Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds

Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds 1940.

Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds 1949.

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 Guarantee” 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, Savitt went to work as a newspaper boy, a theater usher, and then as a field hand on a tobacco farm. Savitt quit school in the 10th 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 in a Springfield jewelry store, as an errand boy. Savitt soon relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917, and eventually established his own store in 1919; Savitt Jewelers, a tiny shop on Park Street.

Savitt Jewelers, 1923.

Bill Savitt, 1925.

Savitt grand opening advertisement, 1925.

Savitt Jewelers, 1928.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1928.

Savitt worked 12 hour days and through his lunch to be available to his customers. Two years later, Savitt moved to a bigger store at 42 Asylum Street. 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 of Connecticut. Savitt transformed his business from a one-man operation into a large-scale enterprise employing 75 people, including 15 jewelers. He gained a long list of regular clients by publishing catchy slogans like "Savitt's Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, 35 seconds from Main Street."

The Savitt Trophy, 1930.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1932.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1932.

Bill Savitt, 1935.

Bill Savitt, 1935.

Savitt Jewelers exterior, 1936.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1941.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1941.

Throughout his life, Bill Savitt was a devoted baseball fan, especially of the Boston Red Sox. During the 1930s and 1940s, Savitt would use each of his talents to assemble baseball teams and host headliner games at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. Amidst the Great Depression and World War II, Savitt sponsored and organized a baseball club known as the Savitt Gems. For baseball fans in Connecticut, the Savitt Gems were a main attraction. Crowds in the thousands paid admission to witness the Gems oppose professional clubs, semi-pro teams, barnstorming outfits, local amateurs, and famous 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 more took part in benefit games for and against the Gems.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1936.

Ruth, Wiliams, Foxx and Paige.

Savitt’s team sustained his passion for baseball, promotion, and philanthropy, all of which further popularized his jewelry business. Savitt Jewelers never ceased to function and he made sure that baseball was a continuing source of entertainment in Hartford. In large part, Savitt’s motive for promoting the Gems was to benefit the Greater Hartford community. He often led efforts to organize benefit games at Bulkeley Stadium and donated the proceeds to charitable causes. Camp Courant, the Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO) were among the many entities a who benefitted from Savitt and his Gems. Bill Savitt became widely known as the man who gifted champions of the city’s major sporting event with watches, medals and trophies. Savitt was often spotted in the sports section of the Hartford Courant or the Hartford Times giving back to the city. His support of Hartford sports was a genuine display of care for his community, as well as a clever marketing tactic to promote his thriving jewelry business.

Savitt with Hartford boxing champion, Bat Battalino, 1929.

Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant All-Stars, 1934.

Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant champions, 1934.

Bill Savitt embarked on his lifelong baseball journey in the spring of 1929. Savitt decided to sponsor a team in the Hartford Twilight League (then known as the City Independent Twilight League). The city’s Cardinal Athletic Club baseball team was rebranded to the Savitt’s Cardinals. competed for the league title against some of the best local amateurs in the Greater Hartford area. GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees, Frank “Bat” Orefice (catcher and Ray Kelly, an outfielder and were members of Savitt’s first ballclub. The regular season ended in a tie for first place in the standings, necessitating a playoff game between Savitt’s Cardinals and Economy Grocers. On September 28, 1929, at Colt Park in Hartford, the Cardinals met the Grocers in the first championship game of Hartford Twilight League. Savitt’s team was shutout, 7 to 0 by the Grocers nine.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1929

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

Ray Kelly, Savitt Gems, 1929.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1929.

Savitt recommitted to the Hartford Twilight League in 1930 and created a new team called the Savitt Gems. The team was comprised of players like the former Boston Red Sox outfielder, Duffy Lewis, a pitcher for the Hartford Senators, Albert “Al” Huband and a pair brothers from Hartford; 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 the championship against the Holy Name baseball club in a 3-game playoff series.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1930.

1930 Holy Name, Hartford Twilight League.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1930.

Leading the Holy Name club were a pair of brothers; James Jigger Farrell at first base and Tommy Farrell in left field. Future professional, Bert Meisner played shortstop, while “Click“ McGrath handled mound duties for Holy Name. On Tuesday, August 19, 1930, a crowd of more than 7,000 spectators gathered at Colt Park in Hartford. Nelson “Lefty” Buckland allowed 3 hits and guided the Gems to victory by a final score of 5 to 2. At an awards banquet later that year, Bill Savitt rewarded each Gems player with a gold watch and a lobster dinner.

James “Jigger” Farrell, Holy Name, 1930.

Nelson “Lefty” Buckland, Savitt Gems, 1930.

