If there was ever a good chance for the New Haven Elm Citys to break out of their winless streak, it would be on May 15 and 17, 1875 against Washington.
Washington was winless like New Haven, but unlike New Haven, they were utterly uncompetitive. Most of the men on the roster did not have extensive league experience, local men from Baltimore and Washington of “no particular distinction,” according to baseball researcher Paul Batesel.
The team had given up an astounding 20 or more runs in six of their first 11 losses of the season. They gave up more than 10 runs in three more games. The club’s best offensive showing was eight runs in a single contest and they had been shut out three times. “Everyone expected that the New Haven nine would win their first game on Saturday,” the Register said.
Not only would New Haven not win the first game on the 15th, losing by a score of 8-4, they would drop their second game on May 17, 10-7. “Almost everyone expected victory for the New Havens … and almost everyone was disapointed by the result,” said the New Haven Daily Palladium, which seemed to have stopped sending reporters to cover the games.
In a season full of misadventures thus far, one could argue this was a low point. Injuries had started affecting the club. Johnny Ryan, the regular left fielder was injured, prompting the signing of an amateur named Sullivan. Henry Luff, the third baseman, also was missing from the lineup. John ‘Stud’ Bancker was struggling with injuries to his hands, a common ailment for 19th century catchers, forcing 17-year-old New Haven native Jim Keenan to join the club.
In the first game of the two game series, New Haven jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the top of the first inning, with a hit by the amateur Sullivan prompting the rally against Nationals pitcher Bill Stearns, a Civil War veteran (the club’s other starting pitcher, Bill Parks, also served in the war). However, promptly in the bottom half of the inning, Washington scored five runs on five clean basehits, something of an anomaly in error-ridden 1875 ball. “Very singularly it strikes us every man on the Washington club called for a high ball. There were no exceptions to this rule, and surmises were rife as to the cause,” the Register wrote.
New Haven didn’t quite capitulate – yet. They scored a run in the third inning, second baseman Billy Geer scoring on a single by Henry Luff, and a run in the fourth inning when Sam Wright singled and scored on a three base error by the second baseman Steve Brady.
Washington administered the coup de grace in the bottom of third inning, scoring three times, again on five base hits.
After the second game against Washington a couple of days later, on May 17, even the normally forgiving and effusive New Haven Register was at a loss. “Hardly any comment is needed upon the game yesterday,” the paper said of the 10-7 loss.
The paper commented for the first time that the club was guilty of lackadaisical play, at least in the early innings. The Register became incredulous of the team’s play, and moved towards the didactic. “To achieve success in base ball, as in everything else, hard work must be done from the start,” the paper said.
The New Havens must not have been paying attention in the Register’s classroom. After a scoreless first inning, second baseman Billy Geer had an utter and complete meltdown. In one inning, he dropped three throws, made three throwing errors himself, and dropped a fly ball. It appears, according to the often hard to decipher newspaper reports of the time, that Geer made at least seven errors himself in one inning, leading to six runs scoring on one clean hit. Even in barehanded ball, this is a special level of ineptitude. “The game was poorly played on both sides and abounded in errors,” said the Palladium.
Let’s take a look at the modern day equivalents. Bob Brenly, ordinarily a catcher, made four errors in a single inning playing third base for the San Francisco Giants in 1986 against the Atlanta Braves (he also hit two home runs that day to make up for it.) Many players over the years have held the same ignominious record.
Pitcher Tommy John of the New York Yankees once made three errors on one play, which takes some doing.
Washington scored another four runs on three hits in the top of the fifth inning, continuing to hit well against New Haven pitcher Tricky Nichols. New Haven put up two runs in the bottom of the second, one in the third, and four garbage runs in the eighth, mostly on Washington errors, but this game was over with the final score 10-7. “The New Havens played with little vim, except in the latter part of the game, when they strove hard to win,” the Register said.
The New Haven Elm Citys drop to 0-10 on the season. It isn’t likely to get better anytime soon, with the Philadelphia Athletics coming into town for two games on May 20 and 21, 1875.