George Latham was the only member of the New Haven Elm Cities to have not one, but two great nicknames. The club’s new field boss, appointed in mid-June 1875 was known alternately as Jumbo, for his stocky build, or Juice, for either his lack of speed on the base paths or his reputation as an umpire baiter and overall wild man on the ball field. Latham, only 22 years old in 1875, was an unlikely choice as the New Haven base ball club’s new captain, replacing the hapless Charlie Gould, who was moved to business manager.
The move was necessary. New Haven picked up a few decent players from some disbanded clubs around the league, and while strengthening the roster improved play, it was clear that Gould was over his head. “The New Haven nine is not well-managed apparently. Thus far it has been a more experimental team, hence its losses,” said the Brooklyn Eagle.
Enter Latham, who was recently hired from Boston to shore up the infield. Latham was born in Utica, New York in 1852. After his school days, he worked as a bricklayer while gaining notice on the town’s baseball club. His career flourished in Canada, starting his professional career playing first base in 1867 with clubs in Ottawa and Toronto, alternately working in a local factory and as a baggageman on a train.
According to his obituary, Harry Wright, the impresario of the dynastic Boston Red Stockings, saw Latham play in Canada and invited him on a tour of England in 1874. One of his obituary claims that Latham refused the prestigious appointment, but that doesn’t match up with the historical record. According to David Archdiacono’s research, Latham brazenly wrote Wright, asking for a job with Boston. “You must remember you are unknown to the club either personally or by reputation, and that when I saw last you were not able to run, although in all other respects I was favorably impressed with your playing,” Wright wrote in a letter to Latham.
Latham signed a three-year contract with the club for $560 for 1875 and $800 for each of the next two seasons. The contract was not ironclad and Latham was on an initial three-month probation period with Boston at the start of the season. He acquitted himself adequately, hitting .269 with 13 runs batted in in 16 games. However, this performance wasn’t up to Wright’s exacting standards, and he let Latham go.
Or, was his on field performance the only reason for his release? Another of Latham’s hometown obituaries offers a different reason for his arrival in New Haven. “The New Haven team was going to pieces and Mr. Wright released Latham to go to New Haven and take charge of the nine for the balance of the season,” according to a Utica newspaper obituary found in Latham’s Hall of Fame Library file.
No matter the reason. Latham had his work cut out for him, taking the reins of a club with a record of 2 wins and 21 losses and no cash in the bank available for improvement.
For a complete bio of Latham’s life, click here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/faf09fc5