Category: The Bat and Ball

A Greater Hartford baseball blog.

Honoring the Life of Mark Foss, GHTBL President

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League bids a fond yet somber farewell to our former President, Mark Foss. He headed the league from 2006 to 2013.

GHTBL Executives: Mark Foss (right) with his wife Jane Foss & Jim Gallagher.

Mark and his wife Jane served the Twi-loop as steady leaders and perennial Foss Insurance franchise sponsors during the 2000s and 2010s. They were crucial directors and contributors who held the league together behind the scenes. Mark and Jane bridged the gap between generations and guided GHTBL towards a more competitive brand of baseball.

Mark was a Korean War veteran with the United States Army, a father of four children and an avid Boston Red Sox fan.

Funeral service celebrating Mark’s life will be Thursday (June 13, 2024) at 5 pm at the D’Esopo East Hartford Memorial Chapel, 30 Carter Street, East Hartford. Mark’s family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday afternoon from 3-5 pm at the funeral home chapel.

See more: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/east-hartford-ct/mark-foss-11848162

Stadium Series 4 Food Banks at Dunkin’ Park

Summer is coming and another season of twilight baseball nears!

GHTBL is pleased to announce that our 2024 Regular Season will be highlighted by another charity event at the home of the Hartford Yard Goats – Dunkin’ Park – America’s best minor league ballpark. This year will mark the eighth consecutive “Stadium Series” organized by GHTBL in support of local charities.

Two doubleheaders (four games) are scheduled for Thursday, August 1, 2024, and Friday, August 2, 2024, at 6 PM and 8 PM.


This time around, the games will benefit food banks in the Greater Hartford area. Eight GHTBL franchises will compete on the field and off the field to raise money for food banks in or around their respective towns. The GHTBL club that raises the most will earn prizes! 

Here are the teams and their beneficiaries: 

This event is open to the public.

Buy tickets to help feed families, children and anyone experiencing food insecurity.

General Admission is for all four games (both nights). Show your ticket at the Main Gate.

You may purchase tickets on this webpage or in person at the games. Kids 14 and under attend free.

Come watch the top amateurs in Connecticut at the top minor league ballpark in America, and support this local cause.

Concessions will be open.


Here are the donations GHTBL has made from our events at Dunkin’ Park:

2017: $5,641 to @campcourant
2018: $4,500 to @ctchildrens
2019: $7,000 to @ms_4_ms
2020: $2,000 to @coltfoundation
2021: $5,624 to @ConnSportsFdn
2022: $5,035 to @sandyhook
2023: $4,000 to @hartfordpal

Note: The full 2024 Regular Season schedule will be announced at a later date.

Baseball Bloodlines: The Spanswick Family

The Spanswick’s of Enfield, Connecticut, were once the most talented family of pitchers in New England. Two brothers, William Henry “Bill” Spanswick Jr. and James “Jim” Spanswick as well as Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, excelled as amateurs and professionals. At different points in their careers, each of them also appeared in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Let’s take a closer look at their story…

The Spanswick family lived in the Thompsonville section of Enfield. Bill’s father, William Henry “Harry” Spanswick Sr. originally hailed from Hartford, while his mother, Bonnie Spanswick was from Enfield. Harry was an employee of the Hartford Machine Screw Company, an amateur ballplayer, a local bowling champion, and a soon-to-be Little League coach. Harry and Bonnie had four children: Bill, James, Barbara and Nancy. Bill Spanswick Jr. was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on July 8, 1938, and Jim arrived three years later.

Bill Spanswick Jr., 1956.

Both Bill and Jim Spanswick developed into standout athletes at Enfield High School. The brothers once pitched no-hitters in the same week for American Legion Maciolek Post 154. Bill was a 6’3″ left-handed pitcher with a lively fastball. He threw seven consecutive shutouts, one no-hitter and seven one-hitters in his senior year of high school. Nicknamed “Span,” Bill matriculated to the College of the Holy Cross and starred on the freshman baseball team.

Enfield High School yearbook, 1956.

Then in 1958, Bill Spanswick signed with his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. However, his quick decision was costly. He accepted the contract over the phone from Jack Onslow – a Red Sox scout and former manager of the Hartford Senators. Onslow showed up at the Spanswick residence the next morning, and the $4,000 contract was inked at the kitchen table. And yet, Major League Baseball soon revoked a bonus rule and Spanswick lost out on $60,000.

Nevertheless, Bill Spanswick traveled west to join Boston’s Class-D Midwest League affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa. He was quickly promoted to the Lexington Red Sox of the Nebraska League and posted a 7-4 record with a 3.13 ERA and a league-leading 142 strikeouts. In an August 21, 1958, game against the Superior Senators he tallied 22 strikeouts, a Nebraska League record.

Raleigh wins behind Spanswick, August 4, 1959.

The following season he advanced to the Carolina League and dominated for the Raleigh Capitals. His win-loss record soared to 15-4 behind a 2.49 earned run average. He led the league in both categories and Raleigh went on to capture the pennant. “Span” was considered a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, which included other arms such as Dick Radatz, Dave Morehead, Earl Wilson and Wilbur Wood.

That same year Jack Onslow signed Bill’s brother, Jim Spanswick to the Red Sox organization. He was another hard-throwing southpaw who chucked three consecutive no-hitters at Enfield High School. In the minors, Jim tossed a total of 407 innings with the Red Sox (1960-1962) and the Washington Senators (1963). After being released by the Winston-Salem Red Sox in 1964, he took the mound at Colt Park in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for Herb’s Sports Shop and later for Royal Typewriter.

Meanwhile, Jim’s older brother was nearing the major leagues. Bill endured minor bumps along the way with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Seattle Rainiers. In 1963, he mastered control problems to become an All-Star and the Pacific Coast League strikeout king (209). He had a 14-8 record for last place Seattle, and three of his defeats were by a difference of one run. During this time, both Spanswick brothers served their country as reserves for the United States Marines Corps.

Coming out of 1964 Spring Training in Tucson, Arizona, Red Sox Manager Johnny Pesky admired Spanswick’s ability and judged him to be ready for the majors. The Associated Press ranked Spanswick, “…the brightest pitching prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization.” When he made the team, the 25 year old lefty credited his minor league coach, Mace Brown, for helping him prepare mentally. It would be Spanswick’s only big league season.

Spanswick made his debut by tossing three innings of hitless relief at Fenway Park on April 18, 1964, against the White Sox. His first win came on May 8, versus the Washington Senators in a 9-3 victory. Bill’s teammates started calling him “Crow” for his dark and bird-like physical features. He was known to have a habit of stashing Camel cigarettes in his cap – something he may have learned in the Marines.

On June 12, 1964, Bill Spanswick faced his toughest opponents yet. Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees beat up on the Red Sox, 10-6 at Yankee Stadium. Mantle had two hits and a pair of RBI. The contest was indicative of Span’s 1964 season. He pitched in 29 games with a bloated 6.89 ERA, 55 strikeouts, 44 walks and a 2-3 record. The Red Sox sank to eighth in the American League. He showed flashes of brilliance, but reporters described his time in Boston as a failure.

Bill Spanswick, Boston Red Sox, 1964.

In 1965, Bill Spanswick was traded to the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs. He earned a 6-3 record before being released again. The California Angels organization picked him up in 1966, but his career was coming to an end due to elbow injuries. He returned to Connecticut once more to be with family and took a sales job in the trucking industry. In a surprise appearance, he pitched his last game for Hamilton Standard of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League – beating Moriarty Brothers 4-3 on June 28, 1967. Bill would later established Spanswick Trucking, which remains a family business to this day.

Bill Spanswick stayed connected to baseball through coaching. In 1991, he managed American International College to the NCAA Division-II College World Series. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame as the town’s only major leaguer. Upon retiring to Naples, Florida, he became an usher for Red Sox Spring Training games at JetBlue Park. Bill Spanswick died peacefully in Florida on December 2, 2020, and was buried at Thompsonville Cemetery.

Bill Spanswick featured in Globe Sports, July 17, 1967.

I feel good about saying I pitched in the big leagues. Back then, there were only eight teams in the American League. You were one of 72 guys pitching. You had to prove yourself in the minor leagues. It’s pretty special.”

Bill Spanswick Jr.
Bill Spanswick, 1979.

Bill’s nephew and Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, represented the next generation of the family. Naturally, Jeff was an ace pitcher at Enfield High School. The young right-hander had expert level coaches including Enfield’s longtime skipper, Bob Bromage. Jeff suited up for American International College where his Uncle Bill was head coach. At AIC, Jeff became an ECAC All-Star and a Division-II Second Team All-American. Though he was never drafted, Jeff followed his family’s footsteps by pitching at Fenway Park in the 1992 College All-Star Game (the Division-I All-Stars defeated the Division-II & Division-III All-Stars, 6-3).

Jeff Spanswick took time off from baseball after college, and in 1994 he married Lisa Noyes of Enfield. Four years later he made a return to the diamond with the East Hartford Jets of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Thanks in large part to Jeff’s 7-0 record, the Jets and their manager Hal Benson were co-champions of the 1998 Regular Season. Jeff Spanswick played for East Hartford until 2002 when he changed teams to Mr. G’s (Giansanti) of South Windsor. Mr. G’s won the 2002 Regular Season in Spanswick’s last year in baseball.

Sources

1. Bill Spanswick by Bill Nowlin, SABR Bio Project, 2021: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Bill-Spanswick/.

2. Bill Spanswick Dies, Enfield’s Only Major League Baseball Player by Tim Jensen, Patch.com: 2020, https://patch.com/connecticut/enfield/bill-spanswick-dies-enfields-only-major-league-baseball-player.

3. Mass Live article by David Dorsey, The News-Press, 2012: Bill Spanswick, formerly of Enfield and Boston Red Sox, finds new home at Jet Blue Stadium

Where Are They Now? GHTBL Players Leading Impressive Careers

Recently, Rainbow Graphics player-manager Jason Valliere accepted a role as Assistant Sports Information Director at the United Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Congratulations to Jason on his latest career move! Jason is on a path to a promising career in sports. He joins the countless number of twilight players who have worked for high profile institutions – men who have led inspiring careers in athletics, business, and public service.

Jason Valliere, Player-manager, Rainbow Graphics

Hundreds of twilight leaguers have made their mark in a wide array of professions and careers. From coaching to teaching to sales and management, you might say that GHTBL alumni help keep the economy going. And you might be wondering, “where are they now?” Well, here’s a list of former twilight players and their current occupation followed by their company or organization:

  • Ryan Aiken, Operations Manager & Treasurer, High Grade Gas Service, Inc.
  • Greg Annino, Senior Field Technician, Greenskies Clean Energy
  • Chris Anselmo, Realtor, Marino Realty
  • Brian Archibald, Special Education Teacher, Bristol Central High School
  • Jeff Bagwell, Special Advisor, Houston Astros
  • Steve Bartunek, Insurance Agent, RDDK
  • Andy Baylock, Director, UConn Football Alumni/Community Affairs
  • Ken Bratina, Program Director, Connecticut Junior Republic
  • Conor Bremer, Supplier Program Manager, Dynetics, Inc.
  • *Brett Burnham, Financial Advisor, Northwestern Mutual
  • *Steve Cannata, Head Coach, Kingswood-Oxford School Baseball
  • Clarke Caudill, Area Sales Manager, Intuitive
  • Tony Cekovsky, Regional Account Manager, Monster Energy
  • *Jack Champagne, Teacher, Longmeadow School District
  • *Paul Ciotto, Engineering Director, Aetna
  • Rob Cipolla, MSSP Sales, IBM
  • Chris Corkum, Founder, Chris Corkum’s Baseball, Inc.
  • *Scott Cormier, Vice President of Purchasing, Katsiroubas Produce
  • *Tony Dedominicis, Musician
  • Tyler Dew, Attorney and Claim Director, Chubb Insurance
  • Ryan DiPietro, Senior Environmental Inspector, BL Companies
  • Mark DiTommaso, Kitchen Designer, EHL Kitchens
  • Doug Elliot Jr., Financial Advisor, Marcum LLP
  • Doug Elliot Sr., President, The Hartford (retired)
  • Jake Fournier, Financial Manager, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
  • Paul Gallo, Lead Instructor, Los Angeles Dodgers Training Academy
  • *Ralph Giansanti Jr., Financial Advisor, Infinex Investments, Inc.
  • *Roberto Giansiracusa, Owner, GimaSport
  • John Gieras, Teacher, Somers Public Schools
  • *Kevin Gieras, Detective, New York Police Department
  • TJ Grande, Senior IT Business Management Specialist, Burns and McDonnell
  • Matt Grosso, EVP of Business Development, Wentworth DeAngelis & Kaufman Insurance
  • Jerry Hasler, Vice President, Forestville Manufacturing
  • Mike Hepple, Insurance Broker, Wentworth, DeAngelis & Kaufman Insurance
  • Rick Hewey, Contract Administrator, Hartford HealthCare
  • Charlie Hickey, Head Coach, Central Connecticut State University Baseball
  • Dan Hickey, Client Manager II, Lockton Companies
  • Nick Hock, Batting Practice Specialist, Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles)
  • Matt Hodges, Off Campus Operations Manager, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jack Hurley, Pension Consultant, PASI
  • *Scott Jeamel, VP Financial Consultant, Charles Schwab
  • Dave Katz, Owner, Katz Sport Shop
  • Chris Kehoe, Technical Architect, TriZetto Group
  • *Tom Kirby, Chief Financial Officer, JE Shepard Company
  • *Steve Krajewski, Assistant Director, Vernon Parks and Recreation Department (Retired)
  • John Kubachka, Operations Manager, Town of Newington
  • James Kukucka, Financial Analyst, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
  • Ryan Lamarche, Owner, RDL Painting
  • **Gary LaRocque, Director of Player Development, St. Louis Cardinals
  • Matt Lavatori, Vice President of Client Services, Fred C. Church Insurance
  • Marc Levin, Owner, Malloves Jewelers
  • Derek Litke, Business Develop Manager, Triumph Group
  • *Jason Maule, Physical Education Teacher, Meriden Public Schools
  • *Brian Marshall, Field Reimbursement Manager, Novartis
  • Steve Matyczyk, Principal, Tariffville Elementary School
  • Frank McCoy Jr., Personal Injury Attorney, McCoy & McCoy
  • Adam McLaughlin, Senior Vice President, Webster Bank
  • *Todd Mercier, Manager, Murray Kaizer Inc.
  • Daryl Morhardt, Head Coach, Housatonic High School Baseball 
  • Greg Morhardt, Professional Scout, Boston Red Sox
  • Mike Mowel, Chief Accounting Officer, Safepoint Holdings
  • *Walter Nakonechny, Science Department Chair, Rockville High School
  • Tyler Olander, Assistant Coach, University of Saint Joseph Men’s Basketball
  • Basilio Ortiz, Youth Services Officer, CT Department of Children and Families
  • Cory Parker, Sales Manager, AnnieMac Home Mortgage
  • Joe Parlante, Sales Account Manager at New England Industrial Supply
  • Jim Penders, Head Coach, UConn Baseball
  • *Adam Peters, Corporate Safety Director, KBE Building
  • Kevin Powell, Second Vice President, Travelers (retired)
  • *Bunty Ray, Teacher and Coach, Bristol Eastern High School
  • Cory Riordan, Pitching Coach, Dunedin Blue Jays (Toronto Blue Jays)
  • Kevin Rival, Founder, CT Rivals AAU Program
  • Jake Ruder, Manager, Fastenal
  • Peter Rynkowski, Senior Executive Recruiter, Ed-Exec, Inc.
  • *Dave Sacco, Operating Manager, Rhino Insurance Services
  • *Harvey Shapiro, Manager, Wareham Gatemen (retired)
  • *Michael Schweighoffer, Chief Lending Officer, Farmington Bank
  • Jim Shannon, Owner, Metro Communications
  • Charlie Shover, Plant Manager, Corsicana Mattress Company
  • *Jim Snediker, Commercial Insurance Leader, Travelers
  • Chris Strahowski, Teacher, Windham Technical H.S. & Adjunct Professor, SCSU
  • David Swanson, KZone Producer, ESPN and Founder of Swanson Baseball
  • Rob Tenzca, Project Manager, Arcadis
  • Tom Thibodeau, Head Coach, New York Knicks
  • **Leo Veleas, Head Coach, Berlin High School
  • Pete Walker, Pitching Coach, Toronto Blue Jays
  • Justin Waz, Director of Revenue Operations, RecDesk Software
  • Josue Zamora, Police Officer, State of Connecticut
  • *James Ziogas Jr. Attorney at Law, Ziogas Law

*GHTBL Hall of Fame Inductee
**GHTBL Hall of Fame Gold Glove Honoree

Comment below with your addition to this list.

Did You Know? Hank Greenberg Began his Career in Hartford

Before becoming one of the game’s greatest sluggers, Hank Greenberg began his professional career in Hartford, Connecticut. As a youngster, Greenberg attended James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York, where he was an outstanding athlete in baseball, basketball, and soccer. At 19 years old he dropped out of New York University to sign a $9,000 contract with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers placed him on their Class-A affiliate, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Greenberg appeared in 17 games for the Senators in the spring of 1930.

Hank Greenberg, Hartford Senators, 1930.

The two-time American League MVP and two-time World Series champion did not perform like an all-star in his first few professional appearances. He was a scrawny and inexperienced version of the player who later became “Hammerin’ Hank.” Greenberg cut his teeth with Hartford while in search of his persona as a right-handed power-hitter. He was the youngest player on a less than mediocre team.

Hank Greenberg, Hartford Senators, 1930.

His Hartford teammates and his manager called him by the nickname “Bruggy.” Greenberg’s first skipper was Lore “King” Bader, a former big league spitballer known for his love of cards. Hartford’s top hitter was John “Bunny” Roser, a local first baseman and a former major leaguer who hit .322 on the 1930 season. King Bader opted to use Roser over Greenberg and after a few weeks, Greenberg was demoted to the Class-C Raleigh Capitals of the Piedmont League.

Hank Greenberg, 1937.

Following a 35-44 win-loss record, Hartford folded on June 30, 1930, citing financial ruin. Bad baseball and austerity brought on by the Great Depression ended Hartford’s season early. The Eastern League was reduced to four clubs, but Greenberg went on to bigger and better things. He hit .314 for Raleigh of the Carolina League that summer. Then on September 14, 1930, Greenberg made his major league debut as a pinch hitter against the New York Yankees.

Hank Greenberg, 1939.

What about the rest of the Greenberg story? Well, he attracted national attention during the 1934 pennant race when he decided not to play on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. He was the first Jewish superstar in American sports. While enduring anti-semitic remarks and gestures, he prevailed over prejudice with a .314 lifetime batting average and 331 major league home runs. His seventeen years in professional baseball were limited by the events of World War II, when served in both the United States Army and the Army Air Corps.

Hank Greenberg, 1946.

On his return to a baseball in 1945, Greenberg and the Tigers claimed another World Series victory. Then in 1947, his final year, Greenberg was one of few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Greenberg was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. He is one of three Jewish players to be inducted (in addition to Sandy Koufax and Lou Boudrou).

Sources:
1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
2. SABR article on Hank Greenberg by Scott Ferkovich

Hartford’s First Ball Game Under Electric Lights

In Connecticut’s capital, a technological experiment occurred on Wednesday evening, July 23, 1890. It was Hartford’s first night baseball game aided by electric light. The event made national headlines and was touted as the “Greatest Novel Attraction of the Season” by the Hartford Courant. Ten arc lamps belonging to the Hartford Electric Company were connected to generators and suspended above Ward Street Grounds. More than 2,000 spectators paid admission to witness Connecticut’s first night baseball game.


At that time, the leisurely game of “base ball” had become a professional enterprise in Hartford – though it was a minor league one. The Hartfords were in last place in the Atlantic Association, and they needed a jolt in attendance. The night game allowed fans with day jobs to be patrons on a weekday. According to a humorous Hartford Post article, “The Hartford Base Ball team does well to play at night. Many of its games would look better in absolute darkness.”

Hartford Base Ball Association annual meeting, Hartford Courant, January 21, 1890.
Main Street, Hartford, CT, 1890.
Atlantic Association standings, 1890.


The evening game matched Hartford with the original Baltimore Orioles, and locals knew them well. Baltimore’s manager was “Bald Billy” Barnie, a former member of the 1874 Hartford Dark Blues. The Orioles featured a young Connie Mack at catcher, who started his career with Meriden and Hartford. Leading the hometown club were directors and shareholders of the Hartford Base Ball Association. A printer named A.W. Lang served as president of the organization and a former major leaguer named John M. Henry was Hartford’s manager. The team’s three-hitter was “Gentleman George” Stallings, who became a longtime manager in the big leagues.


Hartford would see a boost in ticket sales, but the evening game was a debacle. Due to an insufficient amount of light, the experiment was labeled a burlesque and a parody. Players were unable to track the ball in dim lighting, and batters were bunting for base hits. Every man on defense played in, and fielders rolled the ball to first base to record outs. The exhibition was called off after four innings. No official score was taken.

Ball by Electric Light, Hartford Courant, July 24, 1890.


While Hartford’s first night game failed, the attempt built upon previous experiments. Baseball by electric light traced back to July of 1880 – a year after Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. The Boston Post reported on a night game between amateur nines at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. One of Edison’s rivals, Edward Weston, supplied the lights. Here’s a drawing of the Weston arc lamp:

Edward Weston arc lamp, 1880.


There were many naysayers and detractors to the idea, but Hartford’s club tested night baseball again in 1901. This time, a string of carbide lights were hung on poles around Hartford Base Ball Park (near Hanmer Street and Wethersfield Avenue). The game was described as a successful demonstration of night baseball. Spectators were said to be amused, and they did not seem to care that Hartford lost to Brockton, 15-8.

Hartford Base Ball Park (Wethersfield Avenue Grounds), c. 1900.

Sources:

  1. Eddleton, O. (1980). Under the Lights. Sabr.org. https://sabr.org/journal/article/under-the-lights/.
  2. Various articles, Hartford Courant database, Newspapers.com.

12 Inducted to GHTBL Hall of Fame, Class of 2023

The Greater Hartford Twilight League inducted a dozen into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, November, 19, 2023 at Indian Hill Country Club in Newington. Among the inductees were GHTBL President, Bill Holowaty as well as Kevin Beaudoin, Steve Cannata, Jack Champagne, Scott Jeamel, Tom Kirby, Walt Nakonechny, Adam Peters, Bunty Ray, Dave Sacco, Bobby Stefanik and Mike Susi. GHTBL Hall of Fame President, Steve Krajewski was the master of ceremonies.


Congratulations to all coaches and ballplayers! This class represents some of the top baseball names in the Greater Hartford area from the 1960’s to 2000’s. The event brochure, written by GHTBL Hall of Fame Committee Member Jack Hurley, will be posted at a later date. Here’s the presenting words given by the League Secretary inducting Bill Holowaty:

I’m proud to present the induction of our President, Bill Holowaty to the Executive Committee, recognizing league officials. Coach Holowaty is just the 10th person to earn this honor and the first since Jim Gallagher. What people might not realize about Bill is that he’s one of Connecticut’s all-time amateur sports figures.

He played basketball at UConn starting in 1964 – not too long ago. While in college he appeared in the Hartford Twilight League with Hamilton Standard. His teammates were fellow Hall of Fame inductees, Wally Widholm, Hal Lewis and Bill Risley. Holowaty only played for a few summers before graduating and embarking on a coaching career at Eastern – a fledgling college at the time. 

He built up the program by installing an attitude of toughness and hard work. His demands for excellence were unparalleled. Bill won his 1000th game at Eastern in the year 2000. The Warriors went to 39 postseasons in 45 years under Holowaty, who won 4 National Titles and a total of 1,412 games – more than any coach in New England. 

He led the project to build a baseball stadium at Eastern and it really should be called Bill Holowaty Stadium if you consider all that he achieved. Though he did help start the NECBL, Coach sent hundreds of players to the Twilight League. For example, one of his former players, Jim Schult has helped the East Hartford Jets win the last 4 championships.

After retiring from coaching, he agreed to be Twilight President in 2017. Everyone continued to call him Coach Holowaty and he immediately made us more competitive. He gave veteran players and longtime managers new energy. He started a golf tournament/fundraiser with Marc Levin. With Bill at the helm, the league has raised over $25,000 for charities with benefit games at Dunkin’ Park. A lot of his contributions have also been thanks to his wife Jan.  

Bill has has seen many obstacles for a guy born in 1945 from Little Falls, New York. He has fought through controversy and illness, and has won again and again. His sports career is rivaled by few. Before our state had Geno Auriemma, Jim Calhoun or Dan Hurley, we had Coach Holowaty winning National Championships. The Greater Hartford Twilight League is grateful for his leadership. We are in the best financial position we’ve even been in and he hasn’t asked for anything in return.

Coach, you’re now one of the Hall of Fame’s most well-known “baseball guys” – right up there with Phil Rizzuto an Honorary Member. Let’s put it this way; you’re one of two people in this room with a Wikipedia page. You are highly regarded, even today in this forgetful world. You’re a friend and a great role model. You’re one of a kind. Congratulations on the induction.

Bill Holowaty inducted to GHTBL Hall of Fame by Weston Ulbrich, League Secretary, 11/18/23.

Hartford Baseball Talk on Local Radio WLIS/WMRD with Ed Litos

On August 27, 2023, a radio show called Baseball Talk with “Fast” Ed Litos interviewed Weston Ulbrich, GHTBL Secretary, who made his third appearance on the program. The topic of discussion was minor league baseball history in Hartford. Other guests on the hour-long talk show were Dom Amore, sports journalist for the Hartford Courant and David Arcidiacono, author of Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut.

Ed and Wes talked mainly about the Hartford Bees and the Hartford Chiefs and the various minor league teams and soon-to-be Major League players who have represented the capital city. Click this link to listen the latest episode of Baseball Talk: https://rb.gy/2s284.

Baseball Talk with Ed Litos, a West Hartford native, has been airing since 2020. The following stations broadcast Baseball Talk: WLIS – 1420 AM & 97.3 FM / WMRD – 1150 AM & 103.7 FMv. All of their broadcasts are also available as podcasts. Visit the homepage at http://wliswmrd.net/.

When Hartford Witnessed the Remarkable Rube Waddell

Of all the Hall of Famers to barnstorm Hartford, Connecticut, (Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth, to name a few) one of the earliest stars to come here was George Edward “Rube” Waddell. The unpredictable left-hander led Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics against the Washington Senators at Hartford Base Ball Park. The postseason exhibition game took place on a Monday afternoon, October 8, 1906, to benefit Newington’s Cedar Mountain Hospital for consumptives (patients with tuberculosis).

Rube Waddell, 1901.
Rube Waddell, Philadelphia Athletics, 1902.

A year prior to his Hartford visit, Waddell won a rare pitcher’s Triple Crown. He paced the American League with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts and an earned run average of 1.48. Waddell was baseball’s biggest celebrity and drawing card, though he was injured for the 1905 World Series. Over thirteen big league seasons, he appeared with Louisville, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis. He was nicknamed “Rube,” meaning “country bumpkin” – as many rural players were called at the time.

Philadelphia Athletics at the World Series (an injured Rube Waddell kneels to the right of Connie Mack, standing center) Polo Grounds, New York City, 1905.

Born on Friday the 13th of October, 1876, in Bradford, Pennsylvania, George Edward Waddell was the sixth child of Mary and John Waddell, who worked in the oil fields for Standard Oil Company. Rube made his Major League debut at 20 years old. He garnered a reputation for unmanageable free-spiritedness. Rube was known to miss regular season games for fishing trips and he often moonlighted with amateur teams, which included appearances at Rollins College and Volant College. Sometimes dubbed “Lunatic Lefty,” Waddell indulged in drinking, gambling, firefighting and even alligator wrestling.

Hartford Base Ball Park, c. 1905.

Despite his eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, Waddell was baseball’s top southpaw at the time of his Hartford sojourn. Rube was the talk of the city as the Philadelphia club arrived late to check-in at Hartford’s Heublein Hotel on Wells Street. The game was scheduled for 2:30 PM. Fans arrived early, packing the grandstand and encircling the roped off field. Local dignitaries such as Morgan G. Bulkeley, former U.S. Senator, Connecticut Governor and first President of the National League, William J. Tracy, Vice President of the Connecticut League of Baseball Clubs and John F. Gunshanan, former professional ballplayer, community leader and head organizer of the Rube-featured exhibition.

Rube Waddell, c. 1905.
Hotel Heublein, Hartford, Connecticut, 1908.

Before night fell over Hartford Base Ball Park, onlookers were awed by Waddell’s victorious complete game shutout. He allowed two hits and struck out 16 batters. His fastball was overpowering and his curve confounded opponents. Behind Rube at second base was another Hall of Famer, Charles “Chief” Bender who recorded a double and a run in the game. A pitcher’s duel that lasted one hour and twenty minutes ended with the Athletics downing the Senators, 2-0. Washington’s lefty, Frank Kitson earned the loss on just five Philadelphia hits.

Hartford Courant excerpt, October 9, 1906.

More than 4,000 fans were estimated in attendance at $0.50 per ticket. Waddell’s Hartford game raised $1,250 for consumptives at Cedar Mountain Hospital – the reported cost of running the institution for about a month. After the game, it was claimed that Waddell has some of his teammates stopped in at Wethersfield Prison to lift the spirits of inmates (something you would never hear of Major League baseball players doing today).

Rube Waddell, St. Louis Browns, 1908.

Coincidentally, Waddell contracted tuberculosis less than eight years later. He died of consumption at 37 years old on April Fool’s Day, 1914. He was buried in San Antonio, Texas. The nearly unhittable “Rube” was eventually elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Rube Waddell’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

Rube was one of a kind — just a big kid, you know. He’d pitch one day and we wouldn’t see him for three or four days after. He’d just disappear, go fishing or something, or be off playing ball with a bunch of twelve-year-olds in an empty lot somewhere. You couldn’t control him ’cause he was just a big kid himself. Baseball was just a game to Rube.”

Sam Crawford, Detroit Tigers, National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee

Sources

  1. Baseball-Reference.com
  2. Rube Waddell: Baseball’s Peter Pan by John Thorn
  3. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  4. SABR Article: The Strangest Month in the Strange Career of Rube Waddell by Steven A. King

Celebrating the Life of Ray Gliha, National Champion

Recently on August 14, 2023, a former GHTBL player, Raymond E. Gliha, passed away peacefully at his home in Manchester, Connecticut. He lived a full life that was closely associated with local baseball. Gliha was passionate about the game and he excelled on the diamond for many teams.

Raymond E. Gliha (1959-2023)

Ray Gliha was born December 23, 1959. He was a lifelong Manchester resident who was known to have a witty sense of humor. He would often write a poem or limerick for friends and family on their birthday and anniversary celebrations. People close to Ray knew him as the life of the party, a very loyal friend and an avid Boston Red Sox fan.

1980 Eastern Connecticut State College Baseball Team

Gliha played for Manchester High School and Manchester American Legion Post 102 before going on to Eastern Connecticut State College. In 1979, he batted .375 as a walk-on Freshman under the guidance of Head Coach Bill Holowaty. Throughout his college career, Gliha batted .345 with 212 hits, 20 home runs and 161 RBI in 175 games. He tied a national record with six hits in a single game. He started at all three outfield positions on four straight NCAA Division III postseason teams.

Ray Gliha (left) dives back to second base, Eastern Connecticut, 1982.

During his senior season, Gliha played center field and batted .395 with 7 home runs and 47 RBI. He was tri-captain that year, the team MVP and a 3rd Team All-American. Eastern went on to play in the 1982 Division III World Series in Marietta, Ohio. Gliha scored the go-ahead run in two of the games. Then in a 12-inning thriller, Eastern beat California State Stanislaus, 9-8, thanks to Gliha’s bases loaded single. It was Eastern Connecticut Baseball’s first of five national titles.

Ray Gliha (left) homers for Eastern Connecticut, 1982.

Gliha also competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for 17 consecutive seasons. His twi-loop career began in 1979 for Gene Johnson’s Moriarty Brothers and ended in 1995 with the same franchise (changed names to Newman Lincoln-Mercury in 1990). Gliha was named to the GHTBL All-Star team at least three times, and he won the league’s Gold Glove Award in 1989. In total, Gliha earned 4 Season Titles and 6 Playoff Championships as a top outfielder in the Twilight League.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 10, 1982.

In 2002, Gliha was inducted into the ECSU Athletic Hall of Fame. His game-winning hit in the National Title game was fondly remembered at the induction. His level of play raised the bar for Eastern Connecticut Baseball for years to come. Gliha was said to have enjoyed his years playing baseball, especially because that’s where he accumulated many of his life-long friends.

Gliha helps Moriarty Brothers win GHTBL title, 1984.

Towards the end of his baseball career, Ray Gliha was interviewed by local sportswriter, Ed Yost of the Hartford Courant. When asked about his long association with the game, Gliha said, “Baseball is in my blood.” Then he recalled his favorite season:

The best Twi’ team I played on was in 1980. We had a well-balanced team but when we picked up Bill Masse and Chris Peterson (both out of high school) we were even better. We won both the regular season and playoffs and by big margins. We had a lot of guys who could hit the ball out of here. We just blew the other teams away. We’ve been successful because we have been able to get guys who know how to play. All of our guys have college or pro experience. Gene has been fun to play for. He wants to win and if you give 100% he’s satisfied. His motto has been to play hard and have fun.”

Ray Gliha, 1994.

Hartford’s Minor League Club – Part IV: The Bees (1938-1945)

Minor League

  • Eastern League (1938-1945)

Championship Season

  • 1944

Major League Affiliations

Hartford Bees in the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Notable Hartford Bees


From 1934 to 1937, minor league baseball in Hartford, Connecticut, was temporarily replaced by a semi-professional team called the Savitt Gems. Due to effects of the Great Depression, no minor league club represented the city until February of 1938. The vacancy was finally filled by the Boston Bees of the National League who decided to relocate their Class-A minor league Scranton, Pennsylvania affiliate. Boston Bees owner Bob Quinn leased Bulkeley Stadium, thereby reintroducing Hartford to the Eastern League.

Hartford officials present the Boston Bees with an official pledge of support, 1938
Hartford officials present the Boston Bees with an official pledge of support, 1938.
Hartford Bees Business Manager Charlie Blossfield prepares Bulkeley Stadium for the season, 1938.

Quinn’s son John Quinn was assigned as President of the Hartford club. Operations were carried out by Business Manager Charles Blossfield who became a beloved local figure. Blossfield hired staff, prepared the stadium and recruited players. A final roster was selected at Spring Training in Evansville, Indiana. Back then a Class-A club was one step down from the Major Leagues. For the most part, top prospects were stashed in the Eastern League (and still are today).

Hartford Bees en route to Evansville, Indiana, for Spring Training, 1938.
Eddie Onlsow (center), signs on as Hartford’s manager, 1938.

As a final stop before Boston, Hartford’s new team became highly anticipated. The club immediately took on multiple endearing nicknames. Fans previously knew them as the Senators. The Hartford Courant referred to them as the Senators, Bees or Baby Bees. Other press like the Hartford Times nicknamed them the Laurels. Despite conflicting mascots and disagreement among fans and proofreaders, people turned out in the thousands to watch the Hartford team at Bulkeley Stadium.

Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.

Hartford’s manager was Eddie Onslow, a 45 year old baseball veteran. He directed a youthful crew of power hitters, including Ralph McLeod, Stan Andrews and Lee Heller. A two-way pitcher named Art Doll paced the team in batting average (.366) as well as innings pitched (244). Hartford finished the season with an even record at 67 wins and 67 losses. 

Eddie Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Eddie Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Art Doll, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Art Doll, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Sebby Sisti, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Sebby Sisti, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Ed Black, Pitcher (left) and Manager Eddie Onslow, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Ed Black, Pitcher (left) and Manager Eddie Onslow, Hartford Bees, 1938.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.

In the subsequent season, Hartford secured the services of big leaguer Fresco Thompson, appointing him as both player and manager. Thompson, 37, had been an elite hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was also a former teammate and friend of Lou Gehrig at Columbia University – the superstar first baseman who had previously played minor league ball in Hartford under the guise of a fake name. Expectations for quality baseball at Bulkeley Stadium grew with Thompson at the helm.

Governor Baldwin warming up his arm at the Connecticut State Capitol Building, 1939.
Governor Baldwin warming up his arm at the Connecticut State Capitol Building, 1939.
Fresco Thompson, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Fresco Thompson, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Hartford Bees Opening Day, 1939.
Hartford Bees Opening Day, 1939.
Hartford Bees at the Garfield Inn, Hartford, Connecticut, 1939.
Hartford Bees at the Garfield Inn, Hartford, Connecticut, 1939.

The Bees of 1939 added outfield prospects in Ralph Hodgin and Bama Rowell. Sebby Sisti returned for a second season. In 199 at bats, Sisti had a .312 batting average before being called up to Boston. Despite a promising roster, fan expectations were dashed. The club had a miserable second half of the season, and Hartford sunk to last place in the Eastern League.

Players for the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Players for the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Hartford vs. Binghamton, June 7, 1939.
Hartford vs. Binghamton, June 7, 1939.
Batters for the Hartford Senators (Bees), 1939.
Batters for the Hartford Senators (Bees), 1939.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Lee Heller, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Lee Heller, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Gene Handley, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Gene Handley, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Manuel Onis, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Manuel Onis, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1939.
1939 Hartford Senators (Bees)
1939 Hartford Senators (Bees)

Finally, the Bees played to their potential in 1940. The turnaround began when the organization hired Jack Onslow as Manager. He was a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a radio broadcaster and the younger brother of former manager, Eddie Onslow. The new Onslow would be credited for his handling of Hartford’s pitching staff. Starters Art Johnson, Hank LaManna, George Diehl and Joseph Rucidlo each earned double-digit-win seasons and were among league leaders in earned run average.

Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Hartford Senators (Bees) at Springfield on Opening Day, 1940.
Hartford Senators (Bees) at Springfield on Opening Day, 1940.
Frankie LaManna (left) and Art Johnson, Pitchers, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Frankie LaManna (left) and Art Johnson, Pitchers, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Bill Jackson, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Bill Jackson, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Johnny Dudra, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Johnny Dudra, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1940.
George Diehl, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
George Diehl, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.

The club’s best all-around performance came from Ralph Hodgin, whose 160 hits marked second-most in the Eastern League. Second baseman, Tommy Neill, knocked a team-high .326 batting average. A 19-year old reliever named Jim Hickey began his four-year stint with the team. Mike Sandlock, a local from Greenwich, Connecticut, served as backup catcher. By the end of September Hartford had placed third, qualifying them for the postseason. They contended in a four-team playoff dubbed the Governor’s Cup but lost to Binghamton in the finals.

Paul Rampey, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Paul Rampey, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Hartford Lady Fans proposes a new organization to support Hartford, 1940.
Hartford Lady Fans proposes a new organization to support Hartford, 1940.
Joe Rucidio, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, injures knee at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Joe Rucidio, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, injures knee at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.

In 1941, the Boston Bees were rebranded to the Boston Braves. That same year, business manager Charlie Blossfield convinced franchise owners Bob Quinn and John Quinn to make changes at Bulkeley Stadium. Blossfield predicted that electric lighting would boost ticket sales if night games were played on a regular basis. This allowed fans to go home after work, attend a ballgame in the evening and repeat this schedule day after day. The first game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium took place on June 16, 1941, in game that Hartford lost 5-3 to Scranton.

Governor Robert A. Hurley throws out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
Governor Hurley throws out ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
Players at Hartford Bees training camp, 1941.
Players at Hartford Bees training camp, 1941.
First game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium, June 16, 1941.
First game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium, June 16, 1941.

Three weeks later on July 8, 1941, over 5,500 fans marveled at an exhibition game between the Hartford Bess and their parent club, the Boston Braves. The witty and widely adored Casey Stengel was serving as Boston’s manager at the time. Stengel’s team fielded several former Baby Bees. Sebby Sisti played third base and led-off for Boston. Bama Rowell played second base and hit fifth. Boston squeezed by Hartford 8-7, escaping the embarrassment of losing to their minor league affiliate.

Casey Stengel, Manager, Boston Braves, 1941.
Casey Stengel, Manager, Boston Braves, 1941.
Former Hartford players on the road with the Boston Bees 1941.
Former Hartford players on the road with the Boston Bees 1941.

As the regular season commenced, Hartford scuffled. Jack Onslow was dismissed after a bad month of July, and their 26-year-old first baseman Don Manno was appointed player-manager. The Bees were destined for a seventh place finish. For major league-owned franchises like Hartford, winning minor league pennants had become less of a priority. Instead, the minor league club was managed the a farm system for the first time – feeding its top players to Boston. George Barnicle, Al “Skippy” Roberge and William “Whitey” Wietelmann were among the personnel who split time between Hartford and Boston as big league call-ups.

1941 Hartford Bees
1941 Hartford Bees
Don Manno, Player-Manager, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Don Manno, Player-Manager, Hartford Bees, 1941.

Meanwhile, Ralph Hodgin continued his torrid batting for the Bees with 150 base hits in 1941. Hodgin’s dependable bat made him one of the most popular players to ever wear a Hartford uniform. Leo Eastham was also a major contributor with 107 hits and nearly flawless defense at first base. Charles George, Robert “Ace” Williams and John Dagenhard led the team in innings pitched. Serviceable catchers John Stats and Red Steiner shared time behind home plate.

Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1941.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Younker, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Younker, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Leo Eastham, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Leo Eastham, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tommy Neil, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tommy Neil, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tony DeMaio, Bat Boy, Hartford Bees, 1941.

In Hartford and throughout the nation, the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed the baseball world forever. American troop enlistment during World War II upended the careers of many minor leaguers – though not all of them. The Hartford Bees came back next summer with a new manager named Del Bissonette. He would become one of Hartford’s most memorable clubhouse commanders. Playing for Bissonette was one of the best pitchers to ever throw in a Hartford uniform, Warren Spahn.

Hartford Bees leave for Spring Training, 1942.
Hartford Bees leave for Spring Training, 1942.
Johnny Dudra, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Johnny Dudra, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Former Hartford Bees at Boston Braves Spring Training, 1942.
Former Hartford Bees at Boston Braves Spring Training, 1942.
Sebby Sisti, Norine Barone SIsti and Art Johnson, 1942.
Sebby Sisti, Norine Barone SIsti and Art Johnson, 1942.
Ralph Younker and Alvin Montgomery car accident, 1942.
Ralph Younker and Alvin Montgomery car accident, 1942.
Art Funk, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Art Funk, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Al Schacht visits Hartford, 1942.
Al Schacht visits Hartford, 1942.

About thirty years before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a 21 year old Warren Spahn took the mound for the Hartford Bees. When the outstanding southpaw arrived in Hartford, Spahn’s talents were well known due to his performance in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. He became the only Bees player named to the 1942 Eastern League All-Star team. Spahn had a 17-12 record for with a 1.96 earned run average before being called up to the Majors. Like many ballplayers, Spahn enlisted in the United States Army and earned a Purple Heart in combat.

1942 Warren Spahn Hartford Bees
Warren Spahn, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1942.

With a few exceptions, the Hartford Bees of 1943 were made up of Boston’s latest signings looking to reach the big leagues. During Spring Training the new Baby Bees set up an exhibition game against J.O. Christian’s baseball club at University of Connecticut. The day game at Storrs was well documented in the Hartford Courant. Hartford defeated the Huskies 8-1. These vivid photos captured the action:

1943 Hartford Bees at University of Connecticut, 1943.
1943 Hartford Bees at University of Connecticut, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
Ben Cardoni, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Ben Cardoni, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Bees (left) and J.O. Christian, Head Coach, UConn, 1943.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Bees (left) and J.O. Christian, Head Coach, UConn, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.

During the Regular Season, Del Bissonette’s Baby Bees had reliable starters in John Dagenhard and Carl Lindquist. Stan Wetzel, Tommy Neill and Don Manno were the team’s big bats. Three homegrown players from the Hartford Twilight League – pitchers Peter Naktenis and Sam Hyman of Hartford and infielder Jimmy Francoline of East Windsor – joined the Bees for their first of consecutive three seasons. Hartford’s team at Bulkeley Stadium ended up in third place.

Bob Quinn (left), President, Boston Braves and Charley Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Bob Quinn (left), President, Boston Braves and Charley Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Hartford Bees advertisement, 1943.
Hartford Bees advertisement, 1943.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Sam Hyman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1943.
Sam Hyman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1943.

The success and popularity of the Bees finally culminated into a championship run in 1944. Opposing pitchers were no match for Hartford’s heavy hitters. Vince Shupe, Bob Brady, Roland Gladu and Stan Wetzel were everyday players hitting above .300. Pete Naktenis led the pitching staff in strikeouts with 139 – though he could only pitch at home games because of his engineering job at Colt’s Manufacturing. Two relatively unknown starting pitchers, William Marshall and Warren Mueller had also had marvelous seasons. Hartford outclassed the Eastern League to win the Regular Season title eight wins ahead of Albany.

1944 Hartford Bees with Charlie Blossfield (standing, middle).
1944 Hartford Bees with Charlie Blossfield (standing, middle).
Mayor Mortensen throws out ball of Opening Day, 1944.
Mayor Mortensen throws out ball of Opening Day, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport, 1944.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Al "Skippy" Roberge, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Al “Skippy” Roberge, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Vince Shupe, First Baseman, Hartford, Senators, 1944.
Vince Shupe, First Baseman, Hartford, Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop and Steve Shemo, Second Baseman of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium 1944.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop and Steve Shemo, Second Baseman of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Pete Naktenis crosses home plate, 1944.
Pete Naktenis crosses home plate, 1944.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Roland Gladu, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Roland Gladu, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.

In 1945, Del Bissonette was promoted to Boston as Third Base Coach, and eventually Manager of the Braves for part of the season. In place of Bissonette, Hartford employed their lefty pitcher and a pennant winner of the previous year, Merle Settlemire. Pete Naktenis performed admirably again in his final year as a professional. Mickey Katkaveck of Manchester, Connecticut, and a member of the Savitt Gems, played 30 games as a backup catcher.

Fred “Dutch” Dorman (left), Manager and Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager of the Bees, 1945.
Fred “Dutch” Dorman (left), Manager and Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager of the Bees, 1945.
Sam Sporn and Moe Sporn, Hartford Bees, 1945
Sam Sporn and Moe Sporn, Hartford Bees, 1945
Hartford Senators raise '44 Eastern League Pennant, 1945.
Hartford Senators raise ’44 Eastern League Pennant, 1945.
Bob Quinn, Boston Braves and Governor Raymond E. Baldwin of Connecticut sign balls for a clothing drive contest while Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager, Hartford Bees looks on, 1945.
Bob Quinn, Boston Braves and Governor Raymond E. Baldwin of Connecticut sign balls for a clothing drive contest while Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager, Hartford Bees looks on, 1945.
Billy "Whitey" Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1945
Billy “Whitey” Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1945
L to R: Del Bissonette joins Boston Braves management, John Quinn, General Manager and Bob Coleman, Manager, 1945.
L to R: Del Bissonette joins Boston Braves management, John Quinn, General Manager and Bob Coleman, Manager, 1945.
Harvey Roop, Hartford Bees, 1945.
Harvey Roop, Hartford Bees, 1945.
Merle Settlemire, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Merle Settlemire, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1945.

Hartford’s fourth place finish went down in obscurity and the club known as the Bees, Senators and Laurels finally came to an end when, the following year, the club was renamed the Hartford Chiefs.

Young Italians boy wearing Hartford baseball uniforms, 1947.
Young Italians boy wearing Hartford Bees uniforms, 1947.
Del BIssonette, former Hartford Bees Manager, 1948.
Del BIssonette, former Hartford Bees Manager, 1948.
2023 Frank Grant Meriden Baseball Story GHTBL

Frank Grant: the Hall of Fame Trailblazer who Began his Pro Career in Meriden

The year was 1886. Meriden was a thriving industrial city steeped in two things: cutlery manufacturing and base ball. Like most urban settings in America, The Silver City was captivated by the new National Game. Meriden enthusiasts formed a professional club – the Silverites of the Eastern League. The club’s best player was Ulysses Franklin Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Frank Grant dominated on the diamond and as the first black player to sign with a minor league team in Connecticut, his presence was polarizing.

1886 Jun 10 Base Ball Hartfords vs. Meriden
Meriden defeats Hartford 8-3, June 10, 1886.

The Eastern League featured two other African-American players in 1886 – George Stovey with Jersey City and Moses Fleetwood Walker with Waterbury. Like Stovey and Walker, Grant previously competed for all-black clubs. His first foray into organized (white) baseball was with Meriden. He debuted on April 14, 1886, in an exhibition at South Meriden’s Hanover Park where he helped to demolish Trinity College, 22-0.

After the game The Sporting Life published an article stating, “Grant is our young colored player and his home run hit was the longest ever made on our [Meriden] grounds.” The same publication later attested, “Grant was again called to the box and proved that he can play any position in good shape.”

1887 Buffalo Bisons Frank Grant
Frank Grant (sitting second to right), Buffalo Bisons, 1887.

Frank Grant appeared in 44 games for Meriden at second base and pitcher. His .316 batting average, ranked as the team’s best and their only everyday player to bat above .277. Another reporter from The Sporting Life noted, “The Meridens seem to contain some really good material, but lack the proper coaching.” In addition to thin managerial support, Meriden was a small market team compared to the rest of the Eastern League.

The 1886 Meriden’s were financially weak. Shareholders of the Meriden Base Ball Association complained about their schedule at the beginning of the season, because the team had no weekend dates and only seven home games during the month of May. This negatively affected ticket sales early in the season. The team eventually disbanded on July 13, 1886, toting a miserable 12-34 record. As a result, Frank Grant left Meriden with two teammates, Steve Dunn and Jack Remsen, to join the Buffalo Bisons of the International League.

1888 Frank Grant Baseball Player Buffalo
Frank Grant, Second Baseman, Buffalo, 1888.

Grant was happy to join a more wealthier club. One Hartford Courant reporter stated, “Grant gets double the pay in Buffalo he received in Meriden.” However, in Buffalo his race became more of a controversy than it was in Meriden. Several news outlets alluded to his ethnicity. According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, “The Spaniard is what Grant, the colored player of the Buffalos, is called.” The Syracuse Evening Herald announced, “Manager [John] Chapman of Buffalo calls Grant, his colored second baseman, an ‘Italian.’”

Some sportswriters nicknamed Grant “The Black Dunlap,” as a reference to Fred Dunlap, a top-fielding second basemen of the 1880’s. In three seasons with Buffalo, Grant welcomed loud cheers but he also dealt with numerous racial taunts and threats. Players and officials by International League tried to ban black players. Despite the animus against him, Grant hit .353 and led the league with 11 home runs and 49 extra-base hits in 1887. He hit for the cycle and stole home twice.

1895 Aug 28 Cuban Giants Frank Grant Poem Franklin Repository Newspaper
Frank Grant featured in The Franklin Repository, August 28, 1895.

Grant’s departure from the International League was attributed to racial bigotry. He faced discrimination from his opponents and his own teammates. He wore wooden shin guards to protect himself from the cleats of sliding baserunners. Pitchers threw at him intentionally on a few occasions. Teammates threatened to strike if he continued to play, and some refused to pose with him in photographs. When Grant asked for the same salary as the previous year ($250 per month), Buffalo denied his request and he went elsewhere.

1896 Cuban Giants Frank Grant
Frank Grant (seated middle, second from right) and the Cuban Giants, 1896.

By 1891, Grant had become the highest paid member of the New York Gorhams – one of the best black teams of all-time. The Gorehams were granted into the Connecticut League as the club representing the Town of Ansonia. When his team traveled to Cape May, New Jersey, in mid-August, they won a game with United States President Benjamin Harrison in attendance. Harrison was the only sitting President to witness a black club in action during the era of segregated baseball.

1902 Philadelphia Giants Frank Grant Sitting Second From Left
Frank Grant (sitting second from left) with the Philadelphia Giants, 1902.

Grant played professionally for another sixteen years. He starred for the Cuban Giants, Page Fence Giants, New York Gorhams, Cuban X-Giants, Philadelphia Giants and Brooklyn Royal Giants. His last known games were with Brooklyn in 1907. He retired from the game at 42 years old after a long and successful career. The 1910 United States Census listed Frank Grant’s occupation as “baseball player” – even though his diamond days had already ended.

1904 Philadelphia Giants Champions Frank Grant
Frank Grant (sitting, front and center) and the Philadelphia Giants Champions, 1904.

After baseball, Grant worked as a waiter for a catering company in New York City. He died on May 27, 1937, at age 71. He was buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton, New Jersey, and his grave was unmarked until 2011. Frank Grant was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, along with class from the Negro Leagues.

Frank Grant Grave Marker Baseball Player
Frank Grant gravestone, Clifton, New Jersey.

Frank Grant…in those days, was the baseball marvel. His playing was a revelation to his fellow teammates, as well as the spectators. In hitting he ranked with the best and his fielding bordered on the impossible. Grant was a born ballplayer.”

Sol White (a National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee and a teammate of Frank Grant)
National Baseball Hall of Fame Grant Frank Plaque
Frank Grant’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.
Sources

1. Frank Grant by Brian McKenna
2. Safe at Home by John Thorn
3. Frank Grant player page on Baseball-Reference.com
4. Agate Type: Benjamin Harrison Sees the Big Gorham’s
5. National Baseball Hall of Fame: About Frank Grant
Cooper Johnson Adelphi Baseball GHTBL M&T Bank

Cooper Johnson, Third Generation Twilight Player

For the last five years, Cooper Johnson of Newington, Connecticut, has played at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. The center fielder has recently committed to M&T Bank for the upcoming 2023 GHTBL season as a third generation player. He will be joining the same franchise as his father, Mike Johnson, who played with Tom Abbruzzese’s Bank Boston team in the 1990’s. Cooper’s grandfather Rollie Johnson was a GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee and a significant figure in professional scouting.

Here are some of Cooper’s individual accolades coming into the GHTBL as a first-year player:

  • NE10 Academic Honor Roll – Academic Distinction
  • NE10 Academic Honor Roll – Academic Honors
  • Walked-off a win on his birthday (11th inning) w/ RBI single vs. Saint Rose in NE10 Tournament
Cooper Johnson Adelphi Baseball GHTBL M&T Bank 2
Cooper Johnson (left), Adelphi Baseball, 2023.

Cooper’s grandfather, Roland “Rollie” Johnson was a professional scout for more than 40 years, including 30 year with the New York Mets. He initially scouted for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973 to 1982. Rollie served as director of scouting for the Mets from 1986 to 1992. Rollie also co-authored influential baseball books – The Baseball Encyclopedia (1969) and The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball (1974).

During Johnson’s tenure as Director of Scouting with the Mets, there were several notable draft picks including Todd Hundley in 1987. Johnson also remembers drafting Curtis Pride on the recommendation of an area scout. Pride was 95% deaf, but a great athlete, and a greater individual.”

SABR Bio Project, Rollie Johnson by Alan Cohen
1964 Rollie Johnson Paces Twilight Loop
Rollie Johnson Paces Twilight Loop, 1964

Rollie had the rare opportunity to draft his son, Mike Johnson, in the 42nd round of the 1993 MLB Draft. Mike suited up for the New York Mets organization at Rookie ball in Kingsport. He was promoted to low and high Single-A the following year, but Mike’s professional career came to end shortly thereafter.

1975 Head for Baseball Camp Rollie Johnson St. Thomas Seminary
Rollie Johnson heads baseball camp at St. Thomas Seminary, 1975.

In 1990, Rollie earned an induction into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in the Players Division. He was a Trinity College graduate who began twi-loop ball in 1961 as a catcher for the East Hartford Merchants. Then he played for a team known as Landerman Orchestras – sponsored by Hartford’s most well known musicians of their era, Paul and Maurice Landerman. Rollie joined the Hartford Orioles in the summer of 1963. Rollie he finished his twilight career with Moriarty Brothers in 1973.

1990 Twilight Inductions GHTBL Hall of Fame
GHTBL Hall of Fame inductions, 1990.

(Aside: the Rollie Johnson family is unrelated to Gene Johnson’s family.)

Rollie was a veritable baseball junkie. After publishing two books, he was hired away from the Twilight League by the St. Louis Cardinals. From there Rollie enjoyed a marvelous scouting career. He was bestowed with the A.B. “Turk” Karam Award in 1998 and was later elected to the Professional Scouts Hall of Fame in 2009.

Rollie Johnson GHTBL Baseball Scout
Rollie Johnson (1940-2022)
2023 GHTBL Tribute to Gary Zavatkay

Gary Zavatkay, A Baseball Life

An excerpt published in the Hartford Courant on Apr. 16, 2023:

Gary was raised in Torrington and graduated from Torrington High School, class of 1979, where he was recognized as an all-star baseball and basketball player. Following high school, Gary received a “full ride” baseball scholarship to the University of New Haven where he started at third base all four years for the UNH Chargers and compiled such strong statistics that he was inducted into the UNH Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. To date, he ranks eighth in career RBIs (126) and recently fell out of the top-10 for all-time home runs.

In 1981, Gary played for the Harwich Mariners of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League and was named to the All-Region and All-New England Collegiate Conference in 1983. After graduation, his love for baseball continued and he played numerous seasons (1983-1988) on the Society for Savings team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League all while continuing his education earning his MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hartford Campus.

Professionally, Gary leveraged the leadership skills he learned on the field and built a successful career as a National Account Manager for several industrial organizations such as J.M. NEY Company, Curtis Industries, and Barnes Distribution. In addition to his full-time job, he went on to have a prolific career as a women’s basketball official at the Division I, II, and III collegiate level, ultimately getting to spend time on the court refereeing teams of the Atlantic 10, Ivy League, American East and MAAC conferences.

In his personal life, Gary was an avid runner having completed the Boston Marathon and too many road races to count, namely the Litchfield Road Race, an annual occurrence with a large group of his friends and family in attendance. Over time, golf became his passion and something he enjoyed regularly with friends and family. He was a member of Indian Hill Country Club as well as Suffield Country Club where you would find him weekly trying to improve his game. We will always remember the many years filled with laughter on and off the course annually sponsoring what became known as the ZAV OPEN. Although Gary’s time with us was cut short, his memory will live on in the hearts of all who knew him for years to come.

For Gary’s full obituary go to: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/hartfordcourant/name/gary-zavatkay-obituary?id=51601640

2019 Buzzy Levin Field Middletown Baseball

Four Fields Named After Twilight Hall of Famers

Did you know? The following four ballparks are named after longtime GHTBL players, coaches, team sponsors and GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees:

1. Matthew M. Moriarty Field at Mt. Nebo park in Manchester, Connecticut – dedicated in 1975:

2. Ray McKenna Field at McAuliffe Park in East Hartford, Connecticut – dedicated in 1984:

3. Frank J. McCoy Field at Henry Park in Vernon, Connecticut – dedicated in 2010:

4. Buzzy Levin Field at Pat Kidney Sports Complex in Middletown, Connecticut – dedicated in 2018:

Leo Bravakis Umpire GHTBL

The Passing of Hall of Famer Leo Bravakis Jr.

Leo James Bravakis, Jr., 79, of Windsor Locks, passed away peacefully on Saturday, March 4, 2023. He was born on July 26, 1943, in Middletown, CT, to Doris (Ahern) and Leo J. Bravakis, Sr.

Leo attended Middletown High School (1961), completed undergraduate studies at the University of Connecticut (1965), and received his Master of Education from the University of Hartford (1970). Leo earned varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball in high school. In 1960, he was awarded the Thom McAn football MVP Trophy and as quarterback, led his team to a 7-2-1 record. Leo was also a two-year starter in hoops. Baseball was where Leo excelled.

He was co-captain of the 1961 Middletown High Tigers who were the Connecticut Valley Conference Co-Champions and ranked #1 in the Class M CIAC Tournament with a 19-1 record. Leo recorded 121 strikeouts in 76 innings of work. He received the prestigious Sal Mazzotta Award given annually to the best all-around senior athlete who has demonstrated proficiency in scholarship and citizenship. Leo was inducted into the Middletown Hall of Fame in 2002.

1961 Central Valley Conference All Star Team Connecticut
Central Valley Conference All Star Team, Connecticut, 1961.

Leo pitched four years for the UConn Huskies, tossed a no-hitter as a freshman and was a key pitcher on the 1965 College World Series squad that only gave up 66 hits in 254 innings. During the deciding series versus Holy Cross at Fenway Park, Leo hit a double off the famous Green Monster. At the CWS, Leo pitched in relief and got a hit in UConn’s victory over Lafayette. His senior year, Leo received the “C’ Ring, an award for excellence in athletics, scholarship, citizenship, and leadership. As a proud Husky alum, Leo was a member of the UConn Dugout Club.

1962 UConns Leo Bravakis Pitches No Hitter
UConn’s Leo Bravakis Pitches No-Hitter, 1962.

After college, Leo pitched in the Middlesex County and Hartford Twilight Leagues before an arm injury ended his career. Leo finished with a 27-9 record in the Hartford Twilight League and was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in 1997 as pitcher.

After his athletic playing career ended, Leo turned to officiating soccer and umpiring baseball. Leo was considered to be one of the state’s best in both sports. Leo worked 15 state soccer tournament title games – 8 girls and 7 boys finals-and worked 18 state baseball tournament title games. He served on the soccer officials and baseball umpires committee boards. He was President of the soccer association from 1983-1985 and was President of the Connecticut Board of Approved Umpires twice. He served as the Commissioner for the Hartford Chapter of the Connecticut Board of Approved Umpires. Leo received the 1981 Central Connecticut Soccer Officials Association Bernard O’Rourke Distinguished Service Award and also was conferred lifetime membership for his years of dedicated service. Leo was inducted as a charter member into the Connecticut Girls Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003 for officiating.

1964 Leo Bravakis Jr. UConn Baseball
Leo Bravakis Jr. UConn, 1964.

Leo was a math teacher for East Windsor Public Schools from 1965-2001. He coached girls’ basketball and baseball at East Windsor High School. His baseball teams had a record of 89-69 winning league titles twice. He coached his son Sean’s Windsor Locks American Legion baseball team for three summers.

When he retired from coaching, Leo served as the athletic director at East Windsor High School for ten years. During his tenure, Leo was instrumental in bringing about changes that have made girls’ basketball one of the most respected and valued sports in Connecticut.

He served as the President of the East Windsor Education Association and was on the East Windsor Athletic Club Hall of Fame nominating committee. He was a member of the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors Executive Board and a member of the CIAC Girls’ Basketball Committee for five years. In 2000, Leo received Central Connecticut Board No. 6 of Approved Basketball Officials Commissioner’s Award. Leo was inducted into the East Windsor Athletic Club Hall of Fame in 2006.

1965 Carolyn M. MacCarthy Bravakis Wedding Photo
Carolyn (MacCarthy) Bravakis, 1965.

Leo and his wife Carolyn enjoyed visiting various North American cities plus venturing abroad to Prague, Paris, Rome, London (2012 Olympics), Barcelona and taking the Rhine Cruise and Baltic Tour.

Leo, a devoted fan of UConn’s basketball programs, held season tickets for games both in Storrs and Hartford. He enjoyed watching sports on TV. An avid golfer, Leo was a member of Tallwood Country Club in Hebron, CT, for decades and won numerous club championships. He loved his visits with his three grandchildren and enjoyed following their pursuits.

Leo enjoyed raising many a glass of adult beverages with his numerous friends. With Leo you always knew where you stood; he loved a spirited debate about anything. He once proudly stated “I am not politically correct, I am Leo correct.” Leo was a one-of-a-kind character who made an impression on everyone he met.

1975 Bristol American Legion vs. Middletown Legion Leo Bravakis Sr. Umpire
Bristol American Legion vs. Middletown Legion with Umpire Leo Bravakis Jr, 1975.

He leaves behind his high school sweetheart and beloved wife of 57 years, Carolyn McCarthy Bravakis; his son Sean Emmett Bravakis and his wife Rebecca; grandchildren Emmett, Isabelle, and Timothy Bravakis. He is survived by his sister, Alice Hodge and her husband Richard; niece Leigh Hodge Fischer and her husband Sean; nephew James Hodge and his wife Dawn; and Christopher Hodge and his wife Heather; his brother-in-law Dr. Robert E. McCarthy; nieces Katharine, Christine, and Coreen McCarthy. Leo was predeceased by his parents and sister-in-law Sandra McCarthy. Leo’s family would like to extend heartfelt appreciation to the ICU Team at St. Francis Hospital for making his last days comfortable. Special recognition to Doctors Sudhanshu Mulay, Paul B. Murray and Alan Soroka for their extraordinary care, compassion, and kindness to Leo over the year

Leo Bravakis Jr.

A time of visitation for family and friends will be held on Monday, March 13, 2023, from 4-7 p.m. at the Carmon Windsor Funeral Home, 807 Bloomfield Ave., Windsor. His funeral service will be held privately. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in Leo’s name to the East Windsor Athletic Club, c/o Ted Szymanski, 166 Rockville Road, Windsorville, CT 06016 and the UConn Baseball Stadium Enhancement Fund, c/o Jim Penders, Head Baseball Coach, 2095 Hillside Road, Unit 1173, Storrs, CT 06269. To leave an online message of condolence for his family, please visit www.carmonfuneralhome.com.

Published by Hartford Courant on Mar. 9, 2023.

The Royal Typewriter Baseball Club of Hartford

Back when most manufacturing companies organized baseball clubs, one of the longest running teams in the Nutmeg State was Royal Typewriter of Hartford. In 1908, Royal Typewriter moved operations from Brooklyn, New York, to New Park Avenue on Hartford’s western edge. Along with their crosstown rival, Underwood Typewriter Company, Royal’s relocation made Hartford the “Typewriter Capital of the World.”

That same year, Royal Typewriter Baseball Club joined the city’s lively amateur scene. Ownership built a baseball diamond on New Park Avenue, they supplied uniforms and equipment, and the Royals became an amateur powerhouse for about four decades.

1908 Royals vs. Criterions Hartford, CT
Royals vs. Criterions, 1908.
1908 Royal Typewriter Standard
No. 1 “Flatbed” Desktop Royal Typewriter, 1908.
City Championship, Royals vs. Echoes, Hartford, CT, 1909.
City Championship, Hartford, CT, 1909.
No. 1 "Flatbed" Desktop Royal Typewriter, 1909.
No. 1 “Flatbed” Desktop Royal Typewriter, 1909.
1909 Jul 17 Royal Typewriter vs. Hartford Rubber Works
Royal Typewriter vs. Hartford Rubber Works, 1909.

Key players on Royal Typewriter were young, local workmen. A tall right-handed pitcher named Moses “Moe” Lenhoff from Ashley Street was the team’s ace. Lenhoff enjoyed minor league experience with New Britain of the Connecticut State League and later with Amsterdam of the Eastern Association.

His Royal battery mate was John “Boggy” Muldoon of West Hartford, a catcher who later signed with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League at 20 years old. Following a semi-pro career, in which he caught a game for Babe Ruth, Muldoon became Connecticut’s best known umpire. He later retired from Royal Typewriter after 42 years of service.

Moses Lenhoff, Pitcher, Royal Typewriter, 1911.
Moses Lenhoff, Pitcher, Royal Typewriter, 1911.
1912 Royal Typewriter Baseball Club
Marty Cleary, Eddie Johnson, Al Miller & Ed Horan, Royal Typewriter, 1912.
Battery of Royal Baseball Team, 1911.
Muldoon, Lenhoff & Andrews, Royal Typewriter, 1911.
1912 Royal Typewriter Ad Hartford Courant
Royal Typewriter advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1912.

Fans revered Royal Typewriter as one of Hartford’s top company teams. The manager of the club was A.A. MacKay, recognized as “Father Baseball” by his players. In 1913, the Royals were chosen to represent the city in a newly arranged Connecticut Independent Baseball League by Hartford sporting goods purveyor and community organizer, Harry N. Anderson. Other entry cities were Manchester, Meriden, Wallingford, Bristol, New Britain, Windsor Locks and Collinsville. For a company team, Royal Typewriter was elite, but as semi-professionals the Royals finished fourth in the standings in consecutive seasons.

1913 Anderson Royal Typewriter Baseball Club
H.M. Anderson, Royal Typewriter, 1913.
Royal Typewriter players, 1913.
Joe Burke, Bill Dwyer & Squizzer Pillion, Royal Typewriter, 1913.
Royal Typewriter Baseball Club, 1919.
Royal Typewriter Baseball Club, 1919.

On October 9, 1926, the Hartford Daily Courant reported that Royal made its one millionth typewriter. The thriving business remained active in local baseball. Thousands of fans had witnessed the Royals perform after work hours. However, public interest in company teams waned due the impending Great Depression. Unemployment made sports less of a priority in Hartford. Crowds of 5,000 at Royal games were now reduced to a few hundred Hartford Industrial League diehards.

Royal Typewriter factories, New Park Avenue Hartford, CT, 1930.
Royal Typewriter factories, New Park Avenue, Hartford, CT, 1930.
1934 Industrial League Standings
Hartford Industrial League standings, 1934.
1935 Apr 27 Royal Typewriter Frank A. Strong Manager
Royal Typewriter seek opponents, 1935.
1935 c. Royal Typewriter Hartford
Royal Typewriter, Hartford, CT, 1935.

Royal Typewriter finally hit their stride as a baseball franchise in the late 1930’s. They finished second in the Industrial League of 1937 under the direction of Manager Frank Strong. The next year, Royal Typewriter defeated Chance Vought and captured the “Dusty” League title with a perfect 15-0 win-loss record. Many Royals on the 1938 championship team such as Pete Kapura, George Dixon, John Carlin, Yosh Kinel and Jackie Cronin were savvy veterans with plenty of diamond time. They also appeared for the Savitt Gems, Bill Savitt’s semi-professional club at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.

1936 Bulkeley Stadium Industrial League
President K.C. Faustman & Vice President C.B. Cook of Royal Typewriter Co., 1936.
1936 Royal Typewriter Baseball Club Hartford
Royal Typewriter Baseball Club, 1936.
Frank A. Strong, Charles Shimkus, Thomas Reilly and Andrew Jack, Hartford Industrial League, 1937.
Frank A. Strong, Charles Shimkus, Thomas Reilly & Andrew Jack, Hartford Industrial League, 1937.
1938 Royal Typewriter Hartford
Royal Typewriter Baseball Club, 1938.
1938 Royal Typewriter Defeat Chance Vought to Finish Unbeaten
Royal Typewriter defeat Chance Vought to finish season unbeaten, Hartford Courant, 1938.
1938 Royal Typewriter Defeat Chance Vought to Finish Unbeaten Box Score
Royal Typewriter vs. Chance Vought, July 28, 1938.

Manager Strong guided the Royals to another winning season in 1939. They were runner-ups in the Dusty League behind Pratt & Whitney, but the Royals bounced back when they competed for a statewide “Connecticut Semi-Pro Baseball Championship” against the Bridgeport Springwoods. Because Bridgeport defeated Pratt & Whitney a few days earlier, the Royals secured the semi-pro state championship with a 3-2 win over Bridgeport. A week later, the Royals faced Rhode Island’s state champion, Club Marquette of Woonsocket, but were swept three games in row.

1939 Royal Typewriter Co. Win Connecticut Semi-Pro Baseball Championship
Royal Typewriter wins Connecticut Semi-Pro Baseball Championship, 1939.
1939 Aug 19 Royal Typewriter Charlie Adamick Umpire John Muldoon
Umpire John “Boggy” Muldoon (left) rules out Charlie Adamick (right) of Royal Typewriter, August 19, 1939.

Royal Typewriter underwent immense changes during World War II. The company converted all operations to manufacture goods for the Allied cause. Royal made machine guns, rifles, bullets, propellers and spare parts for airplane engines. When the war ended, Royal Typewriter sponsored a team in the Hartford Twilight League.

1941 Jun 13 Pratt-Whitney Machine Tops Royal Typewriter
Pratt & Whitney Machine tops Royal Typewriter, June 13, 1941.
Jon Cordier & Ed Roche, Royal Typewriter, Hartford Twilight League, 1947.
L to R: Ernie Hutt, Walt Fonfara, John Buikus & Nonny Zazzaro, Royal Typewriter, Hartford Twilight League, Colt Park, Hartford, CT, 1947.

That summer Royal hosted the Pete Kapura Memorial Doubleheader. Kapura, a longtime Royal employee, died at 35 years old at Saint Francis Hospital due to an undisclosed illness. On August 11, 1947, Kapura’s wife and two children were supported by more than 3,000 paying fans at Bulkeley Stadium. It was a memorable highlight in the long history of Royal Typewriter baseball in Hartford.

Royal Typewriter alumni at Hallbach's Restaurant, Meriden, CT, 1951.
Royal Typewriter alumni at Hallbach’s Restaurant, Meriden, CT, 1951.
1955 Jaycee Courant Heublein A 1 Aces vs. Royal Typewriter
Heublein A-1 Aces vs. Royal Typewriter, Jaycee Courant, Hartford, 1955.
Umpire Boggy Muldoon retires from Royal Typewriter Co. after 42 years, 1958.
John “Boggy” Muldoon retires from Royal Typewriter Co. after 42 years, 1958.

Sources

1. Hartford Courant

2. Record-Journal

Eleven Big Names Inducted to Hall of Fame

On Saturday, November 5, 2022, the GHTBL Hall of Fame Committee organized a night to remember at Indian Hill Country Club in Newington, Connecticut. Eleven new inductees were officially honored and inducted as the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. Here’s the list of players (and one manager) who earned the league’s highest honor:

Scott Cormier
Mike Schweighoffer
Jim Snediker
Brian Marshall
Roberto Giansiracusa
Jason Maule
Jeff Johnson
Brett Burnham
Todd Mercier
Kevin Gieras
Thomas Abbruzzese

Congratulations to all inductees! Special thank you GHTBL Hall of Fame Committee, its President Steve Krajewski and Jack Hurley for your diligent efforts.

Johnny Taylor: Hartford’s First Professional Black Athlete

John “Johnny” “Jackson” “Schoolboy” Arthur Taylor

Born: 2/4/1916 – Hartford, Connecticut
Died: 6/15/1987 – Hartford, Connecticut

Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor was a pitching phenom from Hartford, Connecticut. As a young man he set a national record for strikeouts in a high school game for Bulkeley High School. Taylor was nearly signed by the New York Yankees fifteen years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, but instead, he went on to throw a dozen no-hitters as an ace in the Negro National League, Mexican League and Cuban League. When the Hartford Chiefs signed him in 1949, Taylor became the city’s first professional black athlete.

Johnny Taylor, 1933.

Born on February 4, 1916, to John and Etta, Johnny Taylor grew up in the South End of Hartford on Douglas Street and later on Roosevelt Street. He learned baseball in city parks and sandlots. Taylor and his sandlot teammates earned a small wage from the Hartford Senators by chasing down foul balls and home runs at Bulkeley Stadium. Not until Taylor’s senior year at Bulkeley High School did the right-hander pitch competitively.

Bulkeley High School, 1933.

Taylor had been snubbed by the Bulkeley baseball team as an underclassman. Alternatively, he pole-vaulted and high-jumped in track and field. When he made the Maroons baseball club as an upperclassman, Taylor joined a team comprised of an eventual major leaguer, Bob Repass and a future scout, Whitey Piurek. Bulkeley’s longtime head coach, Babe Allen, is credited with discovering the tall (6’0″) and slim (170 lbs.) Taylor, who had a high leg-kick, a whip-arm, a lively fastball and a sharp “12-to-6” curveball.

1933 Bulkeley High School Baseball with Johnny Taylor (front row, second from left)

On April 28, 1933, Taylor won his first game against Hartford Public High School. Three days later he punched out 17 batters to defeat West Hartford High School. Then he tossed 19 strikeouts by the Hartford Hilltoppers, surpassing a record set by another Hartford native, Pete “Lefty” Naktenis. Taylor was also a proficient hitter, batting nearly .500 in his senior season. When the Maroons walloped an undefeated Weaver High School, he homered over the left field fence (claimed to be the longest high school home run at Bulkeley Stadium).

Johnny Taylor, Bulkeley High School, 1933.

In Taylor’s final high school contest, he shattered his single-game strikeout record with 25 strikeouts against New Britain High school (a State of Connecticut record to this day). He won 8 games, finished with a .428 batting average and was named to the Greater Hartford Scholastic Team

The New York Yankees soon became interested in the Hartford “Schoolboy.” However, when Yankees scout Gene McCann learned that Taylor was black, McCann suggested that Taylor could claim Cuban heritage since white baseball barred black players. The light-skinned Taylor refused to falsify his ancestry.

Johnny Taylor sets a Connecticut scholastic record with 25 strikeouts against New Britain High School, June 3, 1933.

After the Yankees passed on him, Taylor competed with the Home Circle club of the Hartford Twilight League. He twirled on the many diamonds of Colt Park on Wethersfield Avenue and at Bulkeley Stadium on Hanmer Street. At the stadium on September 10, 1933, about 5,000 fans witnessed a wild-throwing Taylor. He lost the game to his crosstown rival, Pete Naktenis. Taylor would later joined forces with Naktenis, winning a New England amateur championship organized by the United States Amateur Baseball Association. 

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1933.

Taylor continued to pitch on Connecticut’s semi-pro circuit. He hurled for Check Bread of the Hartford Twilight League, the Savitt Gems (Bill Savitt’s baseball club) and Yantic of the Norwich City League. On August 21, 1934, he fired his first no-hitter for the Northwest Athletic Club of Winsted. That winter, he considered offers from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh of the Negro National League. Wanting to be closer to home, Taylor signed with the New York Cubans.

Johnny Taylor’s Negro League contracts, 1935.

Taylor and the Cubans played home games at Dyckman Oval on the northern edge of Manhattan. They were owned by Alex Pompez and business manager Frank Forbes, who signed Taylor for $175 per month and $2 per diem. New York’s player-manager was a versatile five-tool talent named Martín Dihigo, who directed several Cuban players including Alejandro Oms, Cocaina Garcia and Lazaro Salazar. Midway through the season, the Cubans scheduled an exhibition in Hartford with the Savitt Gems. Taylor shut out his hometown team while fanning fifteen.

Johnny Taylor (left) & business manager, Bernie Ellovich, Savitt Gems, Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1935.

According to existing records, Taylor had 55 strikeouts for the New York Cubans in 1935, a few behind his teammate Luis Tiant, Sr. New York went 28-24 on the year, finishing third place in the Negro National League. Yet they managed to win the second half of the season to qualify for the championship series. The Cubans faced a formidable opponent, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Hall of Fame catcher, Josh Gibson. Taylor dropped the third game of the series, then New York blew Taylor’s lead in the sixth game, and they ultimately lost to Pittsburgh.

1935 New York Cubans (Johnny Taylor identified under “15”).

After the season, Johnny Taylor was elected to the Negro League All-Star team. On October 13, 1935, he faced Dizzy Dean‘s All-Stars at Yankee Stadium. An estimated crowd of 20,000 watched Taylor whiff seven batters in seven innings. This time, Josh Gibson was his battery mate. After Dizzy Dean pitched a 3-0 complete game shutout, he complimented Taylor for his breaking ball, saying it was one of the best “drop balls” he had ever seen.

Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, New York Cubans, 1935.

In 1936, Taylor received a $10 per month raise from the New York Cubans. He was their undisputed ace, with a 5-2 record and 58 strikeouts, second in the Negro National League to Satchel Paige of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. That June, the Cubans scheduled a rematch in Hartford to face the Savitt Gems. Taylor, the local star, struck out 18 to blank the Gems once again.

Johnny Taylor and the New York Cubans, 1935.

Encouraged by Dolf Luque, a pitcher for the New York Giants, Taylor tried his hand at winter ball in Cuba. He traveled from Hartford to Miami and boarded a steamship for Havana in November of 1936. Taylor joined Martín Dihigo’s Marianao club at Havana’s Tropical Stadium. He struggled that season due to a serious back injury caused by a street trolley accident. Nevertheless, Taylor was popular with fans and was nicknamed “El Rey de Hartford” (translated to King of Hartford).

Johnny Taylor in Havana, Cuba, 1936.

When the New York Cubans dropped out of the Negro National League in 1937, Taylor threw for the Savitt Gems. Hartford-based jeweler Bill Savitt paid him to pitch from April to October. Taylor and the Gems defeated Will Jackman and the Philadelphia Colored Giants on three separate occasions in Hartford. One game was a 20-inning marathon in which Taylor set down 22 batters via the strikeout.

Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1937.

Then on September 19, 1937, Taylor stunned the baseball world. As moundsman for the Negro National League All-Stars at the Polo Grounds, he tossed a no-hitter against Satchel Paige and the Trujillo All-Stars. After holding his opponents hitless through eight innings, Taylor retired George Scales, Spoony Palm and Cool Papa Bell in the bottom of the ninth. Taylor and his catcher Biz Mackey did not allow a runner to reach third base.

Good ballplayer. Yes, I hit against him. Didn’t get much on it.”

Buck O’Neil on Johnny Taylor
Johnny Taylor (right) after tossing no-hitter for the Negro National League All-Stars against Satchel Paige’s Trujillo All-Stars, Polo Grounds, New York, September 19, 1937.

Taylor’s no-hitter made him a desirable free agent. He planned on returning to New York but wound up signing with Pittsburgh for $400 per month. Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee preferred Taylor instead of re-signing Satchel Paige. Taylor turned in an excellent season with 11 wins, while batting .368 as a utility man. He was one of league’s top players and participated in the 1938 East-West Negro League All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Negro League All-Star Game at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, (Taylor, standing second from left) 1938.

During the winters of 1938 and 1939, Johnny Taylor appeared for the Santa Clara Leopards of the Cuban League. The Leopards nabbed the pennant with Taylor on the mound and Josh Gibson behind the plate. Around this time, the Mexican League lured Negro Leaguers like Taylor with higher salaries. For $600 a month he became the ace of the Cordoba Cafeteros. He tossed for an 11-1 record, a 1.19 earned run average and was a local folk hero in Cordoba.

Man, did he have good stuff! Taylor would have been a major leaguer for sure if he hadn’t come along before they allowed colored boys to play in organized baseball.”

Roy Campanella on Johnny Taylor
L to R: Indian Torres, Cocaina Garcia, Lazaro Salazar, Johnny Taylor, and Ray Brown, pitchers of the Santa Clara Leopards, Cuban Winter League, 1938.

In the summer of 1939, an eight team semi-pro loop formed known as the Connecticut State Baseball League. Taylor pitched for the New Britain entry against New London on Memorial Day weekend. Because he was a man of color, the New London club protested the game. Subsequently, the league banned black players. Without comment on the matter, Taylor returned to the Negro Leagues and pitched sporadically for the New York Cubans in 1940. He also appeared for the Homestead Grays and the Newark Eagles with his regular catcher, Josh Gibson.

1939 Cordoba Cafeteros of Mexican League (Johnny Taylor identified as number “3”).

By winter, Taylor was back in Mexico. This time he joined the Veracruz Azules. The club owner, Jorge Pasquel, was a teetotaling liquor magnate who paid more Negro League teams. Pasquel bought Taylor a new suit each time he pitched a shutout. In 1941 with Veracruz, Taylor won 13 games while striking out 115. The club would be remembered as one of the finest Mexican League outfits of all-time.

A tall good-looking right-hander with the damnedest overhand curveball you ever did see.”

Monte Irvin on Johnny Taylor
Johnny Taylor, 1940.

Taylor once told Bill Lee, sports editor of the Hartford Courant, of his difficulties in the high altitude of Mexico City. His fastball didn’t have the same zip and his curve seemed to forget to bend. In September of 1941, he made a visit to Hartford with a team of Mexican League All-Stars led by Josh Gibson, Sam Bankhead, Ray Dandridge and Willie Wells. They squared off against the Savitt Gems, who started Pete Naktenis. Taylor and his All-Stars won in ten innings, as Taylor rung up 15 batsmen.

Johnny Taylor, Veracruz Azules, Mexican League, 1946.

When America entered World War II, Taylor returned to Connecticut to work for United Aircraft in East Hartford. He continued to pitch for the New York Cubans on weekends. During the war years, he also tossed for the Savitt Gems, Fred Davey’s Waterbury team and Highland Lake Athletic Club of Winsted. Taylor went back to Mexico to suit up for Monterey after the war. This time he brought his wife, Estelle and son, John Jr. Estelle Singleton Taylor was a respected maternity nurse and the first black nurse at New Britain General Hospital.

1946 Veracruz Azules – Johnny Taylor (4th from right) and Josh Gibson (4th from left).

Taylor hurled for Veracruz of the Mexican League until 1946, when he suffered an arm injury. At the time, the Mexican League sought to compete with Major League Badeball. White players like Danny Gardella, Sal Maglie and Mickey Owen signed with teams south of the border. Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler blacklisted them for five years. The Negro National League handed five-year bans to eight players, including Johnny Taylor and Ray Dandridge. The suspensions were later shortened, though Taylor’s professional career was coming to a close.

Johnny Taylor, Hartford Chiefs, 1949

That was until 1949, when Taylor signed with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League. In doing so he became Hartford’s first black player in organized baseball. He went 6-7 with the Chiefs, mainly in relief. The minor league club released Taylor in November. He later made his final pitching appearances in Hartford Twilight League old-timer games, alongside Pete Naktenis and Walter “Monk” Dubiel.

“Schoolboy” Johnny Taylor (left) and Satchel Paige, 1950.

After baseball, Taylor raised four children with his wife and worked for his father’s construction business. Taylor also became a trailblazer in the game of golf. He had learned to play golf as a teenager at Hartford’s Goodwin Park. Taylor frequented Edgewood in Cromwell (no known as TPC Cromwell), and he studied Ben Hogan’s book The Fundamentals of Modern Golf. Taylor was one of the first black men in Connecticut to hold a handicap card. He was made an Edgewood member in 1959, a year after Jackie Robinson had been denied membership at High Ridge Country Club in Stamford, Connecticut.

L to R: Johnny Taylor, Walter Elliot and Pete Naktenis, 1958.
L to R: Monk Dubiel, George Balf, Frank Strong and Johnny Taylor, 1969.

In 1975, the Boston Red Sox were World Series bound, and Taylor planned a trip to meet an old teammate, Luis Tiant Sr. The dictatorship of Cuba allowed Tiant to travel to watch his son, Luis Tiant Jr. pitch at Fenway Park. Taylor and Tiant Sr. had a tearful reunion. A dozen years later, Johnny Taylor passed away after a battle with cancer. His memory lives on as a character in Mark Winegardner’s novel, The Veracruz Blues and as the namesake of Johnny Taylor Field in Hartford’s Colt Park (dedicated 2020).

John “Johnny” “Jackson” “Schoolboy” Arthur Taylor (1916-1987)

Sources

SABR article by Jon Daly, February of 2011.

Hartford Courant

Hartford Times

Alexander, Charles C. Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Hogan, Lawrence D. Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2006.

Holway, John. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues—The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, Florida: Hastings House Publishers, 2001.

Lanctot, Neil. Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Ribowsky, Mark. A Complete History of the Negro Leagues, 1884 to 1955. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.

Bonus Photo Gallery

Remembering Allan Garray, an All-Time GHTBL Great

Last year, GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee Allan Garray passed away. His involvement in the Twi-loop spanned three decades. Garray’s baseball career began as a promising catcher at Nonnewaug High School in Andover, Connecticut. He matriculated to UConn Avery Point and set the school record for batting average (.536) in 1976. Then he transferred up to the University of Connecticut for three seasons (1977-79).

1977 University of Connecticut Baseball Team

Al Garray excelled at UConn under Head Coach, Larry Panciera and became a formidable catcher with help from Assistant Coach, Andy Baylock. Garray was a starter for the Huskies’ first College World Series run in 1979. Garray posted a .291 career batting average at Storrs. In the summer months, he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League. After a spectacular college campaign, he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 34th round of the 1979 MLB Draft.

Allan Garray, University of Connecticut, 1979.

Garray caught in the Gulf Coast League and in the South Atlantic League, however, a fastball to the eye was said to have ended his professional career. In 1982, he appeared in an all-star game against the GHTBL with the Waterbury Twi-Met league and was recruited by GHTBL’s Tom Abbruzzese. With Garray behind the plate in 1983, Abbruzzese’s Society for Savings club claimed the pennant. In five summers with the “Bankers” Garray batted .338 with 23 home runs and 98 RBI. He won two Season Titles, two Playoff Championships and the 1985 Bud Mahon Award for Most Valuable Player.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 29, 1986.

In 1994, Garray founded the New England SportsPlex in Vernon, Connecticut. It was a 14-acre complex made up of softball fields, volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. That same year, he was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame by its director, Jack Repass. The recognition may have convinced Garray to make a comeback to the diamond. At 38 years old Garray joined up with Gene Johnson’s Newman Lincoln-Mercury franchise (previously known as Moriarty Brothers).

Hartford Courant excerpt, April 23, 1994.

As Newman’s Designated Hitter, Garray captured a GHTBL Playoff Championship in 1997 and back-to-back Season Titles in 1999 and 2000. Then he was honored as an inductee of the UConn Avery Point Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001. He continued to play locally while operating a pension consulting firm in Rocky Hill. Garray was an avid “Sunday leaguer” who competed in the Over 30 World Series and Over 40 World Series. He also served as an umpire for amateur loops throughout the state.

Allan Garray, Umpire, Palmer Field, Middletown, CT, 1998.

Allan Garay returned to the GHTBL yet again in 2004, establishing Monaco Ford, an expansion team out of Glastonbury, Connecticut. The club briefly fielded Major League slugger AJ Pollock during the summer of 2008. Baseball talent seemed to flock to Allan Garray, a lifelong contributor to the GHTBL and one the league’s all-time catchers. The league sends our best to Allan’s family and friends.

Allan Garray

We play because we love the game.”

Allan Garray

Cuban Stars of the New Britain Perfectos

Decades prior to the New Britain Red Sox, Rock Cats or Bees, Connecticut’s Hardware City had another minor league team. From 1908 to 1911, the New Britain Perfectos were a level-B club in the Connecticut State League. The Perfectos acquired their nickname after the arrival of four Cuban players: Armando Marsans, Rafael Almeida, Alfredo Cabrera and Luis Padrón. They were the first Cubans to become stars during baseball’s Dead Ball Era.

New Britain Baseball Club, 1908.

New Britain’s Nicknames

This Cuban-American tale traces back to when team nicknames were assigned by fans and sportswriters. The team’s official name was the New Britain Baseball Club, yet its many nicknames were subject to change. Before being dubbed the Perfectos, New Britain went by the Mountaineers because their ballpark, Electric Field, backed up into a rugged hillside. When the Cubans came to the affluent city of New Britain in 1908, the team’s new moniker reflected a general sense of culture shock.

Electric Field, New Britain, 1909.

The name “Perfectos” was a backhanded compliment directed at the Cuban players. The term alluded to the Spanish word for “perfect” and described the superb abilities of Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón. However, a Perfecto was also a type of Cuban cigar which referenced their appearance. Multiple Hartford Courant articles called the Cubans “smoke players” to cite their skin color and fast play. In the face of racial prejudice, the four Cubans would prevail to varying degrees of success.

Alfredo Cabrera, Rafael Almeida Armando Marsans and Luis Padrón.

The Cuban Sportsmen

Before coming to New Britain, the men were among baseball’s first Latino prospects. They were from well-off families and played baseball for sport. Alfredo Cabrera, known as Cabbage or Cabby, was allegedly the nephew of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera of Guatemala. Almeida was said to be Portuguese royalty. Armando Marsans was the son of a Havanan merchant who grew wealthy during the Spanish-American War and the Occupation of Cuba. In 1906 the men toured the United States with the Baseball Stars of Cuba, playing 122 games and winning 84 of them.

1908 Almendares Baseball Club

In 1907, Marsans and company were rumored to be headed for Scranton of the New York State League, but the move never materialized. Instead, they remained fixtures on the Almendares and Habana clubs of the Cuban Winter League. Meanwhile in New Britain, club owner Charles Humphrey vowed to assemble a contender for the 1908 season. Knowing of their exploits, Humphrey traveled to Havana and successfully recruited the four Cuban players. The men arrived to Connecticut via steamship and resided at Hotel Beloin, 91 Church Street, New Britain.

New Britain, Connecticut, 1908.

Mixed Public Reaction

Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón were immediately polarizing figures. While some fans compared them to heroes like D’artagnan and the Three Musketeers, others spurned the Cubans for disrupting “white” baseball. Non-whites were informally barred from participating in the Connecticut State League, but owner Humphrey maintained that they were descendants of Spaniards. A columnist ironically noted that Perfectos catcher, Nick Rufiange, had darker skin than his Cuban teammates, other than Padrón who was reportedly “half-African.”

1908 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)

Despite objections from players, managers and fans, the Cubans were allowed to participate. They proceeded to solve the Connecticut State League. Padrón batted .314, ranking third in the league. He excelled as a two-way player, winning 18 games as a pitcher while hitting 7 home runs in the batter’s box. Almeida smashed a .291 average with 5 home runs. Marsans batted .274 while swiping 33 stolen bases.

1908 New Britain Baseball Club

New Management

Midway through the 1908 season, Charles Humphrey sold the New Britain Baseball Club citing financial issues. Even though the Perfectos drew 500 to 2,000 spectators at each home game, ownership transferred to William W. Hanna, a stone magnate and owner of the city’s roller polo team (an early form of ice hockey). The club took on new nicknames when Hanna bought the team, including: Bank Wreckers, Clam Bakers, Hannaites and Hanna’s Morro Castle Knights (referencing a historic fortress in Havana). A former pitcher from New London, Albert L. Paige was appointed as manager and oversaw a fourth place finish in the standings.

William W. Hanna, Owner & A.L. Paige, Manager, New Britain, 1908.

The Padrón Affair

Upon purchasing the New Britain club, Billy Hanna faced ongoing criticism for using non-white players. Manager Dan O’Neil of the Springfield Ponies took special issue with Luis Padrón, who happened to be a top performer in the state league. Because Padrón had darker complexion than his peers, O’Neil demanded proof of his Spanish heritage. However, p resident of the league, James O’Rourke declined to ban players on the basis of race. O’Rourke was approached by a New Britain Herald reporter who published the following account on the Padrón affair:

Luis Padron, c. 1906.

“…Officials say Padrón’s color was never a subject of talk at league meetings, and they claim there is nothing to indicate that there will be a discussion of the point. It is feckless business to bring up racial talk—a fact which the directors recognize. Padrón may be a negro, as many players and fans claim, but such an expert as James H. O’Rourke does not know of any written baseball law that would deny a negro the right to play. Of course there is an understanding that negroes will not be hired to play in organized leagues, and sentiment is strongly against the black man in league baseball. If Padrón is a negro—this has not been proved—he is the first to play in the Connecticut league. Mr. O’Rourke says in his years of experience he has heard of but one man in league baseball. Grant [Frank], who was believed to be a negro.”

New Britain Herald, July 24, 1908.
James H. O’Rourke, President, Connecticut State League, 1908.

Off to Cuba

Opposition to the Cuban stars forced owner Hanna to lead a fact-finding abroad. In December of 1908, Hanna sailed from New York to Havana around the same time that Frank Bancroft’s Cincinnati Reds were touring the island. Hanna made several visits to Almendares Park, home to many of Cuba’s best ballplayers. Presumably, Hanna investigated the lineage of his players because he decided to release Luis Padrón from New Britain.

1908 Cincinnati Reds and Frank Bancroft (wearing suit), Almendares Park, Havana, Cuba.

Padrón Released

Padrón was dismissed despite being a fan favorite in his first year with the Perfectos. He learned of his release in a handwritten letter from Hanna. Later, Padrón was rumored to have been scouted by Charles Comisky’s Chicago White Sox. He played several years in different minor leagues from Connecticut to California. Padrón would also make a comeback to New Britain at a later date.

Luis Padrón, Pitcher, New Britain, 1908 (c.)

Marsans Gets Sick

The following spring, Marsans, Cabrera and Almeida returned to New Britain for the 1909 season. In May, Marsans was stricken by a respiratory illness that landed him in New Britain Hospital. After a subpar experience at the hospital and fearing tuberculosis, Marsans returned to Cuba. Cabrera and Almeida continued on as everyday players. Almeida raked 10 homers with a .308 batting average.

Armando Marsans (left) and Rafael Almeida (right), c. 1908.

State Leaguers Cry Foul

As New Britain finished in third place in 1909, owner Hanna was again pestered by state leaguers calling for the removal of “non-white” players. According to the Hartford Courant, many opposing players did not want “brown players” to participate. Instead of caving to pressure this time, Hanna went to great lengths to legitimize his team. He hired as manager a former umpire turned President of the National League, Thomas J. Lynch. The Perfectos were fond of Lynch, though he would only manage for part of the season.

1909 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)
Thomas J. Lynch, Manager, New Britain Perfectos, 1909.

The Cubans Strike

The Perfectos endured abusive slurs made by players and fans, especially from their rivals, the Hartford Senators. These insults may have revealed a jealous streak among state leaguers since Marsans, Cabrera and Almeida were top performers. They were said to have acted like gentlemen by not seeking revenge. Only once did the trio retaliate publicly as a form of protest. Around Christmas of 1909, the three men led a strike and refused to play in a Cuban Winter League game because their opponents had three American players.

1909 New Britain Baseball Club, Alfredo Cabrera (standing, far left) and Rafael Almeida (sitting, center).

Back in New Britain

Nevertheless, the protest controversy subsided and Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera rejoined New Britain in 1910. Owner Hanna hired Joe Connor as Perfectos player-manager, a big leaguer from Waterbury and younger brother to home run king, Roger Connor. The team slumped from April to May. Then, in a surprising twist, Billy Hanna sold the New Britain franchise to Manager Dan O’Neil for $3,500 on a few words and a handshake. It was claimed to be the fastest deal ever made in the Connecticut State League.

1910 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)
Players with New Britain, 1910.

O’Neil Buys the Club

Upon purchasing the Perfectos, O’Neil was quoted saying, “If the team as it stands at present does not suit, why, I will go out and hunt up some players who will.” Baseball aficionados speculated that New Britain would sell off its players. Instead, O’Neil established a Board of Strategy headed by Charles “Pop” Irving and local hotelier Fred Beloin.

Dan O’Neil, Owner, New Britain, 1910.
Hartford Courant cartoon of the New Britain Baseball Club, 1910.

Baseball’s First Year-Round Players

New Britain’s existing roster thrived under O’Neil in 1910. The Perfectos set a scoreless streak of 33 innings and Marsans compiled a .304 batting average in 111 games. Fans anticipated a pennant bid but New Britain ultimately finished third. That offseason, Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera made their regular appearances for the Almendares club in Havana. They were among few professionals who played year-round:

1910 New Britain Baseball Club

“The average ball player thinks he has done enough diamond work when he puts in a couple of months at training, and then plays five or six months during the Summer. There are three Cuban players who engage in the grand old game of baseball practically the entire year. The players in question are Cabrera, Marsans and Almeida, all members of the New Britain team of the Connecticut League during the Summer months. Just as soon as they return to Havana at the close of the American season, they join the Almendares, playing first against the major league teams that annually invade the island, and then later in the Cuban League, which starts immediately on the departure of the big leaguers for the States. The trio are all clever infielders and play a fast article of ball.”

New York Times, December 18, 1910
Headlines from Cuba, Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), December 31, 1910.

The World’s Best Visit Cuba

In November of 1910, the isle of Cuba welcomed the apex of Major League clubs to Havana. A series of matchups were organized by Cuban officials and American baseball statesman, Frank Bancroft. The Almendares club, boasting Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera, pulled off an unbelievable defeat of the Philadelphia Athletics, World Series champions. Then, Almendares faced Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, runner-ups of the American League. Of any American teams to visit Cuba, only the Tigers had won a series against Almendares thus far, winning 7 out of 12 games.

Ty Cobb at Almendares Park, Havana, Cuba, 1910.

The Perfecto Holdouts

As worthy opponents of the Athletics and Tigers, demand for Cuban players reached a fever pitch. Before the next season, owner O’Neil persuaded Cabrera to take a pay raise. When Marsans and Almeida held out for higher salaries, O’Neil turned to his bilingual associate, Billy Hanna for assistance. A frequent visitor to Cuba, Hanna boarded a ship to iron out new contracts with Marsans and Almeida.

Hartford Courant cartoon depicting Dan O’Neil’s New Britain Baseball Club, 1911.

Signed, Sealed, yet Undelivered

Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida signed with New Britain but were mostly absent for the 1911 campaign. Almeida never appeared for the club that season. When Marsans was present, he tussled with O’Neil. Marsans quit the team in mid-May after advising O’Neil to change pitchers in a game against Hartford. Some accounts blamed Marsans for disappearing when he lost a $50 bet on the Hartford game. Others held O’Neil responsible for scolding Marsans over his baserunning.

News report of Armando Marsans, May 17, 1911.

Marsans Comes and Goes

“O’Neil’s Chocolate Soldiers” were identified as deserters who wilted in the heat of battle. Local columnists slammed the two “dusky ball tossers” and recommended suspensions. Some journalists claimed that Marsans and Almeida were playing amateur ball in Brooklyn. Alfredo Cabrera was distressed and feeling abandoned by his friends. When Marsans departed, he wrote a short letter to Dan O’Neil, stating that his mother was sick and he was obliged to return home.

Armando Marsans, Cincinnati Reds, 1911.

Cubebs Sold to Cincinnati

The absence of Marsans and Almeida from New Britain precipitated a historic transaction. In June of 1911, Dan O’Neil sold Marsans and Almeida to the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the first Cubans in the National League. O’Neil profited handsomely. He received $2,000 upon agreeing to sell their contracts. O’Neil collected an additional $2,500 from Cincinnati when the transaction was closed. As part of the deal, O’Neil liquidated his shares in the team. He sold the New Britain franchise for an additional $2,300 to the next owner, James J. Murphy.

1911 New Britain Baseball Club with Alfredo Cabrera (standing, far left).

Armando Marsans

Marsans and Almeida debuted for Cincinnati at Chicago’s West Side Grounds on July 4, 1911. The 23 year old Marsans batted .317 and stole 35 bases in his second season with the Reds. He was sometimes called Cuba’s answer to Ty Cobb. Marsans played 8 seasons in the major leagues, earning a reputation as one of the game’s fastest outfielders. While in the big leagues, Marsans operated a cigar store and managed a tobacco farm in Cuba.

Armando Marsans, Cincinnati, 1912.
Armando Marsans, St. Louis, 1915.

Rafael Almeida

Rafael Almeida played three partial seasons in Cincinnati. His best year was in 1911 when he swatted a .311 batting average in 115 at bats while amassing an .890 fielding percentage at third base. At the time, Almeida was considered the strongest hitter ever produced from Cuba. His final stop in American baseball was for Scranton in the New York State League. Almeida’s professional career spanned more than 20 years and finally ended with Habana of the Cuban Winter League.

Rafael Almeida, Cincinnati, 1912.

Alfredo Cabrera

As for Alfredo Cabrera, the reliable shortstop had 407 base hits in 416 total games with New Britain. Following stints for Waterbury and Springfield in 1913, he suited up for a single big league game with the St. Louis Cardinals. Cabrera remained in the minor leagues and the Cuban Winter League for the rest of his career. He led Almendares to a pennant as player-manager in 1915. Cabrera’s latter years were spent as groundskeeper of Havana’s El Gran Stadium until retiring in the 1950’s.

Alfredo Cabrera (c.) 1940.

Luis Padrón

In August of 1911, Luis “Mulo” Padrón was invited back to New Britain. Ownership had received letters from fans requesting to sign Padrón. The remarkable Cuban was with the Mansfield club of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and threw a no-hitter in a Sunday league game in Brooklyn. His second stint with New Britain lasted just 12 days but he was a professional ballplayer in white, black and Cuban baseball for nearly twenty years. Padron wielded great power at any position and some accounts attested that he hit the longest ever home run at New Britain’s Electric Field.

Luis Padrón, 1910.
Luis Padrón, 1911.

The Perfectos’ Legacy

When the Connecticut State League collapsed in 1913, the New Britain franchise dwindled away. The team will forever be remembered as a stepping stone for Cuban players on their way to the National League. By 1915, Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón were back in Cuba for good. They were national heroes, pillars of Cuban baseball and eventual inductees into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

1913 Cincinnati Reds with Almeida and Marsan (sitting, middle row).

A Reporter Reminisces

“In my career as a sports writer, I have never encountered a colored athlete who didn’t conduct himself in a gentlemanly manner and who didn’t have a better idea of sportsmanship than many of his white brethren. By all means, let the Negro ballplayer play in organized baseball. As a kid, I saw a half dozen Cuban players break into organized baseball in the old Connecticut League. I refer to players like Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and others. I recall the storm of protest from the One Hundred Per Centers at that time but I also recall that all the Cubans conducted themselves in such a manner that they reflected nothing but credit on themselves and those who favored admitting them to baseball’s select circle.”

Dan Porter, New York Daily Mirror, 1933.
Armando Marsans, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1918.

Sources:

1. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
2. New Britain Herald, Connecticut
3. Agate Type: Reconstructing Negro League & Latin American Baseball History
4. The Montgomery Times, Alabama
5. Brooklyn’s Standard Union, New York
6. A.G. Spalding & Bros. Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide. Chicago; New York, 1910.
7. SABR Article by Stephen R. Keeney, Blurring the Color Line
8. New York Daily Mirror, Dan Porter quotation, 1933.

Painting of Almendares Park (I) by Jorge S. 1908.

St. Cyril’s Baseball Club, The Semi-Pro Polish-Americans From Hartford

During the “Roaring Twenties” immigrant communities often integrated themselves into American culture by forming baseball clubs. Members of Hartford’s Polish-American community organized St. Cyril’s Baseball Club in 1925 on behalf of Saints Cyril and Methodius Parish, a Catholic church established in Hartford in 1902. The original nine was managed by Jack J. Zekas and assisted by Stanley “Spike” Spodobalski. Catcher Francis “Frankie” Kapinos captained the team from behind the plate.

St. Cyril’s organizes first baseball club, 1925.

St. Cyril’s joined its first amateur league in 1926, the Hartford Amateur Baseball League. It was a precursor to the Hartford Twilight League and sponsored by the Hartford Courant. St. Cyril’s vied for the “Courant Cup” but landed fourth in the standings. Player-manager John Strycharz steered the team which included Bob Young, a pitcher from University of Wisconsin and Ray Swartz of Notre Dame University. The following year, St. Cyril’s scheduled matchups with “fast semi-pro teams”¹ throughout Connecticut.

1926 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 7, 1927.

After a five year hiatus caused by the Great Depression, St. Cyril’s returned to the field in 1933. Nicknamed the Saints, they earned a reputation as Hartford’s best Catholic club. Nearly every player was of Polish descent. Edward Kostek served as the team’s new manager. Jack Repass, an infielder, cut his teeth with St. Cyril’s in 1938, before becoming Secretary of the Twilight League and Founder of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball Hall of Fame.

1938 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s won its first championship in 1939 as part of the Central Connecticut League. Then they secured the Connecticut District Semi-Pro Title of 1940. Pitching aces, Casimir “Cos” Wilkos and Yosh Kinel headlined the roster. Also on staff was Walter “Monk” Dubiel, a 22 year old rookie who later became one of Hartford’s all-time hurlers following a career with the Yankees and Cubs. After their days with St. Cyril’s, all three pitchers (Wilkos, Kinel, and Dubiel) were inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame.

Casimir “Cos” Wilkos, St. Cyril’s, 1939.
Walter “Monk” Dubiel, 1940.

In the wake of World War II, St. Cyril’s rejoined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nearly every Twi-loop game was held at Municipal Stadium or on one of a dozen skin diamonds at Colt Park. Standout players for manager Kostek during the 1940’s were Pete Sevetz and Charlie Puziak. Some of the men played ball to forget the horrors they saw while at war. Others played for the love of the game and in between work hours life, not unlike amatuer players of today.

1947 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
L to R: Twilight Leaguers, Tom Deneen of St. Cyril’s, Dick Foley of Pratt Whitney Aircraft and Bill George of Yellow Cab at Colt Park, Hartford, 1947.

Manager Kostek led St. Cyril’s on a winning crusade during the 1950’s. Many professional players suited up for the run, such as Charlie Wrinn, Don Deveau and Ed Samolyk. They conquered multiple titles starting with a sweep of the 1951 Hartford Twilight League Season Title and Playoff Championship. Five years later, the club nabbed the 1956 Season Title and Playoff Championship. In 1957, they captured the State Semi-Pro Title and the Eastern Regional Semi-Pro Title.

1951 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Charlie Wrinn, Pitcher, St. Cyril’s, 1951.
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 8, 1951.
1953 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

In 1958, the Polish National Home hosted a testimonial dinner in honor of Ed Kostek and his St. Cyril’s Baseball Club. Former Business Manager of the Hartford Chiefs, Charles Blossfield gave remarks commending Kostek for his coaching achievements. Also in attendance were Brooklyn Dodgers scout John “Whitney” Piurek of West Haven and Kostek’s former player and longtime friend, Monk Dubiel.

L to R: Whitey Piurek, Ed Kostek and Monk Dubiel at the Polish National Home, Hartford, 1958.
1959 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s last pennant-winning season came in 1960. The club finished in first in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League with a 17-4 win-loss record. Outfielder and GHTBL Hall of Famer, Robert Neubauer was the team’s star player (Neubauer later became a celebrated coach at Sheehan High School in Wallingford, CT). St. Cyril’s, finally played its final season in 1962 and the Catholic baseball dynasty was finally retired after 35 years of play.

St. Cyril’s Manager, Ed Kostek (middle) accepts Hartford Twilight Season Title trophy from Lou Morotto and Jim Nesta, 1960.
Valco Machine beats St. Cyril’s in Playoff Championship 1960.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. 1929 to 1979 GHTBL 50th Anniversary Program

The Baseball Origins of Dillon Stadium

Recently, the naming rights of Hartford’s oldest outdoor sports facility were sold to corporate interests. The time-tested Dillon Stadium has taken a bow to make way for Trinity Health Stadium. Though some people will refuse to call it anything other than Dillon Stadium, perhaps a review of its backstory will enlighten fans and provide some understanding in a time of change. Long before Hartford Athletic played soccer at Dillon, the venue first began as a baseball diamond called Municipal Stadium.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2020.

Erected on Huyshope Avenue in the spring of 1935, Municipal Stadium was the result of public outcry for an enclosed baseball field for amatuer players. After more than a decade of petitions, the city finally built a diamond at the eastern edge of Colt Park. Funding for the project came from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Depression-era field had 8-feet tall fences, a chain link backstop and oversized bleachers hugging foul territory.

Bob Cameron of the Hartford Twilight League scores the first run at Municipal Stadium, Hartford, June 29, 1935.

Hartford’s amateurs were pleased with the ballpark because they no longer needed to rent Bulkeley Stadium for big games. At that time, there were nearly a dozen baseball field at Colt Park, including the new “Munie” Stadium. The field’s first headliner contests were played by Hartford Twilight League teams. In June of 1935, the stadium opened with a parade featuring a marching band. Mayor of Hartford, Joseph W. Beach dedicated the field by hoisting an American flag up a flagpole alongside the facility overseer and Recreation Supervisor, James H. Dillon.

James H. Dillon, c. 1936.

Less than a year later, a massive flood hit Hartford. Heavy rain overflowed the Connecticut River and Park River, engulfing the city and destroying Municipal Stadium. The Flood of 1936 forced amateurs out of Colt Park. Many defected to the East Hartford Twilight League. Hartford’s Municipal Stadium was out of commission for most of the summer. However, Supervisor Dillon spearheaded an effort to rebuild the venue and “Munie” Stadium was quickly revived.

Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.
View of Colt Park, Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.

After cleanup and repairs, the field was rededicated on September 19, 1936. City officials marched down to Colt Park to celebrate the recovery with another flag raising. The ceremony was followed by an interstate doubleheader played by Hartford’s Senior All-Stars and Junior All-Stars. Hometown pitching ace and GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee, Yosh Kinel won the afternoon for the Seniors; whipping a traveling club from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rededication Ceremony at Municipal Stadium, 1936.
Rededication of Municipal Stadium after the flood, 1936.

Municipal Stadium had become a hotbed for regional baseball talent. In the summer of 1937, a professional tryout came to town. Hartford’s best showcased their ability before scouts of the Rochester Red Wings. It was the first of many minor league tryouts held at the facility. Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, dozens of Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League players would sign professional contracts on the main diamond at Colt Park.

Rochester Red Wings host professional tryout at Municipal Stadium, 1937.

During the autumn seasons, Municipal Stadium doubled as a football field. As a result, a fieldhouse was constructed on the premises in 1939. The facility was reported to accommodate 10,000 spectators at that time. It was a fan favorite for its affordability and walkability. Aside from the occasional flood, South Hartford’s riverbank provided the perfect setting for local sporting events.

Municipal Stadium in Colt Park, Hartford, 1939.

Onlookers witnessed high school baseball at Municipal Stadium including Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public. There were also several amateur loops using the stadium during the 1940’s: the Industrial League, Public Service League, Catholic League, and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Semi-professional clubs like the Savitt Gems hosted benefit games at “Munie” Stadium to fundraise for local causes and wartime initiatives.

George Register of Weaver High School, Municipal Stadium, 1940.
Norman “Red” Branch (left) and Aaron Robinson of Coast Guard at Municipal Stadium, 1942.

Hartford Twilight League action returned to Municipal Stadium after World War II. The loop was re-established in the summer of 1946. That season, many players picked up a bat for the first time since carrying a rifle across Europe or Asia. Dozens of young war veterans were fixtures at “Munie” Stadium. Men such as U.S. Army veteran John Buikus starred for his company-sponsored team, Royal Typewriter.

Ernie Hutt, Walt Fonfara, John Buikus and Nonny Zazzaro of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.
Jon Cordier and Ed Roche of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.

By 1955, Municipal Stadium was worn down. Sports Editor of the Hartford Courant, Bill Lee wrote a subpar review of the ballpark in his “With Malice Toward None” column. He called it, “…a poorly maintained baseball diamond of sorts.” The following year, Hartford Mayor James H. Kinsella passed a resolution to rehabilitate and rename Municipal Stadium. From then on, the facility took on the name of Hartford’s favorite supervisor, James H. Dillon, whose accomplishments had won the city national acclaim in parks and recreation.

Jack Hines, catcher for Hartford Public High School hits an infield single, Municipal Stadium, 1955.
Hartford Courant excerpt, April 25, 1956.

The newly christened Dillon Stadium took over as Hartford’s sole baseball field in the late 1950’s. Nearby on Hamner Street, Bulkeley Stadium was abandoned and the land was eventually conveyed to the highest bidder. Hartford had neither a minor league stadium nor a minor league team. Consequently, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL) became the only game in town at Dillon Stadium. On August 12, 1959, a team of GHTBL All-Stars trounced a club of rookie professionals picked by the New York Yankees.

GHTBL All-Stars defeat New York Yankees Rookies at Dillon Stadium, August 12, 1959.

Due in part to public exposure at Dillon Stadium, the Twilight League enjoyed a golden era during the 1960’s. Season openers, playoff tournaments and old-timer games were well-attended for a nominal fee and widely-heralded in newspapers. The Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times were awash with recaps at Dillon. Despite the stadium’s deep connection to America’s National Pastime, the era expired in 1971. An aging Dillon Stadium was in need of a revisions and the city permanently reconfigured the site into a football, soccer and rock concert arena.

Bob Martin (left) of Valco Machine hits game-winning home run, Dillon Stadium, 1965.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers’ Day at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
GHTBL Opens at Dillon Stadium, 1970.
Hartford Twilight League Old-Timers at Dillon Stadium, 1970.

Many years later, a glimmer of hope appeared for baseball at Dillon Stadium. City officials organized the Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee in 1987 to bring professional baseball back to Hartford for the first time since the Hartford Chiefs left in 1956. The group was conducted by a firefighter, Michael P. Peters, the namesake of Mike Peters Little League. Peters and the task force sought to renovate Dillon Stadium into a minor league ballpark. Designs were drawn and models were presented for a $20 million revamp.

Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee reporting by Joel Lang and Owen Canfield, Hartford Courant, June, 1987.
Hartford baseball ad, July 16, 1987.

However, the project lacked enough public support. Skeptics included City Council members, real estate developers and business leaders. In addition, the Dillon Stadium Task Force was unable to attract a minor league club to the negotiating table. Most potential investors considered the Hartford market to be overlapped by the New Britain Red Sox of the Eastern League. By 1991, the deal withered away and the campaign helped Mike Peters become Mayor of Hartford (1993 to 2001).

Mayor Mike Peters at Dillon Stadium, 1989.
Promotional hat made for Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee, 1989.

“It was a very fine baseball stadium in terms of the field and ground. It was what I call a Class-A stadium. In the 1940’s it might have been the best baseball diamond in the Connecticut area.”

Victor Jarm, former Recreation Supervisor of Hartford, gushes over Municipal Stadium, 1989.
Dillon Stadium article by Roberto Gonzalez, Hartford Courant, August 31, 1989.

These days, baseball is a long gone memory at the former Dillon Stadium. In 2019, Hartford Athletic owners, Hartford Sports Group, partnered with Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to refurbish the city-owned facility for $14 million. As part of the quasi-public deal, Hartford Sports Group reserved the right to sell the name of Hartford’s oldest remaining sports venue. Trinity Health Stadium is now home to Hartford Athletic soccer of the United Soccer League.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2014.
Trinity Health Stadium, formerly Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2022.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant: “Jon Lender: $14M Dillon Stadium renovation was marred by ‘charade of an RFP’ that ‘undermines public confidence,’ says watchdogs’ draft report”.
  2. Hartford Courant: Football, The Rolling Stones, elephants and soccer: A look at Dillon Stadium through the years.”
  3. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
  4. Hartford Athletic: Hartfordathletic.com/dillon-stadium
  5. USL Soccer News: USLsoccer.com/news_article/show/1216699

Orator Jim O’Rourke, Bridgeport, Connecticut Baseball Pioneer


One of most influential vintage baseball figures from Connecticut was an Irish-American named Jim O’Rourke. The 5’8″ Bridgeport native wielded a mighty bat and famous mustache. As leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Stockings of 1876, he recorded the first official base hit in major league history. O’Rourke’s epic playing career spanned five decades. He became a manager, umpire, team owner, league executive, attorney at law, civil rights advocate, father of eight children and a posthumous National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Born in Bridgeport, CT, on September 1, 1850, James Henry O’Rourke was the son of Hugh and Catherine, immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. Young James came of age at Waltersville School and Strong’s Military Academy. He learned to play baseball with his older brother John O’Rourke on local clubs, including the Bridgeport Ironsides and Stratford Osceolas. James was a right-hander acclaimed as an expert batsman and a smart talker. In fact, he was so unexpectedly eloquent that he earned the nickname “Orator Jim.”

Stratford Osceolas with Jim O’Rourke (standing, far right), 1871.

In 1872, Jim O’Rourke was recruited by the Middletown Mansfields, thereby becoming a member of America’s first professional baseball league: the National Association. Middletown folded in August, but O’Rourke would land on his feet. The next season he signed with the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings. Alongside Al Spalding as well as George and Harry Wright, O’Rourke batted .350 – swinging Boston to a pennant.

1872 Middletown Mansfields

In the summer of 1874, Jim O’Rourke became one of baseball’s first international ambassadors. Boston and Philadelphia performed America’s National Game before crowds in Ireland and England, but the trip was a strategic and financial failure. After returning to America, Boston laid claim to another pennant. O’Rourke led the way with a team-high 5 home runs while guarding first base. In 1875, he transitioned back to the outfield and helped Boston to a third straight pennant.

Boston Red Stockings with Jim O’Rourke (far left), 1874.

Beantown’s grip on the National Association resulted in the formation of the National League. O’Rourke decided to stay with Boston and recorded the league’s first base hit. The feat occurred on Opening Day, April 22, 1876, at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He swatted a single into left field. Though Boston committed 7 errors, they beat Philadelphia, who made 13 errors, by a score of 6-5.

Jim O’Rourke, Boston Red Caps, 1876.

O’Rourke’s breakout season came in 1877. He set a career-high with a .362 batting average and stood atop the National League with 68 runs scored, 20 walks and a .407 on-base percentage. His dominant play earned Boston another pennant (it was later discovered that second-place Louisville intentionally threw games). The following season, O’Rourke’s average slumped to .278, yet Boston defended first place with a 41-19 record.

Providence Grays with Jim O’Rourke (standing, third from right), 1879.

Due to complaints over wages during his time in Boston, O’Rourke became a notorious critic of management. In 1881, he accepted more responsibility as player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons. He played third base and paced the club with 105 hits. The Bisons achieved a winning record each season under O’Rourke’s direction from 1881 to 1884. Though Buffalo never won a title, O’Rourke set the standard for player-managers in 1884, with a .347 batting average on 162 hits.

Buffalo Baseball Club with Manager Jim O’Rourke (center), 1882.

Orator Jim garnered esteem for his leadership in Buffalo. He stood for excellence, sobriety, intellect and athleticism and was described as a non-drinking, non-smoking taskmaster. He might have stayed in Buffalo, if not struck by tragedy in 1883. O’Rourke’s second daughter, Anna, had suddenly died of an illness. The death led O’Rourke to move closer to home, and to sign with the New York Giants in 1885.

Polo Grounds (I), New York, 1886.

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 1885
1887 New York Giants with Jim O’Rourke (sitting front, left).

In New York, he was welcomed by owner John B. Day and manager Jim Mutrie. O’Rourke also joined future Hall of Famers: John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and a close friend, Roger Connor from Waterbury, Connecticut. The Giants’ home field was the original Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. While earning a league-leading $4,000 salary, Orator Jim proved to be an on-base stalwart and a dependable defender.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Roger Connor, New York Giants, 1887.

During his tenure with the Giants, O’Rourke became a founding member of baseball’s first labor union: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. The brotherhood fought for the employment rights of the players. An articulate and learned O’Rourke decided to enroll at Yale Law School to litigate for player rights. He took courses in the off-seasons, passed the Connecticut bar examination and was admitted to practice law on November 5, 1887.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.

O’Rourke and the New York Giants toppled the National League in 1888. They beat their opponents in 84 of 138 games. Then the Giants agreed to face St. Louis of the American Association in a postseason series. O’Rourke suffered a meager .222 hitting mark in ten playoff games, yet the Giants were victorious in what became known as the original World Series.

1888 New York Giants with O’Rourke (sitting front, right, #15).

In 1889, O’Rourke batted .321 with 81 RBI and 33 stolen bases at age 38. Showing no signs of middle-age, he spearheaded New York’s back-to-back campaign for the National League title. At the 1889 World Series, O’Rourke turned in the finest hitting display of his career. He mustered a .389 average, with 2 homers and 7 RBI, defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 6 of 9 games. O’Rourke and his teammates were stars of the baseball world.

John Montgomery Ward, Shortstop, New York Giants, 1888.
Jim O’Rourke, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

Though behind the scenes, O’Rourke and other players were irritated with club owners over the Reserve Clause. The policy allowed owners to retain players after their contracts had expired. Players could be traded, sold or released, but they could not initiate their own moves. Equipped with a law degree, O’Rourke followed the lead of his shortstop and fellow attorney, John Montgomery Ward. Together they protested and established the controversial Players League of 1890.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1889 (c.)
Players League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

O’Rourke had a standout season with the renegade New York Giants of the Players League. He batted .360 with a career-high 9 home runs and 115 RBI across 111 games. The unsanctioned Giants finished in third place, but the Players League was short-lived. The loop had failed to turn a profit. O’Rourke and the Brotherhood were forced to negotiate a return to the National League.

1890 New York Giants of the Players League

In the summer of 1891, O’Rourke reappeared for his old team, the New York Giants of the National League. Despite being 40 years old, his bat remained reliable. O’Rourke, however, felt undervalued and openly expressed his discontent. After playing two final seasons in New York, he secured another player-manager role in 1893. This time, he became field general of the Washington Nationals, hitting .287 in 129 games during his last full season in the major leagues.

New York Base Ball Club, 1891.

O’Rourke suited up for eight clubs over 23 major league seasons. The pride of Bridgeport ended his major league career with 2,643 hits, 62 home runs, 1,203 RBI and a .311 batting average. He had the most hits of any 19th century big leaguer other than Cap Anson. O’Rourke had been an integral part of eight championship clubs, but he wasn’t yet done with baseball.

Jim O’Rourke, 1891.

Less than a year later, O’Rourke was back on the diamond. In 1894, he umpired in the National League and at the college level for Yale University. Unfortunately, lackluster reviews of his calls led to O’Rourke’s exit from the job in mid-June. He went back to playing the game by performing at catcher for St. Joe’s amateur club of Bridgeport on Saturday afternoons.

Jim O’Rourke, 1895 (c.)

O’Rourke spent most of his time in Bridgeport, where he practiced law and cared for his family. Father to seven daughters, he was a proponent of women’s suffrage and civil rights. Orator Jim was active in civic affairs as a member of Royal Arcanum, Bridgeport Elks and Knights of Columbus. He was a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Democrat” who ran for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1894 but lost in a Republican-leaning election.

Bridgeport Elks Lodge No. 36, 1905 (c.)

The following year, new train services allowed for a professional loop: the Connecticut State League. O’Rourke was elected President. As head of the league, he limited player salaries to $800 per month. He was a stakeholder in several teams including Waterbury. O’Rourke also guided the Bridgeport Victors club as player-manager.

The Meriden Journal, January 11, 1895.

The Connecticut State League dissolved midseason on July 10, 1895. Despite the setback, O’Rourke and Bridgeport continued to compete against clubs like Meriden and Hartford. O’Rourke played in just eight games that summer. Instead, he focused on developing his team. When he recruited Harry Herbert, a black outfielder from Bridgeport, O’Rourke rebelled against racial norms. Herbert played four seasons for the Victors.

1896 (c.) Bridgeport Victors

As an Irishman, a denigrated nationality at the time, O’Rourke used sport to quell ethnic stereotypes. He also used his influence to organize a new circuit in 1896. With help from local baseball leaders, Orator Jim created the Naugatuck Valley League. At catcher and manager for Bridgeport, he smashed a league-high .437 average and the Victors won the title.

Jim O’Rourke, Player-manager, Bridgeport Orators, 1898.

Bridgeport reentered the Connecticut State League in 1897. O’Rourke was no longer president of the league, but he wielded considerable power in local baseball matters. In 1898, O’Rourke ordered the construction of a new minor league stadium on his family’s farmland. Located in Bridgeport’s East End, the field was called Newfield Park. That same year, the Bridgeport club was renamed the “Orators” in O’Rourke’s honor.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

Jim O’Rourke spent fifteen eventful years as player-manager of the Bridgeport club. His players affectionately called him “Uncle Jeems.” From 1903 to 1908, O’Rourke managed and competed alongside his son James O’Rourke Jr. After playing for his father, young Jimmy O’Rourke signed with the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the New York Yankees.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

To the surprise of the entire baseball world, Jim O’Rourke Sr. was called up for one last major league game in 1904. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants started the 54 year old at catcher on the final day of the season. O’Rourke handled a complete game from pitcher Joe McGinnity, beating Cincinnati 7-5, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. To this day, O’Rourke holds the major league record as the oldest player with a base hit.

Jim O’Rourke, 1906.

On June 14, 1910, Jim’s wife of 38 years, Annie O’Rourke, passed away from complications of a fall. About a year later his brother John died of a heart attack in Boston. Jim O’Rourke endured these tumults and kept up with the Connecticut State League. He served as a league official on several occasions, either as secretary or president. On September 14, 1912, O’Rourke made his final on-field appearance with New Haven. He recorded a single at the age of 62.

Jim O’Rourke Sr. (left) and Jim O’Rourke Jr., 1908 (c.)

When he was 68, O’Rourke was afflicted by pneumonia after walking in a blizzard. He died seven days later on January 8, 1919, and was laid to eternal rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Stratford, Connecticut. O’Rourke was survived by seven children and his sister, Sarah O’Rourke Grant. He was a beloved hero of Bridgeport who personified the American Dream. O’Rourke’s his rags-to-riches story inspired multiple generations of adoring baseball fans.

Jim O’Rourke, Manager, Bridgeport 1909 (c.)

Orator Jim was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. According to baseball historian, Bill James, O’Rourke’s Cooperstown plaque, “summarizes his career but is far too small to reflect the scope of his contributions to the game. As a pioneer player, union organizer and early minor-league executive, James Henry ‘Orator’ O’Rourke was an exemplary figure, one eminently worthy of baseball’s highest accolade.”

Jim O’Rourke’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

“He has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. His average each season has proved him to be in the front rank in handling the bat, and shows that his usefulness is not merely confined to his fielding abilities. He has always enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly reliable and honest player, and one who works hard for the best interests of the club. His gentlemanly conduct, both on and off the ball field, has won for him a host of friends.”

1885 Spalding Guide on Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke statue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Baseball is for all creeds and nationalities.”

Jim O’Rourke, 1910
Jim O’Rourke’s gravesite, St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford, CT.

Sources

  1. “Jim O’Rourke” by Bill James, SABR Bio Project.

2. Pittsburgh Dispatch via Newspapers.com.

3. Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke from Cooperstown Cred.

4. Newfield Park: Home to One of New England’s Most Sacred Baseball Sites by Michael J. Bielawa.

CT Patch Features Schweighoffer, Former GHTBL Star

Meet a Local Ex-Pro Ballplayer: Mike Schweighoffer, Farmington

By Tim Jensen, Patch Staff

FARMINGTON, CT — If Mike Schweighoffer was playing baseball today, no scout would even give him a look. The way the game has changed, no one would be interested in a pitcher who throws 83 MPH sinker balls, who never tossed a varsity inning until his senior year of high school, who attended a Division III college in Connecticut best known for its outstanding academic standards.

Fortunately for Schweighoffer, times were different in the early 1980s. Not only did a scout sign him to a professional contract, he spent four solid seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before embarking on an even more successful career, which continues today, as a banking executive.

