Merritt Francis Corbett
Merritt Corbett was a professional baseball player for two years, the 1913 and 1914 seasons. In 1913, he played for the Middletown Asylum of the New York-New Jersey League (NY&NJ) League at the Class D level (equivalent to Rookie ball today). Nicknamed “Bugs” by his teammates and the press, he started the season strong with his bat at the plate and glove in the outfield. Unfortunately, he entered into a slump at the same time attendance for the team began to drop. Owners were forced to reduce costs and Corbett was released. He was immediately signed by a competing NY&NJ team, the Danbury Hatters. Corbett’s play was returning to top form when he was severely spiked by a fellow teammate chasing a fly ball in the outfield. Weeks later he returned to the Hatters lineup as a catcher and played that position for the remainder of the season. He finished the 1913 season batting over .270.
In 1914, the NY&NJ league changed its name to the Atlantic League and the Hatters resigned Corbett as an outfielder. The Hatters finished the season with a winning record (58 wins, 47 losses, .552 winning percentage), but finished in third place behind Poughkeepsie and the Long Branch Cubans. Corbett’s career ended in Danbury prior to the 1915 season, and not because his batting average dropped 40 points, but because of poor attendance. Atlantic League officials decided to release all players in the league and hire local talent as a strategy to foster greater interest by fans.
While his professional career was brief, Corbett demonstrated promising skills as a hitter and fielder. If it were not for an untimely slump, unfortunate injury, and poor attendance, perhaps his professional career might have lasted longer. Before and after his stint in pro ball, he worked as a boilermaker in Watervliet, NY. There is a strong chance that Corbett played ball on an industrial league team sponsored by his employer during this time, as this practice was quite common in the early 20th century. He also played for the Emerald Athletic Club in Troy, NY. His daughter, Teresa Corbett Church (b. 1928), often told stories of watching him play (and pitch), so this supports him continuing to play at least into the 1930s.
One final – and fascinating – observation on his career that was not appreciated in 1913- 1914 is the fact that Corbett played against some of the greatest black and Cuban players of the day. During the 1910s, the Northeast was home to several of the top Negro League teams, including the Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Mohawk Giants, and the NJ Smart Set. In addition, Corbett also competed against one of the earlier all-Cuban team in the U.S., the Long Branch Cubans. A handful of the light-skinned Cubans went on to play major league baseball. Many of the dark-skinned Cubans and African-American players who Corbett competed against went on to be recognized by baseball historians – and the National Baseball Hall of Fame – as some of the greats of the game.