New Haven beats World Champion Boston Red Stockings 10-5

This is the 1873 Boston Red Stockings team photo. George Wright is seated on the left. Al Spalding is standing behind him.

This is the 1873 Boston Red Stockings team photo. George Wright is seated on the left. Al Spalding is standing behind him.

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.”

Harry Wright

Harry Wright

 

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.

George Wright

George Wright

 

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.

Tommy Beals

Tommy Beals, one of the subs, playing against New Haven

 

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.

Cal McVey homered against New Haven

Cal McVey homered against New Haven

 

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.

Tricky Nichols

Tricky Nichols

 

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.

Billy Geer drove in two runs against Boston

Billy Geer drove in two runs against Boston

 

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.

Sam Wright, Harry and George's brother, who got two hits on the day

Sam Wright, Harry and George’s brother, scored two runs on the day

 

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.

Ross Barnes couldn't near to watch his Bostons lose to New Haven

Ross Barnes couldn’t near to watch his Bostons lose to New Haven

 

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.

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New Haven player makes seven errors in one inning; the team loses two games to Washington

If there was ever a good chance for the New Haven Elm Citys to break out of their winless streak, it would be on May 15 and 17, 1875 against Washington.

Washington was winless like New Haven, but unlike New Haven, they were utterly uncompetitive. Most of the men on the roster did not have extensive league experience, local men from Baltimore and Washington of “no particular distinction,” according to baseball researcher Paul Batesel.

The team had given up an astounding 20 or more runs in six of their first 11 losses of the season. They gave up more than 10 runs in three more games. The club’s best offensive showing was eight runs in a single contest and they had been shut out three times. “Everyone expected that the New Haven nine would win their first game on Saturday,” the Register said.

Not only would New Haven not win the first game on the 15th, losing by a score of 8-4, they would drop their second game on May 17, 10-7. “Almost everyone expected victory for the New Havens … and almost everyone was disapointed by the result,” said the New Haven Daily Palladium, which seemed to have stopped sending reporters to cover the games.

Jim Keenan, New Haven's new backup catcher

Jim Keenan, New Haven’s new backup catcher

In a season full of misadventures thus far, one could argue this was a low point. Injuries had started affecting the club. Johnny Ryan, the regular left fielder was injured, prompting the signing of an amateur named Sullivan. Henry Luff, the third baseman, also was missing from the lineup. John ‘Stud’ Bancker was struggling with injuries to his hands, a common ailment for 19th century catchers, forcing 17-year-old New Haven native Jim Keenan to join the club.

In the first game of the two game series, New Haven jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the top of the first inning, with a hit by the amateur Sullivan prompting the rally against Nationals pitcher Bill Stearns, a Civil War veteran (the club’s other starting pitcher, Bill Parks, also served in the war). However, promptly in the bottom half of the inning, Washington scored five runs on five clean basehits, something of an anomaly in error-ridden 1875 ball. “Very singularly it strikes us every man on the Washington club called for a high ball. There were no exceptions to this rule, and surmises were rife as to the cause,” the Register wrote.

New Haven didn’t quite capitulate – yet. They scored a run in the third inning, second baseman Billy Geer scoring on a single by Henry Luff, and a run in the fourth inning when Sam Wright singled and scored on a three base error by the second baseman Steve Brady.

Washington administered the coup de grace in the bottom of third inning, scoring three times, again on five base hits.

After the second game against Washington a couple of days later, on May 17, even the normally forgiving and effusive New Haven Register was at a loss. “Hardly any comment is needed upon the game yesterday,” the paper said of the 10-7 loss.

Washington's winning pitcher in the second game

Bill Parks was Washington’s winning pitcher in the second game

The paper commented for the first time that the club was guilty of lackadaisical play, at least in the early innings. The Register became incredulous of the team’s play, and moved towards the didactic. “To achieve success in base ball, as in everything else, hard work must be done from the start,” the paper said.

Billy Geer made at least seven errors against Washington in one inning

Billy Geer made at least seven errors against Washington in one inning

The New Havens must not have been paying attention in the Register’s classroom. After a scoreless first inning, second baseman Billy Geer had an utter and complete meltdown. In one inning, he dropped three throws, made three throwing errors himself, and dropped a fly ball. It appears, according to the often hard to decipher newspaper reports of the time, that Geer made at least seven errors himself in one inning, leading to six runs scoring on one clean hit. Even in barehanded ball, this is a special level of ineptitude. “The game was poorly played on both sides and abounded in errors,” said the Palladium.

