Tag: professional

Baseball Bloodlines: The Spanswick Family

The Spanswicks of Enfield, Connecticut, were once the most talented family of pitchers in New England. Two brothers, William Henry “Bill” Spanswick Jr. and James “Jim” Spanswick as well as Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, excelled as amateurs and professionals. At some point in their careers, each of them also appeared in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Let’s take a closer look at their story…

The Spanswick family lived in the Thompsonville section of Enfield. Bill’s father, William Henry “Harry” Spanswick Sr. originally hailed from Hartford, while his mother, Bonnie Spanswick was from Enfield. Harry was an employee of the Hartford Machine Screw Company, an amateur ball player, a local bowling champion, and a soon-to-be Little League coach. Harry and Bonnie had four children: Bill, James, Barbara and Nancy. Bill Spanswick Jr. was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on July 8, 1938, and Jim arrived three years later.

Bill Spanswick Jr., 1956.

Both Bill and Jim Spanswick developed into standout athletes at Enfield High School. The brothers once pitched no-hitters in the same week for American Legion Maciolek Post 154. Bill was a 6’3″ left-handed pitcher with a lively fastball. He threw seven consecutive shutouts, one no-hitter and seven one-hitters in his senior year of high school. Nicknamed “Span,” Bill matriculated to the College of the Holy Cross and starred on the freshman baseball team.

Enfield High School yearbook, 1956.

Then in 1958, Bill Spanswick signed with his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. However, his quick decision was costly. He accepted the contract over the phone with Jack Onslow, a Red Sox scout and a former manager of the Hartford Senators. Onslow showed up at the Spanswick house the next morning. The $4,000 contract was inked at the kitchen table, but Major League Baseball soon revoked a bonus rule and Spanswick lost out on $60,000.

Nevertheless, Bill Spanswick traveled west to join Boston’s Class-D Midwest League affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa. He was promoted mid-year to the Lexington Red Sox of the Nebraska League, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.13 ERA and a league-leading 142 strikeouts. In a game against the Superior Senators on August 21, 1958, he tallied 22 strikeouts, a Nebraska League record.

Raleigh wins behind Spanswick, August 4, 1959.

The following season he advanced to the Carolina League and dominated with the Raleigh Capitals. His win-loss record soared to 15-4 behind a 2.49 earned run average. He led the league in both categories and Raleigh went on to capture the pennant. Span was considered a top prospect in the Red Sox organization in 1959, which included other arms such as Dick Radatz, Dave Morehead, Earl Wilson and Wilbur Wood.

That same year Jack Onslow signed Bill’s brother, Jim Spanswick. He was another hard-throwing southpaw who chucked three consecutive no-hitters at Enfield High School. In the minors, Jim tossed a total of 407 innings with the Red Sox (1960-1962) and the Washington Senators (1963). After being released by the Winston-Salem Red Sox in 1964, he took the mound at Colt Park in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for Herb’s Sports Shop and later for Royal Typewriter.

Meanwhile, Jim’s older brother worked his way through the minors. Bill Spanswick endured a few bumps in the Pacific Coast League with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Seattle Rainiers. In 1963, he conquered control problems to become an All-Star and the PCL strikeout king with 209. He earned a 14-8 record for the last place Rainers and three of his defeats were by a difference of one run. During this time, both Spanswick brothers served their country as reserves for the United States Marines Corps.

Coming out of 1964 Spring Training in Tucson, Arizona, Red Sox Manager Johnny Pesky admired Spanswick’s ability and judged him as ready for the majors. The Associated Press ranked Spanswick, “…the brightest pitching prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization.” When he made the team, the 25 year old lefty credited his minor league coach, Mace Brown, for helping him prepare mentally. It would be Spanswick’s only big league season.

Spanswick made his debut by tossing three innings of hitless relief at Fenway Park on April 18, 1964, against the White Sox. His first win came on May 8, versus the Washington Senators in a 9-3 victory. Bill’s teammates started calling him “Crow” for his dark and bird-like physical features. He was known to have a habit of stashing Camel cigarettes in his cap – something he may have learned in the Marines.

On June 12, 1964, Bill Spanswick faced his toughest opponents yet. Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees beat up on the Red Sox, 10-6 at Yankee Stadium. Mantle had two hits and a pair of RBI in the contest. It was indicative of Span’s 1964 season. He pitched in 29 games with a bloated 6.89 ERA, 55 strikeouts, 44 walks and a 2-3 record. The Red Sox sank to eighth in the American League. Even though Spanswick showed flashes of brilliance, reporters described his time in Boston as a failure.

Bill Spanswick, Boston Red Sox, 1964.

In 1965, Bill Spanswick was traded to the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs. He achieved a 6-3 record before being released again. The California Angels organization picked him up in 1966, but his career was coming to an end due to elbow injuries. He returned to Connecticut once more to be with his family and took a sales job in the trucking industry. In a surprise appearance, he pitched his last game for Hamilton Standard of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, beating Moriarty Brothers 4-3 on June 28, 1967. Bill would later established Spanswick Trucking, which remains a family business to this day.

Bill Spanswick stayed connected to baseball through coaching. In 1991, he managed American International College to the NCAA Division-II College World Series. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame as the town’s only major leaguer. Upon retiring to Naples, Florida, he became an usher for Red Sox Spring Training games at JetBlue Park. Bill Spanswick died peacefully in Naples on December 2, 2020, and was buried at Thompsonville Cemetery.

Bill Spanswick featured in Globe Sports, July 17, 1967.

I feel good about saying I pitched in the big leagues. Back then, there were only eight teams in the American League. You were one of 72 guys pitching. You had to prove yourself in the minor leagues. It’s pretty special.

– Bill Spanswick Jr.
Bill Spanswick, 1979.

Bill’s nephew and Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, represented the next generation of the family. Naturally, Jeff was an ace pitcher at Enfield High School. The young right-hander had great coaches including Enfield’s longtime skipper, Bob Bromage. Jeff suited up for American International College where his Uncle Bill was head coach. At AIC, Jeff became an ECAC All-Star and a Division-II Second Team All-American. Though he was never drafted, Jeff followed his family’s footsteps by pitching at Fenway Park in the 1992 College All-Star Game (the Division-I All-Stars defeated the Division-II & Division-III All-Stars, 6-3).

Jeff Spanswick took time off from baseball after college, and in 1994 he married Lisa Noyes of Enfield. Four years later he made a return to the diamond with the East Hartford Jets of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Thanks in large part to Jeff’s 7-0 record, the Jets and their manager Hal Benson were co-champions of the 1998 Regular Season. Jeff Spanswick played for East Hartford until 2002 when he changed teams to Mr. G’s (Giansanti) of South Windsor. Mr. G’s won the 2002 Regular Season in Spanswick’s last year in baseball.

Sources

1. Bill Spanswick by Bill Nowlin, SABR Bio Project, 2021: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Bill-Spanswick/.

2. Bill Spanswick Dies, Enfield’s Only Major League Baseball Player by Tim Jensen, Patch.com: 2020, https://patch.com/connecticut/enfield/bill-spanswick-dies-enfields-only-major-league-baseball-player.

3. Mass Live article by David Dorsey, The News-Press, 2012: Bill Spanswick, formerly of Enfield and Boston Red Sox, finds new home at Jet Blue Stadium

Did You Know? Hank Greenberg Began his Career in Hartford

Before becoming one of the game’s greatest sluggers, Hank Greenberg began his professional career in Hartford, Connecticut. As a youngster, Greenberg attended James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York, where he was an outstanding athlete in baseball, basketball, and soccer. At 19 years old he dropped out of New York University to sign a $9,000 contract with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers placed him on their Class-A affiliate, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Greenberg appeared in 17 games for the Senators in the spring of 1930.

Hank Greenberg, Hartford Senators, 1930.

The two-time American League MVP and two-time World Series champion did not perform like an all-star in his first few professional appearances. He was a scrawny and inexperienced version of the player who later became “Hammerin’ Hank.” Greenberg cut his teeth with Hartford while in search of his persona as a right-handed power-hitter. He was the youngest player on a less than mediocre team.

Hank Greenberg, Hartford Senators, 1930.

His Hartford teammates and his manager called him by the nickname “Bruggy.” Greenberg’s first skipper was Lore “King” Bader, a former big league spitballer known for his love of cards. Hartford’s top hitter was John “Bunny” Roser, a local first baseman and a former major leaguer who hit .322 on the 1930 season. King Bader opted to use Roser over Greenberg and after a few weeks, Greenberg was demoted to the Class-C Raleigh Capitals of the Piedmont League.

Hank Greenberg, 1937.

Following a 35-44 win-loss record, Hartford folded on June 30, 1930, citing financial ruin. Bad baseball and austerity brought on by the Great Depression ended Hartford’s season early. The Eastern League was reduced to four clubs, but Greenberg went on to bigger and better things. He hit .314 for Raleigh of the Carolina League that summer. Then on September 14, 1930, Greenberg made his major league debut as a pinch hitter against the New York Yankees.

Hank Greenberg, 1939.

What about the rest of the Greenberg story? Well, he attracted national attention during the 1934 pennant race when he decided not to play on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. He was the first Jewish superstar in American sports. While enduring anti-semitic remarks and gestures, he prevailed over prejudice with a .314 lifetime batting average and 331 major league home runs. His seventeen years in professional baseball were limited by the events of World War II, when served in both the United States Army and the Army Air Corps.

Hank Greenberg, 1946.

On his return to a baseball in 1945, Greenberg and the Tigers claimed another World Series victory. Then in 1947, his final year, Greenberg was one of few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Greenberg was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. He is one of three Jewish players to be inducted (in addition to Sandy Koufax and Lou Boudrou).

Sources:
1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
2. SABR article on Hank Greenberg by Scott Ferkovich

Hartford’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.

When Hartford Witnessed the Remarkable Rube Waddell

Of all the Hall of Famers to barnstorm Hartford, Connecticut, (Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth, to name a few) one of the earliest stars to come here was George Edward “Rube” Waddell. The unpredictable left-hander led Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics against the Washington Senators at Hartford Base Ball Park. The postseason exhibition game took place on a Monday afternoon, October 8, 1906, to benefit Newington’s Cedar Mountain Hospital for consumptives (patients with tuberculosis).

Rube Waddell, 1901.
Rube Waddell, Philadelphia Athletics, 1902.

A year prior to his Hartford visit, Waddell won a rare pitcher’s Triple Crown. He paced the American League with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts and an earned run average of 1.48. Waddell was baseball’s biggest celebrity and drawing card, though he was injured for the 1905 World Series. Over thirteen big league seasons, he appeared with Louisville, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis. He was nicknamed “Rube,” meaning “country bumpkin” – as many rural players were called at the time.

