Tag: stadium

Hartford’s Minor League Club – Part IV: The Bees (1938-1945)

Minor League

  • Eastern League (1938-1945)

Championship Season

  • 1944

Major League Affiliations

Hartford Bees in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Notable Hartford Bees


From 1934 to 1937, minor league baseball in Hartford, Connecticut, was temporarily replaced by a semi-professional team called the Savitt Gems. In part due to effects of the Great Depression, no minor league club represented the city until February of 1938. The vacancy was filled by the Boston Bees of the National League who decided to relocate their Class-A minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Boston Bees owner, Bob Quinn, leased Bulkeley Stadium, reintroducing Hartford to the Eastern League.

Hartford officials present the Boston Bees with an official pledge of support, 1938
Hartford officials present the Boston Bees with an official pledge of support, 1938.
Hartford Bees Business Manager Charlie Blossfield prepares Bulkeley Stadium for the season, 1938.

Quinn’s son John Quinn was assigned as President of the Hartford club. Operations were carried out by General Manager Charles Blossfield – who became a beloved local figure. Blossfield hired staff, prepared the stadium and recruited players. A final roster was selected at Spring Training in Evansville, Indiana. Back then a Class-A club was one step down from the Major Leagues. For the most part, top prospects went through in the Eastern League (and still do today).

Hartford Bees en route to Evansville, Indiana, for Spring Training, 1938.
Eddie Onlsow (center), signs on as Hartford’s manager, 1938.

As a final stop before Boston, Hartford’s new team became a highly anticipated attraction. The club immediately took on multiple endearing nicknames. Fans previously knew them as the Senators. The Hartford Courant referred to them as the Senators, Bees or Baby Bees. Other newspapers like the Hartford Times nicknamed them the Laurels. Despite conflicting mascots and disagreement among proofreaders, fans turned out in the thousands to Bulkeley Stadium.

Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.

Hartford’s manager was Eddie Onslow, a 45 year old baseball veteran. He directed a youthful crew of power hitters, including Ralph McLeod, Stan Andrews and Lee Heller. A two-way pitcher named Art Doll paced the team in batting average (.366) as well as innings pitched (244). Hartford finished the season with an even record at 67 wins and 67 losses. 

Eddie Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Eddie Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Art Doll, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Art Doll, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Sebby Sisti, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Sebby Sisti, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Ed Black, Pitcher (left) and Manager Eddie Onslow, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Ed Black, Pitcher (left) and Manager Eddie Onslow, Hartford Bees, 1938.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.
Dan Curtis, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1938.

The next year, Hartford signed big league veteran Fresco Thompson as player-manager. Thompson, 37, had been an elite hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was also a former teammate and friend of Lou Gehrig at Columbia University – the superstar first baseman who had previously played minor league ball in Hartford under the guise of a fake name. Expectations for quality baseball at Bulkeley Stadium grew with Thompson at the helm.

Governor Baldwin warming up his arm at the Connecticut State Capitol Building, 1939.
Governor Baldwin warming up his arm at the Connecticut State Capitol Building, 1939.
Fresco Thompson, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Fresco Thompson, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Hartford Bees Opening Day, 1939.
Hartford Bees Opening Day, 1939.
Hartford Bees at the Garfield Inn, Hartford, Connecticut, 1939.
Hartford Bees at the Garfield Inn, Hartford, Connecticut, 1939.

The Bees of 1939 added outfield prospects in Ralph Hodgin and Bama Rowell. Sebby Sisti returned for a second season. In 199 at bats, Sisti had a .312 batting average before being called up to Boston. Despite a promising roster, fan expectations were dashed. The club had a miserable second half of the season, and Hartford sunk to last place in the Eastern League.

Players for the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Players for the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Hartford vs. Binghamton, June 7, 1939.
Hartford vs. Binghamton, June 7, 1939.
Batters for the Hartford Senators (Bees), 1939.
Batters for the Hartford Senators (Bees), 1939.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1939.
Lee Heller, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Lee Heller, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Gene Handley, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Gene Handley, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Manuel Onis, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1939.
Manuel Onis, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1939.
1939 Hartford Senators (Bees)
1939 Hartford Senators (Bees)

Finally, the Bees played to their potential in 1940. The turnaround began when the organization hired Jack Onslow as Manager. He was a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a radio broadcaster and the younger brother of former manager, Eddie Onslow. The new Onslow would be credited for his handling of Hartford’s pitching staff. Starters Art Johnson, Hank LaManna, George Diehl and Joseph Rucidlo each earned double-digit-win seasons and were among league leaders in earned run average.

Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Hartford Senators (Bees) at Springfield on Opening Day, 1940.
Hartford Senators (Bees) at Springfield on Opening Day, 1940.
Frankie LaManna (left) and Art Johnson, Pitchers, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Frankie LaManna (left) and Art Johnson, Pitchers, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Bill Jackson, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Bill Jackson, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jack Onslow, Manager, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Johnny Dudra, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Johnny Dudra, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1940.
George Diehl, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
George Diehl, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.