Let’s take a look at the modern day equivalents. Bob Brenly, ordinarily a catcher, made four errors in a single inning playing third base for the San Francisco Giants in 1986 against the Atlanta Braves (he also hit two home runs that day to make up for it.) Many players over the years have held the same ignominious record.

Pitcher Tommy John of the New York Yankees once made three errors on one play, which takes some doing.

Washington scored another four runs on three hits in the top of the fifth inning, continuing to hit well against New Haven pitcher Tricky Nichols. New Haven put up two runs in the bottom of the second, one in the third, and four garbage runs in the eighth, mostly on Washington errors, but this game was over with the final score 10-7. “The New Havens played with little vim, except in the latter part of the game, when they strove hard to win,” the Register said.

The New Haven Elm Citys drop to 0-10 on the season. It isn’t likely to get better anytime soon, with the Philadelphia Athletics coming into town for two games on May 20 and 21, 1875.

New Haven and New York in pitcher duels; New York wins 2-1 in 11

Bobby Mathews, a small man at 5'5", 140 lbs, mastered the curve and the spitball, making him one of the first great pitchers

Bobby Mathews, a small man at 5’5″, 140 lbs, mastered the curve and the spitball, making him one of the first great pitchers

There couldn’t be a greater juxtaposition in the National Association between clubs than between the New Haven Elm Citys and their opponents on May 11, 1875, the Mutual Club of New York.

The Mutuals, formed out of a fire company and backed by Boss Tweed, had been playing baseball since 1858. The club was an amateur marvel, claiming championships and most of the earliest baseball stars. The Mutuals had something that New Haven didn’t – pedigree. But that doesn’t win baseball games. Since joining the National Association in 1871, the club was essentially a below-.500 team with pedigree. That changed in 1874 when they rode Bobby Mathews’ arm to a record of 42-23.

In addition to Mathews, the club did retain a few old pros for the 1875 season. Long Jim Holdsworth, who spurned New Haven in the off-season, was retained to provide a bit of offensive punch. Joe Start, known as Old Reliable, was coming off a season where he hit .314, and continued to hit well in 1875. Nat Hicks, the captain, lend good defensive support behind the plate and hit a respectable .274 in 1874. They had the kind of veteran talent New Haven couldn’t secure off the field and couldn’t handle when they were playing them on the field.

Despite a break in the difficult weather plaguing the early season, people were still staying away from Howard Avenue Grounds, with only about 300 in attendance. “There should have been a larger number of spectators on the grounds, but doubtless many supposed that the game would be a repetition of that on Monday,” the Evening Register said, referring to the team’s 13-0 loss against Philadelphia.

Great mustache

Great mustache – Bobby Mathews

New Haven duelled the Mutuals for 11 innings, losing 2-1, remaining winless on the season. “Matthews (sic) – the best pitcher in the country – troubled our boys not a little by his curves, and Nichols, not to be behindhand, did likewise by the visitors,” the Register said.

Mathews himself is an interesting figure, worthy of a moment. He was only 5’5”, weighing about 140 pounds, and he managed to pitch all of his teams games in 1874 and all but one in 1875. He is credited with throwing the first spitball and was known as a crafty pitcher, not one who would overpower you with his fastball. His pitching philosophy is quoted in Peter Morris’ Game of Inches: “Good, straight pitching, thorough command over the ball, a good ‘out-curve’ and a good ‘in-shoot’ are what the great pitchers are working with today, and I, for my part, don’t believe in anything else.”

Tricky Nichols, who might never win a game at this point

Tricky Nichols, who might never win a game at this point

The clubs were locked in a scoreless tie for five innings. Tricky Nichols, New Haven’s pitcher, was bending quite a bit, but not breaking. He allowed baserunners in each of the first five innings, with his defense pulling together to quell the threats. Bobby Mathews dominated,scattering three hits in the first five and striking out five Elm Citys in the first six innings. “The New Havens were quickly retired and as the Mutuals met with a like fate, everything was serene,” the Register said.

