consistent supporters of the sport. Initially, this included providing equipment and a place for employees to play. There were also women company teams at least as early as 1875 (Bridgeport Standard, 8/16/1875).
Later, during the professional era “Be-for-Bridgeport” companies helped support the team financially, and even closed early for important weekday games.
Wheeler and Wilson Sewing Machine Factory on the East Side of Bridgeport. In the 1860s, Wheeler & Wilson provided ball grounds north of its factory for amateur clubs.
The company, now Singer, was a pioneer in precision manufacturing. Because visionary leaders in Bridgeport targeted the young sewing machine industry for economic development, companies manufacturing typewriters, record players, automobiles, and airplanes also settled in the Park City to take advantage of the concentration of precision manufacturing skills. Then companies that made the machines that made the products (e. g. - Bridgeport Machines) set up shop in Bridgeport to be near their customers.
Note the horse railroad above and to the right of the steam engine. This local transit system made it easier for residents to gather for games. The steam railroad made intercity baseball practical and helped lead the explosive post-Civil War growth of manufacturing and baseball in America.
oldiers returning from the Civil War brought back stories, souvenirs, and standardized rules for “base ball.” Until the War, the game had as many variants as there were towns.
After the Civil War, the game spread throughout the country as fast as the railroads. Within a year, Fairfield had two teams, attracting at times a thousand spectators. (Fairfield, 1988, p. 227.); Stratford had two teams (the Osceolas and Tigers); and Derby, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk and Westport all had at least one nine.
In the mid 1860s there were no professional baseball teams in Bridgeport, or anywhere. Baseball clubs were more like today’s golf clubs. Members gathered on Saturdays and formed into teams for socializing and exercise. Young men like Jim and John O’Rourke (13 and 12 years of age in 1865) played ball “at every opportunity.”
Eventually, the best team from each town began competing for glory (and side bets), preferably to an audience of impressionable young ladies.
An East-West horse railroad was established in Bridgeport along State Street and Stratford Avenue, making it easy for team members and spectators to reach ball grounds. Tram tickets were twenty for $1.00 (Bridgeport Standard 6/16/1868).
A local snake oil salesman named Pendleton put up a silver bat as the prize for the best local team, as determined by a round robin tournament. The Bridgeports emerged the local champions. (Hartford Courant 10-4-1866, p. 1).
S. M. Cato and W. H. Jones represent Bridgeport at the Tenth Annual Convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players on December 12th at New York (Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player, 1866, p. 45).
1866 Ad in the Bridgeport Standard
(the daily newspaper of the time).
The Bridgeport Base Ball Club replaced the Americans as the local champions. The Bridgeport’s home grounds were at the foot of Warren Street (now the site of Warnaco.)
“Champions” were determined more often by consensus than by organized round robins. Baseball was somewhat like gunslinging. The better teams and players were called “fast.” If a new team could knock off the top team consistently or in a mutually-agreed-to title match, then the challengers became the new champions.
Since there was no authority like today’s baseball commissioner to award pennants, champions created their own trophies or local business leaders conferred suitable recognition for the honor the club brought to the City.
Hartford and New Haven played for the “State Championship.”
An ad appeared in the Bridgeport Standard of April 20, offering balls, bats, bases, score books and spikes for shoes; but no gloves. Players would have been hooted off the field had they worn hand protection.
Five hand injuries were
reported by Bridgeport
players in 1867. No gloves.
Spalding Collection; Miriam and Ira Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs; The New York Public Library; Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Not For Honor Alone 1870-79
Amateur vs. Professional
n the 1860s it was common practice to offer “signing bonuses” to attract players from other towns. This progressed to offering jobs in local industries with the understanding that time off would be allowed for games. Finally, in 1871 all pretense was put aside and the strictly professional National Association was organized. Teams representing cities in national competition could now be openly professional.
A bitter rivalry had persisted for years between the purist amateurs and the professionals. The roots of the conflict can be traced to 1858 when the first ball park was enclosed by fencing, allowing the owner to charge a 50-cent admission. Naturally, an idea this good spread like wildfire.
Originally, the players were satisfied with the flattery that people would actually pay to see them play. But that attitude was short-lived. The players, rightfully, demanded a piece of the action.
When economics were factored into baseball, the larger cities gained an important advantage. New York, with its large population, collected more at the gate than did Hartford or Troy. New York, therefore, could and did offer more for players, hiring away stars from the smaller cities.
