Tag: hartford

July 8th Crush Cancer Night at Dunkin’ Donuts Park

On Thursday, July 8, 2021, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League will host a doubleheader at at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford. The event will be the league’s 5th annual charity series. This year, ticket proceeds will be donated to Connecticut Cancer Foundation and the Brian Peer Memorial Scholarship.

At 6:00 PM, People’s United Bank will match up against the Bristol Greeners and at 8:00 PM, the East Hartford Jets will face the Hartford Colts.

Tickets will be available at the Main Gate for $10 per adult and free for kids 14 and under.

Read more about these charitable causes below:


About Connecticut Cancer Foundation

Connecticut Cancer Foundation was founded in 1987 by Connecticut native John C. Ellis, a former catcher for the New York Yankees, who played Major League Baseball for 13 years. John lost his sister, brother and sister-in-law to lymphoma. He is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was diagnosed before John reached 40.  Fortunately, John survived and CCF was born with the idea of raising funds through sports with the help of sports celebrities. CCF has flourished under the guidance of John’s wife, Jane G. Ellis, President and Executive Director of CCF.

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John and Jane Ellis, Founders of Connecticut Cancer Foundation.

Through the CT Cancer Patient Assistance Program, CCF helps Connecticut families requesting assistance through referrals from oncology social workers from hospitals, cancer treatment centers and hospices throughout the state. For the past 34 years, CCF has quietly granted over $6.4 million to more than 7,000 Connecticut families dealing with the financial hardship that often follows a cancer diagnosis. In addition, the Foundation has donated over $2.4 million to support ongoing cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


About Brian Peer Memorial Scholarship

This college scholarship is in the memory of Brian Peer who played and loved baseball in Windsor. He was a Windsor varsity player from 1996 until 1998, earning All-Conference honors as a senior. He also played American Legion Baseball in Windsor earning All-Zone Honors in 1998.  He continued on to Manchester Community College earning All-New England Junior College All Star recognition then on to Rhode Island College, being named Co-Captain his Senior Year. He continued to play in area adult leagues through 2018. The scholarship is awarded annually to a Windsor High School baseball player who will be attending college.

Brian Peer played in the GHTBL from 2004 to 2018 and is remembered as a good teammate and team leader.

Giving Back to the Greater Hartford Community

On Sunday, July, 9, 2017 the GHTBL hosted a “Charity Series” at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Four games were played and $5,641 in ticket proceeds were donated to Hartford’s Camp Courant. On June 21st and 22nd of 2018 the league hosted a pair of doubleheaders that raised $4,500 for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. In 2019, the Twilight League held another day at Dunkin’ Donuts Park and raised $7,000 for a Multiple Sclerosis charity named MS4MS. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the league managed to play a shortened season in 2020, including a doubleheader at Dunkin’ Donuts Park that raised $2,000 for the new Johnny Taylor Field in Hartford’s Colt Park.

Camp Courant Kids Day at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, 2017

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.

Mark Twain the Hartford Baseball Crank

Samuel L. Clemens, also known by his pen name, Mark Twain once boasted about Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Twain and his family were proud Hartford residents from 1874 to 1891. When the Hartford Dark Blues joined baseball’s National League in 1874, Twain frequented games at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, a 2,000-seat stadium at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue. Twain later became a shareholder of the Hartford baseball club in 1887.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) regularly attended Hartford ballgames and took notes of the action on personal stationary.

While attending a game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Hartford Dark Blues, Twain’s umbrella was went missing. In response, Twain published a classified advertisement in the Hartford Daily Courant on May 20, 1875:

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD — At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of the umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington Avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains.

-Samuel L. Clemens
Twain’s advertisement in the Hartford Courant, May 20, 1875.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

The humorous advertisement led to a local medical student playing a morbid prank on Twain. The imaginative student left one of his case studies — the corpse of a boy — on Twain’s porch, along with a note claiming the reward. A nervous Twain thought he might be suspected of murder, until the janitor of the medical college came to claim the body and clear the author. Despite the controversy, Twain’s support of baseball in Hartford continued for more than a decade.