1930 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League champions. Front row (L to R): Duffy Lewis, Peter Bedard, Gratton O’Connell, John Dixon, Red Putnam, Bill Savitt, Art Boisseau, George Dixon, Arthur St. John, John Shortell and Woody Wallett. Batboys: Jerry Cohen and Bud Ward. Back row (L to R): Ben Salad, Al Huband, John A. Barrett, President of the Hartford Twilight League.

The Savitt Gems returned to the Hartford Twilight League for the 1931 season and continued to dominate their competition.  Savitt recruited new pitchers such as 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 team’s leading hitting.  Amateur players like Arthur “Lefty” St. John and Tommy Shortell were reliable regulars for the Gems.  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 a run-scoring single for the Gems who won by a final tally of 11 to 5.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1931.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1931.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1931.

In 1932, the Savitt Gems drew large crowds at Colt Park, whereas the city’s minor league club, the Hartford Senators experienced a sharp decrease in attendance. Midway through their season, the entire Eastern League collapsed, “under the pressure of economic conditions.”  Baseball fans were without a team to root for at Bulkeley Stadium.  During widespread economic strife of the Great Depression, Bill Savitt swooped in to cure Hartford of its baseball woes.  He promptly leased Bulkeley Stadium and put the Savitt Gems on display as an independent, semi-professional ballclub.

Bulkeley Stadium score card, 1932.

Hartford Senators disband a season after wining the Eastern League pennant, Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Hartford Senators disband a season after wining the Eastern League pennant, Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

Savitt Gems vs. West Hartford, 1932.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

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 supreme playing surface and central location.  Savitt frequently scheduled his team to play double-headers on Sunday afternoons.  His 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; a winning formula that would captivate baseball audiences in Hartford for the next two decades. 

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

Harry Deegan, Savitt Gems, 1932.

In addition to featuring his Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, Bill Savitt used the ballpark to support civic life in Hartford. He hosted baseball games and he subleased the venue for semi-pro football games in the autumn months.  The Gems lineup was able to beat a local phenom and Hartford Public High School pitcher, Pete “Lefty” Naktenis and the Frederick Raff company baseball club, a refrigerator retailer in Hartford. The Gems seized the title by a score of 4 to 2.  Frederick Raff and Bill Savitt donated $5,979.99 in ticket sales to Camp Courant after the game.  Later that summer, the Savitt Gems won their 3rd consecutive Hartford Twilight League championship.  The title would mark the last time that the Gems competed as an amateur club.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.

Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Within weeks of 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 to fans in Hartford. Gehrig made his professional debut at the age of 18 with the Hartford Senators in 1921. The next year, Gehrig returned to Columbia University to play football as the team’s fullback. Then he signed with the Senators again in 1923 and helped propel them to an Eastern League pennant. Gehrig played his final season with the Senators in 1924.

Lou Gehrig, Hartford Senators, 1924.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

By the time Savitt inquired about hiring Gehrig in 1932, he was a 3-time World Series champion and an American League MVP. The price to land Gehrig for a single game was $500. This included an option to earn Gehrig half of the gate receipts. Savitt determined Gehrig’s price to be too steep and pleasantly declined via telegram. Baseball fans throughout Connecticut were disappointed because Savitt’s plan to sign Gehrig was covered in the Hartford Courant. However, as Savitt had proved in the past, he would not be discouraged by the occasional defeat.

Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, 1932.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

After leasing Bulkeley Stadium, Bill Savitt was flooded with a bevy of challengers who wanted to play against the Gems. Independent clubs, teams sponsored by local manufacturing companies, and public service organizations throughout Connecticut were guests of the Savitt Gems. McKesson-Robbins a manufacturer out of Bridgeport, Connecticut, were the first team to face the Gems as a semi-professional club. Other teams who challenged the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium included the New Britain Falcons, Meriden Insilcos, Bridgeport Bears, New Haven Campagnias, New Haven Chevies, New Haven Police as well as semi-pro clubs from Branford, Norwich, Torrington, Waterbury and Windsor.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

1933 Savitt Gems.

On October 2, 1932, the Savitt Gems met the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. Savitt signed veteran Boston Braves second baseman, Rabbit Maranville as a guest star, batting leadoff for the Gems. Jigger Farrell, a lanky Hartford Twilight League mainstay, played left field and hit second in the lineup. Former Boston Braves outfielder, John “Bunny” Roser hit third and former New York Yankees catcher Hank Karlon batted clean-up for the Gems. 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, while Bert Meisner manned third base and batted eighth. 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.

Rabbit Maranville, Boston Braves, 1932.

