Tag: bulkeley

Johnny Taylor Field Opens at Colt Park

A Colt Park field now holds the name of Hartford baseball legend Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the first Black professional athlete to come out of the city.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, Hartford Public Schools and members of the community gathered to honor Taylor’s legacy and dedicate the newly renovated Field #9 to him before its inaugural game — Bulkeley High School against Rocky Hill. A fitting first match, since Taylor started his baseball career as a senior at Bulkeley.

“The icing in on the cake will be for Hartford youth to embrace the American game of baseball and move Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor’s legacy far into the future,” said Lynne Taylor-Grande, Johnny’s daughter.

Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

“This is absolutely like being in Walt Disney World.”

Lynette Taylor-Grand, Johnny Taylor’s Daughter
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon.
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

The high school baseball teams shared the excitement, as they returned to the field after a pandemic, wearing ceremonial jerseys with Taylor’s picture on them.

“Enjoy the moment. Make Johnny proud,” said Alex Mercado, Hartford head coach. “Focus on the moment.”

Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park's Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park’s Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

Negro Leagues star Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor may be Hartford’s greatest baseball player; with enough signatures, a city ballfield may be named for him »

Despite the racial discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues, Taylor made a name for himself with his high leg kick and legendary fastball. He is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players to come out of Connecticut.

Hartford's Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans.
Hartford’s Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans. (Handout)

Taylor played for the Negro League from 1935 to 1945. He pitched eight career no-hitters and was a standout player in leagues in New York, Cuba and Mexico. Though he retired from the game before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, it was players like Taylor who left the United States to play in other countries that helped pressure Major League Baseball and the American League to integrate.

Taylor couldn’t stay away for long. He returned two years after his retirement to become the first Black athlete to sign with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League for his final season in 1949, keeping the nickname he earned in Cuba — “El Rey de Hartford” (or the King of Hartford).

Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950.
Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy of Estelle Taylor)

“He’s probably the most worthy figure in Hartford’s baseball history,” GHTBL secretary Weston Ulbrich told the Courant when he started the effort to name the field after Taylor in 2019.

Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford in 1916 and raised in the South End, where he played pickup games at Colt Park as a kid. He ran track at Bulkeley High School before joining the baseball team his senior year. More on the life and legacy of Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor »

Beyond baseball, he worked at Pratt & Whitney and in construction with his father. Taylor helped build Hartford Hospital. His wife Estelle, who was the first Black nurse at New Britain General Hospital, later became one of the first Black nurses at Hartford Hospital, too.

Johnny enjoyed taking his four children to the Hartford Public Library Campfield Avenue branch to exchange books. Estelle loved bringing the kids shopping at local department stores and to the Wadsworth Atheneum.

In 1982, Taylor was inducted into the Twilight League Hall of Fame. He died in 1987 at the age of 71. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the Bulkeley High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

This article was written by Sabrina Herrera who can be reached at sherrera@courant.com. Sabrina is a visual journalist. She joined the Hartford Courant in 2018, after working as a video editor in broadcast news at NBC Connecticut. She studied journalism and French language at UConn. She grew up in Greenwich and now calls the Hartford area home. Sabrina is passionate about the arts, education, language, and people.

April 28th Ribbon Cutting at Johnny Taylor Field

In Hartford’s newly refurbished Colt Park, the Bulkeley High School Varsity baseball team will take on New Britain High School at Johnny Taylor Field, 3:45 PM on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. The matchup will mark the inaugural game at the field. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place 30 minutes before the first pitch.

The schedule of events will be:
3:15 – Welcome
3:25 – City Councilman John Gale
3:35 – Superintendent of Schools/Diane Callis Bulkeley High School Athletic Director
3:45 – Cut the ribbon – scoreboard revealed
3:50 – Lynette Taylor Grande, Bobby Grande & Taylor family
4:00 – Let the game begin!

RSVP to the event of Facebook. Click here.

In attendance will be members of the Taylor family who still reside in the Greater Hartford area. Local officials, park advocates and members of the press are also expected.

Complete with real grass, a well-manicured Igor of, custom scoreboard, bullpens and dugouts, Johnny Taylor Field is a major improvement for baseball at Colt Park. For more than three decades, the enclosed “Field #9” was in disrepair and unplayable more often than not.

The field is named after Johnny Taylor, perhaps Hartford’s greatest pitcher of all-time. In the 1930’s, Taylor was a graduate of Bulkeley High School and a local star in the Hartford Twilight League. The New York Yankees scouted Taylor, but due to racial discrimination they declined to sign him.

Taylor went on to play for the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. In the 1937 all-star game at the Polo Grounds, Taylor pitched a no-hitter to defeat baseball great, Satchel Paige.

After a long career in various professional leagues, Taylor returned to Hartford. He was signed to pitch by the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League, the Boston Braves minor league affiliate.

Taylor was Hartford’s first professional black athlete. His legacy of perseverance and athletic dominance still resonates today. Taylor’s story now has a permanent place in Colt Park and in Connecticut’s capital city.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is pleased to have led the effort to commemorate Johnny Taylor. The league partnered with the Friends of Colt Park (now Colt Park Foundation) and local activists to collect signatures to petition for the renaming. The initiative gained full support from the City Council and Mayor Luke Bronin.

The renovation project at Johnny Taylor Field was finished earlier this year. Hartford schools, American Legion and twilight league clubs intend to use the diamond this summer. Two GHTBL teams, Hartford Colts and People’s United Bank, expect to schedule several home dates at Colt Park.

The return to Colt Park is significant for the GHTBL because our summer league was established on the premises in 1929. For about 40 years, the park and its many diamonds served the Greater Hartford area as a veritable baseball playground for youth and adults. During the 1950’s and 1960’s Dillon Stadium, on the easternmost parcel of Colt Park was used for baseball games by various leagues including the twilight league.

As the league returns to Colt Park, we pledge to be good stewards and donors of the park. In 2020, GHTBL raised $2,000 for Johnny Taylor Field in charity games held up the road at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The donation will be used to improve and maintain the diamond.

Hartford’s Minor League Club, Part I: The Hartfords (1878-1901)

Hartford in Minor Leagues:

  • International League (1878)
  • Connecticut State League (1884-1885)
  • Southern New England League (1885)
  • Eastern League (1886-1887)
  • Atlantic Association (1889-1890)
  • Connecticut State League (1891, 1895)
  • Atlantic League (1896-1898)
  • Eastern League (1899-1901)

Notable Players:

Hartford, Connecticut, has been represented by 71 affiliated and unaffiliated minor league baseball clubs. It began when the Hartford Dark Blues of the National League moved to Brooklyn in 1877, and the city was left without a professional club. In an era when teams traveled by train or steamboat, Hartford was an ideal location for organized baseball. A prime mover in forming the Dark Blues, Ben Douglas Jr. raised $4,000 from shareholders to establish Hartford’s first minor league team in 1878. Initially, Douglas organized the club in Providence, Rhode Island, then he moved operations to New Haven, but ultimately selected Hartford.

Hartford Base Ball Grounds, 1877.
Hartford Courant excerpt, March 5, 1878.

