Tag: babe ruth

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.

Babe Ruth’s Connecticut Car Crash

At 24 years old George Herman “Babe” Ruth escaped disaster in Connecticut before becoming one of baseball’s all-time greats. After setting a new major league home run record in his first year with the Yankees, Babe Ruth bought a brand new Packard Roadster for $12,000. On September 30, 1920, Ruth was driving from New York City to Springfield, Massachusetts, to play in an exhibition game. Halfway through his trip, Ruth crashed into a heavy Mack Truck while speeding through a tunnel, the Yalesville Culvert in Wallingford, Connecticut near the Meriden city line.

The Meriden Daily Journal, October 1, 1920.
The Meriden Daily Journal, October 1, 1920.

Ruth was thrown from the car but luckily walked away from the accident with only a few scratches. His Roadster was totaled, but the Great Bambino refused to miss his appearance and hitchhiked his way to Springfield. The very next day Ruth appeared in another exhibition game for a team called the Hartford Poli’s at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. He played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 at the plate.

Yalesville culvert where Ruth crashed, Wallingford, Connecticut, 2020.

The Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

The Hartford Poli’s were a semi-professional baseball club formed in 1905 by management and employees of Poli’s Theatre. The vaudeville venue sponsored the team for men between the ages of 18 to 30. Said to be Hartford’s “fastest” club, the Poli’s welcomed major league legends and challenged teams across New England including their main foe, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. The owner of Poli’s was Sylvester Z. Poli who operated theaters in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury and other cities throughout the Northeast.

Poli’s Theatre employees form a baseball league, 1905.
Poli’s advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1909.
Hockers Gamerdinger, Hartford Poli’s, 1912.

In their early years, the Harford Poli’s took part in an intercompany loop, the Poli Baseball League. Hartford’s theater team was headed by Manager R.J. Kelly and captain first baseman Fred Jendron. In 1908, the Hartford Poli’s won the league over the New Haven Poli’s in a title game by a score of 18 to 6. The club was presented a championship cup by owner Sylvester Poli himself. Eventually, the Hartford Poli’s would graduate from the Poli Baseball League to become of Connecticut’s top independent teams.

1913 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

The Poli’s utility infielder, Curtis Gillette was also superintendent at the Poli Theatre of Hartford. Gillette was raised in New Haven but came to Hartford in 1911 to pursue career opportunities. By 1913, Gillette was appointed manager of the Poli’s and he named first baseman Ed DeVanney team captain. That year, the Poli’s won 26 of their 31 games against teams like the Royals and the Olympias of Hartford and the Pastimes of East Hartford. Gillette led the club to unprecedented success against local opponents and captured multiple amateur state titles.

1914 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club
Hartford Poli’s, 1914.

As baseball’s popularity skyrocketed in Hartford, the Poli’s became a more serious operation. The club and it’s winning roster served as effective tangible marketing for Poli Theatre. The company scouted the best players in the city. Top pitchers Ed “Smiler” Oppelt and Jack Vannie as well as shortstop Joe Griffin ushered the Poil’s to dozens of lopsided victories throughout Connecticut. Poli home games were held at Colt Park as well as Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

1915 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

In 1915, the Poli Theatre Company constructed a new ballpark in East Hartford named Poli Field. The grounds covered 10 acres and boasted a grandstand stretching from first base to third base. Wire netting behind home plate prevented foul balls from reaching the stands. With a brand new facility and a talented team, the Poli’s were a formidable attraction. Large crowds, tough opponents and baseball’s biggest stars became guests of the Poli’s.

1916 Poli Baseball Club

On Tuesday, October 24, 1916, Detroit Tigers Most Valuable Player, Ty Cobb came to Hartford to face the Poli’s. As a guest star for the New Haven Colonials, Cobb played center field, first base and served as relief pitcher. Cobb had two hits, showed off his speed in a run-down and pitched 3 innings of one-hit ball. He gave up a double to Poli’s catcher, John Muldoon, a future professional who had three hits on the day. Cobb and Colonials shut out the Hartford Poli’s and their guest star, Benny Kauff by a score of 7 to 0. The exhibition delighted a small crowd of 800 fans at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

Manager Gillete recruited Benny Kauff of the New York Giants to take on Ty Cobb who made an appearance for the New Haven Colonials, 1916.
Joe Griffin, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.
Babe Clark, Captain and First Baseman, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1917.
Lester Lanning, Outfielder, Hartford Poli’s and Wesleyan University graduate, 1917.
Rex Islieb, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s Baseball, 1917.
1917 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club
New York Bloomer Girls take on Hartford Poli’s, 1917.

In mid-September of 1918, the Poli’s welcomed a recent World Series champion to Hartford. The one and only, George Herman “Babe” Ruth of the Boston Red Sox guest starred for the Poli’s in a benefit game. The event raised funds for American troops from Hartford who were fighting overseas in World War I. Ruth arrived to the city amidst cheering fans in the streets. Manager Curtis Gillette of the Poli’s drove the Babe to Hotel Bond on Asylum Street where he was swarmed by reporters. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s at Wethersfield Avenue.

1918 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club with Babe Ruth (back row, third from right).

On Sunday, September 15, 1918, Ruth and the Poli’s opposed the Fisk Red Tops of Chicopee, Massachusetts. While pitching and batting third, he recorded two hits including a double off the “Bull Durham” tobacco sign on the center field wall. Ruth also threw a complete game shutout, allowed 4 hits and led the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory. He beat his Red Sox counterpart, Dutch Leonard who guest starred on the mound for the Red Tops. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher for the Poli’s and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth and entertained a Hartford crowd of more than 5,000, and earned $350 for his appearance.

Bill Kopf, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
New Haven Colonials vs. Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Al Mamaux, Pitcher, Hartford Poli’s guest star, 1918.
Fisk-Poli Trophy, 1918
Fred Rieger, Pitcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Joe Briger, Catcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
John “Boggy” Muldoon, Catcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

A week later, Ruth once again played on a Sunday at the Hartford Grounds (also known as Wethersfield Avenue Grounds and Hartford Baseball Park) for the Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the first game, the Hartford Poli’s went head to head with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared in the games that day. Ruth pitched and hit third in the Poli’s lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate, “Bullet” Joe Bush and Pratt & Whitney won the game by a score of 1 to 0.

Ruth to play at the Hartford Grounds with Poli’s, 1918.

In the second game of the day, Ruth and the Poli’s faced a former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankee, Ray Fisher. Fisher was the headliner for the traveling Fort Slocum team who beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, had a base hit and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of more than 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth and the Hartford Poli’s.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

The following year, Ruth played first base in another game with the Hartford Poli’s. On September 28, 1919 at Poli Field in East Hartford they opposed the New Britain Pioneers. Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and posed for a photograph with Ruth. The Babe hit two balls over the right field fence but was only allowed one base for each long ball due to a “short porch” ground rule. Earlier that day he had hit a batting practice homer said to be struck over 500 feet. The Poli’s shutout the Pioneers 3 to 0 before a crowd of more than 6,000 fans.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1919.
Hartford Poli’s vs New Haven Nutmegs, 1919.
Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella and Ruth, 1919.

Ruth was persuaded to join the Poli’s once more in 1920. After his first season with the New York Yankees, Ruth starred for the Poli’s against New Departure at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. On October 2, 1920, he hit clean-up for the Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure shutout the Poli’s 7 to 0 thanks to crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitballer from the New York State League. Extra trains and trolleys were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon, allowing 10,000 fans to see Ruth’s final game with the Hartford Poli’s.

Babe Ruth comes to Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Four Hits at Bristol for the Hartford Poli’s, 1920.
Ruth in the Batter’s Box at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Tagged Out at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Playing First Base at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Accepts Honorary Gift at Muzzy Field, 1920.

For more than 15 years, the Hartford Poli’s were a top tier amateur club. By 1920, the club had developed some of the best players in Hartford. They included Rex Islieb, a standout third baseman, Bill Pike, a left-handed ace and Jim O’Leary, a hard-throwing pitcher. The Poli squad eventually disbanded and evolved into another team called the All-Hartfords in 1921 with a similar roster from previous years. Though a century has passed since the Poli’s won local prestige, their contributions culturally significant and a source of entertainment and civic pride.


The Man Behind the Poli’s

Sylvester Zefferino Poli, (December 31, 1858 – May 31, 1937) an Italian immigrant to the United States who became a world famous theatre magnate.