Philadelphia Athletics at the World Series (an injured Rube Waddell kneels to the right of Connie Mack, standing center) Polo Grounds, New York City, 1905.

Born on Friday the 13th of October, 1876, in Bradford, Pennsylvania, George Edward Waddell was the sixth child of Mary and John Waddell, who worked in the oil fields for Standard Oil Company. Rube made his Major League debut at 20 years old. He garnered a reputation for unmanageable free-spiritedness. Rube was known to miss regular season games for fishing trips and he often moonlighted with amateur teams, which included appearances at Rollins College and Volant College. Sometimes dubbed “Lunatic Lefty,” Waddell indulged in drinking, gambling, firefighting and even alligator wrestling.

Hartford Base Ball Park, c. 1905.

Despite his eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, Waddell was baseball’s top southpaw at the time of his Hartford sojourn. Rube was the talk of the city as the Philadelphia club arrived late to check-in at Hartford’s Heublein Hotel on Wells Street. The game was scheduled for 2:30 PM. Fans arrived early, packing the grandstand and encircling the roped off field. Local dignitaries such as Morgan G. Bulkeley, former U.S. Senator, Connecticut Governor and first President of the National League, William J. Tracy, Vice President of the Connecticut League of Baseball Clubs and John F. Gunshanan, former professional ballplayer, community leader and head organizer of the Rube-featured exhibition.

Rube Waddell, c. 1905.
Hotel Heublein, Hartford, Connecticut, 1908.

Before night fell over Hartford Base Ball Park, onlookers were awed by Waddell’s victorious complete game shutout. He allowed two hits and struck out 16 batters. His fastball was overpowering and his curve confounded opponents. Behind Rube at second base was another Hall of Famer, Charles “Chief” Bender who recorded a double and a run in the game. A pitcher’s duel that lasted one hour and twenty minutes ended with the Athletics downing the Senators, 2-0. Washington’s lefty, Frank Kitson earned the loss on just five Philadelphia hits.

Hartford Courant excerpt, October 9, 1906.

More than 4,000 fans were estimated in attendance at $0.50 per ticket. Waddell’s Hartford game raised $1,250 for consumptives at Cedar Mountain Hospital – the reported cost of running the institution for about a month. After the game, it was claimed that Waddell has some of his teammates stopped in at Wethersfield Prison to lift the spirits of inmates (something you would never hear of Major League baseball players doing today).

Rube Waddell, St. Louis Browns, 1908.

Coincidentally, Waddell contracted tuberculosis less than eight years later. He died of consumption at 37 years old on April Fool’s Day, 1914. He was buried in San Antonio, Texas. The nearly unhittable “Rube” was eventually elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Rube Waddell’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

Rube was one of a kind — just a big kid, you know. He’d pitch one day and we wouldn’t see him for three or four days after. He’d just disappear, go fishing or something, or be off playing ball with a bunch of twelve-year-olds in an empty lot somewhere. You couldn’t control him ’cause he was just a big kid himself. Baseball was just a game to Rube.”

Sam Crawford, Detroit Tigers, National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee

Sources

  1. Baseball-Reference.com
  2. Rube Waddell: Baseball’s Peter Pan by John Thorn
  3. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  4. SABR Article: The Strangest Month in the Strange Career of Rube Waddell by Steven A. King
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

Remembering Allan Garray, an All-Time GHTBL Great

Last year, GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee Allan Garray passed away. His involvement in the Twi-loop spanned three decades. Garray’s baseball career began as a promising catcher at Nonnewaug High School in Andover, Connecticut. He matriculated to UConn Avery Point and set the school record for batting average (.536) in 1976. Then he transferred up to the University of Connecticut for three seasons (1977-79).

1977 University of Connecticut Baseball Team

Al Garray excelled at UConn under Head Coach, Larry Panciera and became a formidable catcher with help from Assistant Coach, Andy Baylock. Garray was a starter for the Huskies’ first College World Series run in 1979. Garray posted a .291 career batting average at Storrs. In the summer months, he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League. After a spectacular college campaign, he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 34th round of the 1979 MLB Draft.

Allan Garray, University of Connecticut, 1979.

Garray caught in the Gulf Coast League and in the South Atlantic League, however, a fastball to the eye was said to have ended his professional career. In 1982, he appeared in an all-star game against the GHTBL with the Waterbury Twi-Met league and was recruited by GHTBL’s Tom Abbruzzese. With Garray behind the plate in 1983, Abbruzzese’s Society for Savings club claimed the pennant. In five summers with the “Bankers” Garray batted .338 with 23 home runs and 98 RBI. He won two Season Titles, two Playoff Championships and the 1985 Bud Mahon Award for Most Valuable Player.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 29, 1986.

In 1994, Garray founded the New England SportsPlex in Vernon, Connecticut. It was a 14-acre complex made up of softball fields, volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. That same year, he was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame by its director, Jack Repass. The recognition may have convinced Garray to make a comeback to the diamond. At 38 years old Garray joined up with Gene Johnson’s Newman Lincoln-Mercury franchise (previously known as Moriarty Brothers).

Hartford Courant excerpt, April 23, 1994.

As Newman’s Designated Hitter, Garray captured a GHTBL Playoff Championship in 1997 and back-to-back Season Titles in 1999 and 2000. Then he was honored as an inductee of the UConn Avery Point Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001. He continued to play locally while operating a pension consulting firm in Rocky Hill. Garray was an avid “Sunday leaguer” who competed in the Over 30 World Series and Over 40 World Series. He also served as an umpire for amateur loops throughout the state.

Allan Garray, Umpire, Palmer Field, Middletown, CT, 1998.

Allan Garay returned to the GHTBL yet again in 2004, establishing Monaco Ford, an expansion team out of Glastonbury, Connecticut. The club briefly fielded Major League slugger AJ Pollock during the summer of 2008. Baseball talent seemed to flock to Allan Garray, a lifelong contributor to the GHTBL and one the league’s all-time catchers. The league sends our best to Allan’s family and friends.

Allan Garray

We play because we love the game.”

Allan Garray

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.

Nick Hock Hired to Minor League Post

Recently, Hartford Colts ace, Nick Hock accepted a job with the Baltimore Orioles organization. This spring Hock will ship out to Salisbury, Maryland, to work for the Delmarva Shorebirds of the Single-A Carolina League. He’ll be a member of the Player Development Department serving as an assistant to the coaching staff. Hock also expects to throw batting practice and simulated games. Shorebird home games are played at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

Hailing from Wethersfield, Connecticut, Hock has played twilight ball for the last five years. He’s thrown 252.2 innings, tallying 215 strikeouts, 9 complete games and 3 shutouts. Hock was named a GHTBL All-Star three times and won the Mike Liappes Award for Most Valuable Pitcher in 2020. Please join us in congratulating Nick Hock on his next baseball chapter!

MLB Lockout, The Free Agency Frenzy

The MLB Lockout has been raging on for three months, and following the cancelation of the first two series of the MLB season, this fiasco needs some explaining. The CBA, or Collective Bargaining Agreement, occurs between the MLB and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), and without one, games cannot commence. The CBA needs to be renewed every five years, and if an agreement is not reached before the end of December 1st, there are three options for proceeding.

The first of these options is that the MLB can enforce a lockout, which is voted on by the owners. A lockout means that players cannot be in contact with coaches or a team’s front office, and it is the option currently in effect. At any time, the owners can vote to remove the lockout and start a new season using the expired CBA, which is the second option. Using this, they can completely prevent a loss of games, but in this case the MLB believed that instating a lockout would stimulate negotiations.

Playing under the old CBA has one downside, and that is the fear of the players striking if they are unhappy with the ongoing negotiations for a new CBA. This would mean that no games would be played until an agreement is reached, and that is what happened in 1994, the only season not to have a World Series since 1904. A strike allows for the owners to have a season, but not with any members of the MLBPA. In the case of 2022, the owners have instated a lockout, and regular season games have already been canceled.

Right before the lockout, MLB had debatably its most exciting week of free agency in recent history. With the lockout impending, many free agents wanted to guarantee a contract before the lockout, knowing that there would not be much time to sign after the lockout ends. Between November 26 and December 1st, the free agent market was explosive. On Black Friday, the Mets stole the show, signing Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and capping off the night with Starling Marte (note that all of the players mentioned who signed a contract agreed to the contract on the given date, but officially signed it at a later date).

Starling Marte
Starling Marte while playing for the Pirates.

Following the Mets spending spree, that weekend saw many other free agent signings. Saturday, November 27th, was a relatively quiet day and there were not any major free agent signings. However, there was a trade between the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres which sent Adam Frazier to Seattle in exchange for two prospects, one a lefty reliever and the other an outfielder.

The following day, there were an abundance of contracts being signed. The day began with a headlining 100 million dollar extension for noted speedster Byron Buxton, who will be the Twins center fielder for the next eight years barring a trade. Not too long after, Marcus Semien, who broke the record for most home runs by a second baseman in a single season, signed a deal with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers, who had a lackluster 2021 season, were far from done with signings for the next couple of days.

This was followed by a few smaller deals, including Avisail Garcia agreeing to a four year deal with the rebuilding Marlins, as well as Jon Gray leaving the pitching nightmare that is Colorado and joining the up-and-coming Rangers. Then, Kevin Gausman, one of the biggest pitching names on the market, signed a five year, $110 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto, who had a stellar offense in 2021, was in desperate need of pitching all year, and Gausman, who was relatively affordable considering his dominance in the last two seasons, is hoped to fill that role.

Late that evening, reports came out regarding Max Scherzer, an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer who has dominated the sport for the past eight years, signing a deal with the New York Mets. At the 2021 trade deadline, Scherzer did not want to be traded to a cold place, including New York, so this news came as a shock. Most of the baseball world expected Scherzer to stay with L.A, or if not there another team on the west coast. The reports continued through the night, providing more details on what a completed contract would look like, but Mets fans were still skeptical, as a similar situation occurred the prior offseason, resulting in Trevor Bauer signing with the Dodgers after he was reportedly signing with the Mets.

As morning came, a deal was still not agreed upon. Mets fans grew wearier by the minute, but when the clock hit quarter to one in the afternoon, Max Scherzer agreed to a record-breaking 3 year, $130 million deal, giving him the highest annual salary in baseball history. Scherzer is on the board of the MLBPA, so the baseball community was anxious to see whether he would wait to sign until after a new CBA is agreed upon, but most believe his signing was due to the incredible offer made by the Mets, one that is almost impossible not to accept.

File:2016-10-13 Max Scherzer pitch NLDS Game 5 for the Nationals 05 (cropped).jpg
Max Scherzer pitching for one of his former teams, the Washington Nationals.

