The Elm Citys force out GM days before the season

Steinbrenner could have been inspired by the antics of the Elm City management

Steinbrenner could have been inspired by the antics of the Elm City management

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.

The 1874 Red Stockings had a record of 52-18 and were only getting better in 1875

The 1874 Red Stockings had a record of 52-18 and were only getting better in 1875

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.

Charlie Gould took on both general and field manager responsibilities early in the season

Charlie Gould took on both general and field manager responsibilities early in the season

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.

Hamilton Park, the Elm Citys temporary home

Hamilton Park, the Elm Citys’ temporary home

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.


Could New Haven land its first star?

Wintry weather in early spring 1875 delayed completion of the Howard Avenues Grounds, the New Havens home field. Captain and first baseman Charlie Gould intended to have the team together by April 20 and the season would begin by May 1 “or as soon as the ground is in proper condition for playing,” said the Middletown Daily Constitution.

In the meantime manager Billy Arnold is still trying to handle the increasingly delicate situation with drug addicted catcher Tom Barlow. Barlow is now arguing Brooklyn management promised he could break his contract with them if he got a better offer. Arnold intends to head to Brooklyn to talk with Barlow personally with the hopes of making heads or tails of this mess.

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

Barlow’s antics not withstanding, Arnold still has to fill the roster. He was considering an highly recommended outfielder and third baseman out of Rochester named John McKelvey for a spot on the team. With no scouting apparatus to speak of in that era, Arnold had to rely on personal references or simply applications from interested players. In this instance, he had received a letter from Rochester touting McKelvey’s play with the local team. A try out would be in order.

With is preliminary roster of marginal and inexperienced players, Arnold still was in need of an impact player, something that the press seemed to believe that Barlow could have been. To that end, Arnold opened negotiations with Long Jim Holdsworth, a 24-year-old who had been one of the leading players in the  National Association in 1874. Playing shortstop,  third base and the outfield for the Philadelphia Whites, Holdsworth hit .340 with 60 runs scored and 37 runs batted in in a season where the league batting average was .273. “Holdsworth is a fine player, and would be a valuable addition to the nine,” the Daily Palladium said.

For the New Haven nine, the initial intention as of middle of May is that they would play as many as 75 games in the 1875 season, according to the Middletown Daily Constitution. All of the Western teams, including St. Louis, Chicago, and Keokuk, would begin the season with a tour of the East Coast. Then, in turn, the eastern ball clubs – Boston, the three Philadelphia teams, Hartford, New York, Brooklyn, and Washington – would head out West. “It will be advisable for admirers of the game to secure season tickets, which will be sold at a low price,” said the New Haven Daily Palladium.

The leadership of the New Haven nine had reason to be believe theirs would be a successful venture financially. They were constructing an enclosed grounds near Howard Avenue, selling advertising on the outfield walls, and selling season tickets. We would call this diversifying one’s revenue streams.

The game, nationally, was growing. “Clubs are forming the throughout the length and breadth of the land, and even Canada is falling into line with club after club. Indeed, so strong are the indications of a remarkable lively season that dealers in the line of good used by the ball players have largely increased their orders to the manufacturers. One firm in New York last week ordered 75,000 bats and 1,000 dozen balls. It will require a train of eight cars to transport this number of bats,” according to the Philadelphia City Item.

Players are being signed. The ball park is being built. It would seem that the Elm City club is well on its way. It won’t be long before tension in senior management create the first big change of the season.

Barlow causes more trouble …

It was a particularly bad winter in New Haven early in 1875. Winter storms encased the city in ice, the thawing of which created incidents of flooding throughout the city. The Board of Alderman was concerned with the grading of Congress Avenue and the addition of cross street from High to College streets. A special election was going to be held to replace two aldermen who’d died in office.

Despite the continued coverage of the New Haven Daily Palladium, baseball appears to have been the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

The local burghers who made up the Board of Directors of the New Haven Elm Citys huddled up in the Tontine Hotel first week of March to receive a bit of news they cannot have been happy with.

