Posts Tagged ‘Morgan Bulkeley’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Morgan Bulkeley

December 18, 2015
Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1st President of the National League

Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1st President of the National League

1. Morgan Gardner Bulkeley was born in Connecticut in 1837. His family was prominent in politics and his father was founder of Aetna Life Insurance Company.

2. He worked as a gopher and salesman for H.P. Morgan and Company of Brooklyn beginning in 1852. Morgan was owned by his uncle.

3. He served as a private in the 13th New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. He served in the Peninsula Campaign and left the Army shortly after the battle of Antietam (which he may or may not have fought in–sources vary).

4. He returned to Morgan and Company and remained there until his father’s death in 1872. He moved back to Hartford and founded the United States Bank of Hartford, serving as President, and joined the board of directors of Aetna.

5. Interested in baseball he founded the Hartford Dark Blues in 1874. They played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in both 1874 and 1875. They finished next-to-last in ’74 and third in ’75.

6. In 1876 he moved his team to the newly formed National League. Although William Hulbert was the league’s primary mover, he was generally unliked while Bulkeley was well liked by the other owners. Subsequently, Morgan Bulkeley was chosen first President of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.

7. After one year as President, Bulkeley refused to serve a second year, but remained owner of the Dark Blues until the team, failing in both the field and at the gate, folded after the 1877 season.

8. In 1874 he became a member of the Hartford, Connecticut City Council, in 1879 became President of Aetna, and in 1880 Mayor of Hartford. He remained Mayor until 1888.

9. In 1888 he was elected Governor of Connecticut, serving two terms of two years each. He was only elected to the first, but remained in office when the 1890 election resulted in a disputed result and no one was declared a winner (and you though 2000 Florida started this kind of nonsense, did you?).

10. He served one term in the U.S. Senate between 1905 and 1911.

11. He was a member of the Mills Commission that declared Abner Doubleday the father of baseball.

12. Morgan G. Bulkeley died in 1922 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

Bulkeley's grave in Connecticut

Bulkeley’s grave in Connecticut


The Father of the National League

March 12, 2010

There’s a lot of dispute about who invented baseball. There’s the old Abner Doubleday story which is mostly debunked as a myth today. There are those who pick Alexander Cartwright and those that say all he did was write down what was already being done. Whoever you pick, and there are other choices, it gets simpler when you move forward in time. The National League was formed 2 February 1876 and the man who put it tgether was William A. Hulbert.

Hulbert was born in New York in 1832 and the family moved to Chicago in 1834. He married into money, or at least into a successful grocery business, then used the profits to make considerable cash in coal. He was also a huge baseball fan, backing the local club, the White Stockings, when it entered the fledgling National Association in 1871. The club lost its park in the Great Chicago Fire (Hulbert’s holdings in town seem to have been spared) and Hulbert provided a lot of the funding to restore the team to its status in the Association after it had to regroup following the fire. That got him a job wth the club and in 1875 he took over as team President.

The National Association floundered in 1875. There were problems with gambling, scheduling, salaries, competitiveness, rules. Well, there were a lot of problems and the league simply was in the process of collapsing.  By the end of 1875 Hulbert was convinced that the Association was failing, although some of the fault lay with him and his own contract practices. He decided to abandon the Association and establish a new league. Prior to the end of 1875 he had gotten agreements with the major western teams to form a new league. In the baseball language of the day “western” meant west of about Harrisburg, Pennsylvania not west of Albuquerque, so we’re talking teams in Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis.

In February 1876, Hulbert met with teams from Boston, Hartford, New York, and Philadelphia in a hotel in New York City (I’m informed that the hotel no longer exists-pity) to pitch the idea of a new league. According to legend, Hulbert locked the door to the room, pocketed the key, and wouldn’t let the other team presidents out of the room until they had an agreement. He got the agreement and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed. It still exists.

It’s important to look at the title of the first two professional leagues for a second. There is the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. I’ve highlighted the last word in each name for a reason. It marked the real difference between the leagues. The players ran the Association but the owners ran the League. In a comment on the Pike case  post, Bill Miller noted that there was a baseball cabal that organized together for their mutual benefit. He’s right. That’s the most fundamental change that occured in February 1876. Now the clubs would run the show, not the players.

The National League worked and did so for a number of reasons. It was run on solid business principles, which meant it could turn a profit. It cut down on gambling. The money belonged to the owners and they could, and did, parcel it out as they wanted. Ultimately this became a huge problem that led to the Black Sox when owners became more parsimonious with their cash (Having just written that I can’t believe that there were owners more parsimonious than Hulbert, but there were.). Finally, the League made baseball respectable. Beer and whiskey were banned from games, there were no games on Sundays, cursing on the field was fined, as was public drunkenness. That put wealthier patrons in the stands and put more money in the pockets of the owners, some of which trickled down to the players.

Frankly, nobody liked Hulbert (well, maybe Mrs. Hulbert) so the owners drew straws (literally) to determine the first President of the National League. Morgan Bulkeley of Hartford won, but Hulbert remained the power that ran the league. In 1877 Hulbert followed Bulkeley as President (Bulkeley didn’t like the job and wasn’t all that good at it, so he didn’t even bother to attend the meeting to elect a President for 1877.) and remained the man in charge until 1882.

Hulbert ran the National League the same way Judge Landis ran the Commissioner’s office later on. Things were done his way and woe to the villain who crossed him. He tossed both New York and Philadelphia out of the league for refusing to make a western swing after they were eliminated from a possible pennant. The western teams lost gate revenue because of this and lost revenue was something akin to sin in Hulbert’s eyes. He established the idea that the National League office would set up schedules, not the teams. He handled the Louisville scandal quickly (another post for another time). He set up the first reserve rule for players to prevent contract jumping, and in 1881 expelled Cincinnati from the league for playing games on Sunday and selling beer in the stands. In 1882 he had a heart attack, dying the same day. In 1995, 58 years after Bulkeley, Hulbert was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To be honest, I don’t think I would have liked Hulbert. I admire his desire to establish a league that would last, but he’s just not my cup of tea. It seems to me he spent most of his life looking for a fight and generally found one. But we baseball fans owe him.