The club’s best all-around performance came from Ralph Hodgin, whose 160 hits marked second-most in the Eastern League. Second baseman, Tommy Neill, knocked a team-high .326 batting average. A 19-year old reliever named Jim Hickey began his four-year stint with the team. Mike Sandlock, a local from Greenwich, Connecticut, served as backup catcher. By the end of September Hartford had placed third, qualifying them for the postseason. They contended in a four-team playoff dubbed the Governor’s Cup but lost to Binghamton in the finals.

Paul Rampey, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Paul Rampey, Infielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Hartford Lady Fans proposes a new organization to support Hartford, 1940.
Hartford Lady Fans proposes a new organization to support Hartford, 1940.
Joe Rucidio, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, injures knee at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Joe Rucidio, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, injures knee at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Irv Bartling, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1940.

In 1941, the Boston Bees were rebranded to the Boston Braves. That same year, business manager Charlie Blossfield convinced franchise owners Bob Quinn and John Quinn to make changes at Bulkeley Stadium. Blossfield predicted that electric lighting would boost ticket sales if night games were played on a regular basis. This allowed fans to go home after work, attend a ballgame in the evening and repeat this schedule day after day. The first game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium took place on June 16, 1941, in game that Hartford lost 5-3 to Scranton.

Governor Robert A. Hurley throws out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
Governor Hurley throws out ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
Players at Hartford Bees training camp, 1941.
Players at Hartford Bees training camp, 1941.
First game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium, June 16, 1941.
First game under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium, June 16, 1941.

Three weeks later on July 8, 1941, over 5,500 fans marveled at an exhibition game between the Hartford Bess and their parent club, the Boston Braves. The witty and widely adored Casey Stengel was serving as Boston’s manager at the time. Stengel’s team fielded several former Baby Bees. Sebby Sisti played third base and led-off for Boston. Bama Rowell played second base and hit fifth. Boston squeezed by Hartford 8-7, escaping the embarrassment of losing to their minor league affiliate.

Casey Stengel, Manager, Boston Braves, 1941.
Casey Stengel, Manager, Boston Braves, 1941.
Former Hartford players on the road with the Boston Bees 1941.
Former Hartford players on the road with the Boston Bees 1941.

As the regular season commenced, Hartford scuffled. Jack Onslow was dismissed after a bad month of July, and their 26-year-old first baseman Don Manno was appointed player-manager. The Bees were destined for a seventh place finish. For major league-owned franchises like Hartford, winning minor league pennants had become less of a priority. Instead, the minor league club was managed the a farm system for the first time – feeding its top players to Boston. George Barnicle, Al “Skippy” Roberge and William “Whitey” Wietelmann were among the personnel who split time between Hartford and Boston as big league call-ups.

1941 Hartford Bees
1941 Hartford Bees
Don Manno, Player-Manager, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Don Manno, Player-Manager, Hartford Bees, 1941.

Meanwhile, Ralph Hodgin continued his torrid batting for the Bees with 150 base hits in 1941. Hodgin’s dependable bat made him one of the most popular players to ever wear a Hartford uniform. Leo Eastham was also a major contributor with 107 hits and nearly flawless defense at first base. Charles George, Robert “Ace” Williams and John Dagenhard led the team in innings pitched. Serviceable catchers John Stats and Red Steiner shared time behind home plate.

Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Hodgin, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1941.
George Barnicle, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Younker, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Ralph Younker, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Leo Eastham, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Leo Eastham, First Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tommy Neil, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tommy Neil, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Otto Huber, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1941.
Tony DeMaio, Bat Boy, Hartford Bees, 1941.

In Hartford and throughout the nation, the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed the baseball world forever. American troop enlistment during World War II upended the careers of many minor leaguers – though not all of them. The Hartford Bees came back next summer with a new manager named Del Bissonette. He would become one of Hartford’s most memorable clubhouse commanders. Playing for Bissonette was one of the best pitchers to ever throw in a Hartford uniform, Warren Spahn.

Hartford Bees leave for Spring Training, 1942.
Hartford Bees leave for Spring Training, 1942.
Johnny Dudra, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Johnny Dudra, Second Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Former Hartford Bees at Boston Braves Spring Training, 1942.
Former Hartford Bees at Boston Braves Spring Training, 1942.
Sebby Sisti, Norine Barone SIsti and Art Johnson, 1942.
Sebby Sisti, Norine Barone SIsti and Art Johnson, 1942.
Ralph Younker and Alvin Montgomery car accident, 1942.
Ralph Younker and Alvin Montgomery car accident, 1942.
Art Funk, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Art Funk, Third Baseman, Hartford Bees, 1942.
Al Schacht visits Hartford, 1942.
Al Schacht visits Hartford, 1942.

About thirty years before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a 21 year old Warren Spahn took the mound for the Hartford Bees. When the outstanding southpaw arrived in Hartford, Spahn’s talents were well known due to his performance in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. He became the only Bees player named to the 1942 Eastern League All-Star team. Spahn had a 17-12 record for with a 1.96 earned run average before being called up to the Majors. Like many ballplayers, Spahn enlisted in the United States Army and earned a Purple Heart in combat.

