Category: The Bat and Ball

A Greater Hartford baseball blog.

CT Patch Features Schweighoffer, Former GHTBL Star

Meet a Local Ex-Pro Ballplayer: Mike Schweighoffer, Farmington
By Tim Jensen, Patch Staff on Feb 23, 2022

FARMINGTON, CT — If Mike Schweighoffer was playing baseball today, no scout would even give him a look. The way the game has changed, no one would be interested in a pitcher who throws 83 MPH sinker balls, who never tossed a varsity inning until his senior year of high school, who attended a Division III college in Connecticut best known for its outstanding academic standards.

Fortunately for Schweighoffer, times were different in the early 1980s. Not only did a scout sign him to a professional contract, he spent four solid seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before embarking on an even more successful career, which continues today, as a banking executive.

Mike Schweighoffer, 2021

Now 59, Schweighoffer grew up in Hartford’s South End, and moved to Wethersfield just in time to start high school. He played football and baseball at now-defunct South Catholic High School, but even he never harbored dreams of someday becoming a professional athlete.

“I was a very late bloomer for my position,” he said in an exclusive interview with Patch. “I was an All-State shortstop, but had no expectations of playing pro ball.”

He chose to stay near home and attend Trinity College, where he majored in economics. He also went out for the baseball team, and made the squad as a pitcher. In his freshman campaign, “I was just a thrower,” but Schweighoffer learned the finer points about pitching from Bill Severni, who had played at Amherst College and overseas.

“Bill taught me more about pitching than any coach I ever had,” he said. “He taught me about mechanics, thinking about pitching and setting up hitters.”

As a junior with the Bantams, Schweighoffer played third base on days when he wasn’t pitching, and Trinity won the ECAC New England Regional championship. He also kept active during the summer by pitching for the Newington Capitols of the Greater Hartford Twilight League.

“By my senior year, my arm was hurting a bit,” he recalled. “I was still playing with Newington, but I graduated and accepted a position at Connecticut National Bank (CNB).”

Mike Schweighoffer, Vero Beach Dodgers, 1985.

That is, until fate intervened, in the form of longtime baseball scout Dick Teed of Windsor. Much to Schweighoffer’s shock, Teed offered him a contract with the Dodgers organization as an undrafted free agent. He signed the contract in late 1984, and resigned from the bank training program.

His first pro stop was Vero Beach in the Class-A Florida State League. Starting all 25 games in which he appeared, he posted a 10-11 record with an excellent 3.11 earned-run average. He was selected to the league all-star game, though he did not appear in the contest.

Hartford Courant article on Mike Schweighoffer by Tom Yantz, May 30, 1986.

The next season, Schweighoffer expected to play at Double-A San Antonio, and worked out with that club during most of spring training, but again fate intervened, this time in the form of Mother Nature.

“We had a few days of rain, and they needed someone to go to Melbourne for a game against the Twins,” he said. “I threw eight or nine pitches, all resulting in ground balls, and [San Antonio manager and former University of Hartford standout] Gary LaRocque said they wanted me in Triple-A. I didn’t believe it until the plane actually touched down in Albuquerque.”

Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1986.

After skipping an entire level, Schweighoffer was used as a relief pitcher for most of the 1986 season, making 43 appearances. In the final month, the Dukes moved him back into the starting rotation, and he wound up with a 7-3 record.

His manager in Albuquerque was Terry Collins, who later piloted the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series. He also benefitted from a Connecticut connection.

“Terry was fiery and demanded a lot from the players, and Dave Wallace [of Waterbury] was a tremendous pitching coach,” he said.

1986 Albuquerque Dukes

Schweighoffer was asked to work on some new things during spring training in 1987, which he described as “mediocre.” He learned something during that training camp, however, which has stuck with him for more than three decades.

“Every day is a tryout, because no matter what you’re told, you still have to perform,” he said. “I use that to this day.”

Back under LaRocque in San Antonio, and converted again into a full-time starter, Schweighoffer posted a 4-4 record before being promoted back to Triple-A. Returning to Albuquerque meant returning to high elevations, and a switch back to the bullpen resulted in a 2-3 record and 5.33 ERA. The Dukes captured the Pacific Coast League title, which Schweighoffer dubbed one of the highlights of his professional playing career.


Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1987.

The next spring, he was told he would be sent back to Double-A San Antonio, now guided by future Boston Red Sox skipper Kevin Kennedy. The Dodgers did not grant his request for a release, and he appeared in 43 games, including eight starts, with a 7-8 record and 3.96 ERA. At season’s end, he made the difficult decision to leave the game.

