Wright was born in England and came to America when his father, a famous cricket player, was hired by the fashionable St. George Cricket Club in New York. Harry and brothers George and Sam scandalized their father by taking up the new American game of baseball. Harry became baseball’s most innovative proponent and most influential force, shaping a Hall of Fame career as a pioneer and manager.
Wright joined the Knickerbockers, a club of young New York City sportsmen that included Alexander Cartwright, who had laid out the first diamond and constructed the game’s first rules. He played wherever he could and became the recognized leader of others who took up the game. When Cincinnati’s city fathers decided after the Civil War that a winning ballclub would put their town on the map, they hired Wright and gave him free rein to recruit the first openly paid baseball team. The result was the undefeated 1869 Red Stockings, whose 56-game nationwide tour helped spread the popularity of baseball.
Wright and Albert Spalding led a tour to England in 1874 to demonstrate the game. The British were indifferent to baseball but were mildly impressed when the Americans, few of whom had ever seen cricket, took some tips from Wright and won a few matches.
Wright managed the National Association Boston Red Stockings in 1871-75, winning the pennant the last four years. He started an 18-year career in the National League when the circuit formed in 1876, taking the helm of the Boston Red Caps, winning titles his second and third years but never again. His brother George, who became a Hall of Famer, was an infielder on Harry’s NA club and his NL Boston and Providence teams. An early student of statistics, Harry kept his own detailed box scores and studied them so avidly that he lost his sight for a year in 1890 and had to temporarily relinquish the reins of the Phillies. He is credited with introducing the practice of one fielder backing up another. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1953.