James Leon “Jimmy” Wood was a baseball pioneer. The second baseman began his playing career as a 17-year-old in Brooklyn with the Eckfords in 1860. After spending a decade as one of the best-known players on the East Coast Wood went to Chicago where he became the first manager of the newly formed White Stockings.
Wood is sometimes credited with being the man who invented spring training (a claim first advanced by Al Spink of The Sporting News) because in 1870 he took the Chicago team to New Orleans for a series of games with local teams, the Robert E. Lee’s, the Lone Stars, the Pelicans and the Southerns—most of those sources fail to mention that Harry Wright’s Red Stockings were in New Orleans at the same time. (Wood’s reminiscences about the early days of the White Stockings coming up later this week).
Wood also managed the team the following season, when the White Stockings became one of the charter members of the National Association. They finished second in 1871 but disbanded as a result of the great Chicago Fire in October.
Wood next played for and managed two teams that wouldn’t survive the year; the Troy Haymakers went bankrupt in July and the Brooklyn Eckfords who folded at the conclusion of a 3-26 1872 season.
After leading the Philadelphia Whites to a second place finish in 1873, Wood returned to Chicago and the newly re-formed White Stockings.
Wood was slated to play second and serve as captain, but would never play a game for the White Stockings or any other team. After falling at his home during the spring of 1873, he developed an abscess on his leg, which kept him out of the lineup as the infection got worse.
In July The Chicago Tribune said:
“The well-known base ball player and former captain of the Chicago nine Jas. Wood, has had his leg amputated. He has been unable to play this summer, owing to a disease of the bones, and has been under medical care for some months. He was a most conscientious player, and has the esteem of all with whom he was connected.”
On August 20 The Chicago Inter-Ocean said Wood was named “manager of the club for the remainder of the present season and for the season of 1875.” While he “officially” served as manager for the last 23 games of the season, both The Inter-Ocean and The Tribune said Wood was “unable to assume active duties,” and would be led on the field by team president William Hulbert (called “Hurlburt” by The Inter-Ocean).
By the spring of 1875, Wood had returned full-time to the management of the White Stockings, with plans to take the team for “two weeks of practice,” in April.
The Chicago manager had an off the record conversation with a reporter for The St. Louis Democrat in which he unfavorably compared the newly formed St. Louis Brown Stockings to his own team. The paper printed the manager’s comments verbatim; even including his assertion that the comments were “private:”
“Now, said he, let us compare the players individually. ‘For catcher there is (Tom) Miller and Higham; the former is inexperienced, poor runner, fair batter, and the only catcher you have, while Dick Higham is one of the surest and heaviest batters in the country, has experience and is a first-class base-runner. (George) Bradley and (George) Zettlein—Zett is a poor batter and runner, to be sure, but on a pitch you ought to know as much as I can tell you. I do not know anything about Bradley, but, if (Jim) Devlin pitches, I think we have the best of it, as he was second on our batting list last season. First base, (Herman) Dehlman and (John) Glenn, the former may play the base the best, but in batting, base running and general playing, Glenn can discount him. Second base, (John) Peters and (Joe) Battin. Well, I won’t compare notes with them, as anyone ought to know that Peters is head and shoulders above Battin in every respect. (Davy) Force and (Dickey) Pearce, shortstop. There is no better player in the country than Force, he being one of the very best batters. Pearce has been one of the best, but, I think his race is run. This is private, remember. (Frank) Fleet and Warren White, third base. Why just think of it; there is as much difference in them as in Battin and Peters. White is first-class at the bat, and led the score on the Baltimore team last season, and is a fine base-runner in the bargain, while Fleet is not as good, by a jug full. (Ned) Cuthbert and (Paul) Hines, left field. The latter took balls away out in Cuthey’s field last season (Hines had played left field, with Cuthbert in center for the White Stockings the previous season). Hines stands better at the bat—Cuthey is a fast baserunner. (Lip) Pike and (Oscar) Bielaski center field. Pike is the hardest batter, but no surer than Bielaski, while both are about the same in the field, they being the fastest runners in the country. (Jack “Death to Flying Things”) Chapman and (Winfield Scott) Hastings right field. The former won’t begin to show up with Hastings, as he is one if the finest batters and catchers in the business.
“’Take us all in all we are much stronger at the bat. While St. Louis has but Pike and Cuthbert for base runners, we have but one poor base-runner in Zett; all the others are first class. We have change pitchers and catchers—St. Louis has not. If we don’t beat St. Louis eight out of ten games, we deserve to be thrown into the lake.’”
A few of the players Wood referred to in early March ended up playing different positions, or like Davy Force, of whom Wood said “There is no better player in the country,” didn’t play for the White Stockings at all.
Regardless, he underestimated the ability of most of the St. Louis’ roster, while wildly inflating his club’s prospects; Wood’s team would underperform all season, finishing 30-37 in sixth place, behind the fourth place (39-29) Brown Stockings.
Wood wildly overestimated the quality of his team and presided over a season of dysfunction and scandal. More on the 1875 White Stockings tomorrow.