“I was 26 years old, had worked two winters at CNB and decided to give up playing,” he said. “I was also tired of dragging [his wife] Liz around the country.”


Mike Schweighoffer, San Antonio Missions, 1988.

With a number of former teammates making significant contributions, Los Angeles won the 1988 World Series in a shocking 4-game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics. Despite never making it to the big dance, Schweighoffer said he had “absolutely zero bitterness and no regrets” about giving up the game.

“I got to pitch to Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Sandy and Roberto Alomar,” he recalled. “Gary Sheffield took me deep one day; that ball is still rolling down I-10 in El Paso. I remember that at-bat like it was yesterday.”

He began working full-time at CNB in 1989, and is still active in the banking industry today. He is currently regional manager for commercial lending at People’s United Bank. He and Liz reside in Farmington, and they have three adult children – a daughter and twin boys.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 2008.

Despite having played professional baseball and being associated with some of the top stars in the game, Schweighoffer said his biggest baseball thrills came far away from any stadiums filled with paying customers.

“My best baseball memories are from Trinity, the Newington Capitols, coaching travel ball and Unionville American Legion, and being an assistant coach when my kids won Little League state titles in 2004 and 2005,” he said. “I just wanted to give back to the game.”

Other stories in this series:

St. Cyril’s Baseball Club, The Semi-Pro Polish-Americans From Hartford

During the “Roaring Twenties” immigrant communities often integrated themselves into American culture by forming baseball clubs. Members of Hartford’s Polish-American community organized St. Cyril’s Baseball Club in 1925 on behalf of Saints Cyril and Methodius Parish, a Catholic church established in Hartford in 1902. The original nine was managed by Jack J. Zekas and assisted by Stanley “Spike” Spodobalski. Catcher Francis “Frankie” Kapinos captained the team from behind the plate.

St. Cyril’s organizes first baseball club, 1925.

St. Cyril’s joined its first amateur league in 1926, the Hartford Amateur Baseball League. It was a precursor to the Hartford Twilight League and sponsored by the Hartford Courant. St. Cyril’s vied for the “Courant Cup” but landed fourth in the standings. Player-manager John Strycharz steered the team which included Bob Young, a pitcher from University of Wisconsin and Ray Swartz of Notre Dame University. The following year, St. Cyril’s scheduled matchups with “fast semi-pro teams”¹ throughout Connecticut.

1926 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 7, 1927.

After a five year hiatus caused by the Great Depression, St. Cyril’s returned to the field in 1933. Nicknamed the Saints, they earned a reputation as Hartford’s best Catholic club. Nearly every player was of Polish descent. Edward Kostek served as the team’s new manager. Jack Repass, an infielder, cut his teeth with St. Cyril’s in 1938, before becoming Secretary of the Twilight League and Founder of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball Hall of Fame.

1938 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s won its first championship in 1939 as part of the Central Connecticut League. Then they secured the Connecticut District Semi-Pro Title of 1940. Pitching aces, Casimir “Cos” Wilkos and Yosh Kinel headlined the roster. Also on staff was Walter “Monk” Dubiel, a 22 year old rookie who later became one of Hartford’s all-time hurlers following a career with the Yankees and Cubs. After their days with St. Cyril’s, all three pitchers (Wilkos, Kinel, and Dubiel) were inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame.

Casimir “Cos” Wilkos, St. Cyril’s, 1939.
Walter “Monk” Dubiel, 1940.

In the wake of World War II, St. Cyril’s rejoined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nearly every Twi-loop game was held at Municipal Stadium or on one of a dozen skin diamonds at Colt Park. Standout players for manager Kostek during the 1940’s were Pete Sevetz and Charlie Puziak. Some of the men played ball to forget the horrors they saw while at war. Others played for the love of the game and in between work hours life, not unlike amatuer players of today.

1947 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
L to R: Twilight Leaguers, Tom Deneen of St. Cyril’s, Dick Foley of Pratt Whitney Aircraft and Bill George of Yellow Cab at Colt Park, Hartford, 1947.

Manager Kostek led St. Cyril’s on a winning crusade during the 1950’s. Many professional players suited up for the run, such as Charlie Wrinn, Don Deveau and Ed Samolyk. They conquered multiple titles starting with a sweep of the 1951 Hartford Twilight League Season Title and Playoff Championship. Five years later, the club nabbed the 1956 Season Title and Playoff Championship. In 1957, they captured the State Semi-Pro Title and the Eastern Regional Semi-Pro Title.

