Tag: philadelphia athletics

A Real Connecticut Yankee’s Baseball Career Cut Short

This article was published on ConnetcticutHistory.org on April 20, 2020.

Danny Hoffman’s story reminds sports fans of the fragile nature of a professional athlete’s career. An up-and-coming baseball star discovered playing on the lots of Collinsville, Connecticut, Hoffman played in the majors under legendary manager Connie Mack before joining the New York Yankees (before they were even known as the “Yankees”); but one pitch dramatically changed his career trajectory.

Hoffman was a native of Canton, Connecticut, attended local schools, and frequently played ball in the Collinsville section of town. There, a scout from the Connecticut League’s Springfield, Massachusetts, franchise discovered Hoffman and offered him a contract. Once in Springfield, it did not take long for major league teams to take an interest in him and Hoffman eventually signed with the Philadelphia Athletics to play for Hall-of-Fame manager Connie Mack in 1903.

Daniel J. Hoffman in a Philadelphia Athletics baseball uniform, 1906 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Hoffman an Early Hit with Philadelphia Athletics

As the Athletics headed up to Boston to play the Red Sox in the summer of 1904, baseball experts considered Hoffman one of the more promising young players in the majors. When Hoffman (hitting a career-high .299 with three home runs) stepped to the plate against Red Sox left-hander Jesse Tannehill, however, an errant pitch struck Hoffman in the right eye, ending his season.

Back with the A’s in 1905, Hoffman’s statistics dropped off precipitously. He utilized his great speed to steal 46 bases that year, but he struggled against left-handed pitching—causing Mack to regularly pull Hoffman out of the lineup against lefties.

Hoffman lasted one more year with the A’s before joining the New York Highlanders (who later changed their name to the New York Yankees). He spent two relatively unproductive years in New York before joining the St. Louis Browns in 1908 and then ending his major league career 3 years later. Hoffman tried to make it back to the majors by playing for St. Paul of the American Association and then Wilkes-Barre of the New York State League, but his comeback ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Daniel J. Hoffman, St. Louis Browns, American Tobacco Company baseball card portrait, 1911 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Once-Promising Talent Sidelined by Injury

Life after baseball saw Hoffman become a resident of Bridgeport. Having invested his baseball earnings wisely, Hoffman resided in a beautiful home on Stratford Avenue in the city’s east end. He became a very popular figure in Bridgeport and at one point local residents and civic leaders encouraged him to purchase the city’s struggling Eastern-League baseball team, but Hoffman slowly began retreating from public life.

In 1921, he left Bridgeport to move in with his parents in Manchester. Local residents reported rarely seeing Hoffman in public after that. Seven months after the move, in March of 1922, the Hartford Courant reported that Hoffman had passed away at his parents’ home due to “a general breaking down in health.” He was just 42 years old.

The Legend of Connie Mack Began in Connecticut

When Connie Mack left his hometown of East Brookfield, Massachussetts, to embark on a baseball career, his journey began in Connecticut. The journey would eventually take Cornelius Alexander Mack, born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, to the Hall of Fame. He won five World Series and nine American League pennants with the Philadelphia Athletics and earned a plaque in Cooperstown in 1937, the same year as Nap Lajoie, John McGraw, Tris Speaker, George Wright and Cy Young. Nobody has approached his managerial record of 53 seasons.

Connie Mack, Catcher, Washington Nationals, 1887.

Mack’s first baseball stop was Meriden in 1884. He caught for a semi-pro team in the Connecticut State League for $90 a month and was so beloved by fans that he was presented with a gold watch at the end of the season. In 1885, he joined Hartford of the merged Connecticut State League and Southern New England League. He played two seasons in Hartford as the team became a member of the Eastern League.

Connie Mack, Catcher, Washington Nationals, 1887.

Mack hit .251 for Hartford in 1886. Teaming with pitcher Frank Gilmore to form the “bone battery” — both were tall and lanky — Mack, 6 feet 1, 150 pounds, was known for his defense. But when the Washington Nationals attempted to sign Gilmore at the end of the 1886 season, the pitcher insisted they also sign Mack.

Manager Connie Mack, Philadelphia A’s, 1906.

So they did. Mack played three seasons in Washington and 11 in the major leagues, including three seasons as the Pirates’ player-manager. He became manager of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901 and retired after the 1950 season. He won 3,731 games and managed 7,755, both major league records.

Philadelphia Athletics with Connie Mack (tallest) at the Polo Grounds, 1905.

How was Mack remembered in Hartford? In an August 3, 1930, Hartford Courant story about baseball’s early days in the city, former local semi-pro player and National League umpire John Jackson Brady reminisced about Mack, who had won four World Series titles and would win his fifth in 1930.

Connie Mack, Manager, Philadelphia Athletics, 1913.

“Connie was one good fellow,” Brady said enthusiastically, as described by The Courant. “He was one of the most conscientious ballplayers I’ve ever seen. Sometimes his hands would be so sore that every catch nearly killed him, but he was right in there playing every day with hand plastered up in some manner. He never shirked.”

Connie Mack, The Grand Old Man of Baseball, 1930.
Connie Mack, The Optimist, 1932.

Brady, who ran the Hartford-based Brady Brothers Bottling Works and was well-known in the city, described Mack’s difficulty throwing to second base during his early years in Connecticut.

“It was both weak and inaccurate,” said Brady, who died in 1937. “But being a serious fellow, he set out to overcome the weakness. Every morning for more than month he went to the ballpark alone and practiced his throw. Soon he had it perfect, although there was slight curve in the throw. It would start to the right of second base, but when the baseman caught it, it was right on the bag.”

