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.

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)

Did the Elm Citys sign the Wright man?

Having been foiled in their efforts to acquire a shortstop of some quality, the Elm Citys turned to the foremost baseball playing family in the National Association: the Wrights.

Sam Wright, the shortstop for the Elm Citys

Sam Wright

In early April, the club announced the acquisition of 26-year-old Sam Wright Jr. to be their starting shortstop. “He has been a member of the Boston juniors for the past two seasons and is considered a first class man for that position,” the Daily Palladium reported.

What Sam Wright lacked in professional game experience, he made up for in pedigree. His father Sam was a famous cricketer. His older brothers Harry and George were mainstays of the Boston Red Stockings, the most successful club in the five year history of the National Association. The New York Clipper wrote that Wright would “undoubtably become as famous as his two brothers.” That kind of acheivement would be impressive, given the success the Wright brothers enjoyed in the early days of the game.

Harry Wright

English-born Harry, the 39-year-old captain of the team, led the Red Stockings to a record of 154 wins and 52 losses from 1871 through 1874, batting .275 as an part-time outfielder. He would move into management full time in 1875. Evolving into baseball from cricket, Harry Wright was the first player to openly receive payment for playing, an event that took place in New York in 1863. He also formed the first professional team in Cincinnati in 1869, an excellent club for which Elm Citys captain Charles Gould played.

The first great baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Elm City captain Gould is front row furthest on the right

The first great baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Elm City captain Gould is front row furthest on the right

George Wright, 27, was the best player of the three brothers up to that point, hitting .345 and leading the league in triples in 1874. Harry constructed his successful Cincinnati and Boston franchises around George’s uncanny offensive ability and his revolutionary work at the shortstop position, then thought of as a kind of defensive rover.

George Wright

George Wright

Both Harry and George would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously for their contributions to the development of the sport.

Even though Sam Wright was a rookie, one understands why the Elm Citys signed him. To echo the scouts in Moneyball, perhaps he had “the good face.” It is more than likely Sam Wright had a personal relationship with Gould goind back to his teen years. There could be another motivation for the signing. Giving another member of the famous Wright family a chance to play couldn’t have been bad for the box office.

With addition of Wright, the Elm Citys finally have a full lineup for opening day in two weeks, one featuring five rookies, three very marginal players, and a single player on the downswing of a distinguished career.