Tag: dark blues

Mark Twain, The Hartford Baseball Crank

Samuel L. Clemens, also known by his pen name, Mark Twain once boasted about Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Twain and his family were proud Hartford residents from 1874 to 1891. When the Hartford Dark Blues joined the first iteration of the National League in 1874, Twain frequented games at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, a 2,000-seat stadium at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue. Twain later became a shareholder of the Hartford baseball club in 1887.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) regularly attended Hartford ballgames and took notes of the action on personal stationary.

While attending a game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Hartford Dark Blues, Twain’s umbrella went missing. In response, Twain published a classified advertisement in the Hartford Daily Courant on May 20, 1875:

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD — At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of the umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington Avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains.

-Samuel L. Clemens
Twain’s advertisement in the Hartford Courant, May 20, 1875.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

The humorous advertisement led to morbid prank. A local medical student left one of his case studies — the corpse of a boy — on Twain’s porch, along with a note claiming the reward. A nervous Twain thought he might be suspected of murder, until the janitor of the medical college came to claim the body and clear the author. Despite the scare, Twain’s support of baseball in Hartford continued for more than a decade.

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

After a lackluster 1886 season in the Eastern League, in which the Hartford team traded Connie Mack to the Washington Nationals, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the Hartford club. Among investors of the Hartford Amusement Association were famed author, Mark Twain and Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley. The stakeholders hired Charles F. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager. The Hartford club finished in 3rd in the Eastern League. Twain’s ownership stake only lasted a year.

Samuel Clemens, 1907.

Later on April 8, 1889, Mark Twain dined with baseball’s “who’s who” at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. It was the night to remember that drew plenty of publicity. The Testimonial Banquet was held in honor of Albert Spaulding and baseball players of the “Tour Around the World”. Twain was among the guest speakers and gave a humorous speech to the banquet of ballplayers and dignitaries who supported the world tour. His comedic prose garnered a standing ovation.

“Tour Around the World” brochure cover at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
“Tour Around the World” brochure at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.

“Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”

-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), April 8, 1889.
Testimonial Banquet at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
Delmonico’s Menu, New York, 1889.

That same year, Twain completed writing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court while living in Hartford. The novel is about a man from East Hartford who time travels to 6th-century medieval England. The book’s main character, Hank Morgan meets King Arthur himself and teaches noblemen to play baseball. While living in Hartford, Twain also wrote such works as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“There was no joy in life for poor Tom. He put away his bat and his ball and dragged himself through each day.”

– Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1885.
A knight in armor playing baseball, 1889
Mark Twain at his 70th birthday celebration, Delmonico’s, New York, 1905

Steve Brady, From Frog Hollow to the 1st World Series

Born: July 14, 1851, Worcester, MA
Died: November 1, 1917, Hartford, CT
Buried: Mount St. Benedict Cemetery, Bloomfield, CT

Of all the native sons of Hartford, Connecticut, Stephen A. Brady was perhaps the greatest of its 19th century ballplayers. His professional baseball career spanned 16 seasons during America’s Gilded Age. Steve Brady was described as a heavy hitter who delivered in the clutch and a sure-handed utility man.  His primary position was right field, but he also played center field, first, second and third base. Brady was a hometown hero as a member of Hartford’s first Major League club in 1874. He was captain of the New York Metropolitans at the first World Series in 1884 and became as popular as any player of his day.

Steve Brady

Initially, Steve Brady was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to Christopher and Mary McDonald Brady who immigrated from Ireland. Soon after his birth, the Brady family relocated to Hartford, Connecticut and lived at 72 Ward Street in the city’s Frog Hollow neighborhood. He was one of seven children: four brothers and two sisters named Jackson, Thomas, Edward, Christopher, Bridget and Margaret.  Brady and his brothers were gifted athletes and excelled at the budding National Game. When he was a boy, baseball was a nascent outdoor sport spreading like wildfire across America.

The first ball club to organize in Hartford did so in 1860 under the name Independent Base Ball Club, followed by Charter Oak Base Ball Club in 1862. The game grew more popular in the parks and pastures of Hartford amongst fans and amateur players. Steve Brady began his robust playing career as an amateur with the Hylas Base Ball Club of Hartford in the late 1860’s. Then he matriculated to the Jefferson Base Ball Club with whom his brother Jackson served as the team’s catcher. In the summer of 1871, Brady was appointed Vice President of the Jefferson club who played their ballgames at Frog Hollow’s Ward Street Grounds.

Independent Base Ball Club, 1862.
Jefferson Base Ball Club, 1871.
Jeffersons vs. Elms, 1871.
1865 Charter Oak Base Ball Club

A few years later in 1874, Brady captained the Hartford Amateurs, a city-wide team formerly known as the Stars. The Amateurs represented the city in local contests. At 20 years of age, Brady led the Hartford Amateurs against clubs from Yale College, Trinity College, Waterbury, New Britain, Middletown and others. Alongside Brady on the Hartford Amateurs were future Major Leaguers, John “Hartford Jack” Farrell at second base, Bill Tobin at first base and Charlie Daniels on the mound. That same year, the first (and last) major league franchise was formed in Hartford.

Jeffersons vs. Manfields, 1871.

The Hartfords, later known as the Hartford Dark Blues, incorporated on March 21, 1874 when the city boasted a population of about 40,000. The Hartfords were admitted into the National Association and played home contests at the Wyllys Avenue Grounds, also called the Hartford Grounds. The Hartford Base Ball Association officially organized at $25 per share and raised $5,000 in total capital. Among investors, referred to as “subscribers” were: Ben Douglas Jr. the club’s organizer and top shareholder, Morgan G. Bulkeley, famed Connecticut politician, Civil War veteran, Aetna executive and first President of the National League and Gershom B. Hubbell, President of the Hartford Base Ball Club and former captain of Charter Oak Base Ball Club.

The Hartford Dark Blues, 1875 (Steve Brady not pictured).

Meanwhile Steve Brady and the Hartford Amateurs competed for local prestige and distinction. Eventually the Amateurs squared off against the Dark Blues at the Hartford Grounds on July 14, 1874. The Dark Blues trounced the Hartford Amateurs by a score of 15 to 1. A week later, Lip Pike of the Hartford Dark Blues, known as a “championship runner” challenged Steve Brady to a footrace. Though Brady was a gifted runner, Pike outpaced him in the contest. Yet the Hartford professionals were impressed with Brady’s baseball skills and notable athleticism.

Hartford Courant excerpt, July 16, 1874.

When Hartford Dark Blues shortstop Tommy Barlow fell ill due to an apparent morphine addiction, the club secured the services of Steve Brady. On July 22, 1874, Hartford’s hometown hero played his first game with the Dark Blues versus an amateur club, the Clippers of Bristol, Connecticut. Brady was positioned at third base while the team’s President, Gerhsom Hubbell played right field. Hartford walloped Bristol 36 to 0 and Brady secured a roster spot. He ended the 1874 season with 27 games played, 37 hits and a .316 batting average. The following year Brady appeared in only one game with the Hartford Dark Blues before signing with the original Washington Nationals club of 1875.

Tommy Barlow, Hartford Dark Blues, 1874.
Dark Blues vs. Clippers of Bristol, July 23, 1874.
New York Mutuals vs. Dark Blues, July 25, 1874.
Hartford Dark Blues batting averages, 1874.

Unfortunately, Brady would not perform well with Washington. In 21 games played he hit for a dismal .143 batting average. After the season, the Nationals disbanded and Brady was demoted to the minor leagues. In 1876, he starred for Billy Arnold’s Providence club, champions of the New England League. Then Brady was picked up by an International Association nine in Rochester, New York. He was the club’s best player, hitting for a .373 average during the 1877 season. Brady continued to bounce around the professional ranks with Springfield in 1878, the mighty Worcester Grays in 1879 and then the Rochester Hop Bitters in 1880.

Hartford Dark Blues vs. Washington Nationals, May 27, 1875.
Rochester vs. Cincinnati, September 5, 1877.
1879 Worcester Grays

When the Rochester club forfeited their remaining schedule in September of 1880, Brady and many of his teammates were recruited to play for the newly formed Metropolitan Base Ball Club of New York. At 29 years old Brady was a well-respected, veteran ballplayer who was recognized as captain of the Metropolitans. The club was owned by another Connecticut man living in New York named John B. Day who originally hailed from Colchester. Their manager was Hall of Fame inductee Jim Mutrie, the winningest of 19th century managers. Brady’s Metropolitan teammates included two other Connecticut men in Jerry Dorgan of Meriden and Jack Leary of New Haven.

The Metropolitans operated as an independent club from 1880 to 1882. They were the first professional team to play home games in the borough of Manhattan. The “Mets” as they came to be known, hosted opponents at the original Polo Grounds located on the Upper West Side, north of Central Park. On September 29, 1880 at the Polo Grounds inaugural game, Hartford native Steve Brady was the first player to step into the batters box as leadoff man for the Mets. Over 20,000 fans witnessed the opener in which the Mets defeated the Nationals by a score of 4 to 2.

First Polo Grounds game, September 29, 1880.
Stephen A. Brady, 1881.
1882 New York Metropolitans with their Captain Steve Brady (far right).

The Metropolitans became one of the nation’s best teams and eventually joined the American Association in 1883. Steve Brady most often played right field for the Mets who finished fourth place in the standings with 54 wins, 42 losses and 1 tie against the Louisville Eclipse. In 1884, Brady and the New York Metropolitans claimed victory over the American Association with 75 wins, 32 losses and 5 ties. At the end of the season, the first World Series of baseball materialized.  The 3-game series resulted from a challenge issued by Metropolitans manager, Jim Mutrie to Frank Bancroft, manager of the Providence Grays, pennant winners of the National League.  The Grays boasted one of baseball’s top pitchers in Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, who won a major league record 60 games in 1884.

1884 Providence Grays

The first World Series games were played on October 22, 24 and 25 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Radbourn took the mound every contest for the Grays while Tim Keefe was on the slab for the Metropolitans. Steve Brady manned right field.  Radbourn and the Grays were too much for the Mets, taking three straight games: 6 to 0, 3 to 1 and 11 to 2. In the presence of capacity crowds, the first game went the full nine innings, but the second game was called after seven innings due to darkness. The third game was inconsequential since the series winner was determined, but the Mets hoped to earn more revenue. Only about 300 spectators attended the third game in part because of frigid weather.

Charles Radbourn, Providence Grays, 1884.
Charles Radbourn, Providence Grays, 1884.

