The New York City Baseball Magnate from Colchester, John B. Day

There was once a time when a prosperous tobacco merchant from Connecticut re-established New York City as baseball’s epicenter. John B. Day operated two teams in big league circuits with great success. In 1884 Day’s New York Metropolitans were American Association pennant winners while his National League New York Giants were world champions in 1888 and 1889. Sadly, Day’s success was short-lived.  By 1893, reversals in both his baseball and business fortunes had put Day on the brink of bankruptcy. For the remainder of his life, Day lived in reduced circumstances, eking out a livelihood on the margins of sport and commerce.

John B. Day, 1900 (c.)

The ill-starred magnate was born John Bailey Day in Colchester, Connecticut, on September 23, 1847.[1]  His father, Isaac Henry Day, was a substantial local farmer while his mother, Sarah, (nee Williams) tended to the children, of whom John B. (as he was invariably called) was the third of five.[2]  After graduating from the Golden Hill Institute in Bridgeport, Day went into the cigar-manufacturing business with brother-in-law Charles P. Abbey.[3]  The firm, Abbey & Day, flourished, with production and wholesale outlets placed in Hartford and Middletown and a warehouse erected in Gildersleeve, Connecticut.

Colchester, Connecticut, 1850 (c.)

In time the business expanded to New York, opening a large tobacco-processing plant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Resident proprietor Day took up offices near the financial district at 123 Maiden Lane while relocating himself and his wife, the former Ella Davis of Portland, Connecticut, to a brownstone mansion on Fifth Avenue.  As befitted his station in life, Day soon adopted the mien and trappings (frock coat, top hat, cane, carriage) of Gilded Age gentry. He also became a member in good standing of Tammany Hall, the corrupt political machine that controlled the Democratic Party in New York City.

Tammany Hall, New York City, 1880.

From an early age, Day had been a baseball enthusiast, fancying himself a pitcher. Once in New York, he organized and played on amateur nines in and around the city. This led to a fateful encounter with Jim Mutrie, an unaccomplished shortstop in assorted New England leagues then at loose ends in Manhattan. Mutrie, who had energy, a keen eye for playing talent, and considerable organizational skill, was in attendance when pitcher Day was battered from the mound in a meaningless midsummer 1880 game. According to popular lore, Mutrie then approached the deflated hurler with a proposition: Mutrie would scout, sign and manage a top-flight baseball team for Day if the well-heeled merchant would foot the bill.[4]  Day was game and in short order Mutrie stocked the roster of the new team – formally named the Metropolitan of New York – with first-rate talent, much of it coming from the Unions of Brooklyn and the recently disbanded Rochester Hop-Bitters.

1882 New York Metropolitans

On September 16, 1880, the Mets made a successful debut, defeating the Unions 15-3 on the grounds of the Brooklyn club. Two weeks later the Mets took their home opener, beating the Nationals of Washington on a converted polo field just north of Central Park leased from James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the socialite-sportsman publisher of the New York Herald.[5]  By the time its abbreviated first season ended, the Mets had compiled a creditable 16-7-1 log, which included a 15-6 victory over Manhattan College in which team owner Day pitched a complete game.[6]

1883 New York Gothams

To underwrite his ambitions for the team, Day incorporated the Metropolitan Exhibition Company (MEC), with himself as president. Tammany Hall cohorts Joseph Gordon[7], Charles T. Dillingham, and Walter Appleton were the minority stockholders. Again piloted by Mutrie, the 1881 Mets played a mixed Eastern Championship League/freelance schedule of 151 games, including 60 contests against National League competition.[8]  At the end of the campaign, the team’s respectable (18-42) performance against such formidable opposition prompted the organizers of the fledgling American Association to offer Day a place in their new major league. But for the time being, Day declined. The 1882 Mets’ schedule again consisted of a mix of games between major-league teams and local nines. And again, the Mets played the big leaguers tough, winning 29 of 74 contests against NL foes while taking all but one game against AA teams.[9]

1883 New York Gothams uniform patch depicting the Seal of New York City.

In 1883 Day entered the ranks of major-league team owners – and in a big way. To some surprise, he declined an invitation to place the Mets in the National League, the longer established and more prestigious of the two majors. Rather, the Mets would play in the American Association for the 1883 season, with Mutrie remaining as manager and MEC stockholder Gordon appointed team president. Thereafter, Day boldly announced that an entirely new franchise would be placed in the National League by the MEC.