Just a mere two hours later, the Mariners had found their ace, signing AL Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray to a five year deal worth $115 million. Ray, though shaky in the past, had a breakout year in 2021. This deal hurts the Blue Jays almost as much as it helps the Mariners, as the Blue Jays had in essence replaced their Cy Young Award winner with a pitcher of a similar caliber, but instead of growing their pitching staff, it become more of a replacement. Also, less than an hour later, the Rangers made their third splash, signing perennial all star shortstop Corey Seager to a 10 year, $325 million deal.

The Texas Rangers had gone from a weak middle infield, with the likes of Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to a record- breaking second baseman and a young, extremely talented shortstop. The day ended with two relievers signing rather insignificant deals, one involving Daniel Hudson to the Dodgers, and the other involving Kirby Yates, a pitcher with incredible potential, but an inability to stay healthy, to the Braves.

Early in the morning of November 30th, the MLB and MLBPA had another bargaining session prior to the lockout. The meeting was extremely unsuccessful, almost confirming the fears of a lockout going into effect. The last day of November brought fewer significant signings than the previous day, but the catching market was almost completely exhausted, with Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes signing that day. As the sun went down and all optimism between the two sides was dissipating, Raisel Iglesias, closer for the Angels, resigned for four years.

Then came December 1st, the final day before the lockout was instated. The meeting held between the MLB and MLBPA was brief, lasting seven minutes and completely killing any hope of the sides striking an eleventh-hour deal. After the likes of James Paxton (Red Sox) and Corey Knebel (Phillies), two injury-riddled pitchers, signed in the morning, fans were not sure how the rest of the day would unfold. Javier Baez agreed to a deal not too long after with the Detroit Tigers, the last $100 million deal signed before the lockout.

As the day went on, Chris Taylor resigned with the Dodgers, and Mark Melancon signed with the Diamondbacks. With only a few hours remaining before the lockout, Marcus Stroman, via Twitter, announced his deal with the Chicago Cubs, marking the last non-international signing before the lockout. As the lockout loomed just thirty minutes away, the Boston Red Sox traded star outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers, for two promising prospects and Jackie Bradley Jr. That is the last deal the MLB has seen involving Major League Players.

Although the lockout is negative, a case can be made that it created the best week of free agency in baseball history. Over the past ten years, free agency has been marked with sporadic deals, ranging over a three month period. The fear of a lockout changing the way contracts are structured scared almost half of the notable MLB free agents to sign a deal in a week’s time. Over the past five seasons, there were very few weeks where there were multiple $100 million contracts signed, and the best of those weeks was headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, who both signed $300 million plus contracts. In the weeks before the lockout, there were seven $100 million plus contracts.

That week was more exciting than many off-seasons put together. Once the lockout finally ends, it will create a similar free agency wave, but even more condensed. With the MLB hoping to start spring training games a week after a CBA is agreed upon, it will not give players much time to choose a destination and make arrangements to be there for their first game. With the likes of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, and Kris Bryant still yet to sign, the immediate time after the lockout ends will make fans forget parts of the despair the lockout brought. Hopefully a CBA is agreed upon soon, resulting in at least 130 games played. Meanwhile, new excitement surrounding free agency may change the player signing process forever.

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:

A Ballpark Timeline: The Polo Grounds

The long gone stadium known as the Polo Grounds was home to five different professional sports teams from 1890 to 1963. Originally built in 1876, the venue was intended for the equestrian sport of polo. The site was owned by a newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett and a German-American financier, August Belmont Sr.

First professional “base ball” game at the Polo Grounds (I) between New York Metropolitans and Washington Nationals, September 29, 1880.

1880: The New York Metropolitans began playing base ball at the “polo grounds” used for the sport of polo and horse racing. The venue was located between 110th and 112th Street, and 5th and 6th Avenue. Since baseball fields, like English soccer fields, were usually called “grounds” in those days, it would later officially become known as the Polo Grounds.

Yale vs. Princeton at Polo Grounds (I), New York, New York, 1882.

1882: The Metropolitans joined the American Association and played most of their season at the Polo Grounds.

1883: The Troy Haymakers of the National League left the Albany area for Manhattan, moved into the Polo Grounds, and become the New York Gothams.

1884: The Metropolitans won the the American Association pennant

Official score card of the Polo Grounds (I), 1885.
A depiction of Opening Day at the Polo Grounds (I), April 29, 1886.

1886: The Metropolitans preferred not to share the Polo Grounds and moved to the St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island. After the 1887 season, financial concerns led to the demise of the original New York Mets club.

1887: Harvard and Yale football faced off on Thanksgiving Day at the original Polo Grounds.

New York Giants batting practice at the Polo Grounds (I), 1886.
Home games at the Polo Grounds (I) New York, New York, 1887.

1888: Giants won the National League Pennant.

Decoration Day at the Polo Grounds (I), New York vs. Philadelphia, May 5, 1888.

1889: New York City extended its street grid to West 111th Street, cutting through the Polo Grounds. The New York Giants had to vacate. They moved to the St. George Cricket Grounds again, and won the National League pennant.

Location of Polo Grounds (II) depicted in The Evening World New York, June 22, 1889.

1890: A new ballpark was constructed at the terminus of the 9th Avenue Elevated line, at 155th Street and 8th Avenue, and at the foot of Coogan’s Bluff. That same year, the Players League challenged the established leagues. The Players League formed a new team called the New York Giants, and built a larger ballpark next door named Brotherhood Field. That league folded after a season, and the National League Giants moved in. The 1890 ballpark was renamed Manhattan Field, and Brotherhood Field became the new Polo Grounds (II).

Horse drawn carriages in the outfield, Polo Grounds (II), 1890.
A view of Polo Grounds (II) from Coogan’s Bluff, 1890.
Artist rendition of Polo Grounds (II), 1890.

1891: The New York Giants of the National League played their first game at the new Polo Grounds on April 22, 1891. This version of the Polo Grounds had a seating capacity of 16,000. The main double decked grandstand arched around home plate and down the baselines.

At the Polo Grounds (II) by Jay Hambidge, 1895.
Lifetime Pass to Polo Grounds (II) issued by New York Baseball Club President, Andrew Freedman, 1897.

1904: The New York Giants hired John McGraw as manager, traded for pitching icon Christy Mathewson and won the NL Pennant.

1905: New York Giants won the Pennant and the World Series.

Polo Grounds (II), 1905.
Polo Grounds (II), 1905.
Pittsburgh at New York, Polo Grounds (II), May 10, 1905.
Polo Grounds (II), 1905.

1908: New York Giants lost the pennant to the Chicago Cubs on Fred Merkle’s “Boner”.

A crowd at Coogan’s Bluff, Polo Grounds (II), 1910.
Polo Grounds (II), 1911.

1911: The ballpark burned down on April 14, 1911, at the dawn of a new season. As a friendly gesture, the New York Highlanders offered the Giants the use of Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds was rebuilt in fireproof concrete and steel. Later that year, the Polo Grounds (III) opened. The Giants faced the Boston Rustlers, and won, 3-0. Christy Mathewson pitched, allowed nine hits and zero walks to keep the shutout. A home run was hit by “Laughing Larry” Doyle, a man who once said, “It’s great to be young and a Giant.” (The Rustlers were named for their owner, William H. Russell, who died right after that season ended. They were bought by James Gaffney, who held the rank of “Brave” in New York’s Tammany Hall “political machine,” and the team’s name was changed to the Boston Braves.)

The Giants won the Pennant in 1911, but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics.

Polo Grounds (III), New York, 1912.
Polo Grounds (III), New York, 1912.
New York Giants at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.

1912: The New York Giants won the Pennant again, but lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

1913: The Giants lost another World Series to the A’s for three straight World Series losses. The only other team ever to do that has been the 1907-08-09 Detroit Tigers.

Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants pitches at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.
Fans catch the train after World Series game, Polo Grounds (III), 1913.

In 1913, noting that the Highlanders, who had just officially changed their name to what people were already calling them, the Yankees, had their 10-year lease at Hilltop Park ended, offered them a 10-year lease at the Polo Grounds, as a way of thanking them for the use of Hilltop in 1911.

Photographers at Polo Grounds (III), 1913.
Babe Ruth, pitcher of the Boston Red Sox at Polo Grounds (III), 1915.
Babe Ruth of the Red Sox at Polo Grounds (III), 1915.

1917: The Giants won another Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Chicago White Sox.


1920: The Yankees signed Babe Ruth, and started bringing more fans into the Polo Grounds than the Giants. McGraw said, “The Yankees will have to move to Queens, or some other faraway place, to wither and die.” Little did he know that, one day, the New York team in the National League would play in Queens.

Aerial view of Polo Grounds (III), 1922.

1921 & 1922: The Yankees won their first American League pennant and again in 1922, but lost the World Series to the Giants both times. The Giants remained the better franchise.

1923: Yankees owner, Jacob Ruppert, planned on vacating the Polo Grounds. He wanted a ballpark that he could control, so he built a stadium across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds at 161st Street and River Avenue in The Bronx. Yankee Stadium dwarfed the Polo Grounds. When Giants owner Charles Stoneham expanded the Polo Grounds, but it remained smaller than Yankee Stadium. That Autumn, the Polo Grounds hosted the Heavyweight Championship fight in which challenger Luis Firpo knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring, but Dempsey got back in before the count of 10, and knocked Firpo out. A few weeks later the Polo Grounds hosted another World Series. This time, the Yankees beat the Giants.

Interior view of Polo Grounds (III), 1923.

1924: The Giants won another Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Washington Senators. Later that year, the football team at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York hosted the University of Notre Dame, and Notre Dame won. Nationally-syndicated sportswriter Grantland Rice covered the game, and named Notre Dame’s backfield “The Four Horsemen,” after the Biblical riders of the Apocalypse.

1925: A football team named the New York Football Giants began playing at the Polo Grounds. They won the NFL Championship in 1927, 1934 and 1938, but lost it in 1944. They moved to Yankee Stadium in 1956.

New York Giants team photograph at Polo Grounds (III), 1936.

1933: Baseball’s New York Giants won the World Series, beating the Senators. This team featured slugging right fielder Mel Ott and ace pitcher “King Carl” Hubbell.

1936 & 1937: Giants defeated by the Yankees in the World Series.

1951: The New York Giants came from 13 1/2 games back to beat their archrivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers – winning the pennant in a playoff game, on what we would now call a walk-off home run by Bobby Thomson. However, the Giants lost the World Series to the Yankees.

Aerial view of Polo Grounds (III), 1940.
Polo Grounds (III), 1943.
New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers at Polo Grounds (III), 1951.

