Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mutrie and the Maroons – Why New York’s National League Team Became the Giants

“Giants” of the Game

The earliest unambiguous example of “Giants” as the nickname for New York’s National League baseball team appeared in a brief report of an exhibition game that took place in Jersey City the day before.

Gotham Giants in Jersey.

The New York Leaguers went to Jersey City yesterday and played the Eastern League team of that place. Mutrie's giants were in good form, but the Jerseys gave them a hard battle. The pleasure of witnessing Keefe's first appearance in the maroon stockings was reserved for the patrons of the Jersey grounds. Keefe was not in his regular position but in right field, where he did that little he was obliged to in a satisfactory manner. The new nickname of the League representatives of this city is quite expressive as that of "ponies," by which Mutrie's old friends, the Mets, are known. Giants though they are, however, they found difficulty in hitting Hughes's delivery safe, and made only eight base hits, while Dorgan was hit safely six times. The score by innings and summary follows:

New York World, 14 April 1885, page 3, column 3 (From Barry Popik’s Big Apple Etymological Dictionary). 

Less than two weeks later, a widely circulated news item announced the new name, among others.

The St. Louis League club will be known as the Maroons, the New Yorkers have been the Giants, Providence the Cripples and Chicago the Babies. –  [Exchange.]

Boston Globe, April 24, 1885, page 2.

The nickname caught on rapidly. 

No one at the time explained the reason for adopting the nickname.  Dozens of explanations appeared decades later, some of them clearly wrong with respect to some of the details.[i] 

Some say it was the size of the players, some the way they played.  Some credit manager James Mutrie, others credit a sportswriter.  Some say it happened in their first year in the National League in 1883, others in 1885 or 1888.  Some claim it was during a pennant race with Chicago, others during a game against Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, February 2, 1936, page 19.

Separating the wheat from the chaff, the most likely chain of events is that James Mutrie called them “giants” (in size and playing skill) fleetingly without any thought of naming the team, was overheard by a sportswriter named P. J. Donohue who took up the name and popularized in through use in his newspaper, the New York World, where it first appeared on April 14, 1885.  This conclusion is consistent with the fact that the earliest few examples of the name in print are from The New York World and supported by two early explanations of the origin, one directly from the horse’s mouth. 

Thirty-five years after the fact, James Mutrie remembered saying the name first, but remembered that “somebody took it up,” after which it caught on as a nickname. 

“Yes, I named the Giants myself,” he said with a chuckle.  “It was perfectly natural to call them that.  The boys were all tall in those days, because most of them were sluggers and they didn’t go in so much for speedy playing then.  It was a day when they were winning, and I looked out at them and said: ‘They’re giants in playing and in stature, too.’ Somebody took it up and they have been known as the Giants ever since.  There is nobody playing to-day like those old sluggers.”

New-York Tribune, September 3, 1921, page 16.

Boston Globe, February 13, 1925, page 13.

An earlier explanation of the name identified the “somebody” who took up the name as P. J. Donohue, the sports editor of the New York World, where the name first appeared.  

The New York Nationals were dubbed the "Giants" by the late P. Jay Donahue, who was the sporting editor of the New York World, in the summer of 1885, when that team was making a strenuous fight against the Chicago team for the championship. It was their deeds, and not their stature, as many rooters think, that was responsible for the name.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 21, 1910, sports section, page 3. 

Peter J. Donohue, as seen in Harry Clay Palmer's, Athletic Sports in America, England and Australia, Philadelphia, Hubbard Brothers, 1889, page 593 (P. J. Donohue had a close relationship with both John B. Day, a principle investor in the team, and James Mutrie, their manager.  In 1886, for example, the three of them established a sports journal, The Sporting Times.). 

While these stories may explain how the team became the “Giants” in April of 1885, they leave open two questions: why did the team need a new nickname after two years in the league, and why were they suddenly playing like “giants” after two relatively mediocre seasons, finishing 6th and 4th in an eight-team league? 

Why Not Maroons?

Although modern references generally refer to New York’s National League teams of 1883 and 1884 as the “New York Gothams,” they were not generally known as such at the time.  They were most commonly referred to simply as the “New Yorks,” but since “Gotham” is a synonym for “New York City,” sportswriters occasionally substituted “Gothams” for “New Yorks.”  The name was not considered a nickname or team name in the conventional sense.

But that’s not to say they didn’t have an informal nickname.  They were frequently referred to as the “Maroons” in reference to maroon trimmings on their uniforms.  The name even popped up a few times early in the 1885 season before the name “Giants” became more commonplace.

The maroons got back at the [Providence] grays in great style to-day.

New York Times, June 4, 1884, page 5.

The Maroons had the right to select another umpire and chose one of their own players.

Buffalo Commercial, September 27, 1884, page 3.

Roger Connor, of the Maroons, . . . has a percentage of 325 in five years’ playing, and he improves like wine with age.

Buffalo Times, April 8, 1885, page 1.

Maroons they were and Maroons they might have stayed, but for the admission of another new team into the League in 1885 – the St. Louis Maroons.  The St. Louis Maroons had played under that name in the Union League the previous season, but needed a new home when that league folded at the end of the season.  The National League was happy to oblige, as the St. Louis Browns of the American Association had demonstrated the potential profits to be had in the city. 

With two “Maroons” in one league, something had to give.  Luckily, New York’s fortunes were looking up – they had reason to believe that they would improve from also-rans to “giants” of the League.  A new name soon followed.

Why Giants?

The name “Giants” first appeared in a pre-season exhibition match with a minor opponent.  It’s not surprising they looked like giants in comparison, but they had good reason to believe that they could be League “giants” in the upcoming season.  It wasn’t just wishful thinking.  The roster had improved, drastically as a result of some good old-fashioned double-dealing, insider trading, and a secret business trip to Bermuda – all through the efforts of James Mutrie.

When James Mutrie switched teams from the original Metropolitans to the new Metropolitans of the American Association before the 1883 season, his business partner John B. Day took over management of the renamed New Yorks in the National League.  In his first two seasons in the American Association, Mutrie led the Mets to a 4th place finish in 1883 and 1st place in 1884.  Day, on the other hand, plodded through two seasons in 6th and 4th place. 

But despite their poor showing, New York’s National League team made much more money.  The National League is said to have attracted a better class of patron.  They charged twice as much for admission (50 cents, as opposed to 25 cents), which kept out the riff-raff, and did not serve alcoholic drinks, which kept out the drunken riff-raff.

They pay big salaries and an immense ground rent. . . .  Both the New York League and Metropolitan Clubs have been playing until recently on these grounds, which are divided by a fence, and in every instance, when both clubs played on the same day, the League team drew by far the largest audience, leaving the Mets but a handful of people.

The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), August 24, 1884, page 3.

To address the problem, the Metropolitan Exhibition Company, the Metropolitans and the New Yorks all conspired amongst themselves to improve their collective fortunes by transferring the champion manager, best hitter and best pitcher from the pennant-winning Mets of the American Association to the money-winning New Yorks of the National League.

Since the two teams were controlled by the same ownership group, one might imagine it would be a simple thing to just move players from one team to the other.  But little was simple in professional baseball between the 1884 and 1885 seasons.  The National League and American Association were negotiating a baseball treaty to avoid inter-league competition for players, keep down player costs, and to make player contracts more predictable to put all of the teams on a more stable business footing. 

The fruit of those negotiations was the so-called “National Agreement,” an overarching document governing the business of baseball that still controls the game today.  The National Agreement introduced the “reserve rule,” a system in which teams could reserve the exclusive right to renew contracts year-to-year with players already under contract, without the risk that another team could seduce them away with a higher salary. 

At the time, the “reserve rule” was commonly referred to as the “ten-man rule,” because it limited teams’ reserve lists to ten players – all of other players being free agents from one season to the next.  When a team “released” a player from a contract or from its “reserve list,” they sent a notice to the league offices where they maintained a running list of reserved players and released players.  In turn, the league offices sent out notices to all other teams when players were available.  Teams could not sign a player until ten days had elapsed, to give all teams a fair chance to learn about the player’s availability and deal with them on an equal basis. 

There were no such rules for manager, however.  Mutrie’s move from the Mets to the New Yorks seemed certain before the New Year.[ii]  By the end of January, rumors were already swirling that Mutrie would bring the Mets’ big slugger, third-baseman “Dude” Esterbrook, and their future hall-of-famer, pitcher Tim Keefe, with him.[iii]  In return, New York would transfer pitcher Ed Bagley and third-baseman Frank Hankinson to the Metropolitans.

Tim Keefe and "Dude" Esterbrook, Leslies Illustrated, July 10, 1886, page 325.

James Mutrie finally pulled the trigger on March 26, 1885.  Acting as manager of the Metropolitans, he released Tim Keefe and “Dude” Esterbrook, after which they all promptly disappeared.

Keefe and Esterbrook Hid Away.

New York, March 26. – The Metropolitan Exhibition Company to-day released Keefe and Esterbrook, of the Metropolitan Club . . . .  This is the first move toward the transfer of these players . . . to the New York Club. . . .  As soon as these players received their release they at once disappeared from the city, and the closest search failed to find where they have gone.

Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, 1885, page 2.

But Mutrie did not leave town unnoticed. Someone spotted him on the deck of a steamer leaving New York Harbor.  Knowing that his star players would be hot-tickets on the open market, he had purchased some hot tickets of his own, taking his star players on a cruise to Bermuda (mistakenly reported as Havana) – away from the prying eyes and eager checkbooks of meddling baseball managers looking to improve their roster.

It appears that the two ball tossers, immediately after receiving their release, were provided with tickets to Havana.  The steamer had hardly left her moorings when Manager Mutrie of the New Yorks emerged from the cabin.  The three gentlemen are by this time enjoying the sunny climate of Cuba.  At the proper time- that is, after the ten days’ limit has expired, they will return to New York.

Boston Globe, April 1, 1885, page 3.

Two weeks later, on April 12, 1885, Mutrie reappeared, this time as manager of the New Yorks of the National League, his new acquisitions in tow, just in time to play an exhibition game in Jersey City the following day.

The roster changes likely gave James Mutrie good reason to believe his team might be “giants in playing, as well as in stature” in the new season.  No longer the also-rans of 1884, they now had the best hitter and the best pitcher from the previous season’s pennant winners in the American Association; in exchange, they had only lost Bagley and Hankinson.

In 58 appearances for the Metropolitans in 1884, Tim Keefe won 37 and lost 17, with an ERA of 2.25.  Ed Bagley, the pitcher who swapped roster spots with Keefe, won 12 and lost 18 in 31 appearances for the New Yorks that year (his first year in the majors), with an ERA of 4.16.  That’s a potential 27-game swing with similar performances on their new teams in 1885 – a “giant” difference. 

Keefe upheld his end of the bargain with the New York Giants in 1885, winning 32 and losing only 13, with an improved ERA of 1.58.  Bagley made only 14 appearances for the Mets in 1885, with 4 wins, 9 losses and an ERA of 4.93.  Tim Keefe is now in the Hall of Fame, Ed Bagley never made it back to the majors.

“Dude” Esterbrook had 150 hits (.314) in 112 games at third base for the Metropolitans in 1884.  His counterpart, Frank Hankinson, had 90 hits (.231) in 105 games at third base for the New Yorks; a potential difference of 60 hits with similar performances in 1885 – a “giant” step up. 

Esterbrook didn’t quite live up to his billing, but still got more hits in fewer games for New York in 1885 (92 hits in 88 games, .256) than Hankinson did for the Mets (81 hits, 94 games, .224), so it was still a “giant” improvement.

As a team the newly named New York Giants made giant strides in 1885, improving from 4th place with a record of 62-50 in 1884 to 2nd place with a record of 85-27, just two games behind the champion Chicago White Stockings, spending most of the first month of the season in first place and coming within a half-game of first toward the end of August.

The New York Giants regressed in 1886 and 1887, finishing 3rd and 4th respectively, before winning the pennant two seasons in a row in 1888 and 1889, finally earning their new nickname.

The roster moves brought New York’s National League team a nice new nickname, but Mutrie’s and Day’s names were now “Mudd,” at least within the ranks of the American Association executives who dealt with the aftermath of the roster moves at their spring meetings.  They also threatened the National League with baseball war, even if the moves were technically legal under the National Agreement. 

The case of the Metropolitans for transferring Keefe and Esterbrook to the League was taken up, and the Metropolitans fined $500 and Mutrie expelled.  Resolutions were adopted to be presented to the League Committee setting forth that the American Association will respect the League rule no longer, and that if the League wants peace, it must ask for it. 

Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois), April 29, 1885, page 1.

Dark Clouds Gathering.

There is everything to indicate that the action of the American Association at the recent meeting will result in a bitter war.  Mr. Day, of the Metropolitan Exhibition Company, feels that he has been grossly insulted, and it does look as if the expelling of Jim Mutrie and the fining of the Mets was a direct slap at him.  It is generally conceded, too, that the action of the association was unjust, for the Mets violated no National agreement or American Association rules, and when Mutrie took the talented ball players to the Bermudas he was simply acting under the orders of the exhibition company.  It is therefore, not right that he should suffer.

Indianapolis Sentinel, May 1, 1885, page 4.

There were unrelated problems in baseball at the time that also threatened peaceful coexistence in baseball.   But if the New York Giants’ name was influenced, at least in part, by questionable roster moves that fanned the flames of a possible baseball war, it has something in common with other famous baseball team nicknames. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates, for instance, became “Pirates” shortly after their owner pirated several players in questionable (yet perfectly legal) roster moves, earning himself the nickname, “The Pirate King,” first sung to the tune of “The Pirate King” song in The Pirates of Penzance.  See my earlier piece, The Pittsburgh Pirates of Penzance – the Dramatic and Musical Origin of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Team Name.

The St. Louis Cardinals were named for a new uniform color they adopted when their owner, in a move similar to what Mutrie did with only two players, swapped the entire rosters of the Cleveland Spiders and the St. Louis Browns, both of which were held under common ownership.  The Browns were a bad, yet profitable team in a great baseball town.  The Spiders were a successful, yet unprofitable team in a difficult baseball town – the primary complaints being the inability to play baseball on Sundays and sell beer at the stadium.  See my earlier piece, Sunday Baseball and the Cleveland Spiders - How the St. Louis Browns Became the Cardinals.

Earlier Giants?

Anyone who chooses to poke around online, searchable newspaper archives might run across a couple or a few examples of the word “Giants” with reference to a major league team from New York City. 

Two instances appear with respect to the New Yorks of the National League, one in 1883 the other in 1884.  Both cases appear to be a one-off example of the word “giant” to refer to the team’s abilities, although in one instance, it may be meant ironically with mocking derision.  If either of these two examples were evidence that the nickname preceded Mutrie’s move from the Mets to the Giants in 1885, it would upset the nearly universal attribution of the name to Mutrie since they occurred while he was still managing the Metropolitans in the American Association, not the National League team that would eventually become the Giants.

[For more information on the interconnected early histories of the New York Metropolitans and the New York Giants, see my piece, “Mets Might Be Giants, an Alternative History of the New York Giants.”]

A third example relates to Mutrie’s American Association Mets in 1884, but it appears to refer to both teams as “giants,” the two teams then battling it out for first place in the Association.  If this example were evidence that the name “Giants” applied to Mutrie’s Mets in 1884, it would turn the whole world upside down.

When New York’s National League team faced the Chicago in early-August of 1883, for example, they were sitting in sixth place (in an eight-team league), thirteen games out of first (Chicago was in third place, two-and-a-half games back) – hardly “giants,” unless intended as ironically derisive.  Curiously, however, it appeared in Chicago, one of the cities that routinely referred to their own team by the name “Giants,”[iv] so it seems unlike they used the name as a general nickname for New York.

Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1883, page 7.

When New York faced Buffalo in a National League contest early in the 1884 season, New York was in first place and Buffalo in sixth, in which case the descriptive use of the name would make sense.  Buffalo newspapers regularly referred to the team as “Maroons” in 1884, and this is the only example of “Giant” I have seen.

Buffalo Times, May 16, 1884, page 1.

A more obviously generic, descriptive use of “giants” with respect to a New York team appeared later that same season, but in relation to James Mutrie’s American Association Metropolitans, not the National League team that would become the “Giants” a few months later.  Heading into a late-season struggle with the Columbus Buckeyes, the Metropolitans and Buckeyes had the most and second-most number of wins in the league[v], making “giants” an apt description of both teams.

At Columbus, Sept. 21, the giants met and the game was witnessed by the largest crowd of the season, who witnessed a most exciting game.

The Sporting Life, October 1, 1884, page 3.


During spring training in 1885, the New York Maroons were given a new nickname shortly after the St. Louis Maroons joined the League.  James Mutrie had just returned from a trip to Bermuda.  Before leaving, as manager of the Metropolitans, he released two stars from his American Association pennant-winning team of 1882.  Before returning, as manager of the New York National League team, he signed those same two stars to his new team.  It was a big improvement to the team – some might say a giant improvement. 

During the team’s first exhibition game after his return, a 4-1 win at Jersey City on April 13, 1885, Mutrie may have described the team as “giants in playing and in stature,” and may have been overheard by P. J. Donohue of the New York World.  The next day, the New York World published the first-known example of the team’s new nickname, “Giants,” in print.

[i] Several examples are collected on the New York Giants page of Barry Popik’s Big Apple Etymological Dictionary.
[ii] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 28, 1884, page 9.
[iii] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 25, 1885, page 9.
[iv] The Chicago White Stockings were regularly referred to as the “Giants” in the mid-1879s and still, on occasion, as late as 1880. See my piece, “Mets Might Be Giants, an Alternative History of the New York Giants.”
[v] The Metropolitans were in first place by three games over Louisville, but Columbus was technically in third place, a half-game behind Louisville, despite having one more win, due to having played two more games with two more losses.

