Tag: history

In the Day of Louis Sockalexis

Major League debut: April 22, 1897
Position: Right Fielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Born: October 24, 1871 in Indian Island, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913 in Burlington, Maine
Education: University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) & College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894.

In 1899, the Hartford Base Ball Club of the Class-A Eastern League signed outfielder, Louis Francis Sockalexis. He was the first Native American to play professional baseball and the first person of color to play for Hartford. When he arrived in Hartford, Sockalexis was noticeably overweight and battling an alcohol addiction. Also called “Sock” or “Sox,” he was once a five-tool outfielder who experienced a meteoric rise and fall during the Deadball Era.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899.

Sockalexis hailed from Indian Island, Maine and was a member of the Penobscot tribe. His athletic gifts earned him acceptance to College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he excelled in baseball, football and track. He then followed his Holy Cross baseball coach and transferred to University of Norte Dame. He played both outfield and pitcher while at Holy Cross and Notre Dame. In a sign of things to come, Sockalexis was expelled from Notre Dame in his first semester for consuming alcohol.

L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.
L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.

Fortunately for Sockalexis, Cy Young‘s Cleveland Spiders signed him to a major league contract on March 9, 1897. Sockalexis was so popular in Cleveland that fans and reporters later claimed him to be the source of the controversial “Indians” nickname. In his first big league season, Sockalexis appeared in 66 games, had a .338 batting average with three home runs, 42 RBI and 16 stolen bases. On July 1, 1897, he had five base hits in a game against St. Louis. Yet, a few days later, he got drunk, jumped from the second-story of a brothel and severely injured his ankle, which would affect his play and reputation.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.

Sockalexis struggled to regain his old form amid two more seasons in Cleveland. After being arrested for public drunkenness at a theatre, Cleveland released him in late May of 1899. A week later, Sockalexis landed with Hartford. Burdened by alcoholism, he slumped in the Charter Oak City. He hit for a .198 batting average in 91 at bats. His brief time in Hartford lasted about a month before manager Billy Barnie traded him to Bristol of the Connecticut State League.

Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.
Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.

Bristol eventually unloaded Sockalexis to Waterbury that same year. He ended the season with a .320 batting average. The Waterbury club wanted him back for the following season, but Sockalexis returned to Maine. A series of news reports detailed his arrests for public drunkenness, and the former baseball star was reduced to homelessness and vagrancy. He served intermittent time in jail but made a comeback in 1902 with Lowell of the New England League. At 30 years old, Sockalexis hit for a .288 average in his lone season with Lowell.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.

In 1907, Sockalexis signed his last baseball contract. He appeared with the Bangor club of the Maine State League. Sockalexis then found work as a lumberjack and lived at Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. He also piloted a ferryboat on which he enjoyed reading The Sporting News and newspapers left behind by passengers. Sockalexis continued to show interest in baseball, playing on amateur teams, coaching and umpiring.

Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.
Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.

He eventually stopped drinking to excess, but was not in the best of health. Sockalexis suffered from attacks of rheumatism and looked older than his age. In the fall of 1913, he joined a logging crew harvesting the northern woods of Maine. While felling a pine tree on Christmas Eve, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 42. Louis Sockalexis was buried in St. Anne Church Cemetery on Indian Island, Maine.

Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.
Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.

Today, Sockalexis is remembered as a pioneering figure. As the first Native American in the major leagues, he blazed a trail amidst widespread prejudice. Fans in various cities hollered racist epithets and made ignorant gestures towards Sockalexis throughout his career. Like Charles Bender, Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson, Sockalexis endured cruel discrimination while playing the game he loved. Though alcoholism did him in, Louis Sockalexis prevailed over racial attitudes of the time and momentarily achieved, baseball greatness.

Sources:

  1. Statistics: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sockach01.shtml
  2. SABR Bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a
  3. Louis Sockalexis – Remembering Now and Forever: http://sockalexis.net/

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 the first iteration of the National League in 1874, Twain frequented games at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, a 2,000-seat stadium at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendrixon Avenue.

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 went missing. In response to the suspected theft, Twain published a reward 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), 1870 (c.)

The humorous advertisement led to a morbid prank. A local medical 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 scare, Twain’s support of baseball in Hartford continued for more than a decade. In fact, Twain became a shareholder of the Hartford baseball club in 1887.

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 Hartford club. Among investors of the Hartford Amusement Association were Samuel Clemens and Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley. The stakeholders hired Charles F. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager. Hartford finished third place in the Eastern League. Twain’s ownership stake only lasted a year.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 1885 (c.)
Members of the Hartford Amusement Association, 1887.
Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1890 (c.)

Later on April 8, 1889, Mark Twain dined with baseball’s “who’s who” at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. The grand event was a night to remember, drawing heavy publicity. The Testimonial Banquet was held in honor of Albert Spalding and baseball players of the “Tour Around the World”. Twain was among the guest speakers and gave a rousing speech to the banquet of ballplayers and dignitaries of tnhe world tour. His comedic prose garnered a standing ovation.

“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 while living in Hartford. The novel is about a man from East Hartford who time travels to 6th-century medieval England. The book’s main character, Hank Morgan meets King Arthur 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.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889.
Mark Twain at his 70th birthday celebration, Delmonico’s, New York, 1905
Samuel Clemens, 1907.

The Bristol Merchants, a Twilight League Dynasty

Over 11 seasons (2001-2011), the Bristol Merchants were 9-time GHTBL Champions, winning 4 Playoff Championships and 5 Season Titles. Their home site was the venerable Muzzy Field. The franchise was led by their player-manager, Bunty Ray and Joe Parlante who have since founded a wood bat company, Rally Bats in Bristol, Connecticut. Other major contributors to the Merchants were GHTBL veterans including: Joe Parlante, Brian Archibald, Eric Butkiewicz, Rick Barrett, Rick Hewey and Adam Peters. The following Bristol Merchants players also advanced to play professional baseball:

Bristol Merchants win 1st GHTBL championship, 2004.
Kevin Rival, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2006.
Bristol Merchants win 2nd GHTBL championship, 2004.
Bristol Merchants win 4th GHTBL championship, 2009.
Bunty Ray, Player-Manager, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Jason Maule, Outfielder, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Nick Macellaro, Shortstop, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Nick Macellaro, Shortstop, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Adam Peters, Designated Hitter, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Adam Peters, Designated Hitter, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Joe Parlante, First Baseman, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Scott Martin, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Ryan Pacyna, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
2009 Bristol Merchants
Jarrett Stawarz, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2011.
Baserunner, Bristol Merchants, 2011.
Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut.

Hartford’s Minor League Club Part II: The Senators (1902-1915)

The Hartford Senators remain Connecticut’s most enduring baseball franchise of all-time. For more than three decades (1902-1934) the Senators were Hartford’s headliner club. The minor league team became an elite training ground for players on their way to the Major Leagues. Legends like Lou Gehrig, Jim Thorpe, Leo Durocher and Hank Greenberg honed their skills in Hartford. The following chronology recounts the Senators during their early years (1902-1915) when minor league championships were a significant source of local pride. Since entering the minors in 1878, the City of Hartford had been deprived of a pennant, but the Senators would change that fact.

Minor Leagues

Championship Seasons

  • 1909
  • 1913
  • 1915

Notable Hartford Senators of the early years

Charles A. Soby, Owner, Hartford Senators, 1902.

