- Eastern League (1916-1932)
- Northeastern League (1934)
- 1923 & 1931
Hartford Senators in the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Jesse Burkett, Player-manager (1916)
- Lou Gehrig, First Baseman (1921, 1923-1924)
- Leo Durocher, Shortstop (1925)
- Hank Greenberg, First Baseman (1930)
The Hartford Senators remain Connecticut’s most enduring professional sports franchise of all-time. For more than three decades (1902-1934) the Senators were Hartford’s headliner baseball 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 franchise during their later years (1916-1934).
By 1916, James H. Clarkin had owned the Hartford Senators for more than a decade. Clarkin’s club became a member of the Eastern League, a new Class B circuit. Former Boston Red Sox champion and 15-year veteran, Heine Wagner signed as Hartford’s nascent player-manager. The Senators recruited Paddy O’Connor, a catcher with experience in the majors. Trinity College alumnus and Hartford Public High School baseball coach George Brickley patrolled the outfield.
A dismal first half of the 1916 season led to the release of Heine Wagner and veteran baseball guru, Jesse Burkett was appointed player-manager. One day at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, the Hartford club was visited by Judge Kenesaw Landis who had become famous for presiding over and eventually settling a lawsuit between the Federal League and Major League Baseball. Also on hand for the occasion was former Hartford manager Dan O’Neil, who had been appointed President of the Eastern League. The Senators would finish out the season in last place with a 38-79 record.
In 1917, the Senators were managed by Boston native Louis Pieper who oversaw one of Hartford’s worst seasons. His pitching staff included a journeyman pitcher Dave Keefe, later picked up by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, as well as workhorses Ralph Head and Fred Trautman. Their catcher, Bill Skaff was in his second season with Hartford. The team’s best hitters were shortstop, Roy Grimes and an amateur turned professional named Eddie Goodridge from Bristol, Connecticut. Despite overwhelming local support, the club finished with a horrid .359 winning percentage.
The following year, another forgettable Eastern League season awaited the Hartford Senators. Owner Clarkin’s squad was headed by captain and player-manager, Gus Gardella and veteran catcher, Joe Briger who hit .308 as a Senator. The club relied on pitchers Orlie Weaver, Andy Meyerjack and Glenn Cook. However, the season was cut short when the United States was pulled into World War I. Every man in the nation was ordered to work or fight. As a result, the Eastern League disbanded in mid-July of 1918, Hartford finished 29-28 and no team was awarded the league title.
In 1919, the Eastern League advanced to Class A status, a step below the Major Leagues. Two-time World Series champion, Danny Murphy was hired as Hartford’s field manager. Yet, James Clarkin abruptly fired Murphy a month into the season and appointed shortstop Roy Grimes as player-manager. Frank Brazill was the club’s big bat corner infielder who hit .360 in 225 at bats. Local star Eddie Goodridge returned to man first base for Hartford after a serving in the war effort. The Senators struggled to keep opponents off the basepaths and finished last in the Eastern League.
In response to another bungled season, James Clarkin turned the club upside down. With the exception of Ralph Head and Willie Adams, the entire roster consisted of players in their first year with Hartford. Dan Howley was hired as manager and emergency catcher. Fred Bailey, a 24 year old outfielder and former Boston Braves prospect hit .303. George “Kewpie” Pennington had a 2.54 earned run average and pitched the Senators to 16 of their 70 wins. Hartford rose to fourth place in 1920, finishing only 8 games behind the New Haven club.
In 1921, James Clarkin replaced the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The stadium became known as Clarkin Field and was an elite venue of the minor leagues; with a grandstand made of steel and concrete, clubhouses and modern amenities. After fifteen years as owner, Clarkin doubled-down on his Hartford baseball investment. Even though winning was in short supply, he foresaw more opportunity. Along with Providence, Hartford was the most coveted franchise in the Eastern League because of its location, fanbase and facility. However, Hartford’s new stadium was not ready for Opening Day and the Senators played their first two weeks on the road.
Clarkin Field produced a higher level of baseball in Hartford. Legendary old-timer and 1884 World Series winner, Arthur Irwin accepted managerial duties and changed the franchise forever. Irwin scouted a 17 year old first baseman from Columbia University. Lou Gehrig was a rookie phenom who played a dozen games for Hartford in 1921. He assumed two different names, “Lefty Gehrig” and “Lou Lewis” presumably in an attempt to retain amateur status on his return to college. Gehrig would be back in Hartford but unfortunately the man who lured him to Connecticut would meet an untimely demise.
On July 16, 1921, Hartford’s ailing manager, Arthur Irwin, jumped from the steamship Calvin Austin on a voyage from New York to Boston and perished. Former Hartford manager Thomas Dowd of the near-championship 1908 club was Irwin’s replacement. Dowd’s recurring role only lasted a month, and the team’s veteran catcher and 3-time World Series champion, Chester “Pinch” Thomas was appointed player-manager by August. One of the top performing Senators of 1921 was outfielder Hinkey Haines, who played a minor role on the New York Yankees during their 1923 World Series championship run.
Near the end of the year, Connie Mack came to Hartford on a scouting trip and purchased Heinie Scheer. The Philadelphia Athletics offered Clarkin $5,000 for Scheer, a sure-handed, fleet of foot infielder. Scheer refused to go to Philadelphia unless Clarkin gave him a percentage of his transfer fee. Following the Senators fifth place finish, owner Clarkin declared his frustration with major league clubs who poach his players without paying higher fees. At the same time, Clarkin would often recruit players from the big leagues himself.
In 1922, owner Clarkin signed world famous Native American olympian, Jim Thorpe to a brief contract with the Senators. Thorpe crushed Eastern League pitching, and yet his stint in Hartford would only last about six weeks. Upon being traded to Worcester, he criticized Clarkin’s methods which included pressuring Thorpe to hitting more home runs. A few days after being traded, Thorpe led Worcester in two wins over Hartford and ended up with one of the top batting averages in the Eastern League.
At the helm of the Senators during the Thorpe fiasco was their 35 year old player-manager Jack Coffey. The club’s left fielder was Leo “Brick” Kane who achieved his third consecutive year with more than 100 Eastern League hits. The team’s right fielder was Sy Rosenthal who began his thirteen year professional career in Hartford. Ted Hauk played third base and was key fixture in Hartford’s lineup. The club failed more often than they succeeded at 73-76 and landed in sixth place on the year.
In 1923, Hartford’s lone constant, James Clarkin once again hired a new manager. He signed Paddy O’Connor, a trusted baseball mind and former Senators catcher whose salary exceeded every Eastern League manager. O’Connor was fortunate to welcome back 19 year old Lou Gehrig to Hartford from Columbia University for 59 games. The budding star swatted a league record 24 home runs. All the pieces fell into place as O’Connor, Gehrig and the Senators captured the 1923 pennant. Hartford copped its first Eastern League title with a .640 winning percentage and a record of 98-55.
As champions, the Senators entered the 1924 season teeming with confidence. Lou Gehrig’s game continued to mature as he tore up the Eastern League with 37 homers in 504 at bats and a .369 batting average. Gehrig’s days in Hartford ended when the New York Yankees called him up for 10 games in which he went 6 for 12. Another standout Senator was second baseman Henry “Smudge” Demoe who smacked 184 hits, fifth most in the league. Hartford ended the season in third place, only four games back from the Waterbury Brasscos.
