Tag: bulkeley stadium

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 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. Detroit 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 appearances. He was a scrawny and inexperienced version of the player who became “Hammerin’ Hank.” He was the youngest player on a less than mediocre team. Greenberg cut his teeth with Hartford while in search of his persona as a right-handed power-hitter.

Hank Greenberg, Hartford Senators, 1930.

His Hartford teammates and manager called him by the nicknmae “Bruggy.” Greenberg’s first skipper was Lore “King” Bader, a former big leaguer known for his spit ball and a 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 in Raleigh 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.

When he returned to a baseball in 1945, and Greenberg and the Tigers claimed another World Series victory. Then in 1947, his final year, Greenberg was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome African-American player 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 only 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, Connecticut, A Pioneer Baseball Town

In February of 1938, news broke of a “Class A” Eastern League team relocating to Hartford. The Hartford Bees (also called Hartford Laurels and Hartford Senators) were established when Boston Braves owner, Bob Quinn moved his farm team from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Charter Oak City. Hartford had been deprived of a professional team since the end of 1934. Reacting to the announcement, Hartford Times sports columnist Dan Parker contextualized the historic news:

Bob Quinn, Boston Bees owner (left) signs lease of Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.

Hartford, one of baseball’s pioneer towns, is back in the game after being outside the pale for a half dozen years. True, it is a far cry and a big drop from one of the original franchises in the National League to membership in the Eastern, but Hartford folk while glorifying in the past, also want to do a bit of glorifying in the present, and, therefore welcome a Class A club without a trace of condescension.

Not only did Hartford furnish the National League with one of the charter clubs but it also gave the league its first president, the late Morgan G. Bulkeley. But that isn’t the 50 per cent of it, my little horned toads. Bob Ferguson, who managed the Hartford club and steered it into second place in its first season in baseball and finished third in its second and last year in the National, would have made the first unassisted triple play in history, were it not for the annoying circumstance that one man already had been retired when Bob made his “triple killing.”

It was Hartford, too, that was the victim of the first no-hit game in the National League. Not only that, but Hartford also invented the double header as a means of stimulating attendance. When it failed to work, the franchise was surrendered. But, in those days, Hartford was just a struggling small town and not the bustling metropolis it is today, with a toe-hold on most of the insurance business in America.

If there is a better city in its particular class than Hartford, I have yet to encounter it. The population is currently estimated at 175,000, but towns within easy driving distance swell the ball club’s potential customer list to close to a half million. The town is really in the International League class.

Hartford’s return to organized baseball is a happy home and for those other New England cities, rich in baseball history but now unhappily out of procession. It is almost unbelievable that good baseball towns like Providence, Wooster, New Haven, Springfield and—yes—dear old Waterbury, should be without representation and organized baseball for a decade, when they used to constitute the best minor league territory until the depression wrecked industrial New England.

Dan Parker, Hartford Times
Dan Parker, Hartford Times, 1938.

When the Washington Senators Came to Hartford

On September 23, 1930, the Washington Senators stepped off the train at Union Station in Hartford, Connecticut. The club was on their way to Boston for a four game series, but not before making a stop in the Charter Oak City. Washington was led by Hall of Fame pitching ace, and player-manager, Walter Johnson. The club rested up at Hotel Garde that Tuesday morning before their afternoon game at Bulkeley Stadium.

Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, looking south, 1930.

Opposing Washington was a team comprised of Eastern League All-Stars. The minor league team organized by Billy Gleason, a veteran second basemen from Springfield. Gleason invited his teammate Bill “Whitey” Dreesen, the Eastern League leader in hits. Other players in the Eastern League lineup included Hartford’s corner outfielder John “Bunny” Roser and a Hartford Twilight League pitcher named Fred “Cy” Waterman.

John “Bunny” Roser, 1930.

Local sporting goods store owner and founder of the Hartford Twilight League, Harry N. Anderson was responsible for scheduling the game. Anderson made arrangements with Washington’s owner Clark Griffith. Prices were 75 cents for grandstand seating, 50 cents for bleachers and 25 cents for children. Ticket proceeds were donated to the Hartford Chapter of Disabled American Veterans. Famous showmen Al Schacht and Nick Altrock performed hilarious comedy routines between innings.

Al Schacht in Hartford, 1938.

However, well-known names and newspaper publicity only brought 800 fans to the stadium. Tuesday afternoon was not a convenient time for fans, and there were economic reasons for the low attendance. Hartford, like most places in America at that time, were still in the grips of the Great Depression.

Hartford Courant excerpt, September 21, 1930.

Longtime Hartford umpires, Walter Elliot and John “Boggy” Muldoon worked the exhibition game at Bulkeley Stadium. First pitch was set for 4:15 PM. In the heart of the batting order for Washington was right fielder Sam Rice, left fielder Heinie Manush and shortstop Joe Cronin (all of which later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame). Washington was one of the most revered hitting teams in all of baseball.

John “Boggy” Muldoon, Umpire, 1930.

Unexpectedly, it was the minor leaguers who took an early lead. Bill Dreesen connected for a grand slam in the fourth inning. The game only lasted eight innings to allow the Senators to catch a train to Boston. Neil Dougherty and Billy Gleason each had two knocks on the day. The Eastern Leaguers won the game (9-8) thanks to a run scoring single by Jonathan “Mandy” Brooks.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1931.

The outcome would have been different if Walter Johnson pitched in the game. For whatever reason, Johnson decided not to throw. Perhaps he was focused on Washington’s remaining American League schedule. By the end of September, the Washington Senators had finished second in the American League with 94 wins and 60 losses, eight games behind the Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack’s World Series Champions.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com.
  2. Connecticut Historical Society on CHS.org/research