Officially Established in 1929
The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is one of America’s oldest baseball leagues. Previously known as the City Amateur League and City Independent Twilight League in the 1910’s and 1920’s, the loop reorganized in the summer of 1929. Local sporting goods store owner, Harry N. Anderson of Hartford was the league’s organizer and first President. The best amateur ballplayers in the Greater Hartford area converged on Colt Park during the summer. In addition to the Hartford Twilight League, the Times Twilight League, Industrial League, Insurance League, Public Service League and the Catholic League also competed at that time. It was the Golden Era of baseball when games served as entertainment for thousands of fans.
The Savitt Gems
The most prolific franchise in the early years of the Hartford Twilight League was the Savitt Gems, sponsored and organized by Bill Savitt of Savitt Jewelers on Asylum Street. Savitt and his Gems fielded some of the best ballplayers in Connecticut for two decades. The Gems began as 3-time winners of the Hartford Twilight League from 1930 to 1932. Walter Berg was the club’s ace pitcher, Al Huband was their heavy hitter and George Dixon, their towering third baseman. From humble beginnings, the Gems later became a formidable independent club known throughout New England as generous hosts to Major League and Negro League teams at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.
Amateur Ballplayers Become Local Heroes
The Holy Name nine also became an outstanding franchise in their own right during the 1930’s. The “Names” were the first Hartford Twilight League team to advance players into professional baseball. A double-play duo, Bert Meisner and Pete Kapura signed with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in 1931. Holy Name’s first baseman, Jigger Farrell was an natural batsman. Farrell would become a mainstay player-manager for the Savitt Gems throughout their semi-professional years. Other teams successful teams in the league’s early years included Check Bread, Mahoney’s Service, Mayflower Sales, and Home Circle.
The Twi-loop Develops Pitching Prospects
A left-handed hurler named Pete Naktenis of the Mayflower Sales club was the first Hartford Twilight League player to reach the Major Leagues. In 1936, the Hartford Public High School and Duke University graduate signed with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Meanwhile, another pitcher, Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor played for the Home Circle team. Taylor, a Bulkeley High School alumnus was actively scouted by the New York Yankees but ultimately denied a contract due to racial discrimination. After two seasons in the Hartford Twilight League, Taylor signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League in 1935. A few years later in a Negro League All-Star game at the Polo Grounds, Taylor threw a no-hitter against legendary ace Satchel Paige. Johnny Taylor later signed to pitch for the Hartford Chiefs of the Boston Braves organization in 1949, making him Hartford’s first professional black athlete.
Savitt Gems Host Big League Stars
In 1937, the the Hartford Twilight League split into the East Hartford Twilight League and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Meanwhile, during World War II, the Savitt Gems entertained Hartford fans with grand events and benefit games at Bulkeley Stadium. On September 29, 1942, Ted Williams manned left field for the Gems versus the New Britain Cremos. “The Kid” batted clean-up, went 2 for 3 and hit a game-winning solo homer in a 2-1 contest. Then on September 30, 1945, the Gems welcomed Babe Ruth to Hartford for an exhibition against the New Britain Codys. At 50 years old, Ruth put on a home run hitting display in batting practice. During the game, he pinch hit and grounded out to the pitcher. Ruth’s cameo with the Gems marked his final appearance in a ball game.
The Twilight League Resumes
In 1946, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League reorganized under the leadership of League President, John “Bud” Mahon who later became City Treasurer of Hartford. Teams such as Lenny’s Yellow Taxi, West Hartford Merchants and Columbia A.C. featured skillful ballplayers, many of whom had just returned home from war. A particularly talented team was the 1950 Nutmeg Dukes, the GHTBL’s first African-American entry. The Dukes dominated the competition and won the 1950 Regular Season and Playoff championships. The team’s shortstop, Harold “Hal” Lewis signed to play professional baseball in 1951 with the Boston Braves organization.
St. Cyril’s Leads the League
The 1950’s were a decade of growth for the Twilight League. Moe Drabowsky of Windsor, Nick Koback of Hartford and Joey Jay of Middletown signed professional contracts and had long careers in the Major Leagues. Many more professional players would follow, yet the league retained its highly competitive status. During this time, perhaps no team was more successful than the St. Cyril’s baseball club. They won 5 championships from 1951 to 1960. St. Cyril’s was commanded by long-time Manager, Ed Kostek. The team was comprised of local star athletes like Al Phelon, a crafty pitcher, Bill George, a veteran catcher and a speedy outfielder named Ed Samolyk.
Industrial Company Teams Flourish
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s manufacturing corporations sponsored twilight league franchises and hired personnel accordingly. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Hamilton Standard and Valco Machine controlled the standings. From 1953 to 1957, Pratt & Whitney won a total of 6 Regular Season and Playoff Championships. They were led by their manager and former big leaguer, John “Bunny” Roser. Prominent players for Pratt & Whitney included Paul Chicon, a strong hitting outfielder, and Parker Swan, a commanding pitcher. Soon thereafter, Hamilton Standard outdid their Aircraft rivals by winning 8 league titles from 1955 to 1966 behind their catcher, Wally Widholm and infielder, Hal Lewis.
The Moriarty Brothers
In 1964, the Moriarty Brothers franchise began their domination of the Hartford Twilight League by winning their first Regular Season Title. The club was sponsored by a car dealership owner and GHTBL Hall of Famer, Matt Moriarty of Manchester, Connecticut. Nicknamed the Comets, the Moriarty’s roster was stacked with former professional ballplayers. The Comets were steered by pitchers like Pete Sala, Leverette Spencer, and John Serafini. Standout batters included Bob Carlson, Jim Balesano, Leo Veleas, Rich Riordan and their MVP, player-manager Gene Johnson. The Moriarty Brothers dynasty holds an all-time Hartford Twilight League record of 28 league titles.
