Tag: minor league

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.

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/.

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

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.

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:

Hartford All-Timer, Basilio Ortiz, ECSU Warrior Turned Professional

Basilio “Bo” Ortiz was a sensational outfielder with power, speed, arm strength and defensive ability. Ortiz grew up on Charter Oak Terrace in Hartford, Connecticut, and attended Bulkeley High School. In his junior year, he led the Maroons in batting (.467), RBI (17), home runs (3) and stolen bases (8). He had similar numbers in his senior year as captain of the team and became the first Bulkeley player to achieve All-State honors. By the end high school, his coach, Pete Kokinis called him, “One of the best to ever wear a Bulkeley baseball uniform.”

Basilio Oritz, Bulkeley High School, 1988.
Ortiz steals second, 1988.
Class LL All-State Team, 1988.

Ortiz was drafted out of high school by the San Francisco Giants in the 40th round of the 1988 MLB June Amateur Draft. Instead of signing, he accepted a scholarship to Eastern Connecticut State University. After his freshman year at ECSU, Ortiz made waves in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for the Newington Capitols. Ortiz batted .333 during the 1998 twilight league season and earned the Rookie of the Year award.

Hartford Courant features Ortiz, March 28, 1990.

As a sophomore leadoff hitter in 1990, Ortiz batted a team-high .370 in postseason play. He helped the Warriors win seven straight tournament games for the 1990 NCAA Division-III national title. That year, he batted .434 with 76 hits, 68 runs, 11 home runs, 41 RBI and 134 total bases en route to 1st team Division-III All-America laurels. In the summer, Ortiz suited up for the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Basilio Ortiz, Eastern Connecticut State University, 1991.
Basilio Ortiz, Eastern Connecticut State University, 1991.

Then, as a junior at ECSU, the 5’11”, 170-pound Ortiz batted .448 with 78 hits, 12 home runs, 62 RBI, 62 runs and 138 total bases. Again he was awarded the NCAA Division-III National Player of the Year. Ortiz was also recognized as one of five New England Division-III Athletes of the Year. At the conclusion of his college career, head coach Bill Holowaty praised Ortiz as, “the best player we’ve ever had.”

Basilio Ortiz accepts New England College Athletic Conference award, 1991.

Ortiz was selected in the 30th round of the 1991 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. In the summer of 1991, Ortiz had a successful start in the pros. In 56 plate appearances, he hit .307 in rookie ball for the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League. He was quickly promoted to Single-A with the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League. Ortiz spent the next two years between Single-A on the Frederick Keys and Double-A on Bowie Baysox.

Basilio Ortiz, Bluefield Orioles, 1991.
Basilio Ortiz, Frederick Keys, 1992.
Basilio Ortiz, Frederick Keys, 1993.

The best season of “Bo” Ortiz’s professional career came in 1994 for Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League. He compiled a career high .309 batting average with 10 home runs, 56 RBI and an .860 OPS. Towards the end of the season, Ortiz was traded to the California Angels organization and reported to central Texas, to play for the Midland Angels. In 1996, he was named to the Texas League All-Star team. After an injury-riddled season in 1997 with the Harrisburg Senators of the Montreal Expos organization, Ortiz played his last 60 games as a professional.

Basilio Ortiz, Midland Angels, 1995.
Basilio Ortiz, Midland Angels, 1996.

In 2007, Basilio Ortiz was inducted into the Eastern Connecticut State University Athletics Hall of Fame. Ortiz is regarded as the best outfielder, and among the best position players in program history. Ortiz ranks thirteenth all-time at ECSU with 204 career hits in three years, second all-time in career batting average (.415), first in slugging percentage (.729), fifth in home runs (29) and runs (180), sixth in doubles (43), tied for sixth in stolen bases (63), and seventh in total bases (358).


Sources
1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
2. Baseball-Reference.com

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.

Hartford’s Minor League Club, Part III: The Senators (1916-1934)

Minor Leagues

  • Eastern League (1916-1932)
  • Northeastern League (1934)

Championship Seasons

  • 1923 & 1931

Hartford Senators in the Baseball Hall of Fame


The Hartford Senators remain Connecticut’s most enduring sports franchise of all-time. For more than three decades (1902-1934) the Senators were Hartford’s headliner club. The minor league team became an elite training ground for the Major Leagues. Baseball legends like Lou Gehrig, Jim Thorpe, Leo Durocher and Hank Greenberg honed their skills in Hartford. The following chronology recounts the Senators franchise during their later years (1916-1934).

Hartford holds a practice at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1916.

By 1916, James H. Clarkin had owned the Hartford Senators for more than a decade. Clarkin’s club became a member of the Eastern League, a new Class-B circuit. Former Boston Red Sox champion and 15-year veteran, Heine Wagner signed as Hartford’s nascent player-manager. The Senators recruited Paddy O’Connor, a catcher with big league experience. George Brickley, a Trinity College alumnus and head baseball coach of Hartford Public High School, patrolled the outfield.

Heine Wagner, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1916.
Heine Wagner, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1916.
Members of the Hartford Senators, 1916.

A dismal first half of the 1916 season led to the release of Heine Wagner and a veteran gaffer, Jesse Burkett was appointed player-manager in his place. One day at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, the Hartford club was visited by soon-to-be Commissioner of Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Landis, who was famous for settling a lawsuit between the outlaw Federal League and Major League Baseball. Also on hand for the occasion was former Hartford manager Dan O’Neil, who had been appointed President of the Eastern League. The Senators finished the season in last place with a 38-79 record.

Hartford Senators & Judge Kenesaw Landis (standing, center), Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, Hartford, 1916.
Jesse Burkett, Hartford Senators, 1916.
Lefty Goldberg, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1916.
Lefty Goldberg, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1916.

In 1917, the Senators were managed by Boston native Louis Pieper who oversaw one of Hartford’s worst seasons. His pitching staff included Dave Keefe, a journeyman later picked by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, as well as workhorses Ralph Head and Fred Trautman. Their catcher, Bill Skaff appeared in his second season in Hartford. The team’s top hitters were shortstop, Roy Grimes and an Amherst College graduate named Eddie Goodridge from Bristol, Connecticut. Despite strong fan support, the club suffered a .359 winning percentage.

Fred Trautman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1917.
“Stuffy” Carroll, Catcher & Roy Grimes, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1917.
Emil Liston & Tencate, Hartford Senators, 1917.

The following year, another forgettable Eastern League season awaited Hartford. Owner Clarkin’s squad was headed by captain and player-manager, Gus Gardella. The club relied on pitchers Orlie Weaver, Andy Meyerjack and Glenn Cook. Their catcher Joe Briger hit .308 on the year. However, the 1917 season was cut short when the United States entered World War I. Every man in the nation was ordered to work or fight and as a result, the Eastern League disbanded in mid-July of 1918.

Infielders of the Hartford Senators, 1918.
Andy Meyerjack, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1918.