This practice eventually became systematized, with regulations to benefit all parties. In “organized baseball” with its major and minor leagues, cities compete with towns their own size, and hold to the same payroll limits within their class. Larger cities still draft players from the lower leagues, but the smaller cities are compensated for their losses.
Bridgeport, however, shrank from no team, not even the champion Boston Red Stockings.
Amateur vs. Professional.
Box score of 9/23/1875. Bridgeporter Jim O’Rourke played for the national champion Boston Red Stockings against his hometown TBs. The TBs of 1875 included at least four future major leaguers, including pitchers Goldsmith and Roseman. Bridgeport Standard.
The NY Knickerbockers, the original baseball club –organized in 1845–remained staunchly amateur throughout the 1870s. So, too, did the Bridgeport clubs.
Bridgeport played professional teams as well as other amateur clubs. An important difference between these opponents is that the pro teams required a guarantee to cover travel expenses and player salaries. Eventually, even amateur teams fenced in their ball fields to collect admission fees to pay these guarantees. Baseball continued to drift slowly but steadily from amateur sport to professional business.
The heavy line at the upper left is Ash Creek, the border between Bridgeport and Fairfield. The State Street line of the horse railroad terminated at the intersection with Fairfield Avenue, just above the New Haven Railroad tracks.
Atlas of the City and Town of Bridgeport, Conn.; Published by G. M. Hopkins, 1888. Historical Collections Department, Bridgeport Public Library. (Diamond added by author.)
Annual Baseball Highlights
In May of 1870, the Stratford Osceolas reorganized as a semi-pro club and returned to the field, determined to win the Connecticut Baseball Association championship. Taking a lesson from the Seasides, the Osceolas hijacked pitcher Frank Buttery and Catcher Tim Murnane from the Norwalk Libertys. (Ball teams had long since given up the pretense of fielding only home-grown players.) Buttery had been the Libertys' pitcher since his debut with the team on Saturday, June 27, 1868, in which he "acquitted himself with much credit" in a contest with Yale. Murnane caught his first game for the Libertys in a match against the Bridgeport Seasides on Saturday, September 18, 1869. Although the Libertys lost to the Seasides 27-23, the Norwalk Gazette said of its dynamic duo: "Buttery, faithful fellow, did his work well… and Murnan proved a capable catch and deserves to remain on the nine."
The Osceolas soon became the premier team in Greater Bridgeport. In referring to a rising star of the team, the Bridgeport Standard reported on August 8 of 1870:
"[O’]Rourke, of the Osceolas, deserves special
notice. His catching and throwing was
splendid and elicited encomiums from every
side. In his position he is,without doubt,
as good as any in the State."
This newspaper account is the first reporting of the skill of James O’Rourke. Jim and his teammate brother, John, lived with their widowed mother on Pembroke Street in Bridgeport. Their father, Hugh, passed away at age 56 on New Year’s Eve, 1868.
A State Baseball Association was formed, and in a tournament the Middletown Mansfields were the state champion and the Osceolas were runners-up. In two years the Mansfields would join the National Association.
The private W. W. Cameron Trotting Park (Cameron Park) became the ball grounds of choice for important games. Perhaps it was easier to charge admission at this site. It is not known if the track was fenced in, but it was bounded on three sides by water.
(It would have been impossible to charge admission at the wide open and public Seaside Park.) Commenting on the rough condition of the playing field, the New Haven Palladium of September 11, 1871, said the new grounds “never will be very good.” Nevertheless, Cameron remained the prime site throughout the 1870s. Seaside Park served as the home grounds for lower ranking teams.
The Stratford-Bridgeport Osceolas continued as the winningest team, with the TBs in pursuit. The Osceolas even took on the nationally renowned Mansfields in a three-game championship match.
THE SPIRIT OF BRIDGEPORT
In the Fall of 1871, the best team in the state was the Middletown Mansfields. The following Spring the Mansfields would be accepted as an expansion team into the professional National Association, forerunner of the National League.
In their “can-do” spirit, the upstart Stratford Osceolas challenged the Mansfields to a best-of-three tournament for the State Championship and a sterling silver ball. The Mansfields, heavily favored, won the first game of the series.