Stan Budnick, New Britain Falcons, 1932.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

In 1933, the Savitt Gems permanently filled the gap that the Eastern League left vacant in Hartford. Bill Savitt again leased Bulkeley Stadium for the season while the Hartford Senators remained disbanded. Savitt decided to pay more attention to his jewelry business and hired the Gems a business manager named Walter Hapgood. As former Boston Braves business manager and President of the Montreal Royals baseball club, Hapgood was well-connected among professional teams and players. Hapgood was sometimes called the ”P.T. Barnum of Baseball” and he was able to use his influence to help Savitt host Major League clubs and nationally known semi-professional teams at Bulkeley Stadium.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Walter Hapgood, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Hapgood began to shape the Gems when he signed former Hartford Senators Manager, Bill Gleason as player-manager. He then recruited big leaguers such as Bruce Caldwell, Pat Loftus, and RobertRed Munn joined the Gems as full-time players. Former Eastern League players signed with the Gems including George Underhill at second base, Cy Waterman on the mound, and Henry “Pop” LaFleur, a skilled hitter and relief pitcher. Nationally recognized barnstorming clubs came to Hartford in droves. Team like the New England Clowns, Pennsylvania Red Caps, House of David, Detroit Clowns and the Georgia Chain Gang each made appearances and entertained large crowds at Bulkeley Stadium.

Don Curry, Savitt Gems, 1932.

Johnny Miller, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Bill Gleason, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Bruce Caldwell, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. Pennsylvania Red Caps, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. Georgia Chain Gang, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. House of David, 1933.

Moose Swaney, House of David, 1933.

Savitt’s hiring of Hapgood especially paid off when he persuaded the Philadelphia Athletics to visit Hartford on their day off. During harsh economic times, Savitt had the cash to spend, and his payment of a $500 to Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack, guaranteed their game. On Thursday, June 15, 1933, the Philadelphia Athletics traveled to Hartford on a train that accidentally derailed. The A’s and their power-hitting first baseman, Jimmie Foxx arrived at the ballpark an hour late. Connie Mack took a separate train that was delayed in Philadelphia, and he ultimately was unable to make the trip.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, May 25, 1933.

Ready or not, the A’s handled the Savitt Gems easily, winning by a score of 6 to 1. The Gems batting order was no match for the pitching of “Big Jim" Peterson who earned a complete game win. Foxx, the Major League home run leader at the time, was held to a base hit. Days later, Connie Mack telephoned Bill Savitt to thank him for hosting his Athletics and asked:

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

To which Savitt replied:

“Just tell the other teams what kind of guy I am.”

From then on, professional teams called upon Savitt for exhibition games in Hartford. On August 2nd, Savitt and his Gems met the 1933 Boston Red Sox in another Bulkeley Stadium blockbuster. On a hot and humid day in Hartford, the Gems sparkled brightly behind their newest big league signing, starting pitcher Bill Morrell. The Red Sox collected 8 hits but scored just 1 earned run off of Morrell. With the Gems up 2 to 1 in the top of the 7th inning, Jackie Cronin committed a throwing error allowing a runner to reach base. The next batter walked and Red Sox pitcher, Dusty Cooke smashed a 2-run triple. The Savitt Gems lost to the Red Sox by a final score of 3 to 2.

Savitt Gems vs. Red Sox, 1933.

Boston Red Sox vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.

Bill Morrell, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Marty McManus Boston Red Sox, 1933.

On August 28th, the 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates and a 59-year-old Honus Wagner were the next big league team to face the Gems. Wagner was accompanied by Hall of Fame players: Pie Traynor, Freddie Lindstrom, Lloyd Waner and his brother, Paul Waner. Each collected a hit on the day, except for Wagner, who served as base coach until the top of the 9th inning. Wagner pinch hit and grounded out to Gems second basemen, Bill Gleason. The Gems featured Bill Morrell and Chicago White Sox outfielder, Bill Barrett as guest stars. Gems first basemen, Jigger Farrell had three hits on the day while centerfielder and future professional, Jimmy Coyle had a pair of singles. By the end of the game, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Savitt Gems, 9 to 4 before more than 4,000 fans at Bulkeley Stadium.

Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.

Pat Loftus, Savitt Gems, 1933.

As Bill Savitt revolutionized sporting events in Hartford, he also created a more inclusive community around baseball. Savitt quietly became a trailblazer of Baseball Integration more than a decade before Major League Baseball began to permit people of color. Savitt was one of the first baseball owners in the nation to open the game to minority players. During a highly segregated time, the Savitt Gems 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.

Savitt Gems vs. New York Black Yankees, 1933.

1935 New York Black Yankees.

Savitt organized integrated ballgames between Negro League teams and his Gems on Hartford’s grandest stage. The Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Black Giants, New York Cubans, New York Black Yankees, Boston Hoboes and the Schenectady Black Sox were billed as perennial contenders of the Gems. Other teams like the Boston Royal Giants, Philadelphia Colored Giants, Newark Eagles and the Jersey City Colored Athletics also came to play against the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium throughout the 1930’s. Barnstorming teams opposed the Gems during their tour of America such as the Hawaiian All-Stars led by player-manager, Buck Lai and the Carta Blanca baseball club from Mexico featuring their pitching ace, Luis Longoria. A woman ballplayer named Jackie Mitchell was a guest of the Savitt’s in the summer of 1933 and her Boston-based team lost to the Gems, 7 to 4.