New York Metropolitans vs. New York Giants, April 21, 1883.
New York Metropolitans vs. Cincinnati Red Stockings, August 18, 1883.

The nucleus of this team, originally called the Gothams or, simply, the New Yorks, consisted of budding stars like Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, and Mickey Welch, plucked from the roster of the defunct National League Troy Trojans. Standout Providence pitcher-infielder John Montgomery Ward would also wear a Gothams uniform while the remainder of the squad was be formed from free agents, castoffs, and nonentities. Veteran backstop/manager John Clapp was to do the managing while Day himself would serve as team president.

1884 New York Metropolitans – American Association pennant winners with John B. Day (standing in dark suit, center).

To accommodate the two major-league teams that would use the Polo Grounds, a second diamond with a grandstand was erected on the property. As accorded with its preferred status, the NL Gothams were given the established field on the southeast corner of the Polo Grounds while the Mets were consigned to a new landfill-based playing field constructed on the southwest quadrant.[10]  Differences in standing between the two teams were reflected in the gate as well. The carriage trade sought by Day for the Gothams was charged 50 cents general admission while the working classes cultivated for the Mets would get in for a quarter. Potent liquid refreshment, however, was available at each venue, Day defying the league ban on alcohol sales at NL games.

New York Metropolitans vs. Philadelphia Athletics score card, 1884.

The aspirations of the MEC braintrust were confounded in 1883. Behind the stellar pitching of Tim Keefe, a Troy refugee deemed unworthy of the Gothams by management, and the astute generalship of manager Mutrie, the Mets finished a commendable fourth (54-42) in the American Association race while the Gothams fared no better than sixth place (46-50) in the National League standings. This disconcerting situation continued in 1884 when an improved Gothams squad rose no higher than fourth place and had to suffer the embarrassment that accompanied the late-season dismissal of manager James Price, caught for a second time embezzling club funds.

Polo Grounds (I) Score Card, 1885.

Meanwhile the Mets, banished for most of the season to an ill-conceived new ballpark erected along the East River,[11] rode the hitting of infielders Dave Orr (.354) and Dude Esterbrook (.314), superb pitching by Keefe (37-17) and Jack Lynch (37-15), and the leadership of Mutrie to capture of the American Association flag. The Mets balloon, however, was quickly punctured in the postseason. In the precursor of the modern World Series, the Mets were swept by the National League Providence Grays in three noncompetitive and poorly attended championship games played at the Polo Grounds.[12]

Jim Mutrie, Manager, New York Giants, 1886.

Events during the offseason manifested Day’s intention to make a champion of the Gothams. And to that end, the Mets would be sacrificed. First, manager Mutrie was transferred to the NL team. Then he and Day engaged in some rule-bending chicanery to bring Mets stars Keefe and Esterbrook over. Shortly before the start of the 1885 campaign, Mutrie chaperoned the two on a vacation voyage to Day’s onion farm in Bermuda, the trip ostensibly a reward for sterling work during the previous season. Once Keefe and Esterbrook were safely at sea, the MEC released them from the Mets roster. While Keefe and Esterbrook were incommunicado somewhere on the Atlantic, the ten-day period that other teams had to sign them as free agents elapsed. Once that happened, Mutrie inked the two to Gothams contracts.

Batting practice before the game – New York Giants vs. Boston Beaneaters, Polo Grounds (I), 1886.

Upon discovery that star players had been slipped out of its league, the American Association executive board howled in protest. But all it could do was ban Mutrie from the league, an empty gesture as Mutrie had already left for the National League. The American Association directors also voted to expel the Mets franchise, but quickly reconsidered. Instead, the Mets were fined $500 for the manner in which Keefe and Esterbrook had been released. The Mets were also required to post a bond, a sort of guarantee that the team would complete its 1885 AA schedule.[13] When the time came, a dispirited Mets team played out the campaign as obliged but plummeted to seventh place in the standings. But this was of little concern to Day and his MEC associates. In December 1885 the Mets were sold for $25,000 to Staten Island amusement impresario and local railroad magnate Erastus Wiman, who promptly relocated the franchise to his St. George Grounds, a ferry ride away from Manhattan.[14]

New York Giants vs. Boston Beaneaters, Polo Grounds (I), 1886.