The Hartford Courant referred to the club as The Hartfords. They held games at the Base Ball Grounds on Wyllys Avenue. The club joined the International Association after being denied entry into the National League due to the city’s small population (about 40,000). However, major League caliber players appeared for Hartford in 1878 such as Candy Cummings, Everett Mills, Jack Lynch and Joe Battin. Yet, the team was a short-lived entity. The Hartfords were expelled from the league after failing to pay a mandatory guarantee to the Buffalo club.

Jack Lynch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.
Jack Lynch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.
Everett Mills, First Baseman, Hartford, 1878.
Joe Battin, Third Baseman, Hartford, 1878.
Candy Cummings, Pitcher, Hartford, 1878.
Hartford Courant excerpt, July 19, 1878.

Hartford’s first foray into minor league baseball ended on an embarrassing note. Consequently, the city was without a professional club for the next five years. Finally in February of 1884, Hartford Base Ball Park Association, a joint stock corporation founded a new team in the Connecticut State League. The Hartfords of 1884 played at a new ballpark on Ward Street. Baseball enthusiast and cigar magnate, Charles A. Soby was team manager as well as President of the Connecticut State League. He directed affairs from the Hartford Base Ball Headquarters on Main Street, a leftover base of operations from the days of the Hartford Dark Blues.

Charles Soby, Manager, Hartford, 1884.
Hartford Base Ball Headquarters, 258 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1884.

In 1885, the Hartfords competed in the Southern New England League of which Soby was again appointed President. Former Dark Bluesoutfielder, Jack Remsen took over as player-manager. Before becoming a Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack was Hartford’s wiry catcher at 22 years old. Backup catcher, Tony Murphy was one of the first baseball players to wear a chest protector. Henry Gruber, from Hamden, Connecticut, and Frank Gilmore from Webster, Massachussetts, did most of the pitching. Hartford natives Bill Tobin and Jack Farrell rounded out an underachieving roster who fell short of a championship title.

Jack Farrell, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1885.
Henry Gruber, Pitcher, Hartford, 1885.
Jack Remsen, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1885.
Connie Mack, Catcher, Hartford, 1885.

The Hartford Base Ball Club of 1886 contended in the first iteration of the Eastern League. The club dealt Connie Mack to the Washington Nationals midseason. Another Hall of Fame inductee, Hugh Duffy spent his first professional year in Hartford. After an lackluster season, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the club. Among investors of the Harford Amusement Association were the Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley and famed author, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The association hired Charles E. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager for the 1887 season.

Investors like Bulkeley and Twain back base ball in Hartford, 1887.
Investors like Bulkeley and Twain back the Hartford club, 1887.

Under Charlie Daniels the Hartfords of 1887 fielded their best lineup yet. That year, “General” James Stafford began his career with Hartford. Steve Brady, former captain of the New York Metropolitans and hometown hero of Hartford, batted .350. Ed Beecher led the league in doubles and Henry Gruber was one of the league’s top pitching aces. At season’s end, the Hartfords placed third in the standings. The Eastern League disbanded and Hartford was forced to forgo organized baseball throughout the year of 1888.

Steve Brady, First Baseman, Hartford, 1887.
General Stafford, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1887.
Ed Beecher, Outfielder, Hartford, 1887.

The Hartfords reappeared on the minor league scene in 1889 as part of the Atlantic Association. Hartford man and first time player-manager, John M. Henry recruited Phenomenal Smith and Joe Gerhardtto contend for a title. However they finished in third place behind Worcester and Newark. Then Hartford failed to retain top tier players in 1890 and sunk to last place. Third baseman Ezra Sutton and catcher George Stallings of Boston fame were the team’s lone bright spots. A game of particular note came on July 23, 1890, when Hartford’s first game illuminated by “electric light” took place at the Ward Street Grounds.

Phenomenal Smith, Pitcher, Hartford, 1889.
Joe Gerhardt, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1889.
George Stallings, Catcher, Hartford, 1890.
Baltimore vs. Hartford, 1890.

After another mediocre season in the 1891 Connecticut State League, the Hartfords lost favor with fans and investors. The club disbanded and the Panic of 1893 prolonged their absence. Eventually, a new team surfaced in the summer of 1894. John Henry, Charlie Daniels, Steve Brady and his brother Jackson Brady formed the Hartford Elks. They were a semi-professional team backed by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (Lodge #19). Though the team featured minor league players, the club operated independently from the Connecticut State League.

John M. Henry, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1894.
John M. Henry, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1894.
Hartford Courant excerpt, July 10, 1894.

In 1895, Hartford reentered the Connecticut State League and operated under the auspices of the Hartford Base Ball and Amusement Association. John Henry returned as player-manager one last time. Ed Beecher, a revolving outfielder from Guilford, Connecticut, suited up for his fourth and final season. Both men later became police officers in Hartford. Another local man, John Gunshanan was one of the club’s best hitters. Future major leaguers Jack Cronin and Bill Gannon had brief stints with the Hartfords of 1895. Despite big league prospects, a pennant continued to elude the city of Hartford.

John Gunshanan, Outfielder, Hartford, 1895.
Hartford Courant excerpt, February 7, 1895.
Jack Cronin, Pitcher, Hartford, 1895.

The Hartfords came close to a championship when they entered the Atlantic League in its inaugural season of 1896. Former Hartford player and famed baseball manager, Billy Barnie purchased the club with a group of investors. He served as Hartford’s manager and garnered enough support to build a new ballpark on the west side of Wethersfield Avenue (later becoming Clarkin Field and then Bulkeley Stadium). Also nicknamed the Hartford Bluebirds, the club was captained by Bob Pettit, a utility man from Williamstown, Massachusetts. Everyday players like John Thornton and Reddy Mack lifted Hartford atop the standings in a tight race with Newark.

Billy Barnie, Manager, Harford, 1896.
Reddy Mack, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1896.
Site plan of Hartford Base Ball Park, 1896.
Hartford Ball Park Ad, 1896.

When Newark finished in first place, Hartford protested their victory. Manager Barnie argued that Newark’s record was unfairly inflated due to a dozen extra games played. Newark also used a suspended pitcher named Joseph Frye who had left Hartford midway through the season. As a result, the second place Hartfords challenged Newark to a 7-game series; the Soby Cup sponsored by Hartford’s own Charles Soby. Newark declined the invitation but the third place Paterson club accepted and prevailed over Hartford for the Soby Cup. By November of 1896, the matter was put to rest by Sam Crane, President of the Atlantic League who declared Newark as champions.

The Soby Cup, 1896.
Soby Cup Series, 1896.
Sam Crane, President of the Atlantic League, 1896.

Hartford returned to the Atlantic League in 1897. Former Brooklyn Bridegrooms standout, Thomas “Oyster” Burns became player-manager when Billy Barnie left Hartford to manage Brooklyn. Tom Vickery, Cy Bowen and Hank Gastright were moundmen for Hartford. Veteran major leaguers Lefty Marr and Paul Radford manned center field and shortstop. The club won 78 games but finished third in the standings yet again. On the final day of the season, Hartford players presented a commemorative diamond ring to their beloved leader, Oyster Burns.