Philadelphia Colored Giants vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.

Jackie Mitchell, 1933.

Buck Lai, Hawaiian All-Stars, 1935.

Savitt Gems vs. Brooklyn Royal Giants, 1935.

Al Nalua, Hawaiian All-Stars, 1935.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.

Luis Longoria, Carta Blanca, 1937.

Another traveling team came to Hartford named Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians, featuring Jim Thorpe, a famous Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist. The Savitt Gems hosted Thorpe and the Oklahoma Indians in August of 1933. The Gems met Thorpe and the Indians in a controversial 5-game series highlighted by Thorpe’s disagreements with the umpiring crew. In the bottom of the 4th inning of “Game 1,” Gems shortstop, Jackie Cronin hit a long fly ball to right field. Jim Thorpe, who was in right field, missed the catch while running across the foul line. The home plate umpire John “Boggy” Muldoon ruled the ball fair and Cronin ended up with an RBI triple.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

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

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

Jim Thorpe defiantly disputed Muldoon’s judgement. After a lengthy argument, Thorpe called his team off of the field. The crowd began to grow restless, forcing Savitt to dismiss the umpiring crew and overturn the ruling. Gems bench players served as replacement umpires. Savitt later made peace with the Board of Approved Hartford Baseball Umpires and they were hired back for the next 4 games against Thorpe and the Indians. The Gems prevailed in 3 out of 5 games over the Oklahoma Indians in a closely fought series.

John “Boggy” Muldoon, Umpire, 933.

Jim Thorpe, Harjo's Oklahoma Indians, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Johnny Roser and Pat Loftus, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Perhaps the best pitcher of all the Gems was Johnny ”Schoolboy” Taylor, a Bulkeley High School graduate. Bill Savitt would first encounter Taylor’s speedy fastball and sharp curve on September 24, 1933. In a game against the Mayflower Sales, champions of the Hartford Twilight League, Taylor guest starred as their man on the mound. Gems batters scratched only 3 hits off of Taylor who struck out 9 batters. However, he walked 8 and yielded a 3 to 0 loss to the Gems. Savitt would pursue Johnny Taylor for his Gems, even though black athletes were barred from organized baseball.

Savitt Gems vs. Maylfower Sales,1933.

Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Bill Savitt bucked the trend of prejudice in baseball and signed Johnny Taylor to play for the Gems on multiple occasions. In the fall of 1933, Taylor, who was often referred to as “Jackson” Taylor in the Hartford Courant, pitched his first game for the Savitt Gems versus the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. On October, 8, 1933, an 18-year-old Taylor was marvelous. He allowed a lone run in the game but ultimately lost, 1 to 0. His next Gems performance came on the last game of the season in another matchup against the Falcons. Taylor was effectively wild. He walked 10 batters while striking out 17. Taylor pitched the entire game for the Gems who won by a final score of 4 to 2.

Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Falcons, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Johnny Taylor, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

In 1934, the Hartford Senators reassembled their minor league club as part of the short-lived Northeastern League and reclaimed their stake in Bulkeley Stadium. As a result, the Gems didn’t get their season underway until Sunday, September 9th. Jigger Farrell, the heart and soul of the team, was appointed player-manager. For their first game of the year, the Gems faced Hartford’s Catholic League All-Stars. The “lanky speedball pitcher” Johnny Taylor signed with the Gems once again and netted a 4 to 3 conquest over the All-Stars. Taylor not only threw a complete game, he also batted in the game-winning run.

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

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1934.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1934.

Johnny Taylor cemented his reputation as Bill Savitt’s ultimate “ace-for-hire” on October 10, 1934. Taylor achieved baseball excellence with the Gems. At Bulkeley Stadium, he threw a spectacular no-hit game against the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Months later, Taylor signed with the Negro National League's New York Cubans at the age of 19. Knowing that his homecoming would draw large crowds, the Savitt and his Gems hosted Taylor and the Cubans twice during the summer of 1935. Taylor whirled a 7 to 0 shutout in the first game but was later defeated 6 to 2 by a similar Gems lineup in their second matchup.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1934.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1934.

Sam Hyman and Johnny Roser, Savitt Gems,1935.

Johnny Taylor signs with the New York Cubans, 1935.

Johnny Taylor, New York Cubans, 1935.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1935.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1935.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1935.