The Eastern League returned in 1919. The circuit was upgraded to Class-A status, a step below the Major Leagues. Two-time World Series champion, Danny Murphy became Hartford’s manager. However, a month into the season, James Clarkin abruptly fired Murphy and appointed shortstop Roy Grimes as player-manager. Frank Brazill, a corner infielder led batters with a .360 average in 225 at bats. Local star Eddie Goodridge returned to man first base after serving in the military. Though, the Senators struggled to keep opponents off the base paths, and the club landed in last place.

Management of the Hartford Senators, 1919.
George Casazza, Pitcher and Mickey Flaherty, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1919.
1919 Hartford Senators
Mayor Richard J. Kinsella tosses first pitch, 1919.
Danny Murphy, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1919.
Joe Baker, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1919.
L to R: Warren Adams, Roy Grimes, Frank Brazill (kneeling), Eddie Goodridge and Urban S. Williams of the Hartford Senators, 1919.

Reacting to another bungled season, James Clarkin turned the club upside down. With the exception of Ralph Head and Willie Adams, the entire 1920 Senators roster consisted of new players. Dan Howley was hired as manager and emergency catcher. Fred Bailey, a 24 year old outfielder and former Boston Braves prospect hit .303. George “Kewpie” Pennington had a 2.54 earned run average and won 16 of Hartford’s 70 wins. The club rose to fourth place, finishing only eight games behind first place New Haven.

James H. Clarkin, Owner, Hartford Senators, 1920.
Rex Cox, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1920.
Clarence Pickup, Outfielder and Ralph Head, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1920.
George “Kewpie” Pennington, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1920.

In 1921, owner Clarkin replaced the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds with a new venue. It was an elite venue of the minor leagues; with a grandstand made of steel and concrete, clubhouses and modern amenities. After fifteen years as owner, Clarkin doubled-down on his investment, even though winning was in short supply. The new facility became known as Clarkin Stadium (or Clarkin Field). Along with Providence, Hartford was the most coveted franchise in the Eastern League because of its central location and passionate fanbase. However, the stadium would not be ready for Opening Day and the Senators played their first two weeks on the road.

Clarkin Stadium, 1921.

Clarkin Stadium produced a higher level of baseball in Hartford. Legendary old-timer and 1884 World Series winner, Arthur Irwin accepted managerial duties and changed the franchise forever. Irwin scouted a 17 year old first baseman from Columbia University named Lou Gehrig. As a rookie phenom, Gehrig played a dozen games for the Senators in 1921. He assumed two different names, “Lefty Gehrig” and “Lou Lewis” presumably in an attempt to retain amateur status on his return to college. Gehrig would return Hartford but unfortunately the man who lured him to Connecticut would meet an untimely demise.

Players of the Hartford Senators, 1921.
Lou Gehrig, Hartford Senators, 1921.

On July 16, 1921, Hartford’s ailing manager, Arthur Irwin, jumped from the steamship Calvin Austin on a voyage from New York to Boston and perished. Former Hartford manager Thomas Dowd of the near-championship 1908 club was Irwin’s replacement. Dowd’s recurring role only lasted a month, and the team’s veteran catcher and 3-time World Series champion, Chester “Pinch” Thomas was appointed player-manager by August. One of the top performing Senators of 1921 was outfielder Hinkey Haines, who played a minor role on the New York Yankees during their 1923 World Series championship run.

Thomas J. Dowd, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1921.
Arthur Irwin (left) photographed in 1913.
L to R: James Crowley, Albert House, James Clarkin and Samuel Doty at Clarkin Stadium, 1921.

Connie Mack came to Hartford on a scouting trip near the end of the 1921 season and purchased Heinie Scheer. Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics offered Clarkin $5,000 for Scheer, a sure-handed, fleet of foot infielder. Scheer refused to go to Philadelphia unless Clarkin gave him a percentage of his transfer fee. Following a fifth place finish, owner Clarkin spoke to reporters and declared his frustration with major league clubs who poached his players.

Fred Bailey, Outfielder and Phil Neher, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1921.
Hinkey Haines, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1921.

In 1922, owner Clarkin signed world-famous Native American olympian, Jim Thorpe. In his brief time with the Senators, Thorpe crushed Eastern League pitching. His stint in Hartford would only last about six weeks. Upon being traded to Worcester, Thorpe criticized Clarkin’s methods, saying that he was pressured by Clarkin to more hit home runs. A few days after being traded, Thorpe led Worcester to two wins in a doubleheader over Hartford.

Hartford Courant pictorial of the Hartford Senators, 1922.
Jim Thorpe, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1922.

At the helm of the Senators during the Thorpe fiasco was a 35 year old player-manager, Jack Coffey. The club’s left fielder was Leo “Brick” Kane who achieved a third consecutive Eastern League season with 100 hits. Hartford had a rookie right fielder, Sy Rosenthal, who went on to play for 13 years in organized baseball. At third base was Ted Hauk, a fixture in Hartford’s lineup. The Senators of 1922 failed more often than they succeeded (73-76) and sunk to sixth in the standings.

Leo “Brick” Kane, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1922.
1922 Hartford Senators
Jack Coffey, Player-Manager, Hartford Senators, 1922.

Hartford’s lone constant, their owner James Clarkin hired a new manager in 1923. Paddy O’Connor, a former Senators catcher and a trusted baseball mind was paid a salary exceeding all other Eastern League managers. The club also welcomed back Lou Gehrig from Columbia University for 59 games. The budding star was 19 years old when he swatted a league record 24 home runs. Gehrig was a one man wrecking crew who led Hartford to the 1923 pennant. The Senators copped their first Eastern League title with a .640 winning percentage.

1923 Harford Senators – Owner James Clarkin (standing, center) and Lou Gehrig (seated, center).
Hartford Senators, Eastern League Champions, 1923.
Paddy O’Connor, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1923.

As champions, the Senators entered the 1924 season teeming with confidence. Lou Gehrig’s game continued to mature as he tore up the Eastern League with 37 homers in 504 at bats and a .369 batting average. Gehrig’s prolific days in Hartford ended when the New York Yankees called him up and went 6 for 12 in 10 games. Another standout Senator was second baseman Henry “Smudge” Demoe who smacked 184 hits, fifth most in 1924. Hartford ended the season in third place, just four games back from the pennant winners, the Waterbury Brasscos.

Ted Hauk, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1924.
Carl Schmehl, Utility, Hartford Senators, 1924.
Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1924.
Senators Booster Club Membership Card signed by Lou Gehrig, 1924.
Ticket stubs from Hartford Senators game, 1924.
Henry “Smudge” Demoe, Second Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1924.

The next season brought another star player to Hartford. Leo Durocher attended his first tryout with the Senators in April of 1925. Manager Paddy O’Connor was impressed with Durocher’s defensive talent and quickness at shortstop. As a rookie, Durocher batted only .220, but he compiled a .933 fielding percentage. On August 16, 1925, “Leo the Lip” was purchased by the New York Yankees for $12,000. Durocher had played 151 games in Hartford before reporting to the Yankees.

Leo Durocher (center), Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1925.

