Category: News

Recent league updates and stories.

Hall of Fame Inductee, Doc Bidwell, Ace of the Twilight League

David “Doc” Bidwell is the career wins leader of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. As a tall and imposing right-handed pitcher, he struck out countless twi-loop batters for more than forty years. Bidwell was a journeyman and a longtime pupil of GHTBL legend, Gene Johnson. Doc and Gene won several championships at the helm of Moriarty Brothers, Newman Lincoln-Mercury and the Foss Insurance franchise. Altogether, Bidwell achieved ten season titles, eleven playoff championships and a reputation as an all-time twilight pitcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell (left) with Gene Johnson, 2014.

Bidwell was born in Manchester, Connecticut, on July 5, 1956, to Ted and Betty Bidwell. He once described his parents as, “My biggest fans, who probably saw ninety percent of our games, only missing some when they went to New Hampshire for vacation.” As a youngster, Bidwell was a standout player for Manchester High School and Manchester Legion. In a Legion game on July 8, 1974, he threw a perfect game against Ellington, highlighted by nine strikeouts.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
1974 Manchester High School Varsity Baseball

In 1975, Bidwell became a freshman pitcher at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Later that summer, he joined player-manager Gene Johnson and the Manchester-based Moriarty Brothers. Bidwell, a rookie, and Pete Sala, a former professional, overpowered the competition. Moriarty Brothers of 1975 proved to be one of the greatest teams in league history. They lost just four games on the year, winning the season title and sweeping the playoff championship.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Moriarty Comets Win Playoff Championship, Hartford Courant, August 29, 1975.

In 1978, Bidwell took his Assumption College team to the NCAA Division-II Regional Tournament. The Greyhounds lost to Porky Viera‘s University of New Haven in Bidwell’s final game at Assumption. He posted a 19-11 win-loss record in four college seasons, ranking among Assumption’s best pitchers across multiple statistical categories. Bidwell became a proud member of the Assumption College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Assumption College, 1978.

Throughout his college career, Bidwell played summer ball in the GHTBL. He had perfect 10-0 record in 1985 and 1988. When the Moriarty Brothers franchise changed their named to Newman Lincoln-Mercury in 1990, Bidwell toed the rubber as their ace. He steered the club to seven championships over the next ten twi-loop seasons. Bidwell was a true baseball junkie, who also pitched on Sundays for the Connecticut Men’s Senior Baseball League. In 1994, his talents were recognized when he became a Manchester Sports Hall of Fame inductee. At the ceremony, Bidwell credited his brother Mel for being his spring training catcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell shuts out Malloves Jewelers, June 14, 1990.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 1994.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound hurler threw in the high-80 mile per hour range for the first leg of his career. Later, Bidwell developed into a pitcher who confused hitters with various speeds and the occasional knuckleball. He tossed for dozens of winning ball clubs under manager, Gene Johnson and alongside other impact players such as Steve Chotiner, Corky Coughlin and Mike Susi. Veteran players like Bidwell were the backbone of the Newman Lincoln-Mercury franchise, which became Foss Insurance in 2004 when Mark and Jane Foss signed on as sponsors.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Corky Coughlin & Bidwell (right), Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 2001.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In late 2014, Gene Johnson passed away, leaving a giant baseball legacy. Bidwell and the Foss Insurance team were determined to win a championship in Johnson’s memory the following summer. He promptly stepped into the role of manager and guided Foss Insurance to the 2015 playoff championship. Bidwell finally retired in 2017 after a 43-year twilight league career. He handed the team over to player-manager, Mark DiTommaso who gave way to Tyler Repoli, the current player-manager of the same franchise – now the Manchester-based, Rainbow Graphics.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell (top, left) with Foss Insurance, Playoff Champions, 2015.

Bidwell, a 12-time All-Star, was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in 2018 along with former Moriarty’s teammate, Mark Riemer. Bidwell’s career will be remembered as one of the best amateur feats in Greater Hartford baseball history. According to Bidwell, he won, “More than 250 games and lost about 80…a few no-decisions, but not many.” In recent years, he’s been spotted attending GHTBL playoff games as a fan, and he still keeps in touch with the league on a regular basis.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Marlborough Braves, 2017.

Outside of baseball, Bidwell obtained a political science degree from Assumption College in 1979. Since 1981, he’s an employee at Kaman Aerospace in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Bidwell has been an avid music fan and concert goer for most of his adult life. He now resides in Manchester, Connecticut, and is a father to two daughters. Join us, the GHTBL Executive Committee, in congratulating “Doc” on an incredible baseball career.

5-time World Series Champion, Jack Barry of Meriden

Meriden, Connecticut, native Jack Barry was a reliable shortstop in the early years of the American League. Most notably, he played shortstop on Connie Mack‘s fabled $100,000 Infield. Mack, who began his professional career in Meriden, signed Barry to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. At the time of his signing, Barry was captain of the Holy Cross baseball team in Worcester, Massachusetts. He would go on to play eleven seasons in the major leagues and became a proven winner, earning five World Series rings.