In the fall of 1935, Savitt and his Gems challenged Jimmie Foxx and the Philadelphia Athletics to a long-awaited rematch. Bill Savitt managed to sign Johnny Micheals, a former Boston Red Sox pitcher to hurl against the A’s. Michaels grabbed headlines, allowing a serviceable 10 hits and 4 runs over 9 innings, batting for 3 base hits, and scoring the game-winning run. The Gems brotherly duo of Jigger Farrell and Tommy Farrell also shined against the Athletics, each collecting a pair of hits. While Connie Mack tended to a family engagement, Jimmie Foxx served as manager, played first base and was held hitless on the day. Foxx made a rare pitching appearance in the last 2 innings and struck out 3 Gems batters. The Gems conquered the Major League club by a final score of 6 to 4 and asserted themselves as one of the best semi-pro clubs in the nation.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1935.

Savitt Gems vs. Philadelphia Athletics, 1935.

John Michaels, Savitt Gems, 1935.

Wally Dunham, 1935.

Wally Dunham, 1935.

At this time, the Gems fielded a multitude of professional caliber players. Minor league catcher, Wally Dunham, a pair of brothers, George “Bushy” Kapura and Pete Kapura, and an outfielder from New Britain named Hal Beagle were everyday players. Sam Hyman, Frank Coleman, and Jackie Kelly were among the professional pitchers took to the mound as Gems. Amateur position players who donned Gems uniforms included Hop Dandurand, a strong-armed shortstop, Johnny Campion, a right-handed hitting slugger from Hartford as well as Audie Farrell, Jigger’s younger brother.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.

Jake Banks, Savitt Gems, 1936.

1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.

Outfielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.

Lefty LaFleur and Walter Berg, 1936.

Jackie Kelly, Savitt Gems, 1936.

George “Bushy” Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.

Pete Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.

On Tuesday evening, July 28, 1936, the Savitt Gems played host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Bulkeley Stadium. Approximately 6,300 fans attended the much anticipated matchup. Nicknamed, the Gashouse Gang, the Cardinals boasted some of the most colorful players 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 when they stepped onto the field.

Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.

St. Louis Cardinals stars visit Hartford to play the Savitt Gems, 1936.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.

Dizzy Dean did not play in the exhibition game against the Gems but instead, he furnished his part of the pageantry by speaking to the crowd over a microphone near the Cardinals’ dugout. “Diz” delighted fans with his remarks in which he candidly teased his teammates. On the field, Gems starting pitcher, Louis Kurhan gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in 4 innings of work. At the plate, “PopLaFleur, Bushy Kapura and Hank Karlon each compiled 3 hits in 5 at bats. As expected, the game wasn’t much of a contest and St. Louis Cardinals proved to be too much for the Savitt Gems, winning 11 to 5.

Savitt hosts Dizzy Dean and the St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.

Infielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.

That same year, Savitt scheduled a rematch against Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the New York Cubans and their talented player-manager, Martín Dihigo. Taylor was on top of his game, striking out 18 batters and shutting out the Gems, 11 to 0. The next season, on May 9, 1937, Taylor thrilled Hartford fans when he switched sides and tossed a 22-strikeout, 20-inning performance on the mound for the Gems. Taylor defeated the Philadelphia Colored Giants by a score of 6 to 5. 3,400 fans witnessed the game with a duration of 4 hours and 15 minutes. Taylor would go on to become an all-star in the Negro League, Mexican League and the Cuban League but found time in the off-season to pitch for the Gems.

Martin Dihigo, New York Cubans, 1936.

Martin Dihigo, New York Cubans, 1936.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1937.

On Sunday, August 2, 1937, Bill Savitt was reported to have “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 18-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 to 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 Cleveland Indians, 1937.

Bob Feller Cleveland Indians, 1937.

Hartford Courant, 1937.

Savitt presents gifts to Bob Feller & Steve O’Neil of the Cleveland Indians, 1937.

Savitt Gems vs. Cleveland Indians, 1937.

Johnny Campion, Savitt Gems, 1937.

Hank Karlon, Savitt Gems, 1937.

1937 Savitt Gems.

In 1938, Hartford native and former member of Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, Pete Naktenis signed with the Savitt Gems. Savitt tired to recruit the highly coveted southpaw in the previous five years. Savitt’s wait was over and Naktenis made his first appearance for the Savitt Gems on September 25, 1938. He turned in a complete game performance versus the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Naktenis allowed 3 hits and 1 unearned run over 9 innings and the Gems won by a tally of 9 to 1.

Savitt Gems vs. Philadelphia Colored Giants, 1938.

Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, Savitt Gems, 1938

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1938.

Then, on September 24, 1939, while property of the Cincinnati Reds, Naktenis took the mound at Bulkeley Stadium for the Gems against the Scranton Red Sox (previously known as the Scranton Miners) of the Eastern League. He out-pitched Mickey Harris as the Gems trounced the Scranton team 11 to 3. The Gems did even worse damage in the second leg of the “double drubbing” by winning 17 to 1 over Scranton. Bill Savitt’s baseball club would not have garnered the prestigious reputation that it did, were it not for the pitching prowess of players like Pete Naktenis and Johnny Taylor, who pitched on and off for the Gems throughout their careers.