The Hartford Poli’s baseball club was sponsored by Sylvester Zefferino Poli, a theater mogul, vaudeville pioneer and entertainment proprietor. In 1881, Poli was an expert wax sculptor and a first generation Italian immigrant living New York City. His wax figurine business attained massive success which led him to become a major pioneer of vaudeville theaters in the northeastern United States. Poli’s Theatre on Main Street Hartford first opened in 1903. By 1916, he was heralded as the largest individual theater owner in the world. When Poli retired at the age of 70, he had amassed 28 theaters, 3 hotels (including the Savoy in Miami), 500 offices and two building sites.

Poli’s Theatre first opened on Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut in 1903.
Poli’s Stock Company advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1906
The summer home of Sylvester Z. Poli and his family, “Villa Rosa” Woodmont, Connecticut, 1910.
A scene from “The Fortune Hunter” at Poli’s Theatre, 1912.
Poli’s Palace Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1914.

In July of 1928, Poli merged his company with Fox New England Theaters. He still retained majority interest when Fox-Poli’s was created. However in May of 1934, Loew’s Theatres purchased Poli’s remaining theaters, which became known as Loew’s-Poli Theaters. Sylvester Poli spent his final years at his summer home, Villa Rosa in the Woodmont section of Milford, Connecticut. The palatial estate was named after his wife Rosa Leverone. Sylvester Z. Poli died on May 31, 1937 at the age of 79 due to pneumonia. Loew’s-Poli Theatre stayed open in Hartford until 1957.

Poli’s Capitol Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, designed by Thomas W. Lamb and opened August 28, 1920.
Fox Poli Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.
Loews Poli Theatre in the background, 1956.

Bulkeley Stadium, Gone But Not Forgotten

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium

Former names: Clarkin Stadium (1921-1927) and Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (1901-1927)
Location: Hanmer Street & George Street, off Franklin Avenue Hartford, Connecticut
Capacity: 12,500
Opened: 1928
Demolished: 1955
Tenants: Hartford Baseball Club (1902-1932, 1934, 1938-1945), Hartford Blues Football Club (1925-1927), Savitt Gems (1932-1945) and Hartford Chiefs (1946-1952).

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1928.

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium was a sports venue in Hartford, Connecticut and the site of Babe Ruth’s final ballgame. Bulkeley Stadium was home to the Hartford Baseball Club a minor league team nicknamed the Senators, then the Bees and later the Chiefs. Major league stars and the “who’s who” of baseball often made exhibition game appearances at the stadium.

Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, 1911.

Semi-professional teams like the Savitt Gems and the Hartford Indians frequently used the facility. During baseball’s off-season, the Hartford Blues of the National Football League, nationally sanctioned boxing matches, motor sports and artistic performances were popular stadium attractions. Initially constructed in 1921, the stadium was renamed in 1928 to honor former Connecticut Governor, U.S. Senator and First President of the National League, Morgan Gardner Bulkeley.

Map of baseball venues throughout Hartford’s history, 2004.

A block to the east of Bulkeley Stadium was the ballpark’s original site; Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, also referred to as Hartford Baseball Park, the Hartford Base Ball Grounds, or simply the Hartford Grounds. Each of these names were used interchangeably. In March of 1896, Manager William Barnie of the Hartford Baseball Club constructed a grandstand on the south side of the city measuring 150 feet wide and 20 feet tall. In December of 1905, James H. Clarkin purchased the Hartford Senators and leased the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. At the time, the diamond was “regarded as the finest in this section of the country.”¹

Barnie secures Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1896.
Hartford Ball Park, Wethersfield Avenue, 1896.
Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, Hartford, Connecticut, 1908.

Hundreds of ball games were played on the site by amateur, semi-professional and professional teams each summer. The baseball facility underwent improvements and renovations on several occasions; the first of which was completed in spring of 1910. Manager Bob Connery of the Hartford Senators in the Connecticut State League was reported to be pleased with ballpark’s improvements in the April 9, 1910 edition of the Hartford Courant. A ticket office was built, a food stand doubled in size and carpeting was installed in the clubhouse.

William Moore, Hartford Groundskeeper, 1910.
New Haven vs. Hartford at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
Benny Kauff, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1913.
Hartford Senators and Judge Kenesaw Landis at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1916.

Wethersfield Avenue Grounds became a destination for the game’s biggest names. In the summer of 1916, the infamous Ty Cobb delighted a small crowd of 800 Hartford fans. Cobb guest starred for the visiting New Haven Colonials as first baseman and relief pitcher versus the Hartford Poli’s, the city’s semi-professional club. Alongside Cobb on the Colonials was Torrington High School alumnus and Philadelphia Athletics player Joe Dugan who played shortstop. The Colonials beat the Poli’s 7 to 0. Cobb would visit Hartford again in 1918, though this bit of history would be overshadowed by another famed slugger.

Ty Cobb plays in Hartford, 1916.

In 1918 and 1919 the one and only Babe Ruth played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds as part of his perennial barnstorming tours. Days after winning the World Series with Boston Red Sox, Ruth made his first appearance in Hartford on September 16, 1918, to play for the Hartford Poli’s. Ruth pitched the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory versus the Fisk Red Tops. He hurled a complete game shutout, allowing only 4 hits. Ruth hit third of the batting order, recording a single and double. Ruth drew a crowd of about 5,000 spectators and earned a reported $350 for his appearance.

Babe Ruth plays at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1918.

In 1921, owner of the Hartford Senators, James H. Clarkin built a new baseball venue a block to the west of the old Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The site was located at the intersection of Hanmer Street and George Street off of Franklin Avenue in South Hartford. A large grandstand made of steel and concrete wrapped around the field from foul pole to foul pole. Locker rooms below the stands were equipped with showers, baths, and telephones. The facility was dubbed Clarkin Stadium and garnered a reputation as one of New England’s best ballparks.

Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium blueprint, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Hartford Police defeat Waterbury Police at Clarkin Stadium, 1921.
Clarkin Stadium, 1921.

Clarkin Stadium hosted Hall of Fame slugger Lou Gehrig who began his career with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in 1921, 1923 and 1924. Famous Native American olympian athlete, Jim Thorpe appeared in Hartford’s lineup near the end of his career. Leo Durocher, Jo-Jo Morrissey, Kiddo Davis, and Pete Appleton were also Senators at this time. In 1927, an accidental fire severely damaged the grandstand at Clarkin Stadium. Though it was rebuilt two months later, the Hartford Senators played their games on the road until mid-July.

Hartford Senators with Lou Gehrig (seated, center) at Clarkin Stadium, 1923.
Lou Gehrig at Clarkin Stadium, 1923.
Opening Day at Clarkin Stadium, 1925.
Hartford Blues Football, 1926.
Hartford Senators Opening Day, 1927.
James H. Clarkin, 1928.

In January of 1928, Clarkin sold his stadium as well as Hartford’s minor league franchise. Both were purchased for over $200,000 by a group of private investors led by Robert J. Farrell, a real estate and insurance agent and longtime business manager for the Senators. Hartford continued their play in the Eastern League under Farrell’s direction. Clarkin Stadium was renamed Bulkeley Stadium to honor Morgan G. Bulkeley who had passed away six years prior. Existing wood bleachers were replaced by steel seating throughout the grandstand.

Stadium seating at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
William Eisemann, Catcher, Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium Mayor Norman Stevens and Bob Farrell, 1928.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Bulkeley Stadium, 1928.
Bulkeley Stadium boxing, Bat Battalino v.s. Eddie Lord, 1929.

Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Hank Greenberg played for the 1930 Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium with King Bader as manager. President Robert J. Farrell died at age 32 of acute appendicitis. During the depths of the Great Depression, the Senators were purchased by and became the affiliates of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. The Senators went on to win the 1931 Eastern League championship behind the bats of Red Howell, Al Cohen and Bobby Reis. When the Eastern League disbanded at the midpoint of the 1932 season, Bulkeley Stadium and the City of Hartford were without a headlining baseball club.

Hartford Senators and Judge Kenesaw Landis, 1930.
Hartford Courant reporters play game at Bulkeley Stadium, 1930.
Hartford vs. New Haven at Bulkeley Stadium, 1931.
Hartford vs. Allentown at Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Shortly thereafter a semi-professional club called the Savitt Gems stepped in as tenants of Bulkeley Stadium in July of 1932. They were backed by local jeweler and baseball promoter Bill Savitt who first created the Gems in 1930 as part of the Hartford Twilight League. With Bulkeley Stadium as home base, the Gems made the leap from amateur to semi-professional. From 1932 to 1945, Savitt and his Gems welcomed countless big leaguers as guest stars in Hartford, including: Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ted Williams, Honus Wagner, Lloyd Waner, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Thorpe, Chief Bender, Josh Gibson, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige, Johnny Taylor, Johnny Mize, Bill McKechnie, Moose Swaney and Monk Dubiel.

Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
1932 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
Savitt leases Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.
Bulkeley Stadium Official Scorecard, 1932.
Jimmy Foxx at Bulkeley Stadium, 1933.

Savitt Gems vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Johnny Taylor pitches for the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1934.
Motorcycle racing at Bulkeley Stadium, 1935.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1936.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
Dizzy Dean at Bulkeley Stadium, 1936.
Savitt Gems vs. Cleveland Indians, 1937.

In 1938, the Boston Bees of the National League returned minor league baseball to Hartford. Boston purchased the Hartford Senators and leased Bulkeley Stadium. The club was referred to as the Hartford Senators and the Hartford Bees (and Hartford Laurels). During the 1942 season, Del Bissonette served as player-manager while eventual Hall of Fame pitcher, Warren Spahn earned 17 wins and 12 losses. A few years later, Hartford won the 1944 Eastern League pennant due to pitching by Hal Schacker as well as hometown hero and former Savitt Gems ace, Pete Naktenis.

Charlie Blossifield and the Hartford Bees move into Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Al Schacht at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1938.
Gene Handley, Hartford Bees, 1939.
1939 Hartford Bees at Bulkeley Stadium.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Hartford vs. Springfield at Bulkeley Stadium, 1940.
Governor Hurley on Opening Day at Bulkeley Stadium, 1941.
The Eastern League’s Hartford Baseball Club at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.
Ted Williams plays at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.
Bob Brady, Catcher, Hartford Bees, 1944.
Hartford vs. Williamsport at Bulkeley Stadium, 1944.
1944 Hartford Baseball Club at Bulkeley Stadium.

On September 30, 1945, Babe Ruth returned to Hartford to play in a charity game at Bulkeley Stadium as a member of the Savitt Gems. At 50 years old, Ruth drew a crowd of more than 2,500. He took batting practice before the game and clouted a home run over Bulkeley Stadium’s right field fence. During the exhibition, Ruth coached first base. He later entered the game as a pinch-hitter and grounded out to the pitcher. The ballgame was Ruth’s final appearance of his playing career. Ruth passed away less than 3 years later at the age of 53.

Babe Ruth plays for Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.
Bill Savitt and Babe Ruth at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.
Babe Ruth plays his last ball game on the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, 1945.

In 1946, Hartford’s minor league franchise changed their name to the Hartford Chiefs as a result of their major league affiliate, reverting their official name back to the Boston Braves. Players Gene Conley, George Crowe, Frank Torre and local Wethersfield native, Bob Repass were standouts for the Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium. When the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League were also relocated.

Hartford Chiefs program, 1946.
Warren Spahn, Boston Braves (lef) at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Chiefs vs. Trinity College at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Chiefs vs. Wilkes-Barre at Bulkeley Stadium, 1947.
Hartford Fire Department at Bulkeley Stadium, 1948.
Boston Braves vs. Trinity College Bulkeley Stadium, 1948.
Johnny Taylor, Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
Hartford Courant All-Stars at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
Boston Braves vs. Boston Braves at Bulkeley Stadium, 1949.
1950 Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium.
Hugh Casey, Brooklyn Dodgers at Bulkeley Stadium, 1950.
Major League All-Stars vs. Hartford Indians, 1950.
Johnny Mize and Gene Woodling, New York Yankees at Bulkeley Stadium, 1950.
Anguish over Gene Conley Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Gene Conley, Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Tommy Holmes, Manager, Hartford Chiefs teaches clinic at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
1951 Hartford Laurelettes
Len Pearson, Hartford Chiefs, 1951.
Connie Mack at Bulkeley Stadium, 1951.
Business Manager Charles Blossfield, 1951.
Hartford Chiefs Program, 1952.
Trinity College at Bulkeley Stadium, 1952.
Eddie Matthews at Bulkeley Stadium, 1952.
Boxing at Bulkeley Stadium, 1953.
St. Louis Browns at Bulkeley Stadium, 1953.
Jim Piersall and Joey Jay, at Bulkeley Stadium 1953.

In 1955, the stadium was sold by the Milwaukee Braves to John E. Hays Realty of Hartford for $50,000. A shopping center is planned for the site but it never materialized. Bulkeley Stadium fell into disarray and was demolished. The property became a nursing home named Ellis Manor. A stone monument and home plate was dedicated in 1998 to remember the decades of memories at Bulkeley Stadium. Another commemorative ceremony was held at the site in 2013.

Bulkeley Stadium Monument Dedication, 1998.

Bulkeley Commemoration Ceremony, 2013.

“On the baseball field at Bulkeley Stadium, Leo Durocher played his first season of professional baseball. On the same diamond, Lou Gehrig, learned the rudiments of first base play and went directly from there to Yankee Stadium and baseball immortality. Hank Greenberg was a raw rookie who couldn’t make the grade here and had to be shipped down to Evansville. The greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe, wore the Hartford uniform in one of the most bizzare periods of the city’s baseball history. Paul Richards was a Hartford catcher there and Van Lingle Mungo, a Hartford pitcher. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams played at Bulkeley Stadium when Bill Savitt was keeping the place alive. A man could go down Franklin Avenue to Bulkeley Stadium and see young ball players who were going to be the very best in the majors.

Bill Lee, Sports Editor, Hartford Courant, July 9, 1955.
Ellis Manor on site of Bulkeley Stadium, 2014.

References

  1.  The Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. “Bulkeley Stadium: Hartford’s last home to pro baseball”. SABR. Retrieved 2016-01-24.

External Links

Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds

It was once written of Hartford’s most prolific baseball promoter that there were, “at least five Bill Savitt’s.”

1. The jeweler, who owned and operated a store on Asylum Street in Hartford.

2. The advertising genius who coined the phrase “Peace of Mind Guaranteed” often abbreviated to “P.O.M.G.”

3. The sportsman who created the Savitt Gems, Hartford’s preeminent semi-professional baseball club who played with and against some of the world’s best players.

4. The philanthropist who would speak in public if his fees went to charity.

5. The world traveler who met with the Pope in Rome and was made an honorary Roman citizen.

Bill Savitt, 1958.
Bill Savitt in front of Savitt Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, Hartford, 1986.

William Myron “Bill” Savitt was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 9, 1901, to Harold and Hattie (Fein) Savitt. At an early age, Bill Savitt worked as a newspaper boy, a theater usher and a field hand on a tobacco farm. He quit school in the 10th grade to start working full-time. Although he never enrolled in higher education, he would receive an honorary doctorate from Springfield College in 1980. His first steady job was at a Springfield jewelry store as an errand boy and clerk. Savitt soon relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917 and established his own store in 1919 called Savitt Jewelers, at a tiny shop on Park Street.

Savitt Jewelers, 1923.
Bill Savitt, 1925.
Savitt grand opening advertisement, 1925.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1928.
Savitt Jewelers, 1928.
Bill Savitt presents watch to boxing champion Bat Battalino, 1929.

Bill Savitt worked twelve hour days and through his lunch to be available for customers. Two years later, Savitt moved to a larger store at 42 Asylum Street. In 1935, he moved Savitt Jewelers for the final time to 35 Asylum Street, where the store became the largest retail jewelry business in Connecticut. He transformed the business from a one-man operation into an enterprise employing 75 people, including 15 jewelers. He gained a long list of regular clients by publishing catchy slogans like “Savitt Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, 35 seconds from Main Street” and “Peace of Mind Guaranteed.”

Bill Savitt, 1935.
Bill Savitt, 1935.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1932.
Savitt Jewelers exterior, 1936.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1941.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1941.

Throughout his life, Bill Savitt was a devoted baseball fan, especially of Hartford-based teams but also of the Boston Red Sox. During the 1930’s and 1940’s Savitt sponsored and organized a baseball club known as the Savitt Gems. Amidst the Great Depression and World War II, thousands paid admission to witness the Gems oppose professional clubs, semi-pro teams, barnstorming outfits, local amateurs and famous stars of the national game. Thanks to Savitt, Hall of Fame legends played in Hartford during the Golden Age of Baseball. Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Satchel Paige and many others played at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1936.
Ruth, Williams, Foxx and Paige each visited Hartford to play against the Savitt Gems.

Savitt’s team sustained his passion for baseball, promotion and philanthropy, all of which further popularized his jewelry business. However, Savitt’s primary motive for promoting the Gems was to benefit the Greater Hartford community. He led efforts to organize charity games for Camp Courant, the Red Cross, the United Service Organizations (USO) and many others. Savitt was often spotted in the sports section of the Hartford Courant or the Hartford Times newspapers gifting watches, medals and trophies to athletes and youngsters.

The Savitt Trophy, 1930.
Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant All-Stars, 1934.
Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant champions, 1935.

His support of Hartford sports was genuine, and it served as a clever marketing tactic for his thriving business. While running the jewelry store, Bill Savitt embarked on his lifelong baseball journey in the spring of 1929. Savitt decided to sponsor a team in the Hartford Twilight League (also known as the City Independent Twilight League). He rebranded Hartford’s Cardinal Athletic Club to the “Savitt’s Cardinals” who competed for the league title against top amateurs in the Greater Hartford area.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1929

The team was made up of Hartford residents. GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees, Frank “Bat” Orefice, a catcher, and Ray Kelly, an outfielder, were members of Savitt’s first ball club. When the regular season ended in a tie for first place, a playoff game was played between Savitt’s Cardinals and Economy Grocers. On September 28, 1929, at Colt Park in Hartford, the Cardinals met the Grocers in the first championship game of Hartford Twilight League. Savitt’s team was shutout, 7 to 0 by the Grocers nine.

Frank “Bat” Orefice, Savitt’s Cardinals, 1929.
Ray Kelly, Savitt Gems, 1929.

Bill Savitt recommitted to the twilight loop in 1930. He created a new team called the Savitt Gems. The club starred a former pitcher for the Hartford Senators, Al Huband and two brothers, George Dixon at third base and John Dixon at first base. The Gems wore white uniforms with navy piping and navy striped socks. They contended for a twilight championship against the Holy Name baseball club in a 3-game playoff series.

1930 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League Champions

Leading the Holy Names were a pair of brothers; James Jigger Farrell at first base and Tommy Farrell in left field. At shortstop for the Names was a future professional, Bert Meisner, while local ace “Click“ McGrath, handled mound duties. On Tuesday, August 19, 1930, a crowd of more than 7,000 spectators gathered at Colt Park in Hartford. Nelson “Lefty” Buckland allowed just three hits, guiding the Savitt Gems to victory by a final score of 5 to 2. At an awards banquet later that year, Bill Savitt gifted each Gems player a gold watch and a lobster dinner.

James “Jigger” Farrell, Holy Name, 1930.
Nelson “Lefty” Buckland, Savitt Gems, 1930.

The Savitt Gems returned to the Hartford Twilight League for the 1931 season, continuing to dominate. Savitt recruited new pitchers: Walter Berg from the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern League, Art Boisseau of Dartmouth College, and Russ Fisher, an amateur hurler from Scotland, Connecticut. First baseman and player-manager, Tommy Sipples was the team’s best hitter. Savitt’s team won a second straight championship, beating Holy Name yet again in the final game. George Dixon recorded two runs, a stolen base and an RBI single for the Gems, winning by a final tally of 11 to 5.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1931.

In the summer of 1932, Bill Savitt’s Gems were drawing large crowds to Colt Park. Meanwhile, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League experienced a sharp decrease in attendance. Midway through the season, the entire Eastern League collapsed, “under the pressure of economic conditions” of the Great Depression. Hartford baseball fans were without a professional team to root for at Bulkeley Stadium. The baseball void would not last long.

Hartford Senators disband after winning the Eastern League pennant, Bulkeley Stadium, 1932.

Despite widespread economic strife, Savitt swooped in to cure Hartford of its baseball woes. He leased Bulkeley Stadium and put the Savitt Gems on display as an independent, semi-professional ballclub. With a stadium and a championship team, Savitt operated the Gems as the Hartford’s primary baseball franchise. More often than not, the Gems played games at home due to Bulkeley Stadium’s excellent playing surface and central location. Savitt frequently scheduled his team to play doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.
Bulkeley Stadium score card, 1932.
Savitt Gems vs. West Hartford, 1932.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

Bill’s younger brother, Max Savitt, an attorney and later a Circuit Court judge also supported the Gems as a sponsor. The Savitt brothers signed several professional players, adding to a roster of Hartford Twilight League players. This semi-professional formula would captivate baseball audiences in Hartford for the next two decades. In addition to featuring his Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, Savitt used the ballpark to support civic life. He hosted numerous benefit games to fundraise for local causes.

1932 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League champions at Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford. Bill Savitt (far left) and Max Savitt (far right).

For example, in the summer of 1932, the Savitt Gems faced off against a local pitching phenom Pete “Lefty” Naktenis. The Hartford Public High School hurler played for the Frederick Raff company team, a refrigerator retailer in Hartford. The Gems seized the game by a score of 4 to 2. Bill Savitt and Frederick Raff donated $5,979.99 in ticket sales to Camp Courant after the game. Later that summer, the Savitt Gems won their third straight and final Hartford Twilight League championship.

Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.
1932 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium
Harry Deegan, Savitt Gems, 1932.

After leasing Bulkeley Stadium, Bill Savitt attempted to recruit New York Yankees slugger, Lou Gehrig who had just swept the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series. The “Iron Horse” was well-known in Hartford because Gehrig had made his professional debut at the age of 18 with the Hartford Senators in 1921. Gehrig returned to Columbia University the following year to play fullback for the football team. Then he signed with the Senators again in 1923, propelling them to an Eastern League pennant.

Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1924.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.

By the time Bill Savitt inquired about hiring Gehrig in 1932, he was a 3-time World Series champion and American League MVP. The price to land Gehrig for a single game appearance was $500 and half of the gate receipts. Savitt determined Gehrig’s price to be too steep and pleasantly declined via telegram. Savitt’s plan to lure Gehrig was covered in the Hartford Courant and baseball fans in Connecticut were disappointed in the outcome. However, as Savitt had proved in the past, he would not be discouraged by the occasional defeat.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1932.
Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, New York Yankees, 1932

Savitt welcomed all sorts of baseball clubs to Bulkeley Stadium. The first independent club to take on the Gems was McKesson-Robbins of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Manufacturing company teams like the Meriden Insilcos were common foes. Other opponents included the Bridgeport Bears, New Haven Chevies and clubs from Branford, Norwich, Torrington, Waterbury and Windsor.

1933 Savitt Gems.

On October 2, 1932, the Gems met the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. Savitt signed Rabbit Maranville of the Boston Braves as a guest star to bat leadoff. Jigger Farrell played left field and hit second in the Gems lineup. Former Boston Braves outfielder, John “Bunny” Roser hit third and former New York Yankees catcher Hank Karlon batted clean-up. Tommy Sipples hit fifth and blasted a home run in the game. Eastern League shortstop, Don Curry batted sixth and compiled three hits on the day. Former Hartford Senators pitcher, Johnny Miller hurled an excellent game, allowing one run on five hits. With their best lineup yet, the Gems beat the Falcons by a score of 4 to 1.

Johnny Miller, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1932.
Rabbit Maranville, Second Baseman, Savitt Gems, 1932.
Don Curry, Shortstop, Savitt Gems, 1932.

In March of 1933, Bill and Max Savitt attempted to revive professional baseball in Hartford. They attended an Eastern League meeting to discuss plans with regional owners. Yet plans for an Eastern League broke down. The Savitt brothers leased Bulkeley Stadium for another season while the Hartford Senators remained out of contention.

Bill Savitt and Max Savitt (standing, center) at an Eastern League meeting in 1933.

Growing ever-busy with his many pursuits, Savitt delegated baseball operations by hiring a business manager named Walter Hapgood. As a former front office executive of the Boston Braves and President of the Montreal Royals, Hapgood was well-connected among professional teams and players. He was sometimes called the ”P.T. Barnum of Baseball.” Savitt and Hapgood ran the Gems like a professional club, while wooing Major League and traveling teams to Hartford.

Walter Hapgood, Business Manager, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

The Savitt Gems of 1933 were coached by former Hartford Senators Manager, Bill Gleason. Big leaguers such as Bruce Caldwell, Pat Loftus, and RobertRed Munn joined as full-time players. Out-of-work Eastern Leaguers George Underhill, Cy Waterman, and Henry “Pop” LaFleur glowed for the Gems. They entertained large gatherings of fans at Bulkeley Stadium against teams like the Detroit Clowns, Pennsylvania Red Caps, House of David and the Georgia Chain Gang.

Bill Gleason, Second Baseman, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Moose Swaney, House of David, 1933.
Savitt Gems vs. Pennsylvania Red Caps, 1933.
Savitt Gems vs. House of David, 1933.
Bruce Caldwell, Outfielder, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Savitt Gems vs. Georgia Chain Gang, 1933.

Bill Savitt’s baseball club caused quite the stir when Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics visited Hartford. During harsh economic times, Savitt made a risky payment of a $500 to guarantee the game. On Thursday, June 15, 1933, the Athletics traveled to Hartford on a train that accidentally derailed. The A’s and their power-hitting first baseman, Jimmie Foxx safely arrived an hour late to the ballpark. Connie Mack took another train that was delayed in Philadelphia, and he ultimately was unable to make the trip.

Hartford Courant excerpt, May 25, 1933.

Ready or not, the A’s handled the Savitt Gems easily, winning by a score of 6 to 1. Gems batters were no match for the pitching of “Big Jim Peterson who earned a complete game win. Foxx, the Major League leader in home runs at the time, was held to a base hit. A few days later, Connie Mack telephoned Bill Savitt to thank him for hosting his Athletics, asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To which Savitt replied, “Just tell the other teams what kind of guy I am.” From that day forward, professional teams called on Savitt for exhibition games.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.

On August 2, 1933, Savitt and his Gems met the Boston Red Sox in another Bulkeley Stadium blockbuster. On a hot and humid day, the Gems sparkled brightly behind their newest big league signing, starting pitcher Bill Morrell. The Red Sox collected 8 hits and scored a lone earned run off of Morrell. With the Gems up 2 to 1 in the top of the seventh inning Red Sox pitcher, Dusty Cooke smashed a 2-run triple. The Savitt Gems lost a close one to the Red Sox by a final of 3 to 2.

Savitt Gems vs. Red Sox, 1933.
Bill Morrell, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Boston Red Sox vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.
Marty McManus, Player-Manager, Boston Red Sox, 1933.

On August 28, 1933, the Pittsburgh Pirates and their 59-year-old player-manager Honus Wagner came to Hartford. Wagner was accompanied by Hall of Famers, Pie Traynor, Freddie Lindstrom, Lloyd Waner and his brother, Paul Waner. Each of them collected a hit besides Wagner, who served as base coach until the top of the ninth inning. Wagner pinch hit and grounded out. The Gems featured Chicago White Sox outfielder, Bill Barrett as a guest star. Gems first basemen, Jigger Farrell had three hits while centerfielder, Jimmy Coyle had a pair of singles. The Pirates scratched the Gems 9-4 before more than 4,000 fans at Bulkeley Stadium.

Savitt Gems vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Honus Wagner, Manager, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1933.
Pat Loftus, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.

As Bill Savitt revolutionized Hartford sporting events, he also created a more inclusive baseball community. He quietly became a trailblazer of Baseball Integration more than a decade before Major League Baseball permitted people of color. Savitt was one of the first baseball owners in the nation to open the game to minority players. During a segregated time, the Savitt hosted all persons of color at Bulkeley Stadium. He signed black and latino pitchers as well as several baseball legends of color. As a progressive thinker and a humanitarian, Bill Savitt refused to discriminate based on race or skin color.

1935 New York Black Yankees.

Savitt organized integrated games between Negro League teams and his Gems on Hartford’s grandest stage. The Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cubans, New York Black Yankees, Boston Hoboes and the Schenectady Black Sox were billed as perennial foes of the Gems. Others included the Boston Royal Giants, Philadelphia Colored Giants, Newark Eagles and the Jersey City Colored Athletics faced the Gems throughout the 1930’s. There were also barnstorming outfits like the Hawaiian All-Stars led by player-manager, Bucky Lai as well as Mexico’s Carta Blanca baseball club, featuring pitching ace, Luis Longoria. Even a popular female player, Jackie Mitchell, was a guest of honor in the summer of 1933.

Philadelphia Colored Giants vs. Savitt Gems, 1933.
Jackie Mitchell, Pitcher, 1933.
Savitt Gems vs. Brooklyn Royal Giants, 1935.
Al Nalua, Pitcher, Hawaiian All-Stars, 1935.
Luis Longoria, Pitcher, Carta Blanca, 1937.

In August of that year, Savitt’s club did battle with Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians captained by Jim Thorpe, the world famous athlete and Olympic gold medalist. The Gems and Indians appeared in a controversial 5-game series, highlighted by Thorpe’s outrage over umpiring. In the bottom of the fourth inning of “Game 1,” Gems shortstop, Jackie Cronin hit a long fly ball to right field. Thorpe missed the catch while running across the foul line. The home plate umpire John “Boggy” Muldoon ruled the ball fair and Cronin had himself an RBI triple.

1933 Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians – Jim Thorpe (sitting, center).

Jim Thorpe defiantly disputed Muldoon’s judgement of the play. After a lengthy argument, Thorpe called his team off the field. The Hartford crowd began to grow restless, forcing Bill Savitt to dismiss the umpiring crew and overturned the call. Gems bench players served as replacement umpires. Savitt later made peace with the Hartford Umpires and they were hired back for the next four games against Thorpe’s club. The Gems won the series over Harjo’s Indians, who performed war dances and used racial stereotypes to attract paying crowds.

John “Boggy” Muldoon, Umpire, 1933.
Johnny Roser, First Baseman, Savitt Gems, 1933.
Jim Thorpe, Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians, 1933.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1933.

Bill Savitt bucked the trend of prejudice in baseball. He recruited a black Bulkeley High School graduate named Johnny ”Schoolboy” Taylor. The young ace pitcher appeared in an exhibition game against the Gems on September 24, 1933. It was then that Savitt first encountered Taylor’s speedy fastball and sharp curve. Batters scratched only 3 hits off Taylor, who had 9 strikeouts. However, he walked 8 and yielded a 3-0 loss to the Gems.

Savitt Gems vs. Mayflower Sales,1933.
Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1933.

Savitt would pursue Johnny Taylor, even though black athletes were barred from organized baseball. Taylor (often referred to as “Jackson” Taylor in the Hartford Courant) made his debut for the Gems against the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium on October, 8, 1933. The 18 year old was marvelous but lost in a pitcher’s duel, 1-0. His next performance came on the last game of the season in another matchup against New Britain. Taylor was effectively wild. He struck out 17 and walked 10 in a complete game, 4-2 win for the Gems.

Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Falcons, 1933.
Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, New York Cubans, 1935.

In 1934, the Hartford Senators reclaimed their stake in Bulkeley Stadium and reassembled their minor league club in the short-lived Northeastern League. Bill Savitt’s team was out of contention until September. Jigger Farrell, the heart and soul of the team, was appointed player-manager. The “lanky speedball pitcher” Johnny Taylor signed with the Gems once again. In the season’s first game, Farrell, Taylor and the Gems conquered Hartford’s Catholic League All-Stars by a final of 4-3. Taylor not only tossed a complete game, but he also batted in the game-winning run.

Jigger Farrell appointed player-manager of the Savitt Gems, 1934.
Jigger Farrell, Player-Manager, Savitt Gems, 1936.

Johnny Taylor cemented his reputation as Bill Savitt’s ultimate ace-for-hire on October 10, 1934. At Bulkeley Stadium, Taylor threw a “no-hitter” against the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Then, Taylor signed with the Negro National League’s New York Cubans at the age of 19. Knowing that his homecoming would draw large crowds, Savitt hosted Taylor and the Cubans twice during the summer of 1935. Taylor whirled a shutout in the first game but lost the second match up to a strong Gems lineup.

Johnny Taylor, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1935.
Sam Hyman and Johnny Roser, Savitt Gems, 1935.

In the fall of 1935, Bill Savitt challenged the Philadelphia Athletics to a long-awaited rematch. He enlisted Bridgeport native and former Boston Red Sox pitcher, Johnny Micheals, to hurl against the Athletics. Michaels grabbed headlines for his unexpected complete game victory, three base hits and game-winning run. Jigger Farrell and Tommy Farrell also shined for the Gems, each collecting a pair of hits. While Connie Mack tended to a family engagement, Jimmie Foxx served as manager. “The Beast” was held hitless and made a rare pitching appearance to end the game. The Gems conquered the A’s (6-4), asserting themselves as one of the best semi-pro clubs in the nation.

Jimmie Foxx, First Baseman, Philadelphia Athletics, 1935.
John Michaels, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Walter Dunham, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1935.
Jackie Cronin, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1935.

Bill Savitt’s club fielded a multitude of professional caliber players in 1936. Every day names included a pair of brothers, George “Bushy” Kapura and Pete Kapura, minor league catcher, Wally Dunham and Hal Beagle, an outfielder from New Britain. Sam Hyman, Frank Coleman, and Jackie Kelly were among the Gems pitching staff. There were also amateurs donning Savitt’s uniform such as Hop Dandurand, a strong-armed shortstop, Johnny Campion, a right-handed slugger from Hartford and Audie Farrell, Jigger’s younger brother.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.
Jake Banks, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1936.
George “Bushy” Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.
George “Bushy” Kapura, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Outfielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.
Outfielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.
Lefty LaFleur and Walter Berg, 1936.
Pitchers, Lefty LaFleur and Walter Berg, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Pete Kapura, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Pete Kapura, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1936.
Jackie Kelly, Pitcher, Savitt Gems, 1936.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.
1936 Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium.

On Tuesday evening, July 28, 1936, the Savitt Gems played host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Bulkeley Stadium. About 6,300 excited fans attended the game. Nicknamed the Gashouse Gang, the Cardinals boasted some of the most colorful characters in baseball. Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize and a Hartford fan favorite, Leo Durocher, were among Savitt’s honored guests. The Cardinals were greeted by jubilant applause as they ran onto the field.

Dizzy Dean, Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.
St. Louis Cardinals stars visit Hartford to play the Savitt Gems, 1936.
Savitt Gems host St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.

Dizzy Dean was in attendance but did not play in the game. Instead, he gave a speech near the Cardinals’ dugout after being presented with gold watch by Bill Savitt. “Diz” delighted fans with remarks in which he teased his teammates. In the game, Gems starting pitcher, Louis Kurhan gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in 4 innings of work. Pop LaFleur, Bushy Kapura and Hank Karlon each had 3 hits. However, as expected, the St. Louis Cardinals trounced the Savitt Gems by a score of 11-5.

Bill Savitt gives Dizzy Dean a watch, 1936.
Bill Savitt and players of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1936.
Infielders of the Savitt Gems, 1936.

That same year, Bill Savitt welcomed back Johnny Taylor of the New York Cubans along with their player-manager, Martín Dihigo. Taylor fanned 18 batters and shut out the Gems, 11-0. The next season, Taylor thrilled spectators when he switched sides and tossed a 22-strikeout, 20-inning performance for the Gems. He edged the Philadelphia Colored Giants, 6-5. 3,400 fans witnessed the game which lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes. Taylor went on to become an all-star in the Negro National League, Mexican League and Cuban League, yet he made time in the offseason to pitch for his friend, Bill Savitt.

Martin Dihigo, Player-Manager, New York Cubans, 1936.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1937.
1937 Savitt Gems.

In August of 1937, Savitt “staged a surprise party,” for Bob Feller and the Cleveland Indians at Bulkeley Stadium. Before the game, Savitt presented wristwatches to Feller and Indians manager, Steve O’Neill at home plate. Feller, a youthful 18-years-old did not pitch because the first game of the doubleheader was rained out. The teams waited out the rain and played the second game. Cleveland inched out the Savitt Gems by an outcome of 8-7. The Gems had their opportunities, but were overpowered by the bat of Julius “Moose” Solters who clouted to two home runs in the game.

Bob Feller, Pitcher, Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Hartford Courant, 1937.
Savitt presents gifts to Bob Feller & Steve O’Neil of the Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Savitt Gems vs. Cleveland Indians, 1937.
Hank Karlon, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1937.
Johnny Campion, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1937.

In 1938, Bill Savitt acquired a hometown hero named Pete “Lefty” Naktenis. He was a Hartford native, a Duke University graduate and a former member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Naktenis threw a complete game over the Philadelphia Colored Giants in his first Gems appearance. While property of the Cincinnati Reds in 1939, Naktenis tossed for the Gems and out-pitched Mickey Harris of the Scranton Red Sox.

Savitt Gems vs. Philadelphia Colored Giants, 1938.
Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, Savitt Gems, 1938
Pete Naktenis, Cincinnati Reds, 1939.
Reading Times, 1939.
New York Black Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1939.
Savitt Gems baseball uniform, 1940.

With sensational pitching from the likes of Pete Naktenis and Johnny Taylor, the Gems were beating professional-grade clubs on a regular basis. So in 1940, Bill Savitt organized a game between his Gems and the city’s professional squad, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. A 40-piece marching band and 4,000 spectators were on hand to see Jim Hickey pitch the Senators to a narrow 6-5 victory. However, Gems outfielder Jake Banks had three base knocks, Savitt’s club outhit the Senators and the exhibition game raised $2,000 for the Red Cross during the early stages of World War II.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1940.
Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds, 1940.
Jim Hickey, Hartford Senators, 1940

In the early 1940’s, Bill Savitt hired former Major League pitchers Edward “Big Ed” Walsh, Jack Salveson and Bob Brady to pitch in a Gems uniform. His everyday position players included Al Jarlett, Gus Gardella, Jimmy Francoline, Frank Messenger, Ed Kukulka, Stan Todd, Mickey Katkaveck and Joe David. Standout amateurs, most of whom were contributing to the war effort in nearby factories, were men like Ray Curry, Vic Pagani and Yosh Kinel. Bill Savitt more than a decade of experience at organizing grand baseball events, and yet the best moments were yet to come.

Savitt Gems outfielders – (L to R): John Dione, Ed Holly, Jake Banks and Ray Curry, 1940.
John “Bunny” Roser, Savitt Gems,1940.
Gus Gardella, Savitt Gems, 1940.
Ed Walsh, Savitt Gems, 1940.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1940.
1941 Savitt Gems at Dexter Park, Queens, New York.
Hartford Courant, 1941.
Savitt Gems vs. Detroit Clowns, 1941.
Hank Karlon, Savitt Gems, 1941.
Bob Brady and George Woodend, Savitt Gems, 1942.

Savitt landed one of the greatest hitters of all-time in 1942. A day after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the final game of the Major League season, 23-year-old Ted Williams drove to Hartford. Savitt convinced Williams to play centerfield at Bulkeley Stadium against the New Britain Cremos. Meanwhile the Cremos featured battery mates of the Brooklyn Dodgers and 1941 World Series winners, Hugh Casey and Mickey Owen. Before the game, Williams wowed more than 2,500 fans during batting practice with his natural hitting ability.

Savitt Gems vs. New Britain Cremos, 1942.
When Savitt hosted Ted Williams, 1942.
Bill and Max Savitt welcome Ted Williams to Hartford, 1942.
Brooklyn stars face the Gems, 1942.

Two other big leaguers, Bob “Spike” Repass and Johnny Barrett also appeared for the Gems, but it was Ted Williams who won the night. In the seventh inning, “The Kid” cracked a game-winning home run beyond the centerfield wall and the Gems edged New Britain (2-1). Hartford-born ace, Monk Dubiel had kept the Cremos at bay for 5 scoreless innings. The following year, Dubiel signed with the New York Yankees, though like his predecessors, he often returned in the offseason to pitch for Bill Savitt and the Savitt Gems.

Bob “Spike” Repass, Infielder, Savitt Gems, 1942.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.
Hank Karlon, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1942.
Joe Tripp, Shortstop, Savitt Gems, 1943.

On a late summer evening in 1943, Kansas City Monarchs star Leroy “Satchel” Paige collided with the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium. Paige showed off his burning fastball and jug-handle curve, but the Gems weren’t fooled. They raked 8 base hits off of Paige in the first 3 innings. One-time big leaguer, Bob Daughters appeared for the Gems, but went 0 for 5 at the plate. Andy Fisher and Ed Holly both knocked 3 base hits while Joe Tripp and Charley Holly collected a pair. Lou Ucich and George Woodend did the pitching for the Gems. Savitt’s game against Satchel Paige ended in a 7-7 tie due to “dimout regulations” during World War II.

Satchel Paige, Pitcher, Kansas City Monarchs, 1943.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1943.

A few days later, Savitt hosted a U.S. Coast Guard team called the Dolphins to take on his Gems. Coast Guard brought Norman “Babe” Young, a home run hitter from the New York Giants and Hank Majeski, an infielder of the Boston Braves. As for the Gems, standouts included third baseman John Piurek and outfielder John Augustine. Pitchers on both sides were ineffective during the doubleheader, allowing a total of 61 hits. The Dolphins won the first game by a score of 15-9. Bushy Kapura went deep for the Gems in game two, who won 12-11.

Babe Young, Outfielder, New York Giants, 1943.
Savitt Gems vs. U.S. Coast Guard, 1943.
Mickey Katkaveck, Catcher, Savitt Gems, 1944.

