There couldn’t be a greater juxtaposition in the National Association between clubs than between the New Haven Elm Citys and their opponents on May 11, 1875, the Mutual Club of New York.
The Mutuals, formed out of a fire company and backed by Boss Tweed, had been playing baseball since 1858. The club was an amateur marvel, claiming championships and most of the earliest baseball stars. The Mutuals had something that New Haven didn’t – pedigree. But that doesn’t win baseball games. Since joining the National Association in 1871, the club was essentially a below-.500 team with pedigree. That changed in 1874 when they rode Bobby Mathews’ arm to a record of 42-23.
In addition to Mathews, the club did retain a few old pros for the 1875 season. Long Jim Holdsworth, who spurned New Haven in the off-season, was retained to provide a bit of offensive punch. Joe Start, known as Old Reliable, was coming off a season where he hit .314, and continued to hit well in 1875. Nat Hicks, the captain, lend good defensive support behind the plate and hit a respectable .274 in 1874. They had the kind of veteran talent New Haven couldn’t secure off the field and couldn’t handle when they were playing them on the field.
Despite a break in the difficult weather plaguing the early season, people were still staying away from Howard Avenue Grounds, with only about 300 in attendance. “There should have been a larger number of spectators on the grounds, but doubtless many supposed that the game would be a repetition of that on Monday,” the Evening Register said, referring to the team’s 13-0 loss against Philadelphia.
New Haven duelled the Mutuals for 11 innings, losing 2-1, remaining winless on the season. “Matthews (sic) – the best pitcher in the country – troubled our boys not a little by his curves, and Nichols, not to be behindhand, did likewise by the visitors,” the Register said.
Mathews himself is an interesting figure, worthy of a moment. He was only 5’5”, weighing about 140 pounds, and he managed to pitch all of his teams games in 1874 and all but one in 1875. He is credited with throwing the first spitball and was known as a crafty pitcher, not one who would overpower you with his fastball. His pitching philosophy is quoted in Peter Morris’ Game of Inches: “Good, straight pitching, thorough command over the ball, a good ‘out-curve’ and a good ‘in-shoot’ are what the great pitchers are working with today, and I, for my part, don’t believe in anything else.”
The clubs were locked in a scoreless tie for five innings. Tricky Nichols, New Haven’s pitcher, was bending quite a bit, but not breaking. He allowed baserunners in each of the first five innings, with his defense pulling together to quell the threats. Bobby Mathews dominated,scattering three hits in the first five and striking out five Elm Citys in the first six innings. “The New Havens were quickly retired and as the Mutuals met with a like fate, everything was serene,” the Register said.
The Mutuals broke through first in the bottom of the sixth inning – the game was played in New Haven, but Captain Charlie Gould again lost the coin toss and had to bat first. New York’s Eddie Booth singled to right field to lead off the inning. He then stole second – his first of two key stolen bases in the game – and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Nat Hicks, the Mutuals catcher and captain, hit a fly ball to left field that scored Booth.
New Haven tied it in the top of the seventh. Gould singled over the shortstop. An error by third baseman Joe Gerhardt advanced Gould to third, and Nichols picked him up with a fly ball to left. “Gould scored for New Haven amidst great applause,” the Register wrote.
It was at this point in the game where the different between the skill of Mathews and Nichols became apparent. Mathews set down 11 of the last 12 batters he faced in a dominant performance. Nichols still had runners on constantly, and with a weak club like New Haven, it was sure to result in disaster. On cue, disaster arrived in the bottom of the 11th inning, the longest game the Elm Citys played thus far this season, and it was named Eddie Booth and Henry Geer.
Booth led off the 11th inning with a base hit that slipped between third and short and promptly stole second. With one out, Nat Hicks hit a grounder to Geer, who let it go through his legs, allowing Booth to score the winning run. New Haven was, to use the Register’s term, skunked.
Despite the loss, New Haven had much to be proud of. The club’s offensive woes continued, but they hung close against Mathews, one of the best arms in the league. Tricky Nichols pitched a good game. New Haven played good defense, Geer’s three errors on the day notwithstanding.
The Elm Citys’ next two games, both against the Washington Nationals, a team facing the same kind of problems both on the field and at the gate, could be just the tonic to cure the club’s woes.
SCORE BY INNINGS
NEW HAVEN – 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 1
NEW YORK – 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1- 2
WP – Bobby Mathews LP – Tricky Nichols (0-9)
New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b, John McKelvey, rf (1 hit), Johnny Ryan, lf; Henry Luff, 3b (1 hit); Jim Tipper, rf; Charlie Gould, 1b (1 run, 2 hits); Sam Wright, ss; Stud Bancker, c (1 hit); Tricky Nichols (1 hit, losing pitcher)
New York – Joe Start, 1b (1 hit); Jim Holdsworth, ss; Candy Nelson, 2b (2 hits); Eddie Booth, rf (2 runs, 2 hits); Joe Gerhardt 3b; Nat Hicks, c (2 hits); Pat McGee, cf (1 hit); Count Gedney, lf; Bobby Mathews (winning pitcher)