In 1902, Hartford joined the Connecticut League. The club was headed by Charles A. Soby and headquartered at Soby’s cigar store at 867 Main Street. Home games were held at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, also called Hartford Baseball Park. The team was nicknamed “Senators” most likely by sports editors at the Hartford Times newspaper. Two-time World Series champion catcher of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ira Thomas played his rookie season for the Senators. Frank Reisling was Hartford’s player-manager and guided them to a fourth place finish. Reisling later sued the club over unpaid wages after being fired for recruiting players to a team in Toledo, Ohio.

Ira Thomas, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1902.
Doc Reisling, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1902.
Doc Reisling, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1902.

In 1903, the Hartford franchise was purchased by magnates William J. Tracy of Bristol and Thomas Reilly of Meriden. The Senators rejoined the Connecticut League and Reilly acted as manager. The team consisted of a fresh roster, except for Ira Thomas who returned as catcher. New signees included Walter Ahearn of New Haven, Bill Luby of Meriden and Billy Derwin of Waterbury. The infield featured Larry Battam at third base and captain Bert Daly at second base. Hartford struggled during their rebuild and ended up last in the league.

Thomas Reilly, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1903.
Walter Ahearn, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1903.
Dr. Bert Daly, Second Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1903.
Bill Luby, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1903.

Before the 1904 season, Thomas Reilly was elected Mayor of Meriden. Then he sold his shares in the Hartford club to William J. Tracy. As sole owner of the Senators (and later President of the Connecticut League), Tracy appointed his friend and Bristol-based barber John E. Kennedy as manager. The only man to reappear from the previous season was second baseman Bert Daly. New players like Bill Foxen, Bill Karns and Tom Bannon entered the fold. The Senators had a losing record (53-61), and Hartford’s decades-long championship drought continued.

William Tracy, Owner, Hartford Senators, 1904.
Thomas O’Hare, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1904.
John E. Kennedy, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1904.
1904 Hartford Senators

In September of 1904, Hartford was introduced to James H. Clarkin, proprietor of the Senators for the next 24 years. When Tracy decided to sell the club, Clarkin and Daly became owners. Clarkin leased Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for the next six years for $600 per year. Hartford fans took special trolleys to the well-kept Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. Starring for the club were pitching prospect, Pete Wilson of Springfield, Massachusetts, and shortstop Harry Noyes of New Haven. In Clarkin’s first season as owner, the Senators of 1905 had a winning record (58-55).

Hartford trolley assigned for ball games, 1905.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1905.
James Clarkin, Owner, Hartford Senators, 1905.
Lajoie’s Base Ball Guide excerpt, 1905.
Peter Wilson, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1905.
Harry Noyes, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1905.
Neal Doherty, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1905.
Frank Doran, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1905.
1905 Hartford Senators

After the 1905 season, Clarkin sold his top pitcher William Foxen to Providence for $250. The sale of Foxen was the first of many transacted by Clarkin, who acquired a reputation for selling players. In 1906, Bert Daly served as player-manager until midway through the season, when he left to practice medicine in his hometown in Bayonne, New Jersey. Clarkin became sole owner of the Senators and Harry Noyes was named player-manager. Hartford signed Herman Bronkie of Manchester, Connecticut, a rookie third baseman who later signed with the Cleveland Naps.

1906 Hartford Senators
Group of Three Hartford Players, 1906.
New players on the Hartford Senators, 1906.
1906 Hartford Senators
Bert Daly, Player-Manager, Hartford, 1906.
1906 Hartford Senators

Despite another lackluster season, Hartford retained its core in 1907. Harry Noyes held onto his player-manager role and Pete Wilson returned as pitching ace. Career minor leaguers Charlie Fallon, Ed Justice and Billy Luyster came back to the Senators. Newcomers included first baseman Jack Rothfuss and outfielder Izzy Hoffman. Owner Clarkin recruited a Dutch immigrant and an all-time minor leaguer, Jack Lelivelt on a tip from Philadelphia manager Connie Mack. That year, Clarkin offered the Senators a $100 bonus for a five game win streak. While popular with players, the bonus scheme failed and Hartford finished fifth in the Connecticut League.

Three New Hartford Players, 1907.
Billy Luyster, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1907.
Jack Lelivelt, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1907.
Izzy Hoffman, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1907.

Proprietor Clarkin sought to retool Hartford by hiring veteran leadership for 1908. During the offseason, Thomas Dowd, a big league journeyman and assumed managerial duties and all baseball operations. Dowd lured players such as Ray Fisher, a pitching phenom, Hank Schumann, a reliable strike-thrower and Bob Connery, a muscle-bound first baseman. There was also Earle Gardner, a second basemen destined for the New York Yankees and Chick Evans, an 18 year old who threw a perfect game for the Senators on July 21, 1908. Hartford had its finest team to date, but lost to Springfield by a half game in the last days of the season.

New Hartford Senators, 1908.
1908 Hartford Senators
1908 Hartford Senators
Hartford Senators at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1908.

A disappointing conclusion to Hartford’s 1908 season lit a fire under the Senators in 1909. Clarkin appointed Bob Connery player-manager in place of Thomas Dowd who reportedly struggled with alcoholism. New additions Jimmy Hart and Jack Wanner led the squad in batting. With masterful pitching and defense, Connery’s crew captured first place. Hartford outlasted second place Holyoke and finally won their first championship. On September 13, 1909, the Senators were honored with a parade on Main Street, a ceremony outside Connecticut’s Old State House, a musical performance at Hartford Theater and a late night banquet at Hotel Garde.

1909 Hartford Senators, Connecticut League Champions.
1909 Hartford Senators
Johnny Wanner, Second Baseman, Hartford, 1909.
Quartet of players, Hartford Senators, 1909.
Michael Wadleigh, Catcher, Hartford, 1909.
New players for the Hartford Senators, 1909.
George Metzger, Third Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1909.
1909 Hartford Senators, Connecticut League Champions.

In 1910, the Senators were the envy of the Connecticut League. A pennant flag flew over the pristine Hartford Baseball Park. The venue had a smooth playing surface, player clubhouses and concession stands. Meanwhile, Clarkin further delegated his duties by creating the Hartford Baseball Club Board of Strategy. The group devised plans and scouted players like pitchers Buck O’Brien and Carl Lundgren. Though it was player-manager Bob Connery who picked up a rookie from St. Louis, Wally Rehg who was later dubbed the world’s sassiest player. Amid high expectations, the Senators underachieved to fourth place – six games behind first place Waterbury.

First day’s workout, Hartford Senators, 1910.
Senators at Hartford Baseball Park, 1910.
1910 Hartford Senators
John Vann, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1910.
Walter Rehg, Utility, Hartford Senators, 1910.
Buck O’Brien, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1910.
Board of Strategy, Hartford Senators, 1910.
Carl Lundgren, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1910.
William Moore, Groundskeeper, Hartford Baseball Park, 1910.

Before the 1911 season, Connecticut League officials increased the championship purse from $25 to $100 to attract better talent. That year, rookie outfielder Hugh High rose to local stardom by hitting for a .302 average in 431 at bats. Former Boston Doves pitcher Tom McCarthy only played half of the season, yet he twirled 15 wins. A low point for the club came when they were caught drinking alcohol on a Sunday at Lighthouse Point in New Haven. Arrest warrants were issued for nine Hartford players including manager Connery but the charges were later dropped. The Senators fell short of a title but finished in a respectable third place.

