This article was written by Mark Pestana
April 19, 1875, was a notable date in American history, being the centennial of the battles at Lexington and Concord which precipitated the Revolutionary War, and lavish celebrations were held to mark the day in those Massachusetts towns. President Ulysses S. Grant attended ceremonies at both sites, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke, commemorative poems by James Russell Lowell and John Greenleaf Whittier were heard, and Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue was formally unveiled near “the rude bridge that arched the flood” in Concord.1
While the City of Boston observed the occasion by closing banks, courts, and schools for the day, there were no major Centennial events in Beantown proper. Instead, the primary excitement was in the mass exodus of city dwellers by rail out to the suburbs. Trains began running at 7 A.M., and by 9 o’clock an estimated 10,000 had passed through Boston’s Fitchburg depot on their way to Concord, while the Lowell depot in Boston, which sent cars to both Lexington and Concord, carried even more. Beyond noon, thousands waited in line at the depots in hope of passage to the memorial sites.2
For those Bostonians left behind, there was still grand entertainment to be had, as the Boston Red Stockings were hosting the opening game of the 1875 National Association season at their South End Grounds. The Reds looked to defend their position as the NA’s premier club; they had won the league championship three years running and there was no reason to believe they would not contend at the same high level in what would turn out to be the swan song of baseball’s first organized league.
The team was not greatly changed from that of bygone years. Seven men in the Opening Day lineup had been regulars in 1874, and six of those had been regulars in 1873 as well. Ross Barnes, Harry Schafer, Al Spalding, and George Wright had been starters ever since 1871. Andy Leonard and Cal McVey each had three seasons with Boston under his belt, and of course they, along with George Wright and his elder brother Harry, had all been teammates on the immortal Cincinnati nine of 1869-70. This powerhouse Boston club included five future Hall of Famers: Jim O’Rourke, Deacon White, Spalding, and the Wrights, although Harry’s time was now spent almost entirely on the bench, as captain and manager.3
Right fielder Jack Manning had been with the Reds as a rookie in 1873, and was back after spending a year with the Baltimore Canaries. The one completely new face in the lineup was George Latham. Latham, who would in time acquire the colorful nicknames Jumbo (presumably for his waistline in later years) and Juice (presumably for an affinity to the bottle), was a Utica, New York, native, signed by the Reds in February,4 and given the nod by Harry Wright to start at first base.
The Red Stockings’ Opening Day opponent was a new team from Connecticut, the New Haven Elm Citys. New Haven was the third club from the Nutmeg State to enter the NA. The Mansfields of Middletown had gone 5-19 before folding in the summer of ’72. The Hartford Dark Blues debuted in 1874, finishing seventh out of eight teams, but would improve greatly on that record in ’75.
The Elm City nine was a rather rough patchwork assemblage. Five of the starters were making their “big league” debuts. One was shortstop Sam Wright, the younger sibling of Boston’s Wright Brothers, 22 months George’s junior. He came on the recommendation of big brother Harry to New Haven captain Charlie Gould.5 Gould, another veteran of the 1869-70 Cincinnati world-beaters, was the starting first baseman for the Bostons in 1871 and ’72, and shared an infield with Jack Manning on the ’74 Baltimores, a team that also included New Haven left fielder Johnny Ryan.
Second baseman Billy Geer had all of two games’ prior NA experience, but would go on to play 232 games in a career lasting to 1885, more than any of the other Elm City starting nine.6 Center fielder Jim Tipper, a Middletown native, had the unique distinction of playing on all three of Connecticut’s NA clubs.
A crowd of about 1,200 braved less than agreeable conditions to witness the contest. The Boston Post said people “shivered and stamped in the cold,”7 and the New York Clipper reported that “though the field had been rolled, and sawdust had been freely used … still the want of the sun’s rays left it unfavorable for sharp fielding.”8 Umpire Fred Cone made the “Play ball” call shortly after 3 P.M. Cone was a former player, remembered by the locals as the left fielder of the Bostons in 1871, his only big-league season.