1951 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Charlie Wrinn, Pitcher, St. Cyril’s, 1951.
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 8, 1951.
1953 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

In 1958, the Polish National Home hosted a testimonial dinner in honor of Ed Kostek and his St. Cyril’s Baseball Club. Former Business Manager of the Hartford Chiefs, Charles Blossfield gave remarks commending Kostek for his coaching achievements. Also in attendance were Brooklyn Dodgers scout John “Whitney” Piurek of West Haven and Kostek’s former player and longtime friend, Monk Dubiel.

L to R: Whitey Piurek, Ed Kostek and Monk Dubiel at the Polish National Home, Hartford, 1958.
1959 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s last pennant-winning season came in 1960. The club finished in first in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League with a 17-4 win-loss record. Outfielder and GHTBL Hall of Famer, Robert Neubauer was the team’s star player (Neubauer later became a celebrated coach at Sheehan High School in Wallingford, CT). St. Cyril’s, finally played its final season in 1962 and the Catholic baseball dynasty was finally retired after 35 years of play.

St. Cyril’s Manager, Ed Kostek (middle) accepts Hartford Twilight Season Title trophy from Lou Morotto and Jim Nesta, 1960.
Valco Machine beats St. Cyril’s in Playoff Championship 1960.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. 1929 to 1979 GHTBL 50th Anniversary Program

The Baseball Origins of Dillon Stadium

Recently, the naming rights of Hartford’s oldest outdoor sports facility were sold to corporate interests. The time-tested Dillon Stadium has taken a bow to make way for Trinity Health Stadium. Though some people will refuse to call it anything other than Dillon Stadium, perhaps a review of its backstory will enlighten fans and provide some understanding in a time of change. Long before Hartford Athletic played soccer at Dillon, the venue first began as a baseball diamond called Municipal Stadium.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2020.

Erected on Huyshope Avenue in the spring of 1935, Municipal Stadium was the result of public outcry for an enclosed baseball field for amatuer players. After more than a decade of petitions, the city finally built a diamond at the eastern edge of Colt Park. Funding for the project came from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Depression-era field had 8-feet tall fences, a chain link backstop and oversized bleachers hugging foul territory.

Bob Cameron of the Hartford Twilight League scores the first run at Municipal Stadium, Hartford, June 29, 1935.

Hartford’s amateurs were pleased with the ballpark because they no longer needed to rent Bulkeley Stadium for big games. At that time, there were nearly a dozen baseball field at Colt Park, including the new “Munie” Stadium. The field’s first headliner contests were played by Hartford Twilight League teams. In June of 1935, the stadium opened with a parade featuring a marching band. Mayor of Hartford, Joseph W. Beach dedicated the field by hoisting an American flag up a flagpole alongside the facility overseer and Recreation Supervisor, James H. Dillon.

James H. Dillon, c. 1936.

Less than a year later, a massive flood hit Hartford. Heavy rain overflowed the Connecticut River and Park River, engulfing the city and destroying Municipal Stadium. The Flood of 1936 forced amateurs out of Colt Park. Many defected to the East Hartford Twilight League. Hartford’s Municipal Stadium was out of commission for most of the summer. However, Supervisor Dillon spearheaded an effort to rebuild the venue and “Munie” Stadium was quickly revived.

Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.
View of Colt Park, Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.

After cleanup and repairs, the field was rededicated on September 19, 1936. City officials marched down to Colt Park to celebrate the recovery with another flag raising. The ceremony was followed by an interstate doubleheader played by Hartford’s Senior All-Stars and Junior All-Stars. Hometown pitching ace and GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee, Yosh Kinel won the afternoon for the Seniors; whipping a traveling club from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rededication Ceremony at Municipal Stadium, 1936.
Rededication of Municipal Stadium after the flood, 1936.

Municipal Stadium had become a hotbed for regional baseball talent. In the summer of 1937, a professional tryout came to town. Hartford’s best showcased their ability before scouts of the Rochester Red Wings. It was the first of many minor league tryouts held at the facility. Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, dozens of Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League players would sign professional contracts on the main diamond at Colt Park.

Rochester Red Wings host professional tryout at Municipal Stadium, 1937.

