Tag: professional

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.

Neifi Mercedes Signs Professional Contract

Recently, Neifi Mercedes signed a professional contract to play for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. Mercedes, 22, hails from New Britain and and he attended Monroe College in the Bronx. In 2018 and 2020, he was the former shortstop of Tom Abbruzzese’s People’s United Bank franchise. Mercedes joins a long list of GHTBL players who have been picked up by an independent league. Also of note: Neifi’s 27 year old brother, Yermin Mercedes is currently having a breakout season as catcher of the Chicago White Sox.

Visit the United Shore Professional Baseball League here at https://uspbl.com.

A Baseball Pioneer from Connecticut, Benjamin Douglas Jr.

This article was written by David Arcidiacono

Benjamin Douglas Jr. of Middletown, Connecticut is a forgotten pioneer of early baseball. Of the six New England cities which have had major league baseball teams, Douglas started the original team in half of them. In 1848, Ben became the third of four sons born to a wealthy industrialist, Benjamin Douglas Sr. and his wife Mary. Douglas Sr. was owner of the Douglas Pump Factory, a prosperous business that had produced hydraulic pumps in Middletown for forty years. Douglas Sr. was a powerful man who once held several political offices including mayor of Middletown and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. Meanwhile, Douglas Jr. worked as clerk and timekeeper at the factory but found baseball much more interesting.

Douglas Pump Company with Ben Douglas Sr. and Ben Douglas Jr. (5th from right), 1868.
Ben Douglas Sr. Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and father of Ben Douglas Jr.
Benjamin Douglas Jr., 1868.

At the age of sixteen, Ben, of whom it was later said “would go ten miles on foot, over any obstacles, rather than miss seeing a good game,” organized the Douglas factory’s ballclub. He originally designated the baseball nine the “Douglas Club”, but quickly changed the name to the “Mansfields” in honor of General Joseph Mansfield, a Civil War hero killed at the Battle of Antietam as well as young Ben’s great uncle.

Col. Joseph K. F, Mansfield, 1870.

Douglas played on the Mansfields for five seasons and he was largely responsible for the administrative duties. As the Mansfields began to take on a more professional character, the extent of these tasks grew to include scheduling games (a huge job in the days before pre-set schedules and telephones), making travel arrangements, signing players, and overseeing ticket sales and the club’s treasury. The burden became so large that Ben, who played only sparingly in 1870 when the Mansfields were voted amateur champions of the state, and was listed as a substitute for 1871, then never saw playing action for an organized team again.

Boston Base Ball Club vs. Mansfield Base Ball Club, 1872.

As the 1872 season approached, everything appeared to be in place for the Mansfields’ continued operation as amateurs. While arranging playing dates for the upcoming season, Ben contacted Harry Wright, manager of the Boston club, in hopes of enticing the popular Red Stockings back to Middletown for a game. Wright advised Douglas that the Red Stockings would only come back if the receipts were better than the previous year, when the gate money “did not come up to the expectations we were led to indulge in.”

Mansfields of Middletown taking part in a parade, 1872.

When negotiations failed, Wright suggested that if the Mansfields were truly interested in playing professional clubs then they should pay the $10 entry fee and join the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. If they did, the professional clubs would then have no choice but to play them. Inspired by Wright’s novel idea, Douglas gathered the Mansfields’ officers together and laid out his proposal to join the professional ranks. The idea was approved and Douglas sent the $10 entry fee, fulfilling the league’s sole requirement for entry.

Mansfields of Middletown schedule and results, 1872.

Despite Douglas’ hard work, the Mansfields folded in August 1872, beset by a lack of paying customers. The Middletown Constitutionnoted the passing of the team by saying, “Mr Benjamin Douglas Junior….has shown considerable pluck and ingenuity in bringing the club up to rank among the best in the country. He now retires with the best wishes of all concerned.”

Once the Mansfields ceased operations, most people felt there would never be another professional ballclub in Connecticut. Despite this, Douglas knew that the National Association still wanted a club located between New York and Boston but he was also painfully aware that a larger market than Middletown was required.

1875 Hartford Dark Blues

Convinced that Hartford was the answer, he became the driving force in returning professional baseball to Connecticut. A few months before the 1874 season, Douglas gathered Hartford’s prominent businessmen to an informational meeting regarding starting a professional team in Hartford. During the meeting Douglas convinced the men to open their wallets, explaining that professional baseball was not only good for the host city but also profitable to investors. His efforts resulted in over $5000 worth of pledges for a new Connecticut team.