Mets Might Be Giants - an Alternative History of the New York Giants

The San Francisco Giants’ official team-history timeline dates the origin of their franchise to 1883, the year they joined the National League.  By their calculations, they will celebrate their 140th anniversary in 2023.  Contemporary reporting of the team’s origin, however, suggests that the franchise may have been in continuous existence since 1880, pushing their 140th anniversary up to the year 2020. 

In 1883, after six years without a major league baseball team, New York City was suddenly blessed with not one, but two major league teams – the “New Yorks” (later the “Giants,” now the San Francisco Giants) of the National League and the “Metropolitans” (or “Mets”) of the American Association. 

The sudden appearance of two teams in two different leagues at the same time was no coincidence.  It was the result of a three-year effort by one man and his financial backers to introduce legitimate, honest, professional baseball back into New York City where it had fallen into disrepute amid allegations of fixing games and other forms crooked play several years earlier. 

In September 1880, journeyman New England baseball player and manager James Mutrie, with the financial backing of Tobacconist John B. Day and others, brought an independent team to New York called the “Metropolitans.”  To the surprise of many, the venture was profitable.

Throughout its first two seasons, the Metropolitans played second fiddle to the ponies on the Polo Grounds, with games scheduled only on off-days during the local polo season and full-time when the polo players were in Newport during the heat of summer.  But the increasing profitability of baseball put them in position to take more control of their own destiny. 

Before the 1882 season, Mutrie, Day and other backers formed the Metropolitan Exhibition Company to operate the business end of the stadium grounds and the baseball team.  One of their first moves was to sub-lease the Polo Grounds from the polo players, thereby securing full control over their stadium grounds and making them an attractive expansion target with opportunities to join either one of the two major leagues.  

But the Metropolitan Exhibition Company went them one better.  Instead of settling for a fielder’s choice, choosing one league over the other, they went for the double play, forming a second team and placing one each in both leagues.

This is where the standard timeline breaks down.  Traditional history holds that the Metropolitan Exhibition Company’s original team joined the American Association under their original name, the Metropolitans, and the new team joined the National League as the New Yorks, taking the name “Giants” two years later.  Under this timeline, the San Francisco Giants’ franchise dates to 1883.

Contemporary reporting from the period of transition, however, suggests the opposite, namely that the original Metropolitans joined the National League in 1883 and the new team joined the American Association. 

The Metropolitan Club will be under new management next season, and will also be in the [National] League. . . . 

Manager Mutrie, the organizer of the club, has resigned to take the management of the new American Association Club in this city next season.

New York Sun, November 13, 1882, page 3.

The teams swapped names before the season began, confusing the issue.

Some may view it as a distinction without a difference.  The original Metropolitans’ manager took charge of the new “Metropolitans” and brought many of the same players with him.  The new “Metropolitans” were therefore largely indistinguishable from the original Metropolitans.  The incestuous changes in management and personnel among two teams under common ownership obscured the technical distinctions of which franchise started when and where.

But if true, the San Francisco Giants’ franchise traces its origins to the first game of the New York Metropolitans on September 15, 1880, not to their first season in the National League in 1883.

Sorting out the early interconnected histories of the Mets, the Metropolitan Exhibition Company and the New York Giants may help determine whether the San Francisco Giants’ franchise should celebrate the 140th anniversary of their first game on September 15, 2020 or wait until the start of the 2023 season.

Sifting through those early histories also suggests answers to other unanswered questions about the teams’ names; why the original team was called the Metropolitans instead of the New Yorks as would have been expected under the team-name conventions of the day, why the teams swapped names in 1883, and why they became “Giants” in 1885.

Leslies Illustrated, July 10 1886, page 325.

James Mutrie’s Baseball Education

The prime mover behind the formation of both the New York Metropolitans and New York Giants franchises was an itinerant baseball player/long-distance runner/sports promoter/umpire named James Mutrie.

James Mutrie was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in about 1851.  He first played organized baseball at the age of 21, as catcher for the Chelsea Aurora.[i]  The Chelsea Aurora played in a local Boston-area “junior” league, with teams including, the Mystic of Winchester, the Excelsior of Boston, Boston Jr. of Boston, Harvard Jr. of North Bridgewater, and Una of Charlestown. 

Despite Mutrie’s contributions, the future two-time World Series-champion manager’s team finished out of the money.  Una of Charlestown won the pennant, a “fine whip pennant valued at $100.”  The Harvard Jrs. took home a “handsome silver-mounted bat for second place, and the Excelsiors of Boston won third, a set of foul flags.”[ii]

Mutrie played catcher for Chelsea’s senior amateur squad the following season.  The team fared better, finishing the season with the best winning percentage and most runs scored, yet still losing the championship to the King Philips of Abington[iii] in a disputed decision by the “Base Ball Championship Committee.”

The recent decision of the Base Ball Championship Committee, awarding the silver ball to the King Philip Club of East Abington, caused surprise and dissatisfaction to the Chelsea Club and its friends.  It is claimed that the record of runs made by the latter club against their various opponents is better than that of the King Philips. 

Boston Globe, December 8, 1873, page 5.

Chelsea won seven of ten games played, while the King Philips won seven of eleven; Chelsea scored 108 runs and King Philips only 78.  Chelsea blamed the decision on the fact that a member of the King Philips sat on the committee.  But it’s possible, although not explained, that the committee took into considered the two out of three games the King Philips took from Chelsea in a late-season series against Chelsea, and the sixteen runs they put up against Chelsea’s seven in the final game of that series.[iv]

In 1874, Mutrie again played for the Chelsea amateurs, splitting time as catcher and short stop.  Although team was not as successful that season (they were listed in 4th place in the Massachusetts amateur standings in late-August), the team took a road trip that gave the young Mutrie his first taste of baseball in the New York City metropolitan area.

In August 1874, the Chelseas of Chelsea, Massachusetts travelled to Brooklyn (then its own city) to play games with local amateur teams.  Billed as the “amateur champions of Massachusetts” (perhaps based on their disputed “championship” from the previous season, Chelseas of Massachusetts represented their city well, winning two of three games by large margins against the Concords of Brooklyn and Arlingtons of New York City, and taking the same-named Chelseas of Brooklyn into extra innings, losing 10-6 in the tenth inning. 

All three games were played at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn.  Six years later, James Mutrie’s original Metropolitans would play their first several games on the same field.  This road trip may well have been the spark that ignited his passion for bringing major league baseball to New York.

Mutrie’s name appeared in Chelsea’s pre-season roster before the 1875 season and in a box score as short-stop for their game versus the Lynn Live Oaks in July.[v]  There are very other few mentions in local newspapers as compared with the previous season.  The reasons are unclear, but a reference to the “reorganized nine of the Chelsea base ball club” hints at some turmoil within the team that summer.

But if the team was inactive for part of the season, Mutrie kept busy.  He umpired games played by other teams in Chelsea’s league in July[vi] and August,[vii] demonstrating the trust and respect his peers had for his fairness, maturity and general baseball knowledge, attributes that would later serve him well in becoming a successful manager.

He also reportedly played baseball for the Androscoggins of Lewiston Maine “during the latter part of that season [(1875)].”[viii]  An article about James Mutrie’s career published decades later suggested that his stint with the Androscoggins was the first time he played professionally, for money.  The Androscoggins, however, applied for and were admitted into the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players before the 1875 season.,[ix]  So if he was paid by the Androscoggins, it must have been under the table or in violation of the rules.  A brief biography of James Mutrie published in The New York Clipper in 1881, however, suggests that his first truly professional experience came in 1876, with the Fall Rivers of Fall River, Massachusetts.[x]

Mutrie brought Chelsea’s entire infield with him to Fall River in 1876, Steve Libby (1b), Sam Crane (2b), James Mutrie (ss), John Piggott (3b), and the battery consisting of John J. Eagan (p) and Henry Oxley (c).  Mutrie captained the team to the New England championship over Charter Oak, King Philip, Lynn Live Oaks, Lowell, New Haven, Rhode Island and Taunton.  The Fall Rivers finished the season with 49 wins, 33 losses and one tie and were declared “champions of New England” – it didn’t hurt that all of the other teams in the league folded before the season ended.[xi]

The Fall Rivers even bested the National League’s Boston “Reds” (or “Red Stockings,” later the Boston Braves, now the Atlanta Braves) in a late-season exhibition game, earning the winning pitcher, Tricky Nichols, a roster spot with the National League’s St. Louis Brown Stockings for 1877.

Mutrie spent one more season in Fall River, this time as manager, finishing in the middle of the pack behind pennant-winner Lowell and Manchester and ahead of Rhode Island and the Lynn Live Oaks.

With a (disputed) amateur championship of Massachusetts and a professional championship of New England under his belt, James Mutrie moved on up in 1878 to a league called the International Association, as short-stop for the New Bedfords of New Bedford, Massachusetts.  The team’s owner, Frank C. Bancroft, a hotel operator and vaudeville agent[xii] with little or no baseball experience, appointed Mutrie captain of the newly-formed team. 