1942 Warren Spahn Hartford Bees
Warren Spahn, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1942.

With a few exceptions, the Hartford Bees of 1943 were made up of Boston’s latest signings looking to reach the big leagues. During Spring Training the new Baby Bees set up an exhibition game against J.O. Christian’s baseball club at University of Connecticut. The day game at Storrs was well documented in the Hartford Courant. Hartford defeated the Huskies 8-1. These vivid photos captured the action:

1943 Hartford Bees at University of Connecticut, 1943.
1943 Hartford Bees at University of Connecticut, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
Ben Cardoni, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Ben Cardoni, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Bees (left) and J.O. Christian, Head Coach, UConn, 1943.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Bees (left) and J.O. Christian, Head Coach, UConn, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.
UConn vs. Hartford Bees, 1943.

During the Regular Season, Del Bissonette’s Baby Bees had reliable starters in John Dagenhard and Carl Lindquist. Stan Wetzel, Tommy Neill and Don Manno were the team’s big bats. Three homegrown players from the Hartford Twilight League – pitchers Peter Naktenis and Sam Hyman of Hartford and infielder Jimmy Francoline of East Windsor – joined the Bees for their first of consecutive three seasons. Hartford’s team at Bulkeley Stadium ended up in third place.

Bob Quinn (left), President, Boston Braves and Charley Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Bob Quinn (left), President, Boston Braves and Charley Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Hartford Bees advertisement, 1943.
Hartford Bees advertisement, 1943.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Bees, 1943.
Sam Hyman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1943.
Sam Hyman, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1943.

The success and popularity of the Bees finally culminated into a championship run in 1944. Opposing pitchers were no match for Hartford’s heavy hitters. Vince Shupe, Bob Brady, Roland Gladu and Stan Wetzel were everyday players hitting above .300. Pete Naktenis led the pitching staff in strikeouts with 139 – though he could only pitch at home games because of his engineering job at Colt’s Manufacturing. Two relatively unknown starting pitchers, William Marshall and Warren Mueller had also had marvelous seasons. Hartford outclassed the Eastern League to win the Regular Season title eight wins ahead of Albany.

1944 Hartford Bees with Charlie Blossfield (standing, middle).
1944 Hartford Bees with Charlie Blossfield (standing, middle).
Mayor Mortensen throws out ball of Opening Day, 1944.
Mayor Mortensen throws out ball of Opening Day, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport, 1944.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Del Bissonette, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Al "Skippy" Roberge, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Al “Skippy” Roberge, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Vince Shupe, First Baseman, Hartford, Senators, 1944.
Vince Shupe, First Baseman, Hartford, Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop and Steve Shemo, Second Baseman of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium 1944.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop and Steve Shemo, Second Baseman of the Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Pete Naktenis crosses home plate, 1944.
Pete Naktenis crosses home plate, 1944.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Roland Gladu, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Roland Gladu, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.
Stan Wentzel, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1944.

In 1945, Del Bissonette was promoted to Boston as Third Base Coach, and eventually Manager of the Braves for part of the season. In place of Bissonette, Hartford employed their lefty pitcher and a pennant winner of the previous year, Merle Settlemire. Pete Naktenis performed admirably again in his final year as a professional. Mickey Katkaveck of Manchester, Connecticut, and a member of the Savitt Gems, played 30 games as a backup catcher. Hartford’s fourth place finish went down in obscurity and the club known as the Bees, Senators and Laurels finally came to an end when, the following year, the club was renamed the Hartford Chiefs.

Fred “Dutch” Dorman (left), Manager and Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager of the Bees, 1945.
Fred “Dutch” Dorman (left), Manager and Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager of the Bees, 1945.
Sam Sporn and Moe Sporn, Hartford Bees, 1945
Sam Sporn and Moe Sporn, Hartford Bees, 1945
Hartford Senators raise '44 Eastern League Pennant, 1945.
Hartford Senators raise ’44 Eastern League Pennant, 1945.
Billy "Whitey" Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1945
Billy “Whitey” Wietelmann, Infielder, Hartford Senators, 1945
Bob Quinn, Boston Braves and Governor Raymond E. Baldwin of Connecticut sign balls for a clothing drive contest while Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager, Hartford Bees looks on, 1945.
Bob Quinn, Boston Braves and Governor Raymond E. Baldwin of Connecticut sign balls for a clothing drive contest while Charlie Blossfield, Business Manager, Hartford Bees looks on, 1945.
L to R: Del Bissonette joins Boston Braves management, John Quinn, General Manager and Bob Coleman, Manager, 1945.
L to R: Del Bissonette joins Boston Braves management, John Quinn, General Manager and Bob Coleman, Manager, 1945.
Harvey Roop, Hartford Bees, 1945.
Harvey Roop, Hartford Bees, 1945.
Merle Settlemire, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Merle Settlemire, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1945.
Charlie Aickley, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1945.

Young Italians boy wearing Hartford baseball uniforms, 1947.
Young Italians boy wearing Hartford Bees uniforms, 1947.
Del BIssonette, former Hartford Bees Manager, 1948.
Del BIssonette, former Hartford Bees Manager, 1948.

The Baseball Origins of Dillon Stadium

Recently, the naming rights of Hartford’s oldest outdoor sports facility were sold to corporate interests. The time-tested Dillon Stadium has taken a bow to make way for Trinity Health Stadium. Though some people will refuse to call it anything other than Dillon Stadium, perhaps a review of its backstory will enlighten fans and provide some understanding in a time of change. Long before Hartford Athletic played soccer at Dillon, the venue first began as a baseball diamond called Municipal Stadium.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2020.

