Hartford Twilight League History
Established in 1929
The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is one of America's oldest baseball leagues. Previously known as the City Amateur League and the City Indepenedent Twilight League in the 1910's and 1920's, the league regoranized in the summer of 1929. Local sporting goods store owner, Harry N. Anderson of Hartford was the league's organizer and first President. The best amateur ballplayers in the Greater Hartford area converged on Colt Park during the summer months. In addition to the Hartford Twilight League, the Times Twilight League, Industrial League, Insurance League, Public Service League, and the Catholic League also competed at that time. It was the Golden Era of baseball when ballgames served as entertainment for thousands of fans rooting on their favorite local teams.
The Savitt Gems
The most prolific team in the early years of the Hartford Twilight League was the Savitt Gems, sponsored and organized by Bill Savitt of Savitt Jewelers on Asylum Street. Savitt and his Gems fielded some of the best ballplayers in Connecticut for two decades. In 1930, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Duffy Lewis was a heavy hitter in the Gems lineup. As was George Dixon, a towering third baseman and Walter Berg who pitched the Gems to three straight Hartford Twilight League championships. From humble beginnings, the Savitt Gems became a formidable semi-pro club, known throughout baseball as generous hosts to major league clubs and great stars of the game at Hartford's Bulkeley Stadium.
Amateur Ballplayers Become Local Heroes
The Holy Name nine also became an outstanding franchise in their own right. The "Names" were the first Hartford Twilight League team to advance players into professional baseball. A double-play duo of Bert Meisner and Pete Kapura signed with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in 1931. Holy Name's first baseman, Jigger Farrell was an natural ballplayer and solid batsman. Ferrell would become a mainstay player-manager for the Savitt Gems throughout their semi-professional years. Other teams in the league during the 1930's included Check Bread, Mahoney's Service, Mayflower Sales, and Home Circle.
The Twi-loop Develops Prospects
A left-handed hurler named Pete Naktenis of the Mayflower Sales team was the first Hartford Twilight League player to debut in the Major Leagues. In 1936, the Hartford Public High School and Duke University graduate signed to pitch for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Meanwhile, another fireball pitcher named Johnny Taylor played for the Home Circle team. Taylor, a Bulkeley High School alumnus was actively scouted by the New York Yankees but was barred from Major League Baseball due to racial discrimination. After two seasons in the Hartford Twilight League and guest appearances for the Savitt Gems, Taylor signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues in 1935. Two years later in a Negro League All-Star game, Taylor threw a no-hitter against legendary ace, Satchel Paige at the Polo Grounds in a 2-0 win. Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor was signed to pitch by the Hartford Chiefs of the Boston Braves organization in 1949, making him Hartford's first professional black athlete.
Gems Host Big League Stars
In 1937, the the Hartford Twilight League split into the East Hartford Twilight League and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Meanwhile, Bill Savitt put his Gems on display against semi-pro and major league clubs at Bulkeley Stadium. During World War II, the Gems entertained fans in Hartford with grand events and charity ballgames. On September 29, 1942, Ted Williams played left field for the Savitt Gems versus the New Britain Cremos. "The Kid" batted clean-up, went 2 for 3 on the day, and hit a game-winning solo home run in a 2-1 contest. On September 30, 1945, Bill Savitt welcomed Babe Ruth to Hartford. Ruth played for the Gems in a post-war benefit game against a squad of National League all-stars playing for the New Britain Codys. At 50 years old, Ruth put on a home run hitting display in batting practice. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter and grounded out to the pitcher. Babe Ruth's cameo with the Gems would mark the Great Bambino's final appearance in a ballgame.
The Twilight League Resumes After World War II
After World War II, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League reorganzized under the leadership of League President, John "Bud" Mahon who later became Mayor of Hartford. Teams like Lenny's YT, West Hartford Merchants, and Columbia A.C. featured skillful ballplayers, many of whom had just returned home from war abroad. A talented team of servicemen was the 1950 Nutmeg Dukes; the first African-American entry into the GHTBL. The Dukes dominated their competition and won the 1950 regular season and playoff championships. The team's star shortstop, Harold "Hal" Lewis went on to play professional baseball after signing with the Boston Braves in 1951.