1954: The Giants won the pennant again, led by Willie Mays, who won the NL batting title. Game 1 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians featured Mays making his signature over-the-head catch, and a walk-off home run in the 10th inning by Dusty Rhodes. The Giants swept the Series.

“The Catch” made by Willie Mays at Polo Grounds (III), 1954.
“The Catch” made by Willie Mays at Polo Grounds (III), 1954.

1957: The stadium and its surrounding neighborhood had begun to fall apart. The Giants left for San Francisco after the season. Their last game was as 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 29.

Willie Mays makes jumping catch at Polo Grounds (III), 1957.

1960: The American Football League was founded, and the New York Titans began play at the Polo Grounds. They would become the Jets in 1963. The stadium hosted one last title fight, with Floyd Patterson regaining the Heavyweight Championship from Ingemar Johansson.

1962: The New York Mets, a National League expansion team began to call the Polo Grounds home. They played two terrible seasons at the Polo Grounds before moving into Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow, Queens.

1963: The Mets played the last baseball game at the Polo Grounds on September 18, 1963, losing 5-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The last event was a New York Jets football game on December 14, 1963, a 19-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

1964: Six days before Shea Stadium opened, the same company that demolished Ebbets Field, used the same wrecking ball, painted to look like a baseball, to demolish the Polo Grounds.

1968: The Polo Grounds Towers opened on the site of the former baseball stadium. It included a playground known as Willie Mays Field. Across 155th Street is Rucker Park, now one of New York’s most famous pick-up basketball sites.

Sources

  1. Uncle Mike at Unclemikesmusings.blogspot.com
  2. www.Baseball-reference.com
  3. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com

Meriden’s Jack Barry, 5-time World Series Champion

Meriden, Connecticut, native Jack Barry was a reliable shortstop in the early years of the American League. Most notably, he played on Connie Mack‘s fabled $100,000 Infield. Mack, who also began his baseball career in Meriden, signed Barry to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. At the time of his signing, Barry was captain of the Holy Cross baseball team in Worcester, Massachusetts. He wound up playing eleven seasons in the majors and won the World Series five times.

Jack Barry, Philadelphia Athletics, 1908.
Jack Barry, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Though Jack Barry had a mediocre .243 career batting average, he was a defensive wiz. He suited up for winning clubs every season of his career except for his rookie year and his last year. With Philadelphia, he earned World Series victories in 1910, 1911 and 1913. During the 1911 World Series, he slashed .368 against John J. McGraw‘s New York Giants dynasty, beating them in six games. Barry also appeared in the 1914 World Series but lost to the miracle Boston Braves. He was lauded by sportswriters as the A’s best glove and perhaps the best infielder in the American League.

$100,000 Infield – L to R: Stuffy McInnis, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Jack Barry and Eddie Collins, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Despite his talents, Barry was sold midseason in 1915 by Connie Mack to the Boston Red Sox, in part due to financial pressures caused by the nascent Federal League. Barry joined a Boston roster which included rookie pitcher, Babe Ruth. Alongside Ruth, Barry continued to win with a playoff bound club. At the 1915 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies and their ace, Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Red Sox took the series in five games.

Jack Barry, Boston Red Sox, 1915.
Jack Barry, Boston Red Sox, 1915.

In 1916, Barry appeared in 94 games during the Regular Season and Boston would repeat as champions. However, Barry did not appear in a playoffs game due to an injury. Instead, he served as Assistant Manager during the postseason under Holy Cross teammate and Red Sox manager, Bill Carrigan. The next season Boston’s owner Harry Frazee promoted Barry to player-manager. However, by the middle of 1917, a patriotic Barry became one of the first professional ballplayers to enlist for World War I.

I consider it my duty to do all I can for my country…I’m no slacker. If I can be of any use, I’ll quit baseball.”

Jack Barry, Washington Times, July 29, 1917.
L to R: Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan, Jack Barry and Vean Gregg of the Boston Red Sox, 1915.

Barry and four other Red Sox players enlisted as yeomen in the Naval Reserve. They were called to active duty and ordered to report on November 3, 1917. Barry and his teammates were stationed at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston throughout the 1918 season. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth and the rest of the Red Sox captured another World Series. On the orders of his commanding officer, Barry managed a major league caliber team on the base. The servicemen were known as Jack Barry’s Charlestown Navy Yard nine, but they called themselves the Wild Waves.

Braves Field, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1920.

Barry’s Navy Yard All-Stars featured two future Hall of Fame inductees: Herb Pennock and Rabbit Maranville. Other star players included King Bader and Ernie Shore. The Navy used their star power to boost morale at home and abroad. The Wild Waves matched up against amateur, college and professional clubs and on a few occasions, performed before an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans at Braves Field and in Boston.

Babe Ruth, Jack Barry and Rabbit Maranville, Braves Field, 1935.

Due to Barry’s year-long absence from the Red Sox, owner Frazee hired Ed Barrow as Boston’s manager in 1919. Then in June, Barry was traded back to Philadelphia as part of a four-man deal. At 32 years old with an ailing knee, Barry was no longer the player he had once been. He retired a few weeks later. In his major league career, Barry compiled 1,009 hits, 10 home runs and 429 RBI in 1,223 games. Even though he never made the AL All-Star Team, Barry exhibited defensive dependability and winning intangibles.

Jack Barry, Manager, Holy Cross, with Joe Cronin, Infielder, Boston Red Sox, 1937.

In 1921, Jack Barry was tapped to be head coach at his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross. His coaching days were just as successful as his playing career. He compiled the highest career winning percentage (.806) in collegiate baseball history and won the 1952 College World Series. Barry was head coach at Holy Cross for more than forty years until his death in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts at age 73. In 1966, he was among the first class of inductees to the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Barry also became an inaugural veteran inductee of the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, along with Lou GehrigChristy Mathewson and Joe Sewell.

Jack Barry (right), Manager, Holy Cross, 1951.

A few miles away from where he grew up on Grove Street, Jack Barry was laid to rest at Sacred Heart Cemetery. The City of Meriden and its residents honored his legacy by creating Jack Barry Little League. The youth league existed from 1950 until 2020, when it merged with Ed Walsh Little League, after Ed Walsh – another major leaguer from Meriden. In Worcester, Massachusetts, the Little League program has retained the name Jack Barry Little League to this day.

Sources

  1. Meriden’s Jack Barry and the Wild Waves by Michael Griffen on Slideshare.net.
  2. Jack Barry SABR Bio Project entry by Norman Macht.
  3. Various articles found on Newspapers.com.

A Real Connecticut Yankee’s Baseball Career Cut Short

This article was published on ConnetcticutHistory.org on April 20, 2020.

Danny Hoffman’s story reminds sports fans of the fragile nature of a professional athlete’s career. An up-and-coming baseball star discovered playing on the lots of Collinsville, Connecticut, Hoffman played in the majors under legendary manager Connie Mack before joining the New York Yankees (before they were even known as the “Yankees”); but one pitch dramatically changed his career trajectory.

Hoffman was a native of Canton, Connecticut, attended local schools, and frequently played ball in the Collinsville section of town. There, a scout from the Connecticut League’s Springfield, Massachusetts, franchise discovered Hoffman and offered him a contract. Once in Springfield, it did not take long for major league teams to take an interest in him and Hoffman eventually signed with the Philadelphia Athletics to play for Hall-of-Fame manager Connie Mack in 1903.

Daniel J. Hoffman in a Philadelphia Athletics baseball uniform, 1906 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Hoffman an Early Hit with Philadelphia Athletics

As the Athletics headed up to Boston to play the Red Sox in the summer of 1904, baseball experts considered Hoffman one of the more promising young players in the majors. When Hoffman (hitting a career-high .299 with three home runs) stepped to the plate against Red Sox left-hander Jesse Tannehill, however, an errant pitch struck Hoffman in the right eye, ending his season.

Back with the A’s in 1905, Hoffman’s statistics dropped off precipitously. He utilized his great speed to steal 46 bases that year, but he struggled against left-handed pitching—causing Mack to regularly pull Hoffman out of the lineup against lefties.

Hoffman lasted one more year with the A’s before joining the New York Highlanders (who later changed their name to the New York Yankees). He spent two relatively unproductive years in New York before joining the St. Louis Browns in 1908 and then ending his major league career 3 years later. Hoffman tried to make it back to the majors by playing for St. Paul of the American Association and then Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League, but his comeback ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Daniel J. Hoffman, St. Louis Browns, American Tobacco Company baseball card portrait, 1911 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Once-Promising Talent Sidelined by Injury

Life after baseball saw Hoffman become a resident of Bridgeport. Having invested his baseball earnings wisely, Hoffman resided in a beautiful home on Stratford Avenue in the city’s east end. He became a very popular figure in Bridgeport and at one point local residents and civic leaders encouraged him to purchase the city’s struggling Eastern-League baseball team, but Hoffman slowly began retreating from public life.

In 1921, he left Bridgeport to move in with his parents in Manchester. Local residents reported rarely seeing Hoffman in public after that. Seven months after the move, in March of 1922, the Hartford Courant reported that Hoffman had passed away at his parents’ home due to “a general breaking down in health.” He was just 42 years old.

Neifi Mercedes Signs Professional Contract

Recently, Neifi Mercedes signed a professional contract to play for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. Mercedes, 22, hails from New Britain and and he attended Monroe College in the Bronx. In 2018 and 2020, he was the former shortstop of Tom Abbruzzese’s People’s United Bank franchise. Mercedes joins a long list of GHTBL players who have been picked up by an independent league. Also of note: Neifi’s 27 year old brother, Yermin Mercedes is currently having a breakout season as catcher of the Chicago White Sox.

Visit the United Shore Professional Baseball League here at https://uspbl.com.

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

Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford’s Greatest

A young, talented catcher from East Hartford, Connecticut, named Jimmy Gonzalez caught the eyes of local scouts in his junior year at East Hartford High School. During the summer of 1991, Gonzalez was selected as the 40th player overall in the Major League Baseball Draft – a first round draft pick of the Houston Astros. He went on to play fourteen seasons in professional baseball with the San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos and New York Mets organizations. Gonzalez played with Mike Piazza, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada and Tony Gwynn. He was an understudy of Gary Carter and Dave Engle. He also spent 4 seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, capturing two Caribbean Series championships.

Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, East Hartford High School, 1990.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.

Gonzalez is a graduate of the Major League Scout School and has worked with the Boson Red Sox as an Associate Scout. He has been a minor league manager in the Chicago Cubs organization for the past 6 seasons and was named Manager of the Year in the Midwest League in 2016. Most recently, Gonzalez was at the helm of the South Bend Cubs in 2018 but has since been promoted. Gonzalez was hired for the 2019 season as the new Manager of the Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League – the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

Jimmy Gonzalez Topps Stadium Club card, 1992.
Jimmy Gonzalez Topps Stadium Club card, 1992.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Quad City River Bandits, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Houston Astros, Bowman card, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Houston Astros, Bowman card, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Quad City River Bandits, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Osceola Astros, 1994.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Binghamton Mets, 2000.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, South Bend Cubs, 2016.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, South Bend Cubs, 2016.