Erected on Huyshope Avenue in the spring of 1935, Municipal Stadium was the result of public outcry for an enclosed baseball field for amatuer players. After more than a decade of petitions, the city finally built a diamond at the eastern edge of Colt Park. Funding for the project came from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Depression-era field had 8-feet tall fences, a chain link backstop and oversized bleachers hugging foul territory.

Bob Cameron of the Hartford Twilight League scores the first run at Municipal Stadium, Hartford, June 29, 1935.

Hartford’s amateurs were pleased with the ballpark because they no longer needed to rent Bulkeley Stadium for big games. At that time, there were nearly a dozen baseball field at Colt Park, including the new “Munie” Stadium. The field’s first headliner contests were played by Hartford Twilight League teams. In June of 1935, the stadium opened with a parade featuring a marching band. Mayor of Hartford, Joseph W. Beach dedicated the field by hoisting an American flag up a flagpole alongside the facility overseer and Recreation Supervisor, James H. Dillon.

James H. Dillon, c. 1936.

Less than a year later, a massive flood hit Hartford. Heavy rain overflowed the Connecticut River and Park River, engulfing the city and destroying Municipal Stadium. The Flood of 1936 forced amateurs out of Colt Park. Many defected to the East Hartford Twilight League. Hartford’s Municipal Stadium was out of commission for most of the summer. However, Supervisor Dillon spearheaded an effort to rebuild the venue and “Munie” Stadium was quickly revived.

Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.
View of Colt Park, Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.

After cleanup and repairs, the field was rededicated on September 19, 1936. City officials marched down to Colt Park to celebrate the recovery with another flag raising. The ceremony was followed by an interstate doubleheader played by Hartford’s Senior All-Stars and Junior All-Stars. Hometown pitching ace and GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee, Yosh Kinel won the afternoon for the Seniors; whipping a traveling club from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rededication Ceremony at Municipal Stadium, 1936.
Rededication of Municipal Stadium after the flood, 1936.

Municipal Stadium had become a hotbed for regional baseball talent. In the summer of 1937, a professional tryout came to town. Hartford’s best showcased their ability before scouts of the Rochester Red Wings. It was the first of many minor league tryouts held at the facility. Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, dozens of Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League players would sign professional contracts on the main diamond at Colt Park.

Rochester Red Wings host professional tryout at Municipal Stadium, 1937.

During the autumn seasons, Municipal Stadium doubled as a football field. As a result, a fieldhouse was constructed on the premises in 1939. The facility was reported to accommodate 10,000 spectators at that time. It was a fan favorite for its affordability and walkability. Aside from the occasional flood, South Hartford’s riverbank provided the perfect setting for local sporting events.

Municipal Stadium in Colt Park, Hartford, 1939.

Onlookers witnessed high school baseball at Municipal Stadium including Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public. There were also several amateur loops using the stadium during the 1940’s: the Industrial League, Public Service League, Catholic League, and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Semi-professional clubs like the Savitt Gems hosted benefit games at “Munie” Stadium to fundraise for local causes and wartime initiatives.

George Register of Weaver High School, Municipal Stadium, 1940.
Norman “Red” Branch (left) and Aaron Robinson of Coast Guard at Municipal Stadium, 1942.

Hartford Twilight League action returned to Municipal Stadium after World War II. The loop was re-established in the summer of 1946. That season, many players picked up a bat for the first time since carrying a rifle across Europe or Asia. Dozens of young war veterans were fixtures at “Munie” Stadium. Men such as U.S. Army veteran John Buikus starred for his company-sponsored team, Royal Typewriter.

Ernie Hutt, Walt Fonfara, John Buikus and Nonny Zazzaro of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.
Jon Cordier and Ed Roche of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.

By 1955, Municipal Stadium was worn down. Sports Editor of the Hartford Courant, Bill Lee wrote a subpar review of the ballpark in his “With Malice Toward None” column. He called it, “…a poorly maintained baseball diamond of sorts.” The following year, Hartford Mayor James H. Kinsella passed a resolution to rehabilitate and rename Municipal Stadium. From then on, the facility took on the name of Hartford’s favorite supervisor, James H. Dillon, whose accomplishments had won the city national acclaim in parks and recreation.

Jack Hines, catcher for Hartford Public High School hits an infield single, Municipal Stadium, 1955.
Hartford Courant excerpt, April 25, 1956.

The newly christened Dillon Stadium took over as Hartford’s sole baseball field in the late 1950’s. Nearby on Hamner Street, Bulkeley Stadium was abandoned and the land was eventually conveyed to the highest bidder. Hartford had neither a minor league stadium nor a minor league team. Consequently, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL) became the only game in town at Dillon Stadium. On August 12, 1959, a team of GHTBL All-Stars trounced a club of rookie professionals picked by the New York Yankees.

GHTBL All-Stars defeat New York Yankees Rookies at Dillon Stadium, August 12, 1959.