Jack Barry, Infielder, Philadelphia Athletics, 1908.
Jack Barry, Infielder, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Though Jack Barry had a mediocre .243 career batting average, he was a marvelous defensive player who had a winning record every year except for his first and his last in the majors. With Philadelphia, Barry earned World Series victories in 1910, 1911 and 1913. During the 1911 World Series, he hit .368 versus John J. McGraw‘s New York Giants, beating them in six games. Barry also appeared in the 1914 World Series but lost to the miracle Boston Braves. He was lauded by sportswriters as the A’s best fielder and perhaps the best infielder in the American League.

“$100,000 Infield” – L to R: Stuffy McInnis, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Jack Barry and Eddie Collins of the Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

Despite his talents, Barry was sold midseason by Connie Mack to the Boston Red Sox, in part, due to financial pressures caused by the nascent Federal League. Barry joined a Boston roster which included rookie pitcher, Babe Ruth. Alongside Ruth, Barry continued to win ballgames on a playoff bound club. At the 1915 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies and their ace, Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Red Sox took the series in five games.

Jack Barry, Infielder, Boston Red Sox, 1915.
Jack Barry, Infielder, Boston Red Sox, 1915.

In 1916, Barry appeared in 94 games during the Regular Season and Boston would repeat as champions. However, Barry did not appear in a playoffs game due to an injury. Instead, he served as Assistant Manager during the postseason under Holy Cross teammate and Red Sox manager, Bill Carrigan. The next season Boston’s owner Harry Frazee promoted Barry to player-manager. However, by the middle of 1917, a patriotic Barry became one of the first professional ballplayers to enlist for World War I.

I consider it my duty to do all I can for my country…I’m no slacker. If I can be of any use, I’ll quit baseball.”

Jack Barry, Washington Times, July 29, 1917.
L to R: Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan, Jack Barry and Vean Gregg of the Boston Red Sox, 1915.

Barry and four other Red Sox players, who had enlisted as yeomen in the Naval Reserve, were called to active duty and ordered to report on November 3, 1917. They were stationed at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston throughout the 1918 season, while Ruth and the rest of the Red Sox captured another World Series. On the orders of his commanding officer, Barry managed a major league caliber team on the base. The servicemen were known as Jack Barry’s Charlestown Navy Yard nine, but they called themselves the Wild Waves.

Braves Field, Boston, Massachusetts, c. 1920.

Barry’s Navy Yard All-Stars featured two future Hall of Fame inductees; his Red Sox teammate, Herb Pennock and his former A’s teammate Rabbit Maranville. King Bader and Ernie Shore were also among the team’s well known members who aimed to use baseball star power to boost American morale. The Wild Waves matched up against amateur, college and professional clubs and on a few occasions, performed before an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans at Braves Field.

Babe Ruth, Jack Barry and Rabbit Maranville, Braves Field, 1935.

Due to Barry’s year-long absence from the Red Sox, owner Frazee hired Ed Barrow as Boston’s manager in 1919. Then in June, Barry was traded back to Philadelphia as part of a four-man deal. At 32 years old with an ailing knee, Barry was no longer the player he had once been. He retired from professional baseball a few weeks later. In his major league career, Barry compiled 1,009 hits, 10 home runs and 429 RBI in 1,223 games. Even though he never made the AL All-Star Team, Barry exhibited defensive dependability, baseball intelligence and winning intangibles.

Jack Barry, Manager, Holy Cross, meets with Joe Cronin, Infielder, Boston Red Sox, 1937.

In 1921, Barry was tapped to be head coach at his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross. During his tenure, he posted the highest career winning percentage (.806) in collegiate history and eventually won the 1952 College World Series. Barry was head coach at Holy Cross for more than 40 years until his death in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts at age 73. in 1966, he was among the first class of inductees to the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Barry also became an inaugural veteran inductee of the College Baseball Hall of Fame In 2007, along with Lou GehrigChristy Mathewson and Joe Sewell.

Jack Barry (right), Manager, Holy Cross, 1951.

Jack Barry was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Meriden, Connecticut, a few miles away from where he grew up on Grove Street. The City of Meriden and its residents honored his legacy by naming one of their a Little League divisions Jack Barry Little League. The league existed from 1950 until 2020 when it merged with Ed Walsh Little League, named for Ed Walsh, another major leaguer from Meriden. In Worcester, Massachusetts, the Little League program has retained the name Jack Barry Little League to this day.

Sources

  1. Meriden’s Jack Barry and the Wild Waves by Michael Griffen on Slideshare.net.
  2. Jack Barry SABR Bio Project entry by Norman Macht.
  3. Various articles found on Newspapers.com.

GHTBL to Play 24-Game Regular Season in 2022

A 24-game Regular Season schedule is expected by GHTBL Executive Committee members and leagues mangers in 2022. Next season will get underway in mid-May followed by a double-elimination tournament that usually wraps up by mid-August.

