Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut’

Morgan Bulkeley, the Hartford Dark Blues, and the Birth of the National League

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the character of Malvolio says, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

By a conventional wisdom paradigm, Morgan Bulkeley fell into all three categories.

Bulkeley was born into greatness by virtue of the stature that ran through the blue blood of his prominent Connecticut family.  With the Mayflower’s voyage in his family tree, the Bulkeleys enjoyed a rarefied lineage.  Bulkeley’s father, Eliphalet Bulkeley, wielded connections to the power structure in Connecticut’s Republican party through employment as judge, a state senator, and a state’s attorney.  He also co-founded the Aetna Life Insurance Company and served as its first president.

Bulkeley achieved greatness by furthering the family’s political legacy in staking out political territory of his own:

  • Mayor of Hartford for four terms (1880 to 1888)
  • Governor of Connecticut for two terms (1889 to 1893)
  • U.S. Senator for one term (1905 to 1911)

Additionally, Bulkeley became the third president of Aetna, a position he held for more than 40 years, until his death.

Bulkeley had greatness thrust upon him by luck dictating the responsibility, honor, and prestige of the National League’s inaugural presidency in 1876.  Sort of.

With other members of Hartford’s elite, Bulkeley formed the Hartford Dark Blues, which played in the National Association in 1874 and 1875.  When the NA folded after the 1875 season, its demise created a void for professional baseball.  The Dark Blues received an invitation to be one of eight charter members in the nascent National League, set to début in 1876.  “Hartford owed its selection over larger New Haven to the substantial reputation of Bulkeley and his fellow Hartford shareholders, the strength of their team, and the financial reliability they had demonstrated in two NA seasons,” explained David Nemec in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2: The Hall of Famers and Memorable Personalities Who Shaped the Game.

Bulkeley’s one-year presidential reign was neither significant nor outstanding.  Its greatness, therefore, may be a matter of opinion.  A pro-Bulkeley argument rests on the thesis that Bulkeley provided baseball with a necessary image of honor, respect, and stability to contradict the edgier parts of a game that was, in some cases, far removed from the 19th century pastoral activity depicted in the iconic Currier & Ives painting of a Hoboken baseball game—rowdiness, gambling, and liquor pervaded a game that struggled toward growth, organization, and prosperity.

Representing the Chicago White Stockings, another National League charter member, William Hulbert was a primary force in creating the new league.  Hubert signed marquee pitcher Albert Spalding, the future sporting goods mogul.  They endorsed Bulkeley’s rank in the National League hierarchy.  Bulkeley’s biography on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site states, “A drawing was held to determine the first president of the new league, and Bulkeley’s name emerged first.  This sat well with William Hulbert and Albert Spalding of Chicago, who saw in him the integrity and character needed to drive the league’s acceptance.”

It is a matter of debate concerning Bulkeley receiving the presidency through a drawing, describes Nemec: “Whether the directors were actually chosen by lot or Hulbert deliberately engineered their selection, all of its members could probably have seen as well as Hulbert that Bulkeley was a natural choice for the presidency as an easterner who was personally respected but did not represent one of the traditional powers of eastern baseball.  The office was essentially an honorific one, at any rate.  All the president did was preside at meetings.”

Even so, Bulkeley’s aristocratic image cannot be ignored.  Figureheads can be useful in projecting a reputation of solidity, value, and importance.  Bulkeley was a critical component in helping the National League build a foundation for a sustainable enterprise.  His baseball days ended, however, shortly after his National League presidency.

In 1877, the Dark Blues played their home games in Brooklyn.  It was their last season.  Consequently, Bulkeley’s pursuits did not include further baseball opportunities until he joined the Mills Commission in 1905 to ascertain baseball’s origins.  It labeled Abner Doubleday as baseball’s creator, a mistake rectified in later decades by numerous baseball historians.

Morgan Bulkeley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 26, 2014.

Jackie Robinson and the Hall of Fame

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Though not technically the first black player in the major leagues—that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker of the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884—Jackie Robinson destroyed the unspoken yet visible barrier constructed in the late 1880s preventing blacks from joining a major league team.

Mr. Robinson’s début is no less a civil rights moment than Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, or President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walking on to the diamond at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947 preceded these civil rights hallmarks, marking a historic day, not only for baseball, but also for America.  But there are other dates that are highly significant in Jackie Robinson’s career.

Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 at the team’s headquarters—215 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Jackie Robinson played his first game in Organized Baseball on April 18, 1946, when the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers minor league team, played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City.

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Robinson to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 23, 1962, a fact that he learned after coming home to 95 Cascade Road in Stamford, Connecticut, after spending the day in Manhattan’s corporate jungle as an executive with Chock full o’ Nuts; 1962 was Robinson’s first year of eligibility.

Excitement in the Robinson household was akin to the excitement that the Dodgers’ #42 generated at Ebbets Field.  “When I came home from work Rachel was on the phone telling David, our nine-year-old, about it,” said Robinson in the Christian Science Monitor.  “When she was me, she dropped the receiver and squealed that I had made it.”

Robinson’s Hall of Fame election was not automatic, however.  For example, Joe DiMaggio did not get elected in his first year of eligibility.  Neither did Bill Terry.  Needing a minimum of 75% of the ballots, Robinson got 124 of 160.  It was four more than necessary.

Jackie Robinson was the first black player elected to the Hall of Fame.  Arthur Daley of the New York Times addressed the issue of Robinson’s Hall of Fame election being based on his career or his color.  “It really doesn’t matter much,” declared Daley.  “Both factors undoubtedly entered into consideration because they are so intertwined that separation is impossible.  The feeling here is that he rated on both counts and no conscious effort was made to split them.  Now he has blazed another trail and it will be easier henceforth for other Negroes to follow him into Cooperstown.”

His 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers yielded Robinson a .311 batting average, 1,518 hits, and 734 RBI.  Robinson’s contribution to the game cannot be measured in numbers alone, however.  Pioneering the path of integration littered with jeers, boos, and death threats required an unimaginable strength of the soul.  After Jackie Robinson came Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, Elston Howard, and scores of other black players.

Baseball would never be the same.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 15, 2014.