Ruth Played in Connecticut Early in His Career


Early in his prime, George Herman “Babe” Ruth visited Connecticut to show off his skills and raise funds for American troops fighting in World War I. A 23 year-old Ruth was primarily a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox when he first visited the Nutmeg State. The young pitcher won more games than any left-handed pitcher in the Majors from 1915 to 1918. During this stretch, he compiled a 2.28 earned run average, a winning percentage of 65% and in 1916, he hurled 9 shutout games, a record that would stand until tied by Ron Guidry in 1978. In the 1918 World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, a victorious Ruth pitched 29 ⅔ scoreless innings, a mark that would not be broken until Whitey Ford recorded 33 ⅔ innings in 1961.

Attending the 1918 World Series was the owner of the Hartford Senators, James Clarkin, who was well acquainted with owners of the Major League clubs. Clarkin attempted to get the Red Sox and the Cubs to play an exhibition game in Hartford to benefit American soldiers fighting in World War I. Clarkin’s offer was turned down by both teams, however Ruth agreed to play in Hartford. Days after winning his second World Series with the Red Sox, Ruth appeared in a series of semi-pro games throughout Connecticut. His success on the diamond and larger than life characteristics gave the Babe instant stardom. Baseball fans across the nation were clamoring to see Ruth in action for the first time.

Ruth’s first stop on his Connecticut tour was New Haven, where he guest starred for the New Haven Colonials, the Elm City’s semi-pro club. Ruth played first base for the Colonials, slugged a home run in a 5 to 1 loss versus a Cuban Stars team made up of players from the Negro League. As a batter, Ruth’s raw power was well-known yet not fully developed. After his 1918 season, the Babe had tallied only 20 of his 714 career home runs over 3 seasons with the Red Sox.

The next day, on Sunday, September 15, 1918, Ruth arrived in Hartford, attracting crowds of people hoping to see the Babe. He was driven into the city by Manager Curtis Gillette of the Hartford Poli’s baseball club to lavish accommodations at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street. Ruth would join the Hartford Poli’s ball club at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds located at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue. The Poli’s were the “fastest” club in Hartford, sponsored by Sylvester Poli, the theatre magnate, entertainment proprietor and resident of Milford, Connecticut.

The Babe and the Poli’s faced opponents from Chicopee, Massachussets, named the Fisk Red Tops. Ruth pitched the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory, beating one of his 1918 World Series Champion teammates, Dutch Leonard who guest starred as starting pitcher for the Red Tops. Ruth pitched a complete game shutout and allowing only 4 hits. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth hit in the third sport of the batting order for the Poli’s. He recorded a single and then a double that caromed off the top of the “Bull Durham” tobacco advertisement painted on the centerfield wall. Ruth entertained a crowd estimated to be about 5,000 spectators and earn a reported $350 for his appearance.

A week later, Ruth once again played on a Sunday at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds for the Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the first game, the Hartford Poli’s went head to head with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared in the games that day. Ruth pitched and hit third in the Poli’s lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate, “Bullet” Joe Bush and Pratt & Whitney won the game by a score of 1 to 0.

In the second game of the day, Ruth and the Poli’s faced a former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankee, Ray Fisher. Fisher was the headliner for the traveling Fort Slocum team who beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, had a base hit and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of more than 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth in Hartford.

The Babe must have enjoyed stopping over in Connecticut, because in the Fall of the following year Ruth came back. This time he brought his 1919 Boston Red Sox teammates to Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut, where Ruth would set a new record. He played first base and hit fourth in the batting order versus Bristol’s semi-pro juggernaut, the New Departure Endees. The team was sponsored by New Departure, a division of General Motors, and a manufacturer of precision ball bearings for cars, planes, ships, and military equipment.

On September 21, 1919, Ruth took the field with a fellow Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder, Harry Hooper who had two hits and a run on the day. Though it was the Babe who stole the how that day. As the Hartford Courant put it, “All eyes were pointed at the famous baseball mauler,” as Ruth blasted the first ever home run at Muzzy Field. Hooper was on first base when the Babe connected with a pitch thrown by Freddie Rieger, guest star pitcher for New Departure from the Pittsfield team in the Eastern League. The ball sailed over the right field fence as 5,000 onlookers cheered with adulation. The Red Sox won by a score of 6 to 2 over New Departure. The game was remembered as the most thrilling sporting event of the year in Connecticut.

While the rest of the Red Sox went home, Ruth continued his stay in Connecticut and appeared in another game with the Poli’s on September 28, 1919. At Poli Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, Ruth and the Poli’s were met by the Pioneers ball club of New Britain. Ruth hit two balls over the right-field fence but was allowed only one base for each long ball due to the a short porch rule. Earlier that day, the Babe was seen in batting practice lifting a ball over 500 feet passed the centerfield fence. Ruth played first base that day for the Poli’s who managed to shutout the Pioneers 3 to 0. Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and posed with Ruth for a photograph. More than 6,000 fans were in attendance to see the Great Bambino, who had now become the most famous ballplayer in the nation.

A few months later, on January 5,1920, Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees from the Red Sox for $125,000 in cash and about $300,000 in loans after he refused to return to play for the Red Sox at a salary of $10,000 per year. The Yankees struck a deal of the century as Ruth went on to smash his own home run record by hitting an astounding 54 four-baggers in the 1920 season, while batting at .376 clip. Going to New York only made Ruth bigger, better and in higher demand by fans across the country.

Fortunately for Hartford, the Babe kept coming back to play for the Poli’s. The 1920 New York Yankees were runner-ups in the American League pennant race behind the Cleveland Indians. As the season came to a close, Manager Gillette of the Hartford Poli’s persuaded Ruth to join the Poli’s to play against New Departure at Muzzy Field on October 2, 1920. The Babe hit “clean up” for the Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure shutout the Poli’s 7 to 0 thanks to crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitball hurler from the New York State League. Extra trains and trollies were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon allowing about 10,000 fans a chance to see the Babe, at Muzzy Field.

Connecticut’s amateur and semi-pro baseball clubs regularly hosted Babe Ruth and in return he left a long-lasting impression. In Greater Hartford and beyond, Ruth earned the game of baseball thousands of new fans. He barnstormed throughout the eastern seaboard in grand fashion and ushered in the home run era and the Golden Age of baseball (1920 to 1960). Though it wouldn’t be the last timed Ruth visited Hartford to play our national ball game.

The Saga of Bob Ferguson and the Hartford Dark Blues


By David Arcidiacono

  Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson , 17-year professional ballplayer and manager, photographed in 1878 as a new member of the Chicago White Stockings.

Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson, 17-year professional ballplayer and manager, photographed in 1878 as a new member of the Chicago White Stockings.

Robert Ferguson (1845-1894) was tough, as Hartford would come to find out. In the summer of 1873 Nat Hicks, catcher for the New York Mutuals, foolishly argued with Ferguson during a game in which Old Fergy was acting as umpire. After a few moments of name-calling and insults, Ferguson, whose no-nonsense umpiring philosophy was, “make ‘em play ball and keep their mouths shut,” grabbed a bat and ended the dispute with one swing, fracturing Hicks’s arm in the process.