Meanwhile, Hartford’s Tom Comiskey and Harry Hesse finished among Eastern League leaders in hits. Lem Owen and Earl Johnson were reliable starting arms for the Senators. The heart and soul of the team was their catcher, Eddie Kenna who played 144 games. Marty Shay was their second baseman and leadoff man. Henri Rondeau, a journeyman outfielder born in Danielson, Connecticut, batted .306. Hartford nearly captured the 1925 title, though the Waterbury Brasscos outperformed them by a game and a half.

Paddy O’Connor, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1925.
Paddy O’Connor shakes hands with Bill McCorry, Manager, Albany, 1925.
Eddie Kenna

In 1926, Clarkin hired former Hartford catcher Si McDonald to direct the club. Their relationship turned sour quickly and McDonald was fired in late May. Second baseman Gene Sheriden was appointed manager. The Senators finished towards the bottom of the standings but had bright spots on the season. Adolph Schinkle, a pitcher converted into an outfielder, led the Eastern League in doubles and slapped 195 hits. George Brown and John Miller were the club’s top pitchers who ranked among league leaders in earned run average.

Bob Mitchell Hartford Senators, 1926.
George Krahe, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1926.
Tom Comiskey, Hartford Senators, 1926.
Adolph Schinkle, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1926.
“Cowboy” Ken Jones, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1926.
George Kane, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1926.
Gene Sheridan, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1926.
Clifford Knox, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1926.

An accidental fire torched the Clarkin Stadium grandstand in the off-season of 1927, so the Senators played home games at Trinity College and in Manchester while repairs were made. When the new grandstand was constructed, President of the Eastern League, Herman Weisman rewarded James Clarkin, for his diligent efforts, with a gold stickpin and cufflinks encrusted with diamonds. Looking on was Hartford’s new manager, a longtime big leaguer, Kitty Bransfield. First baseman Jim Keesey proved to be a prospect, pacing the Eastern League with 204 hits on the season, while Adolph Schinkle had 203 hits.

James H. Clarkin (left) listens to President Herman Weisman (center) of the Eastern League and Mayor Norman Stevens throws ceremonial first pitch at Clarkin Stadium, 1927.
Opening Day at Clarkin Stadium, Hartford, 1927.
Kitty Bransfield, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1927.

During the 1927 season, Kiddo Davis was stationed in Hartford’s outfield. He batted .349 and went on to become a World Series champion in 1933 with the New York Giants. Jo-Jo Morrissey was also a cog in the outfield, playing his second season with the Senators. An infielder from Cuba named Eusebio González played 25 games and was Hartford’s first player of color since Jim Thorpe. Clarence “Lefty” Thomas was the club’s top performing pitcher, but the rest of the pitching staff struggled mightily, and the Senators ended up in sixth place.

Jo-Jo Morrissey, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1927.
Art Butler, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1927.

In the winter of 1928, James Clarkin decided to retire from baseball. In his 25 years as proprietor, he brought three pennants to Hartford. Clarkin was a stern, no nonsense businessman who had drawn the ire of some players and fans. Though according to his former manager Jack Coffey, he had “many endearing qualities hidden from those who did not know him intimately.” When new ownership took over, subsequently, Clarkin Stadium was renamed Bulkeley Stadium in honor of Morgan G. Bulkeley, a prominent Hartford man, first President of the National League, former U.S. Senator and Governor of Connecticut who had passed away in 1922.

James H. Clarkin retires, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1928.

Hartford’s new ownership was spearheaded by Robert J. Farrell, a local real estate developer. The purchase price for the franchise and stadium property was reported to be $200,000. Farrell created a private stock company made up of investors who expanded the grandstand at Bulkeley Stadium. John A. Danaher was hired to be the club’s Secretary to handle administrative duties. The buyout reinforced the common opinion of the day – that Hartford was a celebrated baseball city. In preparation for the 1928 season, the Hartford Senators reintroduced the fan favorite, Paddy O’Connor as manager.

Robert J. Farrell, President, Hartford Senators, 1928
Board of Directors, Hartford Baseball Club, 1928.
Opening Day batter for the Hartford Senators, 1928.
Mayor Norman Stevens throws first pitch, 1928.
Mayor Norman Stevens (left) and Bob Farrell, Owner, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Paddy O’Connor, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1928.

During the 1928 campaign, John “Bunny” Roser was Hartford’s newest and most valuable slugger. He earned the league home run title with 27 round-trippers. At second base, Scott Slayback demonstrated a capable bat with 10 homers. A southpaw pitcher named Russ Van Atta threw for a marvelous 2.49 earned run average before being called up by the New York Yankees. Carl Schmehl and Tom Comiskey played their final seasons in Hartford, and the club placed third in the 1928 Eastern League.

William Eisemann, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Skee Watson, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Dominique Paiement, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Pete Stack, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Heine Scheer, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1928.
Jack Levy, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1928.
John Styborski, Pitcher Hartford Senators, 1928.

Going into the 1929 season, the Senators made a splash in the press when they signed a 2-time World Series champion, Heinie Groh as player-manager. The club then resigned their former second baseman of 1921, Heinie Scheer. Corner outfielder John Roser hit another 25 home runs while his counterpart Bill Hohman mashed 24 long balls. Utility man Skee Watson had a brilliant year at the plate, hitting for a .324 average in 593 at bats. Mike Martineck batted .337 and replaced Groh as player-manager in late August.

Heinie Groh and Robert J. Farrell, Hartford Senators, 1929.

The Senators would struggle to pitch effectively throughout the year. Their best hurler was 5’8″ Dan Woodman who threw 236 innings with a 3.74 earned run average and a 13-14 win-loss record. Local amateur pitchers, Sam Hyman and Johnny Michaels received professional contracts, making several key appearances on the mound. Their starting catcher, Joe Smith had a solid defensive and offensive season. However, adequate individual performances did not translate into a successful 1929 campaign, and Hartford ended the year in last place.

Players of the Hartford Senators, 1929.
Infielders of the Hartford Senators, 1929.
Johnny Roser, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Gary Fortune, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Walter Brown, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Sam Hyman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Heinie Groh, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Joe Smith, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1929.
Shep Cannon, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1929.

On May 23, 1930, fans witnessed an exhibition between the Senators and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics at Bulkeley Stadium. Because of an illness Mack was not present, but Commissioner Landis attended as a guest of Mayor Walter Batterson. That same season, rookie first baseman and future Hall of Fame inductee Hank Greenberg played 17 games for the Senators. Baseball was a welcome spectacle during tough economic times of the Great Depression, though Hartford’s season would be cut short. The club folded on June 30, 1930, due to financial insolvency. New Haven, Pittsfield and Providence also halted operations, reducing the Eastern League to four clubs.

The Hartford Senators with Mayor Batterson and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 1930.
Judge Kenesaw Landis and Mayor Walter Batterson, 1930.
Oriental Corella, Second Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Bernie Hewitt, First Baseman and Bill Cooper, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Hank Greenberg, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Tom Mullen, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Raymond J. Utley, Treasurer, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Joe Malay, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1930.
King Bader, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1930.
Skee Watson, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1930.
A view south down Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut, 1930
Bill Hohman, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1930.

