The most accomplished amateur baseball franchise in Connecticut’s history was a team named Moriarty Brothers. The club hailed from Manchester and its origins could be traced all the way back to the year 1933. The Moriarty nine competed against amateur and semi-pro teams across Connecticut. They were also a part of the Manchester Twilight League for many years before joining the Greater Hartford Twilight League in 1962.
The team was sponsored by Matthew Moriarty Sr. (GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee) and his brother, Maurice Moriarty, small business owners in Manchester. Moriarty’s was a full service Lincoln-Mercury car dealership, Mobil gas station, auto body shop, towing service and used car lot. Matt Moriarty’s profession may have been cars but his passion was baseball. He was an avid fan and supporter of his summer baseball club in the Hartford Twilight League.
The Moriarty Brothers team were nicknamed the “Comets” in reference to the Mercury Comet automobile and the team’s fast play on the diamond. Over the years, players like Pete Sala, Leverette Spencer, Mike Gerich and many more would sign to play in the minor leagues. In their early GHTBL years, Moriarty Brothers was led by a series of player-managers. By 1963, Moriarty Brothers appointed their power-hitting third baseman, Gene Johnson as their player-manager.
Born in 1937 in Hartford, Gene Johnson grew up in the town of Manchester as the son of Raymond and Julia Muller Johnson. By the age of 15, Johnson was a standout batsman for Manchester High School, and had played for the St. Cyril’s team in the Hartford Twilight League. In 1955, Johnson batted .454 in twi-loop and was signed mid-season by the New York Giants as a 17 year old. He smashed 36 home runs in his first 3 minor league seasons. After not having his best season in 1957, Johnson signed to play in the Milwaukee Braves farm system.
Johnson was behind Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Eddie Matthews on the Milwaukee Braves depth chart at third base. However, a determined Johnson hit 19 home runs, had 82 RBI and batted for an average of .278 for the 1959 Eau Claire Braves. Then he slammed 18 homers, 92 RBI, and hit .292 for the 1960 Cedar Rapids Braves. Johnson was hitting .316 in the Texas League for the 1962 Austin Senators when he decided to step aside from professional baseball. After eight professional seasons and a total of 91 minor league home runs, Johnson returned home to Connecticut to start a family.
Gene and his wife Helen Johnson, had six children and made their home in Manchester. He immediately appeared in games for Moriarty Brothers and won the GHTBL batting title in 1962. The following year, Johnson took over as player-manager for the Comets, leading them to 8 Season Titles and 10 Playoff Championships during in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Championship games took place at Dillon Stadium in Hartford and later at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. More often than not, Gene Johnson and his Moriarty Brothers made it to the final in pursuit of the Jack Rose Playoff Championship Trophy.
Comet home games were played at Moriarty Field at Mount Nebo Park in Manchester. The crowds came in hundreds to watch the best amateur baseball players in the state. Moriarty Brothers’ roster was stacked with professional caliber ballplayers such as Leo Veleas, Jack Taylor and Bob Carlson. Though it was Gene Johnson who was their MVP year after year. Johnson was a 5-time Batting Title Champion and was bestowed with the Player of the Half Century Award in 1979 when the league celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The 1980’s also proved to be a successful decade for the Moriarty Brothers dynasty. Gene Johnson recruited the best collegiate players, pro prospects and local veterans to create a new generation of his team. University of Connecticut first baseman, Dave Ford, and Wake Forest University outfielder, Bill Masse were mainstays on the team who later signed to play in the minor leagues. Gene Johnson’s sons, Mike Johnson and Jeff Johnson followed in their father’s footsteps. They played for Moriarty Brothers and were drafted to the minor leagues by the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves.
On December 1, 1985, Matthew Moriarty Sr. passed away at the age of 82. The Moriarty Brothers business reorganized and the car dealership became Newman-Lincoln Mercury in 1990. Matt Moriarty Jr. continued to sponsor the team who would take the new name. Even though his playing days were over and the team was no longer the Comets, Gene Johnson remained manager for Newman.
The team won a total of 7 GHTBL titles. Newman fielded strong lineups thanks to players like Brian Crowley and Chris Peterson from the University of Hartford, Craig Steuernagle of the University of Connecticut, Ray Gilha from Eastern Connecticut State University and Dave Bidwell, a veteran pitcher who had been pitching effectively for the Gene Johnson’s franchise since 1976. Bidwell would pitch until 2015 and currently holds the all-time GHTBL record for games started, wins and innings pitched.
In 2004, Mark and Jane Foss of Foss Insurance stepped in to sponsor the franchise for the league and Gene Johnson. With a mix of young players and seasoned veterans, the team continued to compete at a high level. On November 10, 2014, Gene Johnson passed away at the age of 77. He spent 58 years of his life playing or coaching in the GHTBL. Players such as Mark DiTommaso and Kevin Jefferis of Western New England College, Evan Chamberlain and Mike Susi of ECSU would lead Foss Insurance have continued to lead the franchise forward. In 2015, Foss Insurance won the Playoff Championship trophy in Gene’s honor.
In 2018, the franchise once known as Moriarty Brothers, received a new sponsorship from Rainbow Graphics, a Manchester-based custom apparel and design company. Mark DiTommaso has carried the torch as player-manager since 2015. Gene Johnson’s franchise holds an all-time Greater Hartford Twilight record of a combined 35 Season Titles and Playoff Championships. Rainbow Graphics are seeking their next title and will continue to develop local ballplayers in the Manchester area for years to come.
***** Dedicated to Gene Johnson 1937-2014 *****