Fortified by its new acquisitions (which included future Hall of Fame outfielder Jim O’Rourke, late of Buffalo), the Gothams posted a dazzling 85-27 record in 1885. But that was good only for second place in the National League as the Cap Anson-led Chicago White Stockings were two games better. In addition to a change in its fortunes, the New York team also underwent a name change as well.  During the early part of the 1885 season, the New York Gothams acquired the handle Giants, the moniker by which the team would soon become famous.[15]

1886 New York Giants

As the fortunes of his team increased in the National League, the stature of John B. Day among his fellow magnates rose with it. Along with dominant team owners A.G. Spalding (Chicago) and John I. Rogers (Philadelphia), Day was chosen to represent the league on the important Joint Rules Committee of Organized Baseball. He was also appointed to the National League Board of Arbitration and became a voice to be heeded in executive conclaves. Top salaries, first-rate road accommodations and bonhomie – John B. was on familiar terms with many of his charges – also garnered the New York team owner esteem and good will in the player ranks.[16]

Polo Grounds (I), New York, NY, 1887.

In 1888 the Giants players rewarded Day’s amity by bringing home the 1888 National League pennant. New York then made its triumph complete by downing the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in a postseason match of league champions. Unfortunately for Day, he did not fare as well against a different adversary: City planners determined to complete the Midtown traffic grid by running a street through the Polo Grounds outfield. Maneuvers, both legal and political, had forestalled the project during the 1888 season but by early the following year it had become evident that the Giants would have to find a new playing field, the Tammany connections of the team’s owners notwithstanding.[17]

New York vs. Philadelphia at Polo Grounds I on Opening Day, 1888.

At first unable to locate suitable grounds in Manhattan, the Giants opened the 1889 season in Jersey City and then switched to the St. George Grounds, erstwhile home of the by-now-disbanded Mets. Persistent bad weather and the inconvenience of the locale had a debilitating effect on the Giants’ box office. But by June renewed negotiations between Day and James J. Coogan, the wily estate agent of the vastly propertied Lynch-Gardiner family, afforded the Giants a lease to a vacant field situated in the far northern end of Manhattan. Within three weeks thereafter, the small army of workmen engaged by Day had erected a usable, if unfinished, ballpark on the grounds.

1888 New York Giants

When completed that winter, this handsome edifice at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue seated more than 14,000 fans and was dubbed the New Polo Grounds.[18]  On July 8, 1889, the Giants inaugurated their new home field with a 7-5 victory over Pittsburgh, a harbinger of the second-half success that would see New York nip the Boston Beaneaters at the wire for the pennant. The Giants then successfully defended their world champions title, defeating the American Association’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms behind the hurling of unlikely mound heroes Cannonball Crane and Hank O’Day.[19]

Polo Grounds (II) lot location printed in The Evening World, New York, NY, 1889.

Day’s enjoyment of the triumph was tempered by a sense of foreboding. The 1889 season had been conducted amid simmering player discontent, longstanding player resentment of the reserve clause having been exacerbated by the imposition of a tight-fisted salary classification scheme, adopted by National League magnates over Day’s objection. Even as the Giants rallied for the pennant, plans for a new major league, one controlled by the players themselves, were taking shape. And the chief promoters of this nascent rival, from visionary organizer John Montgomery Ward to chief recruiters Tim Keefe and Jim O’Rourke, all wore New York Giants uniforms. Still, Day remained confident in his franchise’s future. Despite the rumblings of player secession, Day turned down a $200,000 offer for the club made late in the 1889 season by Polo Grounds landlord Coogan.[20]

1889 New York Giants, National League Champions

On November 4, 1889, the players’ intention to form a new major league was publicly disseminated in the press.[21]  As New York was the very font of the rebellion, Day’s Giants would be particularly hard hit by player defection. The Giants quickly lost the team’s entire regular lineup to the Players League, save for aging pitcher Mickey Welch and outfielder Mike Tiernan. To counteract the attrition, the National League formed a War Committee chaired by the hard-nosed Spalding, with Day and Rogers as the other members.

1889 New York Giants, World Champions

The two leagues then began maneuvering. Ward and his comrades, genuinely fond of Day and eager for a defection in the National League owners’ ranks, attempted to entice Day to their side by offering him a lucrative position in the Players League executive offices. Ever the NL loyalist, Day refused and was soon busy trying to lure wavering Players League enlistees – notably Giants star Buck Ewing and second baseman Danny Richardson – back to the National League fold, but ultimately to no avail.[22]  Thereafter, Day adopted a litigation strategy, instituting reserve clause-based suits against Ward, Keefe, Ewing, and O’Rourke. The courts entertaining such actions, however, were uniformly unpersuaded, declining to grant Day any form of relief.