By spring of 1931, the Eastern League returned with eight clubs, including Hartford with new ownership. Bob Farrell sold the Senators to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. Dodgers business manager, Dave Driscoll became president of the Hartford affiliate from his office in Brooklyn. Driscoll sent Earl Mann to run operations as business manager of the Senators. 27 year old Charles Moore was chosen as manager and backup catcher. Paul Richards was the starting catcher, team leader in home runs and later became a known as a genius inventor (patented the “Iron Mike” pitching machine). Hartford’s best overall hitter was Red Howell, who finished fourth in the league in batting average.

Management of the Hartford Senators, 1931.
Future Players of the Hartford Senators, 1931.
Infielders of the Hartford Senators, 1931.
Earl Mattingly, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Norman Sitts, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Red Howell, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Hartford Courant report by Albert W. Keane, 1931.
Max Rosenfeld, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Bobby Reis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Hartford Senators visit Camp Courant, 1931.

Hartford dominated the Eastern League in 1931, winning 97 of 137 games. They captured the pennant on the backs of superior pitching and eleven players who had big league experience. The Senators received seven Eastern League All-Star selections: Bob Parham, Bobby Reis, Paul Richards, Van Mungo, Earl Mattingly Jr. and Phil Gallivan. Most distinguished among them was Van Mungo who later earned five National League All-Star selections. Johnny Mann and Al Cohen were also major contributors to the team’s championship run. The 1931 Hartford Senators are recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time.

1931 Hartford Senators
Paul Richards, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Bob Parham, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1931.
Al Cohen, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1931.
1931 Hartford Senators

Hartford’s 1932 season began with an unfurling of the Eastern League pennant at Bulkeley Stadium. Business manager Earl Mann did the honors and posed for the cameras. Charles Moore was rehired as field manager, yet when the Dodgers requested that he coach their Jersey City affiliate, Moore obliged. The Senators named shortstop Bill Marlotte player-manager even though first baseman and captain Norman Sitts was presumed to take the role. Before the managerial move, the Senators were four games back from first place. After Moore left, Hartford sank to the bottom of the standings.

Earl Mann, Business Manager, Hartford Senators unfurls the pennant on Opening Day, 1932.
Charley Moore, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1932.

Honorable mentions on the Senators of 1932 include: Red Howell who batted .349, Bruce Caldwell, a Yale University graduate, Jim Henry, a rookie pitcher and Byron Topol, a little-known third baseman. Veteran players Johnny Mann, Eddie Kenna and Pinky Pittenger played their last seasons in Hartford. On July 18, 1932, the Hartford Courant suddenly reported the demise of the Eastern League due to poor attendance. Waning interest and continued economic woes hampered ticket revenues. Club owners met in New York City and voted to cancel the circuit.

Bill Marlotte
Al Kimbrel, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Roy Humphries, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Phil Gallivan, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Dave Cochlin, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Johnny Mann, Utility, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Jim Henry, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1932.
Eddie Kunsberg, Pitcher/First Baseman, Hartford Senators 1932.
Allentown vs. Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

There would be no minor league baseball in Hartford during the year of 1933. Instead, local jeweler. Bill Savitt rented Bulkeley Stadium and staged his semi-professional Savitt Gems against professional and independent clubs. Not until 1934 did the Senators restart operations in the newly formed Northeastern League. Johnny Roser settled in again as the club’s power-hitter. A 38 year old first baseman named Snake Henry had a brilliant year at the plate. Hartford had talent but they lacked consistency. Three different managers attempted to steer the team, who finished in fourth place.

Mayor Beach tosses the first pitch at Opening Day, Hartford, 1934.
Lee Kulas, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Fred Henry, Player-Manager, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Johnny Roser, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Emil Planeta, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Pepper Rea, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Jim Clark, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Bob Walsh, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1934.
Dr. Edward Baker, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1934.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. SABR Bio Project – Danny Murphy
  3. SABR Bio Project – Lou Gehrig
  4. Statscrew.com

Leo Durocher Got His Start in Hartford

Leo Ernest Durocher was born in 1905 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, as the youngest of four sons. His parents with French Canadian parents were George and Clarinda (Provost) Durocher and often spoke French at home. George Durocher worked on the railroad, for the Boston & Albany Railroad. At 5-feet-10, he grew to be the tallest of his brothers. His French-Canadian parents. Durocher dropped out of Springfield Technical High School after being suspended and never went back. Instead, he became a prominent semi-professional athlete and several employers competed to have him play for their company teams.

According to baseball historian Paul Dickson, Durocher was convinced to try for a professional club, the Hartford Senators:

“There’s a guy named David Redd, who’s a black man, who pushes and pushes and pushes Durocher to go try out for the Hartford team, which in those days was a semi-Yankee farm club,” Dickson says. “And Durocher does. Tries, fails once.”

Paul Dickson – WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship

Having failed, Durocher was again encouraged to try out for the 1925 season again by his friend, David Redd. This time, he made the team and batted for an average of .220 in 536 at bats that season. As an infielder for Hartford, Durocher learned and grew his game under Manager Paddy O’Connor, a baseball lifer and former catcher of the 1909 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Durocher showed promise in Hartford under the lights at Clarkin Stadium and was called up to the New York Yankees lineup for 2 game appearances.

Leo Durocher is sold to the Yankees, 1925.

It would take two seasons in the Yankees farm system – Atlanta, Georgia and St. Paul, Minnesota – before his permanent call-up to the big leagues in 1928. He won his first World Series that same year as a teammate of Babe Ruth and another Hartford Senators alumnus, Lou Gehrig. Durocher would become known as one of baseball’s fiercest players and would achieve team and individual success.

As a captain of the St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang” in 1934, Durocher started shortstop and won another World Series. He also collected three National League All-Star game appearances. After the 1938 season with the Cardinals, Durocher became the Dodgers’ player-manager. In 1939, Durocher was named player-manager for the Dodgers and quickly became known for his dirt-kicking tirades against umpires. He also clashed with Brooklyn’s front office and claimed that he was fired and rehired by general manager Larry McPhail dozens of times.

In 24 years as a skipper for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, Durocher won 2,009 games, three pennants and a World Series. However, Durocher also became famous for his arguments with umpires, executives and players earned him a reputation as “The Lip.” His nickname was thought to have stemmed from his relationship with another diminutive Hall of Famer: Rabbit Maranville. While not an imposing hitter, Durocher’s scrappy play and maximum effort led Babe Ruth to call him “The All-American out.”

Leo Durocher, Manager, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941.

Despite his antics, there was no doubt about Durocher’s record. In 1941, Durocher led the Dodgers, who were affectionately named “the Bums” by their own fans, to the franchise’s first pennant in 21 years.

“As long as I’ve got a chance to beat you, I’m going to take it.”

Leo Durocher, 1941.

