Intrastate rivalry begins, Hartford beats New Haven 6-3

1875 Hartford Dark Blues

1875 Hartford Dark Blues

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.

The Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut's capital in 1875

The Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut’s capital in 1875

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.

Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson

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.

Everett Mills

Everett Mills

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.

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

John McKelvey, outfielder and third baseman

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.

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

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.


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)


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).


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.