Hartford came to know Bob Ferguson in 1875 when he signed a contract to manage and play third base for the city’s entry in the National Association (1871-1875), America’s first professional baseball league. The Hartford Dark Blues had entered the league the previous year under the auspices of Ben Douglas Jr. This was the 24-year-old Middletown native’s second attempt at running a professional team in Connecticut. His first had failed miserably in 1872 when the Middletown Mansfields couldn’t survive a full season in the National Association. Finding it impossible to draw sufficient support in a city of only 11,000 residents, Douglas was forced to disband the team in mid-August with empty coffers and a dismal 5-19 record.

Aware that the National Association still desired a club between New York and Boston so visiting teams could layover midway, Douglas was convinced that Hartford was the answer. Early in 1874, he gathered many of Hartford’s most prominent businessmen, including Morgan Bulkeley, to sell them on the benefits of professional baseball in Hartford. They responded enthusiastically, pledging $5,000 toward the new ballclub. Douglas was named corresponding secretary for the club, an important and time-consuming job in the days before formalized league schedules and telephones. Gershom Hubbell was elected president. Hubbell’s baseball experience included running the amateur Charter Oaks, Hartford’s first organized club, which he founded in 1862. The Charter Oaks were state champions from 1865-1867, before ceasing operations in 1870.

Prominent men in the Greater Hartford area invested in the new professional ballclub who would compete in the National Association (1874-1875).

The Dark Blues, whose uniform stockings were just that, finished next to last in their first professional season. Worse than their failure on the diamond, the players mortified Hartford’s more genteel residents with their lack of decorum off the field. Much of the blame for the team’s embarrassing conduct fell on captain and center fielder, Lipman Pike. In these early days of baseball, the team captain’s responsibilities were similar to that of today’s manager. Pike took a laissez-faire approach to managing, convening few practices and, as the Hartford Post reported in July 1874, allowing his men to “cling to their love for strong drink, for a round of pleasure at the hours when they should be abed.”

Intent on remedying the shameful situation, the Dark Blues turned to Ferguson, the most authoritarian captain in the game. In addition to being an excellent fielder and solid hitter, Ferguson was an upstanding citizen. At a time when not many ballplayers could say the same, he was a teetotaler and scrupulously honest. However, he was also a domineering, dictatorial captain with a violent streak. Al Spalding, the premier pitcher of the era, who went on to found the sporting goods empire that continues to bear his name, described Ferguson’s leadership in his memoirs, America’s National Game: “He was no master of the arts of finesse. He had no tact. He knew nothing of the subtle science of handling men by strategy rather than by force.”

1875 Hartford Dark Blues
L to R, Standing: Jack Remsen, Tom York, Candy Cummings, Tommy Bond and Bill Harbridge. Seated: Doug Allison, Everett Mills, Bob Ferguson, Tom Carey and Jack Burdock.

Ferguson surely improved discipline on the Dark Blues ballclub in his first season in Hartford, but his overbearing ways proved divisive and the team quickly gained a reputation for bickering, or “growling” in the 19th-century vernacular. When the team was losing, or even winning, he found it difficult to keep his temper in check. As the Chicago Tribune reported, if anyone on the Hartford nine committed an error, “Ferguson [would] swear until everything looks blue.” He was particularly rough on second baseman Jack Burdock, who on more than one occasion heard his captain publicly threaten “to ram his fist down Burdock’s throat.”

Some players tolerated their captain’s tyrannical leadership. Others, however, refused to comply. Whenever they found themselves the subject of Ferguson’s bullying, shortstop Tom Carey and center fielder Jack Remsen did not hesitate to yell back. Burdock and pitcher Arthur Cummings, on the other hand, often sulked; they sometimes feigned sickness and played half-heartedly, or not at all. Despite a talented squad and a record of 54 wins and 28 losses, the Dark Blues’ lack of unity confined them to second place behind Spalding’s Boston Red Stockings. (These particular Red Stockings were the forerunners of the Braves who played in Boston through the 1952 season before moving to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.)

In 1876, Hartford became the smallest of eight cities invited to join a new, more financially stable professional baseball league. The National League (the same National League in which today’s New York Mets play) was organized to address the myriad economic and gambling problems that led to the demise of the National Association after the 1875 season. Morgan Bulkeley, who had become president of the Dark Blues in 1875 after Hubbell retired from the post, was named the league’s first president. Hartford harbored high hopes of taking the reform league’s inaugural pennant. Al Spalding, now a member of the Chicago White Stockings, later to become the Chicago Cubs, told the Chicago Tribune that Hartford would “no doubt share some of the laurels, and it would really astonish some Chicagoans could they hear the manner in which this club is extolled in Hartford… The support given the club by the people of Hartford is of the most liberal character considering the size of the city, and is from the very best class of people.”

The Dark Blues debuted in the National League on April 27 in Brooklyn against the New York Mutuals. Through four innings, they played like the championship contender they were supposed to be, as star pitcher Tommy Bond limited the Mutuals to one hit and Hartford built a 3-0 lead. Things went awry in the fifth, however, as the Dark Blues committed four successive errors and the Mutuals waltzed to an 8-3 victory.

1876 Hartford Dark Blues
L to R: Back Row: Tommy Bond and Candy Cummings. Middle Row: John Burdock, Ed Mills, Bob Ferguson, Bill Harbridge and Tom York. Front Row: Dick Hingham, Doug Allison, Tom Carey, and Jack Remsen.

The club righted itself with nine consecutive victories before the powerful White Stockings arrived in town to play a three-game series at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds, the Dark Blues’ state-of-the-art ballpark located at the corner of Hendricxsen Avenue and Wyllys Street, adjacent to the still-standing Church of the Good Shepherd. An 800-seat pavilion behind home plate provided a covered seating area for stockholders and season ticket holders. On top of the pavilion was a tower with a domed roof and seating for the scorers, a telegraph operator, and one reporter from each city paper. Underneath were spacious clubrooms for each team. Tiered general admission bleachers stretched down the foul lines, and there was plenty of room for patrons’ carriages to be parked deep in the outfield, as was the custom. An eight-foot fence surrounded the entire grounds, which held approximately 9,000 fans. Gambling and the sale of liquor were strictly prohibited.

Against the favored White Stockings, whom the Hartford Times labeled “dignified, pompous, [and] conceited,” Hartford took two of the three games. These wins moved the Dark Blues into sole possession of second place, just two victories behind Chicago. Until 1882, wins, not winning percentage, determined the league standings. This was an important distinction since in these sometimes disorganized early days of baseball, teams often played an uneven number of games.

Despite their success on the diamond, the Dark Blues struggled financially as a depressed economy shrank attendance. Searching for ways to increase revenue, Morgan Bulkeley engaged in a fierce battle with Hartford’s telegraph operators, who during home games posted inning-by-inning scores on bulletin boards outside their offices. Believing this practice was keeping paying customers away from the actual games, Bulkeley banned Western Union operators from the grounds. The telegraph company refused to comply, however, and sent in an employee whose job was to record the result of each inning on a piece of paper and toss it over the fence to the operator stationed outside. When Bulkeley saw this, he commanded the young boy who was acting as a runner between the telegraph company’s “inside man” and the telegraph operator outside the park to disregard the note. Ignoring the command, not the note, the boy took off on a dead run. Bulkeley ordered the police to seize him, but the young lad eluded the slow-footed officers, frustrating the team president.

