The late, great, insane New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had nothing on the Elm Citys when it comes to forcing out a general manager.
On the eve of the club’s first ever professional game in mid-April 1875, playing the dynastic Boston Red Stockings, Manager Billy Arnold resigned. “The New Haven club is in trouble,” reported the Middletown Daily Constitution, in what could be considered a journalistic understatement.
The rift Arnold and management began because of a difference in scheduling philosophy. The Board of Directors, holed up with their cigars in the Tontine Hotel, wanted to schedule the Red Stockings early in the season, a club that boasted five future Hall of Famers (Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, George Wright, Harry Wright, and Al Spalding) and had won the league three years running with a combined record of 124-42. Arnold prudently wanted to let the new team start off slowly, playing lesser competition. In the power struggle that appears to have happened, Arnold lost.
Captain Charles Gould took over Arnold’s job, a move applauded in the New Haven Evening Register, a chatty, well-written publication. “This is a good selection, as Mr. Gould has had years of experience, and indeed no better choice could have been made,” the Register said.
Arnold attempted to spin the situation in the New Haven Daily Palladium, but like any managerial “resignation” in baseball, the words ring hollow. “Manager Arnold, in a card, states that he resigned his position in connection with the New Haven nine not because the president made arrangement with the Boston club but because in resigning the best interests of the club were served,” the Palladium said.
The Middletown paper was critical of the board’s decision to play Boston right away. “(the board’s) first piece of management is to arrange games with the Boston club and others of the strongest clubs in the arena, which will result, of course in the disasterous defeat of so weak and inexperienced a nine, and will very materially affect their gate receipts whenever they play, for it is only ball-playing and successful playing, that will draw the money at the gate,” said the Daily Constitution.
Arnold’s tenure was ill fated from the get go. He had difficulty procuring any sort of real talent. Tom Barlow, his first choice at catcher, and a force on offense and defense, gave him the run around. Long Jim Holdsworth, his second and perhaps better choice as a centerpiece for the club, chose to sign with a more stable team in New York. In Charles Gould Arnold found a captain of some repute, but couldn’t add any veterans to surround him. The combination of rookies and fringe players Arnold did sign didn’t inspire confidence.
The Howard Avenue Grounds, through some combination of poor weather and lack of resources, were not ready for the beginning of the season, forcing the New Havens to plan to use Yale’s field at Hamilton Park.
Things weren’t any better behind the scenes. Despite his efforts to diversify revenue streams by selling season tickets, advertising, and making sure there was theoretically sufficient investment by the stock holders, the money ran dry on Arnold. “It is further asserted that the all the club’s funds are expended,” according to the Daily Constitution.
Just a few days before his dreams were to become a reality, Willis Arnold, the man who brought major league baseball to New Haven, was no longer part of the organzation he helped to create.