1911 Hartford Senators
Clint Ford, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1911.
Hugh High, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1911.
Robert Henry Ray, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1911.
Nick Lakoff, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1911.
Nick Lakoff, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1911.
John Hickey, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1911.
Herman Shincel, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1911.
1911 Hartford Senators

As winter descended on Hartford, Jim Clarkin renewed his lease of the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for ten more years. He then built the largest grandstand in the league to seat more spectators. When the 1912 season began, Bob Connery suited up for his last managerial campaign. Connery would later discover Rogers Hornsby as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. Hartford also added Benny Kauff who batted .321 in 53 games. Hugh High led the Connecticut League with 145 base hits and 5 homers. Si McDonald served as primary catcher and captained Hartford to second place.

A new grandstand at Hartford Baseball Park, 1912.
New Players of the Hartford Senators, 1912.
Bob “Tom” J. Connery, Player-Manager, Hartford Senators, 1912.
Hugh High, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1912.
New Haven vs. Hartford, 1912.
Members of the Hartford Senators, 1912.
Waterbury vs. Hartford, 1912.
Si McDonald, Catcher, Hartford Senators, 1912.
Bill Powers, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1912

At an offseason meeting, President Jim O’Rourke and Connecticut League officials renamed the loop the Eastern Association, reflecting the inclusion of three Massachusetts clubs. In preparation for the 1913 season, the Senators announced Si McDonald as Hartford’s player-manager. Important acquisitions were shortstop, Bill Morley, second baseman, Jim Curry and first baseman, Mickey Keliher. Center fielder Benny Kauff had one of the Senators’ best seasons, leading the league with 176 hits and a .345 batting average. Behind superior hitting and pitching, Hartford won 83 games and another triumphant league championship.

1913 Hartford Senators
Benny Kauff, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1913.
Gus Gardella, Shortstop, Hartford Senators, 1913.
1913 Hartford Senators
Eastern Association final standings, 1913.

Most of Hartford’s title winners appeared again in 1914. Si McDonald became full-time manager while Hartford-born Jack Muldoon was promoted to starting catcher. Eventually McDonald was deposed by owner Clarkin, who assigned the job to a veteran manager, Dan O’Neil. New arrivals Ed Barney and Jack Hoey were Hartford’s most productive hitters. Pitchers Clyde Geist and Fred Rieger carved out brilliant seasons and were among the league leaders in wins. When the Eastern Association wrapped, the Senators had completed a tenth consecutive season with a winning record.

1914 Hartford Senators
Dan O’Neil, Manager, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Maurice Kennedy, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Jimmy Curry, Second Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Jack Hoey, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Roger Salmon, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Ed Goeb, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Mickey Keliher, First Baseman, Hartford Senators, 1914.
Murray Parker, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1914.
James Crowley, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1914.

In 1915, proprietor Clarkin abandoned the Eastern Association. Instead, he entered Hartford into the Colonial League, loosely affiliated with the infamous Federal League. Shortly before the season, 36 year old infielder Jim Delahanty was named player-manager. He mashed a .379 batting average, earned MVP of the league and led the Senators to the Colonial League pennant. Other players on the squad were former Federal Leaguers with the Brooklyn Tip Tops and the Newark Pepper. A mix of outcasts won Hartford its third pennant during a span of six years.

1915 Hartford Senators, L to R: Back Row – Mike Simon, George Textor, Dennis Gillooly, Gus Helfrich, Gil Whitehouse, Aime Proulx and Fred Trautman. Front Row – Blondie Sherman, Henry Demoe, Jim Delahanty, Jack Murray and Ray Werre.
Gil Whitehouse, Outfielder, Hartford Senators, 1915.
Clyde Geist, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1915.
Bill Jensen, Pitcher, Hartford Senators, 1915.
Hartford Senators on the New York Yankees, 1915.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant via Newspapers.com
  2. Hartford Times microfilm collection at Hartford Public Library
  3. Baseball-Reference.com
  4. Statscrew.com
  5. Bob Connery SABR Bio by Steve Steinberg

The 1870 Connecticut Base Ball Convention

150 years ago in baseball history – On Wednesday, November 2, 1870, Hartford hosted the third ever Connecticut Base Ball Convention. Hartford’s own Gershom B. Hubbell presided over the meeting. Delegates attended from the most prominent teams in the state. Many of them arrived in Hartford via steamship on the Connecticut River. Ball clubs represented were Yale College, Middletown Mansfields, Stratford, New Britain, Essex, Meriden and others from Hartford including Trinity College.

Hartford Courant excerpt, November, 1870.
Gershom B. Hubbell, President of Connecticut Base Ball Association, 1870.
Hartford Courant excerpt, November 3, 1870.
Painting by John Stobart, City of Hartford Steamship on the Connecticut River, Hartford, 1870.

Bristol’s Baseball Magnate, William J. Tracy

Bristol, Connecticut, is home to Muzzy Field as well as a distinguished baseball history. One the most significant figures in Bristol’s baseball chronicles is William J. Tracy; the man who prompted the construction of Muzzy Field. Also known as Bill Tracy, he was baseball club owner, executive and friend of legendary managers Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and John McGraw of the New York Giants. A photograph of Tracy and Mack at the 1911 World Series has been curated by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Map of Bristol, Connecticut, 1893.

William J. Tracy was born in Bristol on January 1, 1869. He spent his youth working at the Central Meat Market on North Main Street. Eventually Tracy became sole proprietor of the meat market, later called the Bristol Beef Company. As a respected young man around town he was elected Constable of Bristol in 1894. However, Tracy’s real passion was the national game of baseball. So when the meat business paid off, he decided to finance a top-rate Bristol club in the Connecticut League.

Hartford Courant, 1900.

In 1900, Bill Tracy became an of the Bristol Baseball Association. He joined fellow proprietors, State Representative Otto F. Strunz and a barbershop owner named John E. Kennedy who later became the state’s chief umpire. The town was overjoyed to have a team in the Connecticut League with Tracy at the helm. While in charge of the club, he also acted as umpire on multiple occasions. The following season cemented Bristol’s admiration for Tracy when he led Bristol to the 1901 state league championship.

John E. Kennedy, Bristol, 1900.
Otto F. Strunz, Bristol, 1900
The Journal (Meriden, Connecticut), June, 14, 1901.

Bristol was the smallest town in the Connecticut League circuit, yet they conquered the competition. Bill Tracy’s club of 1901 won the pennant over second place Bridgeport. Bristol featured player-manager and pitching ace Doc Reisling who went on to play major league ball for the Brooklyn Superbas and Washington Senators. There was also Ted Scheffler an outfielder from New York City, Red Owens an infielder from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and Andy Anderson, a catcher from Detroit, Michigan. Connecticut’s baseball community praised Bristol for winning the league in honorable fashion.

Hartford Courant, September 7, 1901.
Hartford Courant, September 17, 1901.
Doc Reisling, Pitcher, Bristol, 1901.
Andy Anderson, Catcher, Bristol, 1901.
Connecticut League standings, 1901.

In spite of their first championship, Tracy’s club was not invited back to the Connecticut League in 1902. League officials cited revenue issues due to the small size of Bristol. Tracy wholeheartedly disagreed with the snub of his championship team. Hall of Fame player-manager Jim O’Rourke of the Bridgeport club was reported to have headed the cabal who dismissed Bristol. President of the Connecticut League, Sturges Whitlock upheld the decision. Tracy was only temporarily discouraged and held no grudge against O’Rourke. The next summer Tracy funded a Bristol squad, “The Flats” in the Town Amateur Baseball League.

Jim O’Rourke, Secretary, Connecticut League, 1901.
Sturges Whitlock, President, Connecticut League, 1901.

