Tag: national league

MLB Lockout, The Free Agency Frenzy

The MLB Lockout has been raging on for three months, and following the cancelation of the first two series of the MLB season, this fiasco needs some explaining. The CBA, or Collective Bargaining Agreement, occurs between the MLB and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), and without one, games cannot commence. The CBA needs to be renewed every five years, and if an agreement is not reached before the end of December 1st, there are three options for proceeding.

The first of these options is that the MLB can enforce a lockout, which is voted on by the owners. A lockout means that players cannot be in contact with coaches or a team’s front office, and it is the option currently in effect. At any time, the owners can vote to remove the lockout and start a new season using the expired CBA, which is the second option. Using this, they can completely prevent a loss of games, but in this case the MLB believed that instating a lockout would stimulate negotiations.

Playing under the old CBA has one downside, and that is the fear of the players striking if they are unhappy with the ongoing negotiations for a new CBA. This would mean that no games would be played until an agreement is reached, and that is what happened in 1994, the only season not to have a World Series since 1904. A strike allows for the owners to have a season, but not with any members of the MLBPA. In the case of 2022, the owners have instated a lockout, and regular season games have already been canceled.

Right before the lockout, MLB had debatably its most exciting week of free agency in recent history. With the lockout impending, many free agents wanted to guarantee a contract before the lockout, knowing that there would not be much time to sign after the lockout ends. Between November 26 and December 1st, the free agent market was explosive. On Black Friday, the Mets stole the show, signing Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and capping off the night with Starling Marte (note that all of the players mentioned who signed a contract agreed to the contract on the given date, but officially signed it at a later date).

Starling Marte
Starling Marte while playing for the Pirates.

Following the Mets spending spree, that weekend saw many other free agent signings. Saturday, November 27th, was a relatively quiet day and there were not any major free agent signings. However, there was a trade between the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres which sent Adam Frazier to Seattle in exchange for two prospects, one a lefty reliever and the other an outfielder.

The following day, there were an abundance of contracts being signed. The day began with a headlining 100 million dollar extension for noted speedster Byron Buxton, who will be the Twins center fielder for the next eight years barring a trade. Not too long after, Marcus Semien, who broke the record for most home runs by a second baseman in a single season, signed a deal with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers, who had a lackluster 2021 season, were far from done with signings for the next couple of days.

This was followed by a few smaller deals, including Avisail Garcia agreeing to a four year deal with the rebuilding Marlins, as well as Jon Gray leaving the pitching nightmare that is Colorado and joining the up-and-coming Rangers. Then, Kevin Gausman, one of the biggest pitching names on the market, signed a five year, $110 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto, who had a stellar offense in 2021, was in desperate need of pitching all year, and Gausman, who was relatively affordable considering his dominance in the last two seasons, is hoped to fill that role.

Late that evening, reports came out regarding Max Scherzer, an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer who has dominated the sport for the past eight years, signing a deal with the New York Mets. At the 2021 trade deadline, Scherzer did not want to be traded to a cold place, including New York, so this news came as a shock. Most of the baseball world expected Scherzer to stay with L.A, or if not there another team on the west coast. The reports continued through the night, providing more details on what a completed contract would look like, but Mets fans were still skeptical, as a similar situation occurred the prior offseason, resulting in Trevor Bauer signing with the Dodgers after he was reportedly signing with the Mets.

As morning came, a deal was still not agreed upon. Mets fans grew wearier by the minute, but when the clock hit quarter to one in the afternoon, Max Scherzer agreed to a record-breaking 3 year, $130 million deal, giving him the highest annual salary in baseball history. Scherzer is on the board of the MLBPA, so the baseball community was anxious to see whether he would wait to sign until after a new CBA is agreed upon, but most believe his signing was due to the incredible offer made by the Mets, one that is almost impossible not to accept.

File:2016-10-13 Max Scherzer pitch NLDS Game 5 for the Nationals 05 (cropped).jpg
Max Scherzer pitching for one of his former teams, the Washington Nationals.

Just a mere two hours later, the Mariners had found their ace, signing AL Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray to a five year deal worth $115 million. Ray, though shaky in the past, had a breakout year in 2021. This deal hurts the Blue Jays almost as much as it helps the Mariners, as the Blue Jays had in essence replaced their Cy Young Award winner with a pitcher of a similar caliber, but instead of growing their pitching staff, it become more of a replacement. Also, less than an hour later, the Rangers made their third splash, signing perennial all star shortstop Corey Seager to a 10 year, $325 million deal.