The Tontine Hotel

The Tontine Hotel

However, before we get to that, let’s talk about these board meetings. The newspaper accounts of the time period are diligent about reporting on these meetings but they give no sense of the tone of them. No sense of whether they were contentious in any way. No sense of the personalities of the people involved, although an individual voice might emerge in the accounts.

Here is what I think they were like, based on nothing but speculation and imagination. The board members all walked to the hotel, a rather sumptuous affair located where the courthouse on the Green currently stands. They were dressed in suits, with heavy watch fobs hanging from their vests, and tall hats on their heads. They were the epitome of small town success, men at their financial peaks in a city that was about to go big league, literally and figuratively. They were greet each other warmly – for the time being – and decorously before beginning their work.

Carlos Smith. W.W. Ward. Alfred Thomas. George W.M. Reed. W.S. Arnold. Charles Webster. Eli Hills. Julius Tyler Jr. H.L. Bradley.  Tyler owned a wholesale grocery business on State Street. H.L. Bradley would go on to have patents in his name. Ward ran the New Haven and West Haven Horse Railroad, which terminated right near the proposed home field. These were the men calling the shots. Businessmen and political leaders, all.

They would meet in the handsome lobby before repairing to a plush meeting room – not too expensive, mind you, but just enough to let everyone know that the New Haven Elm Citys were a serious operation.

Carlos Smith was the president and he would call the meeting to order, modelling their rules of order off of a serious government agency. I envision Arnold, the equivalent of the general manager, as a sturdy, yet slight man – a ballplayer gone a bit to seed, carrying ledgers and reams of papers. He would present his newest project before the board. Murmuring and rumblings would occur back and forth. In the back of the room, a young man would be smoking and scribbling notes on folded up sheafs of copy paper – the reporter from the Daily Palladium.

The New Haven Palladium, a broadsheet that ran in one form or another from the 1840s through the 1880s

The New Haven Palladium, a broadsheet that ran in one form or another from the 1840s through the 1880s

At the end of the meeting, cigars and glasses of fine spirits would be passed (to the reporter too), but not too much because forming this team was serious work for serious minded people.

They would shake hands and walk off into the gaslit night, a couple of them huddled together for some post meeting machinations, Arnold scurrying off to his next appointed round, the Tontine glowing like a stage set waiting for their next little show.

This is what I imagine it is like.

So, back to what really happened at the meeting. The board heard from Arnold that they club’s problem with drug addicted catcher Tom Barlow has taken a strange turn. I’ll let the Palladium scribe tell it:

“Barlow claims he has never signed any legal contract with the Atlantic club, and is of the opinion that Mr. Van Delft, the manager of that club, has put up a job on him to keep him from coming to New Haven, where he wants to play, if he can, merely for his board if nothing more, for the purpose of demonstrating to the New Haven directors that he is square and innocent of trickery.”

Arnold was scheduled to meet with Van Delft and Barlow at a hotel in Brooklyn, but the Atlantics manager didn’t show up. However, Van Delft appears to have been trying this particular issue in the media, questioning Barlow’s ongoing health in the Brooklyn Sunday Mercury.

Barlow, clinging to what is left of his baseball career, offers to have a physical, something that does not appear to be common practice at the time, and whatever the doctor says he will abide.

Arnold appears to be skeptical. “ … If he cannot come to the club with a clear record, his services will not be required,” the Palladium wrote in one of the moments where I believe an authentic voice is captured.

One can hear an echo of faint bravado, of Arnold reporting to the board that he is in control of a situation he is clearly not.

Meet the players … for now

After a brief dalliance with Jack Chapman for the job, the New Haven Elm Citys found their first captain. Billy Arnold announced at a meeting of the club’s board of directors that Charles Gould of Cincinnati had agreed to play first base and lead the new franchise.

The role of captain was a significant one in the 1870s. Being captain wasn’t an honorary title, or a recognition of stature (think of Derek Jeter) with no formal responsibilities. The captain of the Elm Citys was the manager as we understand the role today – he set the lineups and ran in game strategy. He was also expected to be a prominent contributor on the field.