When presented the opportunity, Bill Tracy returned to the Connecticut League in 1903 by purchasing the Hartford Senators franchise. After two unremarkable seasons as head of the Hartford club, he decided to pursue a position as a league officer. He sold his ownership stake in the Hartford Senators to would-be longtime owner, James H. Clarkin and the team’s captain, Bert Daly for $5,000. In 1905, Tracy was appointed Vice President of the Connecticut League, the forerunner of the Eastern League. By October of 1906, Tracy was voted in as President.

1904 Hartford Senators

The Connecticut League was a professional association whose teams were unaffiliated with Major League clubs. The minor leagues were classified by playing level on a scale of Class A to Class F. Bill Tracy was president of the Class B Connecticut League until 1912. His role consisted of disciplining players and settled disputes between clubs hailing from cities like Hartford, Meriden, Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Springfield and Holyoke. He was also tasked with managing relationships with big league clubs who often signed state league players known as “contract jumpers”.

William J. Tracy, President, Connecticut League, 1906.
Hartford Courant, May 26, 1910.

Outside of baseball, Bill Tracy was appointed to the Bristol Trust Company Board of Directors in 1907 and to the Bristol National Bank Board of Directors in 1909. Tracy served as a charter member of the Bristol Board of Park Commissioners and as superintendent of Bristol Parks for 15 years until his retirement in 1935. In this position he was instrumental in the acquisition and development of Memorial Boulevard, Rockwell Park and Muzzy Field – named after Adrian J. Muzzy of Bristol, a prominent businessman and State Senator who donated land for the ballpark in memory of his two sons who died young.

Adrian J. Muzzy, 1904.
Commemorative plaque at Muzzy Field, 2015.
Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 2015.

Like Adrian Muzzy, Bill Tracy aggressively sought to improve Bristol while capitalizing on business opportunities. He founded a real estate and insurance company that later became Tracy-Driscoll Insurance. At 68 years old, Tracy passed away on December 1, 1937 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He is remembered as a baseball executive, businessman, public servant, philanthropist and family man. Tracy was married 43 years to Ellen Lacey Tracy. They had 4 sons, Paul, Joseph, Francis, and William E. Tracy; all of whom played baseball.

William J. Tracy, 1925 (c.)

Francis “Tommy” Tracy was a clever pitcher who captained the Dartmouth College ball club. William E. Tracy founded Bristol Sports Promotion who owned and operated the Hartford Bees of the Eastern League in 1947 and 1948. William J. Tracy and his family pioneered for Bristol a lasting reputation as one of the great baseball towns in America. In 2002, Tracy’s many contributions were honored when he was inducted into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame.

William E. Tracy, 1958.

Sources:

  1. Hartford Courant database (Newspapers.com)

The National Pastime at Pratt & Whitney

April 18, 2020

Few companies in the world have made a greater impact on modern technology than Pratt & Whitney Company. From the production of interchangeable machine tools to jet engines, Pratt & Whitney is a global success story originating in Hartford, Connecticut. The business was founded in 1860 when Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney combined their mechanical expertise. Pratt & Whitney supplied machine tools for the production of firearms during the American Civil War and became a major source of custom machinery such as drills, mills and lathes. The company perfected the art of machining and its methods of measurement established the standard inch.

Founders of Pratt & Whitney
First reported Pratt & Whitney game, 1866.
The Pratt & Whitney Company Hartford, Connecticut, 1877.

In addition to its technological advancements, Pratt & Whitney also made significant, yet long forgotten contributions to the game of baseball throughout Greater Hartford. Baseball became popular in the mid-19th century as agrarian communities transformed into industrial cities. Workplaces began to form baseball clubs as a means of publicity and community-minded expression. Pratt & Whitney formed a company team as early as the summer of 1866, nearly a decade before professional baseball came to Hartford. The club challenged nines from Hartford and surrounding towns. Pratt & Whitney played their first out-of-state ballgame against Holyoke in 1883.

Pratt & Whitney vs. Willimantics, 1883.

Pratt & Whitney vs. Holyoke, July 19, 1883.
Pratt & Whitney executives Hartford, Connecticut, 1887 (c.)

At the onset of the 20th century, Pratt & Whitney’s company team pioneered an indoor version of baseball. During the fall of 1899 and 1900, Hartford’s Indoor Baseball League played in the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium. During the summer months Pratt & Whitney’s club played in Hartford’s Shop Baseball League which developed into Hartford’s Factory League in 1904. Opposing teams included Colt Armory, Billings & Spencer, Hartford Electric Vehicle, Hartford Rubber Works and Pope Manufacturing. Much to the delight of Hartford cranks, the Factory League convened at Colt Park and Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (later Clarkin Stadium and then Bulkeley Stadium).

Pratt & Whitney, Hartford, Connecticut, 1900.
Pratt & Whitney plays indoor baseball, 1900.

Pratt & Whitney records triple play, 1904.
A Pratt & Whitney parade float, Hartford, Connecticut, 1908.
Pratt & Whitney, Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 1911.
Pratt & Whitney ballplayers, 1913.
Industrial League action at Colt Park, Hartford, 1913.

By 1916, Hartford’s Factory League had evolved into the Hartford Industrial League. Also nicknamed the Dusty League, it was Hartford’s best amateur loop. Pratt & Whitney seized the league’s championship in its inaugural season. Standout Pratt & Whitney players included: Dutch Leonard, a hard-throwing moundsman from Hartford, John Muldoon, a catcher who later signed with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern Association and Sam Hyman a southpaw hurler from Hartford High School who played professionally for more than 11 years. However, most players were local men from Hartford. An amatuer named Rex Islieb was a skillful outfielder named who led Pratt & Whitney to clinch the Hartford Industrial League pennant in 1918.

Pitchers Dutch Leonard and Joe Smith of the Factory League, 1916.
Pratt & Whitney wins Industrial League, 1916.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1917.
John Muldoon, Catcher, Pratt & Whitney, 1918.

Perhaps the most intriguing Pratt & Whitney ballgame took place on Sunday, September 22, 1918, when they squared off against a 23 year old named Babe Ruth. Eleven days after Ruth and the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, he came to Hartford to play in benefit games at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The exhibitions raised funds for the Bat and Ball Fund which donated baseball equipment to American soldiers of World War I. Including Ruth, five Major Leaguers made appearances that day. Ruth’s Red Sox teammate, “Bullet” Joe Bush started on the mound for Pratt & Whitney with Herman Bronkie, Shano Collins and Joe Dugan behind him. Ruth pitched for the semi-pro Hartford Poli’s club and hit third in the batting order. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out dueled by Bush’s 2-hit pitching performance and Pratt & Whitney won the contest by a score of 1 to 0.

1918 Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions.
Babe Ruth and Joe Bush, Boston Red Sox, 1918.
Pratt & Whitney faces Ruth, September 23, 1918.
Herman Bronkie, St. Louis Cardinals, 1918.
Shano Collins, Chicago White Sox, 1918.
Joe Dugan, Philadelphia Athletics, 1918.

When World War I ended, Pratt & Whitney had supplied the war effort with critical machine tools, war and they defeated Babe Ruth. The company team retained their good form the following season and captured the 1919 Industrial League championship. Thousands of spectators turned out at Hartford’s Colt Park to witness amateurs, like local slugger Jack Vannie and his Pratt & Whitney nine. The club’s third consecutive season title made headlines in the Hartford Courant and a celebration was later held at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street. Pratt & Whitney’s company team became known as one of the most prestigious baseball clubs in Connecticut.

Pratt & Whitney Baseball Club, 1919.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1919.