In the meantime, GHTBL franchises will be recruiting players from colleges, high schools, AAU and Legion programs and from local communities. You do not have to live in Greater Hartford to play in the league. No age requirements. The GHTBL is an amateur nonprofit organization. Players do not get paid.

You can fill out a player application by clicking here.

All the best wishes and have a great holiday season,

GHTBL Executive Committee

Bill Holowaty, President
Andy Baylock, Vice President
Marc Levin, Treasurer
Wes Ulbrich, Secretary

Jack Rich, Most Valuable Player of 2021

Back in September of this year, outfielder/relief pitcher, Jack Rich of the Record-Journal Expos was unanimously voted Most Valuable Player of the Regular Season by league managers. The Expos were 10-8 on the season and 3-2 in the playoff tournament. Jack batted an impressive .475 while appearing in all 18 games with the Meriden-based franchise. In 59 at bats, he had 28 hits, 9 runs, a home run, 22 RBI and a league-leading 9 doubles. He also pitched 9 innings in relief. Jack has been a mainstay for the Expos since 2019.

Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich featured in Record-Journal, 2021.

Jack Rich grew up in South Meriden, Connecticut, playing baseball and basketball. He’s a graduate of Wilcox Technical High School and now attends Eastern Connecticut State University. As a key part of the Warriors baseball team, Jack has compiled a .315 batting average with 4 home runs, 49 RBI and a .399 on base percentage thus far during his college career. He will begin his senior year this coming spring, seeking a Little East Conference title and a Division-III College World Series.

Jack Rich makes the All-Star team, 1997.

Bill Masse, A Baseball Life

Connecticut’s own Bill Masse can be described as a baseball careerist. He went from a local standout to an Olympic gold medalist who became a minor league insider. In span of 35 years, he accomplished several unsung feats amid 9 seasons in the minors as an outfielder, 13 years as a coach and another 13 as a scout. Masse’s baseball story began at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Connecticut, where he became a State Champion in 1983. The following year, he led the Eagles to a conference title and was selected to the Class-L All-Star Team.

Connecticut’s Class-L All-Star Team, 1984.

After completing an impressive tenure with Manchester’s American Legion Post 102, Masse joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. In the summer of 1984, he bolstered the Moriarty Brothers lineup en route to a season title and playoff championship. Masse went 10 for 13 at the plate with 12 runs to secure the Playoff Tournament MVP. He soon matriculated to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and made instant waves in his freshman year as their leadoff center fielder.

Masse secures Playoff MVP and GHTBL Playoff Championship for Moriarty Brothers, 1984.

In 1985, Masse snatched the the Southern Conference batting title with a .430 batting average. He tied the Davidson record for home runs in a season (10) and set the school record for stolen bases (28). The 19 year old earned All-Conference laurels and the SoCon Freshman Player of the Year award. Masse achieved another All-Conference season In 1987 at Davidson and was honored as an American Baseball Coaches Association All-American.

Masse hits grand slam to defeat UConn, 1987.

Throughout his college years, Masse spent summers aboard the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He performed exceptionally, earning two Cape League All-Star nods (1985 and 1987). Though Masse was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 12th round of the 1987 MLB Draft, but instead, he pursued a dream to compete in the Olympics. Team USA Baseball recruited Masse for the Intercontinental Cup of 1987 where he mashed a .317 batting average with 3 long balls. Along with teammates, Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez and Fairfield, Connecticut, native Charles Nagy, Masse won the silver medal.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Team USA, 1987.

Soon thereafter, Masse transferred to Wake Forest University to play for his Cape League coach, George Greer. Masse batted .422 for the Demon Deacons in his senior year. He wrapped 24 homers with 77 RBI, 83 runs and 35 steals in 58 games. Masse was sixth in NCAA Division-I in total bases (197) and named a first team All-American. At the 1988 MLB Draft, the New York Yankees picked him in the 7th round, however Masse decided to forgo professional baseball once again, in favor of international competition.

BIll Masse, Outfielder, Wake Forest University, 1988.

Though he was offered a roster spot in Double-A, Masse choose to reappear on Team USA. As the regular right fielder, he hit .200 and scored 11 runs in 11 games at the 1988 Baseball World Cup in which Team USA finished runner-up to Cuba. A few weeks later, Team USA seized first place at 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, wherein Masse had a .314 batting average. To this day, he remains the only person from Manchester, Connecticut, to win an Olympic gold medal.

Bill Masse makes public appearance after winning Olympic Gold Medal, Manchester, Connecticut, 1988.

In 1989, Masse finally reported to the minor leagues with the New Yankees organization. He was assigned to the Prince William Cannons along with his high school teammate, Larry Stanford. Masse batted .239 for the Cannons with a league-high 89 walks. After splitting the 1990 season between Fort Lauderdale and Albany, he served a full season with Albany in 1991. That year, he deposited a .295 batting average and led the Eastern League in on base percentage.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Prince William Cannons, 1989.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1990.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1991.