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

After a lackluster 1886 season in the Eastern League, in which the Hartford team traded Connie Mack to the Washington Nationals, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the club. Among investors of the Harford Amusement Association were famed author, Mark Twain and Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley. The stakeholders hired Charles E. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager. The Hartford club finished in 3rd place as part of the Eastern League. His ownership only lasted that year.

Samuel Clemens, 1907.

On April 8, 1889, Mark Twain dined with the who’s who of baseball at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. It was the night a Testimonial Banquet held in honor of Albert Spaulding and baseball players of the “Tour Around the World”. Twain was among the guest speakers. He gave a humorous speech to the banquet of ballplayers and dignitaries who supported the world tour. He brought the audience to their feet in applause.

“Tour Around the World” brochure cover at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
“Tour Around the World” brochure at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.

“Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”

-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), April 8, 1889.
Testimonial Banquet at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
Delmonico’s Menu, New York, 1889.

That same year, Twain completed writing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The story is of a man from East Hartford who finds himself in 6th-century medieval England. The book’s main character, Hank Morgan meets King Arthur himself and teaches noblemen to play baseball. While living in Hartford, Twain also wrote such works as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“There was no joy in life for poor Tom. He put away his bat and his ball and dragged himself through each day.”

– Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1885.
A knight in armor playing baseball, 1889
Mark Twain at his 70th birthday celebration, Delmonico’s, New York, 1905

When Ty Cobb Came to Hartford

More than a hundred years ago, Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, center fielder of the Detroit Tigers visited Hartford on three separate occasions. Like many players of baseball’s Golden Age, Cobb made appearances in exhibition games at cities and towns across the United States for additional income. Before Cobb’s first visit to Hartford in the fall of 1916, he was already known as the best baseball player who ever lived. He had won the batting title a record 9 times in a row and earned Most Valuable Player of the American League in 1911. He was nicknamed “The Georgia Peach” by sportswriter, Grantland Rice as an ode to Cobb’s home state. Cobb was a ferocious competitor with a short temper, great speed, hitting ability and a split handed batting style.

Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, 1906.
Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, 1907
Ty Cobb with his children, 1913.
Ty Cobb, 1913.
Ty Cobb, 1913.

Prior to Cobb’s arrival in 1916, the United States were preparing for what would become World War I. Hartford held its largest public gathering to date – a Preparedness Parade in response to heightened conflict in Europe. The city was comprised of 100,000 residents as well as the nation’s top insurance, banking and manufacturing firms. Per capita, Hartford was one of the wealthiest cities in America. Baseball was by far Hartford’s most popular sport. There were more baseball fields in Hartford than any other city in New England. This included Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, where the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League played home games, and where a brand new grandstand was constructed in 1912.

Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
WWI Preparedness Parade, Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1916.

When a 30 year old Ty Cobb first came to Hartford, it was after a splendid 1916 Major League season. Cobb’s .370 batting average, 68 stolen bases and 113 runs scored led the Majors. The Detroit Tigers won 87 games and lost 67 under manager Hughie Jennings, finishing third in the American League. After the season, Cobb began to barnstorm New England with independent clubs like the New Haven Colonials for a guarantee of $300 per appearance. Alongside Cobb on the Colonials side were former New York Yankees pitcher, Ray Keating and Philadelphia Athletics shortstop and Torrington High School alumnus, Joe Dugan.

New Haven Colonials with Ty Cobb, 1916.
New Haven Colonials vs. Brooklyn Robins at Lighthouse Point, New Haven, September 10, 1916.
1916 New Haven Colonials

On Tuesday, October 24, 1916, Ty Cobb delighted a small crowd of 800 fans at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The game was not well publicized in advance but onlookers would not be disappointed. Cobb and the New Haven Colonials faced off against the city’s best semi-professional club, the Hartford Poli’s. He played center field, first base and served as relief pitcher. Cobb had two hits, showed off his speed in a run-down and pitched 3 innings of one-hit ball. He gave up a double to the Poli’s catcher, John Muldoon, a future professional from Hartford who had three hits on the day. Cobb and Colonials shut out the Hartford Poli’s by a score of 7 to 0.