Due in part to public exposure at Dillon Stadium, the Twilight League enjoyed a golden era during the 1960’s. Season openers, playoff tournaments and old-timer games were well-attended for a nominal fee and widely-heralded in newspapers. The Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times were awash with recaps at Dillon. Despite the stadium’s deep connection to America’s National Pastime, the era expired in 1971. An aging Dillon Stadium was in need of a revisions and the city permanently reconfigured the site into a football, soccer and rock concert arena.

Bob Martin (left) of Valco Machine hits game-winning home run, Dillon Stadium, 1965.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers’ Day at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
GHTBL Opens at Dillon Stadium, 1970.
Hartford Twilight League Old-Timers at Dillon Stadium, 1970.

Many years later, a glimmer of hope appeared for baseball at Dillon Stadium. City officials organized the Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee in 1987 to bring professional baseball back to Hartford for the first time since the Hartford Chiefs left in 1956. The group was conducted by a firefighter, Michael P. Peters, the namesake of Mike Peters Little League. Peters and the task force sought to renovate Dillon Stadium into a minor league ballpark. Designs were drawn and models were presented for a $20 million revamp.

Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee reporting by Joel Lang and Owen Canfield, Hartford Courant, June, 1987.
Hartford baseball ad, July 16, 1987.

However, the project lacked enough public support. Skeptics included City Council members, real estate developers and business leaders. In addition, the Dillon Stadium Task Force was unable to attract a minor league club to the negotiating table. Most potential investors considered the Hartford market to be overlapped by the New Britain Red Sox of the Eastern League. By 1991, the deal withered away and the campaign helped Mike Peters become Mayor of Hartford (1993 to 2001).

Mayor Mike Peters at Dillon Stadium, 1989.
Promotional hat made for Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee, 1989.

“It was a very fine baseball stadium in terms of the field and ground. It was what I call a Class-A stadium. In the 1940’s it might have been the best baseball diamond in the Connecticut area.”

Victor Jarm, former Recreation Supervisor of Hartford, gushes over Municipal Stadium, 1989.
Dillon Stadium article by Roberto Gonzalez, Hartford Courant, August 31, 1989.

These days, baseball is a long gone memory at the former Dillon Stadium. In 2019, Hartford Athletic owners, Hartford Sports Group, partnered with Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to refurbish the city-owned facility for $14 million. As part of the quasi-public deal, Hartford Sports Group reserved the right to sell the name of Hartford’s oldest remaining sports venue. Trinity Health Stadium is now home to Hartford Athletic soccer of the United Soccer League.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2014.
Trinity Health Stadium, formerly Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2022.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant: “Jon Lender: $14M Dillon Stadium renovation was marred by ‘charade of an RFP’ that ‘undermines public confidence,’ says watchdogs’ draft report”.
  2. Hartford Courant: Football, The Rolling Stones, elephants and soccer: A look at Dillon Stadium through the years.”
  3. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
  4. Hartford Athletic: Hartfordathletic.com/dillon-stadium
  5. USL Soccer News: USLsoccer.com/news_article/show/1216699

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

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

Minor Leagues

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

Championship Seasons

  • 1923 & 1931

Hartford Senators in the Baseball Hall of Fame


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

Hartford holds a practice at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1916.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarkin Stadium, 1921.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Hartford in Minor Leagues:

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

Notable Players:

Hartford, Connecticut, has been represented by 71 affiliated and unaffiliated minor league baseball clubs. The franchise began when the Hartford Dark Blues of the National League moved to Brooklyn in 1877 and the city was without a professional team. During an era when teams traveled by train or steamboat, Hartford was an ideal location for organized baseball. Ben Douglas Jr., a prime mover in forming the Dark Blues, raised $4,000 from shareholders to create Hartford’s first minor league team in 1878. Initially, Douglas located the club in Providence, Rhode Island, then shifted operations to New Haven, but ultimately selected Hartford.

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1877.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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Bulkeley Stadium, Gone But Not Forgotten

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium

  • Former names: Clarkin Stadium (1921-1927) and Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (1901-1927)
  • Location: Hanmer Street & George Street, off Franklin Avenue Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Capacity: 12,500
  • Opened: 1928
  • Demolished: 1955
  • Tenants: Hartford Baseball Club (1902-1932, 1934, 1938-1945), Hartford Blues Football Club (1925-1927), Savitt Gems (1932-1945) and Hartford Chiefs (1946-1952).
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1928.

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium was a sports venue in Hartford, Connecticut, and the site of Babe Ruth’s final ballgame. Bulkeley Stadium was home to the Hartford Baseball Club, a minor league team who were nicknamed the Senators, the Bees and then the Chiefs. Major league stars and the “who’s who” of baseball made exhibition game appearances at Hartford’s former stadium.

Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, 1911.

Semi-professional teams like the Savitt Gems and the Hartford Indians frequently used the facility. During baseball’s off-season, the Hartford Blues of the National Football League, nationally sanctioned boxing matches, motor sports and artistic performances were popular attractions. Initially constructed in 1921 as Clarkin Field, the stadium was renamed in 1928 to honor former Connecticut Governor, U.S. Senator and First President of the National League, Morgan Gardner Bulkeley.

Map of baseball venues throughout Hartford’s history, 2004.