Philadelphia Times, November 7, 1886, page 11.
The team did not last long in the International Association, giving up their spot in the league to a team from New Haven, Connecticut by early June.  But under Bancroft’s management and Mutrie’s on-field captaincy, New Bedford enjoyed success on the field among their peer-group of teams.  The New England Base Ball Association awarded New Bedford the “championship pennant” at their end-of-season meeting in November.[xiii]

As satisfying as a second New England championship in three seasons may have been, it was not the best thing to come out of that season for either James Mutrie or Frank Bancroft.  Bancroft, who had no previous professional baseball experience may have learned enough from Mutrie to manage his own teams in the future.  And Mutrie, who had little or no previous entrepreneurial experience, may have learned enough about the business of baseball to manage the business of his own teams in the future. 

The year 1878 was their only full year together on the same team, but their paths would cross again.

In 1881, Frank Bancroft managed a National League team from Detroit, sometimes referred to as “Wolverines,” in keeping with the long-established nickname for people from Michigan.  The local papers in Detroit, however, frequently used a different nickname for the team – the “Giants.”[xiv]

The [Detroit] Post and Tribune is pursuing a conservative and sensible course in reference to the new nine at Detroit.  It says: “We do not expect the Detroits to swing immediately to the front.  It would be folly to make any such claim; but they will make music for their opponents and music enough to make a merry dance.  Detroit is satisfied with her ‘giants,’ proud of their clean records, and convinced of their great promise.

Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1881, page 20.

The Detroit papers speak of the members of the local club as “giants” . . . .

The [Detroit] Post and Tribune thus outlines the programme of the Detroits for April: “The Detroit ‘Giants’ play their first game with the Princetons April 2d. . . . They will return to New-York the evening of the 2d and begin a series of six games with the Metropolitans on the Polo grounds. . . .”

Morning Express (Buffalo, New York), March 30, 1881, page 4.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Detroit was still referred to as “Giants” even after New York’s National League team became widely known as the “Giants” in 1885, as evidenced by these headlines from 1886.

Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), April 15, 1887, page 2.

Boston Globe, June 30, 1887, page 4.

New York’s own National League team would not be known as the “Giants” until James Mutrie’s first few days as manager during spring training in 1885.  Perhaps he learned more from Bancroft than just his business, entrepreneurial spirit and moustache maintenance.  

Mutrie’s and Bancroft’s paths crossed again in significant fashion in 1884.  Bancroft managed the National League’s Providence Grays that season, and Mutrie the American Association’s New York Metropolitans.  During the final weeks of the season, Mutrie publicly boasted that his team could beat any “League club” in a three-game series.  Bancroft challenged the “Mets” to a three-game, post-season series to test the claim. 

Mutrie agreed, but only in the event that both teams won their respective League pennants, which they both did a few weeks later.  After some back-and-forth negotiation, they agreed to terms and the dates – “the winning club to be entitled to the championship of America.  These will probably be the greatest games ever played.”[xv]

The championship series may not have been the “greatest games ever played” as advertised (Providence won handily, 6-0, 3-1 and 12-2 with all games played at the Polo Grounds), but they were the first-ever post-season series of games between champions of two major leagues – in effect the first-ever “World Series” (although the championship series would not be known by that name until 1886). 

But before any of that happened, Bancroft and Mutrie had unfinished, mutual business to attend to.  During the off-season between 1878 and 1879, Mutrie and Bancroft earned extra cash promoting and competing in long-distance “go as you please” run/walk races, with Bancroft  acting as “manager” or “coach” for Mutrie, who sometimes competed wearing his New Bedford baseball uniform, with many of the races against other baseball players. 

Races were generally set at 100, 50 or 25 miles.  In one match, Mutrie went 50 miles in 10 hours, 58 minutes and 19 seconds, including 21 minutes and 10 seconds’ rest.  His fastest mile was 10 minutes and 50 seconds, his slowest (the 25th mile) 16 minutes and 37 seconds.  Admission was charged, food and drinks sold to spectators, and promoters put up prize money.  In some cases, fellow players manned the gates, sold tickets, or provided security.

In 1879, Frank Bancroft was offered the management of a team from Worcester, Massachusetts, playing in a new league called the National Association.  He brought Mutrie with him to captain the team, but Mutrie’s limitations as a player soon caught up to him.  In mid-May, Bancroft said “Mutrie must go” – he is “not filling the bill.  He lasted a few more weeks, even pitching a few innings, but blowing a lead to his old team, New Bedford,[xvi] but was cut at the beginning of June.[xvii]

Despite being cut, the rest of the season was a busy one for Mutrie.  The Boston Red Stockings of the National League invited him on a road trip to serve as an umpire,[xviii] which demonstrates the trust and respect he had earned in even the highest levels of organized baseball. 

He also received an offer to manage a team from Brockton, Massachusetts, playing in an Eastern Massachusetts league.  Although initial reports suggested he had “received a proposal . . . which he will decline,” he “enter[ed] on his duties . . . in the game with the Springfields” one week later.  Within two months, however, he was lured away to manage his old team, New Bedford, now playing in the National Association with Bancroft’s Worcester team.

Now that Mutrie is back again as manager of the New Bedford base ball club, hope springs up afresh in the hearts of many.  He is certainly a most excellent manager, and, although he takes charge of the club at a time when its treasury is empty, he starts off with good courage, bound to manage the club so that it will finish the season in good shape.

Boston Globe, August 17, 1879, page 5.

Mutrie played out the season with New Bedford, his team finishing a distant sixth (of nine teams).  Bancroft’s Worcester team finished in fourth, but still found a way to weasel its way into the National League the following season, where they remained for three years.

The season may have been mostly a bust for New Bedford, but it brought Mutrie more opportunities to make contacts that would play a role in bringing him to the New York metropolitan area the following season.  On September 27, The New-Bedford “whitewashed” the Jersey City Browns, 4-0, on the Prospect Park baseball grounds in Brooklyn.  Jersey City was playing its games in Brooklyn because “railroad officials ran a track through the centre of the field” during a rain delay earlier that month.[xix]

Within five months, Mutrie would take charge of organizing a Jersey City team to join the National Association.  When that didn’t pan out, his quest to locate a team somewhere within the New York metropolitan area would bear fruit with the establishment of the New York Metropolitans.

But in the intervening months, Mutrie again kept busy organizing and participating in long-distance running and walking races.  He even reportedly accepted an offer to play in Cuba with a team from Rochester, New York sponsored by the Hop Bitters beverage company.  Frank Bancroft (who had recently sold off his hotel interests to embark on a full-time baseball career [xx]) had organized the tour, found the sponsor, and would play a few games in Cuba before spending several weeks taking on all comers in New Orleans. 

At the last minute, however, Mutrie was unable to make the trip.[xxi]  It’s not clear why, but he made good use of his time while the Hop Bitters were away, laying the groundwork that would ultimately bring major league baseball back to New York City. 

In December, the financial backers of the Brockton club made an offer for him to manage their team in 1880.  In February 1880, James Mutrie attended the winter meetings of the National Association baseball league; not as a representative of New Bedford, but as the prospective manager of Jersey City, one of the “leading metropolitan nines”[xxii] of the New York City area.

The National Association will hold its annual convention at Earle’s Hotel, New York, on Wednesday, Feb. 18th.  Delegates from the National, Albany, Springfield, Baltimore, Jersey City, Trenton, Philadelphia and Holyoke Clubs are wanted. . . . The prospects are that Jersey City will have a strong nine during the coming season.  A stock company, with a capital of $2,500, divided into one hundred shares, is to be formed.  James Mutrie of New Bedford, has been selected to organize and manage the nine.

The Buffalo Commercial, February 11, 1880, page 3.

But things were still not settled in March.  He visited Brockton to see about taking charge of its team, while still considering a position with Jersey City.

Brockton is beginning to agitate the base ball question, and Mr. James Mutrie of New Bedford has been invited to take charge of the matter.  He was at Brockton the past week, and succeeded very well.

Boston Globe, March 14, 1880, page 2.

Cammeyer and Mutree [(sic)] will visit Prospect Park on the occasion of the first prize ball practice game by professionals, with a view to making selections for their Brooklyn and Jersey City teams.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 16, 1880, page 2.

With opportunities in Brockton and Jersey City, Mutrie, Solomon-like, split the baby – organizing one team alternately referred to as Brockton or Jersey City.

Mutrie is organizing a nine at Brockton, Mass.[xxiii]

The Jersey City Club. – Manager Mutrie reached town on Monday last, and states that Jersey City will have a professional grand opening and a strong stockholding team in the field within two weeks’ time.[xxiv]

Yale met the much named Jersey-City-Springfield, Brocktons for the third time yesterday, and defeated them in a finely contested game.[xxv]

James Mutrie was not the only baseball entrepreneur who was busy that summer.  Harry Wright, the Hall-of-Famer who had organized the first fully professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869, was reportedly in town looking to organize a team to play at the recently opened polo grounds the following season.

Harry Wright is set down for another locality in 1881.  This time he will raise a New York nine to play on the polo grounds at One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth street.

Williamsport Sun-Gazette, June 7, 1880, page 3.

Harry Wright may have been the first person to seek out such an arrangement, but he wasn’t the only one.  Mutrie’s mentor, Frank Bancroft, was also looking to place a team there.