During the autumn seasons, Municipal Stadium doubled as a football field. As a result, a fieldhouse was constructed on the premises in 1939. The facility was reported to accommodate 10,000 spectators at that time. It was a fan favorite for its affordability and walkability. Aside from the occasional flood, South Hartford’s riverbank provided the perfect setting for local sporting events.

Municipal Stadium in Colt Park, Hartford, 1939.

Onlookers witnessed high school baseball at Municipal Stadium including Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public. There were also several amateur loops using the stadium during the 1940’s: the Industrial League, Public Service League, Catholic League, and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Semi-professional clubs like the Savitt Gems hosted benefit games at “Munie” Stadium to fundraise for local causes and wartime initiatives.

George Register of Weaver High School, Municipal Stadium, 1940.
Norman “Red” Branch (left) and Aaron Robinson of Coast Guard at Municipal Stadium, 1942.

Hartford Twilight League action returned to Municipal Stadium after World War II. The loop was re-established in the summer of 1946. That season, many players picked up a bat for the first time since carrying a rifle across Europe or Asia. Dozens of young war veterans were fixtures at “Munie” Stadium. Men such as U.S. Army veteran John Buikus starred for his company-sponsored team, Royal Typewriter.

Ernie Hutt, Walt Fonfara, John Buikus and Nonny Zazzaro of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.
Jon Cordier and Ed Roche of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.

By 1955, Municipal Stadium was worn down. Sports Editor of the Hartford Courant, Bill Lee wrote a subpar review of the ballpark in his “With Malice Toward None” column. He called it, “…a poorly maintained baseball diamond of sorts.” The following year, Hartford Mayor James H. Kinsella passed a resolution to rehabilitate and rename Municipal Stadium. From then on, the facility took on the name of Hartford’s favorite supervisor, James H. Dillon, whose accomplishments had won the city national acclaim in parks and recreation.

Jack Hines, catcher for Hartford Public High School hits an infield single, Municipal Stadium, 1955.
Hartford Courant excerpt, April 25, 1956.

The newly christened Dillon Stadium took over as Hartford’s sole baseball field in the late 1950’s. Nearby on Hamner Street, Bulkeley Stadium was abandoned and the land was eventually conveyed to the highest bidder. Hartford had neither a minor league stadium nor a minor league team. Consequently, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL) became the only game in town at Dillon Stadium. On August 12, 1959, a team of GHTBL All-Stars trounced a club of rookie professionals picked by the New York Yankees.

GHTBL All-Stars defeat New York Yankees Rookies at Dillon Stadium, August 12, 1959.

Due in part to public exposure at Dillon Stadium, the Twilight League enjoyed a golden era during the 1960’s. Season openers, playoff tournaments and old-timer games were well-attended for a nominal fee and widely-heralded in newspapers. The Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times were awash with recaps at Dillon. Despite the stadium’s deep connection to America’s National Pastime, the era expired in 1971. An aging Dillon Stadium was in need of a revisions and the city permanently reconfigured the site into a football, soccer and rock concert arena.

Bob Martin (left) of Valco Machine hits game-winning home run, Dillon Stadium, 1965.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers’ Day at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
GHTBL Opens at Dillon Stadium, 1970.
Hartford Twilight League Old-Timers at Dillon Stadium, 1970.

Many years later, a glimmer of hope appeared for baseball at Dillon Stadium. City officials organized the Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee in 1987 to bring professional baseball back to Hartford for the first time since the Hartford Chiefs left in 1956. The group was conducted by a firefighter, Michael P. Peters, the namesake of Mike Peters Little League. Peters and the task force sought to renovate Dillon Stadium into a minor league ballpark. Designs were drawn and models were presented for a $20 million revamp.

Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee reporting by Joel Lang and Owen Canfield, Hartford Courant, June, 1987.
Hartford baseball ad, July 16, 1987.

However, the project lacked enough public support. Skeptics included City Council members, real estate developers and business leaders. In addition, the Dillon Stadium Task Force was unable to attract a minor league club to the negotiating table. Most potential investors considered the Hartford market to be overlapped by the New Britain Red Sox of the Eastern League. By 1991, the deal withered away and the campaign helped Mike Peters become Mayor of Hartford (1993 to 2001).

Mayor Mike Peters at Dillon Stadium, 1989.
Promotional hat made for Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee, 1989.

“It was a very fine baseball stadium in terms of the field and ground. It was what I call a Class-A stadium. In the 1940’s it might have been the best baseball diamond in the Connecticut area.”