Charlie Gould, the Elm Citys first captain

Charlie Gould, the Elm Citys first captain

Gould, 27, was considered an excellent choice. Popular and good-natured, he appears to have been something of a phemonenon in Cincinnati during the early years of the sport’s popularity after the Civil War. In 1867, he won a local baseball contest for farthest throw with a toss of 302 ft. He played with dominant amateur teams and the nation’s the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, going undefeated nationally in 1869.

When Harry Wright, the godfather of the sport and manager of the Cincinnati nine, decided to start a franchise in Boston, Gould was one of the men he brought along.

It was a team that had tremendous success, amassing a 59-18 record in 1871 and 1872, winning the National Association the second year. He hit .267 over that time period, leading the league in triples in 1872. He took a year off in 1873 to go into business – in the offseasons he worked as a bookkeeper for his father’s company – but the lure of the diamond appears to have been too great. He returned to the National Association in 1874 with the Baltimore Canaries, a team that had nine wins and 38 losses. Gould did not perform well, hitting only .224.

He was tall for the time period, 6 ft. tall and 172 pounds, and had long arms and legs, something his contemporaries felt made him a particularly good fielder.

Despite numbers that would appear his career was on the downswing, his signing was met with excitement by the local press. “He is keen and energetic and free from dissipation, an excellent player at his base and at the bat,” the New Haven Daily Palladium wrote on March 5, 1875.

Arnold reported that he had signed eight other players, the vast bulk of the team when rosters tended to be about 12 players or so.

Tricky Nichols, a Bridgeport pitcher and the guy with the best nickname on the team

Tricky Nichols, a Bridgeport pitcher and the guy with the best nickname on the team

Two rookies, Stud Bancker, a 22-year-old catcher out of Pennsylvania, and Tricky Nichols, a 24-year-old pitcher, made up the team’s battery. “Nichols has never played before on a professional nine, but earned a good record last year with the T.B.’s of Bridgeport. His delivery is prompt and effective and at the bat he will do his share,” the Palladium said.

Billy, at one point the youngest player in the NA

Billy Geer, at one point the youngest player in the NA

Billy Geer, the second baseman, had the record of being the youngest man to ever play in the majors. At the age of 15, he played in two games with the New York Mutuals in 1874, going 2 for 8 (.250). His immature behavior figures prominently in the upcoming season.

Johnny Ryan, the left fielder, was also a retread from the disastrous 1874 Baltimore Canaries, hitting .193. He was 21 years old.

Jim Tipper, the center fielder and a 26-year-old Middletown native, appears on paper to have been a good signing. He was one of the only bright spots on the 1874 Hartford Dark Blues (16 wins and 37 losses), hitting .305. He also played with his hometown Middletown Mansfields in 1872, hitting .264.

Jim Britt led the league in losses two years running

Jim Britt led the league in losses two years running

Jim Britt, 19, had been out of professional baseball in 1874. He took a brutal beating as the main starting pitcher for the hapless Brooklyn Atlantics in 187273. Britt had a record of 26 wins and 64 losses with an earned run average of 4.26 in an era when pitchers gave up about three earned runs per game. He led the league in losses both seasons, and batted .223. He was intended to be the team’s “change pitcher.” There were no relief pitchers as we understand them, so Britt would be kept around to pitch on occasion if Nichols was injured.

Herm Doscher wasn't much of a player, but he discovered Wee Willie Keeler

Herm Doscher wasn’t much of a player, but he discovered Wee Willie Keeler

Herm Doscher, an outfielder with seven games of part-time service over two seasons with the Brooklyn Atlantics (10-30, .333), was also expected to contribute. (And, contribute he would, just not to the Elm Citys. He was the first big leaguer to father another big leaguer, Jack Doscher, and he was the scout responsible for finding Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler).

Another man, a right fielder named Hamilton was signed, but I couldn’t find any additional information on him, including his first name. He, along with Doscher, Geer and Britt, were signed to what was deemed a conditional contract. “They are engaged for the term of two months, and if their duties are perfectly satisfactory they will be retained upon the nine,” the Palladium reported.

With four of the players around on a temporary basis, Arnold had to explore more options in the days and weeks ahead.