On September 7, 1945, Josh Gibson and Sammy Bankhead of the Homestead Grays challenged the Savitt Gems at Bulkeley Stadium. Gibson hit a lined single, scoring a run in the first inning. With a runner aboard in the 7th frame, Gibson poled a home run over the center field fence to the put the Grays up 8 to 0. Hank Karlon, Ray Curry, and Joe Tripp each had a multi-hit day for the Gems. However, Homestead Grays pitcher, Ernest Carter held the Gems scoreless for 7 straight innings. In the bottom of the eighth inning, a Gems rally would not be enough, as Josh Gibson and the Grays handled the Gems by a final score of 8-3.

Josh Gibson, Catcher, Homestead Grays, 1945.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1945.
Savitt Gems vs. Homestead Grays, 1945.

Later that month, on September 25, 1945, Monk Dubiel and the New York Yankees squared off against the Savitt Gems. The Gems hosted the Yankees at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. The Yankees demonstrated their superior firepower before 3,000 spectators. Yankees right fielder, Arthur “Bud” Metheny led all batters with 2 home runs on the day. Dubiel posted a quality start, permitting only 3 earned runs. He and the Yankees pocketed a 9-4 win over the Gems.

Jigger Farrell, Savitt Gems, 1945.
Savitt Gems vs. New York Yankees, 1945.
Bud Metheny, New York Yankees, 1945.
Monk Dubiel, Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.
New York Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1945.

On September 30, 1945, Bill Savitt welcomed the world’s most famous athlete to Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. George Herman “Babe” Ruth agreed to visit for a doubleheader benefit series between the Savitt Gems and the New Britain Codys. At 51 years of age, the famous “Great Bambino” put on a powerful home run hitting display in batting practice. Ruth wore a brand new Savitt Gems’ uniform with a red cap and red stockings. Babe Ruth coached first base for the Gems during the first two innings of the nightcap.

The Savitt Gems and Babe Ruth, 1945.

Then in third inning, he pinch-hit for Cliff Keeney. Ruth stepped in the batter’s box, swung and missed at the first pitch he saw. Then, he fouled a ball straight back for strike two. On the third pitch, Ruth tapped a come-backer to the pitcher and was forced out at first base. Babe Ruth’s cameo with the Gems About 2,500 paid admission to catch a glimpse of Ruth, who signed autographs and posed for photographs after the game. Babe Ruth’s visit to Hartford marked Ruth’s final at bat and appearance in a baseball game. Ruth passed away less than 3 years later on August 16, 1948. 

Bill Savitt and Babe Ruth, 1945.
James “Jigger” Farrell and Babe Ruth, 1945.
Babe Ruth at batting practice, 1945.
Ruth signing autographs at Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1945.

In a post-WWII world, Bill Savitt more focused on new business ventures and community-minded endeavors. In 1946, Savitt Jewelers showcased the Jonker Diamond, one of the largest diamonds in the world. Bill Savitt became increasingly involved in radio that same year. He and his brother Max opened a radio station,WCCC Hartford, and promised civic enterprises every opportunity to publicize their activities. In 1949, “Old Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra appeared on the radio with Bill Savitt at Hotel Bond in Hartford. Savitt continued to support Hartford’s local youth by contributing to organizations like Camp Courant and Times Farm.

Savitt Jewelers, Jonkers Diamond advertisement, 1945.
Bill Savitt donating to Camp Courant, 1949.
Bill Savitt gifts baseballs at Camp Courant, Hartford, 1949.
WCCC Hartford, Savitt with Sinatra, 1949.

The Savitt Gems eventually disbanded in at the end of their 1949 season. Bill Savitt continued to support baseball by donating to the Hartford Twilight League and Little League. Many of the men who played for the Gems became prominent businessmen throughout Greater Hartford; a tribute to the part baseball played in developing leadership skills. Savitt and his former Gems players became a family of sorts. He hosted reunions for members of the Gems and facilitated “Old-timers” games at Dillon Stadium in Hartford. Many of the Gems from a bygone era like Johnny Taylor and Pete Naktenis, as well as sportswriters, umpires and city officials attended the events.

Savitt Jewelers advertisement in the Hartford Courant, 1950.

For many years, Savitt threw an annual holiday party at Savitt Jewelers on Christmas Eve. Gems alumni and the beloved Jigger Farrell attended each year. As a tongue-in-cheek promotion, Savitt placed an advertisement in the Hartford Courant signaling the Gems intentions to sign Farrell to another year as manager. Even though the Gems were no longer a ballclub, Savitt kept the tradition going every year from 1950 until 1984. The last headline read, “Jigger Farrell Signs for the Umpteenth Time.” The beloved friend of Bill Savitt, Jigger Farrell, passed away on May 6, 1985. Savitt recalled his friend saying:

“You never met a greater guy in your life. He was a great athlete and a great Christian.”

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1950.
Bill Savitt accepts marketing award, 1951.

In 1952, Savitt became chairman of the Hartford Chapter of the Red Cross. His ideas for economic recovery after Connecticut’s 1955 flood disaster brought about change in Red Cross policy. Then Savitt was appointed Chairman of the Commerce Committee within University of Hartford Founders Fund. The funds eventually developed and erected buildings on the school’s Bloomfield Avenue campus. Hartford’s Nathan Hale Chapter and New Britain’s Elpis Chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association chose Mr. Savitt as Hartford County’s Outstanding Citizen in 1960.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1951.
Savitt supports the Red Cross, 1952.

As time passed, Bill Savitt would earn accolades from numerous nonprofit and civic organizations. He was praised by the Jewish War Veterans for exemplifying the unifying principles of American interfaith relationships and awarded the JWV Citizenship Award. The Greater Hartford Junior Chamber of Commerce named him for its “Outstanding Boss” honor, citing his progressive and humane employee relations. Savitt received a certificate from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for meritorious service to veterans both during World War II and helping returning veterans find their place in the community.

Bill Savitt, 1952.
Savitt’s honor Little League champions, 1953.
Savitt’s host Little League dinner, 1953.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1953.

Almost every year in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Savitt bought a block of concert tickets for students at the to the Connecticut Institute of the Blind, enabling students to hear the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell Memorial Auditorium. He sponsored thousands of young athletes and donated hundreds of trophies for organizations for athletic achievements in the Greater Hartford area. Savitt also funded local basketball, football, and bowling teams. In 1962, Savitt was awarded the 25-year Distinguished Service Medal by the Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows.

Savitt sponsors show for Camp Courant at the Bushnell, 1955.
Max Savitt, 1958.
(L to R): Johnny Taylor, Walter Elliot (Hartford Courant Sportswriter, and Pete Naktenis, 1958.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1959.
Bill Savitt at Camp Courant, 1959.
Hartford Courant features Savitt, 1960.
Hartford Courant features Bill Savitt, 1960.
Bill Savitt and employees at Savitt Jewelers, 1960.
Hartford Courant features Savitt, 1960.
Hartford Courant features Bill Savitt and his cat Benrus, 1960.
Bill Savitt with employees, 1960.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1960.
The Savitt Jewelers showroom, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1960.
Bill Savitt receives Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows Award, 1962.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1964.
Savitt Jewelers billboard on Asylum Street in Hartford, 1965.
Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
GHTBL Old-Timers’ with Bill Savitt (second from right), Dillon Stadium, 1968.
Savitt Super Bowl advertisement, 1970.
Bill Savitt honored by Savings Bond Division of the U.S. Treasury, 1970.
Bill Savitt honored by Savings Bond Division of the U.S. Treasury, 1970.

During the latter half of his life, Bill Savitt collected various awards for his philanthropy and public service. In 1971, Bill Savitt was awarded by the United States Small Business Administration with the Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award. He also accepted honors from the Ted Williams Jimmy Fund, Hartford Public Schools, Times Farm, Camp Courant, Ned Coll’s Revitalization and the American Legion.

Savitt Jewelers also made trophies, 1970.
Savitt Jewelers, Hartford, 1971.
Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award, 1971.
Savitt honored by Masons, Hartford, 1973.
Savitt Gems Reunion, 1974.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1974.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1974.
Back of Savitt Jewelers, 1974.

Bill Savitt was honored by countless organizations including the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was a member of Emanuel Synagogue of West Hartford, and served on the synagogue’s Board of Directors. In 1987, the City of Hartford bestowed a high honor upon Savitt by naming a street in Hartford after him, “Savitt Way”. The street was commemorated on April 30, 1987, and William A. O’Neill, 84th Governor of Connecticut, proclaimed the day as “Bill Savitt Day“. 

Bob Steele and Bill Savitt, 1976.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1979.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1977.