Brady was a National League umpire in 1887, but he worked the Connecticut circuit when Mack was playing.

Connie Mack the Psychologist of Baseball, 1912.

“Mack was a peppy catcher,” Brady said. “I didn’t feel any too comfortable when I was umpiring in front of him. There was but one umpire in those days, you know, and he stood in back of the pitcher. Every time I called a ball, Mack would give me a dirty look. He wouldn’t say a word, just a dirty look.”

Manager Connie Mack

Mack would return to Hartford with his Athletics for an exhibition game against the Senators. Gilmore was living in Hartford and his health was failing, so Mack arranged the game to raise money for his old teammate. When Gilmore died in 1929, Mack sent $500 to his widow.

Connie Mack visits Clarkin Stadium, Hartford, 1925.

In 1940, Mack returned to Meriden for a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of his first season. He also came to New Haven to receive a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sportswriters Alliance in 1940. And in 1951 — five years before his death — Mack came to Hartford once again for a dinner honoring former Boston Braves president Bob Quinn. Mack, according to Courant sports editor Bill Lee, Mack “went to Bulkeley Stadium and sat through the entire Eastern League game between Hartford and Williamsport.”

Fans gather to welcome Connie Mack to Hartford, 1951
Connie Mack attends dinner in Hartford, 1951

Article published March 7, 2014 by Paul Doyle in the Hartford Courant.

Connie Mack monument at Legion Field Meriden, Connecticut.

When Jimmie Foxx & the Philadelphia Athletics Came to Hartford

In 1933 and 1935 the American League powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics visited Hartford, Connecticut. The A’s were 2-time World Series champions, nicknamed the “Mackmen” after their manager Connie Mack. They came north to play exhibition games against Hartford’s semi-pro team, the Savitt Gems, comprised of guest starring professionals like Rabbit Maranville of the Boston Braves and local players such as Johnny Roser, Bob Cronin and Jigger Farrell. Jewelry store owner and philanthropist Bill Savitt organized the games. His Gems hosted the A’s before thousands of fans at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium. Leading the Mackmen was their slugging first baseman and Most Valuable Player, Jimmie Foxx.

Jimmie Foxx, First Baseman, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.
Connie Mack, Manager, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.
Bulkeley Stadium, Hartford, 1932.

When the Athletics first came to Hartford, James “Jimmie” Emory Foxx, nicknamed “Double X” and “The Beast” was baseball’s most coveted young star. Foxx led the majors in home runs during the 1932 and 1933 seasons. His power-hitting prowess made the A’s visit a highly anticipated event throughout Connecticut. The first exhibition game was scheduled when Connie Mack, who began his professional career in Hartford, accepted an invitation from Bill Savitt. Even though Mack was unable to attend the game, he telegraphed a lineup to the Hartford Courant in advance.

Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.
L to R: Max Bishop, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Dib Williams, 1933.

On Thursday, June 15, 1933, Foxx and the Philadelphia Athletics arrived in Hartford on their day off. The A’s traveled by train but without their ace, Lefty Grove who had recently pitched. Connie Mack’s train was delayed, so he decided not to make the trip. Nevertheless, the Mackmen nearly shutout the Gems behind the pitching of “Big” Jim Peterson who threw a complete game. Jimmie Foxx was held to a single base hit on the day, but the A’s easily defeated the Gems by a score of 6 to 1. At summer’s end Foxx was baseball’s Triple Crown winner with 48 home runs, 163 RBI and a .356 batting average.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 15, 1933.
Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1933.

A rematch at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford occurred on September 23, 1935. Because Connie Mack was absent due to an illness, Jimmie Foxx assumed the role of A’s manager that evening. Foxx’s teammate and the American League MVP of 1934, Pinky Higgins went 2 for 4 at plate with a towering home run. A’s catcher and former Hartford Senators farm hand, Paul Richards smashed another homer. On the mound for the Gems was the former Red Sox lefty hurler Johnny Micheals who allowed 10 hits and 4 runs in 9 innings of work. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s starting pitcher Bill Dietrich also struggled to keep the Gems from reaching base.

Jimmie Foxx, 1935.
Pinky Higgins and Eric McNain, Philadelphia Athletics, 1935.
A’s vs. Gems, Bulkeley Stadium, 1935.
Pinky Higgins, 1935.

By the end of two innings the Savitt Gems scored 5 runs on triples from Jigger Farrell and Johnny Michaels. To the everyone’s surprise, the Gems held the lead throughout the game. Michaels earned the win, mustered 3 hits at the plate and scored the deciding run. Hartford’s brotherly duo, Jigger and Tommy Farrell shined for the Gems, each collecting two hits. Hartford’s team upset Philadelphia’s world champions by a final tally of 6 runs to 4. The well-attended contest ended under the lights as Jimmie Foxx, who was held hitless on the night, made a rare two-inning appearance on the mound.

1935 Philadelphia Athletics
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 24, 1935.
Johnny Michaels, 1936.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Pete Naktenis, Hartford’s Major League Southpaw

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

Peter “Lefty” Naktenis, 1932.

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

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

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

Philadelphia Athletics sign Pete Naktenis, June 13, 1936.

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

Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics, 1936.

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

– Pete Naktenis

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

Naktenis pitches for the Savitt Gems, 1935.

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

Pete Naktenis, Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds, 1939.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

1. Hartford Courant
2. Reading Times