Victor Jarm, former Recreation Supervisor of Hartford, gushes over Municipal Stadium, 1989.
Dillon Stadium article by Roberto Gonzalez, Hartford Courant, August 31, 1989.

These days, baseball is a long gone memory at the former Dillon Stadium. In 2019, Hartford Athletic owners, Hartford Sports Group, partnered with Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to refurbish the city-owned facility for $14 million. As part of the quasi-public deal, Hartford Sports Group reserved the right to sell the name of Hartford’s oldest remaining sports venue. Trinity Health Stadium is now home to Hartford Athletic soccer of the United Soccer League.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2014.
Trinity Health Stadium, formerly Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2022.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant: “Jon Lender: $14M Dillon Stadium renovation was marred by ‘charade of an RFP’ that ‘undermines public confidence,’ says watchdogs’ draft report”.
  2. Hartford Courant: Football, The Rolling Stones, elephants and soccer: A look at Dillon Stadium through the years.”
  3. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
  4. Hartford Athletic: Hartfordathletic.com/dillon-stadium
  5. USL Soccer News: USLsoccer.com/news_article/show/1216699

Orator Jim O’Rourke, Connecticut’s Brilliant Baseball Pioneer


One of most influential vintage baseball figures from the State of Connecticut was an Irish-American named Jim O’Rourke. The 5-feet-8-inches tall Bridgeport native wielded a mighty bat and famous mustache. As leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Stockings of 1876, he recorded the first official base hit in major league history. O’Rourke’s epic playing career spanned five decades. He also became a manager, umpire, team owner, league executive, attorney at law, civil rights advocate, father of eight children and a posthumous National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 1, 1850, James Henry O’Rourke was the son of Hugh and Catherine O’Rourke, immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. O’Rourke came of age at Waltersville School and Strong’s Military Academy. He learned to play baseball with his older brother John O’Rourke on local clubs, including the Bridgeport Ironsides and Stratford Osceolas. Jim was a right-hander acclaimed as an expert batsman and a smart talker. In fact, O’Rourke was so unexpectedly eloquent that he earned the nickname “Orator Jim.”

Stratford Osceolas with Jim O’Rourke (standing, far right), 1871.

In 1872, O’Rourke was recruited by the Middletown Mansfields, thereby becoming a member of America’s first professional baseball league: the National Association. Middletown folded in August, but O’Rourke would land on his feet. The next season he signed with the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings. Alongside Al Spalding as well as George and Harry Wright, O’Rourke batted .350 – swinging Boston to a pennant win.

1872 Middletown Mansfields

In the summer of 1874, O’Rourke became one of baseball’s first international ambassadors. Boston and Philadelphia performed America’s National Game before crowds in Ireland and England, but the trip was a strategic and financial failure. After returning to America, Boston laid claim to another pennant. O’Rourke led the way with a team-high 5 home runs while guarding first base. In 1875, he transitioned back to the outfield and helped Boston to a third straight pennant.

Boston Red Stockings with Jim O’Rourke (far left), 1874.

Beantown’s grip on the National Association resulted in the formation of the National League. O’Rourke decided to stay with Boston and recorded the league’s first base hit. The feat occurred on Opening Day, April 22, 1876, at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He swatted a single into left field. Though Boston committed 7 errors, they beat Philadelphia, who made 13 errors, by a score of 6-5.

Jim O’Rourke, Boston Red Caps, 1876.

O’Rourke’s breakout season came in 1877. He set a career-high with a .362 batting average and stood atop the National League with 68 runs scored, 20 walks and a .407 on-base percentage. His dominant play earned Boston another pennant (it was later discovered that second-place Louisville intentionally threw games). The following season, O’Rourke’s average slumped to .278, yet Boston defended first place with a 41-19 record.

Providence Grays with Jim O’Rourke (standing, third from right), 1879.

Due to complaints over wages during his time in Boston, O’Rourke became a notorious critic of management. In 1881, he accepted more responsibility as player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons. He played third base and paced the club with 105 hits. The Bisons achieved a winning record each season under O’Rourke’s direction from 1881 to 1884. Though Buffalo never won a title, O’Rourke set the standard for player-managers in 1884, with a .347 batting average on 162 hits.

Buffalo Baseball Club with Manager Jim O’Rourke (center), 1882.

