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A Visionary, A Politician - And , Briefly, A Baseball Pioneer


By Courant

September 12, 2007

Q: How did Morgan G. Bulkeley get into the Baseball Hall of Fame? P.R.A., Bozrah.

A: Morgan Gardner Bulkeley was among Connecticut's most influential business, civic and political figures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A bridge that spans the Connecticut River is named for him. He also had a brief connection to baseball: He was the first president of the National League.

Bulkeley was born to a wealthy family in East Haddam on Dec. 26, 1837. The family moved to Hartford in 1846. In 1850, his father, Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, helped found Aetna Life Insurance Co. Morgan Bulkeley settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., but returned to Hartford after his father died in 1872. He helped form the U.S. Bank of Hartford and was its first president.

In 1874, Bulkeley was among several prominent businessmen to pledge $5,000 to finance the Hartford Dark Blues baseball team. He became president in 1875. The team played under the auspices of the ineffectual and scandal-ridden National Association of Professional Ball Players. In February 1876, Chicago businessman and White Stockings owner William Hulbert organized a meeting of team owners to create a league with governing authority and teams in larger cities. The Dark Blues were among eight charter members in the new National League.

For political reasons, Hulbert could not be league president. He nominated Bulkeley, whose business acumen, impeccable credentials and stellar reputation would lend instant respectability to the league. The club owners drew lots to determine the presidency. Bulkeley's was the first drawn.

Bulkeley served for only one year, but he did improve baseball's image by targeting illegal gambling, drinking and rowdiness. He moved the Hartford team to Brooklyn and left baseball in 1877.

At that time, his business and political star began to rise. He became Aetna's third president in 1879 and remained there until his death in 1922. He served as mayor of Hartford from 1880 to1888, as governor of Connecticut from 1889 to 1893, and as a U.S. senator from 1905 to 1911. As senator, he served on the Mills Commission, formed to examine the origins of baseball. The commission concluded that West Point graduate and war hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y., a claim since dismissed as myth.

Bulkeley was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as an executive/pioneer in 1937, along with Byron "Ban" Johnson, founder and president of the newer American League, who served from 1901 to 1927. William Hulbert, considered the true founder of the National League, wasn't elected until 1995.

Information also is available at www.sportsecyclopedia.com/mlb/nl/bulkeley.html.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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