Latham named New Haven captain; Gould demoted

Juice Latham, depicted here in 1875, was named captain of the New Havens in mid June, replacing Charlie Gould

Juice Latham, depicted here in 1875, was named captain of the New Havens in mid June, replacing Charlie Gould

New Haven had been hit with baseball fever, but you wouldn’t know it from the ticket receipts over at the city’s professional ballpark, the Howard Avenue Grounds.

On the upper end of Orange Street, in what would currently be the heart of East Rock, neighborhood kids gathered in open fields to play the game. “Complaint has frequently been made to the police that … crowds of noisy boys congregate on the lots, and after finishing their game, amuse themselves by digging holes in the concrete sidewalks and knocking off the tops of picket fences with their bats,” the Palladium huffed.

One old lady got hit with a ball, and filed a report with police. “The orderly portion of the community think it is about time a stop should be put to these practices,” the Palladium said.

While the cops were chasing around the baseball playing youth of the city, a group of sober businessmen huddled together, trying to figure out a way to keep the town’s professional baseball team going. Town fathers wanted the club to win, and there was palpable disappointment around the city at the squad’s poor play. The local newspapers were loath to point fingers – good innings were lauded as a step forward, let alone victories – but word was out around town. The New Haven club was not worth the price of admission. The Board of Directors were businessmen who had acheived some success in their working lives, and they’d be damned if their franchise would fail.

The stockholders voted on June 19 to increase the capital stock from $3,000 to $5,000. The owners of the club needed a quick influx of cash to help keep the team out of the red. They also appointed a committee of three people to attempt to increase the number of season tickets sold. “With new energy infused all around, the public will doubtlessly take largely increased interest in the success of the club,” the Register reported.

Another move, more crucial to the club’s competitive position, was to cancel its western trip. The National Association had no set schedule. Teams were expected to schedule an even slate of home and away games against each other over the course of the season. If a team didn’t book a full schedule of games, they were rendered ineligible for the team championship. New Haven, with an exceedingly poor record, was not going to compete with Boston, Hartford, or Philadelphia for league preeminence. But tanking a road trip was a serious matter, and one that would have long term implications for the club in the future.

The board of directors also opted to kick Charlie Gould out of the captaincy. He would be retained as player and as business manager of the squad, but his 2-21 record mandated that a change needed to be made. Twenty-two year old Juice Latham, recently signed after spending a short period of time with the Boston Red Stockings, took over as the club’s new field boss.

It would remain to be seen whether the changes would result in success on the field.

 

New ball field for New Haven: The Elm Citys get ready for Howard Avenue

The lay out of the Howard Avenue Grounds, located on the western side of New Haven

The layout of the Howard Avenue Grounds, located on the western side of New Haven

With Manager Billy Arnold working diligently to procure adequate players for the New Havens, the Board of Directors began work on constructing a new ball field.

They decided to lease a field from a party in Philadelphia located near Howard Avenue and Spring Street on the western side of the city. The trapezoid shaped field had a width of 600 ft. and a length of 700 ft. and needed a bit of grading to get it ready for play.

This block between Cedar St., Spring St., and Howard Avenue was a baseball field in 1875. Courtesy of the New Haven Register

This block between Cedar St., Spring St., and Howard Avenue was a baseball field in 1875. Courtesy of the New Haven Register

The directors contracted for the construction of an eight-foot high fence to enclose the Howard Avenue Grounds. They anticipated it would take a day to finish the project. This isn’t a small detail. In the early days of the game, the difference between professionalism and amateurism was often simply an enclosure. With the fence in place (and high enough to deter those unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket), Elm Citys leadership could protect their product. They also were, perhaps, the first professional baseball team to sell advertising space on their fence, a common practice today.

Much was made in the local press of Captain Charles Gould’s first task as manager, which was to lay out the location of the diamond. Home plate was placed by the Howard Avenue railroad bridge. The bases were laid out on a diagonal line with the corner of Sperry and Cedar Street and the bridge. “This will place the nine on the field with the run in the eyes of the first baseman only,” according to the Daily Palladium. The paper didn’t note that Gould, as first baseman and by far the most experienced player on the team, would be dealing with the difficulty of the sunlight.