New Haven, winning the coin toss, chose to bat second, and the Red Stockings sent George Wright, Cal McVey, and Ross Barnes to the plate in the top of the first inning. Facing them in the box was Frederick “Tricky” Nichols, a 5-foot-7 right-hander who, like Jim Tipper, was a Connecticut-bred lad, born in Bridgeport in 1850. He eventually pitched in 106 big-league games, completing 90 of his 98 starts. Here, in his first pro appearance, against three of the best hitters in the Association,9 he enjoyed a 1-2-3 inning. In the bottom of the frame, Geer, Sam Wright, and Henry Luff for the Elm Citys went down in order against Spalding.
The Reds flexed their muscles in the second inning. Spalding and Leonard, the first batters, both reached base and subsequently scored on passed balls. White went out but Manning and Latham got base hits and Harry Schafer reached courtesy of a New Haven error. The top of the order came around now, and George Wright knocked a double, scoring Manning, while Latham held up at third. With McVey at bat, rookie catcher Studs Bancker allowed yet another ball to get past him, and Latham came home with the fourth Reds run. McVey, who would go hitless in the game, then ended the Boston half. The Elm Citys drew another blank in the bottom of the second.
Barnes led off the third with a double, and eventually scored on third baseman John McKelvey’s error. Barnes also scored in the fifth, this time an earned run. In between, Spalding continued to keep the visitors off the board.
Except for the second inning, Nichols pitched well enough to win. He allowed only three earned runs and was sorely hurt by his batterymate’s four passed balls. He even got two base hits in his own cause. But the Elm Citys could not mount a concerted attack. Geer managed two hits, while Luff and the youngest Wright got one each. Latham was kept quite busy, with 14 putouts at first base; by contrast, the Boston outfielders barely got into the action, registering just one fly ball out apiece. The last four innings went by with no scoring on either side, and the final tally stood at Boston 6, New Haven 0.
The defending champs had defeated the newcomers for the first in what became a string of 27 consecutive games without a loss to start the season.10 Most of those wins would come in the form of lopsided beatdowns of the likes of 22-5, 14-2, 12-0, 16-2, and 13-2, against not only subpar clubs like the Nationals and Centennials, but also worthy opponents like the Athletics, Hartfords, and Philadelphia Whites. In that light, perhaps New Haven had not fared too poorly in the 6-0 loss.
The Elm Citys struggled through their only NA campaign, but they kept their collective chins up. Eighteen of their losses were by three runs or fewer, and 12 by two or fewer. They managed to get the better of some of the best pitchers of the 19th century: Candy Cummings, George Zettlein, Bobby Mathews, and George Bradley. Perhaps their most satisfying moment came July 2, on home turf, when Nichols earned his first NA victory, beating Spalding and the Reds, 10-5.
This article was originally published in “Boston’s First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings” (SABR, 2016), edited by Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
Part of a front page ad in the Boston Traveler, April 19, 1875.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:
Nemec, David. Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871-1900, Volumes 1 & 2 (Lincoln, Nebraska: Bison Books, 2011).
______________. The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997).
1 Boston Daily Advertiser, April 20, 1875: 1; Boston Journal, April 20, 1875: 1.
3 Harry played one game in 1875, one in 1876, and one in 1877 – the final three games of his playing career.
4 Boston Journal, February 15, 1875: 4
5 Wright to Gould, March 31, 1875, quoted in William J. Ryczek, Blackguards and Red Stockings (Wallingford, Connecticut: Colebrook Press, 1992), 182.
6 For the amusing story of Geer and teammate Henry Luff’s off-field misadventures in 1875, see Blackguards and Red Stockings, 195-196.
7 Quoted in the Mirror and Farmer (Manchester, New Hampshire), April 24, 1875: 5.
8 New York Clipper, May 1, 1875: 37.
9 At season’s end, Barnes, McVey, and Wright, along with teammate Deacon White, were all in the top five for batting average in the league.
10 Their May 27 game against the Athletics ended in a 3-3 tie.
Boston Red Stockings 6
New Haven Elm Citys 0
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