Ty Cobb and the New Haven Colonials defeat Hartford Poli’s, Hartford, October 24, 1916.
1916 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

When the United States entered the Great War in April of 1917, baseball clubs began drilling as if they were military units, including Ty Cobb’s Tigers. He became eligible for military service earlier than most professional ballplayers when he applied to the Augusta, Georgia Draft Board on May 23, 1917. Baseball was played throughout the war and Cobb went on to win two more batting titles with the Tigers before being drafted into the United States Army in late 1918. That year, he won his 11th batting title, hitting .382 in a shortened season due to hostilities in Europe between the Allies and the Axis Powers.

Ty Cobb’s draft card, 1917.
Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb in Army uniforms, 1917.
Captain Ty Cobb in his Army uniform, 1918.
Signed portrait of Ty Cobb in Army uniform, 1918.

A week before the 1918 season ended, Cobb made his second cameo in Hartford. On August 25th, the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Browns staged a benefit game to support American Expeditionary Forces who were deployed on the Western Front. The Tigers and the Browns arrived in Hartford by train. The Browns featured their first baseman George Sisler, a gifted batsman and a Hall of Fame player in the making. Sisler was seven years younger than Cobb and he revered the Georgia Peach. “The greatness of Ty Cobb is something that had to be seen,” Sisler said, “and to see him was to remember him forever.”

Cobb and Sisler to play in Hartford, August 11, 1918.
George Sisler and other players of the St. Louis Browns, Hartford, 1918.

The benefit game drew more than 6,000 fans who filled the grandstand and lined the perimeter of Hartford’s Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. Ty Cobb wore a Cornell College baseball uniform because the team’s luggage was accidentally left at Union Station. Cobb’s play on the field was described as resplendent. He cracked two hits and made a one-handed catch in center field to save two runs. George Sisler had a ground rule double to left field and led his team in putouts. By the end of nine innings, Sisler and the Browns beat Cobb and the Tigers, 3 runs to 1.

L to R: Mayor Kinsella, U.S. District Attorney Thomas Spellacy and Ty Cobb, August 25, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, August 26, 1918.

In October of 1918, Cobb was drafted and assigned to the Army’s Chemical Warfare Services division. He simultaneously announced his retirement from baseball even though Cobb continued to play in benefit games. Before shipping out to France for 67 days, he made his final visit to Hartford on October 5, 1918. He returned as a member of the New Haven Colonials to play for the “semi-pro state championship” against Hartford’s top company team from Pratt & Whitney. Before the game, Cobb gave a speech in front of Hartford’s Liberty Loan Cottage encouraging people to buy war bonds. Pratt & Whitney ended up winning the contest 5 to 3 in windy weather over Cobb and the Colonials.

Ty Cobb in Detroit Tigers uniform, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, October 3, 1918.
Ty Cobb featured in the Hartford Courant, October 4, 1918.
Liberty Loan Cottage, Hartford, Connecticut, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, October 6, 1918.

Ty Cobb’s second and third game in Hartford raised over $3,000 for the Bat and Ball Fund headed up by Clark Griffith, Manager of the Washington Senators. The fund supplied active United States soldiers of World War I with baseball uniforms and equipment. Hartford Soldiers Athletic Committee Chair and former professional ballplayer, John F. Gunshanan corresponded with Griffith to organize the Tigers versus Browns matchup. As the end of the war neared, the baseball goods were gifted to American soldiers in France and Italy. When Armistice Day arrived, people flooded Main Street for the greatest parade the city ever saw. As for the veteran Cobb, he returned home from military service wouldn’t officially retire until 10 years later as a member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.

Armistice Day parade, Main Street, Hartford, November 11, 1918.
Clark Griffith’s Bat and Ball Fund, 1919.
U.S. Soldiers recieve baseball goods from the Bat and Ball Fund in France, 1918.

After 22 Major League seasons, Ty Cobb set 90 statistical records. These included highest career batting average (.367) and most career batting titles with 12. He held many of these records for almost a half century or more, including most career hits (4,191) until 1985 most career runs (2,246) until 2001, most career games played (3,035), at bats (11,434) until 1974 and the modern record for most career stolen bases (892) until 1977. Not surprisingly, Cobb has retained the career record for stealing home (54 times) and for stealing second base, third base, and home in succession (5 times). He ranks fifth all-time in games played and first in errors committed by an American League outfielder with 271. In 1936, Cobb received the most votes of any player on the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame ballot with 222 out of 226 votes.