A Twilight League Legend
Gene Johnson would become a cornerstone of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. His dedication to the league was unparalleled, compiling a record of 57 years as a player and manager. Johnson entered the league with St. Cyril’s in 1953 while attending Manchester High School at the age of 17. He chased his dream to play professional baseball, signing with the New York Giants in 1955 and embarking on a 7-year minor league career. In 1962, Johnson was playing in the Milwaukee Braves organization. He got demoted to their Class B affiliate despite a .315 batting average. Rather than report, Johnson returned to Connecticut to raise a family with his wife Helen.
Gene Johnson, Player of the Half Century
Johnson’s professional days ended, however his Hartford Twilight career resumed immediately. He rejoined Moriarty Brothers and assumed the role of player-manager in 1962. The franchise was the class of the league for 3 decades before being rebranded Newman Lincoln-Mercury. Overall, Gene Johnson won 34 GHTBL Championships, 5 batting titles and was named “Player of the Half Century” in 1982. His quick bat, glovework at third base and competitive attitude allowed him to play baseball well into his 50’s. Johnson even made an appearance in a game at 75 years old when his team needed an extra outfielder. He passed away on November 10, 2014 at the age of 77. In 2015, Johnson’s longtime franchise, then named Foss Insurance, won one last Playoff Championship in his honor.
During the 1970’s the Bristol Cassins challenged Moriarty Brothers as the league’s top team. The Cassins conquered the standings from 1974 to 1978 under the leadership of their sponsor, Don Cassin and their manager, Joseph Lowery. The club’s Most Valuable Player, Luke Lamboley guarded third base and their ace on the mound was Michael Beaudoin. Bristol’s lineup included Robert “Duke” Snyder, Dave Cichon, Jim Ziogas and Dave Raponey who intimidated opposing pitching. As one of the league’s best hitting teams, the Cassins won 4 GHTBL Championships.
The 1980’s brought about a new dynasty in the Newington Capitols. Also known as the “Caps”, they entered the Twilight League in 1982 and quickly enjoyed success. The Caps won 5 Playoff Championships in 6 years. The club gave up very few runs behind professional caliber pitchers, Jim Snediker, Mike Schweighoffer and Tim Zerio. Dave Sacco was the team’s player-manager as well as Most Valuable Player. A talented lineup of sluggers included Scott Cormier, Mike Magnifico, Gino Caro and Dave Rose. By the end of their GHTBL run in 2001, the Newington Capitols had captured a grand total of 14 league titles.
Frank McCoy & the Vernon Orioles
Back in 1966, Frank McCoy Sr. formed, sponsored, and managed the Vernon Orioles. McCoy, a Hartford attorney and later a four-term Mayor of Vernon, managed the team until 1998. Known as “Mr. Vernon Oriole” McCoy served as GHTBL Vice President until his passing in 2010. Thanks to McCoy, the Vernon Orioles are the longest franchise in league history and have become one of the most successful GHTBL franchises of all-time. Players like Alan Putz, Joe Calaci and Steve Krajewski were a few of the great Vernon Orioles through the years. Nowadays, the Orioles are now led by Manager Jack Ceppetelli who has recently earned a streak of 7 seasons with a league title.
Tom Abbruzzese’s Bankers Franchise
Since 1976, Tom Abbruzzese has managed the same GHTBL 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 15 Regular Season and Playoff Championships. Tom Abbruzzese’s club has recruited and advanced numerous professional ballplayers to and from the Hartford Twilight year after year. With Abbruzzese at the helm, People’s United Bank remains a perennial contender for league supremacy to this day.
A New Era in the Twilight League
The summer of 2004 marked the 75th anniversary of the GHTBL. That same year, the Bristol Merchants began their run of success, winning a total of 9 Championships in 6 years. The league’s Meriden-based franchise, now the Record-Journal Expos, have earned 4 titles since 2006. From 2011 to 2013, the Ferguson Waterworks franchise, led by their captain Greg Annino, achieved 3 consecutive Playoff Championships. The Vernon Orioles have recently proved to be the class of the league. Managed by Jack Ceppetelli, and led by players such as Nick Roy, Dan Trubia, Tony Trubia and Tyler Pogmore, the Orioles have achieved 7 consecutive championship seasons.
New and Old Franchises
The East Hartford Jets have competed in the GHTBL since 1970, winning a total of 4 league titles. The Foss Insurance franchise took on a new sponsor in Rainbow Graphics of Manchester after a brief stint as the Marlborough Braves. The South Windsor Phillies joined the league in 2018, managed by GHTBL alumni, Ron Pizzanello and Gary Burnham Jr. Most recently, the league’s Middletown-based franchise welcomed Malloves Jewelers back to the league as sponsor after a 25 year hiatus. In 2015, the Connecticut Twilight League, previously known as the Manchester Twilight League, challenged the GHTBL to an All-Star game. The GHTBL All-Stars have remained unbeaten after 4 matchups.
Jack Repass Record League History
In 1979, the Twi-loop celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Hartford native and League Secretary, Jack Repass (1924-2001) commemorated the milestone by publishing a 34-page booklet recording the league’s rich history. Jack was one of three Repass brothers to play baseball in the GHTBL. Jack’s older brother Bob “Spike” Repass was a highly touted prospect who went on to play second base for the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators and Hartford Chiefs. Jack Repass played for the St. Cyril’s ball club in the Twilight League before serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War. He returned home and became manager of the Yellow Cab team in the Twilight League. Repass also worked as the Sports Information Director at the University of Hartford and later led the way to establish the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame.