The Hartford Senators are Connecticut’s most enduring professional baseball franchise of all time. For more than three decades (1902-1934) the Senators were Hartford’s headliner club. The minor league team became an elite training ground for players on their way to the Major Leagues. Legends like Lou Gehrig, Jim Thorpe, Leo Durocher and Hank Greenberg honed their skills in Hartford. The following chronology recounts the Senators during their early years (1902-1915) when minor league championships were a significant source of local pride. Thus far, since entering the minor leagues in 1878, the City of Hartford had been deprived of a pennant.
Notable Hartford Senators of the early years
- Ira Thomas, Catcher (1902-1903)
- Bill Foxen, Pitcher (1904-1905)
- Jack Lelivelt, First Baseman (1907)
- Ray Fisher, Pitcher (1908-1909)
- Hugh High, Outfielder (1911-1912)
- Benny Kauff, Outfielder (1913)
- Jim Delahanty, Player-manager (1915)
The nickname “Senators” was bestowed upon the club in 1902 by the Hartford Times newspaper. That year, Hartford became a member of the Connecticut League. Home games were hosted at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds also called Hartford Baseball Park. The organization was headed by Charles A. Soby. Team meetings were held at Soby’s cigar store at 867 Main Street. Catcher Ira Thomas played his rookie season for the Senators of 1902 and later won two World Series championships with the Philadelphia Phillies. Frank Reisling was Hartford’s player-manager who later sued the club over unpaid wages after being fired for allegedly recruiting players to a team in Toledo, Ohio. Hartford ended the season in fourth place.
By next season the Hartford franchise was purchased by baseball magnates William J. Tracy of Bristol and Thomas Reilly of Meriden. Reilly acted as manager and the Senators rejoined the Connecticut League of 1903. Hartford’s team consisted of an entirely new roster with the exception of Ira Thomas who returned as catcher. Fresh signees included Walter Ahearn of New Haven, Bill Luby of Meriden and Billy Derwin of Waterbury. A talented infield featured Larry Battam at third base and captain Bert Daly at second base. However the Senators struggled mightily and finished last in the league.
Before the 1904 season, Thomas Reilly was elected Mayor of Meriden and sold his shares of the Hartford club to William J. Tracy. As sole owner of the Senators (and later President of the Connecticut League), Tracy appointed his friend and Bristol barbershop owner John E. Kennedy as manager. The only man to return from the previous season was second baseman Bert Daly. New players like Bill Foxen, Bill Karns and Tom Bannon entered the fold. The Senators had a below average season record (53-61), and Hartford’s decades-long championship drought continued.
In September of 1904, Hartford was introduced to James H. Clarkin, proprietor of the Senators for the next 24 years. When Tracy decided to sell the club, Clarkin and Daly stepped in as owners. Clarkin leased Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for the next six years at a rate of $600 per year. Hartford fans took special trolleys to the highly regarded and well-kept baseball grounds. Starring for the club were pitching prospect, Pete Wilson of Springfield, Massachussetts, and shortstop Harry Noyes of New Haven. In Clarkin’s first season as proprietor, the Senators of 1905 won a majority of their games (58-55).
After the 1905 season, Clarkin sold the club’s top pitcher William Foxen to Providence for $250. The sale of Foxen was the first of many transacted by Clarkin who acquired a frugal reputation for selling off players. In 1906, Bert Daly served as player-manager until midway through the season, when he returned to his home in Bayonne, New Jersey to practice medicine. Harry Noyes was named player-manager and Clarkin became sole owner of the Senators. He signed Herman Bronkie of Manchester, Connecticut, a rookie third baseman who later matriculated to the Cleveland Naps. When the season concluded Hartford stood fourth in the Connecticut League.
Despite another lackluster season, Hartford retained its core players for the following year. Harry Noyes remained as player-manager and Pete Wilson as ace pitcher. Other returners for 1907 were outfielder, Charlie Fallon, a steady batsman from New York City as well as career minor leaguers Ed Justice, Billy Luyster and Edward Gastmeyer. Newcomers included first baseman Jack Rothfuss and outfielder Izzy Hoffman. Philadelphia manager Connie Mack tipped off proprietor Clarkin to recruit Jack Lelivelt, a Dutch immigrant who became one of baseball’s greatest minor league hitters. As incentive to win, Clarkin offered his Senators a bonus of $100 if they won five games in a week. While popular with players, Hartford’s bonus scheme failed and the Senators finished fifth in the Connecticut League of 1907.