Arthur “Candy” Cummings is credited as the inventor of the curveball.

Back on the field, Hartford hosted three games against the hapless Cincinnati Red Stockings, losers of twelve straight. Ferguson took this opportunity to rest Tommy Bond and give his diminutive backup, Arthur Cummings, some work. In his National League debut, Cummings stifled Cincinnati on a three-hitter as Hartford won 6-0. This masterful performance prompted Ferguson to proclaim, “God never gave him any size, but he is the Candy.”2 The nickname “Candy,” which meant "best" in 19th-century slang, stuck for the rest of Cummings’s life. Candy Cummings was later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, mostly to honor his claim as the inventor of the curveball.

Even when his team was playing well, Ferguson’s temper continued to get the better of his judgment, leading him to holler at his players frequently during games. These public rebukes fueled a simmering dissension that was just waiting for something to ignite it. The trigger came in the form of an 8-2 loss in the second game of the Cincinnati series. This humiliating defeat at the hands of a club that would finish the season with just 9 wins outraged the Hartford Times:

There is something rotten in the Hartford club… These players are paid big salaries and they have no business to let petty jealousies and bickerings interfere with their play. If one of them gets his ‘nose out of joint’ over some real or imaginary grievance, he shows his spite by mugging on the ball field. One complains because Captain Ferguson talks too much and refuses to play his game; another declares he won’t back up Cummings; and somebody else, likely enough, is miffed because the hands of the South Church clock are not clapped every time he makes a passable catch. The men are hired to play ball—not to play baby… [Emphasis in the original.]

Although Boston Red Stockings’ manager Harry Wright had heard that “hardly two men in the Hartford nine are on speaking terms with all the others,” the club momentarily got past its growling to take the final game from Cincinnati. Over the next two weeks they reeled off six victories in a row thanks mainly to the spectacular pitching of Tommy Bond, who threw three shutouts and two one-hitters during this stretch. Realizing the immense value of Bond, Hartford quickly dropped the idea of signing a new pitcher and contracted him for the 1877 season. When word of Bond’s new contract hit the streets, the joy in Hartford was palpable.

As Hartford departed on a long western tour, the Cincinnati debacle was a distant memory. After stops in Louisville and Cincinnati, the club arrived in Chicago (Chicago and St. Louis were the furthermost western cities in the National League until 1958 when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively) having won 12 of its last 13 games. The first game between the two pennant contenders was on Independence Day, which in 1876 was celebrated with extra fervor since it marked the nation’s centennial. A raucous crowd of 12,000 was on hand, some having purchased grandstand seats at three times the standard 50-cent charge. The rowdy throng loudly cheered the White Stockings’ arrival, but some fans went overboard, igniting firecrackers and even firing pistols. The game itself featured no offensive fireworks as Tommy Bond and Al Spalding both tossed shutouts through six innings. In the seventh, Hartford pushed across the game’s only runs, scoring three times off Spalding with the help of two critical Chicago errors.

Morgan G. Bulkeley was the first President of the National League (1876) and later became Mayor of Hartford then Governor and United States Senator of Connecticut.

Back in Hartford, 1,000 people had gathered at the Dark Blues’ headquarters awaiting word from Chicago. The scores were received three innings at a time. The first two bulletins, covering six innings, showed all zeros. The final dispatch ignited a grand celebration. After sending a congratulatory note to Ferguson, a giddy Morgan Bulkeley provided a sumptuous spread in the clubrooms and ordered a load of fireworks. Later in the evening, Hartford celebrated the Dark Blues’ victory and the nation’s hundredth birthday with a grand display of pyrotechnics launched from the club’s headquarters and the Hartford Times office.

Two days later, with 2,000 supporters assembled outside the Dark Blues’ headquarters, weak hitting Jack Remsen led off the second game in Chicago with a rare home run, giving Hartford a lead they would never relinquish. Tommy Bond’s curveballs were especially effective on this day, even fooling the umpire, who often called them strikes even when they broke well out of the strike zone. The final score was 6-2.

The Dark Blues were now just a single victory from sweeping the mighty White Stockings and taking a share of first place. To prevent this, Chicago’s captain Al Spalding sent versatile first baseman Cal McVey to the pitcher’s box to stop the surging Hartford nine. McVey came through against Hartford just as he had earlier in the year, holding them scoreless for the first seven innings as Chicago cruised to an easy 9-3 victory.

Despite the loss, the Dark Blues remained upbeat as they traveled to St. Louis, poised to continue their winning ways. Rumors, backed by the flow of gambling money, were rampant that the Browns, hoping to keep the pennant away from Chicago, would lie down for Hartford. This hardly proved to be true, however, as St. Louis swept the series behind the fabulous pitching of George Washington Bradley who hurled three shutouts, one of which was the National League’s first no-hitter.

The three losses to St. Louis quickly erased the benefit of the hard-earned victories in Chicago. When they returned home, the Dark Blues weren’t in first place as the Hartford Courant had predicted during the road trip. In fact, they weren’t even alone in second place, as St. Louis had drawn even. The excitement that had enveloped the city three weeks earlier had completely evaporated. In a startling display of apathy, only 200 people bothered to attend the Dark Blues’ first home game in nearly five weeks.

As Hartford continued to fall off Chicago’s pace, more trouble arose. In a 13-4 loss to the Boston Red Stockings on August 19, Tommy Bond struggled while Bob Ferguson committed several errors at third base. After the game, the Hartford Courant reported that the star pitcher had accused his manager of “crooked work.”

Bond’s allegation was shocking. A charge of throwing games was serious business, especially when leveled against Ferguson, who had a spotless reputation when it came to gambling. In America’s National Game Spalding said of him, “Robert Ferguson was… a man of sterling integrity and splendid courage. He knew all about the iniquitous practices which had become attached to the game as barnacles to a ship, and he was sincerely desirous of eradicating them... Could it have been possible to eliminate gambling by physical demonstrations, Robert Ferguson would have cleared the Base Ball atmosphere of one of its most unsanitary conditions at that time....”

Ferguson wrote to the Hartford Times, denying all charges, pronouncing “each and every one false in every particular” and saying they were made with “a malicious purpose.” A day later, in the same newspaper, Bond recanted his statement, saying his charges “were entirely unfounded, and made in a moment of excitement, and I cheerfully acknowledge the wrong I have done both to the club and its manager, and make this the only reparation in my power.”

Despite the casual retraction, the ill will between the two men lingered until finally Bond informed Bulkeley that he wouldn’t play with Hartford so long as Ferguson was captain. Forced to choose between the two adversaries, Bulkeley annulled the remaining portion of Bond’s 1876 contract and released him from his 1877 commitment. Incredibly, less than three weeks after the initial charge, all connections between the Hartfords and their brilliant pitcher were severed.