The next season brought another star player to Hartford. Leo Durocher attended his first tryout with the Senators in early April. Paddy O’Connor trusted Durocher’s defensive talent and quickness at shortstop. As a rookie, Durocher batted just .220 on the season but compiled a fielding percentage of .933. On August 16, 1925, “Leo the Lip” was purchased by the New York Yankees for $12,000. Durocher played 151 games in Hartford and reported to the Yankees at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Tom Comiskey and Harry Hesse were Hartford’s most valuable batsman who finished among the league leaders in hits. Lem Owen and Earl Johnson were reliable starting arms. The heart and soul of the team was their catcher, Eddie Kenna who played 144 games. Marty Shay was the Senators second baseman and leadoff man. Henri Rondeau was a journeyman outfielder born in Danielson, Connecticut, who batted .306. Hartford almost captured another league title, but they were outperformed by the Waterbury Brasscos by a game and a half.
In 1926, Clarkin hired former Hartford player and manager Si McDonald to direct the club. The relationship quickly went awry, and McDonald was fired in late May. Second baseman Gene Sheriden was appointed as manager. The Senators finished towards the bottom of the standings but there were few bright spots on the season like Adolph Schinkle. A pitcher converted into an outfielder, Schinkle was Hartford’s hottest hitter who led the Eastern League in doubles and slapped 195 hits. George Brown and John Miller were the club’s top pitchers who ranked near the top of the league in earned run average.
In 1927, an accidental fire at Clarkin Field torched the grandstand. A new grandstand was erected in less than a month. The Senators played at Trinity College and in Manchester while repairs were made. Longtime big leaguer, Kitty Bransfield spent his final season in baseball as Hartford’s manager. First baseman Jim Keesey proved to be a prospect when he led the Eastern League with 204 hits. Schinkle was second in the league had 203 base hits.
Stationed in Hartford’s outfield was Kiddo Davis who hit for a .349 batting average and later won the 1933 World Series with the New York Giants. Jo-Jo Morrissey, in his second season with the Senators, was another key cog in the outfield. An infielder from Cuba named Eusebio González played 25 games with the Senators and was the first player of color since Jim Thorpe. Clarence “Lefty” Thomas was the club’s top performing pitcher, but the rest of the pitching staff struggled mightily and the Senators ended up in sixth place.
In the winter of 1928, James H. Clarkin decided to retire from baseball. He brought three pennants to Hartford as owner. Clarkin was a stern, no nonsense businessman who had drawn the ire of some Hartford fans but according to his former manager Jack Coffey, he had “many endearing qualities hidden from those who did not know him intimately.” Subsequently, Clarkin Field was renamed Bulkeley Stadium in honor of Morgan G. Bulkeley, a prominent Hartford man, first President of the National League, former U.S. Senator and Governor of Connecticut who passed in 1922.
Hartford’s new ownership was spearheaded by Robert J. Farrell, a local real estate developer. The purchase price for the franchise and stadium property was reported to be $200,000. Farrell created a private stock company made up of investors who helped to expand the grandstand at Bulkeley Stadium. John A. Danaher was hired to be the club’s Secretary and handled most administrative duties. The buyout reinforced the common opinion of the day – that Hartford was a celebrated baseball city. In preparation for the 1928 season, the team rehired the popular Paddy O’Connor as manager.
John “Bunny” Roser was the team’s newest and most valuable hitter, earning the league’s home run title with 27 round-trippers. At second base, Scott Slayback demonstrated a capable bat with 10 homers. A southpaw pitcher named Russ Van Atta threw for a marvelous 2.49 earned run average and was destined for the New York Yankees. Carl Schmehl and Tom Comiskey played their final seasons in Hartford after several years as Senators, and the club finished third place in the 1928 Eastern League.
Going into the 1929 season, the Hartford Senators made a splash in the newspapers when they signed a two-time World Series champion, Heine Groh to the role of player-manager. Groh also manned third base. The club resigned their former second baseman of 1921, Heinie Scheer. Corner outfielder John Roser hit another 25 home runs while his counterpart Bill Hohman mashed 24 dingers. Utility man Skee Watson had a brilliant year at the plate, hitting for .324 average in 593 at bats. Mike Martineck hit .337 and replaced Groh as player-manager in late August.
