New Haven beats Chicago 6-1, silencing the critics

Was a kid like this trying to see New Haven play Chicago for free?

Was a kid like this trying to see New Haven play Chicago for free?

A crowd of intrepid, baseball-mad street urchins had figured out a way to taking in free baseball at the Howard Avenue Grounds. Just outside the park, which may have been the first to sell advertising on its walls, there was a huge tree which gave a nice vantage point on the outfield. The boys, “whose eyes were doubtlessly larger than their pocketbooks,” clamored up the tree and had taken to hanging there during games. The penny pinching New Haven management didn’t like the boys’ inventiveness and looked for a way to end the freebies.

“Now the manager had looked of late with an evil eye upon this non-paying crowd and accordingly myrmidons were sent to divest prolific tree of its living fruit. Soon, slowly and sorrowfully, these non-paying tenants left their roost and sought terra-firma with woebegone looks,” according to the Register.

For the record, myrmidons, in classical mythology, were skilled warriors trained and commanded Achilles. According to the Iliad, they were loyal and brave to a fault. I’m not quite sure the New Haven Register reporter is using the correct analogy for a group of adults chasing kids away from a ballgame.

 

The management scourge now eradicated, New Haven defeated Chicago 6-1 on July 21 at home in front of a large (paying) crowd buoyed by the club’s recent performance. “This victory was somewhat surprising to many, although all must have remarked that that the home nine is vastly better than it was a few weeks ago,” said the New Haven Palladium.

The 1876 White Stockings

The 1876 White Stockings

 

The White Stockings, or Giants as the papers referred to them, had made some injudicious comments to the local media. It seems that the club’s leadership had assumed that because of New Haven’s lack of success, that the club had folded. “The papers that have persistently published that statement can print it again tomorrow with appropriate comments,” the Palladium said.

The locker room chatter seems to have jelled the New Havens. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, with Captain Juice Latham driving in the run. Chicago answered with a run in the bottom of the first, which would be all they’d get on the day. New Haven pitcher Tricky Nichols fired zeroes the rest of the way, striking out five Giants.

New Haven scored in four consecutive innings, the fourth through the seventh, against George “The Charmer Zettlein, who gave up 13 hits on the day. In the fourth, New Haven scored twice, taking advantage of Ed Somerville’s double, two Chicago errors, and an RBI single by Tricky Nichols.

 

Chicago catcher Scott Hastings is bottom center in this team shot of the 1871 Rockford Forest Citys

Chicago catcher Scott Hastings is bottom center in this team shot of the 1871 Rockford Forest Citys

Even the defense, normally a bugaboo for New Haven, showed up against Chicago. In the bottom of the fourth inning with Giant runners on first and second, Scott Hastings singled over the head of centerfielder Billy Geer. Geer, normally an infielder, heaved a throw from deep center to Nichols, the cutoff man, who in turned fired to catcher Tim McGinley, putting out the runner coming from second. McGinley, one of the better players on New Haven, then threw to Henry Luff at third to complete the unusual double play. It squelched the White Stockings’ best rally of the afternoon. “Whereat the crowd of spectators began to clap their hands and rejoice for they began to think the home nine was greatly underrated,” said the Register.

Ed Somerville would lead the league in errors at second base in 1875

Ed Somerville would lead the league in errors at second base in 1875

 

Ed Somerville got three hits and both drove in and scored a run. Nichols drove in two runs of his own for New Haven. Chicago catcher Scott Hastings got three hits in a losing effort. “The wish of yesterday, i.e., that we might record a victory for New Haven, was fulfilled,” the Register wrote.

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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.

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.

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.