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Name from History: Charles 'Bushel Basket' Gould key to Red Stockings' record run

First native Cincinnatian to play pro 'base ball'
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Posted at 12:01 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 12:01:08-04

Charles Harvey Gould was a man of firsts. He was the first first baseman of the first professional baseball team in America, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He was the first native Cincinnatian to play pro ball, and he was the first manager of the second edition of the Red Stockings that became today’s Cincinnati Reds.

The fans, called “cranks” in that era, knew him as Charlie “Bushel Basket” Gould, at 6 feet the tallest man on the team. His athleticism allowed him to be the first first baseman to play off the bag and whose sure hands rarely “muffed” a ball.

Yet there were glitches in Gould’s fairytale story both on and off the field.

Various accounts of the end of the Red Stockings’ record 80-game (some sources say 84) winning streak on June 14, 1870, blame an errant throw by Gould for allowing the Brooklyn Atlantics to win in the 11th inning. And his record as manager of the 1876-77 Red Stockings — an almost completely new team in the brand new National League — was a dismal 11-77. The Red Stockings finished in last place both years. The team pulled Gould from his management role about half way through the season, and he retired at its end.

Off the field, Gould was somewhat of a wanderer, according to a 1984 article by University of Cincinnati archivist Kevin Grace written for the journal of the Society for American Baseball Research. He married Ohioan Laura Netherly in about 1874 and had five children, one of whom died in infancy. But Gould never settled on a career, starting as a secretary and groundskeeper for the Red Stockings and then bouncing around from job to job: police court officer, deputy sheriff, streetcar conductor, railway clerk, bookkeeper and insurance agent.

Census records from 1860 to 1910 on www.ancestry.com show Gould living at a different Cincinnati address every 10 years. His wanderings here stopped in Norwood and ultimately ended at the home of his son, Charles F. Gould, in Flushing, N.Y., where he died at age 69 in 1917. Gould was buried without a marker in his family’s plot at Spring Grove Cemetery. Reds president Warren Giles honored Gould’s accomplishments on the 75th anniversary of the team in 1951 by erecting a commemorative stone plaque in Spring Grove’s Section 67, Lot 54.

The marker is about all that’s left of Charlie Gould’s legacy, even though he was a hero among his cranks and played a key role in the transformation of “base ball,” as it was then spelled, into America’s pastime.

Humble beginnings

Gould, one of eight children George Gould and Elizabeth Fisk Gould, was born Aug. 21, 1846. His father was a successful produce merchant who started by selling butter and eggs along the Cincinnati waterfront. Charlie helped out with the business’ books as a boy and began playing organized baseball at age 15.

At one point in his youth, according to Charles F. Faber’s article for SABR, Gould won a contest by throwing a ball 302 feet, 3 inches. But it was catching the ball — without a glove in those early days — that became Gould’s expertise. He got his nickname because teammates said that throwing to him was as easy as throwing to a bushel basket.

Charlie Gould appears in the 9 o'clock position on this poster showing the smashing Red Stockings team. (Public domain image)

Cincinnati Base Ball Club leaders — among them Aaron Champion, George Ellard and Alfred Goshorn — hired English cricket star Harry Wright in 1868 to be team captain, breaking league rules by offering to pay him. Wright assembled the best players possible — Gould included — to compete in the National Association of Base Ball Players. The team went 41-7 in 1868, but Champion and Wright wanted to do better. They would do just that by pooling club members’ money and exploiting the 1869 abolishment by the NABBP of its no-pay rule.

Wright received $1,200 to play the 1869 season. Gould pocketed $800. The other seven players, all of whom except Indiana native Calvin McVey came from East Coast teams, split the remainder of the payroll, which was somewhere between $9,100 and $10,000.

The Red Stockings’ strategy worked. Their team was great, going 57-0. Crowds swarmed to the games as the team barnstormed in cities from New York to St. Louis and San Francisco. The team of nine men and a substitute traveled by carriage, train and boat to play nationwide from April 17 to Nov. 5. They sported white flannel uniforms sewn by Bertha Bertram that featured knickers, long red stockings and a big red “C” on the front, and they became a hit in the press, which generally had ignored baseball up to that point.