In this engraving Nat Hicks is behind the plate for the Mutuals

In this engraving Nat Hicks is behind the plate for the Mutuals

The Mutuals broke through first in the bottom of the sixth inning – the game was played in New Haven, but Captain Charlie Gould again lost the coin toss and had to bat first. New York’s Eddie Booth singled to right field to lead off the inning. He then stole second – his first of two key stolen bases in the game – and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Nat Hicks, the Mutuals catcher and captain, hit a fly ball to left field that scored Booth.

New Haven tied it in the top of the seventh. Gould singled over the shortstop. An error by third baseman Joe Gerhardt advanced Gould to third, and Nichols picked him up with a fly ball to left. “Gould scored for New Haven amidst great applause,” the Register wrote.

It was at this point in the game where the different between the skill of Mathews and Nichols became apparent. Mathews set down 11 of the last 12 batters he faced in a dominant performance. Nichols still had runners on constantly, and with a weak club like New Haven, it was sure to result in disaster. On cue, disaster arrived in the bottom of the 11th inning, the longest game the Elm Citys played thus far this season, and it was named Eddie Booth and Henry Geer.

Billy Geer made three errors

Billy Geer made three errors

Booth led off the 11th inning with a base hit that slipped between third and short and promptly stole second. With one out, Nat Hicks hit a grounder to Geer, who let it go through his legs, allowing Booth to score the winning run. New Haven was, to use the Register’s term, skunked.

Despite the loss, New Haven had much to be proud of. The club’s offensive woes continued, but they hung close against Mathews, one of the best arms in the league. Tricky Nichols pitched a good game. New Haven played good defense, Geer’s three errors on the day notwithstanding.

The Elm Citys’ next two games, both against the Washington Nationals, a team facing the same kind of problems both on the field and at the gate, could be just the tonic to cure the club’s woes.

SCORE BY INNINGS

NEW HAVEN – 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 1

NEW YORK – 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1- 2

WP – Bobby Mathews LP – Tricky Nichols (0-9)

New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b, John McKelvey, rf (1 hit), Johnny Ryan, lf; Henry Luff, 3b (1 hit); Jim Tipper, rf; Charlie Gould, 1b (1 run, 2 hits); Sam Wright, ss; Stud Bancker, c (1 hit); Tricky Nichols (1 hit, losing pitcher)

New York – Joe Start, 1b (1 hit); Jim Holdsworth, ss; Candy Nelson, 2b (2 hits); Eddie Booth, rf (2 runs, 2 hits); Joe Gerhardt 3b; Nat Hicks, c (2 hits); Pat McGee, cf (1 hit); Count Gedney, lf; Bobby Mathews (winning pitcher)

 

Brooklyn tips New Haven 3-2; bad umpiring partially to blame?

 

Charlie Pabor drove in the winning run against New Haven

Charlie Pabor, nicknamed The Old Woman in the Red Cap, drove in the winning run against New Haven

In the early years of baseball, the period before the sports’ early organization into professional leagues, the Brooklyn Atlantics were a truly fine team, one of the founding clubs of the National Association of Base Ball Players, an amateur group.

The club had fallen on hard times recently but the patina was still there. Brooklyn finished 22-33 in 1874, and turned over 7 of its 9 regulars coming into this season. Bill Boyd, a portly outfielder who was a fireman in the offseason, and club manager Charlie Pabor were the only players on the roster with any history of success in the National Association.

In short, they were perfect opponents for the new New Haven baseball club to test its mettle against. The New Haven Evening Register, in the lead up to the game, liked the Elm Citys’ chances. “It is expected that the two clubs are quite evenly matched that an interesting time may be expected. Let New Haven go in and win their first game now. The present is the time to do it,” the paper wrote.

New Haven would have to wait a bit longer, losing a close one to Brooklyn 3-2 on April 26, 1875, at least partially due to some questionable umpiring. “The spectators were not so numerous as they were last Saturday [against Yale in the first game at the Howard Avenue Grounds], but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in appreciative enthusiasm,” said the New Haven Daily Palladium.

John_Cassidy

John Cassidy

A rarity developed for the first five innings – a well played, well-fielded pitcher’s duel. Tricky Nichols (0 wins, 3 losses) limited Brooklyn to four hits over the first five innings. John Cassidy was even better, holding New Haven hitless through five. “The excitement of the crowd was at fever pitch and all expected a very close game,” the Daily Palladium noted after the fifth inning. “An entire ‘Chicago’ was expected,” the Register said, using the 19th century term for a shutout.

