The Hartford Poli's Baseball Club

The Hartford Poli's were a semi-professional baseball club formed in 1905 by management and employees of Poli’s Theatre. The team’s ballplayers ranged in ages from 18 to 30. They were said to be the “fastest” club in Hartford. The Poli’s competition consisted of amateur clubs and manufacturing company teams in the regional area. The main foe of the Hartford Poli’s was the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company nine. The owner of Poli’s was Sylvester Z. Poli who operated theaters in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury and in several other cities throughout the Northeast.

The Poli’s manager and part-time second baseman, Curtis Gillette was also the door manager at the Poli Theatre of Hartford. Manager Gillette was raised in New Haven but came to Hartford in 1911 pursuing career and baseball opportunities. Gillette led the Hartford Poli’s to unprecedented success against local opponents and captured multiple amateur state titles. Most notably, Gillette and the Poli’s would also play host to a young Babe Ruth on multiple occasions in the late summers of 1918, 1919 and 1920.

Poli’s Theatre employees throughout the state formed a baseball league as early as 1905.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1909.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1912.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1912.

Hockers Gamerdinger, Hartford Poli’s, 1912.

1913 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

1914 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

Smiler Oppelt, Pitcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1914.

1915 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

Hartford Courant excerpt from September 6, 1915.

1916 Poli Baseball Club

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1916.

Lester Lanning, Outfielder, Hartford Poli's and Wesleyan University graduate, 1917.

Bill Kopf, Shortstop, Hartford Poli's, 1918.

New Haven Colonials vs. Hartford Poli’s, 1918.

Manager Gillete recruited Benny Kauff of the New York Giants to take on Ty Cobb who made an appearance for the New Haven Colonials, 1916.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1917.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

Joe Griffin, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.

Rex Islieb, Shortstop, Hartford Poli's Baseball, 1917.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

Joe Briger, Catcher, Hartford Poli's, 1918.

Fred Reiger, Pitcher, Hartford Poli's, 1918.

Babe Clark, Captain and First Baseman, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1917.

John “Boggy” Muldoon, Catcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.

In mid-September of 1918, the Hartford Poli’s landed a recent World Series champion to make a historic appearance for their club. The one and only, George Herman “Babe” Ruth of the Boston Red Sox guest starred for the Poli’s in a doubleheader match up. The event benefited American troops from Hartford who were fighting overseas in World War I. Ruth arrived in Hartford to cheering fans in the streets. Manager Curtis Gillette of the Hartford Poli’s drove the Babe to his accommodations at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street where he was swarmed by reporters. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds located at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue.

The Babe and the Hartford 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 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.

Babe Ruth, 1918.

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

Babe Ruth earns a win for the Hartford Poli's, 1918.

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.

Ruth to play at the Hartford Grounds with Poli’s, 1918.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

In 1919, Ruth barnstormed with the Boston Red Sox after a sub-par Regular Season. Hartford once again welcomed the Babe who blasted the first ever home run at Muzzy Field in an exhibition game between the Red Sox and the New Departure company team. While the rest of the Red Sox went home, Ruth continued his stay in the Greater Hartford area. He appeared in another game with the Hartford 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 big flies 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 witnessed in batting practice lifting 500 foot blast over the centerfield fence. Ruth played first base that Sunday 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.

Hartford Poli’s vs Willimantic, 1919.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1919.

A crowd of more than 6,000 attends a Hartford Poli’s vs. New Britain Pioneers game featuring Babe Ruth at Poli Field, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.

A crowd of more than 6,000 attends a Hartford Poli’s vs. New Britain Pioneers game featuring Babe Ruth at Poli Field, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1919.

Babe Ruth must have enjoyed his time in Connecticut because he came back once again to play for the Hartford Poli’s. Ruth had just finished his 1920 season, his first with the New York Yankees. The 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 in Bristol, Connecticut on October 2, 1920.