Pete Naktenis, Cincinatti Reds, 1939.

Reading Times, 1939.

The following year, Bill Savitt led a committee to host a game benefitting the Red Cross between his Gems and the Hartford Senators. On July 1, 1920, a 40-piece marching band and a crowd of more than 4,000 spectators were in attendance to see the Gems take on the city’s professional squad. Jim Hickey pitched for the Senators who narrowly defeated the Gems by a score of 6 to 5. Gems outfielder, Jake Banks had 3 hits on the day. Even though the Gems outhit the Senators, it was the minor league team who prevailed. When all was said and done the fans saw a good game and more than $2,000 was raised and donated to the Red Cross.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.

Jim Hickey, Hartford Senators, 1940

The Gems roster of the early 1940’s featured former Major League pitchers such as Edward “Big Ed” Walsh, Jack Salveson, and Bob Brady on occasion. Other everyday position players with the Savitt Gems during this period included 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, were men like Ray Curry, Vic Pagani, and Yosh Kinel. By the end of the 1941 season, Bill Savitt and the Gems had more than a decade of experience at organizing grand baseball events, and yet the best moments were yet to come.

John “Bunny” Roser, Savitt Gems,1940.

Gus Gardella, Savitt Gems, 1940.

Ed Walsh, Savitt Gems, 1940.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.

1941 Savitt Gems at Dexter Park, Queens, NY. Standing (L to R): Joe Tripp, Ron Livingston, Jigger Farrell, Hugh Crane, Hank Karlon, Ed Holly, John “Bunny” Roser, Dick Kelly, and Rieto. Kneeling (L to R): George Koval, Danny O’Leary, Ray Curry, Joe David, George Woodend, and Pete Sevetz.

Hartford Courant, 1941.

Savitt Gems vs. Detroit Clowns, 1941.

Hank Karlon, Savitt Gems, 1941.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1942.

Bob Brady and George Woodend, Savitt Gems, 1942.

On September 29, 1942, only a day after the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees in the final game of the Major League season, Ted Williams drove to Hartford, Connecticut. Bill Savitt coaxed a 23-year-old Williams to guest star for the Savitt Gems.  Williams put on a hitting display during batting practice for a crowd of about 2,500 fans under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium. On a cool fall night, the Gems placed Williams in were matched up against a formidable opponent in the New Britain Cremos. The Cremos were able to sign the battery of the Brooklyn Dodgers who won the 1941 World Series; pitcher, Hugh Casey and catcher, Mickey Owen.

Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Cremos, 1942.

Ted Willams at a radio appearance, Hartford, 1942.

Brooklyn stars face the Gems, 1942.

Brooklyn stars face the Gems, 1942.

Savitt’s newest pitching signee and Hartford's own native son, Monk Dubiel kept the Cremos bats at bay for 5 scoreless innings.  Two big leaguers, Bob “Spike” Repass and Johnny Barrett also made appearances for the Gems. In the 7th inning, Ted Williams cracked a home run off of Casey far beyond the centerfield wall. The Gems edged the Cremos by a final score of 2 to 1, much to the delight of Hartford fans. Dubiel, a Hartford Public High School graduate, was becoming one of the city’s top pitchers. In 1943, Dubiel signed with the New York Yankees at 23 years old. Like his predecessors, Dubiel often returned home during the off-season and made cameos with the Savitt Gems.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1942.

Ted Williams homers for the Gems,1942.

Bob “Spike” Repass, St. Louis Cardinals, 1939.

Hank Karlon, Savitt Gems, 1942.

Savitt Gems outfielders - (L to R): John Dione, Ed Holly, Jake Banks and Ray Curry, 1942.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

On Friday night, June 25, 1943, Leroy “Satchel” Paige threw against the Gems for the Kansas City Monarchs at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford. Paige showed off his burning fastball and jug-handle curveball, but the Gems were not fooled for long. The Gems raked 8 base hits off of Paige in only 3 innings of work. One-time big leaguer, Bob Daughters appeared for the Gems, but went 0 for 5 at the plate. Andy Fisher and Ed Holly knocked around 3 base hits each while Joe Tripp and Charley Holly collected a pair against the Monarchs. Lou Ucich and George Woodend did the pitching for the Gems. Savitt’s matchup with Satchel Paige ended in a 7 to 7 tie due to Hartford’s, “dimout regulations.”

Satchel Paige, Kansas City Monarchs, 1943.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

Joe Tripp, Savitt Gems, 1943.

