Tag: ty cobb

When Ty Cobb Came to Hartford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

The Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

The Hartford Poli’s were a semi-professional baseball club formed in 1905 by management and employees of Poli’s Theatre. The vaudeville venue sponsored the team for men between the ages of 18 to 30. Said to be Hartford’s “fastest” club, the Poli’s welcomed major league legends and challenged teams across New England including their main foe, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. The owner of Poli’s was Sylvester Z. Poli who operated theaters in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury and other cities throughout the Northeast.

Poli’s Theatre employees form a baseball league, 1905.
Poli’s advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1909.
Hockers Gamerdinger, Hartford Poli’s, 1912.

In their early years, the Harford Poli’s took part in an intercompany loop, the Poli Baseball League. Hartford’s theater team was headed by Manager R.J. Kelly and captain first baseman Fred Jendron. In 1908, the Hartford Poli’s won the league over the New Haven Poli’s in a title game by a score of 18 to 6. The club was presented a championship cup by owner Sylvester Poli himself. Eventually, the Hartford Poli’s would graduate from the Poli Baseball League to become of Connecticut’s top independent teams.

1913 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

The Poli’s utility infielder, Curtis Gillette was also superintendent at the Poli Theatre of Hartford. Gillette was raised in New Haven but came to Hartford in 1911 to pursue career opportunities. By 1913, Gillette was appointed manager of the Poli’s and he named first baseman Ed DeVanney team captain. That year, the Poli’s won 26 of their 31 games against teams like the Royals and the Olympias of Hartford and the Pastimes of East Hartford. Gillette led the club to unprecedented success against local opponents and captured multiple amateur state titles.

1914 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club
Hartford Poli’s, 1914.

As baseball’s popularity skyrocketed in Hartford, the Poli’s became a more serious operation. The club and it’s winning roster served as effective tangible marketing for Poli Theatre. The company scouted the best players in the city. Top pitchers Ed “Smiler” Oppelt and Jack Vannie as well as shortstop Joe Griffin ushered the Poil’s to dozens of lopsided victories throughout Connecticut. Poli home games were held at Colt Park as well as Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

1915 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

In 1915, the Poli Theatre Company constructed a new ballpark in East Hartford named Poli Field. The grounds covered 10 acres and boasted a grandstand stretching from first base to third base. Wire netting behind home plate prevented foul balls from reaching the stands. With a brand new facility and a talented team, the Poli’s were a formidable attraction. Large crowds, tough opponents and baseball’s biggest stars became guests of the Poli’s.

1916 Poli Baseball Club

On Tuesday, October 24, 1916, Detroit Tigers Most Valuable Player, Ty Cobb came to Hartford to face the Poli’s. As a guest star for the New Haven Colonials, Cobb played center field, first base and served as relief pitcher. Cobb had two hits, showed off his speed in a run-down and pitched 3 innings of one-hit ball. He gave up a double to Poli’s catcher, John Muldoon, a future professional who had three hits on the day. Cobb and Colonials shut out the Hartford Poli’s and their guest star, Benny Kauff by a score of 7 to 0. The exhibition delighted a small crowd of 800 fans at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

Manager Gillete recruited Benny Kauff of the New York Giants to take on Ty Cobb who made an appearance for the New Haven Colonials, 1916.
Joe Griffin, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.
Babe Clark, Captain and First Baseman, Hartford Poli’s, 1916.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1917.
Lester Lanning, Outfielder, Hartford Poli’s and Wesleyan University graduate, 1917.
Rex Islieb, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s Baseball, 1917.
1917 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club
New York Bloomer Girls take on Hartford Poli’s, 1917.

In mid-September of 1918, the Poli’s welcomed a recent World Series champion to Hartford. The one and only, George Herman “Babe” Ruth of the Boston Red Sox guest starred for the Poli’s in a benefit game. The event raised funds for American troops from Hartford who were fighting overseas in World War I. Ruth arrived to the city amidst cheering fans in the streets. Manager Curtis Gillette of the Poli’s drove the Babe to Hotel Bond on Asylum Street where he was swarmed by reporters. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s at Wethersfield Avenue.

1918 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club with Babe Ruth (back row, third from right).

On Sunday, September 15, 1918, Ruth and the Poli’s opposed the Fisk Red Tops of Chicopee, Massachusetts. While pitching and batting third, he recorded two hits including a double off the “Bull Durham” tobacco sign on the center field wall. Ruth also threw a complete game shutout, allowed 4 hits and led the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory. He beat his Red Sox counterpart, Dutch Leonard who guest starred on the mound for the Red Tops. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher for the Poli’s and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth and entertained a Hartford crowd of more than 5,000, and earned $350 for his appearance.