A block to the east of Bulkeley Stadium was the ballpark’s original site; Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, also referred to as Hartford Baseball Park, the Hartford Base Ball Grounds, or simply the Hartford Grounds. Each of these names were used interchangeably. In March of 1896, Manager William Barnie of the Hartford Baseball Club constructed a grandstand on the south side of the city measuring 150 feet wide and 20 feet tall. In December of 1905, James H. Clarkin purchased the Hartford Senators and leased the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. At the time, the diamond was “regarded as the finest in this section of the country.”

Barnie secures Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1896.
Hartford Ball Park, Wethersfield Avenue, 1896.
Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, Hartford, Connecticut, 1908.

Hundreds of games were played at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds by amateur, semi-professional and professional teams. The facility underwent improvements and renovations on several occasions; the first of which was completed in spring of 1910. A ticket office was erected, the concessions stand doubled in size and carpeting was installed in the clubhouse. Manager Bob Connery of the Hartford Senators in the Connecticut State League was reported to be pleased with ballpark’s improvements in the April 9, 1910, edition of the Hartford Courant. Wethersfield Avenue Grounds became a destination for the game’s biggest names.

William Moore, Hartford Groundskeeper, 1910.
New Haven vs. Hartford at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
Benny Kauff, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1913.
Hartford Senators and Judge Kenesaw Landis at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1916.

In the summer of 1916, the infamous Ty Cobb delighted a small crowd of 800 Hartford fans. Cobb guest starred for the visiting New Haven Colonials at first base and relief pitcher versus the Hartford Poli’s, a semi-professional club. Alongside Cobb on the Colonials was Torrington High School alumnus and Philadelphia Athletics player Joe Dugan who played shortstop. The Colonials beat the Poli’s 7 to 0. Cobb would visit Hartford again in 1918, though this bit of history would be overshadowed by another famed slugger.

Ty Cobb plays in Hartford, 1916.

In 1918 and 1919 the one and only Babe Ruth played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds as part of his perennial barnstorming tours. Days after winning the World Series with Boston Red Sox, Ruth made his first appearance in Hartford on September 16, 1918, to play for the Hartford Poli’s. Ruth pitched the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory versus the Fisk Red Tops. He hurled a complete game shutout, allowing only 4 hits. Ruth hit third of the batting order, recording a single and double. Ruth drew a crowd of about 5,000 spectators and earned a reported $350 for his appearance.

Babe Ruth plays at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1918.

In 1921, owner of the Hartford Senators, James H. Clarkin built a new baseball venue a block to the west of the old Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The site was located at the intersection of Hanmer Street and George Street off of Franklin Avenue in South Hartford. A large grandstand made of steel and concrete wrapped around the field from foul pole to foul pole. Locker rooms below the stands were equipped with showers, baths, and telephones. The facility was dubbed Clarkin Stadium and garnered a reputation as one of New England’s best ballparks.

Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium blueprint, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Hartford Police defeat Waterbury Police at Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium, 1921.

Clarkin Stadium hosted Hall of Fame slugger Lou Gehrig who began his career with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in 1921, 1923 and 1924. Famous Native American olympian athlete, Jim Thorpe appeared in Hartford’s lineup near the end of his career. Leo Durocher, Jo-Jo Morrissey, Kiddo Davis, and Pete Appleton were also Senators at this time. In 1927, an accidental fire severely damaged the grandstand at Clarkin Stadium. Though it was rebuilt two months later, the Hartford Senators played their games on the road until mid-July.

Hartford Senators with Lou Gehrig (seated, center) at Clarkin Stadium, 1923.
Lou Gehrig at Clarkin Stadium, 1923.
Opening Day at Clarkin Stadium, 1925.
Hartford Blues Football, 1926.
Hartford Senators Opening Day, 1927.
James H. Clarkin, 1928.

In January of 1928, Clarkin sold his stadium as well as Hartford’s minor league franchise. Both were purchased for over $200,000 by a group of private investors led by Robert J. Farrell, a real estate and insurance agent and longtime business manager for the Senators. Hartford continued their play in the Eastern League under Farrell’s direction. Clarkin Stadium was renamed Bulkeley Stadium to honor Morgan G. Bulkeley who had passed away six years prior. Existing wood bleachers were replaced by steel seating throughout the grandstand.

Stadium seating at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
William Eisemann, Catcher, Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium Mayor Norman Stevens and Bob Farrell, 1928.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium boxing, Bat Battalino v.s. Eddie Lord, 1929.

Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Hank Greenberg played for the 1930 Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium with King Bader as manager. President Robert J. Farrell died at age 32 of acute appendicitis. During the depths of the Great Depression, the Senators were purchased by and became the affiliates of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. The Senators went on to win the 1931 Eastern League championship behind the bats of Red Howell, Al Cohen and Bobby Reis. When the Eastern League disbanded at the midpoint of the 1932 season, Bulkeley Stadium and the City of Hartford were without a headlining baseball club.