Orator Jim garnered esteem for his leadership in Buffalo. He stood for excellence, sobriety, intellect and athleticism and was described as a non-drinking, non-smoking taskmaster. He might have stayed in Buffalo, if not struck by tragedy in 1883. O’Rourke’s second daughter, Anna, had suddenly died of an illness. The death led O’Rourke to move closer to home, and to sign with the New York Giants in 1885.

Polo Grounds (I), New York, 1886.

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 1885
1887 New York Giants with Jim O’Rourke (sitting front, left).

In New York, he was welcomed by owner John B. Day and manager Jim Mutrie. O’Rourke also joined future Hall of Famers: John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and a close friend, Roger Connor from Waterbury, Connecticut. The Giants’ home field was the original Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. While earning a league-leading $4,000 salary, Orator Jim proved to be an on-base stalwart and a dependable defender.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Roger Connor, New York Giants, 1887.

During his tenure with the Giants, O’Rourke became a founding member of baseball’s first labor union: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. The brotherhood fought for the employment rights of the players. An articulate and learned O’Rourke decided to enroll at Yale Law School to litigate for player rights. He took courses in the off-seasons, passed the Connecticut bar examination and was admitted to practice law on November 5, 1887.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.

O’Rourke and the New York Giants toppled the National League in 1888. They beat their opponents in 84 of 138 games. Then the Giants agreed to face St. Louis of the American Association in a postseason series. O’Rourke suffered a meager .222 hitting mark in ten playoff games, yet the Giants were victorious in what became known as the original World Series.

1888 New York Giants with O’Rourke (sitting front, right, #15).

In 1889, O’Rourke batted .321 with 81 RBI and 33 stolen bases at age 38. Showing no signs of middle-age, he spearheaded New York’s back-to-back campaign for the National League title. At the 1889 World Series, O’Rourke turned in the finest hitting display of his career. He mustered a .389 average, with 2 homers and 7 RBI, defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 6 of 9 games. O’Rourke and his teammates were stars of the baseball world.

John Montgomery Ward, Shortstop, New York Giants, 1888.
Jim O’Rourke, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

Though behind the scenes, O’Rourke and other players were irritated with club owners over the Reserve Clause. The policy allowed owners to retain players after their contracts had expired. Players could be traded, sold or released, but they could not initiate their own moves. Equipped with a law degree, O’Rourke followed the lead of his shortstop and fellow attorney, John Montgomery Ward. Together they protested and established the controversial Players League of 1890.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1889 (c.)
Players League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

O’Rourke had a standout season with the renegade New York Giants of the Players League. He batted .360 with a career-high 9 home runs and 115 RBI across 111 games. The unsanctioned Giants finished in third place, but the Players League was short-lived. The loop had failed to turn a profit. O’Rourke and the Brotherhood were forced to negotiate a return to the National League.

1890 New York Giants of the Players League

In the summer of 1891, O’Rourke reappeared for his old team, the New York Giants of the National League. Despite being 40 years old, his bat remained reliable. O’Rourke, however, felt undervalued and openly expressed his discontent. After playing two final seasons in New York, he secured another player-manager role in 1893. This time, he became field general of the Washington Nationals, hitting .287 in 129 games during his last full season in the major leagues.

New York Base Ball Club, 1891.

O’Rourke suited up for eight clubs over 23 major league seasons. The pride of Bridgeport ended his major league career with 2,643 hits, 62 home runs, 1,203 RBI and a .311 batting average. He had the most hits of any 19th century big leaguer other than Cap Anson. O’Rourke had been an integral part of eight championship clubs, but he wasn’t yet done with baseball.

Jim O’Rourke, 1891.

Less than a year later, O’Rourke was back on the diamond. In 1894, he umpired in the National League and at the college level for Yale University. Unfortunately, lackluster reviews of his calls led to O’Rourke’s exit from the job in mid-June. He went back to playing the game by performing at catcher for St. Joe’s amateur club of Bridgeport on Saturday afternoons.

Jim O’Rourke, 1895 (c.)

O’Rourke spent most of his time in Bridgeport, where he practiced law and cared for his family. Father to seven daughters, he was a proponent of women’s suffrage and civil rights. Orator Jim was active in civic affairs as a member of Royal Arcanum, Bridgeport Elks and Knights of Columbus. He was a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Democrat” who ran for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1894 but lost in a Republican-leaning election.

Bridgeport Elks Lodge No. 36, 1905 (c.)

The following year, new train services allowed for a professional loop: the Connecticut State League. O’Rourke was elected President. As head of the league, he limited player salaries to $800 per month. He was a stakeholder in several teams including Waterbury. O’Rourke also guided the Bridgeport Victors club as player-manager.