The Texas Rangers had gone from a weak middle infield, with the likes of Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to a record- breaking second baseman and a young, extremely talented shortstop. The day ended with two relievers signing rather insignificant deals, one involving Daniel Hudson to the Dodgers, and the other involving Kirby Yates, a pitcher with incredible potential, but an inability to stay healthy, to the Braves.

Early in the morning of November 30th, the MLB and MLBPA had another bargaining session prior to the lockout. The meeting was extremely unsuccessful, almost confirming the fears of a lockout going into effect. The last day of November brought fewer significant signings than the previous day, but the catching market was almost completely exhausted, with Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes signing that day. As the sun went down and all optimism between the two sides was dissipating, Raisel Iglesias, closer for the Angels, resigned for four years.

Then came December 1st, the final day before the lockout was instated. The meeting held between the MLB and MLBPA was brief, lasting seven minutes and completely killing any hope of the sides striking an eleventh-hour deal. After the likes of James Paxton (Red Sox) and Corey Knebel (Phillies), two injury-riddled pitchers, signed in the morning, fans were not sure how the rest of the day would unfold. Javier Baez agreed to a deal not too long after with the Detroit Tigers, the last $100 million deal signed before the lockout.

As the day went on, Chris Taylor resigned with the Dodgers, and Mark Melancon signed with the Diamondbacks. With only a few hours remaining before the lockout, Marcus Stroman, via Twitter, announced his deal with the Chicago Cubs, marking the last non-international signing before the lockout. As the lockout loomed just thirty minutes away, the Boston Red Sox traded star outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers, for two promising prospects and Jackie Bradley Jr. That is the last deal the MLB has seen involving Major League Players.

Although the lockout is negative, a case can be made that it created the best week of free agency in baseball history. Over the past ten years, free agency has been marked with sporadic deals, ranging over a three month period. The fear of a lockout changing the way contracts are structured scared almost half of the notable MLB free agents to sign a deal in a week’s time. Over the past five seasons, there were very few weeks where there were multiple $100 million contracts signed, and the best of those weeks was headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, who both signed $300 million plus contracts. In the weeks before the lockout, there were seven $100 million plus contracts.

That week was more exciting than many off-seasons put together. Once the lockout finally ends, it will create a similar free agency wave, but even more condensed. With the MLB hoping to start spring training games a week after a CBA is agreed upon, it will not give players much time to choose a destination and make arrangements to be there for their first game. With the likes of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, and Kris Bryant still yet to sign, the immediate time after the lockout ends will make fans forget parts of the despair the lockout brought. Hopefully a CBA is agreed upon soon, resulting in at least 130 games played. Meanwhile, new excitement surrounding free agency may change the player signing process forever.

Orator Jim O’Rourke, Connecticut’s Brilliant Baseball Pioneer


One of most influential vintage baseball figures from the State of Connecticut was an Irish-American named Jim O’Rourke. The 5-feet-8-inches tall Bridgeport native wielded a mighty bat and famous mustache. As leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Stockings of 1876, he recorded the first official base hit in major league history. O’Rourke’s epic playing career spanned five decades. He also became a manager, umpire, team owner, league executive, attorney at law, civil rights advocate, father of eight children and a posthumous National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 1, 1850, James Henry O’Rourke was the son of Hugh and Catherine O’Rourke, immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. O’Rourke came of age at Waltersville School and Strong’s Military Academy. He learned to play baseball with his older brother John O’Rourke on local clubs, including the Bridgeport Ironsides and Stratford Osceolas. Jim was a right-hander acclaimed as an expert batsman and a smart talker. In fact, O’Rourke was so unexpectedly eloquent that he earned the nickname “Orator Jim.”

Stratford Osceolas with Jim O’Rourke (standing, far right), 1871.

In 1872, O’Rourke was recruited by the Middletown Mansfields, thereby becoming a member of America’s first professional baseball league: the National Association. Middletown folded in August, but O’Rourke would land on his feet. The next season he signed with the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings. Alongside Al Spalding as well as George and Harry Wright, O’Rourke batted .350 – swinging Boston to a pennant win.

