Wright, William Henry ("Harry")

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WRIGHT, William Henry ("Harry")

(b. 10 January 1835 in Sheffield, England; d. 3 October 1895 in Atlantic City, New Jersey), considered the father of professional baseball; he was the first to institute modern management practices and business philosophies and strategies into the game.

Wright was the eldest of five children of Samuel Wright and Ann Tone Wright, and immigrated to the United States with his parents around 1836 when he was two years old. He was educated in New York City grade schools. At fourteen he took a job working for a jewelry manufacturing firm, but Wright was drawn to cricket, the sport his father played professionally. In 1850 he became an assistant professional for the St. George Cricket Club on Staten Island, where he established himself as the best round arm bowler in the United States.

During his tenure with the St. George Club, Wright also began to play baseball, the fastest growing sport in New York. First he participated in the Fashion Course Games of 1857, the championship matches played between the best nines of New York and the best nines of Brooklyn. Then in 1858 Wright, who had played for the New York squad, joined the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York. Unlike his status as a paid professional cricketeer, he was playing baseball as an amateur, because baseball, at least officially, was dominated by purists who believed the game should be played only for health and recreation.

In 1866 Wright left New York for Cincinnati to play cricket, joining the Union Cricket Club as its bowler and working as an instructor. That July, realizing baseball's immense popularity, Wright formed the Cincinnati Baseball Club, naming them the Red Stockings, with the idea of fashioning the club as a professional team like the cricket clubs he had played for. Wright, as captain, began to hire the best players with pay, and when his club defeated a rival team in Ohio, the Red Stockings became a force in the baseball world.

Wright continued to shine as a player despite his increased involvement as a manager. Wright, who had switched from pitcher to center fielder, had his finest game on 22 June 1867, at Newport, Kentucky, when he slugged seven home runs in a single game.

Under Wright's leadership, the Red Stockings were the first and only all-professional team in the United States by 1869 and embarked on a one-year national tour that featured an eighty-seven-game winning streak, which ended after a controversial loss to the Brooklyn Atlantics. During this tour Wright showed how prudent managerial skills both on and off the field could lead to a financially profitable club. Realizing the Red Stockings immense popularity, Wright demanded a third of the gate receipts when his club visited another city, wisely preferring to play clubs that only had strong drawing power.

With the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871, the Cincinnati Red Stockings disbanded and Wright went on to captain and play center field for the newly formed Boston Red Stockings. Joining him were his brother George, who played shortstop, and legendary pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding. Under Wright's leadership, Boston won four of the five championships. In 1874 Wright led a baseball tour of all-stars to England. The players even participated in some cricket matches, astonishing the English with their skills honed by playing professional baseball.

Wright ended his playing days with Boston in 1876 but remained with the club for eleven years as its manager. It was also the first year of the owner-oriented National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. By the winter of 1876, the National Association was experiencing problems. William Hulbert of the Chicago White Stockings took the opportunity to secretly sign the big star players from other teams to build his team. At the Grand Central Hotel in New York, on February 2, 1876, the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed by Hulbert and seven other club owners who wanted to split from the National Association. Wright cast his lot with Hulbert, joining the conspiracy because he thought the Association was a disciplinary failure. The new league and its new rules were controversial and unpopular. Players could not drink—on or off the field—and beer could not be sold at games. Gambling was not allowed at games, and games were not to be played on Sundays. Hulbert wanted the power to rest with the owners and not with the players, so revisions were made to ensure that players were treated as no more than simple employees of the owners. Players who objected were fired and blacklisted.

In 1882 Wright left to manage the Providence Club, building a championship team that won after his premature departure in 1884. That year, he managed the Philadelphia club, eventually making them into a contender for the championship. When he left Philadelphia in 1893, he was finished with managing and was appointed chief of umpires of the National League.

Wright was married three times: first on 10 September 1868 to Mary Fraser of New York City, with whom he had four children, then to Rose Mulford, with whom he had four children. Wright later married his first wife's sister. In mid-September 1895, Wright was stricken with pneumonia and entered a sanatorium in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He died there three weeks later and is buried in the West Laurel Hill Cemetery outside Philadelphia.

In 1953 Wright and his brother George were inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans.

For further information on Wright and his career, see Harry Ellard, Base Ball in Cincinnati (1907), and George Morland, Balldom (1926). Other general sources include Mike Shatzkin, ed., The Ballplayers (1990), and Legends in Their Own Time (1994). For a general overview of baseball's early years, including Wright's career, see the Major Leagues link of http://www.baseballhistory.com. An obituary is in the New York Times (4 Oct. 1895).

Andrew Schiff

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