In 1947, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Durocher for a year due to his “accumulation of unpleasant incidents” which included his accused association with gamblers. Led by Jackie Robinson, who Durocher staunchly supported when he broke the color barrier, the Dodgers captured the ’47 National League pennant.

In 1948, Durocher shocked the baseball world when he became manager of the Dodgers’ crosstown rival New York Giants – who he had famously referred to when he remarked that “nice guys finish last.” It was at the Polo Grounds where Durocher found his greatest success. In 1951, his Giants capped off an incredible 13½ game comeback on the Dodgers with Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World” homer to win the pennant. Three years later, Durocher and the Giants swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

Durocher with his wife, Laraine, Day, 1950.

Durocher left New York after the 1955 season and became a color commentator for NBC’s baseball broadcasts. He returned to the manager’s office with the Cubs in 1966 and served his final nine seasons in Chicago and Houston. Durocher retired in 1973 as the fifth-winningest manager in history, and second only to Hall of Famer John McGraw in the National League.

Casey Stengel, Manager, New York Yankees and Leo Durocher, Manager, New York Giants, 1951 World Series.

Upon his retirement, he ranked fifth all-time among managers with 2,009 career victories, second only to John McGraw in National League history. In 1965, Durocher co-authored an autobiography entitled, Nice Guys Finish Last. He lived a long life but passed away on October 7, 1991. Leo Durocher was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Leo Durocher

Sources

  1. WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship.
  2. Hartford Courant Database, Newspapers.com.
  3. Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Reference.com.
  4. Durocher, Leo, Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseballhall.org/Hall-of-Famers/Durocher-Leo.

Willy Yahn’s Baseball Blog

Yahn, a professional infielder in the Baltimore Orioles organization has written a great blog on recent baseball experiences in amateur and professional leagues. Here’s what he wrote about his time on People’s United Bank:

“Back on June 25th, the day of our first game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, a man approached me after the contest and asked if I wanted to play for his team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL). The GHTBL was established in 1929 and is one of the oldest baseball leagues in the U.S. That man turned out to be Tom Abbruzzese, the manager of the People’s United Bank team out of Wethersfield. Tom and I stayed in contact and I was also in touch with Justin Morhardt, former Atlanta Braves minor leaguer and two-way player for People’s United Bank. I hashed out dates that I could work around Gator games and sent them to Tom. On July 21, Lindsey made the trek over with me to Riverfront Park in Glastonbury as I made my Banker debut.”

“I did not make a glowing first impression with the bat, as I went 0 for 4. But Justin started that game on the mound and I remember converting on about a dozen plays at shortstop en route to a close victory over Rainbow Graphics out of Manchester. I quickly began to enjoy playing for People’s Bank for a few reasons. For starters, I always find it fun getting to know a new group of teammates and showing proving that no matter who I played for I wanted to win badly and that I had my eye on two league rings that summer. 

Between the People’s United Bank team and his Great Falls Gators, Yahn was just shy of playing 30 games last summer.

Second, I was a touch more anonymous in the GHTBL, or at least I felt like that was the case (correct me if I’m wrong people). But with the Gators everyone generally knew ‘that’s Willy’s team that he made’, I would do the coaches meetings a lot of games, I stuck out like a sore thumb. But with People’s Bank I could sneak into our dugout with a plain t-shirt and the team hat that resembled that of the Philadelphia Phillies, and I could surprise the opponent at least for my first at-bat from the leadoff spot. I say that because after my first game as a Banker, many of my first at-bats I received fastballs that caught a lot of plate early in the count, as pitchers were trying to establish their fastball early in the game to the leadoff hitter. AB number one would go: knock, swipe second base, then third, another Banker drives me in for an early lead. It was at this point I felt like teams thought “oooooh it’s that long hair schmuck from UConn who belly flops everywhere” and they remember for the next at-bat. 

It was about to be playoff time for the GHTBL as well, as I needed to get into one more regular season game to qualify myself for the playoffs with People United Bank. We were playing the East Hartford Jets at Wethersfield High School after I had finally received my custom Dove Tail Bat in the mail earlier in the day. It had a natural finish with the DTB and Willy Yahn in Gator green. She was beautiful. I wanted to use her that day because she was fresh out of the box in which it was shipped. I was the lead off hitter and the first pitch of the bottom of the first with the new weapon, I smashed a line drive into center for a single. A good sign for the new bat headed into the playoffs. Then a new pitcher came in for the Jets in the 3rd innings, throwing pretty hard from a funky angle. I learned after the game that it was Lief Bigelow, former UConn sidearmer who transferred to University of Maine. I faced off against him my second at bat, first pitch was a hard runner fastball on the corner inside. I took a hack at it and the barrel of my brand new bat explodes off the handle. I watched the beautiful green label saucer away in disgust. My running so fast in anger and the infielders being distracted by a flying wooden knife allowed me to reach on an infield single. But at what cost, folks? I jokingly called out to Lief (at this point was still trying to remember who he was) saying he owed me a new Dove Tail.”

“I finished the game with three knocks and three swiped bags, the Bankers came out on top 4-2. We were able to win all five regular season games for which I made the trip, as we had a pretty solid team. About the same average age as the Gators, with a lot of solid hitters throughout the line up and a few college pitchers who knew what they were doing. Justin Morhardt contributed highly on both sides of the ball. On top of hitting some bombs out of the clean-up spot, he is a competitive pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls, which as a shortstop makes him a guy that is fun to play behind. People’s United Bank finished 6-6 as we would face off against the GHTBL powerhouse the Vernon Orioles.”

Stay tuned to Willy Yahn’s baseball blog – Chapter 6: The Gator was also a Banker

Yahn is expected to play for the Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League in 2021.

Hartford Base Ball Park of 1896

Long before the Yard Goats roamed Dunkin’ Donuts Park, there was a place named Hartford Base Ball Park. Also called Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, the park was constructed in 1896. Hartford’s minor league team Manager William “Bald Billy” Barnie led the effort to build the minor league venue. That season, grandstand tickets were 15 cents and Newark finished in first place in the Atlantic League. However, Hartford protested their victory.

City planning map showing Hartford Base Ball Park, 1896.

Manager Barnie argued that Newark’s record was unfairly inflated due to a dozen extra games played. Newark also used a suspended pitcher named Joseph Frye who had left Hartford mid year. As a result, the 2nd place Hartfords challenged Newark to a 7-game series. Newark declined the invitation but the 3rd place Paterson club accepted and prevailed over Hartford.

Hartford Base Ball Park, (c.) 1900.

By November of 1896, the matter was put to rest by Sam Crane, President of the Atlantic League who declared Newark as champions. Manager Barnie passed away in Hartford in 1900 beloved by local fans. He was buried alongside many other baseball greats in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Hartford finally won a minor league pennant in 1909 at Hartford Base Ball Park.

Bill Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Hartford vs. Brockton at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (Hartford Base Ball Park), 1901.