On the field, Ferguson quickly deployed Candy Cummings in the pitcher’s box. Despite pitching well enough to keep Hartford on the margin of the race for the pennant, he couldn’t prevent the White Stockings from taking the championship with a 7-6 victory over Hartford on September 26. Hartford closed the season with a nine-game winning streak that gave them second place over St. Louis. Several Hartford players produced excellent individual statistics. In his abbreviated season, Bond amassed 45 complete games, 31 wins, and a 1.68 earned run average (ERA). Cummings posted 16 victories, a 1.67 ERA, and 5 shutouts. Right fielder Richard Higham put together a 24-game hitting streak while batting .327 and tying for the league lead with 21 doubles.

These personal accomplishments notwithstanding, lack of team harmony was the root cause of the Dark Blues’ failure to capture the pennant. With Ferguson’s constant badgering and the resulting backlash from his men, Hartford’s record suffered. Still, if the Dark Blues could have just managed to beat a part-time pitcher named Cal McVey, the National League pennant would have landed in Hartford. The strong Iowan, who started only six games for Chicago, won all four of his starts against Hartford. These victories provided the winning margin for the White Stockings who finished just five victories ahead of the Hartfords.

Hartford Courant excerpt on March 8, 1877 about the team relocating to Brooklyn.

The 1876 season was the Dark Blues’ last in Hartford. In hopes of better gate receipts, Morgan Bulkeley moved his club to Brooklyn for the 1877 season, forever removing Hartford’s status as a major league baseball city. The club’s finances were no better in its new location and the club was dropped from the National League at the end of the season. Bulkeley himself soon severed his ties with baseball. In 1879 he became head of Aetna (which his father had founded); a political career followed. He was elected mayor of Hartford, served four years as a controversial governor of Connecticut, and was a U.S. senator from 1905 to 1911. He died at age 84 in 1922. Robert Ferguson also managed the team in 1877. After the Dark Blues were disbanded he played for Chicago, Troy (New York), and Philadelphia, ending his career in 1883. He died in 1894 at age 49.

Since the Dark Blues’ departure after the 1876 season, only minor league clubs have called Hartford home, none since 1952. Only an active imagination, aided by a tour of the site of the old Hartford Base Ball Grounds, can rekindle the city’s brief major league days. The ballpark no longer exists, of course. In fact, even the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue has disappeared as both streets have been reconfigured. But nestled against the grounds of the Church of the Good Shepherd and its grand companion building, the Caldwell Colt Memorial Parish House, is a beautiful expanse of green lawn that was once the Dark Blues’ home.

Standing in the shadow of these two grand monuments to Hartford’s past evokes memories of an era when baseball was young and Hartford was a major player in its development. One can picture opposing batters vainly flailing at the curveballs tossed by Bond and Cummings, the “hurrahing” of Hartford resident Mark Twain who often attended games, and captain Bob Ferguson booming out his usual admonition, “Have a care, boys!” and threatening to exact physical punishment if they did not. Despite the interceding decades, one can almost see the players’ dark blue stockings and hear the growling that once filled those hallowed grounds.

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) would regularly attend Hartford Dark Blues games and took notes of the action on his personal stationary.

David Arcidiacono, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), lives in East Hampton, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his new book, Grace, Grit, and Growling: The Hartford Dark Blues Base Ball Club, 1874-1877, which can be obtained from the author at Darcidiacono@snet.net or online at the Vintage Base Ball Factory Website:  www.vbbf.com.

The Bat and Ball - May 1, 1867


“The Bat and Ball” is the first newspaper to publish matters about or related to . The paper sold for 5 cents a copy on the streets of Hartford and was delivered for 50 cents for 14 issues. The Bat and Ball was devoted exclusively to ''base ball'' happenings throughout the country (apart from a column on cricket) during the post-Civil War era when the sport, still in its infancy, was becoming increasingly more popular and fans demanded closer coverage of the sport.

Johnny Taylor: the Best Hartford Grown Pitcher of All-Time


John "Johnny" Arthur Taylor Jr.

Born: 2/4/1916 at Hartford, Connecticut (US)

Died: 6/15/1987 at Hartford, Connecticut (US)

Johnny Taylor in New York Cubans uniform in 1935.

Amidst the era of the Great Depression even Babe Ruth was not immune to the dire economic circumstances. He took a pay cut of $23,000 from his previous year’s salary of $75,000. The Single-A Eastern League had folded in July of 1932 and with it the Hartford Senators. This was back when baseball was pretty much the only game in town. Fortunately, Bill Savitt, a jewelry store owner, gave the Insurance City some peace of mind. He leased Bulkeley Stadium, erstwhile home of the Senators, and had his semipro outfit, the Savitt Gems, take on all comers; barnstorming outfits like the Georgia Chain Gang, colored teams, other local nines, the Philadelphia Athletics. These were all Gem opponents in 1933. Savitt’s team included some players with Eastern League experience. Many ballplayers in the 1930s found it more lucrative to get a non-baseball job and play for semipro teams. But Savitt’s best player may have been a pitcher who was still in high school on the Gems’ opening day.  Johnny Taylor went on to have success in the Negro Leagues and Latin America. Had he been born a decade later, he might have made it to the majors.

In 1933, Little Johnny Taylor hit the music charts with “Part Time Love.” There was an Irish Johnny Taylor in boxing. There was a Steel-Arm Johnny Taylor who pitched in the Negro Leagues, but he was a generation older. There was even a local race car driver named Johnny Taylor. This story is about “Schoolboy” Johnny Taylor, the world-class pitcher. John Arthur Taylor, Jr. was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to John and Etta Taylor on February 4, 1916.  Johnny’s father was a lather in the building trades. Johnny grew up in the South End on Douglas Street. The South End was a predominantly white area at the time. The lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and the boxer Willie Pep, younger than Johnny by a few years, grew up in the same area.

When Johnny Taylor of Hartford was a lad, Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg played for Hartford Senators. Johnny outfitted his sandlot team by shagging fouls and collecting the Senators’ cracked bats.  At Bulkeley High School, he concentrated on track, until his senior year.  Johnny was a high jumper and pole vaulter. 

In 1933, when he became a senior, Taylor pitched for the Bulkeley Maroons; a team that included future major leaguer, Bob Repass and future high school coach and professional scout, Whitey Piurek.  Babe Allen coached the Bulkeley baseball team, as he would from 1926 to 1963. For some reason, the Hartford papers sometimes referred to Taylor as Jackson Taylor. On April 28, he started Bulkeley’s opening game at Goodwin Park, against rival Hartford High School. (They had been rained out before that date.) Taylor was wild in the first inning but settled down; going six innings before being relieved. Three days later he struck out 17 and gave up just two hits against West Hartford High School in another home game. A week later he struck out 19 Hartford Hilltoppers at Elizabeth Park to go to 3-0. This topped what was believed to be a Greater Hartford scholastic record. Just the previous spring, future major leaguer Pete “Lefty” Naktenis had struck out 18 in a game.