Queen City’s ‘conquering heroes’

Cincinnati was in a fervor over their Red Stockings as they racked up one win after another against both professional, amateur and hybrid teams, according to Harry B. Ellard’s 1907 book “Base Ball in Cincinnati: A History.” Local boy Gould was a fan-favorite during the streak, which included 71-15 and 103-8 drubbings of his former team, the Buckeyes.

Wrote Ellard of Gould: “He was one of the best humored men on the ball field, always working with a will, and always to be found at his post.… As a first baseman he was one of the best, and, considering the swiftly thrown balls he had to handle, he nevertheless got them all.”

The city welcomed the Red Stockings home on July 1, 1869, overjoyed by the team’s unparalleled success, which included a win of 16-5 win against the Washington Nationals that was viewed by President Ulysses Grant.

“When the (team’s) train rolled into the Little Miami depot, then at Kilgour and Pearl streets, it seemed that about half of the town’s population was there to welcome the conquering heroes. There was a parade from the depot to uptown. Houses along the route were profusely decorated. The popular idols took all the adulation in stride,” read a Cincinnati newspaper’s account.

The following day, Gould, his mates and team president Champion were presented with a wooden bat that was 27 feet long and 9½ inches thick at the handle. The bat, on which each player’s name was inscribed, did not resurface until the 1919 Reds vs. White Sox World Series.

Harper's Weekly depicted the presentation of a 27-foot-long wooden bat to the undefeated Red Stockings on July 2, 1869, soon after their return to Cincinnati. (Public domain image)

Charlie Gould, who received a $50 bonus at the end of the 1869 season, had come a long way from his father’s butter-and-egg days. Champion’s address on July 2 at a banquet held for the team at the Gibson House hotel captured the euphoria that surrounded Gould and the Red Stockings:

“Some one asked me today whom I would rather be, President Grant or President Champion of the Cincinnati Baseball Club. I immediately answered him that I would by far rather be president of the baseball club.”

The Red Stockings, however, were destined to disband. Their fan base eroded after they lost to Brooklyn. Betting on games had increased as had dissension on the team caused by players’ rowdiness and drinking. Gould opposed both, and he, along with Wright, was worried that gambling and bad behavior would disgrace the professional game they loved and depended upon for their livelihood.

The Red Stockings, by now heavily in debt despite their success, split up at the end of the 1870 season. Wright got an offer to start a professional team in Boston and chose his brother, George, Gould and McVey to move with him, leaving behind the rest of the Cincinnati players the classy captain described as “drinkers, growlers and shrinkers.” The Cincinnati Red Stockings, with new owners and mostly new players, would not swing their bats again until 1876.

Gould helped the Boston Red Stockings — yes, they took the Cincinnati team’s name, which eventually was shortened to Red Sox — to win one championship in two years in the National Association of Baseball Clubs before leaving to play in Baltimore and then New Haven, Conn., where he served as manager as well until the team folded in the middle of the 1875 season.

He played first base and managed the new Red Stockings in 1876-77 but retired at age 30 to serve the team as its secretary and then as its groundskeeper and equipment manager. His duties included buying buckets, balls and brooms and maintaining the ballpark.

Gould left the team around 1879, taking with him a career batting average of about .260 and buckets of memories, including that historic winning streak and a 100-2 win over Memphis in 1870 in which he amassed 11 hits in just five innings.

In his 1984 article, UC’s Grace summed up the career of Charlie “Bushel Basket” Gould in this way: “Gould wasn’t a great manager, and although he was a superb fielder, he was only a fair hitter. But he was a baseball pioneer, a witness to new eras in this city’s history and his country’s pastime.”

Gould in team song

The following is an excerpt from a song about the Red Stockings written by an unknown member of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, a group of mostly wealthy men that loved the game and organized the team:

“In many a game that we played,

We’ve needed a First Base,

But now our opponents will find

The ‘basket’ in its place.

And if you think he ‘muffs’ the balls,

Sent into him red hot,

You’ll soon be fooled by ‘Charlie Gould’

And find he ‘muffs’ them not.”