Harry Wright

Harry Wright

I have something in common with Joe Girardi. I’ve managed a baseball team. Ok so mine was a Little League team while his is the winner of the 2009 World Series, we’ve still both managed a baseball team. Together Girardi and I, along with any person who’s ever managed a baseball team at any level, owe a debt and a tip of the hat to Harry Wright. After all, he invented the modern job of baseball manager.

William Henry “Harry” Wright was born in 1835 in Sheffield, England and immigrated with his parents to the US in 1837 finding a home in New York. His father was a professional cricket player and Harry, along with younger brother George, played both cricket and baseball.

In 1866, following the American Civil War, Harry moved to Cincinnati, Ohio as a professional on the local cricket team. The next year he joined the local baseball club. In 1869 George Ellard, a Cincinnati businessman, organized a fully professional team, the Red Stockings, naming Wright as the manager at a salary of $1200.

I remember years ago I wondered why the field leader of most teams is called a coach, but baseball refers to its leader as a manager. Turns out Harry Wright helped define the role. He led the team in as an on field coach, but also served as what would today be called a “general manager”, a “traveling secretary”, scout, and even the clubhouse man. Wright did all those things and did them well. Over the years the general manager,  traveling secretary, and scout duties went to other people and the clubhouse got its own man, but the title stuck.

As a manager, Wright was very successful. He is supposed to have invented backing up a play, using a cutoff man, and playing positions based on the tendencies of the hitter. I’ve found no definitive contemporary information proving those things and I’m not sure that Wright can be credited with all (or any) of those innovations, but the modern mythology says he did. Somebody had to, why not Harry?

As a player Wright was the center fielder on his earliest teams, but by the formation of the first professional league in 1871 was beginning to concentrate on managing the team while other people manned the field. As late as 1877 he appeared in one game as an outfielder, but he was by now the manager. He took over the Boston Red Stockings at the formation of the National Association in 1871 and led the team to a disputed second place finish in 1871 and four consecutive pennants from 1872 through 1875.

With the folding of the Association after the 1875 season, Wright’s Red Stockings, renamed the Red Caps, joined the newly established (1876) National League, finishing fourth in an eight team league. In 1877 the Caps gave Wright his first National League pennant winning a six team league by seven games. They repeated in 1878, winning by four games. It was Wright’s last pennant. He remained in Boston through 1881 finishing second in 1879, sixth in 1880, and sixth again in 1881. In 1882 he moved on to Providence where he stayed two years finishing second and third. In 1884 he took his expertise to Philadelphia remaining there for the rest of his managerial career, which lasted to 1893. He finished fourth in 1893. His health broke down and he retired before the onslaught of offense that peaked in Philadelphia the next season. He died in 1895 in Atlantic City. In 1953 the Hall of Fame finally got around to recognizing him by enshrining him, 16 years after his brother George made the Hall (There was a third brother, Samuel, who got into 45 games in the big leagues without much success).

Wright deserves to be remembered as the first of a breed, the manager. Yes, there were other men who did the job before him, but he became the first truly successful manager. As a not overly successful Little League manager I owe him a debt, as does Joe Girardi, and Sparky Anderson, and Tommy LaSorda, and…

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: