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 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. In part due to effects of the Great Depression, no minor league club represented the city until February of 1938. The vacancy was filled by the Boston Bees of the National League who decided to relocate their Class-A minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Boston Bees owner, Bob Quinn, leased Bulkeley Stadium, 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 General 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 went through in the Eastern League (and still do 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 a highly anticipated attraction. 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 newspapers like the Hartford Times nicknamed them the Laurels. Despite conflicting mascots and disagreement among proofreaders, fans turned out in the thousands to 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.
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.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.

The next year, Hartford signed big league veteran Fresco Thompson as player-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. 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.

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.
Billy "Whitey" Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1945
Billy “Whitey” Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 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.
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.

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.

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