Masse eventually earned a promotion to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. In 1993, he swatted new career-highs: a .316 batting average, 81 runs scored, 91 RBI, 19 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a league-high, 82 walks. He finished fourth in the International League in batting average and second to Jim Thome in on base percentage. Masse was named an All-Star bestowed with Player of the Year among Yankees farmhands.

“I feel like I deserve to go up because I’ve proved myself all year. I feel like I could go up there and perform if I could just get my chance.”

Bill Masse, Hartford Courant, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.

Though he would never reach the majors, Masse competed alongside several legendary Yankees including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. After a taste of the big leagues during Spring Training, Buck Showalter cut Masse from New York’s 40-man roster. In 1995, the Yankees released Masse after 47 games with Columbus. The following year, the Boston Red Sox signed him to a minor league contract, though back problems prevented Masse from continuing a playing career.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1994.

Masse immediately pivoted and became an assistant coach at his alma mater, Wake Forest University. He then spent four years in the Montreal Expos system working his way up from hitting coach to manager. The New York Yankees organization welcomed Masse back as hitting coach of the Tampa Yankees in 2001. He managed the Greensboro Bats in 2002 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bill Masse, Manager, Vermont Expos, 1997.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Vermont Expos, 1997.

In 2003, Masse went back to manage the Tampa Yankees and stayed in position until the end of 2004. He became manager of the Trenton Thunder in 2005 through 2006. Next, he managed the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2007 and the San Antonio Missions in 2008. MLB All-Stars such as Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera developed in the minors under Masse’s watch.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2001.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2003.
Bill Masse, Manager, Tampa Yankees, 2004.

“I turned over a TV, a microwave, a coffee pot. It cost me a little bit of money. It was not a pretty sight. It was ugly. But it worked.”

Bill Masse recalls a successful clubhouse tactic in 2007.
Bill Masse, Manager, Trenton Thunder, 2006.
Bill Masse, Manager, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, 2007.

In 2009, Masse concluded his on-field career as hitting coach for the Double-A Binghamton Mets and the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He pursued a new role as a scout for the Seattle Mariners. From 2011 to 2013, he was Seattle’s Eastern Supervisor of Pro Scouting. Around this time, Masse owned a training facility in Hartford, Connecticut, once known as Baseball City. When Derek Jeter became President of the Miami Marlins in 2017, Masse sold his business and accepted a new scouting role from his former teammate, Jeter.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Binghamton Mets, 2009.

Former Hartford Courant sports editor, Ed Yost, once ranked Bill Masse among the ten best male athletes from Manchester. Masse’s spectacular baseball career garnered him an induction into the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. His wife Holly and their children now reside in Manchester. His sons, Easton and Rowan Masse, play baseball and and hockey at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. Bill Masse continues to work as a scout for the Miami Marlins.

Bill Masse (right), East Catholic High School Class of 1983 with his coach, Jim Penders Sr., 2021.

Sources

  1. Bill Masse player profile on Baseball-Reference.com
  2. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com

Bernie Williams Began his Career in the Twilight League

Before achieving stardom with the New York Yankees, Bernie Williams spent a summer in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. The story started when Williams was 16 years old. He was discovered by Yankees scout Roberto Rivera in Puerto Rico, however the right-handed outfielder was too young to sign a contract. The Yankees decided to stash Williams in Connecticut at Big League Baseball Camp on the campus of Cheshire Academy. His camp instructor, Frank Mohr, recruited Williams to play for GHTBL’s Katz Sports Shop team in the summer of 1985.

Bernie Williams’ signed Katz Sports Shop jersey, 1985.

As a teenaged prospect, Williams saw limited playing time in the twilight league among college-level competition. In 20 at bats for Katz Sports Shop, he had 4 hits. The team’s player-manager, Dave Katz once reminisced of Williams: “He was a really nice kid. He was shy, like he is now. He was so quiet, you didn’t even know he had a Spanish accent. Everybody on the team took to him. One thing does stick out in my mind. I hate to mention this; he dropped a routine fly ball in one game. But I remember my first baseman telling me that people at the camp said Bernie had all the tools.”

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1993.

The Yankees signed Williams as an undrafted free agent by September of 1985. It was the start of a 20-year professional career, solely with the Yankees. Williams played rookie ball in Florida’s Gulf Coast League and spent six years in the minors developing into a switch-hitter. He broke into the majors in 1991 and became a fixture in center field at Yankee Stadium until 2006.

Bernie Williams featured in Record-Journal, 1996.

Williams was a 4-time World Series champion with the second most postseason home runs (22) in major league history behind Manny Ramirez (29). Williams compiled a career .297 batting average, 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 1,366 runs scored, 449 doubles and a .990 fielding percentage. He earned five All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award, the 1996 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award and the American League (AL) batting title in 1998.

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1998.
Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 2005.