Career stats – https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=gonzal001jim

Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.

Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.

Dom Amore: East Hartford’s Jimmy Gonzalez Was There At Right Time For Gleyber Torres – https://www.courant.com/sports/baseball/hc-sp-amore-column-gonzalez-0529-story.html

Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds

It was once written of Hartford’s most prolific baseball promoter that there were, “at least five Bill Savitt’s.”

1. The jeweler, who owned and operated a store on Asylum Street in Hartford.

2. The advertising genius who coined the phrase “Peace of Mind Guaranteed” often abbreviated to “P.O.M.G.”

3. The sportsman who created the Savitt Gems, Hartford’s preeminent semi-professional baseball club who played with and against some of the world’s best players.

4. The philanthropist who would speak in public if his fees went to charity.

5. The world traveler who met with the Pope in Rome and was made an honorary Roman citizen.

Bill Savitt, 1958.
Bill Savitt in front of Savitt Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, Hartford, 1986.

William Myron “Bill” Savitt was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 9, 1901, to Harold and Hattie (Fein) Savitt. At an early age, Bill Savitt worked as a newspaper boy, a theater usher and a field hand on a tobacco farm. He quit school in the tenth grade to start working full-time. Although he never enrolled in higher education, he would receive an honorary doctorate from Springfield College in 1980. His first steady job was at a Springfield jewelry store as an errand boy and clerk. Savitt soon relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917 and established his own store in 1919 called Savitt Jewelers, at a tiny shop on Park Street.

Savitt Jewelers, 1923.
Bill Savitt, 1925.
Savitt grand opening advertisement, 1925.
Savitt Jewelers, 1928.
Savitt presents watch to Bat Battalino, 1929.

Savitt worked twelve hour days to be available for customers. In 1935, he moved Savitt Jewelers for the final time to 35 Asylum Street, where the store became the largest retail jewelry business in the state. He transformed the business from a one-man operation into an enterprise employing seventy-five people, including fifteen jewelers. His catchy slogans “Savitt Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, 35 seconds from Main Street” and “Peace of Mind Guaranteed” became household phrases across Connecticut.

Bill Savitt, 1935.
Bill Savitt, 1935.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1932.
Savitt Jewelers exterior, 1936.

Throughout his life, Savitt was a devoted baseball fan, especially of Hartford-based teams but also of the Boston Red Sox. During the 1930’s and 1940’s Savitt sponsored and organized a baseball club known as the Savitt Gems. Amid the Great Depression and World War II, thousands paid admission to witness the Gems oppose professional clubs, semi-pro teams, barnstorming outfits, local amateurs and stars of the national game. Thanks to Savitt, Hall of Fame legends played in Hartford during the Golden Age of Baseball. Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Satchel Paige and many others played at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1936.
Ruth, Williams, Foxx and Paige each visited Hartford to play against the Savitt Gems.

However, Bill Savitt’s primary motive for promoting the Gems was to benefit the Greater Hartford community. He led efforts to organize charity games for Camp Courant, the Red Cross, the United Service Organizations (USO) and many others. Savitt was often spotted in the sports section of the Hartford Courant or the Hartford Times newspapers gifting watches, medals and trophies to athletes and youngsters.

The Savitt Trophy, 1930.
Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant All-Stars, 1934.
Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant champions, 1935.

His support of Hartford sports also served as a clever marketing tactic for his business. While running the jewelry store, Bill Savitt embarked on his lifelong baseball journey in the spring of 1929. He decided to sponsor a team in the Hartford Twilight League (also known as the City Independent Twilight League). Then he rebranded Hartford’s Cardinal Athletic Club to the “Savitt’s Cardinals” who competed against top amateurs in the Greater Hartford area.

Twilight League standings, 1929.

Savitt’s team was made up of mostly Hartford residents. GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees, Frank “Bat” Orefice, a catcher, and Ray Kelly, an outfielder, were members of Savitt’s first club. When the regular season ended in a tie for the pennant, a playoff game was played between Savitt’s Cardinals and Economy Grocers. On September 28, 1929, at Hartford’s Colt Park, the Cardinals were shutout the Grocers 7-0 in the first championship game of Hartford Twilight League.

Frank “Bat” Orefice, Savitt’s Cardinals, 1929.
Ray Kelly, Savitt Gems, 1929.

Bill Savitt recommitted to the twi-loop in 1930 and created a new team called the Savitt Gems. The club starred a former pitcher for the Hartford Senators, Al Huband and brothers, George Dixon at third base and John Dixon at first base. The Gems wore white uniforms with navy piping and navy striped socks. They contended for a twilight championship against the Holy Name baseball club in a three-game playoff series.

1930 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League Champions

Leading the Holy Names were another pair of brothers; James Jigger Farrell at first base and Tommy Farrell in left field. At shortstop for the Names was a future professional, Bert Meisner, while local ace “Click“ McGrath, handled mound duties. On Tuesday, August 19, 1930, a crowd of more than 7,000 spectators gathered at Colt Park in Hartford. Nelson “Lefty” Buckland allowed just three hits, guiding the Savitt Gems to victory (5-2). At an awards banquet later that year, Savitt gifted each Gems player a gold watch and a lobster dinner.

James “Jigger” Farrell, Holy Name, 1930.
Nelson “Lefty” Buckland, Savitt Gems, 1930.

The Savitt Gems returned to the Hartford Twilight League for the 1931 season, continuing to dominate. Savitt recruited new pitchers: Walter Berg from the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern League, Art Boisseau of Dartmouth College, and Russ Fisher, an amateur hurler from Scotland, Connecticut. First baseman and player-manager, Tommy Sipples was the team’s best hitter. Savitt’s team won a second straight championship, beating Holy Name yet again in the final game. George Dixon recorded two runs, a stolen base and an RBI single for the Gems, winning by a final tally of 11-5.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1931.

In the summer of 1932, Bill Savitt’s Gems were drawing large crowds to Colt Park. Meanwhile, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League experienced a sharp decrease in attendance. Midway through the season, the entire Eastern League collapsed, “under the pressure of economic conditions” of the Great Depression. Hartford baseball fans were without a professional team to root for at Bulkeley Stadium. The baseball void would not last long.

Hartford Senators disband after winning the Eastern League pennant, Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Despite widespread economic strife, Savitt swooped in to cure Hartford of its baseball woes. He leased Bulkeley Stadium and put the Savitt Gems on display as an independent, semi-professional ballclub. With a stadium and a championship team, Savitt operated the Gems as the Hartford’s primary baseball franchise. More often than not, the Gems played games at home due to Bulkeley Stadium’s excellent playing surface and central location. Savitt frequently scheduled his team to play doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.
Bulkeley Stadium scorecard, 1932.
Savitt Gems vs. West Hartford, 1932.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

Bill’s younger brother, Max Savitt, an attorney and later a Circuit Court judge also supported the Gems as a sponsor. The Savitt brothers signed several professional players, adding to a roster of Hartford Twilight League players. This semi-professional formula would captivate baseball audiences in Hartford for the next two decades. In addition to featuring his Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, Savitt used the ballpark to support civic life. He hosted numerous benefit games to fundraise for charitable causes.

1932 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League champions at Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford. Bill Savitt (far left) and Max Savitt (far right).

For example, in the summer of 1932, the Savitt Gems faced off against a pitching phenom Pete “Lefty” Naktenis. The Hartford Public High School hurler played for the Frederick Raff company team, a refrigerator retailer in Hartford. The Gems seized the game by a score of 4 to 2. Bill Savitt and Frederick Raff donated $5,979.99 in ticket sales to Camp Courant after the game. Later that summer, the Savitt Gems won their third straight and final Hartford Twilight League championship.

Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.
1932 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium
Harry Deegan, Savitt Gems, 1932.

After leasing Bulkeley Stadium, Bill Savitt attempted to recruit New York Yankees slugger, Lou Gehrig who had just swept the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. The “Iron Horse” was well-known in Hartford because Gehrig had made his professional debut at the age of 18 with the Hartford Senators in 1921. Gehrig returned to Columbia University the following year to play fullback for the football team. Then he signed with the Senators again in 1923, propelling them to an Eastern League pennant.

Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1924.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

By the time Bill Savitt inquired about hiring Gehrig in 1932, he was a three-time World Series champion and American League MVP. The price to land Gehrig for a single game appearance was $500 and half of the gate receipts. Savitt determined Gehrig’s price to be too steep and pleasantly declined via telegram. Savitt’s plan to lure Gehrig was covered in the Hartford Courant and baseball fans in Connecticut were disappointed in the outcome. However, as Savitt had proved in the past, he would not be discouraged by the occasional defeat.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.
Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, New York Yankees, 1932

Savitt welcomed all sorts of baseball clubs to Bulkeley Stadium. The first independent club to take on the Gems was McKesson-Robbins of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Manufacturing company teams like the Meriden Insilcos were common foes. Other opponents included the Bridgeport Bears, New Haven Chevies and clubs from Branford, Norwich, Torrington, Waterbury and Windsor.

1933 Savitt Gems.

On October 2, 1932, the Gems met the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. Savitt signed Rabbit Maranville of the Boston Braves as a guest star to bat leadoff. Jigger Farrell played left field and hit second in the Gems lineup. Former Boston Braves outfielder, John “Bunny” Roser hit third and former New York Yankees catcher Hank Karlon batted clean-up. Tommy Sipples hit fifth and blasted a home run in the game. Eastern League shortstop, Don Curry batted sixth and compiled three hits on the day. Former Hartford Senators pitcher, Johnny Miller hurled an excellent game, allowing one run on five hits. With their best lineup yet, the Gems beat the Falcons by a score of 4 to 1.

Johnny Miller, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1932.
Rabbit Maranville, Second Baseman, Savitt Gems, 1932.
Don Curry, Shortstop, Savitt Gems, 1932.

In March of 1933, Bill and Max Savitt attempted to revive professional baseball in Hartford. They attended an Eastern League meeting to discuss plans with regional owners. Yet plans for an Eastern League broke down. The Savitt brothers leased Bulkeley Stadium for another season while the Hartford Senators remained out of contention.

Bill Savitt and Max Savitt (standing, center) at an Eastern League meeting in 1933.