There is wisdom in retrospect, but there is no way Arnold, nor Gould, for that matter, could have thought this team of fringe players and rookies would compete successfully in the National Association against great teams like Boston Red Stockings or the New York Mutuals. Perhaps Arnold sold a bill of good to the board of directors, a tactic that would be his undoing.

Tom Barlow: Baseball’s first drug casualty?

One of the first bits of trouble for the New Haven franchise emerged in late February. Arnold attempted to sign Tom Barlow, a talented, yet troubled catcher and shortstop.

Tom Barlow, catcher for the Atlantics, Dark Blues, and Elm Citys

Tom Barlow

Barlow would have been a fine addition to the roster. He was a better than average offensive player, hitting .290 over the course of his career, and commonly regarded as one of the innovators of the bunt. He caught all his team’s games in 1873, and led the league in stolen bases a year later. He was also considered a fine defender in an era when an unsteady catcher could be a team’s undoing with constant passed balls and poor throwing.

According to the local press, manager Billy Arnold was accused of not acting honorably in his signing of Barlow. “The Barlow matter has been the subject of conversation in base ball circles, the sporting press taking unusual interest in the matter, and seem happy in heaping abuse upon Messrs. Arnold and Douglass [a member of the Elm Citys Board of Directors] for having signed Barlow for the New Havens when he was already signed for the [Brooklyn] Atlantics, which facts Mr. Van Deft of the Atlantics claims those gentlemen knew when they signed him,” the New Haven Daily Palladium reported.

Arnold promptly went back to Brooklyn and spoke with owner Van Deft, trying to make amends. Arnold also tried to seek out his erstwhile catcher, visiting “several of the places where he is generally to be found.”

The Daily Palladium claimed that because of Barlow’s malfeasance, he would be suspended for the season by the leaders of the National Association. It would take some time for this situation to be sorted out, creating tension between Arnold, the Board of Directors, Van Deft and league leadership.

Barlow’s situation was not simply a case of flagrant disregard for a contract, common enough at the time when players routinely jumped contracts for a better deal.

Barlow had suffered a serious injury while playing for the Hartford Dark Blues in 1874. He had been struck in the side by a fastball from pitcher Cherokee Fisher, a hurler noted for his speed.

Cherokee Fisher of the Hartford Dark Blues

Cherokee Fisher

In the 1870s, players played barehanded and without padding of any sort. Injuries as a result of errant throws were common. Doug Allison, a catcher in the National Association, was first reported to use a glove to nurse an injury in 1870. The first glove used in the way we understand them would be used this season, 1875, by a St. Louis outfielder/first baseman named Charlie Waitt. Waitt used flesh colored gloves, trying to mitigate the amount of aspersions on his manhood he would receive as a result of his innovation.

Doug Allison's mangled hands after years of pro ball

Doug Allison’s mangled hands after years of pro ball

Barlow’s treatment led to additional problems that would end up destroying his baseball career. In a sad letter to the Boston Times written in 1877, Barlow claims that he was given a shot of morphine by a doctor treating that injury. He quickly became severely addicted to the drug, spending as much as $8 a day to feed the habit.

He played his last two professional baseball games (one for New Haven) in 1875 at the age of 23, possibly baseball’s first drug casualty. “I’d rather have died behind the bat than having that first dose,” he said.

Nothing more is known about his life or how he died.

David Archdianoco goes into the Barlow story in tremendous detail here:

Meetings at the Tontine Hotel

FEBRUARY 12, 1875

The Tontine Hotel, the site of the Elm Citys meetings

The Tontine Hotel, the site of the Elm Citys meetings

Beginning in early 1875, the braintrust of the New Haven Elm Citys would meet more or less weekly at the Tontine Hotel, located on the southeast side of the Green on Church Street, the current location of the Federal Courthouse. The records of the meetings found in the New Haven Daily Palladium were, to say the least, dry proceedings, more along the lines of a Rotary Club meeting or a conclave of small businessmen.

They appointed a board of directors, led by Billy Arnold, and populated with an array of ex-Aldermen and local civic leaders. A discussion ensued about rental of the Howard Avenue Grounds, currently the home of St. Raphael’s Hospital.