The Hartfords of 1897.
Cy Bowen, Pitcher, Hartford, 1897.
Oyster Burns, Outfielder, Hartford, 1897.

In 1898, executives of the Hartford baseball club hired veteran major leaguer Bill Traffley as manager. Traffley was unpopular with players, he was accused of pocketing gate receipts and he relinquished the manager role halfway through the season to the team’s catcher, Mike Roach. The Hartfords adopted a cooperative system to evenly disperse gate earnings amongst the players. Therefore the team became known as the Hartford Cooperatives. Arlie Latham, 1886 World Series champion and baseball’s first showman comedian, guarded third base for the Cooperatives who descended to sixth place in the Atlantic League.

Bill Traffley, Manager, Hartford, 1898.
Arlie Latham, Third Baseman, Hartford, 1898.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1898.

Towards the end of the 1898 season, Billy Barnie purchased ownership of the Hartfords once again. Even though Barnie was manager of the Springfields at the time, Hartford fans were delighted to have him back. With Barnie as manager, Hartford enrolled in the Eastern League of 1899. He signed several players from the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, including William Shindle who led the team in hitting. Tuck Turner was the team’s star right fielder. For a 24 game stretch, Hartford featured Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play professional baseball. The club compiled 50 wins and 56 losses thereby finishing seventh place in the Eastern League.

Biff Sheehan, Outfielder, Hartford, 1899.
William Shindle, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1899.
`Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Hartford, 1899.

At the turn of the century, Charles Soby reprised his role as Hartford’s preeminent baseball magnate. On May 21, 1900, Soby led a group of 44 shareholders who raised $3,250 to establish the Hartford Baseball Corporation. The club partnered with New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company to create special rates and train schedules on game days. The team secured two pitchers destined for stardom, “Wild” Bill Donovan and George Hemming. Tragically, Manager Billy Barnie died of pneumonia on July 15, 1900. Barnie was revered in Hartford as baseball’s most tenured manager, as catcher for the Hartford Dark Blues of 1874 and the Hartfords of 1878.

Billy Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Billy Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Hartford Baseball Club, 1900.
George Hemming, Pitcher, Hartford, 1900.
“Wild” Bill Donovan, Pitcher, Hartford, 1900.

In place of Barnie, William Shindle assumed managerial duties for the remainder of the 1900 season. The team’s performance was respectable. “Wild” Bill Donovan achieved league highs in wins and strikeouts. Though it would not be enough for a pennant, and the Hartfords settled for third in the Eastern League. The next season Shindle stayed on as manager. George Shoch, a veteran pitcher ended his 20-year career with Hartford. In fact, most of the 1901 club was made up of players on the last leg of their careers. The club fell to sixth out of eight teams in the final standings.

Hartford vs. Brockton, 1901.
George Shoch, Pitcher, Hartford, 1901.

After more than 20 years in the minor leagues without a championship, Hartford’s proud baseball community refused to be discouraged. A minor league team would represent Hartford off and on for the next 5 decades. On August 17, 1925, Hartford players of yore were celebrated at Bulkeley Stadium. Connie Mack, Frank Gilmore, John Henry and Ed Beecher attended an exhibition game between Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and a Hartford All-Star team featuring local pitching ace, Lem Owen. In a ceremony before the game, Gilmore gifted Mack a new set of golf clubs and the Hartfords of old received their last ovation from a crowd of 6,000 fans.

Connie Mack, Frank Gilmore, John Henry and Ed Beecher at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, Hartford, August 17, 1925.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. StatsCrew.com

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Bulkeley Stadium, Gone But Not Forgotten

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium

Former names: Clarkin Field (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)

Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, 1911.

Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium was a sporting event venue in Hartford, Connecticut, best known as the location 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.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1928.

Semi-professional teams such as the Hartford Poli’s, 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 to honor former Connecticut Governor and First President of the National League, Morgan Gardner Bulkeley in 1928.

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 Field and garnered a reputation as one of New England’s best ballparks.

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

Clarkin Field 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 the Senators’ lineup towards the end of his baseball 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 Field. 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 Field, 1923.
Lou Gehrig at Clarkin Field, 1923.
Opening Day at Clarkin Field, 1925.
Hartford Blues Football, 1926.
Hartford Senators Opening Day, 1927.
James H. Clarkin, 1928.

In January of 1928, owner Clarkin sold his baseball facility as well as Hartford’s minor league franchise. Both were purchased for over $200,000 by a private group of investors led by Robert J. Farrell, a real estate and insurance agent and longtime business manager for the Senators. The Hartford Senators continued their play in the Eastern League under Farrell’s direction. Clarkin Field 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.
Owner 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
  2. “Bulkeley Stadium: Hartford’s last home to pro baseball”. SABR. Retrieved 2016-01-24.

External Links

Baseball Bloodlines: The Repass Brothers

One of the most influential families in Hartford’s storied baseball history went by the name of Repass. A trio of brothers: Charlie, Spike and Jack Repass significantly impacted the local baseball scene. Raised in the South End of Hartford by Lena and Charles Repass Sr. each Repass brother graduated from Bulkeley High School and starred on the Maroons baseball team. In the summer months, the Repass brothers competed in the Hartford Twilight League.

Charles “Charlie” Repass Jr. (1914 – 1933) was the eldest and the tallest of the Repass brothers. As a right-handed pitcher and outfielder, Charlie had the best throwing arm in his family. During the summers of his teenage years, he played for the Hartford Cardinals, an American Legion team. In 1931, Charlie pitched and occupied the outfield for the Home Circle nine of the Hartford Twilight League. That year, he led Home Circle to a second place finish for the league title in a final match up at Bulkeley Stadium. Sadly, a few weeks later, Charlie Repass was hospitalized with a form of cancer and passed away on December 12, 1933.

Home Circle baseball club of the Hartford Twilight League, 1930.
Charlie Repass, Bulkeley High School, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.
Charlie Repass, 1933.

Bob Spike Repass (1917 – 2006) was three years younger than his brother Charlie, and became one of the best middle infielders to ever hail from Hartford. Bob graduated from Bulkeley High School in 1935 where he was a standout second basemen and three-sport star athlete. He then played for the Tuckel Rhymers team in the Hartford Twilight League during the summer. As a top local prospect, he signed to play for the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1937.

Bob Repass, St. Louis Cardinals, 1939.

Bob Repass was called up to the Major Leagues for 3 appearances with the Cardinals in 1939. He later guarded second base, third base and shortstop for 81 games as a member of the 1942 Washington Senators. Like many of his counterparts, Repass was drafted into military service during World War II as part of the U.S. Army in Europe. He returned to professional baseball in 1946 when he re-signed with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and mashed 19 home runs on the season.

Bob Repass, Columbus Red Birds, 1940.
Bob Repass, Columbus Red Birds, 1940.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1941.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1941.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1943.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1943.

Towards the end of his career, Bob played 43 games for the 1947 Hartford Chiefs. He retired from professional baseball following another season with the Baltimore Orioles in 1949. Thereafter, he made appearances for the Hartford Indians, a semi-professional squad who took on Negro League and professional opponents at Bulkeley Stadium. In the latter half of his life, Bob Repass made his home in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He was known as a humble friend and a patriotic American.

