Tag: hamilton

Hal Lewis, Baseball Star from Hartford’s North End

Harold “Hal” James Lewis was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 4, 1927, to James Lewis and Lula Randolph Deloach. He grew up in the city’s North End and attended Weaver High School. After school Lewis joined the United States Army for eighteen months. He returned to Hartford in 1949 and gained employment as a metal worker at Hamilton Standard. Lewis was a star player for the Hamilton Standard company baseball team, also known as the “Propellers” or “Props.”

Hamilton Standard Propellers win the amateur state championship, 1950.

Lewis also suited up for an all-black team called the Nutmeg Dukes as an infielder and outfielder. Sometimes called the Hartford Dukes, they were initially formed in 1942 as an independent barnstorming club. Of the Dukes, Lewis said, “We wanted to play competitive baseball. We wanted to be in a league.” In 1950, the Dukes were admitted to Hartford Twilight League. As the first African-American club in league history, the Dukes dominated the competition by winning the regular season title and playoff championship.

In January of 1951, Lewis became the second African-American from Hartford to sign a professional baseball contract. His childhood friend, Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, was first a year earlier. Lewis appeared in 29 minor league games for the Quebec Braves, an affiliate of the Boston Braves. As the only black player on an all-white team in Canada, he was subjected to racial slurs and taunts. Two months into his first season, he packed his bags and returned home once more. Lewis was rehired at Hamilton Standard and continued to play baseball for the Windsor Locks based company.

For about fifteen years Hal Lewis excelled at the amateur level. With the Hamilton Standard Propellers, he was one of the best ballplayers in the Greater Hartford area. He proved it in 1953 when his Props were crowned state champions with Lewis at shortstop. The team was so highly regarded that they flew from Rentschler Field, East Hartford, to Dallas, Texas, to compete in a national tournament. Lewis’ teammates included GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees Wally Widholm, Ed Kukulka, and Dick Kelly.

Hamilton Standard Propellers, 1953.
Hamilton Standard travels to Texas, 1953.

After winning his first title in the Hartford Twilight League, Lewis jumped ship to another team. He led the Bloomfield Townies to a GHTBL Season Title in 1956. Lewis then returned the Props and went on to win seven more GHTBL pennants. In 1958, he set new league records for the most single-game (5) and single-season stolen bases. During this time, Lewis also played for a semi-pro team called the Meriden Knights.

Lewis retired from competitive baseball aftter more than twenty years. His last career came in 1968 when a veritable “who’s who” of twi-loop alumni played an Old-Timers Game at Dillon Stadium. 36 former twi-leaguers took part in the game. Lewis appeared alongside local greats like Johnny Taylor, Monk Dubiel, and Bob Repass. Famed broadcaster Bob Steele served as announcer.

GHTBL Old-Timers Game, 1968.

In 1969, Hal Lewis ventured into the restaurant business. Lewis changed careers, left Hamilton Standard behind, and established “Hal’s Aquarius” – a popular diner that once stood at 2978 Main Street, Hartford. Visiting celebrities, politicians, police officers, clergy and regulars congregated at Hal’s. Lewis worked sixteen hours per day and seven days a week. He ran the restaurant and catering business while raising three kids with his wife, Mary. Hal’s Aquarius operated until Lewis retired in 1989, due to failing health.

Lewis’ son, Hal Lewis Jr., 1987.

Hal Lewis was also a talented vocalist and musician. He sang at local clubs and performed with the Sam Kimble Band, Jasper Jenkins Trio, Paul Brown and others. After a comeback from heart problems, Lewis performed at a jazz concert in Bushnell Park in 2000. His performance with singer Kitti Kathryn and his solo renditions of “Fools Rush In” and “It’s Wonderful,” dazzled the crowd once more.

“I’m a happy guy, just a real happy guy. I’m having fun and I’m appreciative of everyone around me.”

– Hal Lewis, 2002

He was a successful entrepreneur, a singer and a revered ballplayer. As a member of Union Baptist Church, Lewis had a fun-loving personality with quick wits and a compassionate soul. Former Hartford Fire Chief John B. Stewart Jr. described Lewis as being ahead of his time. “He could do it all,” Stewart said, “He was one of the most talented men I know. He’s the last of old Hartford.” Hal Lewis departed this life on June 15, 2004, at his home in Bloomfield, Connecticut.