Before the Yankees and the Red Sox, Connecticut’s first great baseball rivalry, stoked gleefully by the press and anticipated by the clubs as a moneymaker, was between the Hartford Dark Blues and the New Haven Elm Citys.
Over 4,000 people, including several hundred ladies, assembled on May 5, 1875 at what was known as the Colt property in Hartford to watch what the New Haven Evening Register described as “what was expected to be a one sided game.” “However, you can never count upon anything and the glorious uncertainty of base ball was evident to all yesterday,” the paper said.
Hartford continued its winning streak to open the campaign, defeating New Haven 6-3. However, the New Haven press saw the game as an improvement over the club’s previous performances. “The confidence of the people of this city in the New Haven nine, which was slightly weakened by the games with the Yale and Centennial nines, out to be restored by the excellent game played yesterday with the Hartfords,” according to the New Haven Daily Palladium.
According to writer David Arcidiacono, the tension between the two cities was primarily bred of politics and not sports. Since the 17th century, the capital of Connecticut alternated between New Haven and Hartford every other year. When that relatively strange arrangement became untenable in 1873, the choice of capital city was put to the voters to decide. Hartford won the referendum, 37,000 to 31,000.
The sting of the voters’ rebuke still hurt New Haven’s civic pride, which manifested in strange ways. For example, New Haven objected to the umpiring work of Charlie Daniels in the May 1 game against the Centennials, balking that he was assigned to the game at all. Daniels was a talented and honest umpire, one who would go on to work for years in the National League. But he was from Hartford, and that was enough for the New Haven club to disqualify him. The Register protested that it had nothing to do with his domicile and everything to do with his absence from the umpires roster prior to the game. The paper, everyone thought, doth protest too much. “Queer town, that New Haven; having lost the semi-capital, it doesn’t even want a Hartford umpire at her base ball matches,” the Hartford Post claimed.
There was also a certain amount of 19th century smack talk going on, bulletin board fodder that surely enraged the courtly New Haven Captain Charlie Gould. “The stockholders will probably have the pleasure of seeing the name of their club at the foot of the list at the close of the season,” Hartford captain Bob Ferguson said, assessing the Elm Citys’ chance of success. “Pleasant prospect for ‘em, isn’t it?”
A sign on the border of East Haven and New Haven bore the inscription “New Heaven.” “Still the people down there wonder why their pet nine can’t play base ball,” said the Hartford Post.
The truth was, the Elm Citys couldn’t truly compete with Hartford. The club had gone 16-37 in 1874, but had completely turned over its roster in 1875. They had two effective pitchers in Tommy Bond and Candy Cummings (who would go to the Hall of Fame for ostensibly inventing the curveball). Catcher Doug Allison was considered one of the league’s best receiver, and also could help at the plate, hitting .285 over the course of his National Association career. First baseman Everett Mills was coming off a season batting .332. Captain Bob Ferguson, the game’s first switch hitter, was known as a brainy field leader and fine third baseman, garnering him one of baseball’s great nicknames, “Death to Flying Things.” Every man in the lineup was a veteran ballplayer with a track record of success. Hartford would be a formidable opponent for the league this season.
Despite the war of words, primarily coming from Hartford it seemed, the clubs still had to play the game. The Dark Blues were “as weak at the bat against (pitcher Tricky) Nichols as (New Haven) was against Cummings,” according to the Hartford Courant.
After no score for the first two innings, Hartford jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead. Everett Mills lead off with a single for Hartford and advanced to second on a ground out. Nichols struck out catcher Doug Allison (he of the mangled hands). Nichols was poised to get out of the inning before New Haven had a defensive meltdown. Jack Burdock grounded to New Haven third baseman Henry Luff, who botched it for an error. Tom Carey singled, but Luff wildly overthrew catcher Stud Bancker for his second error of the inning, allowing two runs to score. Candy Cummings hit one right through shortshop Sam Wright’s wickets for another error and another run.
New Haven would come back in the top of the sixth inning to make it a game again. “The Hartfords were somewhat demoralized in the sixth inning, and this demoralization allowed the visitors to secure three runs,” was the Hartford Courant’s assessment. Pitcher Tricky Nichols singled to short center. Billy Geer reached on what the Register described as a “foolish” error by Hartford second baseman Jack Burdock. Right fielder John McKelvey, one of New Haven’s best hitters, singled, scoring Nichols, with Geer right behind him on a throwing error by centerfielder Jack Remsen. Johnny Ryan reached on an error by Ferguson, but inadvertanly helped bring in the third run of the inning. He was throw out stealing, and McKelvey scored on the play.
Cummings regained control of the game for Hartford, throwing three scoreless innings, yielding a single hit, to finish out the contest. Nichols matched him until the bottom of the eighth inning. Allison and Burdock led off the inning with a pair of clean singles. A combination of an error by McKelvey and a couple of groundouts scored both runnings. Hartford also picked up a garbage run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Cummings finished off giving up only four hits, striking out four Elm Citys.
The Register singled out the performances of Geer, Gould, Bancker and Luff, and praised Nichols for overcoming his wildness. “As a whole, the nine seems to be improving very materially in their play. It is hoped now that they will keep up the play which they have shown, and we have no doubt that they will give the best nines in the country a close struggle,” the Register said.
Next up for New Haven, another strong club, the Philadelphia Whites.
SCORE BY INNINGS
NEW HAVENS – 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 0 – 3
HARTFORDS – 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 2 1 – 6
WP – Candy Cummings LP – Tricky Nichols (0-5)
Hartford lineup – Doug Allison, c (1 run, 2 hits); Jack Burdock, 2b (2 hits, 2 runs); Tom Carey, ss (1 run, 1 hit); Candy Cummings, p (two hits – winning pitcher); Tom York, lf; Bob Ferguson, 3b; Jack Remsen, cf (1 run); Everett Mills, 1b (1 run, 1 hit); Tommy Bond, rf.
New Haven lineup – Billy Geer, 2b (1 run), John McKelvey, rf (1 run, 2 hits), Johnny Ryan, lf; Henry Luff, 3b; Jim Tipper, rf; Charlie Gould, 1b (1 hit), Sam Wright, ss; Stud Bancker, c; Tricky Nichols (1 run, 1 hit – losing pitcher)