The Elm Citys force out GM days before the season

Steinbrenner could have been inspired by the antics of the Elm City management

Steinbrenner could have been inspired by the antics of the Elm City management

The late, great, insane New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had nothing on the Elm Citys when it comes to forcing out a general manager.

On the eve of the club’s first ever professional game in mid-April 1875, playing the dynastic Boston Red Stockings, Manager Billy Arnold resigned. “The New Haven club is in trouble,” reported the Middletown Daily Constitution, in what could be considered a journalistic understatement.

The rift Arnold and management began because of a difference in scheduling philosophy. The Board of Directors, holed up with their cigars in the Tontine Hotel, wanted to schedule the Red Stockings early in the season, a club that boasted five future Hall of Famers (Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, George Wright, Harry Wright, and Al Spalding) and had won the league three years running with a combined record of 124-42. Arnold prudently wanted to let the new team start off slowly, playing lesser competition. In the power struggle that appears to have happened, Arnold lost.

The 1874 Red Stockings had a record of 52-18 and were only getting better in 1875

The 1874 Red Stockings had a record of 52-18 and were only getting better in 1875

Captain Charles Gould took over Arnold’s job, a move applauded in the New Haven Evening Register, a chatty, well-written publication. “This is a good selection, as Mr. Gould has had years of experience, and indeed no better choice could have been made,” the Register said.

Charlie Gould took on both general and field manager responsibilities early in the season

Charlie Gould took on both general and field manager responsibilities early in the season

Arnold attempted to spin the situation in the New Haven Daily Palladium, but like any managerial “resignation” in baseball, the words ring hollow. “Manager Arnold, in a card, states that he resigned his position in connection with the New Haven nine not because the president made arrangement with the Boston club but because in resigning the best interests of the club were served,” the Palladium said.

The Middletown paper was critical of the board’s decision to play Boston right away. “(the board’s) first piece of management is to arrange games with the Boston club and others of the strongest clubs in the arena, which will result, of course in the disasterous defeat of so weak and inexperienced a nine, and will very materially affect their gate receipts whenever they play, for it is only ball-playing and successful playing, that will draw the money at the gate,” said the Daily Constitution.

Arnold’s tenure was ill fated from the get go. He had difficulty procuring any sort of real talent. Tom Barlow, his first choice at catcher, and a force on offense and defense, gave him the run around. Long Jim Holdsworth, his second and perhaps better choice as a centerpiece for the club, chose to sign with a more stable team in New York. In Charles Gould Arnold found a captain of some repute, but couldn’t add any veterans to surround him. The combination of rookies and fringe players Arnold did sign didn’t inspire confidence.

The Howard Avenue Grounds, through some combination of poor weather and lack of resources, were not ready for the beginning of the season, forcing the New Havens to plan to use Yale’s field at Hamilton Park.

Hamilton Park, the Elm Citys temporary home

Hamilton Park, the Elm Citys’ temporary home

Things weren’t any better behind the scenes. Despite his efforts to diversify revenue streams by selling season tickets, advertising, and making sure there was theoretically sufficient investment by the stock holders, the money ran dry on Arnold. “It is further asserted that the all the club’s funds are expended,” according to the Daily Constitution.

Just a few days before his dreams were to become a reality, Willis Arnold, the man who brought major league baseball to New Haven, was no longer part of the organzation he helped to create.

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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.

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.