Baseball’s Back in Hartford

April 25, 2018 · Collections ·

Winsted Baseball Team, Winsted, Connecticut, 1894,
2015.87.3824. CHS collection

Baseball has been a family pastime for generations of Connecticans. Hartford has hosted teams from the 19th century Dark Blues to today’s Yard Goats. The CHS will be at the Hartford Yard Goats’ Baseball in Education Days on May 9th, 16th, and 31st with fun activities for kids and adults to do before and during the game. Read on for more information about the history of baseball in Connecticut.

The following article was originally published by the Hartford Courant in October 22, 2003 as a part of their Newspapers in Education series.  This article was written by Rebecca Furer. 

The game of “base-ball” was known in this country as early as 1774, but until the 1860s, it looked very different from what we see on TV today.  The catcher didn’t wear a mask, players didn’t use gloves, and there were no limitations on the size of the bat!

The game really took off in army camps during the Civil War.  Interest spread on the home front as well, and in 1862, the Charter Oak Baseball Club, Hartford’s first, was founded.  Within five years sixteen recreational teams from around the state had formed the Connecticut Baseball Players Association.

A growing emphasis on winning made gambling and game-fixing common and pushed clubs everywhere to bend their rules against paying players.  The Cincinnati Red Stockings was the first openly all paid team, with salaries ranging from $600-$1400 in 1866.  The National Association of Professional Ball Players was established in 1871.  The Hartford Courant criticized: “Instead of the best youths of the land striving in honest rivalry with parents and friends as witnesses to their skill, hired hands of trained players scour the country, followed by crowds of gamblers and pick pockets.”

Connecticut soon followed with three professional teams of its own.  The first, the Mansfield Club of Middletown, struggled financially and folded after its first season.

The second, the Hartford Base Ball Club—known as the Dark Blues—was formed in 1874.  The club played in a beautiful new ballpark built at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxen Avenue, near the Colt factory.  The field had a pavilion with covered seating for stockholders and season ticket-holders and bleachers for 2,000 spectators.  The team practiced four hours a day, either outside or in the Trinity College gym, but they lacked discipline and were criticized both for losing most of their games and for their behavior off the field.

The following season Morgan Bulkeley, known for his business sense as head of Aetna, took over as president of the club and turned it around.  He remade the grounds and pavilion to include press and club rooms and cracked down on those who pulled their carriages up to the Wyllys Street fence and charged 10¢ to climb up and watch the game.  Hartford battled the Boston Red Stockings for first place, and when Boston came to town, a holiday spirit filled the city.  Factories and government buildings shut down early as thousands, including Mark Twain, flocked to the field.

The third professional team in Connecticut was the Elm City Club of New Haven, which joined the National Association in 1875.  Rivalry was strong between the two Connecticut teams, since the battle over which city would be the state’s sole capital had just been settled in 1873.

In 1876, eight clubs, including Hartford, formed the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, still known as the National League today.  Only teams from cities with more than 75,000 residents would be eligible, but an exception was made for Hartford (population—40,000) because of the team’s success.  As one player remarked, “The fact that the Hartfords have the best base ball grounds in the country is something that should not be lost sight of.  The support given the Club by the people of Hartford is of the most liberal character considering the size of the city….”  The League set the number of games, banned gambling and liquor sales, and charged a standard 50¢ admission.  Bulkeley was named the National League’s first president.

Although Hartford continued to play well, a national depression caused game attendance to drop from 41,000 in 1875 to 18,000 in 1876.  When the economy kept the struggling Brooklyn Mutuals from completing their schedule, they were expelled from the League.  Officials looked to attract the successful Hartford team to New York.  In 1877, the Dark Blues became the Hartford Club of Brooklyn, and just 5 years after major league baseball came to Connecticut, it was gone.

 

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