Buck Ewing, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

With his roster depleted and the start of the 1890 season on the horizon, Day took the first of the steps that would hasten his financial ruin: He tendered Indianapolis team owner John T. Brush a $25,000 note in exchange for Jack Glasscock, Jerry Denny, Amos Rusie, and others under contract to the just liquidated Hoosier franchise.[23] Long-term implications aside, the move yielded an immediate benefit. Day would now be able to put a presentable team on the field. And he would need to, for the interleague competition in New York would be cutthroat. In a display of hubris and disdain, War Committee chairman Spalding had arranged the National League schedule to place his league’s teams in direct head-to-head competition with the upstart league whenever possible.  This made the atmosphere in New York particularly fraught, as the Players League had erected its playing site (Brotherhood Park) on grounds immediately adjacent to the New Polo Grounds. Only the stadium walls and a ten-foot-wide alley separated the two ballparks.[24]

Roger Connor, First Baseman, New York Giants, 1889.

The fan allegiance question was settled on Opening Day when 12,013 attended the debut of the star-laden Ewing Big Giants at Brotherhood Park while only 4,644 chose to watch Day’s Real Giants play next door. This roughly three-to-one difference in patronage continued throughout the season but both teams drew poorly.[25]  Typical gates were the 1,707 fans drawn to Brotherhood Park on May 12 for a Boston-New York Players League game while only 687 paid their way into the New Polo Grounds to see the National League Boston-New York contest. Interestingly, as word of a fierce pitching duel between Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie made its way across the stadium divide, the Players League fans migrated to the upper reaches of the right-field grandstands to spy on the National League game, decided 1-0 in the 13th inning by a Mike Tiernan home run that reportedly soared out of the New Polo Grounds, crossed the alley, and struck the outside wall of Brotherhood Park.[26]

Polo Grounds (II), 1890 (c.)

Regrettably, the occasional thriller was hardly enough to revive fan interest in the Giants, and the Day operation was soon awash in debt. Funds from Day’s tobacco business were unable to stanch the tide of red ink – but did achieve the effect of undermining the fiscal health of the team owner’s non-baseball interests.  By July the New York Giants were on the verge of bankruptcy. National League magnates summoned to a meeting in Brooklyn were stunned by the degree of Day’s distress. To avert the collapse of the league’s flagship enterprise, Spalding orchestrated a financial bailout on the spot, pledging $25,000 to Day in return for stock in the Giants club. Boston owner Arthur Soden did the same, while Philadelphia co-owner Al Reach and Brooklyn’s Ferdinand Abell each chipped in $6,250. John T. Brush, meanwhile, agreed to convert Day’s outstanding $25,000 players payment note into a Spalding/Soden-sized stake in the Giants operation.[27] When word of the arrangement leaked, the press took to referring to the strapped team owner as John Busted Day. But with the aid, the New York team managed to stagger to the 1890 season finish line, its 63-68 record good for sixth place.

Polo Grounds (II), New York City, 1890.

While the Players League Giants had managed a more respectable (74-57) third-place finish, the de-facto franchise boss, Wall Street financier Edward B. Talcott, and his partners had seen little return on their investment in the league.[28]  Indeed, they, like John B. Day, had lost a good deal of money during the 1890 season. But unlike Day (and Spalding, even Brush), these men were not lovers of the game. To them, baseball was simply another business venture. That made them receptive to settlement overtures quietly conveyed via New York Sun sportswriter Joe Vila. Pre-empting consolidation of the two leagues as a whole, Day and Talcott swiftly reached an agreement to merge the New York teams, cutting out John Montgomery Ward and his player board in the process. 

Albert G. Spalding, 1890.

Day, onetime friend of the renegade players, had been adamant that player representatives be excluded from the consolidation discussions. Said Day, “The players have nothing to say at all. They have not lost the money during the last season and consequently, they have no interest at stake. The capitalists on both sides will do the negotiating. The players will have to do what they are told to do.”[29] In short order, Talcott came to agree, brushing off objections by Ward. “I don’t propose to have Mr. Ward or anybody else criticize my business methods,” Talcott declared, testily. “Nor shall I allow Mr. Ward to tell me how my financial interests must be arranged.