The “Roaring Twenties” prompted more expansion at Pratt & Whitney. In addition to baseball, Pratt & Whitney employees also formed bowling, tennis, basketball and football clubs. The baseball club continued to do battle in Hartford’s Industrial League, though with less success than the previous decade. Employees and local fans continued to lean on baseball while the proliferation of automobiles and advances in air travel altered the future of Pratt & Whitney and Hartford. In 1925,aviation engineer Frederick Rentschler partnered with Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool to build new aircraft engines, thus beginning Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company.

Hartford Industrial Athletic League trophies, 1921.
Johns-Pratt vs. Pratt & Whitney at Colt Park, 1923.
Pratt & Whitney Co. Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, (c.) 1925.

Rentschler began to produce hundreds of Wasp aircraft engines but soon broke away from Pratt & Whitney. In 1929, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft merged with Boeing to form United Aircraft and Transport Corporation, the predecessor of United Technologies Corporation. As part of the agreement the United Aircraft division in Hartford retained the name Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. While individuals and businesses were stricken by the ill effects of 1929’s Stock Market Crash and the ensuing Great Depression, the aviation industry managed to flourish. Aircraft manufacturers thrived on favorable federal contracts and subsidies. In 1930, the new Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company established a baseball club.

Frederick Rentschler, President of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1926.
L to R: Pratt & Whitney Executives George Mead, Fred Rentschler, Don Brown and William Willgoos stand with the 1000th Wasp Engine, 1929.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1930.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1930.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1930.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1930.

Meanwhile Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool pressed on as a separate company with a baseball club of their own. Both Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft each organized teams in Hartford’s amateur leagues and would often go head-to-head on the diamond. Meanwhile, off the field, federal antitrust laws broke up United Aircraft and Transport Corp in 1934. A new company was formed called United Aircraft Corporation, consisting of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Sikorsky, Chance Vought and Hamilton Standard was headquartered in Hartford with Frederick Rentschler as president. By 1935, Rentschler had completed a giant complex in East Hartford, Connecticut, with aims at vertically integrating airplane manufacturing.

Hal Justin, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Co., 1932.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and Chance Vought plants in East Hartford, Connecticut, 1935.
Sikorsky S-42 Clipper with United Aircraft Hornet Engines, 1935.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1936.

Regardless of changes in business, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft remained backers of baseball clubs in Hartford’s Industrial League, the Public Service League and the East Hartford Twilight League. Some of the best company teams were represented in two summer leagues at once. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft entered the East Hartford Twilight League in 1937 after finishing third place in the Industrial League that same summer. The team featured local greats and future GHTBL Hall of Fame inductees Joe Tripp and Bill Calusine. Former professional ballplayer, Hal Justin served as manager and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft won the 1939 Industrial League championship.

Sikorsky S-43 powered by Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines of Pan American Airlines clipper, 1936.
U.S. Marines visit Hartford to play against United Aircraft (Pratt & Whitney Aircraft), 1937.
4United Aircraft (Pratt & Whitney Aircraft), Hartford Industrial League Champions, 1939.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft (United Aircraft), East Hartford, 1940.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft newsletter cover, 1940.
Pratt & Whitney Tool assembly line, 1940.

By 1941, America had gone to war against the Axis powers of World War II. Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool who relocated to West Hartford in 1939 and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft (United Aircraft) made major contributions to the war effort. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft was a key supplier of aircraft engines who helped the United States build more planes than any other warring nation. Its workforce swelled to about 40,000 employees during World War II and its engines powered Navy and Army fighters, bombers and transports. To relieve stress and to retain a sense of normalcy, manufacturing employees played baseball in multiple amateur leagues in Greater Hartford. After winning the Industrial League in 1942, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool joined the East Hartford Twilight League in 1943 and won the pennant once again.

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1940.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1941
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1942.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool and United Aircraft were two of the best amateur baseball teams in Connecticut. The companies clashed on multiple occasions at Burnside Park in East Hartford. Lineups on both sides featured professionals whose careers were interrupted by World War II. Former minor leaguer John Chomick and brotherly duo Pete Kapura and George Kapura were members of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft club while Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool, fielded a former Boston Braves pitcher, George Woodend and other talented players such as Daniel Zazzaro, Jake Banks and Charlie Wrinn who enjoyed brief minor league careers.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1942.
Joe Tripp, Shortstop, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1943.
George Woodend, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool, 1943.
Jake Banks, Outfielder, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool, 1944.
Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool, West Hartford, 1945.
“Iggy” Miller Murawski, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1947.
John “Yosh” Kinel, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney, 1949.
Charlie Wrinn, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney, 1951.

In 1952, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft won championships in the Hartford Industrial League and the Manchester Twilight League. The following summer, the company team tested their mettle in the Hartford Twilight League and outshined the competition. Led by their manager, Johnny Roser, Aircraft captured the 1953 Hartford Twilight League championship. Professional scouts continued to take notice. In 1954, the New York Giants signed Pratt & Whitney Aircraft pitcher, Bob Kelley to a minor league contract. Aircraft’s company team solidified their amateur baseball dynasty in 1955 when they commandeered another dual championship in the Industrial League and the Hartford Twilight League.

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft advertisement in the Hartford Courant, 1952.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft vs. Puritan Maids, 1953.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft win the Hartford Twilight League, 1953.
New York Giants sign Pratt & Whitney Aircraft pitcher, Bob Kelley, 1954.
Hartford Twilight League Opening Day, 1955.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft wins the Industrial League and the Hartford Twilight League, 1955.
Bill Risley, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1955.
Jack Downes of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft accepts the Hartford Courant Trophy, 1955.

In 1957, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft first baseman Dick Pomeroy won the Hartford Twilight League batting title. The club’s ace and freshman at the University of Connecticut, Pete Sala pitched his way to a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft entered the Hartford Twilight League for a final season in 1960. In the coming years, Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft began to favor softball teams instead of baseball. When the company opened a new division in North Haven, Connecticut later that year, a baseball field was erected on the premises for the enjoyment of employees and management.

Mayor Cronin’s first pitch at Opening Day of the Hartford Twilight League at Colt Park, Hartford, 1956.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft of the Hartford Industrial League, 1956.
Pete Sala, Pitcher, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1957.
Pratt & Whitney ballgame in North Haven, Connecticut, 1957.
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, North Haven Branch, 1957.
Pratt & Whitney first pitch, North Haven, Connecticut, 1957.

In summary, Pratt & Whitney backed baseball clubs competed in Hartford’s amateur leagues for nearly a century. The company was a crucial contributor to Hartford’s earliest baseball era. Employees and fans turned to the game for recreation and entertainment throughout two World Wars and the Great Depression. Amidst decades of change, mergers and acquisitions, baseball was a constant for local manufacturers like Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Although its impact is now largely forgotten, Pratt & Whitney and its employees must be remembered as major influencers on baseball in the Greater Hartford area.

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1980.
1930’s Pratt & Whitney baseball uniform at Connecticut Historical Society, 2019.


Sources:

  1. Hartford Courant, available at www.newspapers.com (accessed: 2020).
  2. Pratt & Whitney, available at www.prattandwhitney.com (accessed: 2020).