On May 20, Bulkeley High crushed undefeated Weaver High, 18-1, at Bulkeley Park. Taylor hit a home run over the left-field fence that was the longest hit by a high schooler in that ballpark. But his best performance was yet to come. Taylor, pitching in his final high school game, set the Connecticut record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. In the season finale against New Britain on June 2, 1933, Taylor struck out 25 and gave up just one hit as the Maroons won, 13-4.  (Taylor was a bit wild. He walked nine.)  When all was said and done, Taylor went 8-1 and hit for an average of .428 for Bulkeley High. He was named to the Greater Hartford Scholastic Team.  His achievement might well be a national high school record, too, because there's no definitive high school record book for nine-inning games. Regulation high school games, since the mid-1980s in many states, including Connecticut, have been seven innings.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1935.

Albert Keane of the Hartford Courant reported that New York Yankee scout Gene McCann was interested in Taylor. (Other reports indicated that the Athletics were interested in him as well.) When McCann found out that Taylor was not white, he tried to get him to pretend he was Cuban. The light-skinned Taylor refused. This was not unheard of. Negro Leaguer and major leaguer Quincy Trouppe (Cleveland, 1952) claimed that around the same time, a scout advised him to hole up for a while south of the border, learn Spanish, and he could come back to the major leagues.


Buck O’Neil on Taylor: “Good ballplayer. Yes I hit against him. Didn’t get much on it.”


Soon after his final high-school game, it was announced that Taylor would pitch for the New England Colored Stars. But he had injured a finger on his right hand earlier that week, so he didn’t pitch, but he did play center field, for the team, the position he usually played when not on the mound. Taylor wound up spending most of the rest of the summer pitching for Home Circle of the Greater Hartford Twilight League, which played most of its games at Colt Park, which had 20 baseball diamonds.[1] On September 10, Taylor and Home Circle had a long anticipated matchup with Mayflower Sales and Pete Natkenis. Taylor and Home Circle lost, 6-2, in front of 5,000 fans at Colt Park.

He joined forces with Mayflower Sales to play in a New England baseball championship sponsored by the United States Amateur Baseball Association. But the highest level of competition he faced that year was with the Savitt Gems. He was with the team in October and was its biggest-drawing pitcher. On the 8th he faced Bridgeport Industrial League power McKesson-Robbins, and lost in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel.

In 1934, Taylor continued pitching on the Connecticut semi-pro circuit. He pitched for Check Bread of the Twilight League, as well as Yantic in the Norwich City League, as well as the Savitt Gems. On August 31, he had the first no-hitter of his career for the Northwest Athletic Club of Winsted. The Negro Leagues were watching. The lanky (168-pound) right-hander had an overhead curve and a fastball with a hop. On October 14, he faced the Negro League Philadelphia Giants and Will Jackman.

Despite the name, the Giants were actually a Boston-based nine. Jackman was an ancient submariner, probably around 40 at the time, who roamed New England sandlots and ball fields for years. Some, like the late Dick Thompson, thought he was the greatest unknown pitcher in baseball. In a seven-inning affair, Taylor no-hit Philadelphia. He and Jackman would meet again.

Dyckman Oval, Harlem, New York, 1935

Taylor reportedly turned down offers from Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh Colored Giants in1935. Instead he signed with the New York Cubans, owned by Alejandro Pompez after Taylor’s aunt had a chance meeting in New York City with Frank Forbes, the business manager of the Cubans. Pompez made his money in the numbers racket, but also dabbled in baseball. He spent $60,000 renovating the Dyckman Oval in Harlem, and the Cubans joined the Negro National League. The Oval sat 10,000 and was in effect Harlem’s community center. The great Martin Dihigo, 30 years old at the time, was the Cubans’ player-manager. (Dihigo was one of the most versatile players ever, playing well at all positions except catcher.) Others on the team were Alejandro Oms, a great Cuban outfielder in the twilight of his career; a pitcher, Cocaina Garcia, so-named because he made hitters look like "cokeheads" when he faced them; and Lazaro Salazar, who was Taylor’s best friend on the team. 

Taylor was signed by Frank Forbes for $175 a month and $2 a day meal money. He went 6-4 and struck out 55, second to teammate Luis Tiant, Sr. Taylor pitched as the Cubans played the Savitt Gems in Hartford in late August. He beat the Gems 7-0 and fanned 15. The Cubans returned in September and lost to the Gems. (On the way to Hartford, the team bus was in an accident on the Berlin Turnpike, near Hartford, but it didn’t keep the Giants from playing.) Winning 28 games and losing 24, the Cubans finished in third place in the Negro National League, but they won in the second half of the season to make the playoffs. Their opponent was a great Pittsburgh Crawfords team.

Taylor lost Game 3 of the playoffs. He was pitching in Game Six and the Cubans were winning, but Dihigo pulled Taylor and inserted himself as pitcher, and blew the game. Frank Forbes, the team business manager, was already in the clubhouse counting out the winners’ share. The Cubans lost again in Game 7 of the series.

1935 New York Cubans

After the season Taylor faced the Dizzy Dean All-Stars on October 13, at Yankee Stadium, and struck out 14 but lost, 3-0.

In 1936 Taylor received a $10-a-month raise. He went 5-2 for the Cubans and had 58 strikeouts, second to Satchel Paige, who had returned to the Pittsburgh Crawfords after spending 1935 in Bismarck, North Dakota. As in the previous summer, Taylor and the Cubans made a Hartford appearance and he thrilled the hometown fans by striking out 18 and shutting out the Gems. The Washington Elite Giants led the Negro National League in the first half of the ’35 season and Pittsburgh won the second half. 


Roy Campanella on Taylor: “Man, did he have good stuff.”

In the fall of 1936 Taylor faced Babe Ruth at Dyckman Oval. During the season New York Giants coach Dolf Luque had encouraged Taylor to spend the winter on his home island of Cuba, and in November Taylor took a train to Miami and hopped on a boat to Havana. He played winter ball for Dihigo’s Marianao club at Tropical Stadium in Havana. (Tropical was a Cuban brand of beer and the brewery had the naming rights to the stadium.) Taylor went 1-6 that winter. It was no help that he was struck by a trolley car in Havana and suffered a ruptured disc. Still, the fans loved him, calling him Escolar Taylor, el Rey (King) de Hartford. Marianao faced the Santa Clara Leopards in a three-game postseason playoff and defeated the Leopards, two games to one.

In 1937 police forces in some US cities were cracking down on the policy rackets. This led to the decline and fall of the Crawfords, one of the best Negro League teams. Hall of Famers Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige left the team. (The New York Cubans had dropped out of the league because of the heat that Pompez was feeling. He had fled the country in the spring of 1936 to avoid a tax evasion indictment.) Many players heard the siren call of the Dominican Republic. The small Caribbean country was baseball-mad and Dictator Rafael Trujillo was determined to have the best team money could buy. Because white major leaguers wouldn’t jump to the island, Trujillo sought out Cubans and Negro Leaguers.

But Taylor came home to Hartford in 1937 and played for the Savitt Gems. While still hobbled by his injuries, he faced Will Jackman and the Philadelphia Colored Giants in a 20-inning marathon. He struck out 22 and went on to beat Jackman twice more that year. He went 13-1 for the Gems before reinjuring his back.