Bob Repass at a dinner fundraiser, 1961.

In 1963, he became the resident golf professional at Edgewood Golf Club (now TPC River Highlands) in Cromwell, Connecticut. Bob Repass played his last ballgame in 1968, appearing in a GHTBL Old Timer’s game. For many years, he worked as a steamfitter with the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 777. Bob “Spike” Repass lived a long life, was married to his wife, Genevieve, for 64 years and died at 89 years old on January 17, 2006.

GHTBL Old Timers’ Game, 1968.
GHTBL Old Timers’ Game, 1968.
Bob “Spike” Repass (center), 1974.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1975.
Bob Repass, 1999.

John Jack Repass (1924 – 2001) was the youngest brother of the Repass family who helped sustain amateur baseball in the Greater Hartford area. His baseball legacy began with a successful athletic career at Bulkeley High School. Jack was a speedy infielder and solid contact hitter. In the summer of 1946, he joined the Hartford Twilight League as member of the St. Cyril’s baseball club.

1947 St. Cyril’s

He then played shortstop for the Shamrock A.C. team in 1949. That same year, he organized and managed the Paragon Indians who won the Courant-Junior Chamber of Commerce League, later named the Jaycee-Courant Amateur Baseball League. Jack entered the Paragon Indians into the East Hartford Twilight League the following year; his first season as a player-manager.

Jack Repass stepped away from baseball in 1951 to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. When he came home two years later, Jack organized another team in the Hartford Twilight League as player-manager of a team sponsored by Yellow Cab. He enrolled at Hillyer College and helped form a baseball team at the school before its 1958 merger into the University of Hartford.

Hartford Twilight League awards banquet, 1955.

During University of Hartford’s inaugural season, Jack, a 34-year-old junior, batted for a .463 average and led the NCAA College Division in stolen bases. In addition to his baseball talents, Jack was a skilled writer, researcher, pianist, and singer. His skills propelled him to earn a living at the Manchester Herald as a reporter. He later went on to revolutionize the Sports Information Director position at the University of Hartford for over 14 years.

Jack Repass (right), University of Hartford, 1958.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1959.

As his playing days came to close, Jack Repass became the statistician and Secretary of the Hartford Twilight League. In 1979, he created a 32-page booklet documenting the history of the league and commemorated its 50th anniversary. The following year, Jack founded the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame. The organization gave local players, managers, umpires, sponsors, and sportswriters recognition for their contributions to the league.

Jack Repass and Art McGinley, 1968.

In 1991, he was named to the University of Hartford Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance presented Repass with its Good Sport Award; given to top volunteers in support of community sports. Jack, a long-time resident of East Hartford, Connecticut, passed away on November 10, 2001, at 77 years of age. A debt of gratitude is owed to Jack Repass and the entire Repass family for their remarkable contributions to the game of baseball in Greater Hartford.

Jack Repass, 1971.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1971.
University of Hartford honors Jack Repass (2nd from left), 1972.
Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League 50th Anniversary booklet, 1979.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1989.
Jack Repass, 1991.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 2001.

Newcombe Pitched in Hartford Before the Bigs

Born: June 141926
Died: February 192019

At 18 years old, right-handed pitcher, Don Newcombe traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, with his Negro National League club, the Newark Eagles. The Savitt Gems, Hartford’s semi-professional team awaited the Eagles at Bulkeley Stadium where on the night of July 20, 1944, Newcombe showcased his strong throwing arm. The Gems were held to 3 runs on 7 hits by Newcombe who earned a 6 to 3 victory.

Don Newcombe, Newark Eagles, 1944.
Newark Eagles vs. Savitt Gems, 1944.

In 1946, Don Newcombe became one of the first African-Americans to break the color barrier when he signed with Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. Newcombe spent 2 seasons in Nashua, New Hampshire, as part of the New England League and then another season with the Montreal Royals of the International League. He was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and spent his first Major League season on a team that included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca. Newcombe earned the Rookie of the Year award after a stellar 1949 season on the mound.

Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1949.

In 1952 and 1953, Newcombe served his nation in the United States Army during the Korean War and missed two seasons while in his prime. However, Newcombe returned and went on to win a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. He then won the Most Valuable Player and the Cy Young awards in 1956 after a spectacular 27-win season. Over a professional career that spanned 18 years, Newcombe was named to 4 National League All-Star teams, he won 149 pitching decisions and he hit 15 major league home runs.

L to R: Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson at the MLB All-Star Game, 1949.

In June of 1958, Newcombe was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers (shortly after the move from Brooklyn) to the Cincinnati Redlegs. After a stint with the Cleveland Indians, he finished his playing career as a member of the 1962 Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Central League. As the only player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young awards in his career, Newcombe will be remembered as one of baseball’s best pitchers who helped break racial barrier. Don Newcombe died at 92 years of age.

Don Newcombe, Cincinnati Reds, 1959.
Don Newcombe, Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds, 1961.


Watch the clip below to learn more about the Newark Eagles:

Don Newcombe began his career with the Newark Eagles.

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 Guarantee” 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, Savitt worked as a newspaper boy, a theater usher and then as a field hand on a tobacco farm. Savitt 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 in 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 his customers. Two years later, Savitt moved to a bigger 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 the State of Connecticut. Savitt transformed his business from a one-man operation into a large-scale enterprise employing 75 people, including 15 jewelers. He gained a long list of regular clients by publishing catchy slogans like “Savitt’s Jewelers, 35 Asylum Street, 35 seconds from Main Street.”

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 1930s and 1940s, Savitt would use each of his promotional talents to assemble baseball teams and host headliner games at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. Amidst the Great Depression and World War II, Savitt sponsored and organized a baseball club known as the Savitt Gems.

Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1936.

For baseball fans in Connecticut, the Savitt Gems were a main attraction. 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 in benefit games for and against the Gems.

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. Savitt Jewelers never ceased to function and he made sure that baseball was a continuing source of entertainment in Hartford. In large part, Savitt’s motive for promoting the Gems was to benefit the Greater Hartford community. He often led efforts to organize benefit games at Bulkeley Stadium and donated the proceeds to charitable causes.

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

Camp Courant, the Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO) were among the many entities a who benefitted from Savitt and his Gems. He was often spotted in the sports section of the Hartford Courant or the Hartford Times newspapers giving back to the city. Savitt Jewelers often gifted the city’s athletic champions with watches, medals and trophies. His support of Hartford sports was a genuine display of care for his community, as well as a clever marketing tactic to promote his thriving jewelry business.

Bill Savitt awards Camp Courant champions, 1935.

While running his 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 the city’s Cardinal Athletic Club baseball team to the Savitt’s Cardinals. The squad competed for the league title against some of the best local amateurs in the Greater Hartford area.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1929

GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees, Frank “Bat” Orefice (catcher and Ray Kelly, an outfielder and were members of Savitt’s first ballclub. The regular season ended in a tie for first place in the standings, necessitating a playoff game 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.

Savitt recommitted to the Hartford Twilight League in 1930 and created a new team called the Savitt Gems. The club was comprised of players like the former pitcher for the Hartford Senators, Albert “Al” Huband and a pair brothers from Hartford; 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 the league championship against the Holy Name baseball club in a 3-game playoff series.