In game two, after six innings, the youthful and “flashy” Osceolas trailed the more-seasoned Mansfields by one run. But the locals rallied in the seventh and eighth innings, scoring seven runs while whitewashing the heavily favored Middletown team.
A third and deciding game was therefore necessary. It was played on neutral territory at Hamilton Park in New Haven on Saturday, September 16, 1871.
A “large crowd” found its way to the park to witness the final game for the state championship. Introducing psychology into the contest, the Mansfield supporters offered huge odds to the Bridgeport fans, impressing upon them the futility of attempting to beat the world-class team.
The game commenced at 2:45 pm. According to an account in the Bridgeport Standard, the contest opened unfavorably for the Osceolas, as their opponents closed the fourth inning with the score standing 8 to 0 in favor of Middletown.
But the Osceolas rallied again and ended the contest victorious, 12 runs to 10. The Osceolas of Greater Bridgeport became the state champions and proud owners of a sterling silver ball.
The Mansfields stole the gate receipts, no doubt to purchase train tickets home. The Middletown backers boarded the “5:05” one thousand dollars poorer for having bet against Bridgeport.
1871 Stratford Osceolas.
Jim O’Rourke is standing far right; pitcher Frank Buttery is seated, second from right.
1871 Stratford Osceolas. Jim O’Rourke is standing far right; pitcher Frank Buttery is seated, second from right
1871 Stratford Osceolas. Jim O’Rourke is standing far right; pitcher Frank Buttery is seated, second from right
No discussion of Bridgeport baseball would be
complete without mentioning James H. “Orator” O’Rourke
Born in Bridgeport in 1850 to Irish immigrants escaping the
potato famine, O’Rourke put himself through Yale Law school.
He and his older brother, John, played ball “at every opportunity.”
Both made it to the majors.
While with Boston, Jim made the first hit in the first game of the National
League on April 22, 1876. His buddy, Tim Murnane, stole the first base.
He played on no less than nine pennant-winning teams and racked up a
.314 batting average in his 23-year career in the majors.
After “retiring” from baseball in 1894, O’Rourke organized an amateur nine
just for fun. Within a year, the club had turned pro. O’Rourke managed and
caught for the team, the Bridgeport “Orators,” until 1909.
O’Rourke also founded Newfield Park on May 16, 1898. The “Orator” passed away
in 1919. In his will, he asked that Newfield remain a ball field for as long as possible.
It still is.
In 1945 Jim O’Rourke was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jim O’Rourke, as he appeared with the 1887 National League NY Giants.
Locally, the Bridgeports were the dominant baseball club. The TBs, however, were the champion partyers. The TBs held a dance, picnic, and concert and one spontaneous party with entertainment by the Howe Band after they beat New Haven in one of the few baseball games they found time to play between social occasions.
The TBs emerged as the strongest local team. Their clubhouse was at Main and Beaver Streets. The Bridgeport Standard on March 17 observed: "The eloquence with wihich the young men of this club have furnished their rooms surpasses the comprehension of their lady visitors." On St. Patrick’s Day, they played Irish tunes on their square grand piano for their female guests. On May 28, they debuted new uniforms at Seaside Park, and easily asserted their position in the first rank by beating the Bridgeports 25-4 (Bridgeport Standanrd, 5-29). To pay for their equipent and partying, the TBs organized a parade, picnic, and dance on June 17 at which they raised $600. The horse trolley operated “buses” every ten minutes from State and Main to Cameron Park, before and after games, marking the realization by Bridgeport transportation companies that baseball is good for business and that easy access to the park is just as important to the fans as a winning team.
The TBs were a serious assemblage of players. According to the the Hartford Courant of May 3, “The TB base ball club have leased Sherwood’s Trotting Park for the season, and when the work of grading the grounds already commenced is finished, they will have one of the finest grounds in the state. The club also expected to purchase a section of the seats built for the Hippodrome exhibition and transfer it to the park, so a suitable stand may be provided for spectators. The club have issued fifty season tickets, admitting the holders and their families to all games played this year” (indicating the TBs were charging admission to games). In September the TBs played National Association teams from the New York area. They trounced the Brooklyn Atlantics 9 to 1 (Bridgeport Standard 9-2-1874), but were humbled by the Mutuals 17 to 4 the next day. In an amateur tournament in Danbury “the TBs of Bridgeport carried off the banner” (Hartford Courant 9-28-1874, p. 2).