Greater Hartford’s Own Jose Birriel

Jose A. Birriel was born on November 14, 1964 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a young man Birriel showed great athletic ability, especially as a left handed batter and first baseman. The Boston Red Sox signed him at 18 years old. In his first year as a professional Birriel banged 10 home runs, 56 RBI and a .351 average for Elmira of the New York Penn League. The following season he led the Florida State League in fielding percentage, assists, putouts and double plays while hitting 16 homers for the Winter Haven Red Sox.

Hartford Courant excerpt, July 2, 1988.

By 1986, Jose Birriel was called up to the Double-A New Britain Red Sox. He quickly earned a reputation as a top defensive first basemen in the Eastern League. In 1987, Birriel had a breakout season with 10 home runs, 57 RBI, a .292 batting average, and a .991 fielding percentage in 117 games played. Birriel spent 7 years in the Boston Red Sox organization. During this time, he was selected to 4 minor league all-star games, set the all-time club record for most runs batted in, and on occasion, the lefty also showed a knack for pitching.

Jose Birriel, First Baseman, Society for Savings, 1990.
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 29, 1990.
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 29, 1990.

Birriel was eventually promoted to Triple-A with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1988. However he was only given 21 at bats and had 2 hits. He was released from the Red Sox that same year. The following summer Birriel was living in Hartford and joined the Society for Savings ball club in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. As a member of Tom Abbruzzese’s team, Birriel hit 6 home runs in 62 at bats and was named an all-star. Birriel played a final season in the Mexican League in 1991 before ending his baseball career.

New Britain Red Sox hat.
Jose Birriel career stats, Baseball-Reference.com.

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Hartford’s Minor League Club, Part I: The Hartfords (1878-1901)

Hartford in Minor Leagues:

  • International League (1878)
  • Connecticut State League (1884-1885)
  • Southern New England League (1885)
  • Eastern League (1886-1887)
  • Atlantic Association (1889-1890)
  • Connecticut State League (1891, 1895)
  • Atlantic League (1896-1898)
  • Eastern League (1899-1901)

Notable Players:

Hartford, Connecticut, has been represented by 71 affiliated and unaffiliated minor league baseball clubs. The franchise began when the Hartford Dark Blues of the National League moved to Brooklyn in 1877, leaving the city without a professional team. During an era when teams traveled by train or steamboat, Hartford was an ideal location for organized baseball.

Ben Douglas Jr., a prime mover in forming the Dark Blues, raised $4,000 from shareholders to create Hartford’s first minor league team in 1878. Initially Douglas located the club in Providence, Rhode Island. Then he shifted operations to New Haven but ultimately selected Hartford as the team’s official home.

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1877.

The Hartford Courant referred to the club as The Hartfords. Home games were held at the Base Ball Grounds on Wyllys Avenue. The club joined the International Association after being denied entry into the National League due to the city’s small population (then about 40,000). Though major League caliber players appeared for Hartford in 1878, such as Candy Cummings, Everett Mills, Jack Lynch and Joe Battin, the team was a short-lived entity. The Hartfords were expelled from the league in mid-July after refusing to pay a mandatory guarantee to Buffalo.

Everett Mills, First Baseman, Hartford, 1878.
Joe Battin, Third Baseman, Hartford, 1878.
Jack Lynch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.
Jack Lynch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.
Candy Cummings, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.

Hartford’s first foray into minor league baseball ended on an embarrassing note. Consequently, the city was without a professional franchise for the next five years. Finally in February of 1884, a joint stock corporation called Hartford Base Ball Park Association founded a new team as part of the Connecticut State League. The Hartfords of 1884 played at a new park on Ward Street. Baseball enthusiast and cigar magnate, Charles A. Soby was team manager as well as President of the Connecticut State League. He directed affairs from the Hartford Base Ball Headquarters on Main Street, a leftover base of operations from the days of the Hartford Dark Blues.

Charles Soby, Manager, Hartford, 1884.
Hartford Base Ball Headquarters, 258 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1884.

In 1885, the Hartfords competed in the Southern New England League of which Soby was again appointed President. Former Dark Blues outfielder, Jack Remsen took over as player-manager. Before becoming a Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack was Hartford’s wiry catcher at 22 years of age. Backup catcher, Tony Murphy was one of the first players to wear a chest protector. Henry Gruber, from Hamden, Connecticut, and Frank Gilmore from Webster, Massachusetts, did most of the pitching. Hartford natives Bill Tobin and Jack Farrell rounded out an underachieving roster who fell short of a championship title.

Jack Farrell, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1885.
Henry Gruber, Pitcher, Hartford, 1885.
Jack Remsen, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1885.
Connie Mack, Catcher, Hartford, 1885.

The Hartford Base Ball Club of 1886 contended in the first iteration of the Eastern League. They ended up trading Connie Mack midseason to the Washington Nationals. Another Hall of Fame inductee, Hugh Duffy, spent his first professional year in Hartford. After an lackluster season, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the team. Among investors of the Hartford Amusement Association were the Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley and author, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The association hired Charles E. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager for the following season.

Investors Bulkeley and Twain backed base ball in Hartford, 1887.
Investors like Bulkeley and Twain back the Hartford club, 1887.

Under Charlie Daniels the 1887 Hartfords fielded their best lineup yet. Steve Brady, former captain of the New York Metropolitans and hometown hero of Hartford, batted .350. Ed Beecher led the league in doubles and Henry Gruber was one of the league’s top aces. “General” James Stafford began his career with Hartford that year. At season’s end, they placed third. The Eastern League disbanded and Hartford was forced to forgo organized play throughout the year of 1888.

Steve Brady, First Baseman, Hartford, 1887.
General Stafford, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1887.
Ed Beecher, Outfielder, Hartford, 1887.

The Hartfords re-appeared on the minor league scene in 1889 as part of the Atlantic Association. A local man and first time player-manager, John M. Henry recruited Phenomenal Smith and Joe Gerhardt to join up. However the team finished in third place behind Worcester and Newark. After failing to retain top tier players in 1890, they sunk to last place. Third baseman Ezra Sutton and catcher George Stallings were the team’s lone bright spots. A game of particular note came on July 23, 1890, when Hartford’s first game illuminated by “electric light” occured at Ward Street Grounds.

Phenomenal Smith, Pitcher, Hartford, 1889.
Joe Gerhardt, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1889.
George Stallings, Catcher, Hartford, 1890.
Baltimore vs. Hartford, 1890.

After another mediocre season in the 1891 Connecticut State League, the Hartfords lost favor with fans and investors. The club disbanded and the Panic of 1893 prolonged their absence. Eventually, a new team surfaced in the summer of 1894. John M. Henry, Charlie Daniels, Steve Brady and his brother Jackson Brady formed the Hartford Elks. They were a semi-professional outfit backed by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (Lodge #19). Though they featured minor league players, the club operated independently from the Connecticut State League.

John M. Henry, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1894.
John M. Henry, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1894.