1872 Middletown Mansfields

In the summer of 1874, O’Rourke became one of baseball’s first international ambassadors. Boston and Philadelphia performed America’s National Game before crowds in Ireland and England, but the trip was a strategic and financial failure. After returning to America, Boston laid claim to another pennant. O’Rourke led the way with a team-high 5 home runs while guarding first base. In 1875, he transitioned back to the outfield and helped Boston to a third straight pennant.

Boston Red Stockings with Jim O’Rourke (far left), 1874.

Beantown’s grip on the National Association resulted in the formation of the National League. O’Rourke decided to stay with Boston and recorded the league’s first base hit. The feat occurred on Opening Day, April 22, 1876, at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He swatted a single into left field. Though Boston committed 7 errors, they beat Philadelphia, who made 13 errors, by a score of 6-5.

Jim O’Rourke, Boston Red Caps, 1876.

O’Rourke’s breakout season came in 1877. He set a career-high with a .362 batting average and stood atop the National League with 68 runs scored, 20 walks and a .407 on-base percentage. His dominant play earned Boston another pennant (it was later discovered that second-place Louisville intentionally threw games). The following season, O’Rourke’s average slumped to .278, yet Boston defended first place with a 41-19 record.

Providence Grays with Jim O’Rourke (standing, third from right), 1879.

Due to complaints over wages during his time in Boston, O’Rourke became a notorious critic of management. In 1881, he accepted more responsibility as player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons. He played third base and paced the club with 105 hits. The Bisons achieved a winning record each season under O’Rourke’s direction from 1881 to 1884. Though Buffalo never won a title, O’Rourke set the standard for player-managers in 1884, with a .347 batting average on 162 hits.

Buffalo Baseball Club with Manager Jim O’Rourke (center), 1882.

Orator Jim garnered esteem for his leadership in Buffalo. He stood for excellence, sobriety, intellect and athleticism and was described as a non-drinking, non-smoking taskmaster. He might have stayed in Buffalo, if not struck by tragedy in 1883. O’Rourke’s second daughter, Anna, had suddenly died of an illness. The death led O’Rourke to move closer to home, and to sign with the New York Giants in 1885.

Polo Grounds (I), New York, 1886.

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 1885
1887 New York Giants with Jim O’Rourke (sitting front, left).

In New York, he was welcomed by owner John B. Day and manager Jim Mutrie. O’Rourke also joined future Hall of Famers: John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and a close friend, Roger Connor from Waterbury, Connecticut. The Giants’ home field was the original Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. While earning a league-leading $4,000 salary, Orator Jim proved to be an on-base stalwart and a dependable defender.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Roger Connor, New York Giants, 1887.

During his tenure with the Giants, O’Rourke became a founding member of baseball’s first labor union: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. The brotherhood fought for the employment rights of the players. An articulate and learned O’Rourke decided to enroll at Yale Law School to litigate for player rights. He took courses in the off-seasons, passed the Connecticut bar examination and was admitted to practice law on November 5, 1887.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.

O’Rourke and the New York Giants toppled the National League in 1888. They beat their opponents in 84 of 138 games. Then the Giants agreed to face St. Louis of the American Association in a postseason series. O’Rourke suffered a meager .222 hitting mark in ten playoff games, yet the Giants were victorious in what became known as the original World Series.

1888 New York Giants with O’Rourke (sitting front, right, #15).

In 1889, O’Rourke batted .321 with 81 RBI and 33 stolen bases at age 38. Showing no signs of middle-age, he spearheaded New York’s back-to-back campaign for the National League title. At the 1889 World Series, O’Rourke turned in the finest hitting display of his career. He mustered a .389 average, with 2 homers and 7 RBI, defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 6 of 9 games. O’Rourke and his teammates were stars of the baseball world.

John Montgomery Ward, Shortstop, New York Giants, 1888.
Jim O’Rourke, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

Though behind the scenes, O’Rourke and other players were irritated with club owners over the Reserve Clause. The policy allowed owners to retain players after their contracts had expired. Players could be traded, sold or released, but they could not initiate their own moves. Equipped with a law degree, O’Rourke followed the lead of his shortstop and fellow attorney, John Montgomery Ward. Together they protested and established the controversial Players League of 1890.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1889 (c.)
Players League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

O’Rourke had a standout season with the renegade New York Giants of the Players League. He batted .360 with a career-high 9 home runs and 115 RBI across 111 games. The unsanctioned Giants finished in third place, but the Players League was short-lived. The loop had failed to turn a profit. O’Rourke and the Brotherhood were forced to negotiate a return to the National League.