The Meriden Journal, January 11, 1895.

The Connecticut State League dissolved midseason on July 10, 1895. Despite the setback, O’Rourke and Bridgeport continued to compete against clubs like Meriden and Hartford. O’Rourke played in just eight games that summer. Instead, he focused on developing his team. When he recruited Harry Herbert, a black outfielder from Bridgeport, O’Rourke rebelled against racial norms. Herbert played four seasons for the Victors.

1896 (c.) Bridgeport Victors

As an Irishman, a denigrated nationality at the time, O’Rourke used sport to quell ethnic stereotypes. He also used his influence to organize a new circuit in 1896. With help from local baseball leaders, Orator Jim created the Naugatuck Valley League. At catcher and manager for Bridgeport, he smashed a league-high .437 average and the Victors won the title.

Jim O’Rourke, Player-manager, Bridgeport Orators, 1898.

Bridgeport reentered the Connecticut State League in 1897. O’Rourke was no longer president of the league, but he wielded considerable power in local baseball matters. In 1898, O’Rourke ordered the construction of a new minor league stadium on his family’s farmland. Located in Bridgeport’s East End, the field was called Newfield Park. That same year, the Bridgeport club was renamed the “Orators” in O’Rourke’s honor.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

Jim O’Rourke spent fifteen eventful years as player-manager of the Bridgeport club. His players affectionately called him “Uncle Jeems.” From 1903 to 1908, O’Rourke managed and competed alongside his son James O’Rourke Jr. After playing for his father, young Jimmy O’Rourke signed with the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the New York Yankees.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

To the surprise of the entire baseball world, Jim O’Rourke Sr. was called up for one last major league game in 1904. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants started the 54 year old at catcher on the final day of the season. O’Rourke handled a complete game from pitcher Joe McGinnity, beating Cincinnati 7-5, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. To this day, O’Rourke holds the major league record as the oldest player with a base hit.

Jim O’Rourke, 1906.

On June 14, 1910, Jim’s wife of 38 years, Annie O’Rourke, passed away from complications of a fall. About a year later his brother John died of a heart attack in Boston. Jim O’Rourke endured these tumults and kept up with the Connecticut State League. He served as a league official on several occasions, either as secretary or president. On September 14, 1912, O’Rourke made his final on-field appearance with New Haven. He recorded a single at the age of 62.

Jim O’Rourke Sr. (left) and Jim O’Rourke Jr., 1908 (c.)

When he was 68, O’Rourke was afflicted by pneumonia after walking in a blizzard. He died seven days later on January 8, 1919, and was laid to eternal rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Stratford, Connecticut. O’Rourke was survived by seven children and his sister, Sarah O’Rourke Grant. He was a beloved hero of Bridgeport who personified the American Dream. O’Rourke’s his rags-to-riches story inspired multiple generations of adoring baseball fans.

Jim O’Rourke, Manager, Bridgeport 1909 (c.)

Orator Jim was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. According to baseball historian, Bill James, O’Rourke’s Cooperstown plaque, “summarizes his career but is far too small to reflect the scope of his contributions to the game. As a pioneer player, union organizer and early minor-league executive, James Henry ‘Orator’ O’Rourke was an exemplary figure, one eminently worthy of baseball’s highest accolade.”

Jim O’Rourke’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

“He has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. His average each season has proved him to be in the front rank in handling the bat, and shows that his usefulness is not merely confined to his fielding abilities. He has always enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly reliable and honest player, and one who works hard for the best interests of the club. His gentlemanly conduct, both on and off the ball field, has won for him a host of friends.”

1885 Spalding Guide on Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke statue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Baseball is for all creeds and nationalities.”

Jim O’Rourke, 1910
Jim O’Rourke’s gravesite, St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford, CT.

Sources

  1. “Jim O’Rourke” by Bill James, SABR Bio Project.

2. Pittsburgh Dispatch via Newspapers.com.

3. Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke from Cooperstown Cred.

4. Newfield Park: Home to One of New England’s Most Sacred Baseball Sites by Michael J. Bielawa.

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 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 with nine strikeouts against Ellington.

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

The following year, Bidwell became a freshman pitcher at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then 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 playoffs.