The Senators would struggle to pitch effectively again throughout the year. Their best hurler was 5’8″ Dan Woodman who threw 236 innings with a 3.74 earned run average and a record of 13 wins and 14 losses. Local pitchers, Sam Hyman and Johnny Michaels also made appearances on the mound. Their starting catcher, Joe Smith had a solid defensive and offensive season. However, individual performances did not result in winning baseball. Hartford ended the year in last place, much to the disappointment of fan expectations.
While the Great Depression began to ravage the nation’s economy, Hartford’s minor league club sought redemption. On May 23, 1930, fans witnessed an exhibition between the Senators and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics at Bulkeley Stadium. Because of an illness Mack was not present, but Commissioner Landis attended as a guest of Mayor Walter Batterson. Baseball was a welcome spectacle during tough economic times, though Hartford’s season would be cut short. Rookie first baseman and future Hall of Fame inductee Hank Greenberg played 17 games for the Senators who folded on June 30, 1930, due to financial insolvency. New Haven, Pittsfield and Providence also halted operations, reducing the Eastern League to four clubs.
By spring of 1931, the Eastern League returned with 8 clubs, including Hartford under new ownership. Bob Farrell sold the Senators to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. Dodgers business manager, Dave Driscoll, became president of the Senators from his office in Brooklyn. Driscoll sent Earl Mann to run the newly affiliated operation as Hartford’s business manager. 27 year old Charles Moore was named field manager and served as backup catcher. Paul Richards was the starting catcher, team leader in home runs and later became known as a baseball genius (credited with inventing the mechanical “Iron Mike” pitching machine). Hartford’s best overall hitter was Red Howell, who finished fourth in the league in batting average.
Hartford demolished the Eastern League in 1931 winning 97 of 137 games. They captured the championship with superior pitching and with eleven players who had big league experience. The Senators received seven Eastern League All-Star selections: Bob Parham, Bobby Reis, Paul Richards, Van Mungo, Earl Mattingly Jr. and Phil Gallivan. Most distinguished among them was Van Mungo who later earned five National League All-Star selections. Johnny Mann and Al Cohen were also major contributors to the team’s pennant run. The 1931 Hartford Senators are recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time.
Hartford’s 1932 season began with a ceremonial unfurling of the Eastern League pennant at Bulkeley Stadium. Business manager Earl Mann did the honors and posed for the cameras. Charles Moore was rehired as field manager but when the Dodgers requested that he manage their Jersey City affiliate, Moore obliged. The Senators named shortstop Bill Marlotte player-manager even though their first baseman and captain Norman Sitts was expected to be promoted to the post. Before the managerial move, the Senators were four games back from first place. After Moore left, Hartford sank to the bottom of the standings.
Honorable mentions on the Senators of 1932 include: Red Howell who batted .349, Bruce Caldwell, a Yale University graduate, Jim Henry, a rookie pitcher and Byron Topol, a little-known third baseman. Veteran players Johnny Mann, Eddie Kenna and Pinky Pittenger would play their final season in Hartford. On July 18, 1932, the Hartford Courant reported the disbanding of the Eastern League due to poor attendance. The league had operated for sixteen consecutive seasons before owners met in New York City to cancel the circuit. Waning interest and widespread economic woes brought on by the Great Depression hampered revenues.
There would be no minor league baseball in Hartford during the year of 1933. Instead, Hartford jeweler Bill Savitt rented Bulkeley Stadium and staged his Savitt Gems baseball team against professional and independent clubs. The Senators restarted operations in the newly formed Northeastern League in 1934. Johnny Roser settled in again as the club’s power-hitter. A 38 year old first baseman named Snake Henry had a brilliant year at the plate. Hartford had talent but they lacked consistency. Three different managers attempted to steer the team but the Senators placed fourth in Hartford’s lone season in the Northeastern League.