Known for consistency and postseason heroics, Bernie Williams is considered one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history. He is also an all-time New York Yankees great. The team honored Williams by retiring his uniform number (#51) and dedicating a plaque to him in Monument Park in 2015. Nowadays, he is an accomplished jazz guitarist. Following his retirement from baseball, Williams released two jazz albums and was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

Record-Journal newspaper excerpt, 2015.

Author’s aside: The baseball world took Bernie Williams for granted. We did not realize the magnitude and depth of his career while he was an active player. What a story and what an interesting character. Much love Bernie!

Sources

  1. Bernie Williams page on Baseball-Reference.com

2. Record-Journal newspaper database on Newspapers.com.

Baseball Bloodlines: The Burnham Brothers

The Burnham brothers are two of the best all-time ballplayers from South Windsor, Connecticut. Gary Burnham Jr. and Brett Burnham are sons of Deborah and Gary Burnham Sr. After outstanding amateur careers, the Burnham’s became minor leaguers who greatly enhanced Connecticut’s baseball reputation. Separated by six and a half years, the brother duo was heavily influenced by their grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. and their uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. both of whom also played minor league baseball.

L to R: Gary Burnham Jr., Ralph Giasanti Sr. and Ralph Giansanti Jr. – painted by Gary Burnham Jr.

Gary Burnham Jr.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 13, 1974, Gary Burnham displayed athletic promise from an early age. At 15, he was a left-handed prospect who swatted a .500 batting average for American Legion Post 133, South Windsor. To develop his skills against more experienced players, Gary also competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League in between his legion schedule. As a young teenager, he manned the outfield and filled in at first base for the Moriarty Brothers franchise, directed by revered player-manager Gene Johnson.

Gary Burnham (kneeling, 2nd from left), American Legion Post 133, South Windsor, 1989.
Gary Burnham, South Windsor American Legion, 1990.

Gary graduated from South Windsor High School where he earned four varsity letters in baseball and football. He captained South Windsor baseball to the Class-L State Championship in his senior year and was named All-Conference, All-State and All-American along with Gatorade’s CT High School Player of the Year. Gary also captured the Hugh Greer Award as Outstanding Athlete of South Windsor’s Class of 1993. He was then drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft but instead, Gary chose to accept an athletic scholarship to Clemson University in South Carolina. 

Gary Burnham projected as high draft pick, Hartford Courant excerpt, June 3, 1993.
Gary Burnham named state’s best, 1993.

As a freshman at Clemson, Gary started in left field and batted fifth and Clemson was ranked first in the nation during most of the 1994 season. In 1995, he spearheaded a College World Series run and achieved All-ACC and All-American honors. He walloped a .344 batting average and ranked second in NCAA Division-I with 27 doubles. That summer, the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League tapped Gary to play in Massachusetts. After a formidable performance, he was selected to the 1995 Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Boston’s Fenway Park and secured MVP of the game.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clemson University, 1994.

In 1996, Baseball America ranked Gary Burnham as the 56th “Best College Prospect” and 3rd Team Preseason All-American. He took Clemson to their second College World Series appearance and was voted to the All-ACC team. The Oakland A’s selected Gary in the 40th round of the 1996 MLB draft though again, he did not sign. Gary returned to the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores in the summertime. During his senior year, Gary led the Tigers in almost every offensive statistic and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He hit .391 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 106 hits and concluded his college career by setting the program’s doubles record (77).

Gary Burnham trots home after walk-off homer against University of Alabama, 1996.

For a third time Gary was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies organization in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft. It was the start of a fourteen year professional career highlighted by eleven years in the minors and four years in Asia. Gary got his start in rookie ball on the Batavia Clippers of the New York-Pennsylvania League and led his club in base hits, batting average and total bases. In 1998, he was promoted to High-A ball with the Clearwater Phillies alongside Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Gary crashed a .296 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples and 93 runs, while leading Florida State League first basemen with a .994 fielding percentage.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clearwater Phillies, 1998.

Gary won another promotion to the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1999, where he split time between first base and outfield. He compiled 12 home runs and 49 RBI over 116 games, though his batting average slumped to .249. The next season, Gary bounced back, hitting .268 with 28 doubles for Reading. In 2001, he suited up for a third season with Reading and hit .318 with 25 doubles and 15 homers. He had the best average in the Phillies farm system, which was third-best in the Eastern League.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2001.

After five seasons with the Phillies organization, Gary ended up being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training of 2002. The Blue Jays gave the 27-year-old his first shot at the Triple-A level with the 2002 Syracuse SkyChiefs. Gary had a career year, hitting .281 with 151 base knocks, 34 doubles, 17 home runs and 88 RBI. He paced Syracuse in RBI and was chosen as the team’s MVP. He also led the Blue Jays organization with 238 total bases, was third in the International League in RBI and had the most assists among all first basemen.

Gary Burnham (right) and teammate, Kevin Cash, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2002.