Growing ever-busy with his many pursuits, Savitt delegated baseball operations by hiring a business manager named Walter Hapgood. As a former front office executive of the Boston Braves and President of the Montreal Royals, Hapgood was well-connected among professional teams and players. He was sometimes called the ”P.T. Barnum of Baseball.” Savitt and Hapgood ran the Gems like a professional club, while wooing Major League and traveling teams to Hartford.

Walter Hapgood, Business Manager, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

The Savitt Gems of 1933 were coached by former Hartford Senators Manager, Bill Gleason. Big leaguers such as Bruce Caldwell, Pat Loftus, and RobertRed Munn joined as full-time players. Out-of-work Eastern Leaguers George Underhill, Cy Waterman, and Henry “Pop” LaFleur glowed for the Gems. They entertained large gatherings of fans at Bulkeley Stadium against teams like the Detroit Clowns, Pennsylvania Red Caps, House of David and the Georgia Chain Gang.

Bill Savitt’s baseball club caused quite the stir when Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics visited Hartford. During harsh economic times, Savitt made a risky payment of a $500 to guarantee the game. On Thursday, June 15, 1933, the Athletics traveled to Hartford on a train that accidentally derailed. The A’s and their power-hitting first baseman, Jimmie Foxx safely arrived an hour late to the ballpark. Connie Mack took another train that was delayed in Philadelphia, and he ultimately was unable to make the trip.

Ready or not, the A’s handled the Savitt Gems easily, winning by a score of 6 to 1. Gems batters were no match for the pitching of “Big Jim Peterson who earned a complete game win. Foxx, the Major League leader in home runs at the time, was held to a base hit. A few days later, Connie Mack telephoned Bill Savitt to thank him for hosting his Athletics, asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To which Savitt replied, “Just tell the other teams what kind of guy I am.” From that day forward, professional teams called on Savitt for exhibition games.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.

On August 2, 1933, Savitt and his Gems met the Boston Red Sox in another Bulkeley Stadium blockbuster. On a hot and humid day, the Gems sparkled brightly behind their newest big league signing, starting pitcher Bill Morrell. The Red Sox collected eight hits and scored a lone earned run off of Morrell. With the Gems up 2 to 1 in the top of the seventh inning Red Sox pitcher, Dusty Cooke smashed a two-run triple. The Savitt Gems lost a close one to the Red Sox by a final of 3 to 2.

Savitt Gems vs. Red Sox, 1933.
Bill Morrell, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Boston Red Sox vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.
Marty McManus, Player-Manager, Boston Red Sox, 1933.

On August 28, 1933, the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fifty nine year old player-manager Honus Wagner came to Hartford. Wagner was accompanied by Hall of Famers, Pie Traynor, Freddie Lindstrom, Lloyd Waner and his brother, Paul Waner. Each of them collected a hit besides Wagner, who served as base coach until the top of the ninth inning. Wagner pinch hit and grounded out. The Gems featured Chicago White Sox outfielder, Bill Barrett as a guest star. Gems first basemen, Jigger Farrell had three hits while centerfielder, Jimmy Coyle had a pair of singles. The Pirates scratched the Gems 9-4 before more than 4,000 fans at Bulkeley Stadium.

Savitt Gems vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Honus Wagner, Manager, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Pat Loftus, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.

As Bill Savitt revolutionized Hartford sporting events, he also created a more inclusive baseball community. He quietly became a trailblazer of Baseball Integration more than a decade before Major League Baseball permitted people of color. Savitt was one of the first baseball owners in the nation to open the game to minority players. In a segregated time, Savitt hosted all persons of color at Bulkeley Stadium. He signed black and latino pitchers as well as several baseball legends of color. As a progressive thinker and a humanitarian, Bill Savitt refused to discriminate based on race or skin color.

1935 New York Black Yankees.

Savitt organized integrated games between Negro League teams and his Gems on Hartford’s grandest stage. The Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cubans, New York Black Yankees, Boston Hoboes and the Schenectady Black Sox were billed as perennial foes of the Gems. Others included the Boston Royal Giants, Philadelphia Colored Giants, Newark Eagles and the Jersey City Colored Athletics faced the Gems throughout the 1930’s. There were also barnstorming outfits like the Hawaiian All-Stars led by player-manager, Bucky Lai as well as Mexico’s Carta Blanca baseball club, featuring pitching ace, Luis Longoria. Even a popular female player, Jackie Mitchell, was Savitt’s guest of honor.

Philadelphia Colored Giants vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.
Jackie Mitchell, Pitcher, 1933.
Savitt Gems vs. Brooklyn Royal Giants, 1935.
Al Nalua, Pitcher, Hawaiian All-Stars, 1935.
Luis Longoria, Pitcher, Carta Blanca, 1937.

In August of 1933, Savitt’s club did battle with Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians captained by Jim Thorpe, the multi-sport athlete and Olympic gold medalist. The Gems and Indians appeared in a controversial five-game series, highlighted by Thorpe’s outrage over umpiring. In the bottom of the fourth inning of game one, Gems shortstop Jackie Cronin hit a long fly ball to right field. Thorpe missed the catch while running across the foul line. The home plate umpire John “Boggy” Muldoon ruled the ball fair and Cronin had himself an RBI triple.

1933 Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians – Jim Thorpe (sitting, center).

Jim Thorpe defiantly disputed Muldoon’s judgement of the play. After a lengthy argument, Thorpe called his team off the field. The Hartford crowd began to grow restless, forcing Bill Savitt to dismiss the umpiring crew and overturned the call. Gems bench players stepped in as replacement umpires. Savitt later made peace with the Hartford Umpires and they were hired back for the next four games against Thorpe’s club. The Gems won the series over Harjo’s Indians, who performed war dances and used racial stereotypes to attract paying crowds.

John “Boggy” Muldoon, Umpire, 1933.
Johnny Roser, First Baseman, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Jim Thorpe, Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians, 1933.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Bill Savitt bucked the trend of prejudice in baseball. He recruited a black Bulkeley High School graduate named Johnny ”Schoolboy” Taylor. The young ace pitcher appeared in an exhibition game against the Gems on September 24, 1933. It was then that Savitt first encountered Taylor’s speedy fastball and sharp curve. Batters scratched only 3 hits off Taylor, who had nine strikeouts. However, he walked eight and yielded a 3-0 loss to the Gems.

Savitt Gems vs. Mayflower Sales,1933.
Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Savitt would pursue Johnny Taylor, even though black athletes were barred from organized baseball. Taylor (often referred to as “Jackson” Taylor in the Hartford Courant) made his debut for the Gems against the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium on October, 8, 1933. The eighteen year old was marvelous but lost in a pitcher’s duel, 1-0. His next performance came on the last game of the season in another matchup against New Britain. Taylor was effectively wild. He struck out seventeen and walked ten in a complete game, 4-2 win for the Gems.

Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Falcons, 1933.
Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, New York Cubans, 1935.

In 1934, the Hartford Senators reclaimed their stake in Bulkeley Stadium and reassembled their minor league club in the short-lived Northeastern League. Bill Savitt’s team was out of contention until September. Jigger Farrell, the heart and soul of the team, was appointed player-manager. The “lanky speedball pitcher” Johnny Taylor signed with the Gems once again. In the season’s first game, Farrell, Taylor and the Gems conquered Hartford’s Catholic League All-Stars by a final of 4-3. Taylor not only tossed a complete game, but he also batted in the game-winning run.

Jigger Farrell appointed player-manager of the Savitt Gems, 1934.
Jigger Farrell, Player-Manager, Savitt Gems, 1936.

Johnny Taylor cemented his reputation as Bill Savitt’s ultimate ace-for-hire on October 10, 1934. At Bulkeley Stadium, Taylor threw a “no-hitter” against the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Then, Taylor signed with the Negro National League’s New York Cubans. Knowing that his homecoming would draw large crowds, Savitt hosted Taylor and the Cubans twice in the summer of 1935. Taylor whirled a shutout in the first game but lost the second match up to a strong Gems lineup.

Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1935.
Sam Hyman and Johnny Roser, Savitt Gems, 1935.

In the fall of 1935, Bill Savitt challenged the Philadelphia Athletics to a long-awaited rematch. He enlisted Bridgeport native and former Boston Red Sox pitcher, Johnny Micheals, to hurl against the Athletics. Michaels grabbed headlines for his unexpected complete game victory, three base hits and game-winning run. Jigger Farrell and Tommy Farrell also shined for the Gems, each collecting a pair of hits. While Connie Mack tended to a family engagement, Jimmie Foxx served as manager. “The Beast” was held hitless and made a rare pitching appearance to end the game. The Gems conquered the A’s (6-4), asserting themselves as one of the best semi-pro clubs in the nation.

Jimmie Foxx, First Baseman, Philadelphia Athletics, 1935.
John Michaels, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Walter Dunham, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Jackie Cronin, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1935.

Bill Savitt’s club fielded a multitude of professional caliber players in 1936. Every day names included a pair of brothers, George “Bushy” Kapura and Pete Kapura, minor league catcher, Wally Dunham and Hal Beagle, an outfielder from New Britain. Sam Hyman, Frank Coleman, and Jackie Kelly were among the Gems pitching staff. There were also amateurs donning Savitt’s uniform such as Hop Dandurand, a strong-armed shortstop, Johnny Campion, a right-handed slugger from Hartford and Audie Farrell, Jigger’s younger brother.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.
Jake Banks, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1936.
George “Bushy” Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.
George “Bushy” Kapura, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Outfielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.
Outfielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.
Lefty LaFleur and Walter Berg, 1936.
Pitchers, Lefty LaFleur and Walter Berg, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Pete Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Pete Kapura, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Jackie Kelly, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1936.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.

On Tuesday evening, July 28, 1936, the Savitt Gems played host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Bulkeley Stadium. About 6,300 excited fans attended the game. Nicknamed the Gashouse Gang, the Cardinals boasted some of the most colorful characters in baseball. Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize and a Hartford fan favorite, Leo Durocher, were among Savitt’s honored guests. The Cardinals were greeted by jubilant applause as they ran onto the field.

Dizzy Dean, Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.
St. Louis Cardinals visit Hartford, 1936.
Savitt Gems host St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.

Dizzy Dean was in attendance but did not play in the game. Instead, he gave a speech near the Cardinals’ dugout after being presented with gold watch by Bill Savitt. “Diz” delighted fans with remarks in which he teased his teammates. In the game, Gems starting pitcher, Louis Kurhan gave up five runs on eight hits in four innings of work. Pop LaFleur, Bushy Kapura and Hank Karlon each had three hits. However, as expected, the St. Louis Cardinals trounced the Savitt Gems by a score of 11-5.

Savitt gifts Dizzy Dean a watch, 1936.
Savitt and players of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.
Infielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.

