Tag: eastern league

Lou Gehrig Used Fake Name as a Rookie on the Hartford Senators

This article was written by Norton Chellgren and published in the 1975 Baseball Research Journal

On April 5, 1921, the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in their first exhibition game of the season beat Columbia University 4-3. The big story was a Columbia player, Lefty Gehrig, who hit Hartford pitcher Alton Durgin for two long home runs in his only two trips to the plate. A. B. McGinley of the Hartford Times described the second home run like this: “When he came up again in the 3rd inning, Durgin the lofty Maine boy who was pitching for Hartford was all set for revenge. He got a strike on Gehrig but the next one he threw Gehrig leaned on and it went sailing out of the enclosure past a big sundial and almost into the School of Mines. It was a mighty clout and worthy of Babe Ruth’s best handiwork.”

Lou Gehrig, First Baseman, Columbia University, 1922.

The young player greatly impressed Hartford Manager, Arthur Irwin, a former major league player and manager. The two home runs would have cleared the center field fence at Clarkin Stadium, Hartford’s home park, and Irwin saw a promising future for the young baseball player.

Clarkin Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 1921.

The big first baseman, it was later reported, had promised Irwin that he would play under him if he decided to enter professional baseball. Several big league teams had been trying to sign him but all indications were he would stay at Columbia University. Subsequently, on June 2, announcement was made by Manager Irwin in the local newspapers that the hard hitting semi-pro from Brooklyn, Lefty Gehrig, had been signed to play first base for the Senators. It was assumed by some that he had decided to quit school.

Arthur Irwin, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1921.

The next day the newspapers were apparently requested or advised not to call further attention to the Columbia athlete’s real name and from that day on they referred only to that young player from New York, “Lewis” or “Lou Lewis.” On June 3 (1921) the Hartford Senators beat the Pittsfield Hillies 2-1. Lou Lewis played the full game at first base. In his O. B. debut, he was 0 for 3 with one sacrifice hit against Pittsfield hurler Al Pierotti, who later went up to the Braves.

Lou Gehrig batting for Columbia University, 1921.

After that initial game the Hartford Courant wrote “Lou Lewis, Arthur Irwin’s latest discovery was planted on the initial sack. The youngster who is only 18 years old (actually he was still 17) appeared to be a bit nervous. After he gets used to surroundings he may develop. They seldom fail to make the grade with Irwin teaching the ways of baseball.”

Lewis’ first hit and first run scored came in his second game as Hartford beat the Waterbury Brasscos 5-3 at Hartford before 5,000 fans on June 4. In the second inning the youthful first sacker hit the first ball pitched by Fred Rawley to right field for three bases. He scored shortly after when the next batter Phil Neher singled to center. On the following day, June 5, Lewis went two for five as Hartford beat Albany 10-2 at Albany; the first baseman was beginning to impress and was being touted as a “Babe Ruth.”

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1922
Lou Gehrig, Punter, Columbia University, 1922.

Hartford beat Pittsfield 10-6 on June 8, and the Times wrote: “Lewis caught hold of a fast one in the third inning and sent it against the “B” in the Buick sign on the right field fence for a double. Lewis probably won’t get a Buick for his clout but he may get a ride in one before the season runs its course.” Lou went two for five that day. One of the times he made an out he slammed a terrific drive that traveled at the proverbial mile-a-minute clip into right fielder Bill McCorry’s gloved hand. It was described as the hardest hit of the game.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 8, 1921.

While Lewis at the young age of 17 was demonstrating his ability to knock the cover off the ball there were some indications that he lacked experience. On June 10 the Senators were trailing the Bridgeport “Brown Derbies” in the last of the ninth when with one out Heinie Scheer singled. Lewis then hit one to the box carrying a lot of smoke and it bounded off pitcher Ed Lepard’s glove for a single. Lewis a moment later was trapped off first by catcher Joe Smith on a pitchout. The rally was effectively stopped and the game was lost by Hartford, 4 to 2.

The Times wrote on June 11, “Lewis the youngster just breaking into organized ball with the local club is doing as well as one can expect and his present work gives fans here hopes that he will add to the Hartford hitting average which at present is the weakest link in the pennant-winning chain. The young first sacker is a slugger.” Lefty Lewis unexplainedly did not play in the Bridgeport game on June 13 but the next day against the Springfield Ponies he hit the second triple of his early professional experience.

In his last Eastern League game that year, on June 15, 1921, against Springfield, he showed his power even though his only hit was an infield one. In the first inning he crashed one against third baseman Jack Flynn’s shins and the ball caromed off with such force that it bounced across the diamond and the runner on third base, Harry Hesse, scored without any trouble.

Lou Gehrig “Lewis” plays his last game of 1921.
Harry Hesse, Hartford Senators, 1922.

No game was played on June 16 and at that point the young first baseman’s name, without explanation, ceased to appear in the Hartford papers for the remainder of the season. During his stay Hartford, winning 8 games and losing 5, had climbed into first place with a 28-17 record. Before the season was to end the Hartford Senators would drop to fifth place and its Manager, Art Irwin who had been successful in luring the young first baseman into professional baseball, if only for a short 12 games, would meet an untimely death. On July 16, 1921, he fell or jumped from the steamer Calvin Austin during a voyage from New York to Boston.

Lou Gehrig, Hartford Senators, 1923.

Even with a mediocre batting average of .261, Lewis had given Hartford fans an indication of things to come. The name “Lou Lewis” would not again appear in a Hartford or other professional baseball game box score! “Lou,” however, would return to the Eastern League in 1923 (as of August 2) and hit home runs at a pace which still has not been surpassed in the Eastern League, 24 home runs in only 59 games.

1923 Hartford Senators

What the Hartford newspapers did not report was that Columbia athletic officials had learned that Gehrig was playing pro ball under an assumed name. After being advised of the possible implications of playing for money, an unhappy Lou Gehrig returned promptly to New York City. As a result of this escapade Lou had to wait an extra year, until the fall of 1922, before he could participate in Columbia inter-collegiate sports. The experience might have hurt the New York Giants as well because had it never taken place, who knows, McGraw might have been able to sign up Lou Gehrig in 1923 instead.

Lou Gehrig and Mayor Norman Stevens of Hartford, 1924.

Source: Chellgren, Norton. “The Short Career of Lou Lewis.” Society for American Baseball Research, 1975 Baseball Research Journal, 1975, sabr.org/journal/article/the-short-career-of-lou-lewis.

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 Stadium 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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