In 1895, Hartford reentered the Connecticut State League and operated under the auspices of the Hartford Base Ball and Amusement Association. John M. Henry returned as player-manager one last time. Ed Beecher, an outfielder from Guilford, Connecticut, suited up for his fourth and final season. Both men later became police officers for the City of Hartford. Another local man, John Gunshanan was one of the club’s best hitters. Future major leaguers Jack Cronin and Bill Gannon had brief stints with the Hartfords of 1895. Despite big league prospects, a pennant continued to elude the city.

John Gunshanan, Outfielder, Hartford, 1895.
Jack Cronin, Pitcher, Hartford, 1895.

The Hartfords came close to an Atlantic League championship in its inaugural season. In 1896, former Hartford player, Billy Barnie, purchased the club with a group of investors. He served as Hartford’s manager and garnered enough support to build a new ballpark on the west side of Wethersfield Avenue (later becoming Clarkin Stadium and then Bulkeley Stadium). Also nicknamed the Hartford Bluebirds, the club was captained by Bob Pettit, a utility man from Williamstown, Massachusetts. Everyday players like John Thornton and Reddy Mack lifted Hartford atop the standings and in a tight race with Newark.

Reddy Mack, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1896.
Hartford Ball Park Ad, 1896.

When Newark finished in first, Hartford protested the decision. Manager Barnie argued that Newark’s record was unfairly inflated due to a dozen extra games played. Newark also used a suspended pitcher named Joseph Frye who had left Hartford midway through the season. As a result, the second place Hartfords challenged Newark to a 7-game series dubbed the Soby Cup sponsored by Charles Soby. Newark declined the invitation though third place Paterson accepted and Paterson won the Soby Cup. By November of 1896, the matter was put to rest by Sam Crane, President of the Atlantic League who declared Newark as champions.

The Soby Cup, 1896.
Soby Cup Series, 1896.
Charles Soby of Hartford
Sam Crane, Atlantic League President, 1896.

When the club returned to the Atlantic League in 1897, Billy Barnie had left to manage the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Brooklyn’s most well known batsman, Thomas “Oyster” Burns became player-manager. Tom Vickery, Cy Bowen and Hank Gastright were moundsmen for Hartford. Veteran big leaguers Lefty Marr and Paul Radford manned center field and shortstop. They won 78 games but finished third place yet again. On the final day of the season, the players presented a commemorative diamond ring to their beloved manager, Oyster Burns.

The Hartfords of 1897.
Cy Bowen, Pitcher, Hartford, 1897.
Oyster Burns, Outfielder, Hartford, 1897.

In 1898 executives of the Hartford baseball club hired veteran major leaguer Bill Traffley as manager, but Traffley was unpopular with players. He was accused of pocketing gate receipts and he relinquished his role halfway through the season to their catcher, Mike Roach. The Hartfords adopted a cooperative system to evenly disperse gate earnings among players. Therefore the team became known as the Hartford Cooperatives. Arlie Latham, an 1886 World Series champion and baseball’s first showman comedian, guarded third base for the Cooperatives – who descended to sixth place in the Atlantic League.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1898.
Arlie Latham, Third Baseman, Hartford, 1898.
Bill Traffley, Manager, Hartford, 1898.

Towards the end of the 1898 season Billy Barnie purchased ownership of the Hartfords once more. Even though Barnie was manager of the Springfields at the time, Hartford fans were delighted to have him back. Barnie’s Hartfords enrolled in the Eastern League of 1899. He signed several players from the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, including William Shindle who led the team in hitting. Tuck Turner was their star right fielder. For a 24-game stretch, the lineup featured Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play professionally. The club compiled 50 wins and 56 losses, finishing seventh place in the Eastern League.

Biff Sheehan, Outfielder, Hartford, 1899.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Hartford, 1899.
William Shindle, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1899.

At the turn of the century, Charles Soby reprised his role as Hartford’s preeminent baseball magnate. On May 21, 1900, Soby led a group of 44 shareholders who raised $3,250 to establish the Hartford Baseball Corporation. The club partnered with New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company to create special rates and train schedules on game days. The team secured two pitchers destined for stardom, “Wild” Bill Donovan and George Hemming. Tragically, Manager Billy Barnie died of pneumonia on July 15, 1900. He was revered in Hartford as baseball’s most tenured manager and as catcher for Hartford in 1874 and 1878.

Billy Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Billy Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Hartford Baseball Club, 1900.
George Hemming, Pitcher, Hartford, 1900.
“Wild” Bill Donovan, Pitcher, Hartford, 1900.

In place of Barnie, William Shindle assumed managerial duties for the remainder of the 1900 season. The team’s performance was respectable. “Wild” Bill Donovan achieved league highs in wins and strikeouts. Though it would not be enough for a pennant, and the Hartfords settled for third place in the Eastern League. The next season Shindle stayed on as manager. Most of the 1901 club was made up of players on the last leg of their careers. George Shoch, a veteran pitcher ended his 20-year career with Hartford. The club fell to sixth out of eight teams in the final standings.

Hartford vs. Brockton, 1901.
George Shoch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1901.

After more than 20 years in the minors without a championship, Hartford’s proud baseball community refused to be discouraged. A minor league team would represent Hartford off and on for the next 5 decades. On August 17, 1925, Hartford players of yore were celebrated at Bulkeley Stadium. Connie Mack, Frank Gilmore, John M. Henry and Ed Beecher attended an exhibition game between Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and a Hartford All-Star team featuring local pitching ace, Lem Owen. In a ceremony before the game, Gilmore gifted Mack a new set of golf clubs and the Hartfords of old received their last ovation from a crowd of 6,000 fans.

Connie Mack, Frank Gilmore, John M. Henry and Ed Beecher at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, Hartford, August 17, 1925.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. StatsCrew.com

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A Baseball Pioneer from Connecticut, Benjamin Douglas Jr.

This article was written by David Arcidiacono

Benjamin Douglas Jr. of Middletown, Connecticut is a forgotten pioneer of early baseball. Of the six New England cities which have had major league baseball teams, Douglas started the original team in half of them. In 1848, Ben became the third of four sons born to a wealthy industrialist, Benjamin Douglas Sr. and his wife Mary. Douglas Sr. was owner of the Douglas Pump Factory, a prosperous business that had produced hydraulic pumps in Middletown for forty years. Douglas Sr. was a powerful man who once held several political offices including mayor of Middletown and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. Meanwhile, Douglas Jr. worked as clerk and timekeeper at the factory but found baseball much more interesting.

Ben Douglas Sr., father to Ben Douglas Jr.
Benjamin Douglas Jr., 1868.

At the age of sixteen, Ben, of whom it was later said “would go ten miles on foot, over any obstacles, rather than miss seeing a good game,” organized the Douglas factory’s ballclub. He originally designated the baseball nine the “Douglas Club”, but quickly changed the name to the “Mansfields” in honor of General Joseph Mansfield, a Civil War hero killed at the Battle of Antietam as well as young Ben’s great uncle.

Col. Joseph K. F, Mansfield, 1870.