Even though the Metropolitans were on the losing end of the first World Series, Brady’s stardom reached an all-time high during the 1884 season. He was a celebrated public figure in Hartford where he spent winters with his family. His brothers, Jackson and Thomas were mainstays for the Jefferson Base Ball Club who remained the class amateur squad in the city. When Steve Brady went back to New York for the 1885 season, he was again named captain of the New York Metropolitans. The Mets finished seventh place in the American Association and Brady hit for a .290 batting average.

The 1886 season would be Brady’s last in the major leagues. He reported to training camp out of shape and the Mets placed seventh out of eight clubs in the standings. Brady returned home to Hartford and accepted a role as first baseman and captain of the 1887 Hartford club of the Eastern League. Hartford’s minor league team reunited Brady with Charlie Daniels who served as manager, Jerry Dorgan im center field, and John “Hartford Jack” Farrell at second base. However, the Hartfords disbanded in August of 1887 and Brady was acquired by a professional club in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Steve Brady, New York Mets, April 11, 1885.
Jackson Brady and Thomas Brady, Jeffersons club of Hartford, 1885.
The Hartford club disbands, 1887.
Stephen A. Brady, Hartfords, 1887.
Stephen A. Brady, Hartfords, 1887.

In a turn of events, Brady became a part owner of an ice skating rink in Brooklyn and head of the Brooklyn Ice Polo Club. He joined former Mets manager Jim Mutrie in an enterprise seeking to form a national ice polo league during the fall of 1887. At that time, ice polo was a form of ice hockey rapidly growing in popularity throughout the northeastern United States. Brady and Mutrie traveled the country in search of ice polo players and supporters, but the venture never panned out. Brady, the entrepreneur and sportsman, resumed baseball activities in 1888 for the Jersey City Skeeters of the Central League.

He captained the Jersey City minor league club and guarded first base at 36 years old. In 1889, Brady finally stepped away from the field as a player and applied to become an umpire in the Atlantic Association. His application was granted and was hired as a regular umpire in June. Less than a month later he was replaced and for a short time Brady worked as a saloon keeper in New York City. In February of 1890, Brady made a comeback to baseball when he was hired as player-manager of the Jersey City club.

Brady applies to become an umpire, Jun 10, 1889.

By 1892, Brady had moved back to Hartford and married a woman from New Britain named Mary A. Begley. He was a member of the Hartford baseball club who competed in the Connecticut State League. The team was comprised of several ex-major league players such as Mickey Welch, Ed Beecher and John M. Henry. After his official retirement from baseball, Brady and his brothers established a successful bottling company in Hartford called Brady Bros. The concern manufactured stone and glass bottles and filled them with mineral water and soda.

Hartford Courant excerpt, April 14, 1892.
Hartford Courant excerpt, March 16, 1894.

Steve Brady made his last recorded appearance on a baseball diamond in the summer of 1898 when his team of wine clerks took on a Hartford Police nine. His fingers were said to be “twisted and knotted” from a lifetime of playing baseball in an era without proper protection. Brady became an active member of the Hartford Elks Lodge and the Ancient Order of Hibernians with whom he conducted various charitable deeds. On November 17, 1917 Stephen A. Brady passed away at the age of 66 in the home where he was born at 72 Ward Street, Hartford. His brother John “Jackson” Brady carried on the family business as President of Brady Brothers.

Hartford Courant excerpt, October 14, 1923.
John “Jackson” Brady, 1937.
Brady Bros. Hartford, Connecticut, 2018.
Brady Bros. Hartford, Connecticut, 2019.
Ward Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 2019.
Brady family gravestone at Mount St. Benedict Cemetery, Bloomfield, Connecticut, 2019.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. Baseball-Reference.com

A Baseball Pioneer from Connecticut, Benjamin Douglas Jr.

This article was written by David Arcidiacono

Benjamin Douglas Jr. of Middletown, Connecticut is a forgotten pioneer of early baseball. Of the six New England cities which have had major league baseball teams, Douglas started the original team in half of them. In 1848, Ben became the third of four sons born to a wealthy industrialist, Benjamin Douglas Sr. and his wife Mary. Douglas Sr. was owner of the Douglas Pump Factory, a prosperous business that had produced hydraulic pumps in Middletown for forty years. Douglas Sr. was a powerful man who once held several political offices including mayor of Middletown and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. Meanwhile, Douglas Jr. worked as clerk and timekeeper at the factory but found baseball much more interesting.

Douglas Pump Company with Ben Douglas Sr. and Ben Douglas Jr. (5th from right), 1868.
Ben Douglas Sr. Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and father of Ben Douglas Jr.
Benjamin Douglas Jr., 1868.

At the age of sixteen, Ben, of whom it was later said “would go ten miles on foot, over any obstacles, rather than miss seeing a good game,” organized the Douglas factory’s ballclub. He originally designated the baseball nine the “Douglas Club”, but quickly changed the name to the “Mansfields” in honor of General Joseph Mansfield, a Civil War hero killed at the Battle of Antietam as well as young Ben’s great uncle.

Col. Joseph K. F, Mansfield, 1870.

Douglas played on the Mansfields for five seasons and he was largely responsible for the administrative duties. As the Mansfields began to take on a more professional character, the extent of these tasks grew to include scheduling games (a huge job in the days before pre-set schedules and telephones), making travel arrangements, signing players, and overseeing ticket sales and the club’s treasury. The burden became so large that Ben, who played only sparingly in 1870 when the Mansfields were voted amateur champions of the state, and was listed as a substitute for 1871, then never saw playing action for an organized team again.

