Even amongst New Haven’s biggest base ball boosters, no one thought they had much of a chance against the National Association champion Boston Red Stockings. After all, the Philadelphia Athletics, a good club in its own right, defeated New Haven by the combined score of 30-3 during the club’s brief road trip on June 23 and 24, running their tally to seven consecutive wins over Elm City. The club then followed those games with two losses to Yale and the TBs of Bridgeport (The Bridgeport Friendly United Social Club), a good amateur squad who had been providing a few players to New Haven when the team was shorthanded.
“What man in New Haven would have ventured to bet in favor of the New Havens yesterday afternoon?” opined the New Haven Register. “If any man had dared to make such a wager, ball-players would have rated him as the first of idiots.”
The likelihood that Boston, coming into the game with a 37-3 record to lead the National Association, would have any trouble dispatching the club was extremely slim. The Red Stockings had already beaten New Haven easily in the first two games of the season, and boasted a lineup of four future Hall of Famers on the field. The club’s leader was iconic baseball impresario Harry Wright. “The champions had evidently calculated on an easy victory over a club which has had as much hard luck as ordinarily can fall to the lot of such an organization,” said the New Haven Palladium.
If there was any day where Fortune had a chance of smiling on the helpless New Haven club, it was against Boston on Friday, July 2, a bright, warm afternoon in Connecticut.
Boston shortstop George Wright, in the midst of a season in which he would hit .333 and score over 100 runs in almost 80 games, was back home tending to a newborn. Ross Barnes, the club’s second baseman who would lead the National Association in runs and hits, was watching the game in street clothes. Their backups were Frank Heifer and Tommy Beals, capable performers who would certainly be able to start in New Haven, but paled in comparison to the starters.
New Haven had its own rash of injuries to deal with. Jim Tipper, the sure-handed centerfielder, got hurt in an exhibition game against Bridgeport. Ex-Red Stocking Jumbo Latham had a lame wrist.
The New Havens had their best game of the season, combining timely hitting, clutch fielding, and fine pitching to beat the league champs 10-5 in what the Register describes as a “intense and really painful” game.
After New Haven went down easily in the top of the first inning, Boston got on the board in the bottom of the frame with rare over the fence home run by leftfielder Cal McVey. New Haven broke the game open in the top of the second inning, scoring three runs on three Boston errors. New Haven added another two runs in the in the top of third, courtesy of three base hits.
Boston rallied for three runs on five consecutive hits in the bottom of the third, cutting the score to 5-4. New Haven’s bats came alive in the fourth and fifth innings, scattering five hits for three runs, putting the team ahead over Boston for good. For the final four innings of the game New Haven pitcher Tricky Nichols employed all of his guile, surrendering a single clean base hit and worked his way around four errors.
Six New Haven players got two hits a piece. Billy Geer drove in two runs, and Sam Wright (Boston captain Harry Wright’s brother), Tricky Nichols, and Tim McGinley each scored two runs for New Haven. Cal McVey of Boston had two hits and two runs, including his homer.
Ross Barnes, humiliated at his team’s performance, left the game in the 7th inning, unable to watch its impending defeat. When the Boston made its final out, the crowd of 800 in attendance rushed the field “to shoulder (the players) promiscuously and individually, so great was their enthusiasm.” “It was a big thing to do, and our hopes an expectations of the home club are now in the ascendant,” the Register said.
The win was the single biggest day of the season thus far for the New Haven club. “At the end the people carried the members of the New Haven nine about the field on their shoulders, amid great excitement,” according to the Hartford Courant.
I’m not quite sure how to quantify how much of an upset this game was. The Boston club was comprised of veterans, the best players in the land who’d amassed a record of 154 wins and 52 losses in National Association play over the previous four years. The only players in New Haven’s July 2 lineup with previous professional experience was the first baseman Charlie Gould, who’d enjoyed some success with Boston, and retreads Johnny Ryan and Billy Geer, who collective hit under .200 in National Association competition. The closest analogy I can think of would be if a modern Rookie League ballclub defeated the MLB World Champs. The difference in skill level was that pronounced.