1930 Savitt Gems, Hartford Twilight League Champions

Leading the Holy Name club were a pair of brothers; James Jigger Farrell at first base and Tommy Farrell in left field. Future professional, Bert Meisner played shortstop, while “Click“ McGrath handled mound duties for Holy Name. On Tuesday, August 19, 1930, a crowd of more than 7,000 spectators gathered at Colt Park in Hartford. Nelson “Lefty” Buckland allowed three hits and guided the Savitt Gems to victory by a final score of 5 to 2. At an awards banquet later that year, Bill Savitt rewarded each Gems player with 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 and continued to dominate the competition. Savitt recruited new pitchers such as 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 Sippleswas team’s leading hitting. Amateur players like Arthur “Lefty” St. John and Tommy Shortell were reliable regulars for the Gems. 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 1932, the Savitt Gems drew large crowds at Colt Park, whereas the city’s minor league club, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern Leauge experienced a sharp decrease in attendance. Midway through the season, the entire Eastern League collapsed, “under the pressure of economic conditions.” Baseball fans were without a professional team to root for at Bulkeley Stadium.

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

The baseball void wouldn’t last long. Despite widespread economic strife of the Great Depression, Bill 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.

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

More often than not, the Gems played games at home due to Bulkeley Stadium’s supreme playing surface and central location. Savitt frequently scheduled his team to play doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons. His 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; a winning formula that would captivate baseball audiences in Hartford for the next two decades.

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

In addition to featuring his Gems at Bulkeley Stadium, Savitt used the ballpark to support civic life in Hartford. He hosted numerous benefit games to fundraise for local causes. For example, in the summer of 1932, the Savitt Gems faced off against a local pitching phenom Pete “Lefty” Naktenis who drew large crowds. The Hartford Public High School hurler played for the Frederick Raff company team, a refrigerator retailer in Hartford. he Gems seized the game by a score of 4 to 2. Frederick Raff and Bill Savitt donated $5,979.99 in ticket sales to Camp Courant after the game. Later that summer, the Savitt Gems won their third consecutive Hartford Twilight League championship. The title would mark the last time the Gems competed as an amateur club.

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

Within weeks of 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. The next year, Gehrig returned to Columbia University to play football as the team’s fullback. Then he signed with the Senators again in 1923 and helped propel them to an Eastern League pennant. Gehrig played his final season with the Senators in 1924.

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 an American League MVP. The price to land Gehrig for a single game 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

After leasing Bulkeley Stadium, Bill Savitt was flooded with a bevy of challengers who wanted to beat the Gems. Independent clubs, teams sponsored by local manufacturing companies and public service organizations throughout Connecticut were guests of the Savitt Gems. McKesson-Robbins a manufacturer out of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was the first team to face the Gems as a semi-professional club. Other teams who challenged the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium included the New Britain Falcons, Meriden Insilcos, Bridgeport Bears, New Haven Campagnias, New Haven Chevies, New Haven Police as well as semi-pro clubs from Branford, Norwich, Torrington, Waterbury and Windsor.

1933 Savitt Gems.

On October 2, 1932, the Savitt Gems met the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. Savitt signed veteran Boston Braves second baseman, Rabbit Maranville as a guest star, who batted leadoff for the Gems. Jigger Farrell, a lanky Hartford Twilight League mainstay, played left field and hit second in the lineup. Former Boston Braves outfielder, John “Bunny” Roser hit third and former New York Yankees catcher Hank Karlon batted clean-up for the Gems. 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, while Bert Meisner manned third base and batted eighth. 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 1933, the Savitt Gems permanently filled the gap the Eastern League left vacant in Hartford. Bill Savitt again leased Bulkeley Stadium for the season while the Hartford Senators remained disbanded. Savitt decided to pay more attention to his jewelry business and hired the Gems a business manager named Walter Hapgood. As former Boston Braves business manager and President of the Montreal Royals baseball club, Hapgood was well-connected among professional teams and players. Hapgood was sometimes called the ”P.T. Barnum of Baseball” and he was able to use his influence to help Savitt host Major League clubs and nationally known semi-professional teams at Bulkeley Stadium.

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

Hapgood began to shape the Gems when he signed former Hartford Senators Manager, Bill Gleason as player-manager. He then recruited big leaguers such as Bruce Caldwell, Pat Loftus, and RobertRed Munn joined the Gems as full-time players. Former Eastern League players signed with the Gems including George Underhillat second base, Cy Waterman on the mound, and aHenry “Pop” LaFleur, a skilled hitter and relief pitcher. Nationally recognized barnstorming clubs came to Hartford in droves. Team like the New England Clowns, Pennsylvania Red Caps, House of David, Detroit Clowns and the Georgia Chain Gang each made appearances and entertained large crowds at Bulkeley Stadium.

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.

Savitt’s hiring of Hapgood especially paid off when he persuaded the Philadelphia Athletics to visit Hartford on their day off. During harsh economic times, Savitt had the cash to spend, and his payment of a $500 to Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack, guaranteed their game. On Thursday, June 15, 1933, the Philadelphia Athletics traveled to Hartford on a train that accidentally derailed. The A’s and their power-hitting first baseman, Jimmie Foxx arrived at the ballpark an hour late. Connie Mack took a separate train that was delayed in Philadelphia, and he ultimately was unable to make the trip.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.
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. The Gems batting order was no match for the pitching of “Big Jim Peterson who earned a complete game win. Foxx, the Major League home run leader at the time, was held to a base hit. Days later, Connie Mack telephoned Bill Savitt to thank him for hosting his Athletics and asked:

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

To which Savitt replied:

“Just tell the other teams what kind of guy I am.”

From then on, professional teams called upon Savitt for exhibition games in Hartford. On August 2nd, Savitt and his Gems met the 1933 Boston Red Sox in another Bulkeley Stadium blockbuster. On a hot and humid day in Hartford, the Gems sparkled brightly behind their newest big league signing, starting pitcher Bill Morrell. The Red Sox collected 8 hits but scored just 1 earned run off of Morrell. With the Gems up 2 to 1 in the top of the 7th inning, Jackie Cronin committed a throwing error allowing a runner to reach base. The next batter walked and Red Sox pitcher, Dusty Cooke smashed a 2-run triple. The Savitt Gems lost to the Red Sox by a final score 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 28th, the 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates and a 59-year-old player-manager Honus Wagner were the next big league team to face the Gems. Wagner was accompanied by Hall of Fame players: Pie Traynor, Freddie Lindstrom, Lloyd Waner and his brother, Paul Waner. Each collected a hit on the day, except for Wagner, who served as base coach until the top of the 9th inning. Wagner pinch hit and grounded out to Gems second basemen, Bill Gleason. The Gems featured Bill Morrell and Chicago White Sox outfielder, Bill Barrett as guest stars. Gems first basemen, Jigger Farrell had three hits on the day while centerfielder and future professional, Jimmy Coyle had a pair of singles. By the end of the game, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Savitt Gems, 9 to 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 sporting events in Hartford, he also created a more inclusive community around baseball. Savitt quietly became a trailblazer of Baseball Integration more than a decade before Major League Baseball began to permit people of color. Savitt was one of the first baseball owners in the nation to open the game to minority players. During a highly segregated time, the Savitt Gems 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 ballgames between Negro League teams and his Gems on Hartford’s grandest stage. The Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Black Giants, New York Cubans, New York Black Yankees, Boston Hoboes and the Schenectady Black Sox were billed as perennial contenders of the Gems. Other teams like the Boston Royal Giants, Philadelphia Colored Giants, Newark Eagles and the Jersey City Colored Athletics also came to play against the Gems at Bulkeley Stadium throughout the 1930’s.Barnstorming teams opposed the Gems during their tour of America such as the Hawaiian All-Stars led by player-manager, Buck Lai and the Carta Blanca baseball club from Mexico featuring their pitching ace, Luis Longoria. A woman ballplayer named Jackie Mitchell was a guest of the Savitt’s in the summer of 1933 and her Boston-based team lost to the Gems, 7 to 4.

