|Book Review: Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut|
Written by Richard Coreno (Contact & Archive) on January 08, 2010
With a rich tradition in amateur baseball, it seemed like a natural for the entrepreneurial spirit to take hold in Connecticut at the birth of the professional game. And a trio of cities played money ball from 1872 to 1876, but ended up as footnotes on this new diamond, with one franchise relocating to another state in 1877 before ceasing operations.
Society for American Baseball Research member David Arcidiacono brushes off the dust from this era in Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut: The Rise and Fall of the Middletown, New Haven and Hartford Clubs, an excellent addition to the growing catalog of regional baseball history from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. The 193 pages of text and photographs is bolstered by 36 additional pages of player biographies and game logs from the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, National League of Professional Baseball Clubs and non-league contests.
From the beginnings of the modern game in the 1840s with the Knickerbocker Club in New York City, baseball began to forge a trail that included the workshops of inventors. In 1866, George Hill of Connecticut was issued a federal patent for a new type of bat.
"The device consisted of a regular baseball bat with slits cut in the upper end. When striking the ball, the slits were intended to produce a spring effect 'in order that the ball may be sent a greater distance when hit.' This may have been the earliest patent granted for an invention relating to the rapidly growing game of baseball," writes Arcidiacono. "Formally organized baseball clubs began to appear in Connecticut, first in western counties near New York, then spreading to the east and south."
The Middletown Mansfields tried the pro ranks in 1872, though the obstacles were great from the start. A good amateur team in a city of 11,135 residents, team officers applied to be the 11th member of the National Association, which featured franchises in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Troy, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Washington.
"Three days before the start of the season, it still wasn't completely clear if the Mansfields were accepted by the National Association or not," Arcidiacono writes. "(Team president Augustus) Putnam was secure in the knowledge that by tendering the $10 (entry) fee, Middletown had fulfilled the National Association's requirement for entry.
"As improbable as it was, Middletown was now a major league city!"
By August 9, the club had a 5-19 record after dropping 10 consecutive league games. Citing low home attendance, the Mansfields ceased operations on August 13. It was one of five clubs to leave the NA during the season.
Location was a major factor for the Hartford Dark Blues to enter the NA in 1874. A club located between New York and Boston that had easy access to railway lines was needed to ease travel costs.
"With an Association club so positioned, other teams could layover midway between the two cities, securing gate money and a night's rest," writes Arcidiacono. "With 37,000 residents in 1870, Hartford was the 34th largest city in America and, in terms of per capita income, the most affluent in the entire nation."
Hartford was joined by the New Haven Elm City Club in the NA's final season in 1875. New Haven suffered financial woes and a lack of success in its only year as a pro club, limping to the finish line at 7-40. The Dark Blues was one of six NA clubs and two independents to form the National League in 1876. In a legal tussle which found the New York (Brooklyn) Mutuals one of two teams expelled from the NL, Hartford filled the void and relocated to Brooklyn in 1877, being renamed the Hartford Club of Brooklyn.
"The historic agreement made the Dark Blues the first club to change cities without a change of ownership, predating the infamous move of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles by more than 80 years," Arcidiacono writes.
The state has since been home to a number of minor league franchises. A historical marker to honor the Hartford Dark Blues was placed at the site of the former baseball grounds in 2008. In February 2009, the marker was stolen and has yet to be recovered.
AHP Rating: 4 Balls
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