Boston Base Ball Club vs. Mansfield Base Ball Club, 1872.

As the 1872 season approached, everything appeared to be in place for the Mansfields’ continued operation as amateurs. While arranging playing dates for the upcoming season, Ben contacted Harry Wright, manager of the Boston club, in hopes of enticing the popular Red Stockings back to Middletown for a game. Wright advised Douglas that the Red Stockings would only come back if the receipts were better than the previous year, when the gate money “did not come up to the expectations we were led to indulge in.”

Mansfields of Middletown taking part in a parade, 1872.

When negotiations failed, Wright suggested that if the Mansfields were truly interested in playing professional clubs then they should pay the $10 entry fee and join the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. If they did, the professional clubs would then have no choice but to play them. Inspired by Wright’s novel idea, Douglas gathered the Mansfields’ officers together and laid out his proposal to join the professional ranks. The idea was approved and Douglas sent the $10 entry fee, fulfilling the league’s sole requirement for entry.

Mansfields of Middletown schedule and results, 1872.

Despite Douglas’ hard work, the Mansfields folded in August 1872, beset by a lack of paying customers. The Middletown Constitutionnoted the passing of the team by saying, “Mr Benjamin Douglas Junior….has shown considerable pluck and ingenuity in bringing the club up to rank among the best in the country. He now retires with the best wishes of all concerned.”

Once the Mansfields ceased operations, most people felt there would never be another professional ballclub in Connecticut. Despite this, Douglas knew that the National Association still wanted a club located between New York and Boston but he was also painfully aware that a larger market than Middletown was required.

1875 Hartford Dark Blues

Convinced that Hartford was the answer, he became the driving force in returning professional baseball to Connecticut. A few months before the 1874 season, Douglas gathered Hartford’s prominent businessmen to an informational meeting regarding starting a professional team in Hartford. During the meeting Douglas convinced the men to open their wallets, explaining that professional baseball was not only good for the host city but also profitable to investors. His efforts resulted in over $5000 worth of pledges for a new Connecticut team.

Hartford Courant Courant excerpt, 1877.

Douglas was elected traveling secretary of the new Hartford Dark Blues and held that post for two years. During that span the Hartford club had some success, finishing second in 1875 after placing seventh their first season. Prior to the 1876 season when the Dark Blues became a charter members of the National League, Douglas declined reelection due to “business engagements.” The Hartford Times reported, “Mr. Douglas has worked hard for the interest of the Hartford club, and had it not been for him the Hartfords would not have attained the celebrity they have. It might be said that he laid the foundation stone of the club.” Douglas did remain peripherally connected with the team however, serving as one of the club’s directors.

Hartford Courant excerpt, March 5, 1878.

By 1877, Hartford’s National League entry had moved to Brooklyn. With the new vacancy in Hartford, Douglas began plans to return a team to Hartford. He again succeeded in raising over $4000. Unfortunately the new National League rule requiring cities to have a population of 75,000 people forced Douglas to move to Providence, Rhode Island to keep his baseball dreams alive. As he tended to the business of getting a new National League team up and running in that city, he had suspicions that somebody on the Providence team wanted to run him out of the manager’s position and was planting false stories about him. His fears were realized before the season began as the board of directors voted to relieve him of his duties as manager.

Harry Wright, Player-Manager, Boston Red Stockings.

Douglas refused to resign however, leading the directors to threaten to withhold the $1000 he had invested in the club unless he resigned. Douglas contacted Harry Wright hoping for some help:

“You know me Harry for many seasons. You know I have spent a large sum of money from [18]66 to [18]78 trying my level best to build up the Dear Old Game and now after my hard hard work here to be disgraced…It is not on account of drink for I do not drink. It is not on account of dishonesty for God knows I am honest. It is not on account of bad women for I care nothing for them. I have always tried to act the part of a gentleman and square man by all.”

“Did I not run the Champions of Conn 6 seasons, the Dear Old Mansfields of Middletown. Did I not break into the World of Manager 2 seasons the celebrated Hartfords, 2nd only to the Champion Bostons season of 75 and yet these greenhorns say my past record is good for nothing…I have lost 6 month’s time from business at home where I had steady salary of $1500/yr. I have spent money like water. First for Hartford where I raised $4000 this last season and only for action of League would have been there…Drew good clean money out of bk [bank] at home. My hard earnings paid Mesr [sp], Carey, York, Hines, Higham, Hague, Allison, Nichols, $700 – advance money last winter or I would lost them. Providence would have had no League team only for me, and this is my reward…Can you do anything for me Friend Harry. I don’t ask money Oh know for that I have enough only I do ask my friends in the game to protect against this outrage.”

Ben Douglas Jr. to Harry Wright, 1877.

Douglas received a flattering letter from Wright but it was too late to save his position. Douglas replied to Wright:

“Your kind communication of the 10th came duly to hand & I can assure you it gave me great comfort. These people know more about base ball then I do, in their minds. After making a dupe of me they threw me one side….I had to resign my place or be kicked out. I had my whole heart in it sure, but I won’t bother you further…I retire with the consciousness of having done my whole duty and in return have been snubbed. No more Rhode Island for me.”

Harry Wright to Ben Douglas Jr., 1877.

It was later reported that Providence forced Douglas’ out because he was arranging games with non-League clubs. This had been a common practice to gain more money. As Douglas told Harry Wright, “It’s a long jump from Providence to Chicago without getting one cent.” After leaving Providence, the Providence Dispatch reported that Douglas still held the support of many in the city who were “greatly in favor of Mr. Douglas, and, to speak the truth, he has been shamelessly used.” The team that Douglas assembled finished third in the six-team National League.

Within two weeks of leaving Providence, Douglas organized a team in New Haven and joined the International Association. Attendance was sparse and in a desperate attempt to keep his dream alive, Douglas moved the club to Hartford. Two months later the club was expelled from the league for nonpayment to a visiting club. The 1878 season spelled the end of Douglas’ baseball dream.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 5, 1878.

He returned to Middletown and rejoined the family pump factory. In 1893, he married Nellie Sault, daughter of a Brooklyn foundry owner. This came as a surprise to Douglas’ friends who apparently were unaware of the 44-year-old Douglas’ relationship with the 20-year-old woman. In 1905, Ben Douglas died in Connecticut Hospital for the Insane where he had lived for five years.

Ben Douglas summed up his love of the game when he told Harry Wright, “You know Harry that my whole soul is in base ball.”

1879 Providence Grays captured the National League title after Ben Douglas Jr. departed the club.


Sources

Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut, by David Arcidiacono (McFarland, 2010)

Harry Wright Correspondence

Hartford Courant

Hartford Post

Hartford Times

Middletown Constitution

Middletown Penny Press

Middletown Tribune

Bob Ferguson & the Saga of the Hartford Dark Blues


Robert Ferguson (1845-1894) was tough, as Hartford would come to find out. In the summer of 1873, Nat Hicks, catcher for the New York Mutuals, foolishly argued with Ferguson during a game in which Old Fergy was acting as umpire. After a few moments of name-calling and insults, Ferguson, whose no-nonsense umpiring philosophy was, “make ‘em play ball and keep their mouths shut,” grabbed a bat and ended the dispute with one swing, fracturing Hicks’s arm in the process.

Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson, 17-year professional player-manager signed as a new member of the Chicago White Stockings, 1878.

Hartford came to know Bob Ferguson in 1875 when he signed a contract to manage and play third base for the city’s entry in the National Association (1871-1875), America’s first professional baseball league. The Hartford Dark Blues* had entered the league the previous year under the auspices of Ben Douglas Jr. This was the 24-year-old Middletown native’s second attempt at running a professional team in Connecticut. His first had failed miserably in 1872 when the Middletown Mansfields couldn’t survive a full season in the National Association. Finding it impossible to draw sufficient support in a city of only 11,000 residents, Douglas was forced to disband the team in mid-August with empty coffers and a dismal 5-19 record.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1874.

Aware that the National Association still desired a club between New York and Boston so visiting teams could layover midway, Douglas was convinced that Hartford was the answer. Early in 1874, he gathered many of Hartford’s most prominent businessmen, including Morgan Bulkeley, to sell them on the benefits of professional baseball in Hartford. They responded enthusiastically, pledging $5,000 toward the new ballclub. Douglas was named corresponding secretary for the club, an important and time-consuming job in the days before formalized league schedules and telephones. Gershom B. Hubbell was elected president. Hubbell’s baseball experience included running the amateur Charter Oaks, Hartford’s first organized club, which he founded in 1862. The Charter Oaks were state champions from 1865-1867, before ceasing operations in 1870.

Morgan G. Bulkeley named first President of the National League in 1876 and later became Mayor of Hartford then Governor and United States Senator of Connecticut, 1915 (c.)
Prominent figures in the Greater Hartford area invested in the new professional ballclub who would compete in the National Association (1874-1875).

The Dark Blues, whose uniform stockings were just that, finished next to last in their first professional season. Worse than their failure on the diamond, the players mortified Hartford’s more genteel residents with their lack of decorum off the field. Much of the blame for the team’s embarrassing conduct fell on captain and center fielder, Lipman Pike. In these early days of baseball, the team captain’s responsibilities were similar to that of today’s manager. Pike took a laissez-faire approach to managing, convening few practices and, as the Hartford Post reported in July 1874, allowing his men to “cling to their love for strong drink, for a round of pleasure at the hours when they should be abed.”

Hartford batting averages (per game), 1874.

Intent on remedying the shameful situation, the Dark Blues turned to Ferguson, the most authoritarian captain in the game. In addition to being an excellent fielder and solid hitter, Ferguson was an upstanding citizen. At a time when not many ballplayers could say the same, he was a teetotaler and scrupulously honest. However, he was also a domineering, dictatorial captain with a violent streak. Al Spalding, the premier pitcher of the era, who went on to found the sporting goods empire that continues to bear his name, described Ferguson’s leadership in his memoirs, America’s National Game: “He was no master of the arts of finesse. He had no tact. He knew nothing of the subtle science of handling men by strategy rather than by force.”

Chicago vs. Hartfords at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1875.

Ferguson surely improved discipline on the Dark Blues ballclub in his first season in Hartford, but his overbearing ways proved divisive and the team quickly gained a reputation for bickering, or “growling” in the 19th-century vernacular. When the team was losing, or even winning, he found it difficult to keep his temper in check. As the Chicago Tribune reported, if anyone on the Hartford nine committed an error, “Ferguson [would] swear until everything looks blue.” He was particularly rough on second baseman Jack Burdock, who on more than one occasion heard his captain publicly threaten “to ram his fist down Burdock’s throat.”