At the game “an exhibition was given by Hatfield of the Mutuals, the champion thrower of the country” whose record is 400 feet, 7 1/2 inches. “[John] O’Rourke of the TBs also threw the ball, and fell short of Hatfield’s mark but a few Yards” (Bridgeport Standard 8-29 and 9-3-1874).
City Council member and business leader William H. Stevenson and other “prominent citizens” offered a rosewood bat and silver ball to any Connecticut team that could beat the TBs in two out of three games. At season’s end, the TBs still retained the rosewood bat and the undisputed title of “state champions.” For there to be superteams like the TBs, there needed to be a farm system of lower—and at times, less serious clubs—as the following Bridgeport Morning News announcement of September 21, 1885, attests: “John Reilley’s nine of West Stratford will play Michael Larkin’s nine of this city, at the Gentleman’s driving park, Friday afternoon, for $25 a side and three kegs of beer.”
Early balls were
made with a soft
rubber center and
could not be hit as far
as a modern ball, making
it more difficult to hit a home run.
The TBs were the unrivaled local champs and ranked second in the state behind the Waterbury Rose Hills. The TBs took on all comers, including five major league teams (Bridgeport Standard 10-28-1875). In 1875 there were roughly 2000 clubs in American, 13 were full-time salaried clubs, about 100 were semi-pro (including the TBs), with the balance being amateur teams (Brooklyn Eagle, November 23, 1875).
To save on transportation cost, regional championships were often determined through marathon weekend tournaments. The Bridgeport TBs took second place and a $400 cash prize at the New England tournament at Lynn, Massachusetts (Bridgeport Standard 8-25-1875). Coincidentally, the Wheeler and Wilson Band took first place at a music festival in Providence on the same weekend. Heading home, the band boarded the train already carrying the baseball team. “A jolly time ensued.” Both winners wired ahead their good news and a “throng of people met the train.” The band led a spontaneous parade through downtown Bridgeport (Bridgeport Post 10-1-1939. The Post erroneously gives the year as 1879, and typical of exaggerations that creep into oft-told tales, the TBs had advance to first place in this latter account.)
A Westport jeweler donated a sterling silver ball as the trophy for a Fairfield County tournament. The Bridgeport team was not allowed to enter. (If it did, no other would.) The TBs, it turned out, had three future major leaguers on its roster.
Bridgeport hosted a post-season invitational tournament, Monday to Wednesday, September 27 to 29, with $1200 in prize money ($500 for first, $400 for second, and $300 for third.) The Live Oakes of Lynn beat out the Resolutes of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and our own TBs. (Hartford Daily Times, 9-24 to 10-1-1875.)
A number of the large cities seceded from the original professional league, the National Association. The NA was fraught with gambling, “Hippodroming” (throwing games), and few clubs taking seriously the requirement to play a minimum number of games with each team. In short, it just wasn’t very professional. Of the two Connecticut teams in the National Association, Hartford and New Haven, only the former was admitted to the National League. The NA, stripped of its strongest teams, folded.
Bridgeport continued to support its champion amateur team, the TBs. They were so good other amateur teams would no longer play them. Undefeated and desperate for action, the TBs placed an ad in the New York Clipper on July 20 challenging the professional circuit. The New Haven professionals, adrift without a league, played six games against the Bridgeport amateurs. They won only half. In fact, the TBs outscored New Haven, 32 runs to 29.
The semi-pro Bridgeports emerged this year as well, picking up most of last year’s TBs. Although the team was purportedly amateur, and composed entirely of “working men” from Bridgeport, four would join the first minor league within two years, playing for Manchester NH.
A noteworthy player to join the Bridgeports in 1876 was Warren R. Briggs, who had recently played ball for Harvard. In early 1874, then-student Briggs traveled to England with Boston Red Stockings pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding to arrange for a series of games by the Boston and Philadelphia major league teams. To sell the American pastime to the Brits, Briggs and Spalding gathered together some American students and English cricket players for an exhibition game on February 27. This was the first ever ball game played overseas. The Briggs team won 17-5 (Philadelphia Item, 3-14-1874).
In 1875, Briggs, two other Harvard students and Jim O’Rourke developed the catcher’s mask. The following season, O’Rourke batterymate Al Spalding founded the sporting goods empire bearing his name.