Hartford Courant Courant excerpt, 1877.

Douglas was elected traveling secretary of the new Hartford Dark Blues and held that post for two years. During that span the Hartford club had some success, finishing second in 1875 after placing seventh their first season. Prior to the 1876 season when the Dark Blues became a charter members of the National League, Douglas declined reelection due to “business engagements.” The Hartford Times reported, “Mr. Douglas has worked hard for the interest of the Hartford club, and had it not been for him the Hartfords would not have attained the celebrity they have. It might be said that he laid the foundation stone of the club.” Douglas did remain peripherally connected with the team however, serving as one of the club’s directors.

Hartford Courant excerpt, March 5, 1878.

By 1877, Hartford’s National League entry had moved to Brooklyn. With the new vacancy in Hartford, Douglas began plans to return a team to Hartford. He again succeeded in raising over $4000. Unfortunately the new National League rule requiring cities to have a population of 75,000 people forced Douglas to move to Providence, Rhode Island to keep his baseball dreams alive. As he tended to the business of getting a new National League team up and running in that city, he had suspicions that somebody on the Providence team wanted to run him out of the manager’s position and was planting false stories about him. His fears were realized before the season began as the board of directors voted to relieve him of his duties as manager.

Harry Wright, Player-Manager, Boston Red Stockings.

Douglas refused to resign however, leading the directors to threaten to withhold the $1000 he had invested in the club unless he resigned. Douglas contacted Harry Wright hoping for some help:

“You know me Harry for many seasons. You know I have spent a large sum of money from [18]66 to [18]78 trying my level best to build up the Dear Old Game and now after my hard hard work here to be disgraced…It is not on account of drink for I do not drink. It is not on account of dishonesty for God knows I am honest. It is not on account of bad women for I care nothing for them. I have always tried to act the part of a gentleman and square man by all.”

“Did I not run the Champions of Conn 6 seasons, the Dear Old Mansfields of Middletown. Did I not break into the World of Manager 2 seasons the celebrated Hartfords, 2nd only to the Champion Bostons season of 75 and yet these greenhorns say my past record is good for nothing…I have lost 6 month’s time from business at home where I had steady salary of $1500/yr. I have spent money like water. First for Hartford where I raised $4000 this last season and only for action of League would have been there…Drew good clean money out of bk [bank] at home. My hard earnings paid Mesr [sp], Carey, York, Hines, Higham, Hague, Allison, Nichols, $700 – advance money last winter or I would lost them. Providence would have had no League team only for me, and this is my reward…Can you do anything for me Friend Harry. I don’t ask money Oh know for that I have enough only I do ask my friends in the game to protect against this outrage.”

Ben Douglas Jr. to Harry Wright, 1877.

Douglas received a flattering letter from Wright but it was too late to save his position. Douglas replied to Wright:

“Your kind communication of the 10th came duly to hand & I can assure you it gave me great comfort. These people know more about base ball then I do, in their minds. After making a dupe of me they threw me one side….I had to resign my place or be kicked out. I had my whole heart in it sure, but I won’t bother you further…I retire with the consciousness of having done my whole duty and in return have been snubbed. No more Rhode Island for me.”

Harry Wright to Ben Douglas Jr., 1877.

It was later reported that Providence forced Douglas’ out because he was arranging games with non-League clubs. This had been a common practice to gain more money. As Douglas told Harry Wright, “It’s a long jump from Providence to Chicago without getting one cent.” After leaving Providence, the Providence Dispatch reported that Douglas still held the support of many in the city who were “greatly in favor of Mr. Douglas, and, to speak the truth, he has been shamelessly used.” The team that Douglas assembled finished third in the six-team National League.

Within two weeks of leaving Providence, Douglas organized a team in New Haven and joined the International Association. Attendance was sparse and in a desperate attempt to keep his dream alive, Douglas moved the club to Hartford. Two months later the club was expelled from the league for nonpayment to a visiting club. The 1878 season spelled the end of Douglas’ baseball dream.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 5, 1878.

He returned to Middletown and rejoined the family pump factory. In 1893, he married Nellie Sault, daughter of a Brooklyn foundry owner. This came as a surprise to Douglas’ friends who apparently were unaware of the 44-year-old Douglas’ relationship with the 20-year-old woman. In 1905, Ben Douglas died in Connecticut Hospital for the Insane where he had lived for five years.

Ben Douglas summed up his love of the game when he told Harry Wright, “You know Harry that my whole soul is in base ball.”

1879 Providence Grays captured the National League title after Ben Douglas Jr. departed the club.


Sources

Major League Baseball in Gilded Age Connecticut, by David Arcidiacono (McFarland, 2010)

Harry Wright Correspondence

Hartford Courant

Hartford Post

Hartford Times

Middletown Constitution

Middletown Penny Press

Middletown Tribune

Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford’s Greatest

A young, talented catcher from East Hartford, Connecticut, named Jimmy Gonzalez caught the eyes of local scouts in his junior year at East Hartford High School. During the summer of 1991, Gonzalez was selected as the 40th player overall in the Major League Baseball Draft – a first round draft pick of the Houston Astros. He went on to play fourteen seasons in professional baseball with the San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos and New York Mets organizations. Gonzalez played with Mike Piazza, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada and Tony Gwynn. He was an understudy of Gary Carter and Dave Engle. He also spent 4 seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, capturing two Caribbean Series championships.

Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, East Hartford High School, 1990.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.
Jimmy Gonzalez, East Hartford High School, 1991.

Gonzalez is a graduate of the Major League Scout School and has worked with the Boson Red Sox as an Associate Scout. He has been a minor league manager in the Chicago Cubs organization for the past 6 seasons and was named Manager of the Year in the Midwest League in 2016. Most recently, Gonzalez was at the helm of the South Bend Cubs in 2018 but has since been promoted. Gonzalez was hired for the 2019 season as the new Manager of the Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League – the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

Jimmy Gonzalez Topps Stadium Club card, 1992.
Jimmy Gonzalez Topps Stadium Club card, 1992.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Quad City River Bandits, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Houston Astros, Bowman card, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Houston Astros, Bowman card, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Quad City River Bandits, 1993.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Osceola Astros, 1994.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Catcher, Binghamton Mets, 2000.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, South Bend Cubs, 2016.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, South Bend Cubs, 2016.

Career stats – https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=gonzal001jim

Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.
Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.

Jimmy Gonzalez, Manager, Tennessee Smokies, 2019.

Dom Amore: East Hartford’s Jimmy Gonzalez Was There At Right Time For Gleyber Torres – https://www.courant.com/sports/baseball/hc-sp-amore-column-gonzalez-0529-story.html

Twilight Alum, Pollock Signs Deal with Dodgers

In 2008, Pollock played for a Glastonbury-based team, Monaco Ford.

The Dodgers have landed a right-handed hitter to complement their deep, left-handed heavy lineup in free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock (Allen Lorenz Pollock). Pollock and Los Angeles agreed to a $55 million, four-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the agreement had not been announced.

A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2020.

The agreement includes a $10 million player option for 2023 with a $5 million buyout that would make the deal worth over $60 million for five seasons. Pollock could opt out after the 2022 season and $45 million, becoming a free agent again, if he meets specified plate appearance thresholds. The 31-year-old outfielder hit .257 last year with 21 home runs, 65 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 113 games for NL West rival Arizona.

A.J. Pollock celebrates his first Arizona Diamondback home run at Chase Field on April 10, 2013. (Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic)

Pollock was a standout baseball player at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut earning All-Northwest Conference accolades three times. RHAM won the State Championship in 2004 behind Pollock. He was All-State in 2005 and 2006 and named the CHSCA and Gatorade Player of the Year in addition to being the All-Courant baseball player of the year before going on to play at Notre Dame. In his senior season, Pollock hit .465 with eight doubles, five triples, four home runs, 20 RBI, 36 runs, 16 stolen bases and an .897 slugging percentage. He struck out just once that year.

A.J. Pollock, RHAM High School, 2005

He will fill a void created when the Dodgers traded outfielders and right-handed hitters Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati for a pair of prospects in December. Pollock figures to play center field, with manager Dave Roberts using a platoon of Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and possibly top prospect Alex Verdugo in the corners.

A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2018.

Pollock missed nearly two months last year because of a broken left thumb, the latest in a long line of injuries that have limited Pollock to 113 games since his breakout All-Star season in 2015. He rejected a $17.9 million qualifying offer by the Diamondbacks in November.

– The article above was written by Beth Harris, Associated Press.
– AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

A.J. Pollock, Notre Dame University, 2008.

From GHTBL to the Cape League to the Pros

In 2008, Pollock played for Monaco Ford, a Glastonbury-based team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League under manager Al Garray. Pollock was soon picked up by the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League and ended up earning the Cape League’s MVP award.  The following year, Pollock was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1st round (17th) of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN).

A.J. Pollock, Falmouth Commodores, Cape Cod Baseball League, 2008.

Additional A.J. Pollock facts:

Jack Patterson & Zac Susi Selected in MLB Draft

GHTBL Alumni matriculate to professional baseball.

Jack Patterson (Suffield, Conn.) – currently pitching for the Vernon Orioles selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 32nd round (968th overall)

High School: Suffield Academy
College: Bryant –After going 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA as a true freshman in 2014, Patterson missed most of 2015 and all of 2016 before returning to the diamond in 2016. What has followed is one of the most impressive two-year runs for a left-handed pitcher in program history.

Patterson went 4-0 with three saves and a 2.90 ERA as a redshirt junior before cementing himself as the best left-handed power pitcher in program history this spring. He became just the second pitcher in program history to strikeout 100+ batters in a single season and allowed just 75 hits in 82 innings on his way to Northeast Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. This spring, he recorded six quality starts, threw Bryant’s first nine-inning complete-game shutout since 2014 and struck out 10+ batters on four occasions.

Jack Patterson, Bryant Baseball, 2018.

Zac Susi (Southington, Conn.) – former catcher for Rainbow Graphics franchise selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 12th round (354th overall).

High School: Southington High
College: University of Connecticut – 
Susi, 21, has been a three-year starter at UConn since graduating Southington High in 2015, where the left-handed slugger was a two-time All-State backstop. He has been UConn’s primary catcher the last three seasons. He started 41 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he hit .286 and started 56 games and was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List.

In 2017, Zac played 57 games and started 56 behind the plate as the Huskies primary catcher. He hit .286 on the year and was second on the team with 61 hits, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and was second on the team with 40 RBI. Susi led the team with 27 walks and had a .362 on base percentage. He also had a team-leading 15 RBIs in the seventh inning or later. Behind the plate, he threw out 15 base runners attempting to steal.

Susi earned All-Star status with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He played in 23 games and hit .276 with 20 hits, three doubles, three home runs, 10 RBIs and scored 12 runs. Zac is the son of John Susi, Head Baseball Coach at Western Connecticut State University and

Zac Susi (right), UConn Baseball, 2018.

Pros Playing Hartford Twilight Ball This Season

These GHTBL players have professional baseball experience.

Matt Purnell

Team: Vernon Orioles
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-2, 210lb (188cm, 95kg)
Born: April 8, 1991 (Age: 26-064d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT

Kevin Rival

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-2, 220lb (188cm, 95kg)
Born: November 27, 1979 (Age: 37-196d) in New Britain, CT
School: Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, CT)

Tyler McIntyre

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Positions: First Baseman and Rightfielder
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Right
6-4, 220lb (193cm, 99kg)
Born: April 10, 1990 (Age: 27-062d)
School: Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, CT)

James Kukucka

Team: Ulbrich Clippers
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
5-11, 225lb (180cm, 97kg)
Born: January 23, 1987 (Age: 30-139d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT)

John Kubachka

Team: People’s United Bank
Position:
 First Baseman
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-5, 240lb (196cm, 113kg)
Born: May 25, 1979 (Age: 38-017d)
School: Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT)

Kevin Jefferis

Team: Marlborough Braves
Position:
 Pitcher
Bats: Right  •  Throws: Right
6-1, 195lb (185cm, 88kg)
Born: April 23, 1991 (Age: 26-049d)
School: Western New England College (Springfield, MA)

Charlie Hesseltine

Team: Record-Journal Expos
Position: Pitcher
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Left
5-11, 180lb (180cm, 81kg)
Born: January 19, 1985 (Age: 32-143d) in Meriden, CT
Draft: Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 42nd round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft from Francis T Maloney HS (Meriden, CT).
High School: Francis T Maloney HS (Meriden, CT)

Kevin Putkonen

Team: East Hartford Jets
Bats: Left  •  Throws: Left
6-0, 205lb (183cm, 92kg)
Born: April 4, 1988 (Age: 29-068d)
High School: South Windsor High School