Nineteen century baseball games turn on physical mistakes and the opposition’s ability to capitalize on them. The sixth inning was mistake central for both teams.

The Atlantics led off the 6th inning with a single by Henry Kessler. Al Nichols doubled over right fielder Henry Luff’s head. Second baseman Billy Geer took Luff’s relay throw and chucked the ball over catcher Stud Bancker, allowing both runners to score.

New Haven, having difficulty scoring runs in the early part of the season, was faced with a do or die situation in the bottom of the 6th. The inning started off with a single by Johnny Ryan, who stole second and advanced to third on a single by Tricky Nichols. Cassidy, who struggled with wildness early in the game, got two quick strikes on Geer before the next pitch eluded catcher Jake Knowdell, with both runners scoring on the play.

Jake_Knowdell

Jake Knowdell 

Leading off the ninth, Cassidy singled. A single by Bobby Clack advanced the runner to third. Both hits were clouded in controversy. The New Haven Register, critical of the umpiring of Hartford resident Charlie Daniels, claimed that both fair-foul hits – a 19th century rule that allowed a ball that struck in fair territory and then rolled foul before reaching first base to be in play – were actually simply foul balls. Charlie Pabor, known as The Old Woman in the Red Cap, a truly fine nickname, drove in the winning run on a grounder back to pitcher Nichols.

The Register continued to boost the club’s efforts, despite the results. “New Haven has every reason to be proud of her nine. The work they did yesterday, against the odds opposed to them, makes them rank well in the professional arena,” the paper wrote.

The papers differed on how Daniels performed in the game against Brooklyn. “Several times the spectators manifested their disapprobation of his rulings in a very marked way,” according to the New Haven Evening Register, noting the problems with the fair-foul hits and a strikeout. The Palladium didn’t agree. “The umpire’s position is always a thankless one, and we were unable to perceive any glaring manifestations of of partiality yesterday,” the Palladium said.

It would turn out that Brooklyn and New Haven would have similar trajectories in 1875, and John Cassidy and Charlie Pabor would end up playing important role in the baseball lives of both cities.

TEAM NOTES

** The Elm Citys were slightly banged up heading into the game with Brooklyn. Catcher Stud Bancker was playing with a sprained ankle, prompting the need for a courtesy runner in the game. Outfielder Johnny Ryan got hit in the face with a foul ball while catching in a scrimmage against Yale. In the early going, because the Elm Citys started to sign players late, the club only fielded nine men. Lester Dole, the son of a Yale University professor and the team’s preseason gym instructor, played in a couple of scrimmages as an outfielder to provide the squad a bit of depth.

** After the Register baited the Hartford Dark Blues in print early in the week, the nascent Hartford/New Haven rally took on a new twist. Brooklyn, who had recently played Hartford, had insisted that Charlie Daniels, an amateur ballplayer from the Connecticut capital, call the game. Naturally, Captain Charlie Gould not only balked at Daniels’ presence, but early in the game had to actually pull out the rule book to educate the ump. I mean literally show the guy a rule book.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Brooklyn – 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 – 3

New Haven – 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 – 2

W – John Cassidy L – Tricky Nichols (0-3)

Brooklyn lineup – Bill Boyd, rf (2-5); Henry Kessler, ss (2-5, 1 run); Al Nichols, 3b (2-4, 1 run); Fred Crane, 1b (1-4); Tom Patterson, 2b (0-4); John Cassidy, p (1-4, 1 run); Jake Knowdell, c (0-4); Bobby Clack, cf (2-4); Charlie Pabor, lf (0-4, 1 rbi)

New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b (0-4); Sam Wright, ss (0-4); Henry Luff, rf (0-4); Stud Bancker, c (0-4); John McKelvey, 3b (1-3); Charlie Gould, 1b (0-3); Johnny Ryan, lf (1-3, 1 run); Jim Tipper, cf (0-3); Tricky Nichols, p (1-3, 1 run)

 

New Haven kicks away home opener, loses to Boston 14-3

Harry Wright, Red Stockings manager, who defeated New Haven twice in a row to start off the 1875 season

Harry Wright, Red Stockings manager, who defeated New Haven twice in a row to start off the 1875 season

For a couple of innings on April 21, 1875, it was almost as if the New Haven Elm Citys and the Boston Red Stockings switched roles.