1890 New York Giants of the Players League

In the summer of 1891, O’Rourke reappeared for his old team, the New York Giants of the National League. Despite being 40 years old, his bat remained reliable. O’Rourke, however, felt undervalued and openly expressed his discontent. After playing two final seasons in New York, he secured another player-manager role in 1893. This time, he became field general of the Washington Nationals, hitting .287 in 129 games during his last full season in the major leagues.

New York Base Ball Club, 1891.

O’Rourke suited up for eight clubs over 23 major league seasons. The pride of Bridgeport ended his major league career with 2,643 hits, 62 home runs, 1,203 RBI and a .311 batting average. He had the most hits of any 19th century big leaguer other than Cap Anson. O’Rourke had been an integral part of eight championship clubs, but he wasn’t yet done with baseball.

Jim O’Rourke, 1891.

Less than a year later, O’Rourke was back on the diamond. In 1894, he umpired in the National League and at the college level for Yale University. Unfortunately, lackluster reviews of his calls led to O’Rourke’s exit from the job in mid-June. He went back to playing the game by performing at catcher for St. Joe’s amateur club of Bridgeport on Saturday afternoons.

Jim O’Rourke, 1895 (c.)

O’Rourke spent most of his time in Bridgeport, where he practiced law and cared for his family. Father to seven daughters, he was a proponent of women’s suffrage and civil rights. Orator Jim was active in civic affairs as a member of Royal Arcanum, Bridgeport Elks and Knights of Columbus. He was a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Democrat” who ran for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1894 but lost in a Republican-leaning election.

Bridgeport Elks Lodge No. 36, 1905 (c.)

The following year, new train services allowed for a professional loop: the Connecticut State League. O’Rourke was elected President. As head of the league, he limited player salaries to $800 per month. He was a stakeholder in several teams including Waterbury. O’Rourke also guided the Bridgeport Victors club as player-manager.

The Meriden Journal, January 11, 1895.

The Connecticut State League dissolved midseason on July 10, 1895. Despite the setback, O’Rourke and Bridgeport continued to compete against clubs like Meriden and Hartford. O’Rourke played in just eight games that summer. Instead, he focused on developing his team. When he recruited Harry Herbert, a black outfielder from Bridgeport, O’Rourke rebelled against racial norms. Herbert played four seasons for the Victors.

1896 (c.) Bridgeport Victors

As an Irishman, a denigrated nationality at the time, O’Rourke used sport to quell ethnic stereotypes. He also used his influence to organize a new circuit in 1896. With help from local baseball leaders, Orator Jim created the Naugatuck Valley League. At catcher and manager for Bridgeport, he smashed a league-high .437 average and the Victors won the title.

Jim O’Rourke, Player-manager, Bridgeport Orators, 1898.

Bridgeport reentered the Connecticut State League in 1897. O’Rourke was no longer president of the league, but he wielded considerable power in local baseball matters. In 1898, O’Rourke ordered the construction of a new minor league stadium on his family’s farmland. Located in Bridgeport’s East End, the field was called Newfield Park. That same year, the Bridgeport club was renamed the “Orators” in O’Rourke’s honor.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

Jim O’Rourke spent fifteen eventful years as player-manager of the Bridgeport club. His players affectionately called him “Uncle Jeems.” From 1903 to 1908, O’Rourke managed and competed alongside his son James O’Rourke Jr. After playing for his father, young Jimmy O’Rourke signed with the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the New York Yankees.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

To the surprise of the entire baseball world, Jim O’Rourke Sr. was called up for one last major league game in 1904. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants started the 54 year old at catcher on the final day of the season. O’Rourke handled a complete game from pitcher Joe McGinnity, beating Cincinnati 7-5, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. To this day, O’Rourke holds the major league record as the oldest player with a base hit.

Jim O’Rourke, 1906.