Hartford Senators and Judge Kenesaw Landis, 1930.
Hartford Courant reporters play game at Bulkeley Stadium, 1930.
Hartford vs. New Haven at Bulkeley Stadium, 1931.
Hartford vs. Allentown at Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Shortly thereafter a semi-professional club called the Savitt Gems stepped in as tenants of Bulkeley Stadium in July of 1932. They were backed by local jeweler and baseball promoter Bill Savitt who first created the Gems in 1930 as part of the Hartford Twilight League. With Bulkeley Stadium as home base, the Gems made the leap from amateur to semi-professional. From 1932 to 1945, Savitt and his Gems welcomed countless big leaguers as guest stars in Hartford, including: Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ted Williams, Honus Wagner, Lloyd Waner, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Thorpe, Chief Bender, Josh Gibson, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige, Johnny Taylor, Johnny Mize, Bill McKechnie, Moose Swaney and Monk Dubiel.

Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
1932 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
Savitt leases Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
Bulkeley Stadium Official Scorecard, 1932.
Jimmy Foxx at Bulkeley Stadium, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Johnny Taylor pitches for the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1934.
Motorcycle racing at Bulkeley Stadium, 1935.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1936.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
Dizzy Dean at Bulkeley Stadium, 1936.
Savitt Gems vs. Cleveland Indians, 1937.

In 1938, the Boston Bees of the National League returned minor league baseball to Hartford. Boston purchased the Hartford Senators and leased Bulkeley Stadium. The club was referred to as the Hartford Senators and the Hartford Bees (and Hartford Laurels). During the 1942 season, Del Bissonette served as player-manager while eventual Hall of Fame pitcher, Warren Spahn earned 17 wins and 12 losses. A few years later, Hartford won the 1944 Eastern League pennant due to pitching by Hal Schacker as well as hometown hero and former Savitt Gems ace, Pete Naktenis.

Charlie Blossifield and the Hartford Bees move into Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Al Schacht at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Gene Handley, Hartford Bees, 1939.
1939 Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford vs. Springfield at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Governor Hurley on Opening Day at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
The Eastern League’s Hartford Baseball Club at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.
Ted Williams plays at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport at Bulkeley Stadium, 1944.
1944 Hartford Baseball Club at Bulkeley Stadium.

On September 30, 1945, Babe Ruth returned to Hartford to play in a charity game at Bulkeley Stadium as a member of the Savitt Gems. At 50 years old, Ruth drew a crowd of more than 2,500. He took batting practice before the game and clouted a home run over Bulkeley Stadium’s right field fence. During the exhibition, Ruth coached first base. He later entered the game as a pinch-hitter and grounded out to the pitcher. The ballgame was Ruth’s final appearance of his playing career. Ruth passed away less than 3 years later at the age of 53.

Babe Ruth plays for Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.
Bill Savitt and Babe Ruth at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.
Babe Ruth plays his last ball game on the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.

In 1946, Hartford’s minor league franchise changed their name to the Hartford Chiefs as a result of their major league affiliate, reverting their official name back to the Boston Braves. Players Gene Conley, George Crowe, Frank Torre and local Wethersfield native, Bob Repass were standouts for the Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium. When the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League were also relocated.

Hartford Chiefs program, 1946.
Warren Spahn, Boston Braves (lef) at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Chiefs vs. Trinity College at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Chiefs vs. Wilkes-Barre at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Fire Department at Bulkeley Stadium, 1948.
Boston Braves vs. Trinity College Bulkeley Stadium, 1948.
Johnny Taylor, Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
Hartford Courant All-Stars at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
Boston Braves vs. Boston Braves at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
1950 Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium.
Hugh Casey, Brooklyn Dodgers at Bulkeley Stadium, 1950.
Major League All-Stars vs. Hartford Indians, 1950.
Johnny Mize and Gene Woodling, New York Yankees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1950.
Anguish over Gene Conley Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Gene Conley, Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Tommy Holmes, Manager, Hartford Chiefs teaches clinic at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
1951 Hartford Laurelettes
Len Pearson, Hartford Chiefs, 1951.
Connie Mack at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Business Manager Charles Blossfield, 1951.
Hartford Chiefs Program, 1952.
Trinity College at Bulkeley Stadium, 1952.
Eddie Matthews at Bulkeley Stadium, 1952.
Boxing at Bulkeley Stadium, 1953.
St. Louis Browns at Bulkeley Stadium, 1953.
Jim Piersall and Joey Jay, at Bulkeley Stadium 1953.

In 1955, the stadium was sold by the Milwaukee Braves to John E. Hays Realty of Hartford for $50,000. A shopping center is planned for the site but it never materialized. Bulkeley Stadium fell into disarray and was demolished. The property became a nursing home named Ellis Manor. A stone monument and home plate was dedicated in 1998 to remember the decades of memories at Bulkeley Stadium. Another commemorative ceremony was held at the site in 2013.

Bulkeley Stadium Monument Dedication, 1998.

Bulkeley Commemoration Ceremony, 2013.

“On the baseball field at Bulkeley Stadium, Leo Durocher played his first season of professional baseball. On the same diamond, Lou Gehrig, learned the rudiments of first base play and went directly from there to Yankee Stadium and baseball immortality. Hank Greenberg was a raw rookie who couldn’t make the grade here and had to be shipped down to Evansville. The greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe, wore the Hartford uniform in one of the most bizzare periods of the city’s baseball history. Paul Richards was a Hartford catcher there and Van Lingle Mungo, a Hartford pitcher. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams played at Bulkeley Stadium when Bill Savitt was keeping the place alive. A man could go down Franklin Avenue to Bulkeley Stadium and see young ball players who were going to be the very best in the majors.