The [Cincinnati[xxvi]] Enquirer says that an effort is being made which may prove successful, to persuade James Gordon Bennett to back a team which Manager Bancroft says will represent New York next year in the League.  The team will be formed whether the great journalist backs it or not, but with Mr. Bennett’s aid the polo grounds on Sixty-fifth street will be secured and turned into one of the finest ball grounds in the country.  A good, honest nine of ball players, with an irreproachable manager, will then be wanted, and some of the old time Atlantic Mutual enthusiasm will be revived in Gotham.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 11, 1880, page 3.

People familiar with old New York might notice that both of these reports got the location of the polo grounds wrong – it was actually bounded by 110th and 112th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.  The reporters had good excuse, however.  The polo grounds themselves were only a few weeks old when those reports were published, so the public was not yet very familiar with the location.

The Polo Grounds

There were no polo grounds in New York City until 1876 – because no one played polo in the United States until 1876.  The sport originated in Europe and was brought to US by wealthy American playboys, principally James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (heir to the New York Herald newspaper fortune), who picked up the game in Paris and London a season or two earlier.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Puck, Volume 3, Number 77, August 28, 1878, page 2.

The newly-formed Westchester Polo Club set up the first polo grounds at the Jerome Park horse racing track, the original home to the Belmont Stakes in the “annexed district” of the Bronx, which had been part of Westchester until 1874.  The polo-elite would practice and play there in the late-spring and early-summer, before moving the whole operation, ponies and all, to the cooler climate of Newport, Rhode Island.  

It was not a perfect location for a polo club.

Westchester. – Named after a swell polo club.  Place laid out with the intention of becoming the suburbs of New York.  Up to the present date chiefly remarkable for its production of chills and fever and bad country building lots held at city prices.  Board at variegated terms.  Prime quality of malaria on tap everywhere.

“Puck’s Summer Resport Guide,” Puck On Wheels No. III, For the Summer of 1882, New York, Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1882, page 26.

In part to avoid the poor climate, and in part to be closer to the seaside amusements they frequented at Coney Island, the Westchester Polo Club made arrangements to play games in a public park in Brooklyn. 

Polo at the Park.

The Westchester Club in Its New Quarters – An Opening Game to be Played this Afternoon – the Future Programme, Etc.

The Westchester Polo Club took possession, yesterday, of the ten acres of land set apart for them by the Park Commissioners, in the middle of the Prospect Park Parade Ground, and the members of the club took up their quarters at the Park Hotel, near by.  During the months of April and May the members continued their daily practice at the Jerome Park grounds, but at no time did these grounds suit them for summer practice, and hence, with the approach of warmer weather a change of locality was agreed upon.  The ground granted by the Park Commissioners affords far more room than the space heretofore occupied by the club at Fordham.  The convenience of members who desire to spend part of the day on the seashore has also been consulted in the selection of this new playground, the boulevard where the clubhouse is located being in splendid condition all the way to Coney Island. 

The Brooklyn Union, June 10, 1879, page 3.

The change was great for the polo players, but not so much for the hoi polloi displaced by the aristocratic amusement on the one day a week they could enjoy the park.  The blowback was immediate.

A Costly Recreation Inaugurated at Prospect Park To-day.

[The Westchester Club] came over the river and captured Prospect Park, the Park Commissioners granting the Westchester Club THE EXCLUSIVE USE of ten acres of the central part of the parade ground, thereby cutting off the use of the outfields of ten of the thirteen ball fields laid out at the grounds.  The club days selected, too, include two days of the week when public school boys, store employes and others of the business class of Brooklynites find it the only time they can get to the Park for sport.  They would be content to see the polo gentlemen have their games on any day but Wednesday and Saturday, especially Saturday.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 11, 1879, page 4.

It is questionable, also, whether, in doing this, the Commissioners have not infringed on the rights and privileges previously enjoyed by the hundreds of Brooklyn residents who have hitherto enjoyed the use of the Parade Ground for their base ball, cricket, lacrosse and football clubs.  The new game first exhibited here yesterday is a sport which from its costly and dangerous character, is precluded from becoming popular with us to any such extent as our national game of ball is. . . . 

The game of polo, being as it is an aristocratic one, requiring the possession of wealth and leisure for its indulgence, without doubt another day than Saturday would be set apart by the Park Commissioners, and thus the recreations of the “curled darlings” of society would not interfere with those of the masses; or it might even be with propriety suggested that the high toned polo clubs buy their own ground.  That would be satisfactory all round.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 12, 1879, page 2.

By the end of the week, the polo players were banished to the far reaches of the Parade Ground.

The ball grounds at Prospect Park presented one of the most lively and attractive scenes yesterday that has been witnessed for many years past.  It was literally covered with ball players . . . .  Of course the majority of the players engaged in the various phases of ball playing were the members of the base ball nines.  These exponents of the American national game having full sway yesterday, the position taken by the Eagle, in maintenance of the rights of the Brooklyn base ball fraternity, which had been trenched upon by the English Polo players having resulted in locating the “intruding foreigners” at the extreme end of the parade ground.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1879, page 4.

Luckily, it was nearly time to head off to Newport, so the polo players made do for the remainder of the season.  But they would still need a better place to play the following season.

Unsatisfied with the grounds at Jerome Park, and without a satisfactory option in Brooklyn, the rich-and-powerful polo players looked for a suitable location among the dwindling open spaces of Manhattan, in easy reach of their business offices downtown and their sprawling estates up in Westchester – they found it at the northeast corner of Central Park.

In February of 1880, members of the Westchester Polo Club filed organized a separate entity, the Manhattan Polo Association, for the purpose of “maintaining polo grounds.” The Secretary of State issued their final certificate of incorporation on April 8, 1880, with an original capital of $15,000.[xxvii]

Even with the vast resources of the Manhattan Polo Association and its wealthy Gilded Age members, they were unable to negotiate purchase of their own lot.  Instead, they leased the land for their new polo grounds for a term of five year and two months, beginning March 1, 1880, at an annual rent of $2,500,[xxviii] from one of the largest, single landowners in New York City, and one of the wealthiest women in the country, Mary G. Pinkney. 

Decades earlier, Mary Pinkney purchased vast swathes of land on Manhattan from her step-father, Archibald Watt, using her own cash inheritance from her biological father who had died young.  Rumor has it that she purchased the land to protect it from her step-father’s creditors in the aftermath of a failed attempt to build a canal across Harlem from the Hudson to the East River. 

She never married, spending much of the rest of her life managing her properties and supporting the lavish lifestyles of spoiled step-siblings, cousins and extended family.  She made the most of her initial investment, selling off or leasing bits and pieces of her land for development as the city grew northward, then selling more when other peoples’ developments made her remaining property even more valuable. 

Her lease to the Manhattan Polo Club fits the pattern.  The northern reaches of Manhattan beyond Central Park were not yet densely populated in 1880, and a sports and entertainment complex there would give people a reason to go there and people who lived there already something to do nearby.  Instead of selling off her land, she held onto it, and would later sell it and other land nearby at much higher prices.

Mary G. Pinkney also made money by pioneering the practice of “borrowing” money from the public coffers.  She always paid her taxes as late as possible, intentionally incurring late fees and penalties and paying them off at the last possible moment before public auction, knowing that her land would always appreciate faster than the interest and penalties accrued.  It was all perfectly legal, she paid all of her taxes, interest and penalties – eventually, even if it sounds a bit sleazy.  

The new Manhattan Polo Grounds opened to the public on May 22, 1880.  And although built primarily for polo, it was contemplated from the very beginning that other sports, including baseball, would be played there as a money-making proposition when polo was out of season or in Newport.

The present season of the Polo Club is to last but three weeks, but playing will be resumed in the autumn after the return from Newport.  Meanwhile, the grounds will be open to cricket, lacrosse, base ball, and other associations for amateur athletic sports. 

The Times Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), May 21, 1889, page 6.

Little did they know it would survive as an actual polo ground for only two seasons.  Once again, as was the case in Brooklyn in 1879, they would be displaced by baseball players.  But this time it would not be by popular revolt, baseball just proved to be a more profitable use of the space. 

James Mutrie is the man most responsible for making it profitable.  But first he needed a team.

The New York Metropolitans

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1880, James Mutrie was in and out of town looking for a more permanent home for his “much named” Jersey City-Brocktons.  But the economics of supporting a wandering baseball team soon caught up with him.  The team disbanded at the end of June.[xxix]  Other teams in the National Association followed suit, with Baltimore and Albany out of the league a few weeks later. 

Rochester survived, but without a league to play in, they left town to play against National League teams travelling through Albany.[xxx]  Several weeks later, they migrated to New York City to pick up some games and make some more money.  Several of their players would become New York Metropolitans. 

With his team out of the picture, Mutrie stayed in New York City to work on his plan.  But prospects for professional baseball in the city looked bleak.  When a semi-pro team from Syracuse proposed a series of games with Brooklyn professionals for late-July, for example, a local newspaper was not optimistic, but held out hope that Harry Wright could make it happen.