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club of Hartford

The New York style game of “base ball” rose to prominence in Hartford during the summer of 1860. The first club to organize was the Independent Base Ball Club. Local merchants, W. O. Sherman and Charles A. Griswold served as President and Vice President. A few years later on June 13, 1862 a new team was formed in Bushnell Park named the Charter Oak Base Ball Club. The club was named after an unusually large White Oak tree and a symbol of American freedom from the Revolutionary War called the Charter Oak. Membership was limited to the club was 40 men. Game days in the park were Monday, Wednesday and Friday. According to the Hartford Courant, the club’s mission was to “establish on a scientific basis the health-giving and scientific game of base ball, and to promote good fellowship among its players.”

Painting of Charter Oak by Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857.

The Charter Oaks were founded by its President, Gershom B. Hubbell, a native of Bridgeport, a telegrapher at the American Telegraph on Main Street, Hartford and later, superintendent of Western Union’s Hartford office. Other elected officers of the club included: James B. Burbank, Vice President; Charles A. Jewell, Secretary and Treasurer; Thomas Hollister, G. F. Hills and E. H. Lane, Directors. James Burbank was a clerk; Charles Jewell, was a clerk at his father’s hide and leather business, Pliny Jewell & Sons; Enos A. Lane, 20, was also a clerk at George S. Lincoln Company, iron founders of Hartford; George F. Hills, aged 25, a teller at the State Bank; and Thomas A. Hollister, aged 30, who returned from New York as an apprentice bookbinder. All of the founders, except Burbank, made Hartford their permanent home.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club is organized, July 2, 1862.
Hartford Courant excerpt, July 19, 1862.
Hartford Courant, August 8, 1862.

The Charter Oaks fielded a “first nine,” a “second nine” and a “muffin team,” as was customary for “base ball” clubs in the early era. Practices and friendly inter-squad games were held in Bushnell Park. The uniform of the club was blue pants, with a white hat and a white shirt. On July 17, 1862 the “first nine” were picked. They were the Bunce twins—Frederick and Henry Lee, who both became Hartford bank presidents, Henry Yergason, Dickinson, Burbank, Branch, Hills, Hollister and Gershom Hubbell. In 1863, the team disbanded due to the start of the American Civil War and the ensuing military draft.

Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864
Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864

The Charter Oaks reorganized in the summer of 1864 and achieved greatness on the diamond. The ball club defeated local teams like Trinity College, the Hartford Mechanics and nines from Middletown, Norwich, Collinsville, and Waterbury. The Oaks later recruited a Trinity student, Cy Blackwell to take over pitching duties. In the fall of 1864, Blackwell and the Oaks out-dueled New Haven’s Yale College by a score of 44 to 32. A rematch was later cancelled due to snowy weather.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 15, 1864.
Yale challenges the Charter Oaks, 1864.
Aerial view of Hartford by J. Weidermann, 1864.

By 1865, “base ball” soared in popularity as soldiers returned home from the Civil War. Thousands of spectators witnessed the Oaks win a great majority of games along the banks of Park River in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. In addition to local teams, the Oaks “first nine” competed against the game’s first professional clubs in an era when there was no difference between professional and amateur. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Unions of Morrisania, the Eons of Portland, Maine, the Lowells of Lowell, Massachusetts, the Eurekas of Newark, New Jersey were among the best of Charter Oak challengers to visit Hartford.

Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1865.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club also scheduled away games, otherwise known as “base ball excursions.” In Worcester, Massachussets, on July 31, 1865, the Charter Oaks were thoroughly defeated by Harvard by a score of 35 to 13. Nevertheless, the Oaks obtained a winning record against in-state rivals that season. As a result, they were honored as champions of Connecticut and given a miniature wooden bat with inscribed silver emblems by a supporter of the club, J. G. Belden. The bat was said to be made from the original Charter Oak tree destroyed in a storm nine years earlier.

1865 Charter Oak Base Ball Club.

In 1866, the Charter Oaks retained their state championship title in a three game series against the Norwich Chesters. The final game took place at Hamilton Park (later known as Howard Avenue Grounds) in New Haven, Connecticut. Hubbell, Jewell, the Bunce twins and the rest of the Oaks dominated the Norwich club, winning 39 to 22. A second consecutive state championship padded the Oaks’ well-regarded club. When the season was through, Hubbell represented the Charter Oaks at the annual “National Base Ball Convention” where the game, its rules and its clubs made efforts to standardize and coordinate base ball operations.

Charter Oaks vs. Norwich Chesters, 1866.

By 1867, Hubbell and the Bunce twins made appearances in every game the Oaks ever played. In late summer, the Pequots of New London managed to defeat the Charter Oaks and take hold of the state championship title. After the season, the first base ball convention of Connecticut was hosted in Hartford at Central Hall on Central Row. In attendance were representatives from each of the state’s major base ball clubs. The meeting formed the Connecticut Base Ball Players Association in which organization Gershom B. Hubbell played a lead role. He hosted two more base ball conventions in Hartford. By the 1870 convention, the Charter Oaks were history but they had put Hartford on the baseball map.

Charter Oak Base Ball Club travels to New London, 1867.
Charter Oak Billiard Hall , 1867.
Charter Oaks vs. Yale, 1867
Charter Oaks vs. Pequots 1867.

The Charter Oaks and Gershom B. Hubbell led the early development of baseball in Hartford. Four years after the Oaks disbanded, Hartford’s first professional team was established. The Hartford Base Ball Club colloquially known as the Hartford Dark Blues were inaugural members of the National League. Former Charter Oaks captain, Hubbell was selected as the club’s President.

Charter Oaks vs. Yale, June 20, 1870.

In addition to pioneering baseball in Hartford, Hubbell was also a three-term City Council member of Hartford’s 7th Ward, an expert electrician and a championship pool player. He is credited with introducing the first telephones to Bell Telephone Company and with starting the first telephone exchange in Hartford. Hubbell owned a local billiards hall on Pearl Street during the late 1860’s called Charter Oak Billiard Hall.

Base Ball Convention, Hartford, 1870.
The Hubbell House, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1880 (c.)

Yung Wing & Hartford’s Chinese Base Ball Club

In 1872, a delegation of dignitaries and students from China arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, for a prolonged visit. The Chinese government had commissioned the students to undergo a Western education in order to develop future ambassadors of the Qing Dynasty. However, China did not expect the young students to become Americanized as they did, to forget how to speak Mandarin and to grow an affection for a game called base ball. Hartford’s Sino-guests were a part of the first Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) and led by Yung Wing, a Chinese man educated in America. Also known by his Mandarin title, “Rong Hong” Yung was the first Chinese person to graduate from New Haven’s Yale College.

Yale College (left) New Haven, Connecticut, 1850 (c.)

Originally, Yung Wing was born in 1828 and raised in the Zhuhai prefecture near Macao. In his formative years, Yung attended the Morrison School in Macao, the first Christian missionary school in China founded by another Yale graduate, Reverend Samuel Robbins Brown. In 1847, Yung was offered an opportunity to study in the United States by Reverend Brown, who was returning home due to poor health. Yung accepted the invitation, traveled half-way around the world and initially enrolled at Monson Academy in Massachusetts. During this time he became a convert to Christianity and accustomed to a New England way of life. In 1852, while studying law at Yale, Yung also became an American citizen.

Yung Wing (Rong Hong), Yale Graduate, Class of 1854.

After Yale, Yung Wing returned to China. He was determined to bring Chinese students to the United States so they too could experience a Western education. The Qing court debated the idea of sending students to study abroad in 1863. Meanwhile Yung was promoted up the ranks of China’s government and became envoy to the United States. He returned to America to acquire machinery, thereby equipping the city of Shanghai with modern manufacturing technology. He was then called upon to serve as lead interpreter to negotiate the 1868 Burlingame Treaty, providing legal rights to both Americans and Chinese people while abroad. Then Yung was key to negotiations with France following the Tianjin Massacre of 1870.