That same year, Bill Savitt welcomed back Johnny Taylor of the New York Cubans along with their player-manager, Martín Dihigo. Taylor fanned eighteen batters and shut out the Gems, 11-0. The next season, Taylor thrilled spectators when he switched sides and tossed a 22-strikeout, 20-inning performance for the Gems. He edged the Philadelphia Colored Giants, 6-5. 3,400 fans witnessed the game which lasted four hours and fifteen minutes. Taylor went on to become an all-star in the Negro National League, Mexican League and Cuban League, yet he made time in the offseason to pitch for his friend, Bill Savitt.

Martin Dihigo, Player-Manager, New York Cubans, 1936.
Johnny Taylor, Savitt Gems, 1937.
1937 Savitt Gems.

In August of 1937, Savitt “staged a surprise party,” for Bob Feller and the Cleveland Indians at Bulkeley Stadium. Before the game, Savitt presented wristwatches to Feller and Indians manager, Steve O’Neill at home plate. Feller, a youthful eighteen years old did not pitch because the first game of the doubleheader was rained out. The teams waited out the rain and played the second game. Cleveland inched out the Savitt Gems by an outcome of 8-7. The Gems had their opportunities, but were overpowered by the bat of Julius “Moose” Solters who clouted to two home runs in the game.

Bob Feller, Pitcher, Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Savitt presents gifts to Bob Feller & Steve O’Neil of the Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Savitt Gems vs. Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Hank Karlon, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1937.
Johnny Campion, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1937.

In 1938, Bill Savitt and his Gems acquired hometown hero, Pete “Lefty” Naktenis. The Hartford native had become a Duke University graduate and a former member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Naktenis threw a complete game over the Philadelphia Colored Giants in his first appearance for Savitt. While property of the Cincinnati Reds the next year, Naktenis tossed for the Gems and outdueled Mickey Harris of the Scranton Red Sox.

Savitt Gems vs. Philadelphia Colored Giants, 1938.
Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, Savitt Gems, 1938
Pete Naktenis, Cincinnati Reds, 1939.
Reading Times, 1939.
New York Black Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1939.
Savitt Gems baseball uniform, 1940.

Savitt eventually organized a game between his Gems and the city’s professional squad, the Hartford Senators. On July 1, 1940, a forty-piece marching band and 4,000 spectators were on hand to see Jim Hickey pitch the Senators to a narrow 6-5 victory. Hickey allowed eleven hits; three of them to Gems outfielder Jake Banks. Savitt’s club outhit the Senators and the exhibition game raised more than $2,000 for the Red Cross during the early stages of World War II.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1940.
Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Hartford Senators, 1940

For the 1941 season, he hired former Major League pitchers Edward “Big Ed” Walsh, Jack Salveson and Bob Brady to sling for the Gems. His everyday position players were Al Jarlett, Gus Gardella, Jimmy Francoline, Frank Messenger, Ed Kukulka, Stan Todd, Mickey Katkaveck and Joe David. Standout amateurs, most of whom were contributing to the war effort in nearby factories, included men like Ray Curry, Vic Pagani and Yosh Kinel.

L to R: Outfielders of the Savitt Gems – John Dione, Ed Holly, Jake Banks and Ray Curry, 1940.
John “Bunny” Roser, Savitt Gems, 1940.
Gus Gardella, Savitt Gems, 1940.
Ed Walsh, Savitt Gems, 1940.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.
Hank Karlon, Savitt Gems, 1941.
Savitt Gems vs. Detroit Clowns, 1941.
1941 Savitt Gems at Dexter Park, Queens, New York.

Next, Savitt landed one of the greatest hitters of all-time in 1942. Before serving in World War II, Ted Williams drove to Hartford to appear for the Gems. Savitt had convinced Williams to play centerfield versus the New Britain Cremos in return for $1000 in war bonds. The Cremos featured battery mates of the Brooklyn Dodgers and 1941 World Series winners, Hugh Casey and Mickey Owen. Before the game in batting practice, Williams wowed more than 2,500 fans with is natural hitting ability.

Bill and Max Savitt welcome Ted Williams to Hartford, 1942.
Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Cremos, 1942.
Brooklyn stars face the Gems, 1942.

Two other big leaguers, Bob “Spike” Repass and Johnny Barrett also appeared for the Gems, but it was Ted Williams who won the night. In the seventh inning, “The Kid” cracked a game-winning home run beyond the centerfield wall and the Gems edged New Britain (2-1). Hartford-born ace, Monk Dubiel had kept the Cremos at bay for five scoreless innings. The following year, Dubiel signed with the New York Yankees, though he often returned in the offseason to pitch for the Savitt Gems.

Bob “Spike” Repass, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1942.
Pete Kapura and Bob Hungerford, Savitt Gems, 1943.
Hank Karlon, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1942.
Joe Tripp, Shortstop, Savitt Gems, 1943.

On a late summer evening in 1943, Kansas City Monarchs star Leroy “Satchel” Paige collided with the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium. Paige showed off his burning fastball and jug-handle curve, but the Gems weren’t fooled. They raked hits off of Paige in the first three frames. Andy Fisher and Ed Holly both had three base knocks. Lou Ucich and George Woodend did the pitching for the Gems. Savitt’s game against Satchel Paige ended in a tie due to “dimout regulations” amid World War II.

Satchel Paige, Pitcher, Kansas City Monarchs, 1943.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

A few days later, Savitt hosted a U.S. Coast Guard team called the Dolphins to take on his Gems. Coast Guard brought Norman “Babe” Young, a home run hitter from the New York Giants and Hank Majeski, an infielder of the Boston Braves. As for the Gems, standouts included third baseman John “Whitey” Piurek and outfielder John Augustine. Pitchers on both sides were ineffective in the doubleheader, allowing a total of sixty-one hits. The Dolphins won the first game 15-9. Bushy Kapura went deep for the Gems in game two, who won 12-11.

Babe Young, Outfielder, New York Giants, 1943.
Savitt Gems vs. U.S. Coast Guard, 1943.
Bob Brady and George Woodend, Savitt Gems, 1943.
Mickey Katkaveck, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1944.

On September 7, 1945, Josh Gibson and Sammy Bankhead of the Homestead Grays challenged the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium. With a runner aboard in the seventh frame, Gibson poled a home run over the center field fence. Hank Karlon, Ray Curry, and Joe Tripp each had a multi-hit day for the Gems. However, Homestead Grays pitcher, Ernest Carter held the Gems scoreless for seven straight innings. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Gems rallied, but iy would not be enough, as Josh Gibson and the Grays defeated Bill Savitt’s club.

Josh Gibson, Catcher, Homestead Grays, 1945.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1945.
Savitt Gems vs. Homestead Grays, 1945.

Later that month, on September 25, 1945, Hartford’s own Monk Dubiel and his New York Yankees squared off against the Savitt Gems. The Gems hosted the Yankees at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. The Yankees demonstrated their superior firepower before 3,000 spectators. New York’s right fielder, Arthur “Bud” Metheny hit two homers. The Yankees won behind Dubiel who permitted just three earned runs.

Jigger Farrell, Savitt Gems, 1945.
Savitt Gems vs. New York Yankees, 1945.
Bud Metheny, New York Yankees, 1945.
Monk Dubiel, Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.

On September 30, 1945, Bill Savitt welcomed the world’s most famous athlete to Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. George Herman “Babe” Ruth agreed to visit for a doubleheader benefit series between the Savitt Gems and the New Britain Codys. At fifty-one years of age, the “Great Bambino” put on a powerful home run hitting display in batting practice. Ruth wore a brand new Savitt Gems’ uniform with a red cap and red stockings. Babe Ruth coached first base for the Gems during the first two innings of the nightcap.

The Savitt Gems and Babe Ruth, 1945.

Then in third inning, he pinch-hit for Cliff Keeney. Ruth stepped in the batter’s box, swung and missed at the first pitch he saw. Then, he fouled a ball straight back for strike two. On the third pitch, Ruth tapped a comebacker to the pitcher and was forced out at first base. About 2,500 paid admission to catch a glimpse of Ruth, who signed autographs and posed for photos after the game. Ruth’s cameo, organized by Bill Savitt, marked the Babe’s final appearance in a baseball game before passing away on August 16, 1948. 

Bill Savitt and Babe Ruth, 1945.
James “Jigger” Farrell and Babe Ruth, 1945.
Babe Ruth at batting practice, 1945.
Ruth signing autographs at Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1945.

After the traumatic events of World War II, Bill Savitt focused on new opportunities outside of baseball. For a brief period in 1946, Savitt Jewelers showcased one of the largest precious stones in the world, the Jonker Diamond. The store later featured Hope Diamond. Around this time, Bill and his brother Max sold Bulkeley Stadium and established a radio station, WCCC Hartford. In 1949, Bill Savitt broadcasted on air with “Old Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra from Hartford’s Hotel Bond.

Savitt Jewelers, Jonkers Diamond ad, 1945.
WCCC Hartford, Savitt with Sinatra, 1949.
L to R: On air at WCCC Hartford – Ted Williams, Sebby Sisti, Max Savitt, Harry Cleveland, Warren Spahn and Bill Savitt, 1947.
Bill Savitt donating to Camp Courant, 1949.
Bill Savitt gifts baseballs at Camp Courant, Hartford, 1949.

As for Savitt’s ballclub, the Gems eventually disbanded at the end of 1949 season. He continued to support baseball by donating to the Hartford Twilight League. Savitt kept up with his former players by hosting twi-loop old-timers games at Dillon Stadium. Dozens of Gems attended the reunions such as Johnny Taylor and Pete Naktenis; as did sportswriters, umpires and city officials. The largest gathering of twilight league old-timers was held in 1968.

Savitt Jewelers ad, Hartford Courant, 1950.
Bill Savitt, 1950.
GHTBL Old-Timers’ with Bill Savitt (second from right), Dillon Stadium, 1968.

He also threw annual Christmas Eve parties at Savitt Jewelers. Gems alumni and their longtime manager Jigger Farrell attended each year. As an inside joke, Bill placed an advertisement in the Hartford Courant signaling his intention to sign Farrell for another year as manager. Though the Gems were no longer an active team, Savitt honored the tradition every Christmas from 1950 until 1984. One headline read, “Jigger Farrell Signs for the Umpteenth Year.” Savitt’s dear friend, passed away on May 6, 1985, and he remembered Farrell saying:

“You never met a greater guy in your life. He was a great athlete and a great Christian.”

Bill Savitt
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1950.
L to R: Bill Savitt, Johnny Roser, Bud Mahon, Jigger Farrell and Bob Steele.