Bill Kopf, Shortstop, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
New Haven Colonials vs. Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Al Mamaux, Pitcher, Hartford Poli’s guest star, 1918.
Fisk-Poli Trophy, 1918
Fred Rieger, Pitcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Joe Briger, Catcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
John “Boggy” Muldoon, Catcher, Hartford Poli’s, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

A week later, Ruth once again played on a Sunday at the Hartford Grounds (also known as Wethersfield Avenue Grounds and Hartford Baseball Park) for the Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the first game, the Hartford Poli’s went head to head with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared in the games that day. Ruth pitched and hit third in the Poli’s lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate, “Bullet” Joe Bush and Pratt & Whitney won the game by a score of 1 to 0.

Ruth to play at the Hartford Grounds with Poli’s, 1918.

In the second game of the day, Ruth and the Poli’s faced a former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankee, Ray Fisher. Fisher was the headliner for the traveling Fort Slocum team who beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, had a base hit and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of more than 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth and the Hartford Poli’s.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1918.

The following year, Ruth played first base in another game with the Hartford Poli’s. On September 28, 1919 at Poli Field in East Hartford they opposed the New Britain Pioneers. Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch and posed for a photograph with Ruth. The Babe hit two balls over the right field fence but was only allowed one base for each long ball due to a “short porch” ground rule. Earlier that day he had hit a batting practice homer said to be struck over 500 feet. The Poli’s shutout the Pioneers 3 to 0 before a crowd of more than 6,000 fans.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1919.
Hartford Poli’s vs New Haven Nutmegs, 1919.
Mayor of Hartford, Richard J. Kinsella and Ruth, 1919.

Ruth was persuaded to join the Poli’s once more in 1920. After his first season with the New York Yankees, Ruth starred for the Poli’s against New Departure at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. On October 2, 1920, Ruth hit clean up for the Poli’s, played every position except pitcher and went 4 for 4 with 3 singles and a double. Nonetheless, New Departure shutout the Poli’s 7 to 0 thanks to crafty pitching from Gus Helfrich, a minor league spitball hurler from the New York State League. Extra trains and trolleys were scheduled to Bristol that Saturday afternoon, allowing 10,000 fans to see Ruth’s final game with the Hartford Poli’s.

Babe Ruth comes to Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Four Hits at Bristol for the Hartford Poli’s, 1920.
Ruth in the Batter’s Box at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Tagged Out at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Playing First Base at Muzzy Field, 1920.
Ruth Accepts Honorary Gift at Muzzy Field, 1920.

For more than 15 years the Hartford Poli’s were a top tier amateur club. By 1920, the Poli’s had developed some of the best players in Hartford. They included Rex Islieb, a standout third baseman, Bill Pike, a left-handed ace and Jim O’Leary, a hard-throwing pitcher. The team eventually disbanded and evolved into the All-Hartfords in 1921 with a similar roster as the Poli’s. Though a century has passed since the Poli’s won local prestige, their contributions to baseball in Hartford remains significant.


The Man Behind the Poli’s

Sylvester Zefferino Poli, (December 31, 1858 – May 31, 1937) an Italian immigrant to the United States who became a world famous theatre magnate.

The Hartford Poli’s baseball club was sponsored by Sylvester Zefferino Poli, a theater mogul, vaudeville pioneer and entertainment proprietor. Poli’s Theatre on Main Street Hartford was a popular entertainment venue first opened in 1903. By 1916, he was heralded as the largest individual theatre owner in the world. When Poli retired at the age of 70, he had amassed 28 theaters, 3 hotels (including the Savoy in Miami), 500 offices and two building sites.

Poli’s Theatre first opened on Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut in 1903.
Poli’s Stock Company advertisement, Hartford Courant, 1906
The summer home of Sylvester Z. Poli and his family, “Villa Rosa” Woodmont, Connecticut, 1910.
A scene from “The Fortune Hunter” at Poli’s Theatre, 1912.
Poli’s Palace Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1914.

In July of 1928, Poli merged his company with Fox New England Theaters. He still retained majority interest when Fox-Poli’s was created. However in May of 1934, Loew’s Theatres purchased Poli’s remaining theaters, which became known as Loew’s-Poli Theaters. Sylvester Poli spent his final years at his summer home, Villa Rosa in the Woodmont section of Milford, Connecticut. The palatial estate was named after his wife Rosa Leverone. Sylvester Z. Poli died on May 31, 1937 at the age of 79 due to pneumonia. Loew’s-Poli Theatre stayed open in Hartford until 1957.

Poli’s Capitol Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, designed by Thomas W. Lamb and opened August 28, 1920.
Fox Poli Theatre, Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.
Loews Poli Theatre in the background, 1956.