Proprietor Clarkin sought to retool the Senators by hiring veteran leadership for 1908. During the offseason, Thomas Dowd, a former major league journeyman was named manager and assumed all baseball operations. Dowd lured players to Hartford such as Ray Fisher, a pitching phenom, Hank Schumann, a sturdy moundsman, Bob Connery, a muscle bound first baseman, Earle Gardner, a second basemen destined for the New York Yankees and Chick Evans, an 18 year old who threw a perfect game for the Senators on July 21,1908. They were Hartford’s finest team to date, and yet they lost the championship to Springfield by a mere half game.
A disappointing conclusion to Hartford’s 1908 season lit a fire under the Senators in 1909. Clarkin appointed Bob Connery player-manager in place of Thomas Dowd who reportedly struggled with alcoholism. New additions Jimmy Hart and Jack Wanner led the squad in batting. With masterful pitching and defense, Connery’s crew captured first place and remained there for the majority of the season. Hartford finally won their first Connecticut League championship by outlasting the runner-ups of Holyoke. On September 13, 1909, the Senators were honored with a parade on Main Street, a ceremony in front of Connecticut’s Old State House, a musical performance at Hartford Theater and a late night banquet at Hotel Garde.
In 1910, Hartford was the envy of minor league baseball as the Connecticut League pennant was flown on over Hartford Baseball Park. The facility was the prettiest in the circuit with a smooth playing surface, clubhouse and refreshment booth. Meanwhile Clarkin further delegated his duties as owner and created the Hartford Baseball Club Board of Strategy to scout ballplayers. Roster additions included mound men Buck O’Brien and Carl Lundgren as well as infielders John Vann and Gus Soffel. Incumbent player-manager Bob Connery brought aboard fellow St. Louis native Wally Rehg, a rookie utility man later dubbed the world’s sassiest player. Amongst high expectations, the Senators underachieved to fourth place, six games behind the title winners of Waterbury.
Before the 1911 season, Connecticut League officials increased the championship purse from $25 to $100. That year, rookie outfielder Hugh High rose to local stardom by posting a .302 batting average in 431 at bats. Former Boston Doves pitcher Tom McCarthy only played half of the season, yet he twirled his way to 15 wins. Hartford welcomed back Harry Noyes and Pete Wilson after playing elsewhere, but both underperformed. A low point of the season came when arrest warrants were issued for nine Hartford players including manager Connery, when they were found drinking alcohol on a Sunday at a hotel party on Lighthouse Point, New Haven. The Senators would fall short of the ultimate league prize but finished in a respectable third place.
As winter descended on Hartford, proprietor Clarkin renewed his lease of the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for ten more years and built a big league caliber grandstand. When the 1912 season began, Bob Connery suited up for his final managerial campaign. He would later discover Rogers Hornsby as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. Before departing, Connery signed Benny Kauff to a one-year deal who batted .321 in 53 games played. Hugh High led the Connecticut League in hits with 145, 5 of them homers, over 121 games. Si McDonald served as primary catcher in his second year with the club and captained the Senators to second place.
At an offseason meeting President Jim O’Rourke and loop officials renamed the Connecticut League to the Eastern Association, reflecting the inclusion of three Massachussetts clubs. In preparation for the 1913 season, the Senators announced Si McDonald as Hartford’s new player-manager. Important acquisitions were shortstop, Bill Morley, second baseman, Jim Curry and first baseman, Mickey Keliher. Centerfielder Benny Kauff had one of the best seasons in Hartford baseball history, leading the league with 176 hits and a .345 batting average. Behind superior pitching, the Senators dominated their way to 83 wins and another triumphant league championship.
Most of Hartford’s championship players were resigned for the 1914 season. Si McDonald became full-time manager while Hartford born Jack Muldoon was promoted to starting catcher. McDonald was eventually deposed midyear by proprietor Clarkin, who assigned the job to Dan O’Neil, a veteran manager from Holyoke. New arrivals Ed Barney and Jack Hoey were the club’s most productive hitters. Pitchers Clyde Geist and Fred Rieger carved out brilliant seasons and were among the league leaders in wins. When the Eastern Association wrapped, Hartford had achieved their tenth consecutive winning season, but ultimately finished in fifth place.
In 1915, proprietor Clarkin decided to abandon the Eastern Association. Instead he enrolled the Senators in the Colonial League; a minor league loosely affiliated with the infamous Federal League. Shortly before the season, 36 year old infielder Jim Delahanty was named Hartford’s player-manager. Delahanty mashed a .379 batting average, was the league’s most valuable player and led the Senators to the Colonial League title. Also on the squad were Federal League players who previously performed for the Brooklyn Tip Tops and the Newark Pepper clubs. A mix of outcast big leaguers won Hartford its third minor league baseball championship and the Senators ended their early years on a high note.