Ty Cobb slides home, 1920.
Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers, 1926.
A retired Ty Cobb at his home in Atherton, California, 1957.
Ty Cobb’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

Sources:

  1. Hartford Courant on Newspapers.com
  2. Baseball-Reference.com

Learn more about Cobb from Charles Leerhsen’s
“Ty Cobb’s Character: What We Know That’s Wrong” on YouTube
:

Learn more about Ty Cobb in “Ty Cobb’s Character: What We Know That’s Wrong” by Charles Leerhsen.

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 Field, Hartford’s home park, and Irwin saw a promising future for the young baseball player.

Clarkin Field, 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.

Leo Durocher Got His Start in Hartford

Leo Ernest Durocher was born in 1905 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, as the youngest of four sons. His parents with French Canadian parents were George and Clarinda (Provost) Durocher and often spoke French at home. George Durocher worked on the railroad, for the Boston & Albany Railroad. At 5-feet-10, he grew to be the tallest of his brothers. His French-Canadian parents. Durocher dropped out of Springfield Technical High School after being suspended and never went back. Instead, he became a prominent semi-professional athlete and several employers competed to have him play for their company teams.

According to baseball historian Paul Dickson, Durocher was convinced to try for a professional club, the Hartford Senators:

“There’s a guy named David Redd, who’s a black man, who pushes and pushes and pushes Durocher to go try out for the Hartford team, which in those days was a semi-Yankee farm club,” Dickson says. “And Durocher does. Tries, fails once.”

Paul Dickson – WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship

Having failed, Durocher was again encouraged to try out for the 1925 season again by his friend, David Redd. This time, he made the team and batted for an average of .220 in 536 at bats that season. As an infielder for Hartford, Durocher learned and grew his game under Manager Paddy O’Connor, a baseball lifer and former catcher of the 1909 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Durocher showed promise in Hartford under the lights at Clarkin Field and was called up to the New York Yankees lineup for 2 game appearances.

Leo Durocher is sold to the Yankees, 1925.

It would take two seasons in the Yankees farm system – Atlanta, Georgia and St. Paul, Minnesota – before his permanent call-up to the big leagues in 1928. He won his first World Series that same year as a teammate of Babe Ruth and another Hartford Senators alumnus, Lou Gehrig. Durocher would become known as one of baseball’s fiercest players and would achieve team and individual success.

As a captain of the St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang” in 1934, Durocher started shortstop and won another World Series. He also collected three National League All-Star game appearances. After the 1938 season with the Cardinals, Durocher became the Dodgers’ player-manager. In 1939, Durocher was named player-manager for the Dodgers and quickly became known for his dirt-kicking tirades against umpires. He also clashed with Brooklyn’s front office and claimed that he was fired and rehired by general manager Larry McPhail dozens of times.

In 24 years as a skipper for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, Durocher won 2,009 games, three pennants and a World Series. However, Durocher also became famous for his arguments with umpires, executives and players earned him a reputation as “The Lip.” His nickname was thought to have stemmed from his relationship with another diminutive Hall of Famer: Rabbit Maranville. While not an imposing hitter, Durocher’s scrappy play and maximum effort led Babe Ruth to call him “The All-American out.”

Leo Durocher, Manager, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941.

Despite his antics, there was no doubt about Durocher’s record. In 1941, Durocher led the Dodgers, who were affectionately named “the Bums” by their own fans, to the franchise’s first pennant in 21 years.

“As long as I’ve got a chance to beat you, I’m going to take it.”

Leo Durocher, 1941.

In 1947, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Durocher for a year due to his “accumulation of unpleasant incidents” which included his accused association with gamblers. Led by Jackie Robinson, who Durocher staunchly supported when he broke the color barrier, the Dodgers captured the ’47 National League pennant.

