Just who was the most successful manager in Boston history? For those of us today, Terry Francona would certainly be on the top of the list. Some may wish to wander back to the beginnings of Red Sox history when Jimmy Collins led the then-Boston Americans to two first place finishes and also captured the first World Series. All in five years.
Then there is Harry Wright. Wright was born in England in 1835 and immigrated to the United States when he was a few years old. Wright’s father was an expert cricket player and Wright took up that game until he realized a new sport, baseball, was garnering all the attention – especially among the working class.
Wright also was the first to fully endorse play for pay. His Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 were a paid ensemble that roamed the United States taking on all challengers. They finished the tour undefeated.
In 1871 a professional league was formed – The National Association. Wright brought several of his Cincinnati players to his latest rendition now called The Boston Red Stockings. In five seasons the Red Stockings managed a record of 225-60 while capturing four league championships. Wright, a proficient batsman, was player-manager, as he had been in Cincinnati.
In 1876 the National League was formed and Wright continued to manage and play and continued to win. In six seasons, Wright’s Boston team finished 254-187 and won two pennants. But all was not well in Boston for Wright. The team’s performance deteriorated and, no surprise here, the Boston fans and media were not as cordial as Wright wished.
During those early years Wrights’ teams were noted for both their sobriety and avoidance of gambling influences – a rarity in the beginning years of professional baseball.
Wright, no longer a player, moved on to manage the Providence Grays for two seasons (110-72) and then to Philadelphia to manage the Quakers who later became the Phillies (636-566). After leaving Boston, Wright never enjoyed the same level of success, failing to win another pennant.
In 1893 Wright’s managerial career came to a halt. Declining health and a strained relationship with team ownership saw, despite public protest, his contract not being renewed. Wright’s health continued a downward spiral and he passed away in 1895 at age 60.
Wright was also a baseball innovator. Wright is given is credited with implementing the concept of a farm system when he went to Providence and was the first to use “spring training” to get the players ready for the season. Wright, Al Spalding and Henry Chadwick are recognized as three most influential founding fathers of baseball of the 19th century.
So when great managers in Boston are discussed, Harry Wright has to be included and, just maybe, he was the best.