View of Hartford, Connecticut, 1869.

Eventually, Yung Wing became a Viceroy of the fifth rank, and he used his influence to appeal for the Western education of Chinese boys. His persistence paid off when the Tongzhi Emperor approved the Chinese Educational Mission to America. Yung went ahead of other Chinese officials and students in order to establish the CEM in New England. He vetted American families who would open their homes to young Chinese students and would eventually set up CEM headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. The first group of thirty students sailed to America in 1872, and rode a series of trains to reach Hartford.

Reverend Samuel Robbins Brown, 1870 (c.)

The first group of students from China were 30 boys ranging in age from 10 to 14. They arrived in Hartford in 1872. A second detachment of students arrived from China in 1873, followed by a third and fourth in 1874 and 1875. The students lived with host families in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where they were immersed in the English language and American customs. CEM students attended local schools, including West Middle School and Hartford Public High School. They would go on to study at secondary schools throughout New England in preparation for college.

Chinese Educational Mission students departing Shanghai, 1872.

A majority of Chinese Educational Mission students hailed from Guangdong Province, while others came from Fujian Province, Shanghai, and various coastal locations of China. They arrived in Hartford wearing traditional Chinese garb but soon adopted an American style of attire after experiencing ridicule from peers. The students also improved speaking English at the expense of their Mandarin. They assimilated to a new culture, including going to church on Sunday, eating American cuisine and playing baseball, a game spreading rapidly in popularity throughout the United States at that time.

The first Chinese Educational Mission students arriving in Hartford, Connecticut, 1872.

In 1874, the Chinese Education Mission constructed a headquarters, at 352 Collins Street in Hartford, where in the summer, many of the boys lived and studied Chinese classics and culture. Summertime also brought about more outdoor leisure and more time to play baseball. A team of at least nine players was formed and called the Celestials (also referred to as the Orientals). In 1875, while directing the CEM, Yung Wing married Mary Louise Kellogg, the daughter of a prominent doctor in Hartford. Mary Kellog and Yung Wing were married by a close friend, sponsor and first pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell.

Reverend Joseph H. Twichell (left) and Yung Wing, 1875.
Yung Wing on his wedding day, 1875.
Mary Louise Kellogg, wife of Yung Wing on their wedding day, 1875.
The parlor of the Chinese Educational Mission, 1878.
The classroom Chinese Educational Mission of Hartford, 1878.
Yung Wing, leader of the Chinese Educational Commission, Hartford, Connecticut, 1878.
The Celestials, 1878.

The marriage of Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg was the talk of Hartford at the time. They would have two children named Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. Not long after the birth of his sons, Yung Wing found himself in a predicament over the fate of the Chinese Educational Mission. Other CEM commissioners with traditional viewpoints wrote in secret to the Chinese Court denouncing the students for becoming too Americanized. These negative reports, funding concerns and a United States breach of the Burlingame Treaty prompted China to announce the end of the mission.

Chinese student, Hartford, Connecticut, 1879.

However Yung Wing and his Hartford-based circle of influence fought back. The closest friend of Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and an avid CEM supporter happened to be Samuel Clemens, better known as the famed author Mark Twain. Twain took the initiative to write a letter to former United States President Ulysses S. Grant whom China respected. Twain’s letter urged former President Grant to appeal China’s decision ending the CEM. Grant made the appeal and as a result, the CEM was temporarily allowed to continue.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) of Hartford advocates for CEM, 1881.

Despite the unpredictable future of the mission, integration of Chinese students into New England society thrived. By the spring of 1881, the CEM was so effective that many of its students were enrolled at colleges and preparatory schools. In fact, Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover both featured a Chinese student on their baseball teams. Other students adapted to American culture by forming political clubs or joining religious organizations. CEM students were also well-versed in specialized fields such as telegraphy, machining, medicine, law, government and international studies.

Yung Wing (second from right) and other leaders of the Chinese Educational Mission, 1881.

Eventually though the Chinese government ordered the students back to China on June 8, 1881, six years earlier than originally planned. By August, one hundred CEM students were making their way back to China along with Yung Wing. The Chinese cohort stopped in San Francisco to await a steamer back to China but before their departure, a local Oakland baseball team challenged the Celestials ball club to a game. The Oakland club expected to walk all over with the young Chinese squad. However, to the surprise of most people in attendance, the Celestials drew on their experience in Hartford and won their final baseball game in America.

Chentung Liang Cheng (seated, right) of the Phillips Academy Andover Base Ball Team, 1881.
Chin Kin Kwai (seated, right) of the Phillips Exeter Academy Base Ball Team, 1881.
Chinese Educational Mission headquarters at 352 Collins Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1887.

In 1883, Yung Wing came back to Hartford to care for his wife who had fallen ill while in China. Sadly, she never recovered and passed away in 1886. A devastated Yung Wing raised his two sons who helped console him through the loss of both the Chinese Educational Mission and his wife. In 1895 Yung Wing returned to China in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War in which China was defeated. He made suggestions to government officials, such as construction of railroads, establishment of a national bank, but none were adopted.

Yung Wing in China, 1908 (c.)

Yung Wing then joined the Reform Party who lobbied for new progressive policies in China. During the summer of 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi brought a halt to any notion of reform and a $70,000 bounty was placed on the head of Yung Wing. He fled for his life to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong. Though his United States citizenship had been annulled in 1898 as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he snuck in to the country via a port of San Francisco in June of 1902. Yung Wing arrived in New Haven in time to see his younger son, Barlett Golden Yung graduate from Yale.

Along with his longtime friend, Rev. Joseph Twichell, Yung Wing published an autobiography in 1909 entitled My Life in China and America. On April 22, 1912, he died in Hartford and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery. If not for Yung Wing, 120 Chinese students would not have come to live and study in New England during the 9-year Chinese Educational Mission. The students entered into diplomatic service, worked as engineers, physicians, educators, administrators, magistrates and naval officers; thus achieving the original vision of Yung Wing. He left a trailblazing legacy of international diplomacy, he led a Western expansion of China’s cultural footprint and perhaps unintentionally, Yung Wing ushered the game of baseball from Hartford to China.

Yung Wing in Hartford, Connecticut, 1909 (c.)
Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung, 1910 (c.)
Yung Wing statue in Zhuhai, China, 2005.
Tombstones of Mary Kellogg and Yung Wing, 2012.
Yung Wing Statue Sterling Memorial Library Yale New Haven, Connecticut. 2014.

Sources:

  1. Wing, Yung. My Life in China and America. Nabu Press, 2010.
  2. Chinese Exchange Students in 1880’s Connecticut, www.ctexplored.org/chinese-exchange-students-in-1880s-connecticut.
  3. “Yung Wing, the Chinese Educational Mission, and Transnational Connecticut: Connecticut History: a CTHumanities Project.” Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project, www.connecticuthistory.org/yung-wing-the-chinese-educational-mission-and-transnational-connecticut.
  4. Hartford Courant, Connecticut State Library digital database.

The Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company

When the 20th century began, baseball was in high demand throughout urban and rural America. Professionals, amateurs and school children played the “National Game” whenever weather permitted. In Hartford, a professional team nicknamed the Senators was organized in 1902 as part of the Connecticut State League. That same year, a Russian immigrant family named Tober settled in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among the family was a 20 year old man, Meyer Tober (1882-1964) who with his brothers, Israel and Louis, immediately began to capitalize on baseball mania by manufacturing sporting goods, especially by spinning, sewing and stitching baseballs.