Savitt gave hope and provided financial support to the people of Hartford during trying times. Because of his generosity, Savitt made many friends along the way. An anecdote involving Savitt and Ted Williams revealed their long-lasting friendship. Back in 1960, Savitt wasn’t pleased when Williams refused to tip his hat to Boston fans following his career-ending homer at Fenway Park. He later wrote to Williams:

“Be a gentleman. These are your customers. These are people who make you who you are. You need to tip your hat.”

At Fenway Park on Ted Williams Day in 1991, a 72-year-old Williams finally tipped his cap to a Fenway Park crowd and said:

“Today, I tip my hat to all the fans of New England. The greatest sports fans on earth.”

Savitt was gratified to watch these events play out on television.

Bill Savitt in the office at Savitt Jewelers, 1986.
Ted Williams tips his cap at Fenway Park, 1991.

Bill Savitt, who was said to have kept business and baseball alive in Hartford, passed away on March 14, 1995. In Connecticut history, few men made a bigger impact as a baseball promoter than Bill Savitt, the King of Diamonds. He left behind an immense legacy of charity and goodwill. When organized baseball went missing from the local scene, Savitt and his Gems swooped in to save the day. After 17 years as a semi-pro baseball club, the Savitt Gems became part of baseball lore by hosting the game’s biggest stars.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1995.
A commemorative Savitt coin, 2018.
A Savitt Jewelers 10% off discount coin, 2019.
Bill Savitt sponsor of the Hartford Twilight League.
1930 Savitt Gems Hartford Champions ring (photo taken in 2019).

Sources:

1. Hartford Courant database accessed via www.Newspapers.com.

2. Reading Times accessed via www.Newspapers.com.

When Babe Ruth Barnstormed Greater Hartford

A young George Herman “Babe” Ruth visited the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut, to play baseball on multiple occasions. Like many big leaguers of his time, Ruth barnstormed the nation to earn additional pay. When he first visited the Constitution State in the fall of 1918, Ruth was a 23 year old starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He had won more games than any left-handed pitcher in the previous four seasons. During that stretch, he compiled a 2.28 earned run average and a .650 winning percentage. His phenomenal achievements and large physical traits gave him instant appeal.

Ruth warming up at the 1918 World Series.

Ruth’s first appearance in Connecticut came after the 1918 World Series wherein the Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs. A victorious Ruth pitched 29 ⅔ scoreless innings (a mark not broken until Whitey Ford recorded 33 ⅔ innings in 1961). Attending the World Series was James H. Clarkin, sole proprietor of the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Clarkin tried to recruit both teams to play an exhibition game in Hartford benefiting American soldiers fighting in World War I. When his offer was declined Clarkin managed to land Babe Ruth instead.

Ruth and Boston Red Sox win 1918 World Series.

When Connecticut baseball fans received reports of Ruth’s arrival, they were clamoring to see him in action. Days after winning his second World Series, he appeared in several exhibition games throughout the state. His initial stop was in New Haven at Lighthouse Point Baseball Park. Ruth played first base for the semi-pro New Haven Colonials. He slugged a home run in a 5 to 1 loss against the Cuban Stars made up of players from the Negro Leagues.

Hartford Courant, September, 15, 1918.

The next evening, on Saturday, September 14, 1918, Ruth departed from New Haven and arrived in Hartford. He attracted large crowds of people hoping to meet the budding superstar. He was driven into the city by Manager Curtis Gillette of the semi-pro Hartford Poli’s baseball club to lavish accommodations at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street. The Hartford Poli’s were known as one of the “fastest” clubs in New England. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s on the Hartford’s top-notch diamond at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

Hotel Bond, Hartford, Connecticut.

On Sunday, September 15, 1918, Babe Ruth and the Hartford Poli’s opposed the Fisk Red Tops of Chicopee, Massachusetts. While pitching and batting third, he recorded two hits including a double off the “Bull Durham” tobacco sign on the center field wall. Ruth also threw a complete game shutout, allowed 4 hits and led the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory. He beat his Red Sox counterpart, Dutch Leonard who guest starred on the mound for the Fisk Red Tops. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher for the Poli’s and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth and the gang entertained a Hartford crowd of more than 5,000, earning $350 for his appearance.

Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox, 1918.

A week later, Ruth once again played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for the Hartford Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the opening game, the Poli’s went head to head with the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft company nine. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared that day. Ruth again was starting pitcher and hit third in the lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate and Pratt & Whitney guest star, “Bullet” Joe Bush who won the game by a score of 1 to 0.

Babe Ruth and “Bullet” Joe Bush, Boston Red Sox, 1918.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Ruth and the Poli’s faced an army base nine from Fort Slocum near New Rochelle, New York. Ray Fisher, former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankees ace mowed down Poli batters. The Fort Slocum nine beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, hit a single and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of about 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth in Hartford.

Ray Fisher, New York Yankees, 1916.

The Babe must have enjoyed stopping over in Connecticut, because in autumn of the following year, he came back. This time he brought his Boston Red Sox teammates to Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut, where Ruth would set a new record. On September 21, 1919, he played first base and hit fourth for the Red Sox versus Bristol’s semi-pro juggernaut, the New Departure Endees. The team was sponsored by New Departure, a division of General Motors, and a manufacturer of ball bearings for automobiles, planes, ships and military equipment.

Babe Ruth & Eddie Goodridge of New Departure, Muzzy Field, 1919.

Also on the field for the Red Sox was Hall of Fame outfielder, Harry Hooper who had two hits and a run on the day. Though it was Babe Ruth who stole the show. “All eyes were pointed at the famous baseball mauler,” according to the Hartford Courant when he blasted the first ever home run at Muzzy Field. Hooper was on first base when the Babe connected with a pitch thrown by New Departure’s Freddie Rieger, a star pitcher for the Pittsfield team in the Eastern League. Ruth’s homer sailed over the right field fence as 5,000 onlookers cheered in adulation. The Red Sox won by a score of 6 to 2 over New Departure. The game would be remembered as Connecticut’s most thrilling sporting event of the year.

Babe Ruth and Lester Sigourney, New Departure Manager, Muzzy Field, 1919.
L to R: DeWitt Page, Babe Ruth and Judge William J. Malone, Muzzy Field, 1919.
New Departure Baseball Club, 1919.
Babe Ruth marker at Muzzy Field, 2014.

While the rest of the Red Sox went home, Ruth stay in Connecticut. He played first base in another game with the Hartford Poli’s on September 28, 1919 at Poli Field in East Hartford. The Poli’s were met by the New Britain Pioneers, the Hardware City’s top ball club. Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and posed for a photograph with Ruth. The Babe hit two balls over the right field fence but was only allowed one base for each long ball due to a “short porch” ground rule. Earlier that day he had hit a batting practice homer said to be struck over 500 feet. The Poli’s shutout the Pioneers 3 to 0 before a crowd of more than 6,000 fans.

Babe Ruth and Mayor Richard J. Kinsella, Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.
Spectators at Poli Field, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.

A few months later, on January 5, 1920, Babe Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees from the Red Sox for $125,000 cash and $300,000 in loans. His services were sold after Ruth refused to return to the Red Sox at a salary of $10,000 per year. The Yankees struck the deal of the century. Ruth went on to smash his own home run record with an astounding 54 dingers in the 1920 season, while batting at .376 clip. New York only made Ruth bigger, better and in higher demand to fans across the country. Fortunately for cranks in Connecticut, the Babe kept coming back to play for the Poli’s.

Hartford Courant, January 6, 1920.

By the end of 1920, the New York Yankees were runner-ups in the American League behind the Cleveland Indians. As the season came to a close, Manager Gillette of Hartford persuaded Ruth to join the Poli’s once more. Again they faced the New Departure squad at Muzzy Field. On October 2, 1920, The Babe hit clean up for the Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure shutout the Poli’s 7 to 0 thanks to crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitball hurler from the New York State League. Extra trains and trolleys were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon, allowing 10,000 fans a chance to see Babe Ruth one last time at Muzzy Field.

Babe Ruth coming to Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.

Connecticut’s amateur and semi-pro baseball clubs regularly hosted Babe Ruth and in return, he left a long-lasting impression. In Greater Hartford and beyond, Ruth earned baseball thousands of new fans. He barnstormed throughout the East Coast in grand fashion, ushering in the home run era and baseball’s Golden Age (1920 to 1960). He retired in 1935 after leading the New York Yankees to their first 4 World Series wins. Ten years later, Babe Ruth took the final at bat of his career when he appeared in an exhibition game for the Savitt Gems at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.

Babe Ruth on the Savitt Gems, Hartford, Connecticut, 1945.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant Database on Newspapers.com

Related

  1. The “Babe Comes to Hartford by Ronald Bolin
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