John B. Day, President of the New York Base Ball Club, 1890.

The fight cannot go on for another year, for baseball will become a dead sport. Ward can say what he likes but it cannot alter matters with us a particle.”[30]  With its New York operation co-opted, the Players League swiftly passed from the baseball scene, its remaining backers scrambling to reach consolidation or buyout agreements with NL counterparts. By late November 1890 a triumphant A.G. Spalding could accurately proclaim, “The Players League is as dead as the proverbial doornail.”[31] While it may have been dead, the brief existence of the Players League had exacted a grim toll on the fortunes of John B. Day. Competitive pressures had drained MEC coffers and prompted Day to tap his tobacco business to keep the Giants afloat. And when that proved inadequate, Day had been forced to seek financial help from fellow National League owners, whose combined investment in the New York franchise now exceeded Day’s own. Worse yet was Day’s new arrangement with his former Players League rivals.

Edward Baker Talcott, 1890.

Unlike Spalding, Brush and the other silent club partners, the Talcott faction would be active in management affairs and quickly achieve operational control of the Giants franchise. An early sign of Talcott ascendency was conveyed by the selection of the team’s playing site for the 1891 season. Day had built and paid for the New Polo Grounds less than two years earlier and the stadium was a fine baseball venue. But Brotherhood Park was the home base of the Talcott forces and Talcott himself was responsible for the ten-year lease that the Players League Giants had signed with landlord Coogan. With no intention of having an idle ballpark on his books, Talcott had Brotherhood Park renamed the Polo Grounds and designated as the permanent playing field of the New York Giants.

The cover of the Players’ National League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

Day’s adjoining stadium, retitled Manhattan Field, was relegated to hosting track meets, horse-racing and other secondary sporting events. Day’s diminished stature in the new Giants operation was also reflected in the treatment of his old friend and collaborator Jim Mutrie. Although continued as Giants manager at Day’s insistence, Mutrie was shorn of effective command of the team, supplanted in authority by field captain Buck Ewing, the former Players League Giants leader. At the conclusion of the 1891 season Mutrie was unceremoniously severed from franchise employ, with Day powerless to stop it. John B. continued to hold the title of team president for another season but was now little more than a figurehead. Control in the Giants’ front office was exercised entirely by the Talcott forces.

1891 New York Giants

In February 1893 Day resigned. At a farewell meeting of the franchise stockholders, John Montgomery Ward, a small-stake Giants shareholder, offered a motion of thanks to the departing team chief. Although he and Day had had their differences, Ward pronounced himself “deeply grieved to see Mr. Day retire from the presidency.”[32] The motion was thereupon seconded by John T. Brush who added “a glowing tribute to Mr. Day as a baseball president, a companion and a gentleman.”[33]  Upon unanimous adoption of the testimonial, Day, “overcome with emotion,” could do no more than reply, “I thank you, gentlemen.”[34]  And with that, the founding era of New York Giants baseball passed into history.

John T. Brush, 1895 (c.)

The remainder of Day’s life was spent in ever-tightening circumstances. He was now only a nominal shareholder in the baseball franchise that he had started and his tobacco business was in serious decline. Soon, Day was obliged to close its Manhattan tobacco-processing plant.[35]  From then on, John B. Day would eke out his existence on the periphery of baseball. In March 1896 National League President Nick Young appointed him the league’s National Agreement liaison to the minor leagues.[36]  The following spring, Day relinquished that post to make probably the strangest decision in his baseball career: acceptance of the offer to manage the New York Giants, tendered by new franchise commander Andrew Freedman, a Tammany Hall friend of Day’s.[37]  Without managerial experience and saddled with a mediocre lineup, Day lasted until early July, posting a 29-35 log before being fired by the mercurial Freedman.[38] 

Polo Grounds (III) from Coogin’s Bluff, 1895 (c.)

Several years later, Day returned to baseball as supervisor of National League umpires, issuing widely ignored directives against rowdy behavior on the field.[39]  In January 1902 Day made a peculiar reappearance on the game’s executive stage. With league magnates locked in a bitter stalemate over the league’s presidency – the factions being evenly divided between supporters of A.G. Spalding and the Freedman/Brush candidate – Day offered himself as the perfect compromise choice. John B. would even serve his first year as league president free of charge. To no great surprise, his offer was politely ignored by the warring sides.[40]

“At the Polo Grounds” by Jay Hambidge, 1895.
Buffalo Courier excerpt, March 23, 1903.