Bill Lee, Sports Editor, Hartford Courant, July 9, 1955.
Ellis Manor on site of Bulkeley Stadium, 2014.

References

  1.  The Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. “Bulkeley Stadium: Hartford’s last home to pro baseball”. SABR. Retrieved 2016-01-24.

External Links

Newcombe Pitched in Hartford Before the Bigs

Born: June 141926
Died: February 192019

At 18 years old, right-handed pitcher, Don Newcombe traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, with his Negro National League club, the Newark Eagles. The Savitt Gems, Hartford’s semi-professional team awaited the Eagles at Bulkeley Stadium where on the night of July 20, 1944, Newcombe showcased his strong throwing arm. The Gems were held to 3 runs on 7 hits by Newcombe who earned a 6 to 3 victory.

Don Newcombe, Newark Eagles, 1944.
Newark Eagles vs. Savitt Gems, 1944.

In 1946, Don Newcombe became one of the first African-Americans to break the color barrier when he signed with Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. Newcombe spent 2 seasons in Nashua, New Hampshire, as part of the New England League and then another season with the Montreal Royals of the International League. He was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and spent his first Major League season on a team that included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca. Newcombe earned the Rookie of the Year award after a stellar 1949 season on the mound.

Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1949.

In 1952 and 1953, Newcombe served his nation in the United States Army during the Korean War and missed two seasons while in his prime. However, Newcombe returned and went on to win a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. He then won the Most Valuable Player and the Cy Young awards in 1956 after a spectacular 27-win season. Over a professional career that spanned 18 years, Newcombe was named to 4 National League All-Star teams, he won 149 pitching decisions and he hit 15 major league home runs.

Don Newcombe, Cincinnati Reds, 1959.

In June of 1958, Newcombe was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers (shortly after the move from Brooklyn) to the Cincinnati Redlegs. After a stint with the Cleveland Indians, he finished his playing career as a member of the 1962 Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Central League. As the only player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young awards in his career, Newcombe will be remembered as one of baseball’s best pitchers who helped break racial barrier. Don Newcombe died at 92 years of age.

Don Newcombe, Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds, 1961.\


Watch the clip below to learn more about the Newark Eagles:

Don Newcombe began his career with the Newark Eagles.

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.

Ted Williams Hits Game-Winning Homer in Hartford

On September 29, 1942, a day after beating the New York Yankees in the final game of the 1942 regular season, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox drove to Hartford, Connecticut. “The Kid” was to make a guest star appearance for Bill Savitt’s semi-pro club, the Savitt Gems. The Gems took on the New Britain Cremos who had the battery of the Brooklyn Dodgers as guest stars of their own; pitcher, Hugh Casey and catcher, Mickey Owen.

Doubleheader featuring Ted Williams at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.

Williams put on a display during batting practice for a crowd of about 2,500 people under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium. The game would prove to be a pitchers duel. Hartford native Monk Dubiel and Hugh Casey kept the bats at bay for 5 scoreless innings. The Gems scraped in a run in the 6th inning. In the bottom of the 7th inning, Williams stepped up and cracked a dramatic home run over the centerfield wall off of Casey. The Savitt Gems won 2-1 over the Cremos.

Hartford Courant excerpt, September 28, 1942.

When he appeared for the Gems, Ted “The Kid” Williams was 23 years old and in his prime. A year before coming to Hartford, Williams famously completed his 1941 season with an amazing .406 batting average. In 1942, he led the majors in home runs, RBI and batting average, earning his first Triple Crown. During his visit in Hartford, Williams revealed publicly that he planned to enlist in World War II as Navy flying cadet. He served heroically and would be recalled into the Korean War in 1952 and 1953. 

Ted Williams visits Hartford, 1942.
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 29, 1942.

Also called “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” Williams manned left field for the Boston Red Sox for 19 years and was a nineteen-time All-Star. By the end of his career, Williams was a 2-time recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, a 6-time AL batting champion, and a 2-time Triple Crown winner. He retired with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and a .482 on-base percentage, the highest of all time. The Kid’s career batting average is the highest of any MLB player whose career was played primarily in the live-ball era.

Ted Williams tips his cap at Fenway Park, 1991.

Ted Williams, the Kid himself, leader of both leagues in batting, home runs, and runs batted in, is coming to Hartford September 28th to play center field for the Savitt Gems in a game with a Connecticut semi-pro team to be named. The Red Sox slugger was a little backward about coming at first. Bill Savitt offered him $500 to appear, but Ted declined. Next day, Savitt offered him $750 but got no answer to his wire. Well, Bill told me about it. I suggested offering Williams a $1,000 war bond, same outlay to Bill, $750, but who could refuse a $1,000 bond? Bill wired the offer; Williams wired acceptance within one hour. Till next time, this is Bob Steele in Hartford, saying so long, men.

Bob Steele, Radio Announcer, September 24, 1942

Sources
1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
2. CTExplored.org