Inasmuch as there is now no professional ground in New York or Brooklyn, it would be Professional base ball playing is a dead horse this season, and until Harry Wright comes to the Metropolis and raises a team to play on the polo grounds in 1881 there will be no matcher played here.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 4, 1880, page 3.

Bancroft and Mutrie also had their eyes set on the new Polo Grounds, each one approaching polo players with the money and influence to make it happen.  Frank Bancroft is said to have approached Gordon Bennett, Jr., the newspaper heir who had brought polo to the city.  James Mutrie approached “Belmont, the banker” (likely August Belmont, Jr.), an avid polo player and member of the Manhattan Polo Club whose father is the namesake of the Belmont Stakes.  But neither one would make a deal. 

It fell upon a lesser-known, less-wealthy baseball enthusiast, John B. Day, to make the initial investment of $100 to get the project off the ground.[xxxi]

Boston Globe, February 13, 1925, page 13.

According to an account published five years later, a baseball reporter named A. B. Rankin for Gordon Bennett, Jr.’s newspaper, the New York Herald, introduced Mutrie to Day to aid him “in an effort to get up a professional team in New York.”  A. B. Rankin had been active in baseball circles for years (he was Brooklyn’s representative at the International League’s convention in 1877, for example[xxxii]), so he may well have known Mutrie professionally before that summer.

The introduction did not bring immediate results.  Day apparently hired Mutrie as a clerk in the baseball department of his tobacco business to hold him over until he got a team off the ground.

It was not until the Fall of 1880, however, that the movement was really started, and it began on the old Union Grounds in Brooklyn in a series of exhibition games between the Hop Bitters nine of Rochester – an advertising quack medicine team – and a picked nine of Brooklyn, known as the Union nine.  Fortunately for the success of Mr. Day’s experiment, Mutrie was at that time simply Mr. Day’s clerk in the base ball department of his business – the Westchester Polo Club people found their expensive grounds, which were very little used for polo, quite an elephant on their hands, and they were glad to have Mr. Day help them out by leasing them for three days a week for base ball purposes. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 8, 1885, page 7.

The game in question appears to have been played on August 18, 1880.  An account of a game played on that date is consistent with the details of the later recollection of the game where Mutrie’s plan “really started.”  As described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 19, "James Mutrie, of the Brocktons," umpired a game on the previous day at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn, where Mutrie had played with Fall River six years earlier.  The game featured the orphaned remnants of the Rochester team, who had played briefly in Albany a few weeks earlier after the collapse of the league they had been playing in (the National Association) and the Union, an independent Brooklyn team organized by William F. Cammeyer who owned and operated the stadium grounds. The Union Grounds were located in Williamsburg, bounded by Rutledge and Lynch Streets and Marcy and Harrison Avenues.

Rochester won the game by a score of 6-3 in what would otherwise have been scarcely a footnote in baseball history, but for the fact that it was likely the genesis of the New York Metropolitans, the forerunners of the New York Giants, now the San Francisco Giants. 

Seven of the players on the field that day (five from Rochester and two from the Union) wound up on the Metropolitans’ roster less than a month later; Brady, Kennedy, Hawes, Daly and Deasley of Rochester, and Nelson and Pike of the Union.  Another one of the early Metropolitans, Jonathan Farrell, also played for the Union but was not on the field that day.  A ninth member of the first Metropolitan squad, Walker, had played with Mutrie and several other members of the Union on a hastily assembled “picked nine” team, thrown together to play a game with the Washington Nationals (another orphan from the failed National Association) when the Rochesters failed to appear on time for a scheduled game.  The “picked nine” won that contest, also by a score of 6-3.

Having now met his patron John B. Day, and most of the players who would play for him on the Metropolitans, Mutrie must have been busy organizing and assembling the team, scheduling games and finding a home.  He had not yet secured the Polo Grounds, and was actively considered playing somewhere in New Jersey. 

His plan was to schedule games against National League teams during October, after the close of the League season.  New York City metropolitan area was a large market, and without their own major league team, the baseball fans were eager to see some good talent. 

- New York Herald: Arrangements are being made to have a series of games played in this section of the country between League and non-League clubs during the month of October, as the league championship season closes on the last day of September. . . . [T]here will be two strong clubs in this vicinity – the Unions of Brooklyn and Manager Mutrie’s new team, which is being organized to represent New-Jersey – and will play at Newark, Orange, and Hoboken.

Buffalo Morning Express, August 17, 1880, page 4.

James Mutrie, the well-known manager, is endeavoring to organize a professional nine for Newark, N. J., where they have an excellent inclosed ground.

Boston Globe, August 26, 1880, page 4.

He even got so far as announcing a roster and scheduling an opening game.

- Newark, N. J., will next week place a new team in the field. . . .  They will open on their new grounds by playing the Nationals of Washington on Monday.

Buffalo Morning Express, August 21, 1880, page 4.

The Newark team did not work out, and perhaps it was for the best.  None of the players on the announced Newark roster were on his Metropolitan roster three weeks later.

As busy as Mutrie was organizing a team and planning games, he also found time to umpire and even play a few games himself.  In addition to the “picked nine” game against Washington in August, Mutrie played at least two games in the weeks and days leading up to the Metropolitans’ first game for a team billed as the “New Yorks.”  Mutrie’s “New York” team lost two games to the Brooklyn Union, 7-4 on September 4 and an embarrassing 19-0 on September 11. 

Mutrie’s plan to use the Polo Grounds appears to have been nearing completion by the end of August, and not just for the remainder of the 1880 season; he was already looking forward to the next season with hopes of joining the National League.  And since they would be sharing the grounds with the ponies, they would need an alternate site to play during polo season.

The New York idea is to fit up the Polo grounds on One Hundred and Tenth street for a League Club ground, and to have a ground also at Coney Island.  With a good League Club they hope to have an old-time revival – the team playing part of their games in July and August at Coney Island.

Cincinnati Enquirer, August 27, 1880, page 5.

Mutrie’s new team secured final permission to use the Polo Grounds a couple weeks later.  The announcement includes the first reference to their new name – the “Metropolitans.”

The New-York Star says: “Arrangements have been made with the management of the Polo grounds to place a strong professional base ball club in the field for the remainder of this season, and to locate a League club there next year.  The ball players will have four days each week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and games will be played on those days during the month of October with all the leading professional clubs of the country.  James Mutrie has been engaged as manager, and he has secured the majority of the Rochesters for his new team, which is to be known as the Metropolitan Base Ball Club of New-York City.  The opening game will be played on Saturday of this week with the Union Club of Brooklyn.”

Buffalo Morning Express, September 11, 1880, page 4.

While no one explained why they were called the “Metropolitans” and not the “New Yorks,” as would have been common under standard baseball team-naming conventions of the time, it is consistent with the fact that the team planned to play its games in more than one city; Brooklyn would not be annexed into New York City until the mid-1890s.

The Metropolitans played what were billed as their first two “practice games” against the Brooklyn Union at the Union Grounds on September 15 and 16, 1880, two lopsided wins, 13-0 and 15-0.  About one week later, they followed up those wins with four more wins over an amateur team from Jersey City, also played at the Union Grounds.

The Metropolitans’ first game against professional competition was also their first game at the Polo Grounds, a 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on September 29, 1880.  They beat the Nationals at the Polo Grounds again, by a score of 8-6, the following day.  They played the third game of the series against the Nationals, a 7-3 win over the Nationals the following day, at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn to accommodate polo matches at the Polo Grounds.  One day later, they beat up on amateur college boys, the Jaspers of Manhattan College, 12-3 in a game at the Union Grounds on a day the Polo Grounds hosted bicycle races.

The Metropolitans spent the rest of their abbreviated, inaugural season playing teams from the National League.  Most of those games were played at the Polo Grounds, with four more at the Union Grounds and a single game at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

They acquitted themselves well for a newly organized team playing against battle-hardened major-leaguers, establishing a record of 5-10-1 against the National League, Worcester (four games), Troy (six games), Cleveland (two games) and Chicago (three games). 

The only team they did win at least one game from was the newly-crowned National League Champions, the Chicago White Stockings.  Coincidentally, the Chicago White Stockings had also been known, on occasion, as the Chicago Giants; more frequently in the mid-1870s, but on at least one occasion in the 1880 season. 

New York Herald, June 28, 1874, page 10.
Boston Globe, July 21, 1875, page 5.
The Bostons met the Chicago giants on the South End grounds Saturday afternoon.

Boston Globe, May 31, 1880, page 4.

The Chicago White Stockings of 1880 are arguably the first-ever team known as the “Giants” to play a game at New York’s Polo Grounds, a year before Frank Bancroft brought the Detroit Wolverines/Giants to the Polo Grounds, and five years before New York’s National League team would be widely known as the “Giants.”

