The Wright brothers
Former Dutch bowling coach Ian Pont is often fond of claiming to be the only professional cricketer to have played a professional baseball match, inflating his one pre-season trial game with the Philadelphia Phillies to something greater than what it was. However, he is not the only professional cricketer to have played professional baseball. Several professional cricketers in the USA played baseball, some playing in the major leagues. Two of them have even made it all the way to the Hall of Fame.
In 1837, Sheffield cricketer Samuel Wright emigrated to the USA with his family, including then two year old William, to become better known as Harry, to be a cricket club professional with the St George Cricket Club in New York. Harry (right), along with his younger brother George, who had been born in New York in 1847, played a significant role in American cricket, and an even more significant role in baseball, for which they are in the hall of fame.
Samuel Wright played in the first ever international match, representing his adopted country against Canada in 1844. He raised his sons to be cricket club pros alongside him, and this they did, whilst also dabbling in baseball.
Harry made his debut for the US national side against Canada in 1858, with George joining him as a national team player in 1862 for a match against the Military Officers of Canada when aged just 15. Harry also represented the USA against George Parr's XI in 1859, the first time a side from England had toured another country.
Both continued to play cricket up until the mid 1860s, when baseball became the dominant bat and ball sport in the USA. Harry Wright was an integral part of baseball's first openly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1866, and when he became manager of the side, he soon had younger brother George join the side in 1869 as a shortstop.
Harry was invited to organise a team in Boston in 1871, taking three players from Cincinnati with him, including brother George and the teams name. Despite the obvious similarity in name, this team is not the modern day Boston Red Sox, but is actually the modern day Atlanta Braves, after a series of changes in name and location.
At Boston, Harry and George (right) almost defined modern baseball. The modern role of a manager in baseball, equivalent to the captain in cricket, was practically invented by Harry, and George was the first great shortstop. Both were eventually inducted into the baseball hall of fame for their achievements.
Whilst Harry is not known to have played cricket again, George returned to the game whilst his baseball career was winding down, and after it ended. In August 1880, he played for Longwood Cricket Club on a four match tour of Canada, taking 43 wickets at the remarkable average of 3.76.
In 1883, George made his first-class debut, becoming the first and, to date, only person to have played both first-class cricket and major league baseball. He played for the USA against the Gentlemen of Philadelphia, bowling six maidens in the first Philadelphian innings, and scoring 12 the only time he batted. The USA won the match by 8 wickets. George captained the national side in the same fixture the following year, but they lost by 3 wickets.
In 1886, he put in one of the finest performances of his cricket career, taking 9/33 in the second innings and scoring an unbeaten 85 as Longwood beat Montreal by an innings. He played for Longwood against Ireland in 1888, taking six wickets in the match. His final major match was for Massachusetts against Australia, in 1893. Australia won the match easily, but George did bowl Test player John Lyons. Harry passed away two years later, and George turned his attention to his sporting goods business in Boston, also designing golf courses. His son Beals Wright was a tennis player, winning two Olympic golds in 1904.
George died of a stroke in 1937 at the age of 90, living just long enough to be amongst the second group of inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He is the only first-class cricketer to be so honoured.