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.

Another traveling team came to Hartford named Harjo’s Oklahoma Indians, featuring Jim Thorpe, a famous Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist. The Savitt Gems hosted Thorpe and the Oklahoma Indians in August of 1933. The Gems met Thorpe and the Indians in a controversial 5-game series highlighted by Thorpe’s disagreements with the umpiring crew. In the bottom of the 4th inning of “Game 1,” Gems shortstop, Jackie Cronin hit a long fly ball to right field. Jim Thorpe, who was in right field, missed the catch while running across the foul line. The home plate umpire John “Boggy” Muldoon ruled the ball fair and Cronin ended up with an RBI triple.

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

Jim Thorpe defiantly disputed Muldoon’s judgement. After a lengthy argument, Thorpe called his team off of the field. The crowd began to grow restless, forcing Savitt to dismiss the umpiring crew and overturn the ruling. Gems bench players served as replacement umpires. Savitt later made peace with the Board of Approved Hartford Baseball Umpires and they were hired back for the next 4 games against Thorpe and the Indians. The Gems prevailed in 3 out of 5 games over the Oklahoma Indians in a closely fought series.

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

Perhaps the best pitcher of all the Gems was Johnny ”Schoolboy” Taylor, a Bulkeley High School graduate. Bill Savitt would first encounter Taylor’s speedy fastball and sharp curve on September 24, 1933. In a game against the Mayflower Sales, champions of the Hartford Twilight League, Taylor guest starred as their man on the mound. Gems batters scratched only 3 hits off of Taylor who struck out 9 batters. However, he walked 8 and yielded a 3 to 0 loss to the Gems. Savitt would pursue Johnny Taylor for his Gems, even though black athletes were barred from organized baseball.

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

Bill Savitt bucked the trend of prejudice in baseball and signed Johnny Taylor to play for the Gems on multiple occasions. In the fall of 1933, Taylor, who was often referred to as “Jackson” Taylor in the Hartford Courant, pitched his first game for the Savitt Gems versus the New Britain Falcons at Bulkeley Stadium. On October, 8, 1933, an 18-year-old Taylor was marvelous. He allowed a lone run in the game but ultimately lost, 1 to 0. His next Gems performance came on the last game of the season in another matchup against the Falcons. Taylor was effectively wild. He walked 10 batters while striking out 17. Taylor pitched the entire game for the Gems who won by a final score of 4 to 2.

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

In 1934, the Hartford Senators reassembled their minor league club as part of the short-lived Northeastern League and reclaimed their stake in Bulkeley Stadium. As a result, the Gems didn’t get their season underway until Sunday, September 9th. Jigger Farrell, the heart and soul of the team, was appointed player-manager. For their first game of the year, the Gems faced Hartford’s Catholic League All-Stars. The “lanky speedball pitcher” Johnny Taylor signed with the Gems once again and netted a 4 to 3 conquest over the All-Stars. Taylor not only threw a complete game, 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. Taylor achieved baseball excellence with the Gems. At Bulkeley Stadium, he threw a spectacular no-hit game against the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Months later, Taylor signed with the Negro National League’s New York Cubansat the age of 19. Knowing that his homecoming would draw large crowds, the Savitt and his Gems hosted Taylor and the Cubans twice during the summer of 1935. Taylor whirled a 7 to 0 shutout in the first game but was later defeated 6 to 2 by a similar Gems lineup in their second matchup.

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

In the fall of 1935, Savitt and his Gems challenged Jimmie Foxx and the Philadelphia Athletics to a long-awaited rematch. Bill Savitt managed to sign Johnny Micheals, a former Boston Red Sox pitcher to hurl against the A’s. Michaels grabbed headlines, allowing a serviceable 10 hits and 4 runs over 9 innings, batting for 3 base hits, and scoring the game-winning run. The Gems brotherly duo of Jigger Farrell and Tommy Farrell also shined against the Athletics, each collecting a pair of hits. While Connie Mack tended to a family engagement, Jimmie Foxx served as manager, played first base and was held hitless on the day. Foxx made a rare pitching appearance in the last 2 innings and struck out 3 Gems batters. The Gems conquered the Major League club by a final score of 6 to 4 and asserted 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.

At this time, the Gems fielded a multitude of professional caliber players. Minor league catcher, Wally Dunham, a pair of brothers, George “Bushy” Kapura and Pete Kapura, and an outfielder from New Britain named Hal Beagle were everyday players. Sam Hyman, Frank Coleman, and Jackie Kelly were among the professional pitchers took to the mound as Gems. Amateur position players who donned Gems uniforms included Hop Dandurand, a strong-armed shortstop, Johnny Campion, a right-handed hitting slugger from Hartford as well as 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.LouisCardinals at Bulkeley Stadium. Approximately 6,300 fans attended the much anticipated matchup. Nicknamed, the Gashouse Gang, the Cardinals boasted some of the most colorful players 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 when they stepped 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 did not play in the exhibition game against the Gems but instead, he furnished his part of the pageantry by speaking to the crowd over a microphone near the Cardinals’ dugout. “Diz” delighted fans with his remarks in which he candidly teased his teammates. On the field, Gems starting pitcher, Louis Kurhan gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in 4 innings of work. At the plate, “PopLaFleur, Bushy Kapura and Hank Karlon each compiled 3 hits in 5 at bats. As expected, the game wasn’t much of a contest and St. Louis Cardinals proved to be too much for the Savitt Gems, winning 11 to 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, Savitt scheduled a rematch against Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the New York Cubans and their talented player-manager, Martín Dihigo. Taylor was on top of his game, striking out 18 batters and shutting out the Gems, 11 to 0. The next season, on May 9, 1937, Taylor thrilled Hartford fans when he switched sides and tossed a 22-strikeout, 20-inning performance on the mound for the Gems. Taylor defeated the Philadelphia Colored Giants by a score of 6 to 5. 3,400 fans witnessed the game with a duration of 4 hours and 15 minutes. Taylor would go on to become an all-star in the Negro League, Mexican League and the Cuban League but found time in the off-season to pitch for the Gems.