Some players tolerated their captain’s tyrannical leadership. Others, however, refused to comply. Whenever they found themselves the subject of Ferguson’s bullying, shortstop Tom Carey and center fielder Jack Remsen did not hesitate to yell back. Burdock and pitcher Arthur Cummings, on the other hand, often sulked; they sometimes feigned sickness and played half-heartedly, or not at all. Despite a talented squad and a record of 54 wins and 28 losses, the Dark Blues’ lack of unity confined them to second place behind Spalding’s Boston Red Stockings. (These particular Red Stockings were the forerunners of the Braves who played in Boston through the 1952 season before moving to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.)

1875 Hartford Dark Blues
L to R, Standing: Jack Remsen, Tom York, Candy Cummings, Tommy Bond and Bill Harbridge. Seated: Doug Allison, Everett Mills, Bob Ferguson, Tom Carey and Jack Burdock.

In 1876, Hartford became the smallest of eight cities invited to join a new, more financially stable professional baseball league. The National League (the same National League in which today’s New York Mets play) was organized to address the myriad economic and gambling problems that led to the demise of the National Association after the 1875 season. Morgan Bulkeley, who had become president of the Dark Blues in 1875 after Hubbell retired from the post, was named the league’s first president. Hartford harbored high hopes of taking the reform league’s inaugural pennant. Al Spalding, now a member of the Chicago White Stockings, later to become the Chicago Cubs, told the Chicago Tribune that Hartford would “no doubt share some of the laurels, and it would really astonish some Chicagoans could they hear the manner in which this club is extolled in Hartford…The support given the club by the people of Hartford is of the most liberal character considering the size of the city, and is from the very best class of people.”

1876 Hartford Dark Blues
L to R: Back Row: Tommy Bond and Candy Cummings. Middle Row: John Burdock, Ed Mills, Bob Ferguson, Bill Harbridge and Tom York. Front Row: Dick Hingham, Doug Allison, Tom Carey, and Jack Remsen.

The Dark Blues debuted in the National League on April 27 in Brooklyn against the New York Mutuals. Through four innings, they played like the championship contender they were supposed to be, as star pitcher Tommy Bond limited the Mutuals to one hit and Hartford built a 3-0 lead. Things went awry in the fifth, however, as the Dark Blues committed four successive errors and the Mutuals waltzed to an 8-3 victory. The club righted itself with nine consecutive victories before the powerful White Stockings arrived in town to play a three-game series at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds, the Dark Blues’ state-of-the-art ballpark located at the corner of Hendricxsen Avenue and Wyllys Street, adjacent to the still-standing Church of the Good Shepherd.

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, former home field of the Dark Blues, 1877.

An 800-seat pavilion behind home plate provided a covered seating area for stockholders and season ticket holders. On top of the pavilion was a tower with a domed roof and seating for the scorers, a telegraph operator, and one reporter from each city paper. Underneath were spacious clubrooms for each team. Tiered general admission bleachers stretched down the foul lines, and there was plenty of room for patrons’ carriages to be parked deep in the outfield, as was the custom. An eight-foot fence surrounded the entire grounds, which held approximately 9,000 fans. Gambling and the sale of liquor were strictly prohibited.

Against the favored White Stockings, whom the Hartford Times labeled “dignified, pompous, [and] conceited,” Hartford took two of the three games. These wins moved the Dark Blues into sole possession of second place, just two victories behind Chicago. Until 1882, wins, not winning percentage, determined the league standings. This was an important distinction since in these sometimes disorganized early days of baseball, teams often played an uneven number of games. Despite their success on the diamond, the Dark Blues struggled financially as a depressed economy shrank attendance.

Hartford Base Ball Headquarters, Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1876.

Searching for ways to increase revenue, Morgan Bulkeley engaged in a fierce battle with Hartford’s telegraph operators, who during home games posted inning-by-inning scores on bulletin boards outside their offices. Believing this practice was keeping paying customers away from the actual games, Bulkeley banned Western Union operators from the grounds. The telegraph company refused to comply, however, and sent in an employee whose job was to record the result of each inning on a piece of paper and toss it over the fence to the operator stationed outside. When Bulkeley saw this, he commanded the young boy who was acting as a runner between the telegraph company’s “inside man” and the telegraph operator outside the park to disregard the note. Ignoring the command, not the note, the boy took off on a dead run. Bulkeley ordered the police to seize him, but the young lad eluded the slow-footed officers, frustrating the team president.

Morgan G. Bulkeley, also nicknamed the Crowbar Governor, was the first President of the National League.

Back on the field, Hartford hosted three games against the hapless Cincinnati Red Stockings, losers of twelve straight. Ferguson took this opportunity to rest Tommy Bond and give his diminutive backup, Arthur “Candy” Cummings, some work. In his National League debut, Cummings stifled Cincinnati on a three-hitter as Hartford won 6-0. This masterful performance prompted Ferguson to proclaim, “God never gave him any size, but he is the Candy.”2 The nickname “Candy,” which meant “best” in 19th-century slang, stuck for the rest of Cummings’s life. Candy Cummings was later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, mostly to honor his claim as the inventor of the curveball.

