Tag: yankees

Leo Durocher Got His Start in Hartford

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

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

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

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

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

Leo Durocher is sold to the Yankees, 1925.

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

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

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

Leo Durocher, Manager, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941.

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

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

Leo Durocher, 1941.

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

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

Durocher with his wife, Laraine, Day, 1950.

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

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

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

Leo Durocher

Sources

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

Babe Ruth’s Connecticut Car Crash

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

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

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

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

When Babe Ruth Barnstormed Greater Hartford

A young George Herman “Babe” Ruth visited the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut, to play baseball on multiple occasions. Like many big leaguers of his time, Ruth barnstormed the nation to earn additional pay. When he first visited the Constitution State in the fall of 1918, Ruth was a 23 year old starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He had won more games than any left-handed pitcher in the previous four seasons. During that stretch, he compiled a 2.28 earned run average and a .650 winning percentage. His phenomenal achievements and large physical traits gave him instant appeal.

Ruth warming up at the 1918 World Series.

Ruth’s first appearance in Connecticut came after the 1918 World Series wherein the Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs. A victorious Ruth pitched 29 ⅔ scoreless innings (a mark not broken until Whitey Ford recorded 33 ⅔ innings in 1961). Attending the World Series was James H. Clarkin, sole proprietor of the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Clarkin tried to recruit both teams to play an exhibition game in Hartford benefiting American soldiers fighting in World War I. When his offer was declined Clarkin managed to land Babe Ruth instead.

Ruth and Boston Red Sox win 1918 World Series.

When Connecticut baseball fans received reports of Ruth’s arrival, they were clamoring to see him in action. Days after winning his second World Series, he appeared in several exhibition games throughout the state. His initial stop was in New Haven at Lighthouse Point Baseball Park. Ruth played first base for the semi-pro New Haven Colonials. He slugged a home run in a 5 to 1 loss against the Cuban Stars made up of players from the Negro Leagues.

Hartford Courant, September, 15, 1918.

The next evening, on Saturday, September 14, 1918, Ruth departed from New Haven and arrived in Hartford. He attracted large crowds of people hoping to meet the budding superstar. He was driven into the city by Manager Curtis Gillette of the semi-pro Hartford Poli’s baseball club to lavish accommodations at Hotel Bond on Asylum Street. The Hartford Poli’s were known as one of the “fastest” clubs in New England. The next day, Ruth joined the Poli’s on the Hartford’s top-notch diamond at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds.

Hotel Bond, Hartford, Connecticut.

On Sunday, September 15, 1918, Babe Ruth and the Hartford 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 Fisk Red Tops. Another Red Sox teammate, Sam Agnew played catcher for the Poli’s and drove in the game’s only run. Ruth and the gang entertained a Hartford crowd of more than 5,000, earning $350 for his appearance.

Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox, 1918.

A week later, Ruth once again played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds for the Hartford Poli’s in a doubleheader. In the opening game, the Poli’s went head to head with the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft company nine. Five Major Leaguers including Ruth appeared that day. Ruth again was starting pitcher and hit third in the lineup. Even though he pitched well, Ruth was out-dueled by his Red Sox teammate and Pratt & Whitney guest star, “Bullet” Joe Bush who won the game by a score of 1 to 0.

Babe Ruth and “Bullet” Joe Bush, Boston Red Sox, 1918.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Ruth and the Poli’s faced an army base nine from Fort Slocum near New Rochelle, New York. Ray Fisher, former Hartford Senator turned New York Yankees ace mowed down Poli batters. The Fort Slocum nine beat the Poli’s by a score of 4 to 1. Ruth played first base, hit a single and scored the Poli’s lone run. A crowd of about 3,000 people were in attendance for this rare occasion; a doubleheader featuring Babe Ruth in Hartford.

Ray Fisher, New York Yankees, 1916.

The Babe must have enjoyed stopping over in Connecticut, because in autumn of the following year, he came back. This time he brought his Boston Red Sox teammates to Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut, where Ruth would set a new record. On September 21, 1919, he played first base and hit fourth for the Red Sox versus Bristol’s semi-pro juggernaut, the New Departure Endees. The team was sponsored by New Departure, a division of General Motors, and a manufacturer of ball bearings for automobiles, planes, ships and military equipment.

Babe Ruth & Eddie Goodridge of New Departure, Muzzy Field, 1919.

Also on the field for the Red Sox was Hall of Fame outfielder, Harry Hooper who had two hits and a run on the day. Though it was Babe Ruth who stole the show. “All eyes were pointed at the famous baseball mauler,” according to the Hartford Courant when he blasted the first ever home run at Muzzy Field. Hooper was on first base when the Babe connected with a pitch thrown by New Departure’s Freddie Rieger, a star pitcher for the Pittsfield team in the Eastern League. Ruth’s homer sailed over the right field fence as 5,000 onlookers cheered in adulation. The Red Sox won by a score of 6 to 2 over New Departure. The game would be remembered as Connecticut’s most thrilling sporting event of the year.

Babe Ruth and Lester Sigourney, New Departure Manager, Muzzy Field, 1919.
L to R: DeWitt Page, Babe Ruth and Judge William J. Malone, Muzzy Field, 1919.
New Departure Baseball Club, 1919.
Babe Ruth marker at Muzzy Field, 2014.

While the rest of the Red Sox went home, Ruth stay in Connecticut. He played first base in another game with the Hartford Poli’s on September 28, 1919 at Poli Field in East Hartford. The Poli’s were met by the New Britain Pioneers, the Hardware City’s top ball club. 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.

Babe Ruth and Mayor Richard J. Kinsella, Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.
Spectators at Poli Field, East Hartford, Connecticut, 1919.

A few months later, on January 5, 1920, Babe Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees from the Red Sox for $125,000 cash and $300,000 in loans. His services were sold after Ruth refused to return to the Red Sox at a salary of $10,000 per year. The Yankees struck the deal of the century. Ruth went on to smash his own home run record with an astounding 54 dingers in the 1920 season, while batting at .376 clip. New York only made Ruth bigger, better and in higher demand to fans across the country. Fortunately for cranks in Connecticut, the Babe kept coming back to play for the Poli’s.

Hartford Courant, January 6, 1920.

By the end of 1920, the New York Yankees were runner-ups in the American League behind the Cleveland Indians. As the season came to a close, Manager Gillette of Hartford persuaded Ruth to join the Poli’s once more. Again they faced the New Departure squad at Muzzy Field. On October 2, 1920, The Babe 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 a chance to see Babe Ruth one last time at Muzzy Field.

Babe Ruth coming to Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.
Babe Ruth at Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut, 1920.

Connecticut’s amateur and semi-pro baseball clubs regularly hosted Babe Ruth and in return, he left a long-lasting impression. In Greater Hartford and beyond, Ruth earned baseball thousands of new fans. He barnstormed throughout the East Coast in grand fashion, ushering in the home run era and baseball’s Golden Age (1920 to 1960). He retired in 1935 after leading the New York Yankees to their first 4 World Series wins. Ten years later, Babe Ruth took the final at bat of his career when he appeared in an exhibition game for the Savitt Gems at Hartford’s Bulkeley Stadium.

Babe Ruth on the Savitt Gems, Hartford, Connecticut, 1945.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant Database on Newspapers.com

Related

  1. The “Babe Comes to Hartford by Ronald Bolin
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