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

On Sunday, August 2, 1937, Bill Savitt was reported to have “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 to 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, Hartford native and former member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, Pete Naktenis signed with the Savitt Gems. Savitt tired to recruit the highly coveted southpaw in the previous five years. Savitt’s wait was over and Naktenis made his first appearance for the Savitt Gems on September 25, 1938. He turned in a complete game performance versus the Philadelphia Colored Giants. Naktenis allowed 3 hits and 1 unearned run over 9 innings and the Gems won by a tally of 9 to 1.

Savitt Gems vs. Philadelphia Colored Giants, 1938.
Pete “Lefty” Naktenis, Savitt Gems, 1938

Then, on September 24, 1939, while property of the Cincinnati Reds, Naktenis took the mound at Bulkeley Stadium for the Gems against the Scranton Red Sox (previously known as the Scranton Miners) of the Eastern League. He out-pitched Mickey Harris as the Gems trounced the Scranton team 11 to 3. The Gems did even worse damage in the second leg of the “double drubbing” by winning 17 to 1 over Scranton. Bill Savitt’s baseball club would not have garnered the prestigious reputation that it did, were it not for the pitching prowess of players like Pete Naktenis and Johnny Taylor, who pitched on and off for the Gems throughout their careers.

Pete Naktenis, Cincinnati Reds, 1939.
Reading Times, 1939.
New York Black Yankees vs. Savitt Gems, 1939.
Savitt Gems baseball uniform, 1940.

The following year, Bill Savitt led a committee to host a game benefitting the Red Cross between his Gems and the Hartford Senators. On July 1, 1920, a 40-piece marching band and a crowd of more than 4,000 spectators were in attendance to see the Gems take on the city’s professional squad. Jim Hickey pitched for the Senators who narrowly defeated the Gems by a score of 6 to 5. Gems outfielder, Jake Banks had 3 hits on the day.Even though the Gems outhit the Senators, it was the minor league team who prevailed. When all was said and done the fans saw a good game and more than $2,000 was raised and donated to the Red Cross.

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

The Gems roster of the early 1940’s featured former Major League pitchers such as Edward “Big Ed” Walsh, Jack Salveson and Bob Brady on occasion. Other everyday position players with the Savitt Gems during this period 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. By the end of the 1941 season, Bill Savitt and the Gems had 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.

On September 29, 1942, only a day after the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees in the final game of the Major League season, Ted Williams drove to Hartford, Connecticut. Bill Savitt coaxed a 23-year-old Williams to guest star for the Savitt Gems. Williams put on a hitting display during batting practice for a crowd of about 2,500 fans under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium. On a cool fall night, the Gems placed Williams in were matched up against a formidable opponent in the New Britain Cremos. The Cremos were able to sign the battery of the Brooklyn Dodgers who won the 1941 World Series; pitcher, Hugh Casey and catcher, Mickey Owen.

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.

Savitt’s newest pitching signee and Hartford’s own native son, Monk Dubiel kept the Cremos bats at bay for 5 scoreless innings.  Two big leaguers, Bob “Spike” Repass and Johnny Barrett also made appearances for the Gems. In the 7th inning, Ted Williams cracked a home run off of Casey far beyond the centerfield wall. The Gems edged the Cremos by a final score of 2 to 1, much to the delight of Hartford fans. Dubiel, a Hartford Public High School graduate,was becoming one of the city’s top pitchers. In 1943, Dubiel signed with the New York Yankees at 23 years old. Like his predecessors, Dubiel often returned home during the off-season and made cameos with 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 Friday night, June 25, 1943, Leroy “Satchel” Paige threw against the Gems for the Kansas City Monarchs at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford. Paige showed off his burning fastball and jug-handle curveball, but the Gems were not fooled for long. The Gems raked 8 base hits off of Paige in only 3 innings of work. One-time big leaguer, Bob Daughters appeared for the Gems, but went 0 for 5 at the plate. Andy Fisher and Ed Holly knocked around 3 base hits each while Joe Tripp and Charley Holly collected a pair against the Monarchs. Lou Ucich and George Woodend did the pitching for the Gems. Savitt’s matchup with Satchel Paige ended in a 7 to 7 tie due to Hartford’s, “dimout regulations.”

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

Two days later, a U.S. Coast Guard ballclub nicknamed the Dolphins came to oppose the Savitt Gems in a double-header at Bulkeley Stadium. Among the Coast Guard team was Norman “Babe” Young, a home run hitter for the New York Giants and Hank Majeski, an infielder for the Boston Braves. Standout players for the Gems included third baseman John Piurek, outfielder John Augustine. Pitchers on both sides were largely ineffective as a total of 61 hits were conceded on the day. The Dolphins won the first game by a score of 15 to 9. Bushy Kapura went deep for the Gems who won the second game of the double bill, 12 to 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 1st 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 8th inning, a Gems rally would not be enough, as Josh Gibson and the Grays handled the Gems by a final score of 8 to 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. Witnessed by more than 3,000 fans, the Yankees demonstrated their superior offensive firepower. 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 to 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 3rd 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,andpromised that civic enterprises would be given 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 in Connecticut’s 1955 flood disaster brought about change in Red Cross policy. Then Savitt was named 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 and awards from numerous non-profit organizations. He was praised by the Jewish War Veterans as a man whose life and deeds exemplified the unifying principles of American interfaith relationship and for that he was 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, and many community contributions had placed him in the highest regard of his business associates, employees, and community. He received the merit 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 at Camp Courant, 1959.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1959.
Hartford Courant features Bill Savitt, 1960.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1960.
Bill Savitt with employees, 1960.
Bill Savitt and employees at Savitt Jewelers, 1960.
The Savitt Jewelers showroom, 1960.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1960.
Bill Savitt receives Jonathan Lodge of Odd Fellows Award, 1962
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1964.
Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
Savitt Jewelers billboard on Asylum Street in Hartford, 1965.
Bill Savitt, Savitt Jewelers, 1965.
GHTBL Old-Timers’ with Bill Savitt (second from right), Dillon Stadium, 1968.

In 1971, Bill Savitt was awarded a prestigious national award by Small Business Administration, winning the Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year Award. Savitt was honored by countless organizations including the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and youth awards from the Ted Williams Jimmy Fund, Hartford Public Schools, Times Farm, Camp Courant, Ned Coll’s Revitalization, and the American Legion. He was a member of the Emanuel Synagogue of West Hartford, Connecticut, and a former member of the synagogue’s Board of Directors. In 1987, the City of Hartford bestowed a high honor upon Bill 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“. 

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.
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.
Back of Savitt Jewelers, 1974.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1974.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1974.
Bob Steele and Bill Savitt, 1976.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1976.
Savitt Jewelers advertisement, 1977.
A message from Savitt in the Hartford Courant, 1976.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1979.