Arthur “Candy” Cummings  is credited as the inventor of the curveball, 1872.
Arthur “Candy” Cummings is credited as the inventor of the curveball, 1872.

Even when his team was playing well, Ferguson’s temper continued to get the better of his judgment, leading him to holler at his players frequently during games. These public rebukes fueled a simmering dissension that was just waiting for something to ignite it. The trigger came in the form of an 8-2 loss in the second game of the Cincinnati series. This humiliating defeat at the hands of a club that would finish the season with just 9 wins outraged the Hartford Times:

The Hartford Base Ball Club pose outside the United States Hotel, Hartford, Connecticut, 1876.

There is something rotten in the Hartford club… These players are paid big salaries and they have no business to let petty jealousies and bickerings interfere with their play. If one of them gets his ‘nose out of joint’ over some real or imaginary grievance, he shows his spite by mugging on the ball field. One complains because Captain Ferguson talks too much and refuses to play his game; another declares he won’t back up Cummings; and somebody else, likely enough, is miffed because the hands of the South Church clock are not clapped every time he makes a passable catch. The men are hired to play ball—not to play baby… [Emphasis in the original.]

Bob Ferguson, Captain and First Baseman of Hartford Dark Blues in a Troy Trojans uniform, 1879.

Although Boston Red Stockings’ manager Harry Wright had heard that “hardly two men in the Hartford nine are on speaking terms with all the others,” the club momentarily got past its growling to take the final game from Cincinnati. Over the next two weeks they reeled off six victories in a row thanks mainly to the spectacular pitching of Tommy Bond, who threw three shutouts and two one-hitters during this stretch. Realizing the immense value of Bond, Hartford quickly dropped the idea of signing a new pitcher and contracted him for the 1877 season. When word of Bond’s new contract hit the streets, the joy in Hartford was palpable.

Harry Wright, Player-Manager of the Boston Red Stockings, 1874.

As Hartford departed on a long western tour, the Cincinnati debacle was a distant memory. After stops in Louisville and Cincinnati, the club arrived in Chicago (Chicago and St. Louis were the furthermost western cities in the National League until 1958 when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively) having won 12 of its last 13 games. The first game between the two pennant contenders was on Independence Day, which in 1876 was celebrated with extra fervor since it marked the nation’s centennial.

A raucous crowd of 12,000 was on hand, some having purchased grandstand seats at triple the standard 50-cent charge. The rowdy throng loudly cheered the White Stockings’ arrival, but some fans went overboard, igniting firecrackers and even firing pistols. The game itself featured no offensive fireworks as Tommy Bond and Al Spalding both tossed shutouts through six innings. In the seventh, Hartford pushed across the game’s only runs, scoring three times off Spalding with the help of two critical Chicago errors.

Tommy Bond, Pitcher, Hartford Dark Blues, 1876.

Back in Hartford, 1,000 people had gathered at the Dark Blues’ headquarters awaiting word from Chicago. The scores were received three innings at a time. The first two bulletins, covering six innings, showed all zeros. The final dispatch ignited a grand celebration. After sending a congratulatory note to Ferguson, a giddy Morgan Bulkeley provided a sumptuous spread in the clubrooms and ordered a load of fireworks. Later in the evening, Hartford celebrated the Dark Blues’ victory and the nation’s hundredth birthday with a grand display of pyrotechnics launched from the club’s headquarters and the Hartford Times office.

1876 Chicago White Stockings

Two days later, with 2,000 supporters assembled outside the Dark Blues’ headquarters, weak hitting Jack Remsen led off the second game in Chicago with a rare home run, giving Hartford a lead they would never relinquish. Tommy Bond’s curveballs were especially effective on this day, even fooling the umpire, who often called them strikes even when they broke well out of the strike zone. The final score was 6-2. The Dark Blues were now just a single victory from sweeping the mighty White Stockings and taking a share of first place. To prevent this, Chicago’s captain Al Spalding sent versatile first baseman Cal McVey to the pitcher’s box to stop the surging Hartford nine. McVey came through against Hartford just as he had earlier in the year, holding them scoreless for the first seven innings as Chicago cruised to an easy 9-3 victory.

Al Spalding, Pitcher, Boston Red Stockings, 1875.

Despite the loss, the Dark Blues remained upbeat as they traveled to St. Louis, poised to continue their winning ways. Rumors, backed by the flow of gambling money, were rampant that the Browns, hoping to keep the pennant away from Chicago, would lie down for Hartford. This hardly proved to be true, however, as St. Louis swept the series behind the fabulous pitching of George Washington Bradley who hurled three shutouts, one of which was the National League’s first no-hitter. The three losses to St. Louis quickly erased the benefit of the hard-earned victories in Chicago. When they returned home, the Dark Blues weren’t in first place as the Hartford Courant had predicted during the road trip. In fact, they weren’t even alone in second place, as St. Louis had drawn even. The excitement that had enveloped the city three weeks earlier had completely evaporated. In a startling display of apathy, only 200 people bothered to attend the Dark Blues’ first home game in nearly five weeks.