Douglas played on the Mansfields for five seasons and he was largely responsible for the administrative duties. As the Mansfields began to take on a more professional character, the extent of these tasks grew to include scheduling games (a huge job in the days before pre-set schedules and telephones), making travel arrangements, signing players, and overseeing ticket sales and the club’s treasury. The burden became so large that Ben, who played only sparingly in 1870 when the Mansfields were voted amateur champions of the state, and was listed as a substitute for 1871, then never saw playing action for an organized team again.

Boston Base Ball Club vs. Mansfield Base Ball Club, 1872.

As the 1872 season approached, everything appeared to be in place for the Mansfields’ continued operation as amateurs. While arranging playing dates for the upcoming season, Ben contacted Harry Wright, manager of the Boston club, in hopes of enticing the popular Red Stockings back to Middletown for a game. Wright advised Douglas that the Red Stockings would only come back if the receipts were better than the previous year, when the gate money “did not come up to the expectations we were led to indulge in.”

Mansfields of Middletown taking part in a parade, 1872.

When negotiations failed, Wright suggested that if the Mansfields were truly interested in playing professional clubs then they should pay the $10 entry fee and join the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. If they did, the professional clubs would then have no choice but to play them. Inspired by Wright’s novel idea, Douglas gathered the Mansfields’ officers together and laid out his proposal to join the professional ranks. The idea was approved and Douglas sent the $10 entry fee, fulfilling the league’s sole requirement for entry.

Mansfields of Middletown schedule and results, 1872.

Despite Douglas’ hard work, the Mansfields folded in August 1872, beset by a lack of paying customers. The Middletown Constitution noted the passing of the team by saying, “Mr Benjamin Douglas Junior….has shown considerable pluck and ingenuity in bringing the club up to rank among the best in the country. He now retires with the best wishes of all concerned.”

Once the Mansfields ceased operations, most people felt there would never be another professional ballclub in Connecticut. Despite this, Douglas knew that the National Association still wanted a club located between New York and Boston but he was also painfully aware that a larger market than Middletown was required.

1875 Hartford Dark Blues

Convinced that Hartford was the answer, he became the driving force in returning professional baseball to Connecticut. A few months before the 1874 season, Douglas gathered Hartford’s prominent businessmen to an informational meeting regarding starting a professional team in Hartford. During the meeting Douglas convinced the men to open their wallets, explaining that professional baseball was not only good for the host city but also profitable to investors. His efforts resulted in over $5000 worth of pledges for a new Connecticut team.

Hartford Courant Courant excerpt, 1877.

Douglas was elected traveling secretary of the new Hartford Dark Blues and held that post for two years. During that span the Hartford club had some success, finishing second in 1875 after placing seventh their first season. Prior to the 1876 season when the Dark Blues became a charter members of the National League, Douglas declined reelection due to “business engagements.” The Hartford Times reported, “Mr. Douglas has worked hard for the interest of the Hartford club, and had it not been for him the Hartfords would not have attained the celebrity they have. It might be said that he laid the foundation stone of the club.” Douglas did remain peripherally connected with the team however, serving as one of the club’s directors.

Hartford Courant excerpt, March 5, 1878.

By 1877, Hartford’s National League entry had moved to Brooklyn. With the new vacancy in Hartford, Douglas began plans to return a team to Hartford. He again succeeded in raising over $4000. Unfortunately the new National League rule requiring cities to have a population of 75,000 people forced Douglas to move to Providence, Rhode Island to keep his baseball dreams alive. As he tended to the business of getting a new National League team up and running in that city, he had suspicions that somebody on the Providence team wanted to run him out of the manager’s position and was planting false stories about him. His fears were realized before the season began as the board of directors voted to relieve him of his duties as manager.

Harry Wright, Player-Manager, Boston Red Stockings.

Douglas refused to resign however, leading the directors to threaten to withhold the $1000 he had invested in the club unless he resigned. Douglas contacted Harry Wright hoping for some help:

“You know me Harry for many seasons. You know I have spent a large sum of money from [18]66 to [18]78 trying my level best to build up the Dear Old Game and now after my hard hard work here to be disgraced…It is not on account of drink for I do not drink. It is not on account of dishonesty for God knows I am honest. It is not on account of bad women for I care nothing for them. I have always tried to act the part of a gentleman and square man by all.”

“Did I not run the Champions of Conn 6 seasons, the Dear Old Mansfields of Middletown. Did I not break into the World of Manager 2 seasons the celebrated Hartfords, 2nd only to the Champion Bostons season of 75 and yet these greenhorns say my past record is good for nothing…I have lost 6 month’s time from business at home where I had steady salary of $1500/yr. I have spent money like water. First for Hartford where I raised $4000 this last season and only for action of League would have been there…Drew good clean money out of bk [bank] at home. My hard earnings paid Mesr [sp], Carey, York, Hines, Higham, Hague, Allison, Nichols, $700 – advance money last winter or I would lost them. Providence would have had no League team only for me, and this is my reward…Can you do anything for me Friend Harry. I don’t ask money Oh know for that I have enough only I do ask my friends in the game to protect against this outrage.”

Ben Douglas Jr. to Harry Wright, 1877.

Douglas received a flattering letter from Wright but it was too late to save his position. Douglas replied to Wright:

“Your kind communication of the 10th came duly to hand & I can assure you it gave me great comfort. These people know more about base ball then I do, in their minds. After making a dupe of me they threw me one side….I had to resign my place or be kicked out. I had my whole heart in it sure, but I won’t bother you further…I retire with the consciousness of having done my whole duty and in return have been snubbed. No more Rhode Island for me.”

Harry Wright to Ben Douglas Jr., 1877.

It was later reported that Providence forced Douglas’ out because he was arranging games with non-League clubs. This had been a common practice to gain more money. As Douglas told Harry Wright, “It’s a long jump from Providence to Chicago without getting one cent.” After leaving Providence, the Providence Dispatch reported that Douglas still held the support of many in the city who were “greatly in favor of Mr. Douglas, and, to speak the truth, he has been shamelessly used.” The team that Douglas assembled finished third in the six-team National League.

Within two weeks of leaving Providence, Douglas organized a team in New Haven and joined the International Association. Attendance was sparse and in a desperate attempt to keep his dream alive, Douglas moved the club to Hartford. Two months later the club was expelled from the league for nonpayment to a visiting club. The 1878 season spelled the end of Douglas’ baseball dream.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 5, 1878.

He returned to Middletown and rejoined the family pump factory. In 1893, he married Nellie Sault, daughter of a Brooklyn foundry owner. This came as a surprise to Douglas’ friends who apparently were unaware of the 44-year-old Douglas’ relationship with the 20-year-old woman. In 1905, Ben Douglas died in Connecticut Hospital for the Insane where he had lived for five years.

Ben Douglas summed up his love of the game when he told Harry Wright, “You know Harry that my whole soul is in base ball.”

1879 Providence Grays captured the National League title after Ben Douglas Jr. departed the club.


Sources

Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut, by David Arcidiacono (McFarland, 2010)

Harry Wright Correspondence

Hartford Courant

Hartford Post

Hartford Times

Middletown Constitution

Middletown Penny Press

Middletown Tribune