The ownership intended to build 1,200 seats along Howard Avenue for the general customers, and a grandstand for “season ticket holders and reserved seats for ladies” behind home plate, adding capacity for 600 higher priced seats.

The final major project intended for the site was the creation of a rudimentary press box furnished with the 19th century version of Twitter – a telegraph machine happily provided by one J. Murray Fairchild, the manager of New Haven’s Western Union telegraph office.

The device used to send game results to newspapers across the country in real time

The device used to send game results to newspapers across the country in real time

There was a railroad terminus near the field, a selling point for team ownership who also believed that if they could changed the train schedule slightly it would be possible to draw fans (although that was not the term used for baseball patrons at that time) from as far away as Bridgeport.

New_york_new_haven_hartford

In addition to the ticket revenue from the ball games, Elm Citys ownership intended to install a quarter mile race track to go around the diamond “for the purpose of giving during the season a class of races similar to those which have been so popular at Barnum’s Hippodrome the past winter,” the Palladium said. “A prominent horse man in New York has made an offer for the grounds for a meeting of three days during the summer.”

Barnum's Hippodrome in New York City

Barnum’s Hippodrome in New York City

However, despite the best intentions of the Elm City board of directors, the club would not see its new home for another month, well after the season begins.

Pitchers go down under: a rules change for the New Havens

The New Havens ran into a slightly unexpected problem in early March. The Board of Directors – remember, the guys in suits and top hats smoking cigars in a wood paneled room at the Tontine Hotel – was informed that there would be a fairly large rule change for the 1875 season.

The rules of the sport were not codified in stone the way they are now, where most changes, aside from the addition of the designated hitter in the 1970s, are fairly small. They tinker with balk rules, mess around a bit with the height of the pitchers mound or the size of the strike zone. In the 19th century rules changed with a degree of abandon as the management of the game sought the best balance between offense, which was exclusively small ball, and bare handed defense.

We’ll go back to our intrepid reporter at the Daily Palladium to explain the rule change: “According to the new rules, no part of the pitcher’s person must be outside the lines of position while delivering the ball, and the delivery must be perpendicular, and not by a round swing or throw from the wrist. This is an important amendment, as it rules out nearly all of our pitchers, only one or two of whom pitch perpendicularly, that is to say, with a straight movement of the arm.”

This is a problem for our hometown team as they embark on their first professional season. Jim Britt, the reliever under contract (or “change pitcher”) had plenty of experience under the old rules, and Tricky Nichols was entering his first campaign. Nichols, who was intended to be the primary starter, was described as having a “prompt and effective” delivery.

There are legitimate reasons for the rules changes, the Palladium writes. “If the rule is strictly observed, it will cause a radical change in the style of pitching, and do away with a large number of ‘dodges’ resorted to by pitchers to increase the speed and effectiveness of the delivery.”

Got all that? What our friend is trying to tell us is that the rules makers were trying to limit a pitcher’s speed by forcing them to throw completely underhanded – in short, they were trying to create more offense in the game. They are trying to return the pitcher to the role of feeder, or initiator of action, with the primary means of retiring a batter defensive action rather than pitching prowess (think of slow pitch softball).

What exactly are they talking about in terms of what the delivery looked like? Here is  a clip of 1980s reliever Dan Quisenberry. I believe, if I am interpreting the rules correctly, that this motion would be illegal, but closer to what pitchers were expect to do in 1875. Go to 1:10 to see him in action.

Here’s lefthander Randy Choate, a sidearmer. I believe this is what they were trying to avoid with the rules change. He’s sneaky, and his arm  is getting more parallel to the ground during the delivery.

Brad Ziegler seems to split the difference between Quisenberry and Choate.

In order to get the most accurate representation of 19th century pitching mechanics, one has to look at fast pitch softball, perhaps. Here’s Olympian Jennie Finch.

Can’t do anything about what is going to happen on a ball field from a board room in March, so the Board of Directors got back to doing what they seem to do well – find ways for the club to make money. They voted on March 3 to allow advertising to be placed on the outfield and to charge $10 per season ticket with a limit of 150 sold.

Captain and first baseman Charlie Gould, who hasn’t quite signed his contract, has recommended a couple of players for the fledgling roster, and more signings will happen in the next several weeks.

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.