In 1948, Durocher shocked the baseball world when he became manager of the Dodgers’ crosstown rival New York Giants – who he had famously referred to when he remarked that “nice guys finish last.” It was at the Polo Grounds where Durocher found his greatest success. In 1951, his Giants capped off an incredible 13½ game comeback on the Dodgers with Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World” homer to win the pennant. Three years later, Durocher and the Giants swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

Durocher with his wife, Laraine, Day, 1950.

Durocher left New York after the 1955 season and became a color commentator for NBC’s baseball broadcasts. He returned to the manager’s office with the Cubs in 1966 and served his final nine seasons in Chicago and Houston. Durocher retired in 1973 as the fifth-winningest manager in history, and second only to Hall of Famer John McGraw in the National League.

Casey Stengel, Manager, New York Yankees and Leo Durocher, Manager, New York Giants, 1951 World Series.

Upon his retirement, he ranked fifth all-time among managers with 2,009 career victories, second only to John McGraw in National League history. In 1965, Durocher co-authored an autobiography entitled, Nice Guys Finish Last. He lived a long life but passed away on October 7, 1991. Leo Durocher was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Leo Durocher

Sources

  1. WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship.
  2. Hartford Courant Database, Newspapers.com.
  3. Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Reference.com.
  4. Durocher, Leo, Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseballhall.org/Hall-of-Famers/Durocher-Leo.

League Expands to 10 Teams

HARTFORD COLTS AND BRISTOL GREENERS TO PLAY BALL IN 2021.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is pleased to announce expansion for the 2021 season. The Hartford Colts and Bristol Greeners will join as new franchises. The Colts will be led by General Manager, Weston Ulbrich and will play home games at the new Johnny Taylor Field in Hartford’s Colt Park.

The Bristol Greeners, who played in the Tri-State League will be managed by A.J. Lorenzetti and will play home games at Muzzy Field and Page Park. Meanwhile, the Middletown-based Malloves Jewelers franchise will return this season after opting out last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other franchises include: East Hartford Jets, People’s United Bank (Wethersfield), Rainbow Graphics (Manchester), Record-Journal Expos (Meriden), South Windsor Phillies, Ulbrich Steel (Wallingford), and Vernon Orioles.

The GHTBL looks forward to this summer and we invite new players to apply for a roster spot on any one of our teams by going to www.GHTBL.org/Join and filling out the application.

Babe Ruth’s Connecticut Car Crash

After setting a new major league home run record in his first year with the Yankees, Babe Ruth bought a brand new Packard roadster for $12,000. On September 30, 1920, Ruth was driving from New York City to Springfield, Massachusetts to play in an exhibition game. Halfway through his trip, Ruth crashed into a heavy Mack Truck while speeding through a tunnel, the Yalesville Culvert in Wallingford, Connecticut near the Meriden city line.

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

He was thrown from the car but luckily walked away from the accident with only a few scratches. His roadster was totaled, but the Great Bambino refused to miss his appearance and hitchhiked his way to Springfield. The very next day Ruth appeared in another exhibition game at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut, for the Hartford Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 at the plate. The 24 year old Ruth escaped a potential disaster and went on to hit another 611 homers.

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

Hartford Base Ball Park of 1896

Long before the Yard Goats roamed Dunkin’ Donuts Park, there was a place named Hartford Base Ball Park. Also called Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, the park was constructed in 1896. Hartford’s minor league team Manager William “Bald Billy” Barnie led the effort to build the minor league venue. That season, grandstand tickets were 15 cents and Newark finished in first place in the Atlantic League. However, Hartford protested their victory.

City planning map showing Hartford Base Ball Park, 1896.

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 mid year. As a result, the 2nd place Hartfords challenged Newark to a 7-game series. Newark declined the invitation but the 3rd place Paterson club accepted and prevailed over Hartford.

Hartford Base Ball Park, (c.) 1900.

By November of 1896, the matter was put to rest by Sam Crane, President of the Atlantic League who declared Newark as champions. Manager Barnie passed away in Hartford in 1900 beloved by local fans. He was buried alongside many other baseball greats in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Hartford finally won a minor league pennant in 1909 at Hartford Base Ball Park.

Bill Barnie, Manager, Hartford, 1900.
Hartford vs. Brockton at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (Hartford Base Ball Park), 1901.