A later image of Hamilton Park, another name for the Howard Avenue Grounds, the Elm Citys home field

A later image of Hamilton Park, another name for the Howard Avenue Grounds, the Elm Citys home field

Arnold planned to go on a scouting mission to Philadelphia and Brooklyn to find players. “He stated he was in negotiation with players, all of which would be first class men,” the Palladium reported.

Where Arnold chose to find high quality players speaks to a crucial fact about the early days of the sport. While baseball enoblers talk about the game’s pastoral qualities, evoking hearth and home, the truth was that baseball was a city game. The sport had its origins in other ball and bat games, like cricket, rounders, and town ball (no, Civil War general Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball and its entirely possible he never even saw a game.) It spread throughout the country during the Civil War, and became a way for urban clerks to get exercise and outdoor times.

The sport evolved initially as a leisure activity (the first organized game was played in 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken), but it became apparent very quickly to men like Arnold that people would both pay to see a high level of play and bet on the outcomes of the games. Hence, professionalism was born.

With the professionalism came a certain amount of civic pride – a fine team could bring attention and accolades to a community, with cash to follow. It only would stand to reason that the Palladium supported the idea that professional baseball would come to New Haven.

“It is now apparent that we are to have a professional base ball club located here, and we trust the citizens to will give it their hearty support and tend to make the undertaking a success and a credit to the city,” the Palladium wrote.

However, it would become quickly apparent that it would not be easy for Arnold to secure the kind of talent needed to make the Elm Citys a success on the field.

New Haven Tries to Find a Boss

New Haven’s foray into Major League Baseball began the way most things do.

A guy wanted to make some money.

On January 8, 1875 the New Haven Register carried a brief item that one W.S. ‘Billy’ Arnold of Middletown was taking his $3000 investment in a new ballclub and dividing it into 125 shares at $25 each. “It remains to be seen what support our citizens will give to the project,” the Register reported.

The New Haven Elm Citys, or New Havens in the newspaper parlance of the time, would be joining the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. All you needed was a nominal entry fee, and a local nine could call themselves professional.

Arnold, 24 at the time, made his professional playing debut with the 1872 Middletown Mansfields, a team that had since disbanded. He went 1-7 with two runs scored in a couple of games in the outfield and apparently decided that playing the game was not to be his forte.

Howard Avenue Grounds

Arnold had secured the use of the Howard Avenue Grounds (“a fine lot on the line of the West Haven Horse Railroad”) for games and had already begun negotiations with a possible club captain, a playing equivalent of the modern day manager, an on field tactician.

Jack Chapman, 31 years old, would have been a fine choice for the new ballclub. A quiet and courteous man with impeccable credentials and a history with the game dating back to 1860, he had played the 1874 season with the Brooklyn Atlantics, one of the most hapless franchises of the National Association era. His .246 lifetime batting average was middling even in that low scoring era but he had the honor of being one of the players dubbed with one of the best, and longest, nicknames in baseball history: “Death to Flying Things.”

Jack Chapman, the first player/manager the team chased

You would think with such an original nickname, Chapman would be the only one that would bear it. Not so. A contemporary of his, Bob Ferguson, an honest, yet pissy player, umpire and manager, got the name because of his defensive prowess. According to Wikipedia, a modern outfielder, Franklin Gutierrez of the Seattle Mariners, also has the nickname, although I’ve never read anything that refers to him in that manner.

Back to Chapman. The relationship was not to be. “We are informed that Chapman of the Atlantics was offered captaincy of the proposed new organization, but as he had already signed the papers of the Regulars of St. Louis, he was forced to decline,” the Register reported.

Chapman played the whole season for the St. Louis entry, a team that went 39-29, batting .223 over 43 games in the outfield. That performance, well below the league average of .254, would have made him one of the best players on the 1875 Elm Citys.

He finished his playing days in 1876, and moved exclusively to management, leading the Louisville Grays (1876-77), the Milwaukee Grays (1878), the Worchester Ruby Legs (1882), Detroit Wolverines (1883-84), Buffalo Bisons (1885), and the Louisville Colonels (1889-1892). He compiled a record of 351 wins and 502 losses.

The search for a field boss would continue.