Tober’s Connecticut State League baseball, 1910 (c.)

Massachussetts issued Tober a charter in December of 1910, thus founding Tober Brothers Inc. To meet growing demand for baseball goods, the company expanded to Hartford, Connecticut in 1912. The company established a factory in Hartford where Meyer Tober, his brothers and employees stitched baseballs by hand. Communities in and around Hartford became even more gripped by the game of baseball during this time. Aside from the Hartford Senators, almost all surrounding towns fielded ball clubs and amateur leagues competed on baseball diamonds across Connecticut. Public service entities such as police and fire departments, insurance businesses, churches and schools formed teams and played regularly at places like Colt Park in Hartford.

Tober Brothers Inc. bill of sale, 1911.

As baseball grew more popular, Tober gained profits and prestige. The family of baseball industrialists and their company became distinguished for quality workmanship. In 1915, Meyer Tober married a woman named Rae Recker of Hartford. Tober may have been influenced by his wife when in 1920, he published an advertisement in the Hartford Courant seeking 300 women to sew baseball covers at home on either a full-time or part-time basis. That year, Meyer Tober agreed to a business partnership with John A. Peach and the J.A. Peach Sporting Goods Company known for supplying baseball gloves to the Major Leagues. For a short period, the Peach-Tober Sporting Goods company was incorporated and located at 17 Goodman Place in Hartford, Connecticut.

Tober College League Baseball, 1922 (c.)
Tober employment advertisement, 1920.
Meyer Tober leases property on Pleasant Street in Hartford, 1922.
Meyer Tober leases property on Pleasant Street in Hartford, 1922.

The following year, a fire on April 25, 1921 destroyed $15,000 in Peach-Tober merchandise during their busy season. In the aftermath, Tober reorganized the business again and took on the name, Bon-Tober Sporting Goods Co. In 1922, Meyer Tober leased a three-story brick building at “240 Pleasant Street in Hartford for three years at $150 a month.” The Bon-Tober operation employed 150 people and over 1500 women who sewed baseballs from home. By then, Tober manufactured various sporting goods including baseballs, baseball mitts and gloves, baseball bats, footballs, soccer balls, basketballs, punching bags and boxing gloves. Branch offices were operated in New Britain, Meriden, Middletown, Springfield and Westfield.

Bon-Tober Sporting Goods Company advertisement, 1923.
Bon-Tober baseball, 1923.
Bon-Tober Catchers Mitt Box Hartford, Connecticut, 1925 (c.)
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1923.
Bon-Tober bat, 1925 (c.)

Tober baseball goods were used in leagues as far as Georgia where a single Tober baseball was claimed, “to last thirty innings, though it was guaranteed to last for eighteen innings.” In 1927, the company was purchased and operated by the McKinnon Dash Co. of Buffalo, New York, a former manufacturer of dashboards for horse drawn buggies and carriages dating back to 1878. For a short transition period products were sold with the Bon-Tober/McKinnon brand name. In 1930, McKinnon Dash began producing a complete line of leather sporting goods, under the “McKinnon” brand name. After the McKinnon buyout, Meyer Tober began anew by forming the Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company.

Bon-Tober baseball glove, 1925 (c.)

On October 19,1938, the Hartford Courant reported on Tober’s plans to move its main operation to Manchester, Connecticut: “Cheney Brothers has leased the third floor of Mill Four, part of the spinning mill group on Elm Street, to Meyer Tober of Hartford, doing business as Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company. The plant will be used for manufacturing athletic goods and as a warehouse. The silk firm [Cheney Bros.] has already leased several of its vacant factories to small manufacturing concerns.” Meyer Tober leased the mill floor for five years at a rate of $1,500 per year. In Manchester, Tober mainly manufactured baseballs and softballs under the Eagle brand as well as playground balls.

Cheney Brothers “Spinning Mill” Manchester, Connecticut, 1919 (c.)
Cheney Brothers “Spinning Mill” Manchester, Connecticut, 2016.

By the 1940’s, Meyer Tober’s sons, Sidney and Richard joined the family business. The Tober family lived at the corner of Union and Jefferson Streets in the North End of Hartford. In 1945, the Hartford Zoning Board of Appeals gave Tober permission to use 1127 Main Street Hartford to sew covers on the cores of baseballs and softballs; a location that employed about fifty people. Meyer Tober continued to employ “home workers” to stitch balls, but he ran into trouble with the federal Wage & Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor. The Hartford Courant reported on August 24, 1945 that Tober was fined $2,600 for not paying minimum wage to home workers in Vermont.

Tober’s Eastern League baseball signed by Walter Johnson, 1938.
Tober’s International League baseball, 1940 (c.)

In the early 1950’s, an eyewitness described two sisters sewing Tober baseballs from their home: “The sisters were very fast with the red yarn! Their long steel needles would fly as they stitched the baseballs – the holes were already punched in the leather. As they finished each baseball, they put the baseballs in peach baskets.” Around the same time, Tober expanded manufacturing operations to the second floor of Building #2 at Hilliard Mills in Manchester, Connecticut. The Hilliard Mills complex was one of the first places in the United States where softballs were mass-produced.

A Tober advertisement, 1950.
Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company advertisement, 1950 (c.)
Mrs. Rae Recker Tober (right) at Women’s Auxiliary of Mount Sinai Hospital Hartford, 1952.

By 1955, the Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company needed more manufacturing space yet again. The business was relocated to Brooklyn Street in Rockville, Connecticut, at the former National Print building. Tober also boasted sales offices in major U.S. cities including New York, Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco. Tober products were sold throughout the United States and internationally from sales offices in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti and across South America. According to an August 10, 1955, Hartford Courant article, “Credit for bringing the company to Rockville was given by Tober to Nat Schwedel, Treasurer of the American Dying Company and Vice President of the Rockville Industrial Association.”

Tober baseball signed by Jackie Robinson, 1955 (c.)
Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company advertisement, 1959.
A dozen Tober baseballs, 1960 (c.)
Tober Baseball Bazooka contest, 1956.
Tober baseball box, 1960 (c.)

On June 16, 1964, the Tober baseball story took a tragic turn. At the age of 82, Meyer Tober, was shot by a “berserk employee” named Carmelo Andino Reyes. Also characterized as “disgruntled,” Reyes had worked at Tober for five years while he was on probation. Reyes fired seven shots that summer day. One bullet passed through a table and struck a 21 year-old co-worker, Arlene Rose of Stafford Springs who suffered a minor gunshot wound. Meyer Tober was shot three times. The gunman was disarmed and restrained by male employees and held until the arrival of Rockville Officer Jack Reichenbach, according to a police account of the case.

Meyer Tober is shot three times by an employee, Carmelo Reyes, 1964.

At his trial, Carmelo Reyes pleaded innocent of intent to kill. He was eventually convicted of manslaughter and assault after an autopsy found Meyer Tober had died of a heart attack as a result of his wounds. Reyes was sentenced to 18 years in prison. After Meyer’s death, his sons, Sidney and Richard Tober operated the company for another five years before a fire caused extensive damage to the Rockville plant. The business closed in the early 1970’s after the Tober sons moved to Florida. By the end their run, Tober baseball left a legacy that spanned more than six decades as Connecticut’s most successful baseball goods manufacturer of all-time.

Tober Baseball Manufacturing Company Inc. in Rockville, Connecticut, 1965 (c.)
The former Rockville, Connecticut, location of the Tober Baseball Company, 2012.