St. Cyril’s Leads the League
The 1950's were a decade of growth for the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Moe Drabowsky of Windsor, Nick Koback of Hartford and Joey Jay of Middletown signed professional contracts and had long careers in the Major Leagues. Many more professional players would follow, yet the league retained its highly competitive status. During this time, perhaps no team was more succesful than the St. Cyril's club. They won 5 championships from 1951 to 1960. St. Cyril's was commanded by long-time Manager, Ed Kostek and the team was comprised of local star athletes such as Al Phelon, a crafty moundsman, Bill George, a veteran catcher and a speedy outfielder named Ed Samolyk.
Company Teams Flourish
Throughout the 1950's and 1960's manufacturing corporations sponsored twilight league franchises. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Hamilton Standard, and Valco Machine dominated the standings. From 1953 to 1957, Pratt & Whitney earned a total of 6 league and playoff championships. Nicknamed the "Props," they were led by their Manager and former big leaguer, John "Bunny" Roser. Prominent players for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft included Paul Chicon, a strong hitting outfielder, and Parker Swan, a pitcher with great command. Soon thereafter, Hamilton Standard outdid their Aircraft rivals by winning 8 championships from 1955 to 1966 behind their star catcher and player-manager, Wally Widholm.
Gene Johnson and his Moriarty Brothers
In 1964, the Moriarty Brothers franchise began their domination of the Hartford Twilight League. Moriarty's was sponsored by a car dealership owner and GTHBL Hall of Famer, Matt Moriarty of Manchester. Nicknamed the “Comets” for their fast play, the Moriarty Brothers roster was stacked with former professional ballplayers. Moriarty's was steered by pitchers like Pete Sala, Leverette Spencer, and John Serafini. Standout batters included Bob Carlson, Jim Balesano, Leo Veleas, Rich Riordan and their MVP, player-manager Gene Johnson. The Moriarty Brothers dynnasty holds an all-time Hartford Twilight League record of 28 total championships.
Johnson Goes Pro
Gene Johnson would become a cornerstone of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. His dedication to the league was unparalleled, compiling a record of 57 years in the league as a player and manager. Johnson entered the league with St. Cyril's in 1953 while attending Manchester High School at the age of 17. He then chased his dream to play professional baseball in 1955, signing with the New York Giants and embarking on a seven year minor league career. In 1962, Johnson was playing in the Milwaukee Braves organization when he was demoted to a Class B affiliate despite earning a .315 batting average. Rather than report, Johnson returned to Connecticut to raise a family with his wife Helen.
Gene Johnson the Twilight Legend
Johnson's professional days may have come to a close but his Hartford Twilight career was just getting started. He came home to play for Moriarty Brothers, which later became Newman Lincoln-Mercury, and assumed the role of player-manager in 1962. Overall, Gene Johnson won 34 twilight championships, 5 batting titles and was named "Player of the Half Century" in 1982. His quick bat, his glovework at third base and his fierce competitive attitude led him to play baseball well into his 50's. Johnson even made an appearance in a game at 75 years old, when his team needed an extra outfielder. Johnson passed away on November 10, 2014 at the age of 77. In 2015, Gene's long-time franchise, then named Foss Insurance, won the playoff championship in his honor.
During the 1970's the Bristol Cassins challenged Moriarty Brothers as the top team in the Hartford Twilight League. The Cassins conquered the league from 1974 to 1978 under the leadership of their sponsor, Don Cassin and manager, Joseph Lowery. The team's Most Valuable Player, Luke Lamboley guarded third base and thier ace on the monund was Michael Beaudoin. A powerful lineup of hitters included Robert "Duke" Snyder, Dave Cichon, Jim Ziogas and Dave Raponey who dominated opposing pitching. The Cassins won a total of 4 GHTBL championships and is remebered as one of the league's best hitting teams.
The 1980's brought about a new dynasty team named the Newington Capitols. Also known as the "Caps", they entered the Hartford Twilight League in 1982 and quickly enjoyed success. The Caps won 5 playoff championships in 6 years. The team did not easily give up runs behind the professional caliber pitching of Jim Snediker, Mike Schweighoffer, and Tim Zerio. Dave Sacco was the team's player-manager as well as Most Valueable Player. A talented lineup of sluggers inlcuded Scott Cormier, Mike Magnifico, Gino Caro, and Dave Rose. Thier run in the GHTBL ended in 2001, though the Newington Capitols caputred a grand total of 14 GHTBL championships.