The Metropolitans “disbanded” at the end of the month,[xxxiii] but Mutrie and Day kept the organization together to prepare for another season.  By early December, Mutrie secured rights to play four days a week at the Polo Grounds, April 1st through November 1st, with tentative plans to play games at the Race Course at Coney Island when necessary, which he believed would be a “bonanza for base ball” during prime tourist season in August.[xxxiv] 

He was right about it being a bonanza, but wrong about needing Coney Island.  The Metropolitans were so successful in 1881 that they could afford to lease the entire Polo Grounds for themselves.  When the season was over, the Manhattan Polo Club sub-let the grounds to the newly-formed Metropolitan Exhibition Company for the three years remaining on its five-year lease from Mary Pinkney.[xxxv]

The property became even more profitable three years later, before the 1885 season, when the Manhattan Polo Club’s lease expired, and the Metropolitan Exhibition Company cut out the middle-man and entered into its own lease, directly with the landowner Mary G. Pinkney, at a savings of over $5,000 a year.[xxxvi]  When the lease expired before the 1885 season, the Metropolitan Exhibition Company signed a new lease directly with Ms. Pinkney, increasing her rental payments and reducing theirs by cutting out the middle man. 

All of this early history of the Metropolitans is at least an interesting footnote in baseball history, the team that brought high-quality professional baseball to New York, paved the way for the team that would become the Giants, and inspired the name of today’s New York Mets.  But if the original Metropolitans are technically the same franchise that would later be known as the New York Giants, as contemporary reporting from the time suggests, then this early history of the original Mets becomes part-and-parcel of the early history of the San Francisco Giants.

If true, the San Francisco Giants franchise should start gearing up for its 140th anniversary on September 15, 2020, the anniversary of the original, independent New York Metropolitans’ first-ever game.

New Leagues – New Names

The New York Metropolitans spent three seasons operating more-or-less as an independent, non-aligned team, scheduling games against any and all comers, and not competing for the “championship” of any particular league.  But that’s not to say they had no interest in playing in a league.

The New York Metropolitans sought membership in the National League as early as December 1880.  When asked whether the Metropolitans would gain admission to the League during the National League meetings in December 1880, the President of the Boston Red Stockings, Arthur Soden, replied, “I don’t think they will, because they do not control their grounds.  It is a polo field, which they have for so many days each week.”[xxxvii]

Despite being left out of the league, they were not completely on their own.  In late-1880, as an alternative to full League membership, the Metropolitans applied for membership in what was called the “League Alliance,” an off-shoot of the National League in which member teams agreed to abide by the League’s player contracting rules, which in turn shielded member teams against having their players poached away by National League teams, and vice versa.[xxxviii]  The League approved the Metropolitans’ application in March 1881, essentially conferring them “honorary” membership in the National League.[xxxix]

In November 1881, an upstart league called the American Association offered the Metropolitans membership in their new league.  The Metropolitans declined, preferring instead to remain in the League Alliance and under the protection of and the more established National League.  Continued membership in the League Alliance also put the team in a favored position to join the National League if or when the opportunity arose.

That opportunity arose in 1882, perhaps because they had cleared one of the hurdles to admission – they now had full control over their stadium grounds.  The Manhattan Polo Club abandoned the polo grounds before the 1882 season, signing over the remaining three years of their five-year lease to the Metropolitan Exhibition Company, the new corporate entity formed to operate the team and the stadium.[xl]  By the end of the 1882 season, the New York Metropolitans had proven the viability of a quality professional baseball team in New York City. 

When the season came to a close, both the American Association and the National League coveted the Metropolitans as an entrĂ©e into the lucrative New York market.  But which league would land their prize?  In the end, they both got what they wanted, but which team joined which league? 

Conventional history suggests that the original Metropolitans joined the American Association while the new team joined the National League.  But contemporary reporting suggests it may be the other way around.  It may have been the original Metropolitans who joined the National League with a new name, the “New Yorks,” and the new team who joined the American Association, but under the old name, the “Metropolitans.”

Before the 1882 season was over, the Metropolitans and the Philadelphia Phillies applied to upgrade their “honorary” League Alliance membership status to full membership in the National League. 

As the Metropolitans and Philadelphias, the two League-Alliance clubs, have each an application on file, the chances for Milwaukee are slim, especially as only the Worcesters are likely to withdraw.

Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1882, page 16.

The applications were still under consideration in September, before the season was over, but the League put off taking any action on the applications until December.

The executive committee of the national league of professional base ball players accepted the resignation of the Worcester, Massachussets, and Troy, New York clubs.  The application for admissions into membership from the Metropolitans, of New York, and the Philadelphia clubs will be acted upon in December. 

The Leavenworth Times, September 23, 1882, page 1.
When December rolled around, the National League welcomed both the Metropolitans and Philadelphias into the League.

The resignations of the Troy and Worcester clubs were accepted, and the applications of the Metropolitans and Philadelphias for admission to the league were favorably acted upon and their Presidents were admitted to the meeting.

Detroit Free Press, December 7, 1882, page 1.

Although the Metropolitans’ accession into the National League might otherwise have been a major feather in James Mutrie’s baseball cap, it happened without him.  By all accounts, he left the team in September, weeks before the season ended, due to a dispute with his financial backers over which players to sign for the following season.  When they wouldn’t let him sign his preferred players, he took his ballplayers and went home – to form his own new team to compete in the other, newer league.

James Mutrie, the organizer and manager of the Metropolitan Club, has determined to sever his connection with it at the close of the present season.  He has just returned from a two weeks’ trip taken for the purpose of engaging players for a new club, which he contemplates putting in the field to represent this city next season. . . .  The nine, which it is promised will be very strong, will contend for the championship of the American Association.

New York Clipper, September 23, 1882, page 431.

Mutrie’s withdrawal from the Mets was caused by the refusal of the stockholders to engage the players selected by him.

Buffalo Commercial, September 28, 1882, page 3.

The Metropolitans and the Philadelphias will enter the [National] League and contest for supremacy of that organization, while the new club which is to represent New York city under the management of Mr. James Mutrie, formerly of the Metropolitans, will, like the Athletics of Philadelphia, become a member of the American Association and compete for the championship of that body.

Weekly Standard (Leavenworth, Kansas), September 29, 1882, page 3.

With Mutrie out of town trying to lock down his roster for 1883, the new manager of the Metropolitans also had his eye out for talent to sign for the next season.  Sometimes they competed for the same players, including, for example, players from Troy’s National League team, slated to be dropped from the League when New York and Philadelphia were promoted. 

On one particular day in late-September 1882, Mutrie, Day and no fewer than four other major league managers (or prospective major league managers) converged on the team’s hotel and pursued the Troy players with “religious persistency.”

Among the managers who made the day a lively one with the Troy boys were . . . J. B. Dove [(sic – should be J. B. Day)] of the Metropolitans [and] Mutrie of the new New York Club. . . .

The men sought for by the managers are Connors, first baseman; Gillespie, left field; Ewing, third base; Keefe, pitcher; Holbert catcher.

Boston Globe, September 25, 1882, page 2.

Of the named players, three (Connors, Gillespie and Ewing) would eventually sign with the “Metropolitans” and two (Keefe and Holbert) with Mutrie’s new “New York” team.  Day’s Metropolitans would ultimately sign four members of the 1882 Troy squad, and Mutrie’s New Yorks three.

The Metropolitans and New Yorks also shared players from the Metropolitans of 1882.  Three players from the Metropolitans of 1882 (Clapp, O’Neill and Hankinson) would play in the National League under Day in 1883, and five (Lynch, Reipschlager, Brady, Kennedy and Nelson) would play for Mutrie in the American Association.

Although Day’s National League team would later be known as the “New Yorks” (sometimes the “Gothams”), they were still called the “Metropolitans” when they started locking down their 1883 roster toward the end of the 1882 season.  Likewise, Mutrie’s American Association team would later be called the “Metropolitans,” but were the “New Yorks” when they were signing players in late-1882.

The following is an official list of the League players who have signed by the clubs and are safely under contract for next season:

. . . Metropolitans - Caskins, Dorgan, Clapp, Hankinson, O’Neil, Ward, Gillespie, Welch, Troy, Ewing, Connor.

In an exhibition game played at New York Friday the Providence defeated the Metropolitans by a score of 9 to 3.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 31, 1882, page 8.

Of the [National] league clubs the Chicagos have signed ten men . . . ; Metropolitans, twelve. . . .  In the American Association the Cincinnatis have signed eight . . . .  Mutrie’s New York club contains nine men.

Boston Globe, November 12, 1882, page 12.

The Metropolitan Club will be under new management next season, and will also be in the League.  The players so far secured Clapp [et al]. . . .  Manager Mutrie, the organizer of the club, has resigned to take the management of the new American Association Club in this city next season.  This club, he says, will be as strong as he can make it.  He has already several of the best League players secured for his club, and he expects to get more.

The New York Sun, November 13, 1882, page 3.

The original Metropolitans were still “Metropolitans” when they were admitted to the League during the National League meetings in December.  When deciding the outcome of a dispute between the Metropolitans and Buffalo over the payment of an appearance guarantee when a late-season game was cancelled due to rain, for example, reports from the meeting still referred to New York’s National League team as the “Metropolitans.”

And even as late as January 1883, as rumors circulated that both New York teams were under common ownership, the original “Metropolitans” were considered as having joined the National League, and Mutrie’s New York team were the ones in the American Association. 


