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George Wright

George Wright

Estate of George Wright

Position(s):
1B, SS, 3B, P, 2B
Born:
January 28, 1847
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 9"
Weight:
150 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-05-1871 with BS1
Hall of Fame:
1937

 

George Wright was baseball's first franchise player. His older brother Harry was asked to form the first pro team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, and the first player Harry recruited was George, a shortstop. The Wrights transferred operations to Boston when the National Association was formed, and won four of five pennants. George was the team's sparkplug, Harry the manager. They joined the National League in its first season, 1876, and won pennants in 1877 and 1878, with George leading the league in at-bats. George managed Providence to a pennant in 1879, with Harry's Boston club finishing second.

George gave up baseball almost entirely to establish a sporting-goods business. Since Albert Spalding and A.J. Reach already had strong footholds in baseball, Wright looked to other sports for development. He was helped in this goal when his son, Beals, became an early tennis star. When the Hall of Fame opened in 1939, Wright was one of its first inductees.

Amateur era


 

At some times during the war, both Wright brothers played for the venerable Gothams, the second eldest baseball team after the Knickerbockers. According to Ivor-Campbell (1996), George moved from the Gotham juniors to the senior team when he was fifteen. At seventeen in 1864 he was the regular catcher.

Baseball's recovery from the American Civil War was far advanced in greater New York City (always untouched by the military conflict), as the leading clubs played more than twenty NABBP matches, the Gothams eleven. George played eight and led the team both in runs, scoring 2.4 times per game, and "hands lost", put out only 2.4 times per game, average being three per player in a 9-inning game. In seven matches infielder Harry was fourth in scoring at 2.0 and second behind George in hands lost at 2.6 (Wright 2000: 91).

For the 1865 season George was hired by the Philadelphia Cricket Club; that summer he played in five matches for the Olympic Ball Club of that city. The Olympic club was the devoted to games in the base ball genus, established in 1833. At the December annual meeting, the first in peacetime, National Association of Base Ball Players membership tripled, including isolated clubs from as far as Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Wright returned to the Gothams for base ball; he was nineteen and nearing his athletic peak. At the same time, Harry Wright moved to Cincinnati for a job at the Union Cricket Club.

Early in the summer of 1866, Wright moved from catcher for Gotham, which played eight NABBP matches that year, to shortstop for Union, which played 28, the leading number. The Unions of Morrisania, now in the New York borough of the Bronx, were another charter member of the first Association, but one that moved toward professionalism in the postwar years, as the Gothams did not. In 1867, he joined the Nationals of Washington, DC, eldest club in that city, whose approach to professionalism was arranging government jobs, mainly with the Treasury. He played second base, shortstop, and pitcher in 29 of the 30 matches fully on record and in those matches led the team both in scoring and hands lost. Next year he returned to the Unions for the association's last officially all-amateur season and moved permanently to the shortstop position.

Cincinnati


 

Meanwhile, brother Harry had acquired baseball duties and had organized for Cincinnati the strongest team in the West, led in 1868 by a handful of players from the East—presumably compensated somehow by club members if not by the club. When the NABBP permitted professionalism for 1869, Harry augmented himself and four incumbents with five new men including brother George, who was highest paid at $1400 for nine months. George remained a cornerstone of Harry's teams for ten seasons.

Cincinnati toured the continent undefeated in 1869, as George batted .633 with 49 home runs in 57 games. It may have been the strongest team in 1870, but the club dropped professional base ball after the second season.

New England


 

Harry Wright was hired to organize a new team in Boston, where he signed three teammates including George for 1871. He brought along the nickname, too; if the nickname is the tenth man or the player-manager counts double, Harry thereby composed half the team that just missed winning the first National Association pennant. George suffered a broken leg and missed half the season; one more win at the right time would have been decisive in Boston's favor.

With some personnel changes, the Boston Red Stockings won the other four NA pennants, dominating so severely in 1875 that they helped provoke a new league. The team trailed badly in the first National League season, after the defection of its Big Four western players to Chicago, but rebounded to win again both 1877-78. George Wright had played an even decade for Harry's teams, beginning with the First Nine and closing with six league championships in seven. (Another 1869 hire, Andy Leonard, was present for all but the 1871 second-place finish.)

The Providence Grays, new in the NL for 1878, hired George to lead the team in 1879. He did as well as possible, wresting the championship for himself from older brother Harry; for Providence and Rhode Island from older and regionally dominant Boston and Massachusetts.

But Wright & Ditson Sporting Goods was growing, so George returned to Boston for business reasons. He remains the only man to win the pennant in his lone season as manager. Meanwhile the National League introduced the reserve list system, and Providence listed George, so he was not free to sign with Boston. (Until the 1879-80 off-season, every professional baseball player was a "free agent" for every season.) During the next two seasons he played only a few games.. When Boston changed managers for 1882, Harry signed to lead Providence and inherited the right to sign his brother. George agreed to play another season full-time, retiring after the 1882 season with a .302 batting average in the major leagues from 1871.

In 1882 George Wright took up cricket seriously again with the Longwood Cricket Club of Boston where he dominated local cricket sides with Chalmers, the Longwood tennis pro, holding up the other bowling end. In 1891 George Wright captained the Longwood Cricket Club against Lord Hawke's visiting English side. Wright's side surprised the visiting English first-class players with accurate bowling which kept the tourist in check. In 1892 George Wright donated cricket gear to British Guianese (Guyana) cricket players thereby starting a century old tradition of West Indian cricket in New England.Citation:David Sentance Cricket in America-research in progress for a second edition.

Baseball legacy


 

Wright holds the NA career record for the most triples (41), and he led the NA in triples with 15 in 1874.

George was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 and inducted by the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2005. Elder brother Harry is another member of both Halls. Unfortunately, the official National "Hall of Fame Biography" of George credits him with "piloting" six championship teams in Boston, which was Harry's achievement, beside managing his one Providence champion (NBHOFM a).Younger brother Sam Wright also played baseball professionally, with brief appearances in the major leagues.

George Wright served on the 1906-1907 Mills Commission that identified Cooperstown, New York as the birthplace of baseball. President Mills and secretary Sullivan probably did the work, with the others lending gravity and celebrity.

Wright lived long enough to be consulted regarding the baseball centennial celebrations of 1939, including the establishment of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Soon after his own election, he died in Boston of a stroke, aged 90. He is buried in Holyhood Cemetery, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Sources:

Baseball Library and Wikipedia

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Tagged:
Baseball History, Boston Red Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings, George Wright, Hall of Fame, Harry Wright, Knickerbockers, National Association, Providence Grays

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