In March 1903 Day resurfaced at the side of former MEC partner Joseph Gordon when the long anticipated entry of the American League into New York was announced. News accounts identified Gordon as president of the new franchise with Day being described as “associated” with the operation.[41]  As for the team’s prospects, Day stated, “I feel sure that the New York public will appreciate our efforts, and that the new club will be a success. We have a splendid team under contract and our grounds will be the finest in the country.”[42]  While Gordon would serve as ceremonial New York Highlanders president for several years – the club’s actual bosses being the less presentable Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, characters from the Manhattan demimonde – Day quickly settled back into obscurity, with no further connection to the New York American League team found by the writer.

1923 New York Yankees, World Series champions playing a benefit game against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds (II) to raise funds for John B. Day. (Standing, second from right is Babe Ruth.)

Ella Day died in 1906. Sometime thereafter, Day remarried, taking a middle-aged Connecticut woman named Agnes Wallis as his new bride. By 1910, the couple was living in rented premises in Brooklyn, Day having spent the previous year as president of the Metropolitan Baseball Club, “a fast semipro nine of Carlsbad, NJ.”[43] Day also spent time peddling his personal Day brand cigars to friendly saloon owners and shopkeepers. From there, his fortunes continued to wane. Although his name was periodically listed among the attendees at Major League Baseball functions[44], Day’s only remunerative connection to baseball was the $5 a game that he made as a ticket-taker at the Polo Grounds. John B. also began to experience health problems, suffering a series of small strokes that hampered his mobility. By 1920, the Days were back in Manhattan, their meager income supplemented by rent paid by lodgers sharing their apartment and by Agnes Day’s sewing.

John McGraw, Manager, New York Giants and John Mutrie, Former Manager, New York Giants, 1923.

Finally, in the fall of 1923, Day’s plight became public knowledge via press reports. Agnes, now terminally ill with cancer, extolled her husband to visiting newsmen. “He doesn’t look a great man now,” she said, “but he was. A tobacco man when he came here in the Eighties. He was worth nearly a million…When he used to visit his (cigar factory) in Middletown, Connecticut…whistles blew and work was suspended to greet him.”[45] Mildly embarrassed by the situation, Giants executives hastily arranged a Polo Grounds benefit game for Day and Jim Mutrie, discovered living near destitution on Staten Island. The game, between the defending World Series champion Giants and a minor-league Baltimore team featuring alumnus Babe Ruth, drew a disappointing crowd of only 5,000 but the modest gate was supplemented by contributions from Charles Comiskey, Garry Herrmann, and other baseball dignitaries.[46]  Day was also granted a small pension by the National League.[47]

Gravestone of John B. Day in Portland, Connecticut.

After Agnes died, Day spent his final years living with friends in nearby Cliffside, New Jersey. On January 25, 1925, he died from the effects of a fifth stroke. John B. Day was 77 years old. After an Episcopal funeral service in Manhattan, Day was interred in the family vault at Center Cemetery in Portland, Connecticut.[48]  Childless, he was survived by an unmarried sister, Fanny Day, and three sons of his brother-in-law/business partner Charles Abbey (the husband of Day’s older sister Eliza). Respected and well liked in his heyday and thereafter largely forgotten, Day was a good man and a lifelong lover of baseball. But deeply ingrained traits of personal honor and institutional loyalty left him ill-equipped to deal with the fast-changing diamond scene of 1890 and the cold-blooded entrepreneurs who entered the game with it. Perhaps the most prominent casualty of the Players League War, John B. Day is best remembered as the earnest founder of the New York Giants, the first great franchise in the storied history of baseball in the big city.

This article was written by Bill Lamb and selected as winner of the 2012 McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award.

Link to original article:

[Published on September 27, 2011]


In addition to the sources specifically cited in the endnotes below, the following works were consulted in the preparation of this profile:

Bryan Di Salvatore. A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.

Frank Graham, The New York Giants: An Informal History of a Great Baseball Club. New York: G P Putnam, 1952.

David Nemec, The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball. New York: David I. Fine Books, 1997.

David Stevens, Baseball’s Radical for All Seasons: A Biography of John Montgomery Ward. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

The writer is indebted to SABR 19th Century Committee chairman Peter Mancuso for his careful reading and beneficial comment on the profile draft.