Mike Schweighoffer, 2021

Now 59, Schweighoffer grew up in Hartford’s South End, and moved to Wethersfield just in time to start high school. He played football and baseball at now-defunct South Catholic High School, but even he never harbored dreams of someday becoming a professional athlete.

“I was a very late bloomer for my position,” he said in an exclusive interview with Patch. “I was an All-State shortstop, but had no expectations of playing pro ball.”

He chose to stay near home and attend Trinity College, where he majored in economics. He also went out for the baseball team, and made the squad as a pitcher. In his freshman campaign, “I was just a thrower,” but Schweighoffer learned the finer points about pitching from Bill Severni, who had played at Amherst College and overseas.

“Bill taught me more about pitching than any coach I ever had,” he said. “He taught me about mechanics, thinking about pitching and setting up hitters.”

As a junior with the Bantams, Schweighoffer played third base on days when he wasn’t pitching, and Trinity won the ECAC New England Regional championship. He also kept active during the summer by pitching for the Newington Capitols of the Greater Hartford Twilight League.

“By my senior year, my arm was hurting a bit,” he recalled. “I was still playing with Newington, but I graduated and accepted a position at Connecticut National Bank (CNB).”

Mike Schweighoffer, Vero Beach Dodgers, 1985.

That is, until fate intervened, in the form of longtime baseball scout Dick Teed of Windsor. Much to Schweighoffer’s shock, Teed offered him a contract with the Dodgers organization as an undrafted free agent. He signed the contract in late 1984, and resigned from the bank training program.

His first pro stop was Vero Beach in the Class-A Florida State League. Starting all 25 games in which he appeared, he posted a 10-11 record with an excellent 3.11 earned-run average. He was selected to the league all-star game, though he did not appear in the contest.

Hartford Courant article on Mike Schweighoffer by Tom Yantz, May 30, 1986.

The next season, Schweighoffer expected to play at Double-A San Antonio, and worked out with that club during most of spring training, but again fate intervened, this time in the form of Mother Nature.

“We had a few days of rain, and they needed someone to go to Melbourne for a game against the Twins,” he said. “I threw eight or nine pitches, all resulting in ground balls, and [San Antonio manager and former University of Hartford standout] Gary LaRocque said they wanted me in Triple-A. I didn’t believe it until the plane actually touched down in Albuquerque.”

Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1986.

After skipping an entire level, Schweighoffer was used as a relief pitcher for most of the 1986 season, making 43 appearances. In the final month, the Dukes moved him back into the starting rotation, and he wound up with a 7-3 record.

His manager in Albuquerque was Terry Collins, who later piloted the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series. He also benefitted from a Connecticut connection.

“Terry was fiery and demanded a lot from the players, and Dave Wallace [of Waterbury] was a tremendous pitching coach,” he said.

1986 Albuquerque Dukes

Schweighoffer was asked to work on some new things during spring training in 1987, which he described as “mediocre.” He learned something during that training camp, however, which has stuck with him for more than three decades.

“Every day is a tryout, because no matter what you’re told, you still have to perform,” he said. “I use that to this day.”

Back under LaRocque in San Antonio, and converted again into a full-time starter, Schweighoffer posted a 4-4 record before being promoted back to Triple-A. Returning to Albuquerque meant returning to high elevations, and a switch back to the bullpen resulted in a 2-3 record and 5.33 ERA. The Dukes captured the Pacific Coast League title, which Schweighoffer dubbed one of the highlights of his professional playing career.


Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1987.

The next spring, he was told he would be sent back to Double-A San Antonio, now guided by future Boston Red Sox skipper Kevin Kennedy. The Dodgers did not grant his request for a release, and he appeared in 43 games, including eight starts, with a 7-8 record and 3.96 ERA. At season’s end, he made the difficult decision to leave the game.

“I was 26 years old, had worked two winters at CNB and decided to give up playing,” he said. “I was also tired of dragging [his wife] Liz around the country.”


Mike Schweighoffer, San Antonio Missions, 1988.

With a number of former teammates making significant contributions, Los Angeles won the 1988 World Series in a shocking 4-game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics. Despite never making it to the big dance, Schweighoffer said he had “absolutely zero bitterness and no regrets” about giving up the game.

“I got to pitch to Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Sandy and Roberto Alomar,” he recalled. “Gary Sheffield took me deep one day; that ball is still rolling down I-10 in El Paso. I remember that at-bat like it was yesterday.”

He began working full-time at CNB in 1989, and is still active in the banking industry today. He is currently regional manager for commercial lending at People’s United Bank. He and Liz reside in Farmington, and they have three adult children – a daughter and twin boys.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 2008.

Despite having played professional baseball and being associated with some of the top stars in the game, Schweighoffer said his biggest baseball thrills came far away from any stadiums filled with paying customers.

“My best baseball memories are from Trinity, the Newington Capitols, coaching travel ball and Unionville American Legion, and being an assistant coach when my kids won Little League state titles in 2004 and 2005,” he said. “I just wanted to give back to the game.”

Original news article: https://patch.com/connecticut/farmington/meet-local-ex-pro-ballplayer-mike-schweighoffer-farmington

Other stories in this series:

A Ballpark Timeline: The Polo Grounds

The long gone stadium known as the Polo Grounds was home to five different professional sports teams from 1890 to 1963. Originally built in 1876, the venue was intended for the equestrian sport of polo. The site was owned by a newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett and a German-American financier, August Belmont Sr.

First professional “base ball” game at the Polo Grounds (I) between New York Metropolitans and Washington Nationals, September 29, 1880.

1880: The New York Metropolitans began playing base ball at the “polo grounds” used for the sport of polo and horse racing. The venue was located between 110th and 112th Street, and 5th and 6th Avenue. Since baseball fields, like English soccer fields, were usually called “grounds” in those days, it would later officially become known as the Polo Grounds.

Yale vs. Princeton at Polo Grounds (I), New York, New York, 1882.

1882: The Metropolitans joined the American Association and played most of their season at the Polo Grounds.

1883: The Troy Haymakers of the National League left the Albany area for Manhattan, moved into the Polo Grounds, and become the New York Gothams.

1884: The Metropolitans won the the American Association pennant

Official score card of the Polo Grounds (I), 1885.
A depiction of Opening Day at the Polo Grounds (I), April 29, 1886.

1886: The Metropolitans preferred not to share the Polo Grounds and moved to the St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island. After the 1887 season, financial concerns led to the demise of the original New York Mets club.

1887: Harvard and Yale football faced off on Thanksgiving Day at the original Polo Grounds.

New York Giants batting practice at the Polo Grounds (I), 1886.
Home games at the Polo Grounds (I) New York, New York, 1887.

1888: Giants won the National League Pennant.

Decoration Day at the Polo Grounds (I), New York vs. Philadelphia, May 5, 1888.

1889: New York City extended its street grid to West 111th Street, cutting through the Polo Grounds. The New York Giants had to vacate. They moved to the St. George Cricket Grounds again, and won the National League pennant.

Location of Polo Grounds (II) depicted in The Evening World New York, June 22, 1889.

1890: A new ballpark was constructed at the terminus of the 9th Avenue Elevated line, at 155th Street and 8th Avenue, and at the foot of Coogan’s Bluff. That same year, the Players League challenged the established leagues. The Players League formed a new team called the New York Giants, and built a larger ballpark next door named Brotherhood Field. That league folded after a season, and the National League Giants moved in. The 1890 ballpark was renamed Manhattan Field, and Brotherhood Field became the new Polo Grounds (II).

Horse drawn carriages in the outfield, Polo Grounds (II), 1890.
A view of Polo Grounds (II) from Coogan’s Bluff, 1890.
Artist rendition of Polo Grounds (II), 1890.

1891: The New York Giants of the National League played their first game at the new Polo Grounds on April 22, 1891. This version of the Polo Grounds had a seating capacity of 16,000. The main double decked grandstand arched around home plate and down the baselines.

At the Polo Grounds (II) by Jay Hambidge, 1895.
Lifetime Pass to Polo Grounds (II) issued by New York Baseball Club President, Andrew Freedman, 1897.

1904: The New York Giants hired John McGraw as manager, traded for pitching icon Christy Mathewson and won the NL Pennant.

1905: New York Giants won the Pennant and the World Series.

Polo Grounds (II), 1905.
Polo Grounds (II), 1905.
Pittsburgh at New York, Polo Grounds (II), May 10, 1905.
Polo Grounds (II), 1905.

1908: New York Giants lost the pennant to the Chicago Cubs on Fred Merkle’s “Boner”.

A crowd at Coogan’s Bluff, Polo Grounds (II), 1910.
Polo Grounds (II), 1911.

1911: The ballpark burned down on April 14, 1911, at the dawn of a new season. As a friendly gesture, the New York Highlanders offered the Giants the use of Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds was rebuilt in fireproof concrete and steel. Later that year, the Polo Grounds (III) opened. The Giants faced the Boston Rustlers, and won, 3-0. Christy Mathewson pitched, allowed nine hits and zero walks to keep the shutout. A home run was hit by “Laughing Larry” Doyle, a man who once said, “It’s great to be young and a Giant.” (The Rustlers were named for their owner, William H. Russell, who died right after that season ended. They were bought by James Gaffney, who held the rank of “Brave” in New York’s Tammany Hall “political machine,” and the team’s name was changed to the Boston Braves.)

The Giants won the Pennant in 1911, but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics.

Polo Grounds (III), New York, 1912.
Polo Grounds (III), New York, 1912.
New York Giants at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.

1912: The New York Giants won the Pennant again, but lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

1913: The Giants lost another World Series to the A’s for three straight World Series losses. The only other team ever to do that has been the 1907-08-09 Detroit Tigers.

Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants pitches at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.
Fans catch the train after World Series game, Polo Grounds (III), 1913.

In 1913, noting that the Highlanders, who had just officially changed their name to what people were already calling them, the Yankees, had their 10-year lease at Hilltop Park ended, offered them a 10-year lease at the Polo Grounds, as a way of thanking them for the use of Hilltop in 1911.

Photographers at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.
Babe Ruth, pitcher of the Boston Red Sox at Polo Grounds (III), 1915.
Babe Ruth of the Red Sox at Polo Grounds (III), 1915.

1917: The Giants won another Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Chicago White Sox.


1920: The Yankees signed Babe Ruth, and started bringing more fans into the Polo Grounds than the Giants. McGraw said, “The Yankees will have to move to Queens, or some other faraway place, to wither and die.” Little did he know that, one day, the New York team in the National League would play in Queens.

Aerial view of Polo Grounds (III), 1922.

1921 & 1922: The Yankees won their first American League pennant and again in 1922, but lost the World Series to the Giants both times. The Giants remained the better franchise.

1923: Yankees owner, Jacob Ruppert, planned on vacating the Polo Grounds. He wanted a ballpark that he could control, so he built a stadium across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds at 161st Street and River Avenue in The Bronx. Yankee Stadium dwarfed the Polo Grounds. When Giants owner Charles Stoneham expanded the Polo Grounds, but it remained smaller than Yankee Stadium. That Autumn, the Polo Grounds hosted the Heavyweight Championship fight in which challenger Luis Firpo knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring, but Dempsey got back in before the count of 10, and knocked Firpo out. A few weeks later the Polo Grounds hosted another World Series. This time, the Yankees beat the Giants.

Interior view of Polo Grounds (III), 1923.

1924: The Giants won another Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Washington Senators. Later that year, the football team at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York hosted the University of Notre Dame, and Notre Dame won. Nationally-syndicated sportswriter Grantland Rice covered the game, and named Notre Dame’s backfield “The Four Horsemen,” after the Biblical riders of the Apocalypse.

1925: A football team named the New York Football Giants began playing at the Polo Grounds. They won the NFL Championship in 1927, 1934 and 1938, but lost it in 1944. They moved to Yankee Stadium in 1956.

New York Giants team photograph at Polo Grounds (III), 1936.

1933: Baseball’s New York Giants won the World Series, beating the Senators. This team featured slugging right fielder Mel Ott and ace pitcher “King Carl” Hubbell.

1936 & 1937: Giants defeated by the Yankees in the World Series.

1951: The New York Giants came from 13 1/2 games back to beat their archrivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers – winning the pennant in a playoff game, on what we would now call a walk-off home run by Bobby Thomson. However, the Giants lost the World Series to the Yankees.

Aerial view of Polo Grounds (III), 1940.
Polo Grounds (III), 1943.
New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers at Polo Grounds (III), 1951.

1954: The Giants won the pennant again, led by Willie Mays, who won the NL batting title. Game 1 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians featured Mays making his signature over-the-head catch, and a walk-off home run in the 10th inning by Dusty Rhodes. The Giants swept the Series.

“The Catch” made by Willie Mays at Polo Grounds (III), 1954.
“The Catch” made by Willie Mays at Polo Grounds (III), 1954.

1957: The stadium and its surrounding neighborhood had begun to fall apart. The Giants left for San Francisco after the season. Their last game was as 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 29.

Willie Mays makes jumping catch at Polo Grounds (III), 1957.

1960: The American Football League was founded, and the New York Titans began play at the Polo Grounds. They would become the Jets in 1963. The stadium hosted one last title fight, with Floyd Patterson regaining the Heavyweight Championship from Ingemar Johansson.

1962: The New York Mets, a National League expansion team began to call the Polo Grounds home. They played two terrible seasons at the Polo Grounds before moving into Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow, Queens.

1963: The Mets played the last baseball game at the Polo Grounds on September 18, 1963, losing 5-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The last event was a New York Jets football game on December 14, 1963, a 19-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

1964: Six days before Shea Stadium opened, the same company that demolished Ebbets Field, used the same wrecking ball, painted to look like a baseball, to demolish the Polo Grounds.

1968: The Polo Grounds Towers opened on the site of the former baseball stadium. It included a playground known as Willie Mays Field. Across 155th Street is Rucker Park, now one of New York’s most famous pick-up basketball sites.

Sources

  1. Uncle Mike at Unclemikesmusings.blogspot.com
  2. www.Baseball-reference.com
  3. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com

Hall of Fame Inductee, Doc Bidwell, Ace of the Twilight League

David “Doc” Bidwell is the career wins leader of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. As a tall and imposing right-handed pitcher, he struck out countless twi-loop batters for more than forty years. Bidwell was a longtime pupil of GHTBL legend, Gene Johnson. Doc and Gene won several championships at the helm of Moriarty Brothers, Newman Lincoln-Mercury and the Foss Insurance franchise. Altogether, Bidwell achieved ten season titles, eleven playoff championships and a reputation as an all-time twilight pitcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell (left) with Gene Johnson, 2014.

Bidwell was born in Manchester, Connecticut, on July 5, 1956, to Ted and Betty Bidwell. He once described his parents as, “My biggest fans, who probably saw ninety percent of our games, only missing some when they went to New Hampshire for vacation.” As a youngster, Bidwell was a standout player for Manchester High School and Manchester Legion. In a Legion game on July 8, 1974, he threw a perfect game with nine strikeouts against Ellington.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
1974 Manchester High School Varsity Baseball

The following year, Bidwell became a freshman pitcher at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then he joined player-manager Gene Johnson and the Manchester-based Moriarty Brothers. Bidwell, a rookie, and Pete Sala, a former professional, overpowered the competition. Moriarty Brothers of 1975 proved to be one of the greatest teams in league history. They lost just four games on the year, winning the season title and sweeping the playoffs.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Moriarty Comets Win Playoff Championship, Hartford Courant, August 29, 1975.

In 1978, Bidwell took his Assumption College team to the NCAA Division-II Regional Tournament. The Greyhounds lost to Porky Viera‘s University of New Haven in Bidwell’s final game at Assumption. He posted a 19-11 win-loss record in four college seasons, ranking among Assumption’s best pitchers across multiple statistical categories. Bidwell became a proud member of the Assumption College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Assumption College, 1978.

Throughout college, Bidwell played summer ball in the GHTBL. He had perfect 10-0 record in 1985 and in 1988. When Moriarty Brothers changed their named to Newman Lincoln-Mercury in 1990, Bidwell toed the rubber as their ace. He steered the Newman club to seven championships. Bidwell was a baseball junkie, who also pitched on Sundays for the Connecticut Men’s Senior Baseball League. In 1994, his talents were recognized by the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Bidwell credited his brother Mel for being his spring training catcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell shuts out Malloves Jewelers, June 14, 1990.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 1994.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound hurler threw in the high-80 mile per hour range for the first leg of his career. Later, Bidwell developed into a pitcher who confused hitters with various speeds and the occasional knuckleball. He tossed for dozens of winning ball clubs under manager Gene Johnson. Some of Bidwell’s teammates included Steve Chotiner, Corky Coughlin and Mike Susi. Veteran players like Bidwell were the backbone of the Newman Lincoln-Mercury franchise, which became Foss Insurance in 2004 when Mark and Jane Foss signed on as sponsors.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Corky Coughlin & Bidwell (right), Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 2001.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In late 2014, Gene Johnson passed away, leaving a giant baseball legacy. Bidwell and the Foss Insurance team were determined to win a championship in Johnson’s memory. He promptly stepped into the role of manager and guided Foss Insurance to the 2015 playoff championship. Bidwell finally retired in 2017 after a 43-year twilight league career. He handed the team over to player-manager, Mark DiTommaso who gave way to Tyler Repoli, the current player-manager of the same franchise – the Manchester-based, Rainbow Graphics.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell (top, left) with Foss Insurance, Playoff Champions, 2015.

Bidwell, a 12-time All-Star, was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in 2018. Bidwell’s journeyman career was one of the best amateur feats in Greater Hartford baseball history. According to Bidwell, he won, “More than 250 games and lost about 80…a few no-decisions, but not many.” In recent years, Dave has been spotted attending GHTBL playoff games as a fan.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Marlborough Braves, 2017.

Outside of baseball, Bidwell obtained a political science degree from Assumption College in 1979. Since 1981, he’s an employee at Kaman Aerospace in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Bidwell has been an avid music fan and concert goer for most of his adult life. He now resides in Manchester, Connecticut, and is a father of two daughters. Join us in congratulating “Doc” on an incredible baseball career.

In the Day of Louis Sockalexis

Major League debut: April 22, 1897
Position: Right Fielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Born: October 24, 1871 in Indian Island, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913 in Burlington, Maine
Education: University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) & College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894.

In 1899, the Hartford Base Ball Club of the Class-A Eastern League signed outfielder, Louis Francis Sockalexis. He was the first Native American to play professional baseball and the first person of color to play for Hartford. When he arrived in Hartford, Sockalexis was noticeably overweight and battling an alcohol addiction. Also called “Sock” or “Sox,” he was once a five-tool outfielder who experienced a meteoric rise and fall during the Deadball Era.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899.

Sockalexis hailed from Indian Island, Maine and was a member of the Penobscot tribe. His athletic gifts earned him acceptance to College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he excelled in baseball, football and track. He then followed his Holy Cross baseball coach and transferred to University of Norte Dame. He played both outfield and pitcher while at Holy Cross and Notre Dame. In a sign of things to come, Sockalexis was expelled from Notre Dame in his first semester for consuming alcohol.

L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.
L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.

Fortunately for Sockalexis, Cy Young‘s Cleveland Spiders signed him to a major league contract on March 9, 1897. Sockalexis was so popular in Cleveland that fans and reporters later claimed him to be the source of the controversial “Indians” nickname. In his first big league season, Sockalexis appeared in 66 games, had a .338 batting average with three home runs, 42 RBI and 16 stolen bases. On July 1, 1897, he had five base hits in a game against St. Louis. Yet, a few days later, he got drunk, jumped from the second-story of a brothel and severely injured his ankle, which would affect his play and reputation.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.

Sockalexis struggled to regain his old form amid two more seasons in Cleveland. After being arrested for public drunkenness at a theatre, Cleveland released him in late May of 1899. A week later, Sockalexis landed with Hartford. Burdened by alcoholism, he slumped in the Charter Oak City. He hit for a .198 batting average in 91 at bats. His brief time in Hartford lasted about a month before manager Billy Barnie traded him to Bristol of the Connecticut State League.

Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.
Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.

Bristol eventually unloaded Sockalexis to Waterbury that same year. He ended the season with a .320 batting average. The Waterbury club wanted him back for the following season, but Sockalexis returned to Maine. A series of news reports detailed his arrests for public drunkenness, and the former baseball star was reduced to homelessness and vagrancy. He served intermittent time in jail but made a comeback in 1902 with Lowell of the New England League. At 30 years old, Sockalexis hit for a .288 average in his lone season with Lowell.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.

In 1907, Sockalexis signed his last baseball contract. He appeared with the Bangor club of the Maine State League. Sockalexis then found work as a lumberjack and lived at Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. He also piloted a ferryboat on which he enjoyed reading The Sporting News and newspapers left behind by passengers. Sockalexis continued to show interest in baseball, playing on amateur teams, coaching and umpiring.

Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.
Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.

He eventually stopped drinking to excess, but was not in the best of health. Sockalexis suffered from attacks of rheumatism and looked older than his age. In the fall of 1913, he joined a logging crew harvesting the northern woods of Maine. While felling a pine tree on Christmas Eve, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 42. Louis Sockalexis was buried in St. Anne Church Cemetery on Indian Island, Maine.

Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.
Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.

Today, Sockalexis is remembered as a pioneering figure. As the first Native American in the major leagues, he blazed a trail amidst widespread prejudice. Fans in various cities hollered racist epithets and made ignorant gestures towards Sockalexis throughout his career. Like Charles Bender, Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson, Sockalexis endured cruel discrimination while playing the game he loved. Though alcoholism did him in, Louis Sockalexis prevailed over racial attitudes of the time and momentarily achieved, baseball greatness.