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 college, Bidwell played summer ball in the GHTBL. He had perfect 10-0 record in 1985 and in 1988. When Moriarty Brothers changed their named to Newman Lincoln-Mercury in 1990, Bidwell toed the rubber as their ace. He steered the Newman club to seven championships. Bidwell was a baseball junkie, who also pitched on Sundays for the Connecticut Men’s Senior Baseball League. In 1994, his talents were recognized by the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. At the induction 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. Some of Bidwell’s teammates included 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. 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 – 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. Bidwell’s journeyman career was 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, Dave has been spotted attending GHTBL playoff games as a fan.

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 of two daughters. Join us in congratulating “Doc” on an incredible baseball career.

In the Day of Louis Sockalexis

Major League debut: April 22, 1897
Position: Right Fielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Born: October 24, 1871 in Indian Island, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913 in Burlington, Maine
Education: University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) & College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894.

In 1899, the Hartford Base Ball Club of the Class-A Eastern League signed outfielder, Louis Francis Sockalexis. He was the first Native American to play professional baseball and the first person of color to play for Hartford. When he arrived in Hartford, Sockalexis was noticeably overweight and battling an alcohol addiction. Also called “Sock” or “Sox,” he was once a five-tool outfielder who experienced a meteoric rise and fall during the Deadball Era.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899.

Sockalexis hailed from Indian Island, Maine and was a member of the Penobscot tribe. His athletic gifts earned him acceptance to College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he excelled in baseball, football and track. He then followed his Holy Cross baseball coach and transferred to University of Norte Dame. He played both outfield and pitcher while at Holy Cross and Notre Dame. In a sign of things to come, Sockalexis was expelled from Notre Dame in his first semester for consuming alcohol.

L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.
L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.

Fortunately for Sockalexis, Cy Young‘s Cleveland Spiders signed him to a major league contract on March 9, 1897. Sockalexis was so popular in Cleveland that fans and reporters later claimed him to be the source of the controversial “Indians” nickname. In his first big league season, Sockalexis appeared in 66 games, had a .338 batting average with three home runs, 42 RBI and 16 stolen bases. On July 1, 1897, he had five base hits in a game against St. Louis. Yet, a few days later, he got drunk, jumped from the second-story of a brothel and severely injured his ankle, which would affect his play and reputation.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.

Sockalexis struggled to regain his old form amid two more seasons in Cleveland. After being arrested for public drunkenness at a theatre, Cleveland released him in late May of 1899. A week later, Sockalexis landed with Hartford. Burdened by alcoholism, he slumped in the Charter Oak City. He hit for a .198 batting average in 91 at bats. His brief time in Hartford lasted about a month before manager Billy Barnie traded him to Bristol of the Connecticut State League.

Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.
Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.

Bristol eventually unloaded Sockalexis to Waterbury that same year. He ended the season with a .320 batting average. The Waterbury club wanted him back for the following season, but Sockalexis returned to Maine. A series of news reports detailed his arrests for public drunkenness, and the former baseball star was reduced to homelessness and vagrancy. He served intermittent time in jail but made a comeback in 1902 with Lowell of the New England League. At 30 years old, Sockalexis hit for a .288 average in his lone season with Lowell.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.

In 1907, Sockalexis signed his last baseball contract. He appeared with the Bangor club of the Maine State League. Sockalexis then found work as a lumberjack and lived at Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. He also piloted a ferryboat on which he enjoyed reading The Sporting News and newspapers left behind by passengers. Sockalexis continued to show interest in baseball, playing on amateur teams, coaching and umpiring.

Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.
Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.

He eventually stopped drinking to excess, but was not in the best of health. Sockalexis suffered from attacks of rheumatism and looked older than his age. In the fall of 1913, he joined a logging crew harvesting the northern woods of Maine. While felling a pine tree on Christmas Eve, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 42. Louis Sockalexis was buried in St. Anne Church Cemetery on Indian Island, Maine.

Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.
Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.

Today, Sockalexis is remembered as a pioneering figure. As the first Native American in the major leagues, he blazed a trail amidst widespread prejudice. Fans in various cities hollered racist epithets and made ignorant gestures towards Sockalexis throughout his career. Like Charles Bender, Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson, Sockalexis endured cruel discrimination while playing the game he loved. Though alcoholism did him in, Louis Sockalexis prevailed over racial attitudes of the time and momentarily achieved, baseball greatness.

Sources:

  1. Statistics: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sockach01.shtml
  2. SABR Bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a
  3. Louis Sockalexis – Remembering Now and Forever: http://sockalexis.net/

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.

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.