[1] Sources for the biographical information in this profile include various US censuses, David Pietrusza’s profile of John B. Day in Baseball’s First Stars (Cleveland: SABR, 1996), and Day newspaper obituaries, particularly that published in the Hartford Courant, January 26, 1925.

[2] The siblings were brother Sparrow Williams Day (born 1846) and sisters Anna Eliza (1844), Sarah Ann Janette (1850), and Fanny L. Day (1858).

[3] Abbey, who had married elder Day sister Anna Eliza in 1867, was an expert in the cultivation and processing of tobacco, according to his obituary in the Hartford Courant, August 18, 1917.

[4] In his comprehensive and informative BioProject profile of Jim Mutrie, Peter Mancuso notes that the popular first-meeting story was disputed by Henry Chadwick. According to Chadwick, Mutrie was introduced to Day by members of the New York baseball press.

[5] Years later in a first-person column, Day recounted his anxiety when the Nationals were late arriving to the Polo Grounds and the 1,000 or so spectators took umbrage at the prospect of seeing the Mets play a pickup team instead. See “John B. Day Tells of a Bitter Hour,” New York Times, February 6, 1916.

[6] Mutrie BioProject profile, p. 5.

[7] Reminiscing in the early 1950s, Blanche McGraw described Gordon as Day’s brother-in-law. See Mrs. John J. McGraw, with Arthur Mann, The Real McGraw (New York: David McKay Company, 1953), p. 170. A diligently researched history of the early Giants does the same. See James D. Hardy, Jr., The New York Giants Base Ball Club: The Growth of a Team and a Sport, 1870 to 1900 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1995). p. 32. But the writer could find no contemporary mention of any such tie between Day and Gordon, a wealthy Manhattan coal merchant and politician. The only trace of a marital link between John B. Day and Joseph Gordon that I found is a tenuous circumstantial one: Their wives (Ella Day and Jennie Gordon) both had the maiden name Davis.

[8] Mutrie BioProject profile, p. 5.

[9] Ibid.

[10] When the Gothams and the Mets played home games simultaneously, the two diamonds were separated by no more than a canvas fence, an awkward arrangement that occasionally required outfielders from one league to chase balls on to the field of a rival circuit. It is unclear, however, just how often such competing games were played. Authorities disagree. For more, see Stew Thornley, Land of the Giants: New York’s Polo Grounds (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 2000), p. 16-20.

[11] Constructed amid factory smokestacks on a former landfill site, Metropolitan Park was soon adjudged both unplayable and a health hazard. By midseason, Mets games were played there only when the Polo Grounds was being used by the Gothams. See Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York: Walker & Company, 2006), p. 148-149.

[12] Providence hurler Charley Radbourn topped off a legendary 59-victory regular season by winning all three games against the Mets, the last played before only 300 fans and called after six innings due to darkness and disinterest.

[13] For a more detailed account of the affair, see David Nemec, The Beer and Whisky League: The Illustrated History of the American Association – Baseball’s Renegade Major League (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1994), p. 91-92.

[14] As reported in the New York Times, December 5, 1885. After two desultory seasons on Staten Island, the Mets were purchased for player parts by Brooklyn team owner Charles Byrne. The AA then relocated the franchise hulk to Kansas City.

[15] Although widely attributed to Mutrie, the nickname Giantsmay actually have been coined by a New York Evening World sportswriter. See Mutrie BioProject profile, pp. 7-8.

[16] Years after he left the game, former Giant John Henry recalled that Day “travelled with his men on many (road) trips and nothing was too good for the players.” And when he felt “that his players were tired and needed relaxation, (Day) would order champagne and wine for them and do other things for their comfort,” as per an unidentified circa-1923 news article contained in the John B. Day file at the Giammati Research Center, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown.

[17] Although Day himself was little more than a Tammany member, the other Metropolitan Exhibition Company stockholders were heavily involved in local politics – particularly Joseph Gordon, elected to the New York State Assembly from a Manhattan district in 1888. But even a sachem heavyweight like Gordon proved unable to save the Polo Grounds from demolition.

[18] For a more detailed account of Day’s ballpark woes, see the BioProject profile of Manhattan Field, aka New Polo Grounds.

[19] Crane and O’Day posted all six Giants victories. Hall of Famers Keefe and Welch were winless in the series.