Savitt gave hope to Hartford during trying times and provided financial support to the local community. Because of his generosity, Savitt made many friends along the way. An anecdote involving Savitt and Ted Williams revealed their long-lasting friendship and Savitt’s honorable persona. 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. Savitt 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 tipped his cap to the Fenway Park fans and said:

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

Savitt was pleased 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, a man who was once said to have kept business and baseball alive in Hartford during the Great Depression, passed away on March 14, 1995. He left behind an immense philanthropic legacy and a message of charity and goodwill to all. In Connecticut’s history, perhaps no one has made more of an impact on the game of baseball than Bill Savitt, the King of Diamonds. When organized baseball was missing from the local scene, Savitt’s Gems rescued the game. During their 17-year reign as a semi-pro baseball club, the Gems became part of baseball lore by the biggest stars the game has ever known.

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:

Hartford Courant

– Reading Times

Ted Williams Hits Game-Winning Homer in Hartford

On September 29, 1942, a day after beating the New York Yankees in the final game of the 1942 regular season, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox drove to Hartford, Connecticut. “The Kid” was to make a guest star appearance for Bill Savitt’s semi-pro ball club, the Savitt Gems. The Gems took on the New Britain Cremos who had the battery of the Brooklyn Dodgers as guest stars of their own; pitcher, Hugh Casey and catcher, Mickey Owen.

Doubleheader featuring Ted Williams at Bulkeley Stadium, 1942.

Williams put on a display during batting practice for a crowd of about 2,500 people under the lights at Bulkeley Stadium. The game would prove to be a pitchers duel. Hartford native Monk Dubiel and Hugh Casey kept the bats at bay for 5 scoreless innings. The Gems scraped in a run in the 6th inning. In the bottom of the 7th inning, Williams stepped up and cracked a dramatic home run over the centerfield wall off of Casey. The Savitt Gems won 2-1 over the Cremos.

Hartford Courant excerpt, September 28, 1942.

When he appeared for the Gems, Ted “The Kid” Williams was 23 years old and in his prime. A year before coming to Hartford, Williams famously completed his 1941 season with an amazing .406 batting average. In 1942, he led the majors in home runs, RBI and batting average, earning his first Triple Crown. During his visit in Hartford, Williams revealed publicly that he planned to enlist in World War II as Navy flying cadet. He served heroically and would be recalled into the Korean War in 1952 and 1953. 

Ted Williams visits Hartford, 1942.
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 29, 1942.

Also called “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” Williams is now regarded as one of the best players in baseball history. He manned left field for the Boston Red Sox for 19 years. and was a 19-time All-Star. By the end of his career, Williams was a 2-time recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, a 6-time AL batting champion, and a 2-time Triple Crown winner. He retired with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and a .482 on-base percentage, the highest of all time. The Kid’s career batting average is the highest of any MLB player whose career was played primarily in the live-ball era.

Ted Williams tips his cap at Fenway Park, 1991.

Pete Naktenis, Hartford’s Major League Southpaw

Peter “Lefty” Naktenis was the first Hartford Twilight League player to advance to Major League Baseball. Naktenis was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1914. Soon after his birth the Naktenis family moved to Manchester, Connecticut. Pete Naktenis grew up to be a talented pitcher at Hartford Public High School where he set the state record for strikeouts in a season. As a young pitching phenom, he dominated the Hartford Twilight League during the summer months. At 18 years old, Naktenis pitched for the Frederick Raff team in the summer of 1932.

Peter “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.

The following summer he pitched for the Mayflower Sales team, champions of Hartford Twilight League. During this time, Naktenis pitched a no-hitter in the 1933 championship series against Charlie Repass of the Home Circle team, winning 4 to 0. In his second game of the day, Naktenis took the mound again versus a crosstown rival: Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, a hard-throwing right hander for Bulkeley High School and Home Circle. Taylor, a Negro League star and Naktenis are known to this day to be two of the top pitchers in Hartford’s storied history.

Pete Naktenis toss no-hitter in Hartford Twilight League, September 3, 1933.

The 6’1” Pete Naktenis was highly sought after by professional teams, but he would take the advice of a Philadelphia Athletics scout and attend college instead. After graduating from Duke University in 1936, Naktenis signed his first professional contract to pitch for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics. Naktenis made his major league debut for the Athletics in 1936, at age 22. He played in seven games and compiled an 0-1 record, allowing 24 hits and 26 runs with 18 strikeouts.

Philadelphia Athletics sign Pete Naktenis, June 13, 1936.

Naktenis ended up spending most of his time in the minor leagues. He made stops in the New York-Pennsylvania League as a pitcher for the Binghamton Triplets of the New York Yankees organization in 1937. The following year he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds and pitched well for their minor league team, the Albany Senators of the Eastern League in 1938. Naktenis didn’t compile eye-popping numbers, but he made many memories.

Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics, 1936.

“I remember one time in 1936 when I was with the A’s, I had my hair parted by a line shot off the bat of Joe Vosmik of the (Cleveland) Indians. The drive hit the button of my cap and the centerfielder picked up the ball on one short hop. A little lower and it would have parted me in half. That was what you would call a narrow escape.”

– Pete Naktenis

When his professional seasons were complete, Naktenis often returned to Hartford in the off-season and signed with the Savitt Gems. The Gems were a semi-pro team led by their owner, Bill Savitt and player-Manager, Jigger Farrell. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s Naktenis drew great crowds to Bulkeley Stadium for the Gems. “Lefty” Naktenis made his first appearance for the Gems in Hartford on September 25, 1938. Naktenis turned in a complete game performance versus the Philadelphia Colored Giants. He allowed 3 hits and one unearned run over 9 innings and the Gems won by a tally of 9 to 1.

Naktenis pitches for the Savitt Gems, 1935.

The southpaw from Connecticut went on to log 3 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1939. On September 24, 1939, while property of the Reds, Naktenis took the mound for the Gems against the Scranton Red Sox (previously known as the Scranton Miners) of the Eastern League. He out-pitched Mickey Harris and the Gems trounced the Scranton team by a score of 11 to 3. At his penultimate minor league stop, Naktenis played for the 1942 Milwaukee Brewers led by Bill Veeck and Charlie Grimm, former big league players turned owners. In 1942, Naktenis ended his “full-time” baseball career.

Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds, 1939.

Naktenis pitched his last game for the Savitt Gems on September 24, 1944, hurling a complete game against the Brooklyn Royal Giants. A veteran Naktenis led the Gems to a 9 to 3 victory at Bulkeley Stadium, allowing 3 hits while striking out 13 batters. During World War II, Naktenis continued to pitch professionally for the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League from 1943 to 1945. In 1944, Naktenis led Hartford to an Eastern League title. Naktenis chose to only pitch in home games at Bulkeley Stadium because he worked full-time for Colt Manufacturing supporting the wartime effort.

Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1943.
Naktenis scores for Hartford, 1944.
Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1944.

Naktenis and his wife Kathleen became residents of Newington, Connecticut and had three daughters. He went on to become president of Dean Machine Products in Manchester, Connecticut. Later in his life, Naktenis was inducted as a member of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame and the Hartford Public High School Hall of Fame. He eventually moved south for Singer Island, Florida, in the 1980s. “Lefty” Naktenis went to rest in eternal peace in 2007.

L to R: Johnny Taylor, Walter Elliot and Pete Naktenis, 1958.
Hartford Courant features Naktenis, August 22, 1976.

Sources:

1. Hartford Courant
2. Reading Times