The Babe hit “clean up” for the Hartford Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure were able to shutout the Poli’s by a score of 7 to 0 as a result of crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitballer from the New York State League. Extra trains and trolleys were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon allowing about 10,000 fans a chance to see Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1920.

Babe Ruth comes to Muzzy Field, 1920.

Ruth Four Hits at Bristol for the Hartford Poli's, 1920.

Ruth Four Hits at Bristol for the Hartford Poli's, 1920.

Ruth Playing First Base at Muzzy Field, 1920.

Ruth Tagged Out at Muzzy Field, 1920.

Ruth in the Batter's Box at Muzzy Field, 1920.

Ruth Accepts Honorary Gift at Muzzy Field, 1920.

The Man Behind the Poli’s

The Hartford Poli’s were sponsored by Sylvester Zefferino Poli, a theater mogul, vaudeville pioneer and entertainment proprietor. When Poli retired at the age of 70, he had amassed 28 theaters, 3 hotels (including the Savoy in Miami), 500 offices and two building sites. In Hartford, Poli’s Theatre was located on Main Street and was arguably Hartford’s most elegant entertainment venue.

In July of 1928, Poli sold his company to Fox New England Theaters, retaining 3/4 interest and creating Fox-Poli's. In May of 1934, Loew's Theatres purchased Poli’s remaining theaters, which became known as Loew's-Poli Theatres. Sylvester Poli spent his final years at his summer home, the Villa Rosa in Woodmont, Connecticut. He died on May 31, 1937 at the age of 79 due to pneumonia. Loew's-Poli Theatre stayed open in Hartford until 1957.

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

Poli’s Theatre first opened on Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut in 1903.

Poli's Stock Company advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1906

The summer home of Sylvester Z. Poli and his family, “Villa Rosa” Woodmont, Connecticut, 1910.

A scene from “The Fortune Hunter” at Poli's Theatre, 1912.

Poli’s Palace Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1914.

Originally opened on August 28, 1920 as the Poli’s Capitol Theatre, designed by Thomas W. Lamb.

Fox Poli Theatre, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.

Fox Poli Theatre, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.

Loews Poli Theatre in the background on Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1956.

When Connie Mack Came to Connecticut

Written March 7, 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.”

Fans gather to welcome Connie Mack to Hartford, 1951

Connie Mack attends dinner in Hartford, 1951

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1885.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1906.

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

Connie Mack (left) managing his Philadelphia Athletics, 1914.

Connie Mack, 1930.

Connie Mack, 1933.

Monument to Connie Mack at Legion Field in Meriden, Connecticut, photographed in 2018.

Monument to Connie Mack at Legion Field in Meriden, Connecticut, photographed in 2018.

The Philadelphia Athletics and Jimmy Foxx Played in Hartford

Jimmy Foxx and Connie Mack in 1933 (regenerated image)

In the summer of 1933 and 1935 the Major League powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics led by their Manager, Connie Mack and a young slugger named Jimmie 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 1920's and other local amateurs and legends in their own right such as Jigger Farrell and Bob Cronin.

James Jimmie 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. Massive crowds turned out at Bulkeley Stadium even though Connie Mack was unable to attend on both occasions in 1933 and 1935. To his credit, Mack accepted the invitations to play in Hartford and he telegraphed his lineup to the Hartford Courant in advance. 

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. 

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 brotherly 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 reaching base. By the 2nd inning the score was 5-0 after a barrage of hits from Jigger Farrell and a triple from Johnny Michaels.

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.

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.

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

June 16, 1933 Hartford Courant excerpt.

Johnny Michaels, Boston Red Sox, 1932

1933 Hartford Courant news clipping.

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.

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

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1935.

Hartford Courant excerpt from 1935.

The Day of Sockalexis

The 1899 Hartford Indians of the Eastern League managed by Billy Barnie, signed outfielder, Louis Sockalexis, after his historic 3-year stint on the Cleveland Spiders where he was a teammate of Cy Young. As a Native American of the Penobscot tribe (Indian Island, Maine) Sockalexis was one the first minority athletes to play professional sports.

Location: Hartford, CT