[20] As reported in the New York Times, September 6, 1889. In the article, it was estimated that since formed in the fall of 1880, the Metropolitan Exhibition Company operation of the Giants and Mets franchises had yielded corporate principals Day, Gordon, Dillingham, and Appleton a $750,000 profit.

[21] See e.g., New York Times, November 4, 1889. A verbatim reprint of the players’ declaration of war and an apt summary of the situation is provided in Mike Roer, Orator O’Rourke: The Life of a Baseball Radical (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), pp. 169-172. For a more expansive treatment of the Players League hostilities in New York, see Hardy, The New York Giants Base Ball Club, pp. 92-133.

[22] The unrequited wooing of Ewing and Richardson received ample coverage in the press, much to Day’s discomfort and chagrin. See e.g., Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1890; Boston Globe, February 19 and 23, 1890; Sporting Life, February 26, 1890. The reported vacillation of Ewing, however, earned him the lasting mistrust of many in the Players League ranks.

[23] Over the strenuous protest of Brush, the Indianapolis (and Washington) franchises had been dissolved by the National League as an early wartime measure. As Brush was the author of the salary-classification plan that precipitated the Players League strife, irony abounded. But Brush, a resilient and resourceful department-store magnate, converted the situation to his advantage, capitalizing on Day’s fiscal distress to advance a long-term Brush objective – control of the New York Giants.

[24] Notwithstanding his pre-existing relationship with Day and his own Tammany Hall ties, the opportunistic Coogan had had no compunction about leasing adjoining family property to the wealthy Republican politician-businessmen who were bankrolling the Players League operation in New York. The striking physical proximity of Brotherhood Park and the New Polo Grounds is depicted in photos and diagrams reproduced in Thornley, Land of the Giants, pp. 32-35.

[25] The Players League New York club drew 148,197 home fans for the 1890 season while the National League Giants posted a sparse 60,667 attendance figure. Even when combined, the 1890 New York fan attendance figure was only a fraction of the 305,405 baseball fans drawn by the venue-troubled Giants the season before, as per

[26] As reported in the New York Press/New York Times, May 13, 1890, and elsewhere.

[27] Per Sporting Life, January 9, 1892. See also, Harold Seymour (with Dorothy J. Mills), Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1960), p. 238.

[28] In addition to Talcott, the primary investors in the New York Players League franchise were General Edward A. McAlpin, New York postmaster Cornelius Van Cott, and Frank B. Robinson.

[29] As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1890.

[30] As per the Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1890.

[31] As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1890.

[32] As quoted in the New York Times, February 10, 1893.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.Day was succeeded as franchise president by Van Cott.

[35] The financial health of the tobacco business had been compromised by Day’s need for funds to keep the Giants from bankruptcy but the precise cause of the factory’s closing is unknown to the writer. It should be noted, however, that many once-thriving business concerns did not survive the Panic of 1893.

[36] As reported in the New York Times, March 4, 1896.

[37] In January 1895 Freedman had acquired majority control of the Giants by buying out the Talcott faction.

[38] Chronically impatient with his managers, Freedman went through 13 of them in his eight seasons as principal Giants owner and team president.

[39] See e.g., New York Times, April 13, 1900.

[40] As recounted in the New York Times, January 21-22, 1902. The Spalding-Freedman clash dragged on for several more months before the league presidency squabble (and the underlying fight over the baseball trust scheme of Brush) was resolved. For more on the subject, see W.F. Lamb, “A Fearsome Collaboration: The Alliance of Andrew Freedman and John T. Brush,” Base Ball, A Journal of the Early Game, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 2009, pp. 12-14.

[41] See e.g., the Boston Globe/Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1903.

[42] As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1903.

[43] As per the Day obituary in the Hartford Courant, January 26, 1925.

[44] See e.g., the New York Times, March 4, 1914, placing Day in attendance when the Giants and Chicago White Sox were greeted at dockside upon their return from a world tour, and the New York Times, February 16, 1916, listing Day as present for former president Taft’s keynote address at a MLB banquet.

[45] As per an unidentified 1923 newspaper article in the Day file at the Giamatti Research Center.

[46] As reported in the New York Times, October 5, 1923.

[47] As per another unidentified newspaper article in the Day file at the Giamatti Research Center.

[48] As per the New York Times/Hartford Courant, January 28, 1925.

One comment

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

67 + = 76