A young George Herman “Babe” Ruth visited the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut, to play baseball on multiple occasions. Like many big leaguers of his time, Ruth barnstormed the nation to earn additional pay. When he first visited the Constitution State in the fall of 1918, Ruth was a 23 year old starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He had won more games than any left-handed pitcher in the previous four seasons. During that stretch, he compiled a 2.28 earned run average and a .650 winning percentage. His phenomenal achievements and large physical traits gave him instant appeal.
Ruth’s first appearance in Connecticut came after the 1918 World Series wherein the Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs. A victorious Ruth pitched 29 ⅔ scoreless innings (a mark not broken until Whitey Ford recorded 33 ⅔ innings in 1961). Attending the World Series was James H. Clarkin, sole proprietor of the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Clarkin tried to recruit both teams to play an exhibition game in Hartford benefiting American soldiers fighting in World War I. When his offer was declined Clarkin managed to land Babe Ruth instead.
When Connecticut baseball fans received reports of Ruth’s arrival, they were clamoring to see him in action. Days after winning his second World Series, he appeared in several exhibition games throughout the state. His initial stop was in New Haven at Lighthouse Point Baseball Park. Ruth played first base for the semi-pro New Haven Colonials. He slugged a home run in a 5 to 1 loss against the Cuban Stars made up of players from the Negro Leagues.
The next evening, on Saturday, September 14, 1918, Ruth departed from New Haven and arrived in Hartford. He attracted large crowds of people hoping to meet the budding superstar. He was driven into the city by Manager Curtis Gillette of the semi-pro Hartford Poli’s baseball club to lavish accommodations at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street. The Hartford Poli’s were known as one of the “fastest” clubs in New England. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s on the Hartford’s top-notch diamond at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.
On Sunday, September 15, 1918, Babe Ruth and the Hartford Poli’s opposed the Fisk Red Tops of Chicopee, Massachusetts. While pitching and batting third, he recorded two hits including a double off the “Bull Durham” tobacco sign on the center field wall. Ruth also threw a complete game shutout, allowed 4 hits and led the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory. He beat his Red Sox counterpart, Dutch Leonard who guest starred on the mound for the Fisk Red Tops. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher for the Poli’s and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth and the gang entertained a Hartford crowd of more than 5,000, earning $350 for his appearance.
A week later, Ruth once again played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for the Hartford Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the opening game, the Poli’s went head to head with the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft company nine. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared that day. Ruth again was starting pitcher and hit third in the lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate and Pratt & Whitney guest star, “Bullet” Joe Bush who won the game by a score of 1 to 0.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Ruth and the Poli’s faced an army base nine from Fort Slocum near New Rochelle, New York. Ray Fisher, former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankees ace mowed down Poli batters. The Fort Slocum nine beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, hit a single and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of about 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth in Hartford.
The Babe must have enjoyed stopping over in Connecticut, because in autumn of the following year, he came back. This time he brought his Boston Red Sox teammates to Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut, where Ruth would set a new record. On September 21, 1919, he played first base and hit fourth for the Red Sox versus Bristol’s semi-pro juggernaut, the New Departure Endees. The team was sponsored by New Departure, a division of General Motors, and a manufacturer of ball bearings for automobiles, planes, ships and military equipment.
Also on the field for the Red Sox was Hall of Fame outfielder, Harry Hooper who had two hits and a run on the day. Though it was Babe Ruth who stole the show. “All eyes were pointed at the famous baseball mauler,” according to the Hartford Courant when he blasted the first ever home run at Muzzy Field. Hooper was on first base when the Babe connected with a pitch thrown by New Departure’s Freddie Rieger, a star pitcher for the Pittsfield team in the Eastern League. Ruth’s homer sailed over the right field fence as 5,000 onlookers cheered in adulation. The Red Sox won by a score of 6 to 2 over New Departure. The game would be remembered as Connecticut’s most thrilling sporting event of the year.
While the rest of the Red Sox went home, Ruth stay in Connecticut. He played first base in another game with the Hartford Poli’s on September 28, 1919 at Poli Field in East Hartford. The Poli’s were met by the New Britain Pioneers, the Hardware City’s top ball club. Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and posed for a photograph with Ruth. The Babe hit two balls over the right field fence but was only allowed one base for each long ball due to a “short porch” ground rule. Earlier that day he had hit a batting practice homer said to be struck over 500 feet. The Poli’s shutout the Pioneers 3 to 0 before a crowd of more than 6,000 fans.
A few months later, on January 5, 1920, Babe Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees from the Red Sox for $125,000 cash and $300,000 in loans. His services were sold after Ruth refused to return to the Red Sox at a salary of $10,000 per year. The Yankees struck the deal of the century. Ruth went on to smash his own home run record with an astounding 54 dingers in the 1920 season, while batting at .376 clip. New York only made Ruth bigger, better and in higher demand to fans across the country. Fortunately for cranks in Connecticut, the Babe kept coming back to play for the Poli’s.
By the end of 1920, the New York Yankees were runner-ups in the American League behind the Cleveland Indians. As the season came to a close, Manager Gillette of Hartford persuaded Ruth to join the Poli’s once more. Again they faced the New Departure squad at Muzzy Field. On October 2, 1920, The Babe hit clean up for the Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure shutout the Poli’s 7 to 0 thanks to crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitball hurler from the New York State League. Extra trains and trolleys were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon, allowing 10,000 fans a chance to see Babe Ruth one last time at Muzzy Field.
Connecticut’s amateur and semi-pro baseball clubs regularly hosted Babe Ruth and in return, he left a long-lasting impression. In Greater Hartford and beyond, Ruth earned baseball thousands of new fans. He barnstormed throughout the East Coast in grand fashion, ushering in the home run era and baseball’s Golden Age (1920 to 1960). He retired in 1935 after leading the New York Yankees to their first 4 World Series wins. Ten years later, Babe Ruth took the final at bat of his career when he appeared in an exhibition game for the Savitt Gems at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.
- Hartford Courant Database on Newspapers.com