On September 19, 1937, Taylor pitched a no-hitter for the Negro National League All Stars against Satchel Paige and the Trujillo All Stars. The great Biz Mackey was his catcher. According to Johnny, Mackey advised him to keep the ball down that day. Future New York Governor and presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey, who had been chasing Pompez, was among the 20,000-plus at the Polo Grounds. Shifty Jim West of the Washington Elite Giants and Chester Williams of the Crawfords had spectacular plays in the field. Going into the eighth, there was no score and Taylor had held the Trujillo All Stars hitless. West homered in the ninth to put the Negro National Leaguers ahead, 2-0. In the bottom of the inning, Taylor retired George Scales, Spoony Palm, and Cool Papa Bell to preserve no-hitter. But he lost rematch a week later, 9-4.

Johnny Taylor (right) after his no-hitter on September 19, 1937 at the Polo Grounds in New York for the Negro National League All Stars against Satchel Paige (right) and the Trujillo All Stars.


Monte Irvin on Taylor: “A tall good-looking right-hander with the damnedest [overhand] curveball you ever did see.”


The no-hitter made Taylor a hot property. Several teams sought his services in 1938. Initially, he planned on returning to New York, but he wound up signing with the Pittsburgh Crawfords for $400 a month. Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee preferred to keep Taylor and dump Paige, whom he viewed as a prima donna always shuffling off to the Badlands or Hispaniola. Taylor finished his 1938 season with an 11-2 record and made the 1938 East-West Negro League All-Star Game. The Crawfords also used him in a utility role and he hit .368. While in Pittsburgh, Taylor spent time with John Henry Lewis, the light heavyweight champ and the jewel of Greenlee’s boxing stable.

During the Winter of 1938 and 1939, Taylor and many of his Cuban teammates signed with the Santa Clara Leopards of the Cuban League. They won the league title that season behind the great pitching of Taylor and great play from his peers such as a newly signed catcher named Josh Gibson joined the team and shattered a Cuban League home-run record, hitting 11 homers in 163 at bats. 

L to R: Indian Torres, Cocaina Garcia, Lazaro Salazar, Johnny Taylor, and Ray Brown, pitchers for the Santa Clara Leopards baseball Club in 1938.

In 1939 an eight-team semipro league called the Connecticut State Baseball League was formed. During the Memorial Day weekend, Taylor pitched for the New Britain entry against New London. Because he was black, the New London team protested the use of Taylor in a game, and representatives of the league’s teams wound up voting 6-2 to ban Negro players. Taylor was in the news again, in absentia, when on September 16 the Hartford Courant reported that signatures on petitions to get the Communist Party on the ballot were fraudulently obtained by canvassers who told residents in some black neighborhoods that the petition was on behalf of Taylor’s attempt to play semipro ball. As all of this was happening, Taylor was far away south of the border.

In 1939, Mexico had begun luring Negro Leaguers including Cool Papa Bell and Lazaro Salazar, a friend of Taylor’s from the Dyckman Oval days. Salazar urged Taylor to join him in Mexico. Taylor played for $600 a month at Cordoba. He went 11-1 with a 1.19 ERA. Ballplayers were literally treated like royalty in Mexico. In a Mexico City bar Taylor met King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who had fled his country when a republic was declared. Taylor played in Mexico through 1942. In 1940 he was joined by nearly two dozen more black ballplayers, including Josh Gibson, Willie Wells, and Sam Bankhead. Taylor went 3-1 that season. He also pitched some for the New York Cuban Stars, who were back in the Negro National League.

Taylor's Negro League contracts.

Taylor had a banner year in 1941, playing for Vera Cruz with Josh Gibson as a teammate. He won 14 games, lost 5, struck out 115, and hit .295. Vera Cruz was perhaps Mexico’s best team ever. Team owner Jorge Pasquel was a teetotaling liquor mogul who could pay more than any Negro League team. He bought Taylor a new suit every time he pitched a shutout. His closet got pretty full. Before that season started, Taylor told Bill Lee of the Hartford Courant that it was tough to pitch in Mexico City because of the altitude. He couldn’t get any hop on his fastball or any curve on his curve. He said games were played in the morning in Mexico. Bullfighting was the most popular sport in the country and when there was a conflict between the bullring and baseball, it was felt at the gate. 

In September 1941 the prodigal son made a visit to Hartford with his Mexican All-Stars. The team included Josh Gibson, Sam Bankhead, Ray Dandridge, and Willie Wells. They played the Savitt Gems, whose starter was hometown rival Pete Naktenis. Taylor and his All-Stars won in ten innings, 7-5, as Johnny fanned 15.

1938 Negro League All-Star Game

Taylor returned to Connecticut in 1942. He worked in a defense plant for United Aircraft during the week and pitched for the New York Cubans on weekends. (This happened in the white big leagues as well. For example, several Cleveland Indians players worked in war plants and played only in home games.) A back injury (probably the one from the trolley accident) got Taylor a draft deferment. During the war years, Taylor also played for the Savitt Gems, Fred Davey’s team in Waterbury, and the Highland Lake Athletic Club of Winsted. 

In 1945, with the Second World War almost over, Taylor returned to Mexico to play in the Mexican League. This time he had a family with him. Taylor had married the former Estelle Singleton. She was a maternity nurse and the first black nurse at New Britain General Hospital. They had a young son when they flew south of the border. He played for Monterey in 1945. Then, in ’46, he played for Vera Cruz. But he hurt his arm after only a couple of weeks. This was the year that the Mexican League was trying to challenge the majors. White players like Danny Gardella, Sal Maglie, and Mickey Owen were lured south of the border. Commissioner Happy Chandler blacklisted them for five years. The Negro National League gave eight of its players, including Taylor and Ray Dandridge, five-year bans as well. The league must have reconsidered this stance because Dandridge went on to manage the Cubans in 1948. SABR researcher John Holway has written that Taylor faced Babe Ruth again in Mexico in 1944. But if this reunion happened, it more likely took place in 1946. A couple of Ruth’s biographers mention his travels in Mexico that year.

Johnny Taylor, Hartford Chiefs, 1949

After a two-year layoff, Taylor, 33 years old, signed a contract in late May to pitch for the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League in 1949. Perhaps the first black member of the Chiefs, he went 6-7, mainly in relief. He was released by the club in November and hung up his spikes. After baseball ended, Taylor worked for his father’s construction business. He was a lather for 30 years. He was also a consummate golfer. He did pitch in some Twilight League Old-Timer games along with former big-league hurlers like Pete Naktenis and Walter “Monk” Dubiel.

Taylor was a trailblazer for black golfers in Connecticut. He started as a youth at the municipal course at Hartford’s Goodwin Park, which was near his neighborhood. He later played at Edgewood in Cromwell, which is the current site of the Tournament Players Club.[2] He was one of the first first black men in Connecticut to have a state handicap card, perhaps the first. “It was a liberal place.” said Doug Pierson, who was the son of Edgewood’s owner. He said Taylor was a member in 1959, when Jackie Robinson couldn’t join a private club in Stamford. Andy Pierson, Edgewood’s owner, liked Taylor and let him stock the club’s pond with bass.  Golfer Lee Trevino, who was married to a Wethersfield woman, once got permission through Taylor to fish in the pond, and caught a fish for a fry.