1876 St. Louis Brown Stockings with George Washington Bradley (standing, center).

As Hartford continued to fall off Chicago’s pace, more trouble arose. In a 13-4 loss to the Boston Red Stockings on August 19, Tommy Bond struggled while Bob Ferguson committed several errors at third base. After the game, the Hartford Courant reported that the star pitcher had accused his manager of “crooked work.” Bond’s allegation was shocking. A charge of throwing games was serious business, especially when leveled against Ferguson, who had a spotless reputation when it came to gambling. In America’s National Game Spalding said of him, “Robert Ferguson was… a man of sterling integrity and splendid courage. He knew all about the iniquitous practices which had become attached to the game as barnacles to a ship, and he was sincerely desirous of eradicating them… Could it have been possible to eliminate gambling by physical demonstrations, Robert Ferguson would have cleared the Base Ball atmosphere of one of its most unsanitary conditions at that time.”

Ferguson wrote to the Hartford Times, denying all charges, pronouncing “each and every one false in every particular” and saying they were made with “a malicious purpose.” A day later, in the same newspaper, Bond recanted his statement, saying his charges “were entirely unfounded, and made in a moment of excitement, and I cheerfully acknowledge the wrong I have done both to the club and its manager, and make this the only reparation in my power.” Despite the casual retraction, the ill will between the two men lingered until finally Bond informed Bulkeley that he wouldn’t play with Hartford so long as Ferguson was captain. Forced to choose between the two adversaries, Bulkeley annulled the remaining portion of Bond’s 1876 contract and released him from his 1877 commitment. Incredibly, less than three weeks after the initial charge, all connections between the Hartfords and their brilliant pitcher were severed.

On the field, Ferguson quickly deployed Candy Cummings in the pitcher’s box. Despite pitching well enough to keep Hartford on the margin of the race for the pennant, he couldn’t prevent the White Stockings from taking the championship with a 7-6 victory over Hartford on September 26. Hartford closed the season with a nine-game winning streak that gave them second place over St. Louis. Several Hartford players produced excellent individual statistics. In his abbreviated season, Bond amassed 45 complete games, 31 wins, and a 1.68 earned run average (ERA). Cummings posted 16 victories, a 1.67 ERA, and 5 shutouts. Right fielder Richard Higham put together a 24-game hitting streak while batting .327 and tying for the league lead with 21 doubles.

These personal accomplishments notwithstanding, lack of team harmony was the root cause of the Dark Blues’ failure to capture the pennant. With Ferguson’s constant badgering and the resulting backlash from his men, Hartford’s record suffered. Still, if the Dark Blues could have just managed to beat part-time pitcher Cal McVey, the National League pennant would have landed in Hartford. The strong Iowan, who started only six games for Chicago, won all four of his starts against Hartford. These victories provided the winning margin for the White Stockings who finished just five victories ahead of the Hartfords.

An excerpt in the Hartford Courant on March 8, 1877 about the team relocating to Brooklyn.

The 1876 season was the Dark Blues’ last in Hartford. In hopes of better gate receipts, Morgan Bulkeley moved his club to Brooklyn for the 1877 season, forever removing Hartford’s status as a major league baseball city. The club’s finances were no better in its new location and the club was dropped from the National League at the end of the season. Bulkeley himself soon severed his ties with baseball. In 1879 he became head of Aetna (which his father had founded); a political career followed. He was elected mayor of Hartford, served four years as a controversial governor of Connecticut, and was a U.S. senator from 1905 to 1911. He died at age 84 in 1922. Robert Ferguson also managed the team in 1877. After the Dark Blues were disbanded he played for Chicago, Troy (New York), and Philadelphia, ending his career in 1883. He died in 1894 at age 49.

Since the Dark Blues’ departure after the 1876 season, only minor league clubs have called Hartford home, none since 1952. Only an active imagination, aided by a tour of the site of the old Hartford Base Ball Grounds, can rekindle the city’s brief major league days. The ballpark no longer exists, of course. In fact, even the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue has disappeared as both streets have been reconfigured. But nestled against the grounds of the Church of the Good Shepherd and its grand companion building, the Caldwell Colt Memorial Parish House, is a beautiful expanse of green lawn that was once the Dark Blues’ home.

The Church of the Good Shepherd overlooked the Hartford Base Ball Grounds.
A plaque commemorating the site of the old Hartford Base Ball Grounds, Hartford, 2013.
Hartford Base Ball Grounds home plate marker.
Hartford Base Ball Grounds second base marker.
Hartford Base Ball Grounds first base marker.
Hartford Base Ball Grounds third base marker.

Standing in the shadow of these two grand monuments to Hartford’s past evokes memories of an era when baseball was young and Hartford was a major player in its development. One can picture opposing batters vainly flailing at the curveballs tossed by Bond and Cummings, the “hurrahing” of Hartford resident Mark Twain who often attended games, and captain Bob Ferguson booming out his usual admonition, “Have a care, boys!” and threatening to exact physical punishment if they did not. Despite the interceding decades, one can almost see the players’ dark blue stockings and hear the growling that once filled those hallowed grounds.

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) would regularly attend Hartford Dark Blues games and took notes of the action on his personal stationary.

David Arcidiacono, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research ( SABR ) lives in East Hampton, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his new book, Grace, Grit, and Growling: The Hartford Dark Blues Base Ball Club, 1874-1877, which can be obtained from the author at Darcidiacono@snet.net or online at the Vintage Base Ball Factory Website:  www.vbbf.com.

*The Hartford Base Ball Club was the official name of the team during their era while “Hartford Dark Blues” was their nickname popularized by newspaper reports in the Hartford Times.