On June 14, 1910, Jim’s wife of 38 years, Annie O’Rourke, passed away from complications of a fall. About a year later his brother John died of a heart attack in Boston. Jim O’Rourke endured these tumults and kept up with the Connecticut State League. He served as a league official on several occasions, either as secretary or president. On September 14, 1912, O’Rourke made his final on-field appearance with New Haven. He recorded a single at the age of 62.

Jim O’Rourke Sr. (left) and Jim O’Rourke Jr., 1908 (c.)

When he was 68, O’Rourke was afflicted by pneumonia after walking in a blizzard. He died seven days later on January 8, 1919, and was laid to eternal rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Stratford, Connecticut. O’Rourke was survived by seven children and his sister, Sarah O’Rourke Grant. He was a beloved hero of Bridgeport who personified the American Dream. O’Rourke’s his rags-to-riches story inspired multiple generations of adoring baseball fans.

Jim O’Rourke, Manager, Bridgeport 1909 (c.)

Orator Jim was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. According to baseball historian, Bill James, O’Rourke’s Cooperstown plaque, “summarizes his career but is far too small to reflect the scope of his contributions to the game. As a pioneer player, union organizer and early minor-league executive, James Henry ‘Orator’ O’Rourke was an exemplary figure, one eminently worthy of baseball’s highest accolade.”

Jim O’Rourke’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

“He has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. His average each season has proved him to be in the front rank in handling the bat, and shows that his usefulness is not merely confined to his fielding abilities. He has always enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly reliable and honest player, and one who works hard for the best interests of the club. His gentlemanly conduct, both on and off the ball field, has won for him a host of friends.”

1885 Spalding Guide on Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke statue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Baseball is for all creeds and nationalities.”

Jim O’Rourke, 1910
Jim O’Rourke’s gravesite, St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford, CT.

Sources

  1. “Jim O’Rourke” by Bill James, SABR Bio Project.
https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jim-orourke-2/

2. Pittsburgh Dispatch via Newspapers.com.

3. Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke from Cooperstown Cred.

4. Newfield Park: Home to One of New England’s Most Sacred Baseball Sites by Michael J. Bielawa.

Hartford, Connecticut, A Pioneer Baseball Town

In February of 1938, news broke of a “Class A” Eastern League team relocating to Hartford. The Hartford Bees (also called Hartford Laurels and Hartford Senators) were established when Boston Braves owner, Bob Quinn moved his farm team from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Charter Oak City. Hartford had been deprived of a professional team since the end of 1934. Reacting to the announcement, Hartford Times sports columnist Dan Parker contextualized the historic news:

Bob Quinn, Boston Bees owner (left) signs lease of Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.

Hartford, one of baseball’s pioneer towns, is back in the game after being outside the pale for a half dozen years. True, it is a far cry and a big drop from one of the original franchises in the National League to membership in the Eastern, but Hartford folk while glorifying in the past, also want to do a bit of glorifying in the present, and, therefore welcome a Class A club without a trace of condescension.

Not only did Hartford furnish the National League with one of the charter clubs but it also gave the league its first president, the late Morgan G. Bulkeley. But that isn’t the 50 per cent of it, my little horned toads. Bob Ferguson, who managed the Hartford club and steered it into second place in its first season in baseball and finished third in its second and last year in the National, would have made the first unassisted triple play in history, were it not for the annoying circumstance that one man already had been retired when Bob made his “triple killing.”

It was Hartford, too, that was the victim of the first no-hit game in the National League. Not only that, but Hartford also invented the double header as a means of stimulating attendance. When it failed to work, the franchise was surrendered. But, in those days, Hartford was just a struggling small town and not the bustling metropolis it is today, with a toe-hold on most of the insurance business in America.

If there is a better city in its particular class than Hartford, I have yet to encounter it. The population is currently estimated at 175,000, but towns within easy driving distance swell the ball club’s potential customer list to close to a half million. The town is really in the International League class.

Hartford’s return to organized baseball is a happy home and for those other New England cities, rich in baseball history but now unhappily out of procession. It is almost unbelievable that good baseball towns like Providence, Wooster, New Haven, Springfield and—yes—dear old Waterbury, should be without representation and organized baseball for a decade, when they used to constitute the best minor league territory until the depression wrecked industrial New England.

Dan Parker, Hartford Times
Dan Parker, Hartford Times, 1938.

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.

Ben Douglas Sr., father to 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 Constitution noted 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.