hotel, a rather sumptuous affair located where the courthouse on the Green currently stands. They were dressed in suits, with heavy watch fobs hanging from their vests, and tall hats on their heads. They were the epitome of small town success, men at their financial peaks in a city that was about to go big league, literally and figuratively. They were greet each other warmly – for the time being – and decorously before beginning their work.
Carlos Smith. W.W. Ward. Alfred Thomas. George W.M. Reed. W.S. Arnold. Charles Webster. Eli Hills. Julius Tyler Jr. H.L. Bradley. Tyler owned a wholesale grocery business on State Street. H.L. Bradley would go on to have patents in his name. Ward ran the New Haven and West Haven Horse Railroad, which terminated right near the proposed home field. These were the men calling the shots. Businessmen and political leaders, all.
They would meet in the handsome lobby before repairing to a plush meeting room – not too expensive, mind you, but just enough to let everyone know that the New Haven Elm Citys were a serious operation.
Carlos Smith was the president and he would call the meeting to order, modelling their rules of order off of a serious government agency. I envision Arnold, the equivalent of the general manager, as a sturdy, yet slight man – a ballplayer gone a bit to seed, carrying ledgers and reams of papers. He would present his newest project before the board. Murmuring and rumblings would occur back and forth. In the back of the room, a young man would be smoking and scribbling notes on folded up sheafs of copy paper – the reporter from the Daily Palladium.
At the end of the meeting, cigars and glasses of fine spirits would be passed (to the reporter too), but not too much because forming this team was serious work for serious minded people.
They would shake hands and walk off into the gaslit night, a couple of them huddled together for some post meeting machinations, Arnold scurrying off to his next appointed round, the Tontine glowing like a stage set waiting for their next little show.
This is what I imagine it is like.
So, back to what really happened at the meeting. The board heard from Arnold that they club’s problem with drug addicted catcher Tom Barlow has taken a strange turn. I’ll let the Palladium scribe tell it:
“Barlow claims he has never signed any legal contract with the Atlantic club, and is of the opinion that Mr. Van Delft, the manager of that club, has put up a job on him to keep him from coming to New Haven, where he wants to play, if he can, merely for his board if nothing more, for the purpose of demonstrating to the New Haven directors that he is square and innocent of trickery.”
Arnold was scheduled to meet with Van Delft and Barlow at a hotel in Brooklyn, but the Atlantics manager didn’t show up. However, Van Delft appears to have been trying this particular issue in the media, questioning Barlow’s ongoing health in the Brooklyn Sunday Mercury.
Barlow, clinging to what is left of his baseball career, offers to have a physical, something that does not appear to be common practice at the time, and whatever the doctor says he will abide.
Arnold appears to be skeptical. “ … If he cannot come to the club with a clear record, his services will not be required,” the Palladium wrote in one of the moments where I believe an authentic voice is captured.
One can hear an echo of faint bravado, of Arnold reporting to the board that he is in control of a situation he is clearly not.