When the American Association held its late meeting in Columbus, Manager Mutrie, of the New York club was asked where the organization intended having its grounds.  He was very reticent upon this subject and gave no positive answer.  Now comes a rumor that the present polo grounds on which the Metropolitans played last, year are to be cut in two and occupied, half by the New York club, and the other half by the Metropolitans, who now hold League membership.  It is also stated that both clubs are under the same management, although this fact is kept a secret.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1883, page 8.

It is likely that the Polo Grounds will be transformed into two base-ball grounds for use next season.  The lease of the grounds at present is held by the Metropolitan Exhibition Company. The manager of that company has signified his willingness to lease half of the grounds to Mr. James Mutrie, who has organized a new base-ball club, which will represent this City in the American Association.

New York Times, January 8, 1883, page 2.

In mid-January 1883, however, the original “Metropolitans” (now in the National League) were “christened” the “New York club” and Mutrie’s “new” American Association team was “named” the “Metropolitan.”  The words “christened” and “named” suggest changes from the status quo.  The team that would later become the New York Giants (today the San Francisco Giants) was therefore the same team that played as the “Metropolitans” for three seasons, beginning in 1883, and it was the new team that joined the American Association under the other team’s old name in 1883.

The evidence of the continuity of the franchise from the Metropolitans of 1880 to the San Francisco Giants of today is bolstered by John B. Day’s own recollection, four decades after the fact.

“Mutrie and myself had been interested in baseball from the start, and we tried to get into the league for some time before we were successful.  I told Mutrie that if he would get the grounds, I would supply the money.  So he got the grounds at 110th st and Fifth av.  We played for a time as the ‘Metropolitans’ before we joined the National League.”

Boston Globe, February 13, 1925, page 13.

To some, it might seem meaningless to quibble about a technical difference between the original Metropolitans of 1882 and the team of the same name in the American Association in 1883.  After all, the teams shared common ownership, the same manager, and many of the same players (five).  Some might argue that the new Mets were practically indistinguishable from the original Metropolitans and ought to be considered a continuation of the same franchise.

But the same argument can be made about the National League team under the management of John B. Day in 1883.  It also shared common ownership, a common manager (John B. Day managed the old Metropolitans throughout the final weeks of the 1882 season), and several of the same players (three) with the Mets of 1882.  Standing alone, these similarities make the National League team nearly as indistinguishable from the original Metropolitans as were the new Metropolitans. 

Other factors make the case for a connection between the original Metropolitans and New York’s National League team even stronger.  The original Metropolitans enjoyed a pre-existing relationship with the National League as members of the League Alliance, players reportedly signed by the original Metropolitans during the off-season played for the National League team the following season, the National League reportedly admitted the original Metropolitans (by that name) into the League, and only later was the National League team “christened” the “New York club” and the American Association “named” the “Metropolitan,” in apparent name changes.

There was no reason was given for the changes.  Perhaps Mutrie simply liked his old team’s name.  Or perhaps he or his management thought it might help marketing due to his and many of his players’ previous association with that team name.


James Mutrie and John B. Day organized the New York Metropolitans professional baseball team in the late-summer of 1880.  They played their first game at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn on September 15, 1880.  They gained membership in the League Alliance, an off-shoot of the National League, during the 1881 and 1882 seasons.

Toward the end of the 1882 season, Mutrie left the team in a dispute over the players he wanted to sign for the 1883 season.  In his absence, the Metropolitans applied for and were admitted to the National League.  Meanwhile, Mutrie organized a new team which gained admission to the American Association.  In early-1883, the two teams swapped named, with the League team was “christened” the New York Club and Mutrie’s Association team “named” the Metropolitan.

The Metropolitans of 1882 and 1883 share several similarities which give the appearance of continuity of the franchise from one season to the next.  But the 1882 Mets share nearly all of those same similarities (with the notable exception of the name) with the 1883 New Yorks.  Contemporary reporting of the team’s off-season transition from independent to League team strongly suggests that it was the National League’s New York franchise, and not the new Metropolitans in the American Association, that was a continuation of the original Metropolitans’ franchise. 

Baseball historians and enthusiasts might decide to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the San Francisco Giants franchise on September 15, 1880, the date of the original New York Metropolitans’ first game, rather than waiting for 2023.

But of course anyone looking for a reason to celebrate might also celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Giants’ first game in the National League, a 7-5 win over the Boston Red Stockings on May 1, 1883, and/or the game at which the name “Giants” was first used, a 4-1 exhibition win over Jersey City on April 13, 1885 (the name “Giants” first appeared in a report of that game the following day).

[i] In later-published recollections, James Mutrie said his team was called the Chelsea “Dreadnaughts,” but several contemporary reports refer to the team as the “Auroras.”  See, for example, Peter Mancuso’s biography of Jim Mutrie written for the Society for American Baseball Research.
[ii] Boston Globe, October 21, 1872, page 5.
[iii] The King Philips were named for a Wampanoag Sachem named Metacomet, who adopted the name King Philip in his relations with early-American colonists; an early example of a Boston-area baseball team adopting a name relating to Native Americans.  Forty years later, in 1912, Boston’s National League team, originally known as the Red Stockings and frequently referred to as the Red Caps, Reds or Beaneaters, adopted the name Boston Braves.
[iv] Boston Globe, August 8, 1873, page 8 (“Tomorrow afternoon . . . the third and deciding game of the series for the amateur championship between the Chelseas and the Kiung Philips of East Abington will take place.”); Boston Globe, August 11, 1873, page 5 (“The King Philips of East Abington played a game with the Chelseas on the Boston Grounds, Saturday afternoon, and were victorious by a score of sixteen to seven.”).
[v] Boston Globe, July 12, 1875, page 5.
[vi] Boston Globe, August 2, 1875, page 5 (“Mr. Mutrie, Chelsea Club” umpires a game between the Unas of Charlestown and the Beacons).
[vii] Boston Globe, July 23, 1875, page 5 (“James Mutrie of Chelsea” umpires a game between Lowell and the Lynn Live Oaks).
[viii] New York Clipper, November 12, 1881, page 556.
[ix] Boston Globe, March 11, 1875, page 2 (“A special meeting of the national Association of Amateur Base Ball Players was held yesterday in the Revere House . . . .  The following clubs had applied for membership, and they were accepted: . . . Androscoggin of Lewiston, Me. . . . .”).
[x] New York Clipper, November 12, 1881, page 556.
[xi] Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), February 1, 1877, page 3 (“Fall River base ball club has been declared the champions of New England for the season of 1876.  At the close of the season, it was the only club in condition to compete for the championship, all the other clubs having disbanded.”).
[xii] SeeCharlie Bevis’ biography of Frank Bancroft written for the Society of American Baseball Research.
[xiii] Boston Globe, November 21, 1878, page 1.
[xiv] The nickname “Giants” was so deeply ingrained in Detroit that when George Van Derbeck reintroduced major-league baseball to Detroit in 1894, local newspapers briefly revived the nickname “Giants,” with papers in other cities generally referring to them, derisively, as the “Creams,” in response to Van Derbeck’s pre-season boast that he was bringing with him the “Cream” of California baseball players, although that boast proved to be a bust.  See my earlier piece, “Angels and Tigers and Ducks, a Baseball Biography of George A. Van Derbeck.”
[xv] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 1884, page 8.
[xvi] Boston Globe, June 1, 1879, page 1.
[xvii] Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), June 3, 1879, page 3.
[xviii] Boston Globe, June 13, 1879, page 2.
[xix] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 4, 1879, page 3.
[xx] Boston Globe, November 9, 1879, page 2 (“Frank C. Bancroft has sold the hotel he has so successfully conducted here the past three years . . . and will enter the base ball field next year unencumbered by business cares.”).
[xxi] Boston Globe, December 13, 1879, page 4.
[xxii] Buffalo Morning Express, November 14, 1878, page 4.
[xxiii] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), May 3, 1880, page 4.
[xxiv] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 22, 1880, page 3.
[xxv] Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut), June 24, 1880, page 2.
[xxvi] The Buffalo Sunday Morning News of June 27 (page 4) cited the Cincinnati Enquirer as the source of this information.
[xxvii] Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the Sessions, 1881, page 977.
[xxviii] New York Times, March 22, 1883, page 8.
[xxix] Times-Picayune, July 11, 1880, page 6.
[xxx] Cincinnati Enquirer, July 22, 1880, page 8.
[xxxi] Detroit Free Press, September 12, 1882, page 1 (“I went to Belmont, the banker.  Finally a man named Day, a prominent tobacconist, advanced me $100, and with that I formed the Metropolitans.”).
[xxxii] New York Daily Herald, February 22, 1877, page 4.
[xxxiii] Buffalo Commercial, October 27, 1880, page 3.
[xxxiv] Boston Globe, December 12, 1880, page 1.
[xxxv] Buffalo Morning Express, March 16, 1882, page 3.
[xxxvi] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 18, 1885, page 4.
[xxxvii] Boston Globe, December 18, 1880, page 6.
[xxxviii] Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1880, page 5.
[xxxix] Buffalo Morning Express, March 10, 1881, page 4.
[xl] Buffalo Morning Express, March 16, 1882, page 3.