Middletown Mansfield Base Ball Club 1866-1872

by David Arcidiacono

The Middletown Mansfields are Middletown’s one and only, and Connecticut’s first, major league baseball team. The pioneering Mansfields began as an amateur team after the Civil War. It was the summer of 1866 when a ballclub was first established at Middletown's Douglas Pump Co. The factory owner's son, sixteen year old Ben Douglas Junior, organized the team and named them "Mansfields" in honor of General Joseph Mansfield, a Middletown native and Civil War hero.

Despite losing their first match to New Britain by a score of 50 to 1, the Mansfields showed steady improvement and in 1870 were voted amateur champions of Connecticut. It was in that year that they also acquired an enclosed field which, for the first time, allowed them to charge admission to games. They also went on their first out of state road trip and started playing some of the best professional clubs in the country.

In the spring of 1872 everything was in place for the Mansfields' continued operation as amateurs. Ben Douglas was negotiating with Harry Wright, manager of the powerful Boston Red Stockings, to bring Boston to Middletown for a few games. Discussions weren’t going smoothly so Wright advised Douglas that if the Mansfields truly wanted to play professional clubs then they should pay the $10 entry fee and join the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The National Association was the nation’s first professional league and was the forerunner of today’s National League which was founded in 1876.

Now, the Mansfields were certainly a good amateur team, but joining the professional league was a huge leap for the small-town club. While they had acquitted themselves reasonably well against some pro teams, the reality was that they had failed to defeat a single one. Beside the concerns about their talent, Douglas was also undoubtedly aware that Middletown's small population wouldn't guarantee the club's financial survival. With only 11,000 residents, Middletown's population paled in comparison to other National Association cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Despite these rather daunting obstacles, the Mansfields boldly authorized Douglas to send the $10 entry fee into the League’s Championship Committee. Although their shocking move was resisted by the baseball establishment, the simple truth was that by tendering the $10 fee, Middletown had fulfilled the National Association's sole requirement for entry. Yes, as improbable as it was, Middletown now had one of only eleven major league teams in the entire country!

During their one season of major-league ball, the Mansfields found themselves matched against the finest baseball players in all of America. The Mansfields took on the best clubs from the largest cities in the nation, including Boston (the Red Stockings), New York (the famous Atlantics and Mutuals), Philadelphia (the Athletics) and other major American cities.

Big city teams weren't the only obstacles though as the Mansfields struggled for survival against sparse attendance, crooked umpires, scheduling fiascos and more. Alas they could not remain solvent and on August 14 the Mansfields closed the books on their one glorious major league season.

The 1872 team included future Hall of Famer Jim (Orator) O'Rourke who began his professional career with the Mansfields and went on to a prolific baseball career that culminated with his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Mansfields also featured the following players: solid catcher John Clapp, legendary pitcher Asa Brainard, colorful Tim Murnane, pitchers Cy Bentley and Frank Buttery, Frank Allen, Eddie Booth, George Fields, Jim Tipper, Frank McCarton, and Willis Arnold. Many of these players went on to solid baseball careers including Ben Douglas Junior who not only brought major league baseball to Middletown, but did the same for Hartford and then amazingly for Providence, Rhode Island. Of the six New England cities that have had major league baseball teams, Ben Douglas Junior was responsible for starting three of them!

Although now just a dim memory, thankfully the Mansfields have not been totally forgotten. There currently exists the Middletown Mansfield vintage baseball team which plays baseball by 19th century rules and wears vintage hand-made uniforms largely authentic to the original Mansfields’ 1870 uniform.

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