"Schoolboy" Johnny Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, from 1950.

Johnny Taylor said his father started out as a typical baseball star golfer: a big hitter with an 8 handicap. However, he strove for perfection, studied Ben Hogan’s book The Fundamentals of Modern Golf, and sacrificed a whole season to refine his swing.  His son said this changed Taylor from a hitter to a golfer with a solid 3 handicap.

In 1975 the Boston Red Sox made it to the World Series. In a moment of détente, Cuba let Luis Tiant Sr. and his wife travel to the US to see his son pitch. Taylor went to Fenway Park to see his old teammate and had a tearful reunion.

Johnny Taylor died on June 15, 1987, after an extended battle with cancer. He lives on in a sense as a minor character in Mark Winegardner’s novel The Veracruz Blues. Taylor was the best Negro Leagues player born in the Hartford area and perhaps the best Hartford native to play the game, period.

- This article was written by Jon Daly, a member of SABR in February of 2011.
- Photos are from multiple public sources.

Sources

Hartford Courant

Hartford Times

Alexander, Charles C. Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Hogan, Lawrence D. Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2006.

Holway, John. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues—The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, Florida: Hastings House Publishers, 2001.

Lanctot, Neil. Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Ribowsky, Mark. A Complete History of the Negro Leagues, 1884 to 1955. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.

Connie Mack Spent Enjoyable Time in Connecitcut


 

Written on March 07, 2014 by Paul Doyle, The Hartford Courant

When Connie Mack left his hometown of East Brookfield, Mass., to embark on a baseball career, his journey began in Connecticut.

The journey would take Cornelius Alexander Mack, born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, to the Hall of Fame. He won five World Series and nine American League pennants with the Philadelphia Athletics and earned a plaque in Cooperstown in 1937, the same year as Nap Lajoie, John McGraw, Tris Speaker, George Wright and Cy Young. Nobody has approached his managerial record of 53 seasons.

Mack’s first baseball stop was Meriden in 1884. He caught for a semi-pro team in the Connecticut State League for $90 a month and was so beloved by fans that he was presented with a gold watch at the end of the season.

In 1885, he joined Hartford of the merged Connecticut State League and Southern New England League. He played two seasons in Hartford as the team became a member of the Eastern League.

Mack hit .251 for Hartford in 1886. Teaming with pitcher Frank Gilmore to form the “bone battery” — both were tall and lanky — Mack, 6 feet 1, 150 pounds, was known for his defense. But when the Washington Nationals attempted to sign Gilmore at the end of the 1886 season, the pitcher insisted they also sign Mack.

So they did. Mack played three seasons in Washington and 11 in the major leagues, including three seasons as the Pirates’ player-manager. He became manager of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901 and retired after the 1950 season. He won 3,731 games and managed 7,755, both major league records.

How was Mack remembered in Hartford? In an August 3, 1930, Courant story about baseball’s early days in the city, former local semipro player and National League umpire John Jackson Brady reminisced about Mack, who had won four World Series titles and would win his fifth in 1930.

“Connie was one good fellow,” Brady said enthusiastically, as described by The Courant. “He was one of the most conscientious ballplayers I’ve ever seen. Sometimes his hands would be so sore that every catch nearly killed him, but he was right in there playing every day with hand plastered up in some manner. He never shirked.”

Brady, who ran the Hartford-based Brady Brothers Bottling Works and was well-known in the city, described Mack’s difficulty throwing to second base during his early years in Connecticut.

“It was both weak and inaccurate,” said Brady, who died in 1937. “But being a serious fellow, he set out to overcome the weakness. Every morning for more than month he went to the ballpark alone and practiced his throw. Soon he had it perfect, although there was slight curve in the throw. It would start to the right of second base, but when the baseman caught it, it was right on the bag.”

Brady was a National League umpire in 1887, but he worked the Connecticut circuit when Mack was playing.

“Mack was a peppy catcher,” Brady said. “I didn’t feel any too comfortable when I was umpiring in front of him. There was but one umpire in those days, you know, and he stood in back of the pitcher. Every time I called a ball, Mack would give me a dirty look. He wouldn’t say a word, just a dirty look.”

Mack would return to Hartford with his Athletics for an exhibition game against the Senators. Gilmore was living in Hartford and his health was failing, so Mack arranged the game to raise money for his old teammate. When Gilmore died in 1929, Mack sent $500 to his widow.

In 1940, Mack returned to Meriden for a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of his first season. He also came to New Haven to receive a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sportswriters Alliance in 1940.

And in 1951 — five years before his death — Mack came to Hartford for a dinner honoring former Boston Braves president Bob Quinn. Mack, according to Courant sports editor Bill Lee, Mack “went to Bulkeley Stadium and sat through the entire Eastern League game between Hartford and Williamsport.”

 Monument to Connie Mack at Legion Field in Meriden, Connecticut.

Monument to Connie Mack at Legion Field in Meriden, Connecticut.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1885.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1906.

Manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack, and Hartford business owner and baseball proprietor, William J. Tracy in 1911 at the New York Baseball Grounds.

Connie Mack (left) managing his 1914 Philadelphia Athletics.

Ted Williams Blasts Game Winning Home Run in Hartford


On September 29, 1942, a day after beating the New York Yankees in the final game of the 1942 season, Ted Williams drove to Hartford, Connecticut, to make a guest star appearance for Bill Savitt's semi-pro ball 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.

Ted 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's own 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 cracked a home run over the centerfield wall off of Casey. The Savitt Gems won 2-1 over the Cremos.

A year before coming to Hartford, Williams famously completed the 1941 season with an amazing .406 batting average. Ted "The Kid" Williams was 23 years old and in his prime at the time of his game with the Gems. He had just finished his fourth season; perhaps his best season with the Boston Red Sox and he dominated the Majors in 1942.  He led the league in home runs, RBI's and batting average earning him his first Triple Crown. Williams finished second place in MVP award voting that year because of his tumultuous relationship with the press. During his visit in Hartford, Williams revealed publicly that he planned to enlist in World War II as Navy flying cadet. Williams served heroically and would be recalled into the Korean War in 1952 and 1953.  

Also nicknamed "The Splendid Splinter", "Teddy Ballgame", "The Thumper", and "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived" Williams is now regarded as one of the greatest players in baseball history. He spent his entire 19-year Major League Baseball career as a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Williams was a nineteen-time All-Star, a two-time recipient of the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player Award, a six-time AL batting champion, and a two-time Triple Crown winner. Williams finished his career with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and a .482 on-base percentage, the highest of all time. His career batting average is the highest of any MLB player whose career was played primarily in the live-ball era.

 

1942 Sep 28 - Ted Williams Plays for Gems.png
1942 Sep 28 - Ted Williams.png
 Hartford Courant excerpt from 1942

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1942

Rob Dibble played Twilight Ball in '83


 Dibble, RHP, Cincinatti Reds

Dibble, RHP, Cincinatti Reds

Rob Dibble played in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for Katz Sports Shop in Meriden, Connecticut, during the 1983 season before he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1st round (20th) of the 1983 MLB June Draft-Secondary Phase. Dibble would go on to earn a pair of MLB All Star appearances in 1990 and 1991 as a closer with the “Big Red Machine” and finished his Major League career with a 2.98 ERA and a rate of 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. 