In the first inning, New Haven jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, taking advantage of a couple of hits by Billy Geer and Sam Wright and a Boston error “amidst great applause,” the Register said. Boston went very quietly in the bottom of the inning.

Baseball order was restored beginning in the third inning when Boston turned aggressive baserunning, a pair of New Haven errors, and some timely hits into three runs, starting a 14-3 rout, featuring 10 errors by the Elm Citys. “Notwithstanding the rawness of the weather — reminding one of November, rather than April — a large crowd gathered yesterday afternoon, on the old grounds at Hamilton Park … everyone shivered and shook, but all stayed until the game was over,” said the New Haven Daily Palladium.

The Elm Citys were playing at Hamilton Park, the home of Yale’s baseball team off Whalley Avenue near Hubinger Street and West Rock, because their home field at Howard Avenue wasn’t complete.

Hamilton Park, the home of Yale football and baseball in the 19th century, was located near Edgewood Park

Hamilton Park, the home of Yale football and baseball in the 19th century, was located near Edgewood Park

The Boston half of the third inning, deemed “disasterous” by the Register, began with a triple by Deacon White over centerfielder Jim Tipper’s head. Jack Manning and Juice Latham reached on consecutive errors, scoring White. George Wright then hit a two-run single. Boston followed it up with a run in the fourth, three more in the fifth inning, and single runs in the seventh and eighth.

Deacon White, a future Hall of Famer, started the rout for Boston with a triple

Deacon White, a future Hall of Famer, started the rout for Boston with a triple

This game allows us to point out another quirks in the 19th century game. The team batting first was agreed upon by coin toss or some other means, not by being the visiting team. In addition, all nine innings were played regardless of the score — Boston led 9-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, where they scored five more, all with two outs in the inning.

Ross Barnes gets three hits against New Haven

Ross Barnes gets three hits against New Haven

Ross Barnes led the Bostons with three runs and three hits. George Wright drove in four runs. “For the Bostons, all did well, and it would be invidious to particularize,” the Register said.

Charlie Gould drives in one of New Haven's three runs

Charlie Gould drives in one of New Haven’s three runs

New Haven scratched out a additional run in the seventh on a single by Captain Charlie Gould – who surely regrets scheduling Boston by now – driving in Henry Luff.

The New Haven Register, ever the booster, praised the New Haven team for its efforts against such a good squad. “Taken as a whole the game was a creditable one but the last innings could have been bettered very easily,” reported the Register.

The Register cited Billy Geer and Sammy Wright as all around standouts, with third baseman John McKelvey and Luff hitting well. Luff made several baserunning blunders, killing a pair of New Haven rallies. Pitcher Tricky Nichols and McKelvey each made three errors in the game.

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

In an echo of the argument between former general manager Willis Arnold and the Board of Directors, the New Haven Register astutely argued that Boston might not have been the best choice of opponent to start the season.  “Let the boys brace up and when they encounter clubs of more recent organization then the Bostons, we are confident that they will not be behindhand,” the Register said.

New Haven drops to no wins and two losses. Their next National Association opponent is the Brooklyn Atlantics on April 26, 1875.

***

NEW HAVEN – 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 – 3

BOSTON – 0 0 3 1 3 0 1 1 5 – 14

Earned runs – Boston 1, New Haven 1; Errors – New Haven 10, Boston 3 Time of game: 1 hr, 50 minutes

New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b (1 run, 1 hit); Sam Wright, ss (1 run, 1 hit); Henry Luff, rf (1 run, 2 hits); Stud Bancker, c; John McKelvey, 3b (3 hits); Charlie Gould, 1b (1 hit); Johnny Ryan, lf; Jim Tipper, cf; Tricky Nichols (losing pitcher, 0-2)

Boston lineup – George Wright, ss (1 runs, 2 hits); Cal McVey, cf (2 runs, 1 hit); Ross Barnes, 2b (3 runs, 3 hits); Al Spalding p (1 run, 2 hits – winning pitcher); Andy Leonard, lf (2 hits); Deacon White, c (1 runs, 2 hits); Jack Manning, rf (2 runs, 0 hits); Juice Latham (1 run, 0 hits); Harry Schafer, 3b (3 runs, 0 hits).

