When Chicago White Stocking John Peters’ gentle pop up arched between shortstop and third base in the top of the fourth in a scoreless game on July 19, 1875, New Haven had every reason to think that they had a chance of winning consecutive games.
Lest we forget, these are the New Haven Elm Citys, and at no point are they ever out of trouble. Peters’ fly ball traveled near third baseman Henry Luff and shortstop Sam Wright, both adequate defenders for barehanded ball. “The ball was Luff’s, but (team captain Juice) Latham said ‘Wright.’ Luff tried it and Wright knocked him over causing him to drop the ball … This mishap lost the game for New Haven,” the Register reported. John Glenn, who had doubled with two outs, scored on the play.
Two more runs scored later in the inning, sealing New Haven’s fate. The White Stockings beat New Haven 4-1 in an hour and a half in front of a good sized New Haven crowd looking to see if the hometown team could continue its winning ways. They had recently beaten the league champion Boston Red Stockings in a stunning upset. The club then took to the road, heading north to play amateur clubs in Rochester (ostensibly for some much needed revenue), making short work of those teams.
Neither of those clubs had a pitcher who threw as hard as Chicago starter George Zettlein. Zettlein, known as The Charmer for his agreeable demeanor, scattered five hits and struck out two batters, also driving in a run at the plate. Both centerfielder Paul Hines and utilityman Scott Hastings had a pair of hits and a run scored.
New Haven scored a single tally in the top of the 8th inning on a Tim McGinley single, driving in John McKelvey. Aside from the club’s implosion in the fourth inning, starting pitcher Tricky Nichols had a fine game for New Haven, striking out a season high four batters.
Zettlein’s fastball was the starting point for Bill James and Rob Neyer’s 2004 discussion of the pitch. James argued that the early years of the game were a contest between fielders and the batter, with the pitcher serving as an initiator of the action. The rules forcing pitchers to throw underhanded with a stiff wrist inherently and deliberately limited the talent of throwing hard. “George Zettlein … was alleged by old-timers to have thrown as hard as Walter Johnson. I don’t believe them, but then, I wasn’t there with a radar gun, so what do I know?,” James wrote.
Chicago’s journey back to the highest levels of the sports was an unlikely one. In 1871, the first year of the National Association, the club finished second with a 19-9 record, continuing the promise exhibited in the pre-NA days. However, the Great Chicago Fire, taking place in October of that year, destroyed the club’s grounds and all of its equipment. It took three years to rebuild a competitive organization. The White Stockings were a middling ball club in 1874 and that trend would continue through 1875, and even through the present day. The current Chicago Cubs are descendants of the original White Stockings organization.
There might have been other reasons for Chicago’s inconsistent play. In a league full of miscreants, the White Stockings seem to have had more than their fair share. Zettlein was accused of throwing games later this season, prompting his dismissal from the Chicago club. Dick Higham, the catcher, became the only umpire barred from baseball for betting on games. First baseman Jim Devlin, who was also an exceptional pitcher, was barred from baseball for life in 1877 for throwing games.
The worst of them all committed his misdeeds off the field. John Glenn was arrested in 1888 for assaulting a 10-year-old girl, and died in police custody when he was accidentally shot by a policeman trying to protect him from a lynch mob.