 Hartford Courant excerpt - May 25, 1983

Hartford Courant excerpt - May 25, 1983

 Hartford Courant excerpt - May 25, 1983

Hartford Courant excerpt - May 25, 1983

The Philadelphia Athletics and Jimmy Foxx Played in Hartford


In the summer of 1933 and 1935 the Major League powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics led by their Manager, Connie Mack and the young slugger, Jimmy Foxx visited Hartford to appear in charity baseball games against the Savitt Gems.

Bill Savitt, jewelry store entrepreneur, philanthropist and team owner hosted Connie Mack's Athletics in front of thousands of fans at Bulkeley Stadium. The Gems were made up of a few pros including Johnny Roser who played for the Boston Braves in the 20's and other local amateurs and legends in their own right such as Jigger Farrell and Bob Cronin.

Jimmy Foxx and Connie Mack in 1933 (regenerated image)

 Hartford Courant - 1933 May 31 - The game would be rained out but a make up date was rescheduled for two weeks later at Bulkeley Stadium.

Hartford Courant - 1933 May 31 - The game would be rained out but a make up date was rescheduled for two weeks later at Bulkeley Stadium.

James “Jimmy” Emory Foxx, nicknamed "Double X" and "The Beast" played 20 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia Phillies. In the 1933 season, Foxx was leading the home run race for in the Majors and was coming off his third AL MVP Award in 1932. Thanks to his strong bat, the Athletics visit to Hartford was highly anticipated and resulted in massive crowds at Bulkeley Stadium even though his manager, Mack was unable to attend on both occasions in 1933 and 1935 but to his credit, he accepted the invitations to play in Hartford and Mack telegraphed his lineup to the Hartford Courant in advance. 

An advertisement for the game published in the Hartford Courant - 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1935.

On September 23, 1935, it was the Gems who overtook the Athletics; this time by a score of 6-4. The Gems led early and kept the lead throughout the game. On the mound for the Gems was the former Red Sox hurler Johnny Micheals who pitched the Gems to victory allowing 10 hits and 4 runs over a 9 innings of work - Michaels also gathered 3 hits of his own at the plate and scored the winning run. The Gem's Brother duo Jigger Farrell and Tommy Farrell shined for the Gems, collecting 2 hits each in their win over the Athletics.

Jimmy Foxx was held hitless on the day. It was Foxx's teammate and another AL MVP (1934) Pinky Higgins who had a good day at the plate for the "Mackmen" as they were known, going 2 for 4 on the day with a towering home run. However the Athletics batsmen would not score enough to catch up to the Gems. Starting pitcher, Bill Dietrich struggled mightily to keep the Gems from connecting for base hits. By the 2nd inning the scored was 5-0 after a barrage of hits and triples from Jigger Farrell and Johnny Michaels.

 Johnny Michaels, LHP

Johnny Michaels, LHP

The well-attended contest ended under the lights as 27 year old Jimmy Foxx pitching the last two innings for the Philadelphia side. Since Connie Mack was absent due to an illness, Foxx also assumed the manager's role for the A's that evening in Hartford.

 Hartford Courant news clipping from June 15, 1933 on the day of the game.

Hartford Courant news clipping from June 15, 1933 on the day of the game.

1933 Hartford Courant news clipping.

On June 15, 1933, the Philadelphia Athletics had a day off and agreed a few months prior to take part in a charity game vs Hartford's best baseball club, the Gems. Most of the team, minus their Manager traveled to Hartford to beat the Savitt Gems that day by a score of 6-1. The Gems were nearly shutout by the pitching of “Big” Jim Peterson who pitched a complete 9 inning game. Foxx, the Major League home run leader at the time, was held to a mere base hit single on the day. 

1933 Savitt Gems - 1st row, left to right: Johnny Miller, Manager Bill Gleason, Jackie Cronin, Mickey Noonan, Jerry Flood, and Young; 2nd row, left to right: Ray Curry, John Roser, Johnny Michaels, Coyle, Jigger Farrell, Red Munn, and Thomas Campion Sr.

June 16, 1933 Hartford Courant excerpt.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1935.

1970 Moriarty Brothers


In 1962, the Moriarty Brothers franchise entered the Hartford Twilight League, thus beginning their dynasty.  The team was sponsored by a car dealership owner and GTHBL Hall of Fame inductee, Matthew Moriarty of Manchester.  Nicknamed the “Comets” for their fast play, Moriarty Brothers were led by GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee, Gene Johnson. As a longtime player-manager and third baseman for Moriarty Brothers, Johnson, was a 5-time league batting champion and Player of the Half-century Award in 1982. The Moriarty roster was habitually stacked with professional caliber ballplayers. Over the years, Moriarty's was steered by pitchers like Pete Sala, Leverette Spencer, John Serafini and Dave Bidwell. They scored in bunches thanks to the bats of, Bob Carlson, Jim Balesano, Leo Veleas, Rich Riordan and of course, their MVP, Gene Johnson.  Moriarty Brothers eventually became Newman-Lincoln Mercury in 1990, then Foss Insurance and in 2004. In 2018 the franchise received a new sponsor from the Manchester-based apparel design company named Rainbow Graphics. This Manchester-based franchise holds an all-time Greater Hartford Twilight record of 35 total championships and is still going strong under the leadership of Mark DiTommaso, a Hebron resident who developed his baseball acumen under Gene Johnson.

Dedicated to Gene Johnson 1937-2014

When the Hartford Poli's Entertained Thousands


The Hartford Poli's were the class semi-professional team in the Greater Hartford area. The team was formed in 1909. They were sponsored by Poli’s Theatre and Sylvester Z. Poli, the world’s largest individual theater owner who started his business in New Haven, Connecticut. Their manager was a veteran second baseman named Curtis Gillette. Manager Gillette was raised in New Haven but came to Hartford in 1911 pursuing a baseball career. Gillette was named player-manager of the Poli’s and he led them to unprecedented success.

1913 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

1914 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

1915 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

Hartford Courant excerpt from September 6, 1915.

1918 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club with Babe Ruth (back row, third from right).

Hartford Courant excerpt from September 28, 1914.

Sylvester Zefferino Poli, (December 31, 1858 – May 31, 1937) was an Italian immigrant to the United States who became a world famous theatre magnate.

 Originally opened on August 28, 1920 as the Poli’s Capitol Theatre, designed by Thomas W. Lamb. It was later known as the Fox-Poli Theatre before finally becoming the Loew’s Poli Theatre. Located on Main Street, this was perhaps the most elegant theatre in Hartford. Loew’s Poli Theatre was still open in 1956, but had closed by 1957.

Originally opened on August 28, 1920 as the Poli’s Capitol Theatre, designed by Thomas W. Lamb. It was later known as the Fox-Poli Theatre before finally becoming the Loew’s Poli Theatre. Located on Main Street, this was perhaps the most elegant theatre in Hartford. Loew’s Poli Theatre was still open in 1956, but had closed by 1957.