 

Boston chills New Haven on Opening Day

Al-Spalding

Al Spalding shut out the Elm Citys on Opening Day 1875

There was plenty of news to print on April 19, 1875.

The front page of the New Haven Register was a crazy newsprint quilt of items – local news given equal play with obscure world events. In North Haven, a minister exhorted his congregation to make sure they were vaccinated. Henry Beecher, the most famous minister of the time, was engulfed in a New York scandal that filled the front pages of newspapers across the country. Police claimed a baby on Bradley Street was abducted by a “somambulist” — a sleepwalker.

At the bottom of the page was a short notice about baseball – or should I say, base ball, in the parlance of the time period. The Elm City Club of New Haven, in its first ever professional game, lost to the champion Boston Red Stockings 6-0. About 1000 people saw the game in Boston’s South End Grounds, bearing up on a cold windy day. So, New Haven – at least in a professional sports sense – finally goes big league.

Sound End Grounds in Boston, the site of the Elm Citys' first game

Sound End Grounds in Boston, the site of the Elm Citys’ first game

The game took place on the centennial of the the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place April 19, 1875. The holiday would become known as Patriots Day, and traditionally be known for the running of the Boston Marathon.

All things considered, the New Havens did well their first game. I have been reaching for an equivalent modern match up for New Haven versus Boston that day – perhaps an Arena League Football team playing the Super Bowl champs, or the 1998 Yankees playing their own A-ball team seems closest to me. No matter what description one uses it promised to be a gross mismatch.

The Register, which offers the best baseball coverage of the local newspapers, describes it thusly:  “It being considered that our boys had never played together and in their home positions before this game, the show which they made against the champion Bostons was a very creditable one,” said the New Haven Register. The Register also pointed out, in a bit of local boosterism, that Hartford the previous year had gotten pummelled by Boston 25-3 – given the local venom of which should be the capital of Connecticut, Hartford or New Haven, the papers tended to take potshots at each other whenever possible.

The New Haven Daily Palladium yawned at the New Haven effort against Boston. “The game was not a very exciting one, the visitors making several errors, but by some good playing in several instances they managed to keep the champions score down to six,” the Palladium wrote.

New Haven’s downfall came primarily in the second inning when a combination of poor fielding and bad pitching by New Haven starter Tricky Nichols allowed Boston to score four runs. The Register attributed Nichols’ problems to his being “chilled.”

412px-Andy_Leonard

Andy Leonard had three hits for Boston

Boston slugged 15 hits altogether off Nichols, with second baseman Ross Barnes leading the way with a couple of hits and runs scored. Centerfielder Andy Leonard and catcher Deacon White each had three hits. Al Spalding, the best pitcher in the country at that point, pitched a shut out and added a couple of hits.

Barnes-uniform

Ross Barnes scored a couple of runs for the Red Stockings

New Haven couldn’t do much against Boston, which played fine defense in addition to pitching well. Billy Geer, the second baseman, got three hits. The Register cited the fielding of centerfielder Jim Tipper as being exemplary. Sam Wright appeared in the game for New Haven against his two brothers, George, the shortstop, and Harry, the manager.

Billy Geer got three hits of New Haven's six hits

Billy Geer got three hits of New Haven’s six hits

Boston would travel to New Haven in another day to play them in their home opener at Hamilton Park. “It is bound to be exciting and our boys will do their best to win. They are worthy of encouragement for their gallant struggle,” the Register said.

**

Boston lineup – George Wright, ss (0 runs, 2 hits); Cal McVey, cf; Ross Barnes, 2b (2 runs, 2 hits); Al Spalding p (1 run, 2 hits – winning pitcher); Andy Leonard, lf (1 run, 2 hits); Deacon White, c (0 runs, 2 hits); Jack Manning, rf (1 run, 0 hits); Juice Latham (1 run, 1 hit); Harry Schafer, 3b (0 runs, 1 hit).

New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b (3 hits); Sam Wright, ss (1 hit); Henry Luff, rf (1 hit); Stud Bancker, c; John McKelvey, 3b; Charlie Gould, 1b; Johnny Ryan, lf; Jim Tipper, cf; Tricky Nichols (2 hits, losing pitcher, 0-1)

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.