In 2003, Gary served as Toronto’s Triple-A backup plan for their star first baseman, Carlos Delgado. Gary carved out a .269 batting average for Syracuse with 9 home runs in an off-year. He then split the 2004 season between the St. Louis Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds affiliate (.292 in 35 games) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Louisville Bats club (.261 in 69 games). In 2005, the 30-year-old southpaw played for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He led his team in runs (75), doubles (32), home runs (18) and RBI (84). Gary finished second in the Atlantic League with a .320 batting average. He was saluted with All-Star honors and awarded team MVP of the Bluefish.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2003.

Gary started the following season with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He began the year batting .319 over 19 games and played well. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice and signed Gary to another minor league contract on May 23, 2006. He went on to clobber a .341 batting average in 80 games for the Double-A Reading Phillies with 16 homers and 60 RBI. He was recognized as a Topps National Player of the Month for hitting 10 dingers in August. Despite missing about a month of the season, Gary achieved the Triple Crown in the Phillies farm system and set the Reading Phillies career home run record (56).

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2006.
Paul Galloway and Gary Burnham (right) at Clemson Alumni Game, 2006.

At the end of 2006, the Phillies called him up to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Gary had a torrid hot stretch hitting .391 average, 9 runs and 8 RBI in 10 games. It was clear that he was a major league caliber player, but the Phillies had 2006 MVP Ryan Howard at first base. Gary remained in Triple-A in 2007, starting at designated hitter, first base and outfield for the Ottawa Lynx of the International League. After batting .292 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 84 RBI and a league-best on base percentage, Ottawa dubbed him team MVP.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.

After concluding his minor league career in the United States, Gary welcomed new opportunities from abroad. In the off-season, he made appearances in the Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League. Then in 2008, Gary signed a contract with the La New Bears of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over a total of 70 games for the Bears, he batted .323 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. At 33 years old, he set a league record among foreign-born players by hitting in 23 consecutive games.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, La New Bears, 2008.

Gary parlayed his Taiwan season’ into a role in Japan. He joined the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, managed by Bobby Valentine. In a game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Gary hit a game-winning homer off of future New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. Gary was also selected to team Italy’s preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he did not compete in the tournament. However in 2010, he inked his last professional deal with the Godo Knights of the Italian Baseball League, ranking top ten in most offensive categories.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary with his wife, Rachel Burnham in 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary retired from professional baseball at 35 years old. In total, he amassed 155 home runs, 856 RBI, a .293 career batting average and a .375 on base percentage. He was also an underrated defender; in 662 minor league games, he maintained a .992 fielding percentage with only 51 errors. Gary was named an all-star at every minor league level and received three team MVP awards. In 2010, the Reading Phillies named him to the All-Decade team. Then in 2016, the Reading Phillies inducted Gary Burnham into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in the same class as Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell.

Gary Burnham accepting his induction into Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, 2016.
L to R: Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Gary Burnham, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell – Reading Phillies Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

During his professional career, Gary spent several off-seasons as a substitute teacher and a baseball instructor in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, he helped to establish the South Windsor Phillies franchise in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nowadays, he gives private and group lessons as owner of Gary Burnham Baseball Instruction in South Windsor. He works in surgical device sales as National Accounts Manager of Vanguard Medical while operating a real estate investment business, GRB Properties LLC. Gary lives in South Windsor with his wife Rachel and their three children.

Gary Burnham reunites with Bobby Valentine at a World Series Club event, West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017.

Gary Burnham sets Reading Phillies career home run record, 2006.

Brett Burnham

Born January 1, 1981, Brett Burnham was a tough kid and natural athlete who began his teenage years by overcoming cancer. At the age of 13, Brett made his first appearance on the national stage with the Connecticut Mariners at the 1994 AAU National Tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa. Brett was named Most Valuable Player after hitting a grand slam and pitching four hitless innings in relief to win the championship. His head coach was longtime AAU contributor, Bob Hetu. The following year, Brett smashed a three-run homer and was the driving force to another AAU national title run in Cocoa, Florida.

Brett Burnham (3rd from right) and the Connecticut Mariners win AAU National Title, 1994.
Brett Burnham earns MVP award and AAU National Title, West Des Moines, Iowa, 1994.

Brett attended South Windsor High School where he started all four years on the baseball and football teams, like his brother Gary. He was named to the Class-LL All-State team, compiling a .474 batting average with 6 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a sophomore. During the summers, Brett was key to the South Windsor American Legion baseball team (1995-1998) and was twice named to the Connecticut all-star team. In July of 1997, Brett was scouted by the Boston Red Sox at Yale Field to compete in the Area Code Baseball Games in San Diego, California.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, South Windsor High School, 1996.
Brett Burnham (standing, center with striped uniform), Class-LL All-State Team, 1997.

In the summer of 1998, Brett Burnham joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. He was a rookie on Newman Lincoln-Mercury, the franchise formerly known as Moriarty Brothers. As a 17 year old, Brett improved his game in the GHTBL while leading the South Windsor American Legion team to their second straight Zone 8 title. In 1999, he batted a whopping .649 average during his senior year at South Windsor High School. He earned All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association for his high school season. After winning GHTBL’s 1999 Season Title with Newman Lincoln-Mercury, Brett traveled south to attend Auburn University.

Brett Burnham featured in Hartford Courant, June 30, 1999.

As a freshman, Brett guarded third base for the Tigers, slashed .268, scored 28 runs and drove in 33 RBI with 9 doubles and 2 home runs. In early 2000, Brett was selected by the newly established Manchester Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League that summer. The following year at Auburn, he batted .275, scored 31 runs, stole 28 bases with 11 doubles and 22 RBI. Brett wanted a bigger role and an opportunity to get drafted going into his Junior season. Wanting greater responsibility and to be closer to home, Brett transferred to University of Connecticut in the fall of 2001.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Auburn University, 2001.
Brett Burnham plays for the Manchester Silkworms, 2000.

Under the tutelage of Head Coach Andy Baylock, Brett played shortstop for the Connecticut Huskies. In 2002, he raked .335 with 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 49 RBI and led NCAA Division-I with 32 hit by pitches. For his terrific season, Brett was honored with a 2nd Team All-Big East Conference nod. He played in the GHTBL that summer as shortstop for Mr. G’s franchise – named for Brett’s grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. The club was sponsored by his uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. and former big leaguer, Ricky Bottalico. Brett helped Mr. G’s win the 2002 GHTBL Season Title, while collecting the 2002 Herb Sheintop Player of the Year Award.

Brett Burnham drafted by San Diego Padres, 2003.

After serving as captain during 2003 season at UConn, Brett as was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 21st round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft. He went west for rookie ball in the Pioneer League. As a second baseman on the Idaho Falls Padres, Brett performed well over 50 games, leading the team in on base percentage and doubles while batting for a .290 average. At 23 years old, he was promoted to Single-A with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. During that 2004 season Unfortunately, Brett broke his hand in a Spring Training game. He returned six weeks later and in the first game back, broke his hand again. Brett was released and retired from professional baseball in 2004.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Eugene Emeralds, 2004.
Eugene Emeralds logo, 2004.

Eventually, Brett rejoined the GTHBL aboard Mr. G’s franchise once again. He led the league in stolen bases during the summer of 2005. When Mr. G’s disbanded, he reunited with his former manager, Gene Johnson, who headed the Foss Insurance team (previously called Newman Lincoln-Mercury). By the end of his twilight career, Brett was a 3-time batting champion with three home run titles, seven RBI titles, four stolen base titles and a Triple Crown season in 2010. Brett was a 4-time MVP, a 5-time Player of the Year and a GHTBL All-Star nearly every year. His final baseball season was in 2011, when Brett received a special honor as GHTBL Player of the Decade.

Brett Burnham, Shortstop, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In 2015, Brett and his wife, Cristi Burnham were both inducted into the South Windsor High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Together they founded Happy’s Nutrition in South Windsor, offering shakes, smoothies and teas using Herbalife products. Brett has pivoted from corporate America to full-time Herbalife entrepreneur with Cristi, and they have reached the top one percentile of sales. Brett and Cristi were high school sweethearts where it all began, in South Windsor. They now have four children and reside in Ellington, Connecticut.

Brett and and his wife, Cristi Burnham, Happy’s Nutrition, South Windsor, Connecticut, 2018.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Gary_Burnham
  3. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Brett_Burnham

Hartford Twilight Manager Spotlight: Tom Abbruzzese

Since 1976, Tom Abbruzzese has managed the same Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League franchise. Abbruzzese initially managed Society for Savings Bank with his father, Mike Abbruzzese. They fielded strong teams rostered by the likes of Mark Riemer, David Gale and Kevin Gieras. Society for Savings eventually became Bank of Boston and then People’s Bank in the summer of 2000. The franchise has amassed fifteen Regular Season and Playoff Championships. The “Bankers” have recruited and advanced numerous professional players to and from the GHTBL year after year. With Abbruzzese at the helm, People’s remains a perennial contender.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 21, 1981.
2009 People’s Bank

Born on August 11, 1943, in Hartford, Connecticut. Abbruzzese is the longest serving GHTBL manager in history. He is a graduate of Wethersfield High School and Fairfield University (1965). Then he worked for the Hartford Parks Department for a brief period. In 1971, Abbruzzese organized and coached a team in the Junior and Senior Division of the Jaycee Courant League who played home games at Hartford’s Colt Park. His team was sponsored by team sponsored by Society for Savings, a regional bank with staying power in Hartford. Abbruzzese then entered Society for Savings into the GHTBL during the summer of 1976.

Tom Abbruzzese holds mound meeting, 2019.
Manager Tom Abbruzzese at Dunkin Donuts Park, Hartford, Connecticut, 2019.