Frank McCoy and the Vernon Orioles
Back in 1966, Frank McCoy Sr. formed, sponsored, and managed the Vernon Orioles. McCoy, a Hartford attorney and later a four-term Mayor of Vernon, managed the team until 1998. Known as "Mr. Vernon Oriole" McCoy served as GHTBL Vice President until his passing in 2010. In his last few years, McCoy would sit on the sideline cheering on his beloved Orioles as their sponsor and "10th man." He was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame as one of the most passionate supporters that the league has ever had. Thanks to McCoy, the Vernon Orioles have become one of the most succesful GHTBL franchises of in the history of the league, winning 14 total championships.
Bank Sponsored Franchise Backed by Abbruzzese
Since 1976, Tom Abbruzzese has managed the same GHTBL franchise. Abbruzzese initially managed Society for Savings Bank with his father, Mike Abbruzzese. They fielded strong teams manned by the likes of Mark Riemer, David Gale and Kevin Gieras. Society for Savings eventually became Bank of Boston and then People’s Bank in the summer of 2000 and won the league that same year. Tom Abbruzzese's franchise has amassed 15 playoff and regular season championships. Tom has recruited and advanced numerous professional ballplayers to and from the Hartford Twilight year after year. With Abbruzzese at the helm, People's United Bank is a perennial contender for league supremacy.
A New Era in the Twilight League
2004 marked the 75th anniversary of the GHTBL. That year, the Bristol Merchants began their run of success, winning a total of 9 championships in 6 years. The league's Meriden-based franchise, now the Record-Journal Expos, have earned 4 titles since 2006. From 2011 to 2013, the Ferguson Waterworks franchise, led by their captain Greg Annino, acheived 3 consecutive championship seasons. The Vernon Orioles have proved to be the class of the league. Managed by Jack Ceppetelli, and led by players such as Nick Roy, Dan Trubia, Tony Trubia and Tyler Pogmore, the Orioles have enjoyed 6 consecutive championship seasons.
New and Old Franchises Compete
The East Hartford Jets have competed in the GHTBL since 1970, winning a total of 4 championships. The Foss Inurance franchise took on a new sponsor in Rainbow Graphics of Manchester after a brief stint as the Marlborough Braves. The South Windsor Phillies joined the league in 2018, managed by GHTBL alummi, Ron Pizzanello and Gary Burnham Jr. Most recently, the league's Middletown-based franchise welcomed Malloves Jewelers back to the twlihgt league as sponsor after a 25 year hiatus. In 2015, the Connecticut Twilight League, previously known as the Manchester Twilight League, challenged the GHTBL to an All-Star game. The GHTBL All-Stars have remained unbeaten after 4 matchups.
Giving Back to the Greater Hartford Community
On Sunday, July, 9, 2017 the GHTBL hosted a "Charity Series" at Dunkin' Donuts Park. Four games were played and $5,641 in ticket proceeds were donated to Hartford's Camp Courant. On June 21st and 22nd of 2018 the league hosted a pair of doubleheaders that raised $4,500 for Connecticut Children's Medical Center. 8 strong teams are expected to compete in 2019 twilight season. Current and former college players as well as several ex-professionals will do battle for the season title and playoff championship in the GHTBL's 91st year.
Jack Repass Records League History
In 1979, the GHTBL celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Hartford native, Jack Repass (1924-2001) commemorated the milestone by publishing a 34-page booklet documenting the league’s history. Jack was one of three Repass brothers to play baseball in the Hartford Twilight League. Jack’s older brother Bob “Spike” Repass was a highly touted prospect who went on to play second base for the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators, and Hartford Chiefs. Jack Repass played for the St. Cyril’s nine before serving in the United States Navy served during the Korean War. He returned home and became manager of the Yellow Cab team in the GHTBL. Eventually, Repass worked as the sports information director at the University of Hartford, and later founded of the Greater Hartford Twilight League Hall of Fame.
1929 - 1930 1930 - 1935 1936 - 1937 1938 - 1950 1951 - 1966 1967 - 1976 1977 - 1981 1982 - 2005 2006 - 2013 2014 - 2015 2016 - 2017 2017 - Present
Harry N. Anderson John A. Barrett Frank Strong John "Bud" Mahon Louis J. Morotto John "Jack" Rose Rev. Thomas Campion James Gallagher Mark Foss Jane Foss Thomas Malinowski Bill Holowaty