Sources:

  1. Statistics: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sockach01.shtml
  2. SABR Bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a
  3. Louis Sockalexis – Remembering Now and Forever: http://sockalexis.net/

Meriden’s Jack Barry, 5-time World Series Champion

Meriden, Connecticut, native Jack Barry was a reliable shortstop in the early years of the American League. Most notably, he played on Connie Mack‘s fabled $100,000 Infield. Mack, who also began his baseball career in Meriden, signed Barry to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. At the time of his signing, Barry was captain of the Holy Cross baseball team in Worcester, Massachusetts. He wound up playing eleven seasons in the majors and won the World Series five times.

Jack Barry, Philadelphia Athletics, 1908.
Jack Barry, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Though Jack Barry had a mediocre .243 career batting average, he was a defensive wiz. He suited up for winning clubs every season of his career except for his rookie year and his last year. With Philadelphia, he earned World Series victories in 1910, 1911 and 1913. During the 1911 World Series, he slashed .368 against John J. McGraw‘s New York Giants dynasty, beating them in six games. Barry also appeared in the 1914 World Series but lost to the miracle Boston Braves. He was lauded by sportswriters as the A’s best glove and perhaps the best infielder in the American League.

$100,000 Infield – L to R: Stuffy McInnis, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Jack Barry and Eddie Collins, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Despite his talents, Barry was sold midseason in 1915 by Connie Mack to the Boston Red Sox, in part due to financial pressures caused by the nascent Federal League. Barry joined a Boston roster which included rookie pitcher, Babe Ruth. Alongside Ruth, Barry continued to win with a playoff bound club. At the 1915 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies and their ace, Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Red Sox took the series in five games.

Jack Barry, Boston Red Sox, 1915.
Jack Barry, Boston Red Sox, 1915.

In 1916, Barry appeared in 94 games during the Regular Season and Boston would repeat as champions. However, Barry did not appear in a playoffs game due to an injury. Instead, he served as Assistant Manager during the postseason under Holy Cross teammate and Red Sox manager, Bill Carrigan. The next season Boston’s owner Harry Frazee promoted Barry to player-manager. However, by the middle of 1917, a patriotic Barry became one of the first professional ballplayers to enlist for World War I.

I consider it my duty to do all I can for my country…I’m no slacker. If I can be of any use, I’ll quit baseball.”

Jack Barry, Washington Times, July 29, 1917.
L to R: Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan, Jack Barry and Vean Gregg of the Boston Red Sox, 1915.

Barry and four other Red Sox players enlisted as yeomen in the Naval Reserve. They were called to active duty and ordered to report on November 3, 1917. Barry and his teammates were stationed at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston throughout the 1918 season. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth and the rest of the Red Sox captured another World Series. On the orders of his commanding officer, Barry managed a major league caliber team on the base. The servicemen were known as Jack Barry’s Charlestown Navy Yard nine, but they called themselves the Wild Waves.

Braves Field, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1920.

Barry’s Navy Yard All-Stars featured two future Hall of Fame inductees: Herb Pennock and Rabbit Maranville. Other star players included King Bader and Ernie Shore. The Navy used their star power to boost morale at home and abroad. The Wild Waves matched up against amateur, college and professional clubs and on a few occasions, performed before an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans at Braves Field and in Boston.

Babe Ruth, Jack Barry and Rabbit Maranville, Braves Field, 1935.

Due to Barry’s year-long absence from the Red Sox, owner Frazee hired Ed Barrow as Boston’s manager in 1919. Then in June, Barry was traded back to Philadelphia as part of a four-man deal. At 32 years old with an ailing knee, Barry was no longer the player he had once been. He retired a few weeks later. In his major league career, Barry compiled 1,009 hits, 10 home runs and 429 RBI in 1,223 games. Even though he never made the AL All-Star Team, Barry exhibited defensive dependability and winning intangibles.

Jack Barry, Manager, Holy Cross, with Joe Cronin, Infielder, Boston Red Sox, 1937.

In 1921, Jack Barry was tapped to be head coach at his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross. His coaching days were just as successful as his playing career. He compiled the highest career winning percentage (.806) in collegiate baseball history and won the 1952 College World Series. Barry was head coach at Holy Cross for more than forty years until his death in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts at age 73. In 1966, he was among the first class of inductees to the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Barry also became an inaugural veteran inductee of the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, along with Lou GehrigChristy Mathewson and Joe Sewell.

Jack Barry (right), Manager, Holy Cross, 1951.

A few miles away from where he grew up on Grove Street, Jack Barry was laid to rest at Sacred Heart Cemetery. The City of Meriden and its residents honored his legacy by creating Jack Barry Little League. The youth league existed from 1950 until 2020, when it merged with Ed Walsh Little League, after Ed Walsh – another major leaguer from Meriden. In Worcester, Massachusetts, the Little League program has retained the name Jack Barry Little League to this day.

Sources

  1. Meriden’s Jack Barry and the Wild Waves by Michael Griffen on Slideshare.net.
  2. Jack Barry SABR Bio Project entry by Norman Macht.
  3. Various articles found on Newspapers.com.

Jack Rich, Most Valuable Player of 2021

Back in September of this year, outfielder/relief pitcher, Jack Rich of the Record-Journal Expos was unanimously voted Most Valuable Player of the Regular Season by league managers. The Expos were 10-8 on the season and 3-2 in the playoff tournament. Jack batted an impressive .475 while appearing in all 18 games with the Meriden-based franchise. In 59 at bats, he had 28 hits, 9 runs, a home run, 22 RBI and a league-leading 9 doubles. He also pitched 9 innings in relief. Jack has been a mainstay for the Expos since 2019.

Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich featured in Record-Journal, 2021.

Jack Rich grew up in South Meriden, Connecticut, playing baseball and basketball. He’s a graduate of Wilcox Technical High School and now attends Eastern Connecticut State University. As a key part of the Warriors baseball team, Jack has compiled a .315 batting average with 4 home runs, 49 RBI and a .399 on base percentage thus far during his college career. He will begin his senior year this coming spring, seeking a Little East Conference title and a Division-III College World Series.

Jack Rich makes the All-Star team, 1997.

Bill Masse, A Baseball Life

Manchester, Connecticut’s Bill Masse was a baseball careerist, an Olympic gold medalist and a minor league insider. He spent 9 seasons in the minors as an outfielder, 13 years as a coach, another 13 years as a scout and one year in a Hollywood movie. Masse’s story began at East Catholic High School in Manchester, CT, where he won a State Championship in 1983. The following year, he led the Eagles to a conference title and was selected to the Class-L All-Star Team.

Connecticut’s Class-L All-Star Team, 1984.

After an impressive tenure with Manchester’s American Legion Post 102, Masse joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. In the summer of 1984, he was a rookie in the Moriarty Brothers lineup and won the Season Title and Playoff Championship. Masse went 10 for 13 at the plate with 12 runs to secure the Playoff MVP. He matriculated to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and made instant waves in his freshman year as a leadoff center fielder.

Masse secures Playoff MVP and GHTBL Playoff Championship for Moriarty Brothers, 1984.

In 1985, Masse snatched the Southern Conference batting title with a .430 batting average. He tied Davidson’s single-season home run record (10) and set the school record for stolen bases (28). The 19 year old Masse earned All-Conference laurels and the SoCon Freshman Player of the Year Award. Masse achieved another All-Conference season in 1987 at Davidson and was honored as an American Baseball Coaches Association All-American.

Masse hits grand slam to defeat UConn, 1987.

Throughout his college years Masse spent summers aboard the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He performed exceptionally, earning two Cape League All-Star nods (1985 and 1987). Masse was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 12th round of the 1987 MLB Draft, but he pursued a dream to compete in the Olympics. Team USA Baseball recruited Masse for the Intercontinental Cup of 1987 and he mashed a .317 batting average with 3 long balls. Along with teammates, Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez and Charles Nagy, Masse won the silver medal.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Team USA, 1987.

Soon thereafter, Masse transferred to Wake Forest University to play for his Cape League coach, George Greer. Masse batted .422 for the Demon Deacons in his senior year. He wrapped 24 homers with 77 RBI, 83 runs and 35 steals in 58 games. Masse was sixth in NCAA Division-I in total bases (197) and named a 1st Team All-American. At the 1988 MLB Draft, the New York Yankees picked him in the 7th round, however Masse decided to forgo professional baseball once again, in favor of international competition.

BIll Masse, Outfielder, Wake Forest University, 1988.

Though he was offered a roster spot in Double-A, Masse choose to reappear on Team USA. As the regular right fielder, he hit .200 and scored 11 runs in 11 games at the 1988 Baseball World Cup in which Team USA finished runner-up to Cuba. A few weeks later, Team USA seized first place at 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, wherein Masse had a .314 batting average. To this day, he remains the only person from Manchester, Connecticut, to win an Olympic gold medal.

Bill Masse makes public appearance after winning Olympic Gold Medal, Manchester, Connecticut, 1988.

In 1989, Masse finally reported to the minor leagues with the New Yankees organization. He was assigned to the Prince William Cannons along with his high school teammate, Larry Stanford. Masse batted .239 for the Cannons with a league-high 89 walks. After splitting the 1990 season between Fort Lauderdale and Albany, he served a full season with Albany in 1991. That year, he deposited a .295 batting average and led the Eastern League in on base percentage.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Prince William Cannons, 1989.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1990.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1991.

Masse eventually earned a promotion to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in 1992. He swatted new career-highs in 1993: a .316 batting average, 81 runs scored, 91 RBI, 19 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a league-high, 82 walks. He finished fourth in the International League in batting average and second to Jim Thome in on base percentage. Masse was named an All-Star and bestowed with Player of the Year among Yankees farmhands.

“I feel like I deserve to go up because I’ve proved myself all year. I feel like I could go up there and perform if I could just get my chance.”

Bill Masse, Hartford Courant, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.

Though he would never reach the majors, Masse competed alongside several legendary Yankees including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. After a taste of the big leagues during Spring Training, Buck Showalter cut Masse from New York’s 40-man roster. In 1995, the Yankees released him after 47 games with Columbus. The following year, the Boston Red Sox signed Masse to a minor league contract, though back problems prevented him from continuing.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1994.

In 1998, Masse was cast as the character of Mike Robinson in Kevin Costner’s “For the Love of the Game.” Then he pivoted to coaching and became an assistant coach at his alma mater, Wake Forest. Masse spent four years in the Montreal Expos system working his way up from hitting coach to manager. The New York Yankees organization welcomed him back as hitting coach of the Tampa Yankees in 2001. He managed the Greensboro Bats in 2002 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bill Masse, Manager, Vermont Expos, 1997.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Vermont Expos, 1997.

In 2003, Masse went back to manage the Tampa Yankees and stayed in that position until the end of 2004. Then he was promoted to manager of the Trenton Thunder in 2005. Next, he managed the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2007 and then the San Antonio Missions in 2008. MLB All-Stars such as Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera developed in the minors under Masse’s watch.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2001.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2003.
Bill Masse, Manager, Tampa Yankees, 2004.

“I turned over a TV, a microwave, a coffee pot. It cost me a little bit of money. It was not a pretty sight. It was ugly. But it worked.”

Bill Masse recalls a successful clubhouse tactic in 2007.
Bill Masse, Manager, Trenton Thunder, 2006.
Bill Masse, Manager, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, 2007.

In 2009, Masse concluded his on-field career as hitting coach for the Double-A Binghamton Mets and the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He pursued a new role as a scout for the Seattle Mariners. From 2011 to 2013, he was Seattle’s Eastern Supervisor of Pro Scouting. Around this time, Masse owned a training facility in Hartford, Connecticut, once known as Baseball City. When Derek Jeter became President of the Miami Marlins in 2017, Masse sold his business and accepted a new scouting role from his former teammate, Jeter.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Binghamton Mets, 2009.

Former Hartford Courant sports editor, Ed Yost, once ranked Bill Masse among the ten best male athletes from Manchester. Masse’s spectacular baseball career garnered him an induction into the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. His family resides in Manchester. His sons, Easton and Rowan Masse, play baseball and hockey at Westminster School in Simsbury, CT. Bill Masse continues to work as a scout for the Miami Marlins.

Bill Masse (right), East Catholic High School Class of 1983 with his coach, Jim Penders Sr., 2021.

Sources

  1. Bill Masse player profile on Baseball-Reference.com
  2. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com

Bernie Williams Began his Career in the Twilight League

Before achieving stardom with the New York Yankees, Bernie Williams spent a summer in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. The story started when Williams was 16 years old. He was discovered by Yankees scout Roberto Rivera in Puerto Rico, however the right-handed outfielder was too young to sign a contract. The Yankees decided to stash Williams in Connecticut at Big League Baseball Camp on the campus of Cheshire Academy. His camp instructor, Frank Mohr, recruited Williams to play for GHTBL’s Katz Sports Shop team in the summer of 1985.

Bernie Williams’ signed Katz Sports Shop jersey, 1985.

As a teenaged prospect, Williams saw limited playing time in the twilight league among college-level competition. In 20 at bats for Katz Sports Shop, he had 4 hits. The team’s player-manager, Dave Katz once reminisced of Williams: “He was a really nice kid. He was shy, like he is now. He was so quiet, you didn’t even know he had a Spanish accent. Everybody on the team took to him. One thing does stick out in my mind. I hate to mention this; he dropped a routine fly ball in one game. But I remember my first baseman telling me that people at the camp said Bernie had all the tools.”

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1993.

The Yankees signed Williams as an undrafted free agent by September of 1985. It was the start of a 20-year professional career, solely with the Yankees. Williams played rookie ball in Florida’s Gulf Coast League and spent six years in the minors developing into a switch-hitter. He broke into the majors in 1991 and became a fixture in center field at Yankee Stadium until 2006.

Bernie Williams featured in Record-Journal, 1996.

Williams was a 4-time World Series champion with the second most postseason home runs (22) in major league history behind Manny Ramirez (29). Williams compiled a career .297 batting average, 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 1,366 runs scored, 449 doubles and a .990 fielding percentage. He earned five All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award, the 1996 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award and the American League (AL) batting title in 1998.

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1998.
Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 2005.

Known for consistency and postseason heroics, Bernie Williams is considered one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history. He is also an all-time New York Yankees great. The team honored Williams by retiring his uniform number (#51) and dedicating a plaque to him in Monument Park in 2015. Nowadays, he is an accomplished jazz guitarist. Following his retirement from baseball, Williams released two jazz albums and was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

Record-Journal newspaper excerpt, 2015.

Author’s aside: The baseball world took Bernie Williams for granted. We did not realize the magnitude and depth of his career while he was an active player. What a story and what an interesting character. Much love Bernie!

Sources

  1. Bernie Williams page on Baseball-Reference.com

2. Record-Journal newspaper database on Newspapers.com.

Baseball Bloodlines: The Burnham Brothers

The Burnham brothers are two of the best baseball players ever to hail from South Windsor, Connecticut. Gary Burnham Jr. and Brett Burnham, sons of Deborah and Gary Burnham Sr. each became minor leaguers and traveled to world doing what they loved. Separated by six and a half years, the brothers were heavily influenced by their grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. and their uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. both of whom also played professional baseball.

Gary Burnham Jr.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 13, 1974, Gary Burnham showed athletic promise from an early age. At 15 years old he was a left-handed prospect who corked a .500 batting average for South Windsor’s American Legion Post 133. To develop his skills against more experienced players, he competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League in between his legion schedule. As a teenager, he manned the outfield and filled in at first base for the Moriarty Brothers franchise, managed by twilight legend Gene Johnson.

Gary Burnham graduated from South Windsor High School where he earned four varsity letters in baseball and football. As captain, hed led South Windsor baseball to the Class-L State Championship in his senior year and was named All-Conference, All-State and All-American along with Gatorade’s CT High School Player of the Year.

Gary won the Hugh Greer Award as an outstanding athlete of South Windsor’s Class of 1993. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 1993 MLB Draft but instead, Gary chose to accept an athletic scholarship to Clemson University in South Carolina. 

As a freshman at Clemson, Gary started in left field and batted fifth. Clemson was ranked first in the nation during most of the 1994 season. In 1995, he spearheaded a College World Series run and achieved All-ACC and All-American honors, walloped a .344 batting average and ranking second in NCAA Division-I with 27 doubles.

That summer the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League tapped Gary. After a formidable performance, he was selected to the 1995 Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Fenway Park and secured Most Valuable Player of the game.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clemson University, 1994.

In 1996, Baseball America ranked Gary Burnham as the 56th “Best College Prospect” and as a Third Team Preseason All-American. He took Clemson to their second College World Series appearance and was voted to the All-ACC team. The Oakland A’s selected Gary in the 40th round of the 1996 MLB draft, but again, he refused to sign and returned to the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores.

During his senior year, he led the Tigers in almost every offensive statistic and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He hit .391 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 106 hits and set a program record with 77 doubles.

For a third time Gary was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft. It was the start of a 14 year professional career highlighted by 11 years in the minors and 4 seasons in Asia. He got his start in rookie ball on the Batavia Clippers of the New York-Pennsylvania League and led his club in base hits, batting average and total bases.

In 1998, he was promoted to High-A ball with the Clearwater Phillies alongside Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Gary crashed a .296 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples and 93 runs, while leading all Florida State League first basemen with a .994 fielding percentage.

Gary won another promotion to the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1999, where he split time between first base and outfield. He compiled 12 home runs and 49 RBI over 116 games, though his batting average slumped to .249. The next season, Gary bounced back, hitting .268 with 28 doubles for Reading. In 2001, he suited up for a third season with Reading and hit .318 with 25 doubles and 15 homers. He had the best average in the Phillies farm system, which was third-best in the Eastern League.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2001.

After five seasons with the Phillies organization, Gary ended up being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training of 2002. The Blue Jays gave the 27-year-old his first shot at the Triple-A level with the 2002 Syracuse SkyChiefs.

Gary had a career year, hitting .281 with 151 base knocks, 34 doubles, 17 home runs and 88 RBI. He paced Syracuse in RBI and was chosen as the team’s MVP. He also led the Blue Jays organization with 238 total bases, was third in the International League in RBI and had the most assists among all first basemen.

Gary Burnham (right) and teammate, Kevin Cash, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2002.

In 2003, Gary served as Toronto’s Triple-A backup plan for their star first baseman, Carlos Delgado. Gary carved out a .269 batting average for Syracuse with 9 home runs in an off-year. He then split the 2004 season between the St. Louis Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds affiliate (.292 in 35 games) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Louisville Bats club (.261 in 69 games).

In 2005, the 30-year-old southpaw played for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He led his team in runs (75), doubles (32), home runs (18) and RBI (84). Gary finished second in the Atlantic League with a .320 batting average. He was saluted with All-Star honors and awarded team MVP of the Bluefish.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2003.

Gary started the following season with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He began the year batting .319 over 19 games and played well. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice and signed Gary to another minor league contract on May 23, 2006. He went on to clobber a .341 batting average in 80 games for the Double-A Reading Phillies with 16 homers and 60 RBI.

He was recognized as a Topps National Player of the Month for hitting 10 dingers in August. Despite missing about a month of the season, Gary achieved the Triple Crown in the Phillies farm system and set the Reading Phillies career home run record (56).

Gary Burnham, Reading Phillies, 2006.
Paul Galloway & Gary Burnham at Clemson Alumni Game, 2006.

At the end of 2006, the Phillies called him up to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Gary had a torrid hot stretch hitting .391 average, 9 runs and 8 RBI in 10 games. It was clear that he was a major league caliber player, but the Phillies had 2006 MVP Ryan Howard at first base.

Gary remained in Triple-A in 2007, starting at designated hitter, first base and outfield for the Ottawa Lynx of the International League. After batting .292 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 84 RBI and a league-best on base percentage, Ottawa dubbed him team MVP.

After concluding his minor league career in the United States, Gary welcomed new opportunities from abroad. In the off-season, he made appearances in the Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League.

Then in 2008, Gary signed a contract with the La New Bears of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over a total of 70 games for the Bears, he batted .323 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. At 33 years old, he set a league record among foreign-born players by hitting in 23 consecutive games.

Gary with his wife, Rachel Burnham in 2009.

Gary parlayed his Taiwan season’ into a role in Japan. He joined the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, managed by Bobby Valentine. In a game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Gary hit a game-winning homer off of future New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka.

Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary was also selected to team Italy’s preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he did not compete in the tournament. However in 2010, he inked his last professional deal with the Godo Knights of the Italian Baseball League, ranking top ten in most offensive categories.

Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary retired from professional baseball at 35 years old. In total, he amassed 155 home runs, 856 RBI, a .293 career batting average and a .375 on base percentage. He was also an underrated defender; in 662 minor league games, he maintained a .992 fielding percentage with only 51 errors. Gary was named an all-star at every minor league level and received three team MVP awards.

Gary Burnham accepting his induction into Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, 2016.

In 2010, the Reading Phillies named him to the All-Decade team. Then in 2016, the Reading Phillies inducted Gary Burnham into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in the same class as Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell.

L to R: Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Gary Burnham, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell – Reading Phillies Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

During his professional career, Gary spent several off-seasons as a substitute teacher and a baseball instructor in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, he helped to establish the South Windsor Phillies franchise in the GHTBL. 

Gary Burnham reunites with Bobby Valentine at a World Series Club event, West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017.

Nowadays, he gives private and group lessons as owner of Gary Burnham Baseball Instruction in South Windsor. He works in surgical device sales as National Accounts Manager of Vanguard Medical while operating a real estate investment business, GRB Properties LLC. Gary lives in South Windsor with his wife Rachel and their three children.

Gary Burnham sets Reading Phillies career home run record, 2006.

Brett Burnham

Born January 1, 1981, Brett Burnham was a tough kid and natural athlete who began his teenage years by overcoming cancer. At the age of 13, Brett made his first appearance on the national stage with the Connecticut Mariners at the 1994 AAU National Tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Brett was named Most Valuable Player after hitting a grand slam and pitching four hitless innings in relief to win the championship. His head coach was longtime AAU contributor, Bob Hetu. The following year, Brett smashed a three-run homer and was the driving force to another AAU national title run in Cocoa, Florida.

Brett Burnham attended South Windsor High School whe