Two days later, a U.S. Coast Guard ballclub nicknamed the Dolphins came to oppose the Savitt Gems in a double-header at Bulkeley Stadium. Among the Coast Guard Dolphins, was Norman “Babe” Young, a home run hitter for the New York Giants and Hank Majeski, an infielder for the Boston Braves. Standout players for the Gems included third baseman John Piurek, outfielder John Augustine. Pitchers on both sides were largely ineffective as a total of 61 hits were conceded on the day. The Dolphins won the first game by a score of 15 to 9. Bushy Kapura went deep for the Gems who won the second game of the double bill, 12 to 11.

Babe Young, New York Giants, 1943.

Savitt Gems vs. U.S. Coast Guard, 1943.

Mickey Katkaveck, Savitt Gems, 1944.

On September 7, 1945, Josh Gibson and Sammy Bankhead of the Homestead Grays challenged the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium. Gibson hit a lined single, scoring a run in the 1st inning. With a runner aboard in the 7th frame, Gibson poled a home run over the center field fence to the put the Grays up 8 to 0. 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 7 straight innings. In the bottom of the 8th inning, a Gems rally would not be enough, as Josh Gibson and the Grays handled the Gems by a final score of 8 to 3.

Josh Gibson, Homestead Gray, 1945.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1945.

Savitt Gems vs. Homestead Grays, 1945.

Later that month, on September 25, 1945, Monk Dubiel and the New York Yankees squared off against the Savitt Gems. The Gems hosted the Yankees at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. Witnessed by more than 3,000 fans, the Yankees demonstrated their superior offensive firepower. Yankees right fielder, Arthur “Bud” Metheny led all batters with 2 home runs on the day. Dubiel posted a quality start, permitting only 3 earned runs. He and the Yankees pocketed a 9 to 4 win over the Gems.

Jigger Farrell, Savitt Gems, 1945.

Savitt Gems vs. New York Yankees, 1945.

Monk Dubiel, Savitt Gems, 1945.

Bud Metheny, New York Yankees, 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 51 years of age, the famous “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.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1945.

The Savitt Gems and Babe Ruth, 1945.

The Savitt Gems and Babe Ruth, 1945.

Then in 3rd 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 come-backer to the pitcher and was forced out at first base. Babe Ruth's cameo with the Gems About 2,500 paid admission to catch a glimpse of Ruth, who signed autographs and posed for photographs after the game. Babe Ruth’s visit to Hartford marked Ruth’s final at bat and appearance in a baseball game. Ruth passed away less than 3 years later 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.

In a post-WWII world, Bill Savitt more focused on new business ventures and community-minded endeavors. In 1946, Savitt Jewelers showcased the Jonker Diamond, one of the largest diamonds in the world. Bill Savitt became increasingly involved in radio that same year. He and his brother Max opened a radio station,WCCC Hartford, and promised that civic enterprises would be given every opportunity to publicize their activities. In 1949, “Old Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra appeared on the radio with Bill Savitt at Hotel Bond in Hartford. Savitt continued to support Hartford’s local youth by contributing to organizations like Camp Courant and Times Farm.

Savitt Jewelers, Jonkers Diamond advertisement, 1945.

WCCC Hartford, Savitt with Sinatra, 1949.

WCCC Hartford, Savitt with Sinatra, 1949.

Bill Savitt donating to Camp Courant, 1949.

The Savitt Gems eventually disbanded in at the end of their 1949 season. Bill Savitt continued to support baseball by donating to the Hartford Twilight League and Little League. Many of the men who played for the Gems became prominent businessmen throughout Greater Hartford; a tribute to the part baseball played in developing leadership skills. Savitt and his former Gems players became a family of sorts. He hosted reunions for members of the Gems and facilitated “Old-timers” games at Dillon Stadium in Hartford. Many of the Gems from a bygone era like Johnny Taylor and Pete Naktenis, as well as sportswriters, umpires and city officials attended the events.

Savitt at annual Camp Courant banquet, 1949.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement in the Hartford Courant, 1950.

For many years, Savitt threw an annual holiday party at Savitt Jewelers on Christmas Eve. Gems alumni and the beloved Jigger Farrell attended each year. As a tongue-in-cheek promotion, Savitt placed an advertisement in the Hartford Courant signaling the Gems intentions to sign Farrell to another year as manager. Even though the Gems were no longer a ballclub, Savitt kept the tradition going every year from 1950 until 1984. The last headline read, “Jigger Farrell Signs for the Umpteenth Time.” The beloved friend of Bill Savitt, Jigger Farrell, passed away on May 6, 1985. Savitt recalled his friend saying:

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

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1950.

Bill Savitt accepts marketing award, 1951.

In 1952, Savitt became chairman of the Hartford Chapter of the Red Cross. His ideas for economic recovery in Connecticut's 1955 flood disaster brought about change in Red Cross policy. Then Savitt was named Chairman of the Commerce Committee within University of Hartford Founders Fund. The funds eventually developed and erected buildings on the school's Bloomfield Avenue campus. Hartford's Nathan Hale Chapter and New Britain's Elpis Chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association chose Mr. Savitt as Hartford County's Outstanding Citizen in 1960.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1951.

Savitt supports the Red Cross, 1952.

As time passed, Bill Savitt would earn accolades and awards from numerous non-profit organizations. He was praised by the Jewish War Veterans as a man whose life and deeds exemplified the unifying principles of American interfaith relationship and for that he was awarded the JWV Citizenship Award. The Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce named him for its "Outstanding Boss" honor, citing his progressive and humane employee relations, and many community contributions had placed him in the highest regard of his business associates, employees, and community. He received the merit certificate from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for meritorious service to veterans both during World War II and helping returning veterans find their place in the community.

Bill Savitt, 1952.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1953.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1953.

Savitt’s host Little League dinner, 1953.

Savitt’s honor Little League champions, 1953.

Savitt’s honor Little League champions, 1953.

Almost every year in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Savitt bought a block of concert tickets for students at the to the Connecticut Institute of the Blind, enabling students to hear the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell Memorial Auditorium. He sponsored thousands of young athletes and donated hundreds of trophies for organizations for athletic achievements in the Greater Hartford area. Savitt also funded local basketball, football, and bowling teams. In 1962, Savitt was awarded the 25-year Distinguished Service Medal by the Jonathan-Lodge of Odd Fellows.

Savitt sponsors show for Camp Courant at the Bushnell, 1955.

Max Savitt, 1958.

(L to R): Johnny Taylor, Walter Elliot (Hartford Courant Sportswriter, and Pete Naktenis, 1958.

Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1959.

Bill Savitt at Camp Courant, 1959.

Bill Savitt with employees, 1960.

Bill Savitt and employees at Savitt Jewelers, 1960.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1960.

The Savitt Jewelers showroom, 1960.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1960.

Bill Savitt receives Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows Award, 1962

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1964.

Savitt Jewelers, 1965.

Savitt Jewelers billboard on Asylum Street in Hartford, 1965.

Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1965.

Bill Savitt in a Savitt Gems uniform, 1966.

GHTBL Old-Timer's Game, Dillon Stadium, 1968.

In 1971, Bill Savitt was awarded a prestigious national award by Small Business Administration, winning the Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award. Savitt was honored by countless organizations including the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and youth awards from the Ted Williams Jimmy Fund, Hartford Public Schools, Times Farm, Camp Courant, Ned Coll's Revitalization, and the American Legion. He was a member of the Emanuel Synagogue of West Hartford, Connecticut, and a former member of the synagogue's Board of Directors. In 1987, the City of Hartford bestowed a high honor upon Bill Savitt by naming a street in Hartford after him, "Savitt Way". The street was commemorated on April 30, 1987, and William A. O'Neill, 84th Governor of Connecticut, proclaimed the day as "Bill Savitt Day". 

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1970.

Bill Savitt honored by Savings Bond Division of the U.S. Treasury, 1970.

Savitt Super Bowl advertisement, 1970.

Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award, 1971.

Savitt Jewelers, Hartford, 1971.

Savitt Jewelers, Hartford, 1971.

Bill Savitt (left), 1973.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1974.

Savitt Gems Reunion, 1974.

Savitt Gems Reunion, 1974.

Back of Savitt Jewelers, 1974.

Back of Savitt Jewelers, 1974.

Bob Steele and Bill Savitt, 1976.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1976.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1976.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1977.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1979.

A message from Savitt in the Hartford Courant, 1976.

Savitt gave hope to Hartford during trying times and provided financial support to the local community. Because of his generosity, Savitt made many friends along the way. An anecdote involving Savitt and Ted Williams revealed their long-lasting friendship and Savitt’s honorable persona. Back in 1960, Savitt wasn’t pleased when Williams refused to tip his hat to Boston fans following his career-ending homer at Fenway Park. Savitt later 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."

At Fenway Park on Ted Williams Day in 1991, a 72-year-old Williams tipped his cap to the Fenway Park fans and said:

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

Savitt was pleased to watch these events play out on television.

Bill Savitt in the office at Savitt Jewelers, 1986.

Ted Williams tips his cap at Fenway Park, 1991.

Bill Savitt, a man who was once said to have kept business and baseball alive in Hartford during the Great Depression, died a few years later on March 14, 1995. He left behind an immense philanthropic legacy and a message of charity and goodwill to all. In Connecticut’s history, perhaps no one has made more of an impact on the game of baseball than Bill Savitt, the King of Diamonds. When organized baseball was missing from the local scene, Savitt’s Gems rescued the game. During their 17-year reign as a semi-pro baseball club, the Gems became part of baseball lore by the biggest stars the game has ever known.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1995.

A commemorative Savitt coin, 2018.

A Savitt Jewelers 10% off discount coin, 2019.

Sources:

- Hartford Courant

- Reading Times