The Little Brother

The 1869 Red Stockings, George Wright at top center

The 1869 Red Stockings, George Wright at top center

I’m an oldest child so that means I have my own particular problems. But I know several people who are youngest children. Each of them has in common the desire to keep up with their elder siblings, sometimes to absurdity. If you look at George Wright’s career, you wonder sometimes if it wasn’t all an attempt to show up his older brother, Harry.

George Wright, unlike older brother Harry, was born in the United States. He was born in New York in 1847, 12 years after Harry. Dad was a cricketer (as was Harry), but George took to the more American game of Base Ball. He was good. By age 15 he was playing with the Gothams, one of the earliest New York teams. At 18 he was their regular catcher. He moved to shortstop the next season and began a migratory period in his career. He played in Washington, D.C. where the local team, in lieu of paying him outright, managed to find him a job in the Treasury Department. He played for the Gothams again. Back in New York he played for the Unions.

By 1869 he was established as one of the finest shortstops in baseball. Older brother Harry had moved to Cincinnati and was in the process of putting together the first acknowledged all-professional team. He called on George to come west and anchor the infield. George Wright did so, becoming the star of the team. For a salary of $1400 the Red Stockings got a .633 batting average and 49 home runs over 57 total games (all victories). I looked all over but could find no other stats for George Wright for the 1869 season.

The Red Stockings folded after the 1870 season, but professional baseball was moving toward forming an all professional league. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players opened its first campaign. Wright (along with bother Harry) moved to the Boston team, also called the Red Stockings. In 16 games, Wright hit .413, stole nine bases, scored 33 runs, and struck out once. Boston finished a disputed second.

From 1872 through the remainder of the life of the Association (1875) Boston dominated the league. Wright was one of the mainstays of the team. He led the league in triples once and, as the lead off hitter, led the league in at bats twice. Other players proved more dominant with the bat, but Wright was considered the premier shortstop in the National Association. If you look at his numbers they don’t look all that great today, but are very good for the era. He is supposed to have invented playing deep in the hole at short and charging the ball. A number of other players are also supposed to have done this, so I have no idea who really did it first.

With the end of the Association, Wright set up shop with the Boston team in the new National League. He was 29, and never did as well in the NL as in the Association. He helped his team to pennants in 1877 and 1878, then was offered the job as player-manager of the Providence Grays in 1879. He led the team to its first pennant. It was also his last big year. 

By this point, Wright was moving into the sporting goods business fulltime. He played sparingly (and did not manage at all) in 1880 and 1881, preferring to work at his business, Wright and Ditson. Ditson was Henry Ditson and the company is still around. In 1882, Harry Wright became manager at Providence and asked George to play fulltime one last season. He did so, getting into 46 games and hitting a buck-62. He retired after the season and was through with playing baseball.

But unlike a number of former ball players who have no idea what to do with themselves when their career is over, George Wright flourished in retirement. Wright and Ditson was successful, he played cricket locally and he got into golf and tennis. He designed Boston’s first public golf course in 1890. He donated the land for the second (which became the George Wright course, in his honor). His sons won both doubles championships and one US Championship (now the US Open) in tennis, with Beals winning an Olympic gold medal. In 1906 he was part of the Mills Commission that determined baseball began in Cooperstown with Abner Doubleday. Apparently Wright’s role on the committee was minimal and I’ve been unable to determine if he agreed with the commission findings. In 1937 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died, a wealthy man, later the same year. He was 90 and outlived Harry by 42 years.

George Wright's grave in Brookline, Mass

George Wright’s grave in Brookline, Mass

For his career (National Association and National League) Wright hit .301, had an OBP of .318, slugged .398, and ended with an OPS of .715 (OPS+ of 125). He led the Association in triples once, but has the Association record with 40 triples. He played 591 games, had 866 hits, 124 doubles, 60 triples, and 11 home runs for 1143 total bases. He scored 665 runs and knocked in 326. He stole 47 bases in the Association (his National League totals are unavailable). As a fielder he leads his league in assists, double plays, putouts, and fielding percentage several times, giving proof to his reputation as a great middle infielder.

One of the things you always ask yourself about 19th Century players is “how good were they?”. With George Wright you face the same problems you always face: few games, wretched fields, poor equipment. Unlike the other brother combination (the Waners), I think it’s fair to put both Wright’s in the Hall of Fame. George deserves it as a pioneer (which is technically why he got in). He’s also a pretty good player, one of the better fielding middle infielders in early baseball.

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One Response to “The Little Brother”

  1. William Miller Says:

    My little brother is still trying to keep up with me. Fortunately, I’ve set the bar so low, he doesn’t have much trouble doing so.
    Nice post,
    Bill

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