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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,430

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This is the grave of Harry Wright.

Born in 1835 in Sheffield, England, Wright grew up in a prominent sporting family. His father was a well known cricket player. The family moved to New York in 1838 when his father got a job in New York at a cricket club, part of an attempt to spread that game to the U.S. The sons expected to follow their father’s path and were effectively semi-pro players from the time they were teens. Wright dropped out of school and worked in the jewelry industry to make money while mostly just playing cricket.

But of course cricket’s cousin baseball would sweep America and Wright was in on the ground floor of that. He played a little bit for the Knicker Bocker Baseball Club in 1858, its second year of existence. He played a bit over the next several years, including an experiment in “ice baseball” in the winter of 1864-65. Would like to see video of that one. After the Civil War, he took a job with a cricket club in Cincinnati. But in 1866, baseball exploded in popularity and the cricket team switched to the new game. Wright did play some, but he was in his 30s now and so that didn’t last too long. He moved to managing the new team. Everything was in flux, the rules had little connection to the modern game, but very slowly, it began to take shape. In 1869, Wright was the first person to provide a written description of the seventh inning stretch, for example.

The early leagues came and went frequently. But in 1871, a more substantial league developed. The National Association attempted to professionalize the game more. The Boston Red Stockings, one of the first teams, asked Wright to manage and play for them, so he did, even though he was the second oldest player in the entire league at 36 years of age. He remained the team’s center fielder until 1874 and played a few games after that, with his last being in 1877. He attempted to take baseball to the British after the 1874 season, but they were totally uninterested. He managed the team through the 1881 season, but they weren’t very good at the end, so he left.

Wright took over the Providence Grays in 1882 and had a pretty good first year and a not so great second year before resigning. While in Providence though, he did create the idea of the farm team. He created a secondary team that would play semipro games while the Grays was on the road and call their players up if his main squad got hurt. So in 1884, Wright managed the Philadelphia Quakers, which eventually became the Phillies. He was a very good manager by all accounts and he turned this disaster of a franchise into a fairly strong team. He and the cheap owners hated each other though and so they fired him after the 1893 season. The National League then offered him the role of Chief of Umpires and he frequently umpired. In fact, he sometimes umpired the games he also managed, which is a huge conflict of interest, but he was known for his very fair umpiring. Maybe we should make Angel Hernandez an umpire-manager, see what happens…..

By the time the Phillies fired him, Wright was the all time leader in managerial wins, with 1,225. Today, he is 44th on the all time list. He never did win the title again after the 1878 Boston team, but that had a lot more to do with the teams he was given than his own managerial skills. For this, the Hall of Fame inducted him in 1953.

However, Wright had bad lungs. I am not sure what exactly the problem was, but between tuberculosis and just the horrific air of the industrial city and then also smoking, there are no shortage of possibilities. He died in 1895, at the age of 60.

Harry Wright is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

If you would like this series to visit other managers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Joe Cronin, 43rd on the the all time list and both a great player and a great manager, is in Centerville, Massachusetts. Ned Yost is 45th, Ron Gardenhire is 46th, Mike Hargrove is 47th, and Bobby Valentine is 48th. All live. Hughie Jennings is 49th and is in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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