Another close friend of Savitt was the prominent Hartford broadcaster and announcer for the Gems, Bob Steele. Savitt and Steele bonded over shared interests. They complemented each other personally and professionally for decades by cross-promoting in print and radio ads. They also co-founded a West Hartford scholarship fund. Both men known to be quick-witted, as Steele once presided over a friendly roast of Savitt attended by 450 people at the Sheraton-Hartford Hotel.

Bill Savitt and Bob Steele, 1940.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement featuring Bob Steele, Hartford Courant, 1944.
Bob Steele and Bill Savitt, 1955.
L to R: Jim O’Day, Bill Savitt and Bob Steele, 1955.
Savitt & Steele Super Bowl advertisement, 1970.

Savitt was also a friend to Hartford’s nonprofit and civic organizations. He became chairman of the Hartford Chapter of the Red Cross in 1952 and ideas for economic recovery in the wake of Connecticut’s 1955 flood disaster brought about change to Red Cross policy. Then he was appointed Chairman of the Commerce Committee at University of Hartford. His contributions led to the development of the Bloomfield Avenue campus. In 1960, Hartford’s Nathan Hale Chapter and New Britain’s Elpis Chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association chose Savitt as Hartford County’s Outstanding Citizen.

Bill Savitt at Red Cross Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, 1952.
Savitt standing on his head for the Red Cross, 1952.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1951.
Bill Savitt accepts marketing award, 1951.
Bill Savitt, 1952.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1953.

Savitt was recognized by National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was a member of Emanuel Synagogue of West Hartford and served on the synagogue’s Board of Directors. The Jewish War Veterans praised Savitt for exemplifying the principles of American interfaith relationships with the JWV Citizenship Award. The Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce once gave him an “Outstanding Boss” honor. He also received a certificate from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for meritorious service to veterans both during World War II and after the war.

Savitt’s honor Little League champions, 1953.
Savitt’s host Little League dinner, 1953.

Almost every year through the 1950’s and 1960’s, Savitt purchased a block of concert tickets for students of the Connecticut Institute of the Blind to hear the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at Bushnell Memorial Auditorium. He sponsored thousands of young athletes and donated hundreds of trophies to organizations for athletic achievements in the Greater Hartford area. Subsequently, Savitt was awarded the 1962 Distinguished Service Medal by Hartfords’ Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows.

Savitt sponsors show for Camp Courant at the Bushnell, 1955.
Max Savitt, 1958.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1959.
Bill Savitt at Camp Courant, 1959.
Savitt Jewelers ad, Hartford Courant, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers ad, Hartford Courant, 1960.
Savitt and employees at Savitt Jewelers, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers ad, Hartford Courant, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers ad, Hartford Courant, 1960.
Savitt with employees at at Savitt Jewelers, 1960.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1960.
Bill Savitt receives Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows Award, 1962.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1964.
Savitt Jewelers billboard on Asylum Street in Hartford, 1965.

During the latter half of his life, Savitt was bestowed with even more honors. In 1971, the United States Small Business Administration awarded him as the Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year. He also accepted awards from the Ted Williams Jimmy Fund, Hartford Public Schools, Times Farm, Camp Courant, Ned Coll’s Revitalization and the American Legion. William A. O’Neill, 84th Governor of Connecticut, proclaimed April 30, 1987, “Bill Savitt Day” and the City of Hartford named a street “Savitt Way” in the North End (still exists today).

Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award, 1971.
Savitt Jewelers, Hartford, 1971.
Savitt honored by Masons, Hartford, 1973.
Back of Savitt Jewelers, 1974.
Savitt thanks his loyal customers, 1976.
Bob Steele and Bill Savitt, 1976.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1977.
Bill Savitt supporting the Hartford Twilight League, 1983.

Because of his generosity, Bill Savitt made many friends along the way. When his friend Ted Williams refused to tip his cap after his last homer in 1960, Savitt wrote to Williams:

“Be a gentleman. These are your customers. These are people who make you who you are. You need to tip your hat.”

Bill Savitt

Finally on Ted Williams Day in 1991, a seventy-two year old Williams famously tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful saying:

“Today, I tip my hat to all the fans of New England. The greatest sports fans on earth.”

Ted Williams
Bill Savitt in the office at Savitt Jewelers, 1986.
Ted Williams tips his cap at Fenway Park, 1991.

Bill Savitt passed away on March 14, 1995. He was the beloved husband of his wife Helen Savitt and father of Rosalie and Deborah. Savitt left behind an immense legacy of charity and goodwill. Many remembered him for keeping business and baseball alive in Hartford. Few Connecticut men have made a greater impact as a baseball promoter than Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1995.
1930 Savitt Gems Hartford Champions ring (photo taken in 2019).
A commemorative Savitt coin, 2018.
A Savitt Jewelers 10% off discount coin, 2019.

Sources:
1. Hartford Courant database accessed via www.Newspapers.com.
2. Reading Times accessed via www.Newspapers.com.

Twilight Alum, Pollock Signs Deal with Dodgers

In 2008, Pollock played for a Glastonbury-based team, Monaco Ford.

The Dodgers have landed a right-handed hitter to complement their deep, left-handed heavy lineup in free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock (Allen Lorenz Pollock). Pollock and Los Angeles agreed to a $55 million, four-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the agreement had not been announced.

A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2020.

The agreement includes a $10 million player option for 2023 with a $5 million buyout that would make the deal worth over $60 million for five seasons. Pollock could opt out after the 2022 season and $45 million, becoming a free agent again, if he meets specified plate appearance thresholds. The 31-year-old outfielder hit .257 last year with 21 home runs, 65 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 113 games for NL West rival Arizona.

A.J. Pollock celebrates his first Arizona Diamondback home run at Chase Field on April 10, 2013. (Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic)

Pollock was a standout baseball player at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut earning All-Northwest Conference accolades three times. RHAM won the State Championship in 2004 behind Pollock. He was All-State in 2005 and 2006 and named the CHSCA and Gatorade Player of the Year in addition to being the All-Courant baseball player of the year before going on to play at Notre Dame. In his senior season, Pollock hit .465 with eight doubles, five triples, four home runs, 20 RBI, 36 runs, 16 stolen bases and an .897 slugging percentage. He struck out just once that year.

A.J. Pollock, RHAM High School, 2005

He will fill a void created when the Dodgers traded outfielders and right-handed hitters Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati for a pair of prospects in December. Pollock figures to play center field, with manager Dave Roberts using a platoon of Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and possibly top prospect Alex Verdugo in the corners.

A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2018.

Pollock missed nearly two months last year because of a broken left thumb, the latest in a long line of injuries that have limited Pollock to 113 games since his breakout All-Star season in 2015. He rejected a $17.9 million qualifying offer by the Diamondbacks in November.

– The article above was written by Beth Harris, Associated Press.
– AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

A.J. Pollock, Notre Dame University, 2008.

From GHTBL to the Cape League to the Pros

In 2008, Pollock played for Monaco Ford, a Glastonbury-based team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League under manager Al Garray. Pollock was soon picked up by the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League and ended up earning the Cape League’s MVP award.  The following year, Pollock was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1st round (17th) of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN).

A.J. Pollock, Falmouth Commodores, Cape Cod Baseball League, 2008.

Additional A.J. Pollock facts:

Jack Patterson & Zac Susi Selected in MLB Draft

GHTBL Alumni matriculate to professional baseball.

Jack Patterson (Suffield, Conn.) – currently pitching for the Vernon Orioles selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 32nd round (968th overall)

High School: Suffield Academy
College: Bryant –After going 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA as a true freshman in 2014, Patterson missed most of 2015 and all of 2016 before returning to the diamond in 2016. What has followed is one of the most impressive two-year runs for a left-handed pitcher in program history.

Patterson went 4-0 with three saves and a 2.90 ERA as a redshirt junior before cementing himself as the best left-handed power pitcher in program history this spring. He became just the second pitcher in program history to strikeout 100+ batters in a single season and allowed just 75 hits in 82 innings on his way to Northeast Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. This spring, he recorded six quality starts, threw Bryant’s first nine-inning complete-game shutout since 2014 and struck out 10+ batters on four occasions.

Jack Patterson, Bryant Baseball, 2018.

Zac Susi (Southington, Conn.) – former catcher for Rainbow Graphics franchise selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 12th round (354th overall).

High School: Southington High
College: University of Connecticut – 
Susi, 21, has been a three-year starter at UConn since graduating Southington High in 2015, where the left-handed slugger was a two-time All-State backstop. He has been UConn’s primary catcher the last three seasons. He started 41 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he hit .286 and started 56 games and was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List.

In 2017, Zac played 57 games and started 56 behind the plate as the Huskies primary catcher. He hit .286 on the year and was second on the team with 61 hits, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and was second on the team with 40 RBI. Susi led the team with 27 walks and had a .362 on base percentage. He also had a team-leading 15 RBIs in the seventh inning or later. Behind the plate, he threw out 15 base runners attempting to steal.

Susi earned All-Star status with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He played in 23 games and hit .276 with 20 hits, three doubles, three home runs, 10 RBIs and scored 12 runs. Zac is the son of John Susi, Head Baseball Coach at Western Connecticut State University and

Zac Susi (right), UConn Baseball, 2018.

Pros Playing Hartford Twilight Ball This Season

These GHTBL players have professional baseball experience.

Matt Purnell

Team: Vernon Orioles
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-2, 210lb (188cm, 95kg)
Born: April 8, 1991 (Age: 26-064d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT

Kevin Rival

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-2, 220lb (188cm, 95kg)
Born: November 27, 1979 (Age: 37-196d) in New Britain, CT
School: Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, CT)

Tyler McIntyre

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Positions: First Baseman and Rightfielder
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Right
6-4, 220lb (193cm, 99kg)
Born: April 10, 1990 (Age: 27-062d)
School: Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, CT)

James Kukucka

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
5-11, 225lb (180cm, 97kg)
Born: January 23, 1987 (Age: 30-139d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT)

John Kubachka

Team: People’s United Bank
Position:
 First Baseman
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-5, 240lb (196cm, 113kg)
Born: May 25, 1979 (Age: 38-017d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT)

Kevin Jefferis

Team: Marlborough Braves
Position:
 Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-1, 195lb (185cm, 88kg)
Born: April 23, 1991 (Age: 26-049d)
School: Western New England College (Springfield, MA)

Charlie Hesseltine

Team: Record-Journal Expos
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Left
5-11, 180lb (180cm, 81kg)
Born: January 19, 1985 (Age: 32-143d) in Meriden, CT
Draft: Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 42nd round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft from Francis T Maloney HS (Meriden, CT).
High School: Francis T Maloney HS (Meriden, CT)

Kevin Putkonen

Team: East Hartford Jets
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Left
6-0, 205lb (183cm, 92kg)
Born: April 4, 1988 (Age: 29-068d)
High School: South Windsor High School