Abbruzzese earned a Doctorate of Education from the University of Connecticut (1996). His current profession is as Director of Adult Education, in Newington, Connecticut.  Previously he was a Vice Principal of Ledyard High School Ledyard High School (1974-1995) and before that, Recreation Leader for the City of Hartford (1963-1976), According to Abbruzzese, he’s, “thankful not only for the outstanding players I have had the privilege of coaching and continue to have, but most importantly for their exceptional character as well. These two qualities are the ingredients for success.” Abbruzzese resides in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Manager Tom Abbruzzese, People’s United Bank, 2020
Tom Abbruzzese (right) accepts GTHBL service award, 2020.
Manager Tom Abbruzzese at Dunkin Donuts Park, Hartford, Connecticut, 2021.

2021 GHTBL Award Winners

The following 2021 Regular Season and Playoff Tournament awards were either achieved and/or voted on by league managers:

Frank McCoy Award, Most Valuable Player – Jack Rich, OF, Record-Journal Expos

Mike Liappes Award, Most Valuable Pitcher – Matt Curtis, P, Vernon Orioles

Hal Lewis Award, Most Versatile Player – Evan Chamberlain, P/3B, Rainbow Graphics &

AJ Hendrickson, P/C, Record-Journal Expos

Gene Johnson Award, Regular Season Batting Champion – Jack Rich, OF, Record-Journal Expos

James Gallagher Award, Rookie of the Year – Matt Curtis, P, Vernon Orioles

Jack Repass Award, Golden Glove – Corey Plasky, IF, East Hartford Jets

Bill Chapulis Award, Home Run Title – Mike Munson, OF, Malloves Jewelers

Mark and Jane Foss Award, RBI Leader – Jack Rich, OF, Record-Journal Expos

Ralph Giansanti Sr. Award, Stolen Base Title – Christian Boudreau, IF, Hartford Colts

Rev. Thomas Campion Award, Outstanding Playoff Hitter – Chris Bogan, 1B, East Hartford Jets

Mike Abbruzzese Award, Outstanding Playoff Pitcher – Bryan Albee, P, East Hartford Jets

Jake Banks Trophy, Regular Season Champion – Jack Ceppetelli, Manager, Vernon Orioles

Jack Rose Trophy, Playoff Champion – Taylor Kosakowski, Manager, East Hartford Jets

A Real Connecticut Yankee’s Baseball Career Cut Short

This article was published on ConnetcticutHistory.org on April 20, 2020.

Danny Hoffman’s story reminds sports fans of the fragile nature of a professional athlete’s career. An up-and-coming baseball star discovered playing on the lots of Collinsville, Connecticut, Hoffman played in the majors under legendary manager Connie Mack before joining the New York Yankees (before they were even known as the “Yankees”); but one pitch dramatically changed his career trajectory.

Hoffman was a native of Canton, Connecticut, attended local schools, and frequently played ball in the Collinsville section of town. There, a scout from the Connecticut League’s Springfield, Massachusetts, franchise discovered Hoffman and offered him a contract. Once in Springfield, it did not take long for major league teams to take an interest in him and Hoffman eventually signed with the Philadelphia Athletics to play for Hall-of-Fame manager Connie Mack in 1903.

Daniel J. Hoffman in a Philadelphia Athletics baseball uniform, 1906 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Hoffman an Early Hit with Philadelphia Athletics

As the Athletics headed up to Boston to play the Red Sox in the summer of 1904, baseball experts considered Hoffman one of the more promising young players in the majors. When Hoffman (hitting a career-high .299 with three home runs) stepped to the plate against Red Sox left-hander Jesse Tannehill, however, an errant pitch struck Hoffman in the right eye, ending his season.

Back with the A’s in 1905, Hoffman’s statistics dropped off precipitously. He utilized his great speed to steal 46 bases that year, but he struggled against left-handed pitching—causing Mack to regularly pull Hoffman out of the lineup against lefties.

Hoffman lasted one more year with the A’s before joining the New York Highlanders (who later changed their name to the New York Yankees). He spent two relatively unproductive years in New York before joining the St. Louis Browns in 1908 and then ending his major league career 3 years later. Hoffman tried to make it back to the majors by playing for St. Paul of the American Association and then Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League, but his comeback ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Daniel J. Hoffman, St. Louis Browns, American Tobacco Company baseball card portrait, 1911 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Once-Promising Talent Sidelined by Injury

Life after baseball saw Hoffman become a resident of Bridgeport. Having invested his baseball earnings wisely, Hoffman resided in a beautiful home on Stratford Avenue in the city’s east end. He became a very popular figure in Bridgeport and at one point local residents and civic leaders encouraged him to purchase the city’s struggling Eastern-League baseball team, but Hoffman slowly began retreating from public life.

In 1921, he left Bridgeport to move in with his parents in Manchester. Local residents reported rarely seeing Hoffman in public after that. Seven months after the move, in March of 1922, the Hartford Courant reported that Hoffman had passed away at his parents’ home due to “a general breaking down in health.” He was just 42 years old.