In 1876, Briggs graduated from Harvard and moved to Bridgeport where he became a well-known architect. He designed a number of public buildings in the state, including a high school and train station in Bridgeport (both since destroyed by fire) and the Fairfield County Courthouse, also in Bridgeport, that is still in use.
Locally, the TBs reigned supreme, followed by the Bridgeports and Osceolas. There was no formal state championship series in 1877, but Waterbury was the acknowledged champion with a 9 and 2 record for the season.
The first “minor” league was organized in 1877, and included Lynn, Massachusettes. Games were played on weekends. (Bruce Chadwick, Baseball Hometown Teams, 1994.)
To overcome the challenges of a small home market, the Hartfords moved lock, stock, and bat bag to Brooklyn, where the ‘Brooklyn Hartfords’ were equally ignored by fans from both Hartford and Brooklyn. Altough they finsihed in third place, they were not a profitable team to visit. (Opponents receive 40% of the gate receipts; 40% of nothing is ...) The National League, at their December meeting said the Hartfords could no longer use Brooklyn as their home grounds. So they moved to Providence.
The National League Providence Grays line-up was formidable and included Bridgeport’s own Fred “Tricky” Nichols as pitcher and Tim Murnane (former Bridgeport-Stratford Osceola). The transplanted Hartfords of Brooklyn–as the Providence Grays–again placed third.
The International Association Manchesters, with at least four players from Bridgeport, including Snigg and John O’Rourke, won the IA pennant.
LYNCH A VICTIM OF THE PISTOL
The Ball Player Fatally Wounded During a Saloon Row in Cohoes.
TROY, Oct. 27, -Thomas Lynch, the well-known ball player, who had guarded fist base at different times for the Athletic, Atlanta, Hartford, Hamilton, Birmingham, Syracuse and Wilmington clubs, returned to his home In Cohoes [NY] a few days ago. He is a muscular fellow and able to hold his own with most anybody. About three years ago he had a quarrel with Richard Doyle, who is his inferior in size and strength. Doyle is a jack-spinner in one of the Cohoes mills. Lynch, who had been out with friends and was considerably under the influence of liquor, me Doyle this morning in John Donovan's saloon on Columbia Street. Several drinks were had and the story of the old quarrel was revived. Finally, Lynch struck Doyle in the face. Doyle did not return the blow, but said:
"Lynch, you are a good deal bigger man than me, but I am going home, and when I come back if you hit me again you'll get the worst of it."
Doyle returned in about an hour, meeting Lynch, Donovan and others outside the place. When Lynch saw him he said-"You want more do you?" and again struck him. Doyle pulled a revolver and fired, the ball striking Lynch in the left breast. Doyle put the weapon in his pocket and walked away, while Lynch who claimed that he was not badly hurt, was looked after by Donovan and others.
They took to a house near lock 14 on the Erie Canal, where he became so weak that Dr. Parker was sent for. He pronounced the wound a dangerous one, and had Lynch taken to his home on Lancaster street. He is not expected to live forty-eight hours.
Nineteen-year-old Tommy Lynch pitched for the Bridgeport Anchors. Although he lived to the ripe old age of 95, an obituary appeared in 1890 somewhat premature (see sidebar).
The Bridgeports 1880-89
Barnum Ballyhoos Bridgeport Baseball
he Greatest Showman on Earth and the City’s largest landholder, “presented a fine lot to the Bridgeport Club” for a professional club being organized for the 1885 season (Fairfield Advertiser, 9-18-1884). The land occupied by the ball field was known formerly as “the circus lot” (Bridgeport Farmer 9-2,1884).
The plot provided by P. T. Barnum was several acres on the northern portion of his Circus Winter Quarters, which ran between State Street, the railroad, Wordin Avenue, and Norman Street. This may also have been the first location of an amateur game, in 1866, as that place was referred to as the “fair grounds”.
Barnum was a founding investor in the team (Sporting Life 12-10-1884, 8-19-1885) and a member of the board of the Horse-Railway Company (A. H. Saxon, P. T. Barnum: The Legend and The Man). He saw the symbiotic relationship between baseball and local transportation companies (Gershman, Diamonds, 1993, p. 47) and convinced the trolley line to help fund the construction of the ball park.
P. T. Barnum. Not one to miss a media opp, Barnum drove onto the field during a break in the inaugural game at the park bearing his name. He was greeted with “loud applause” as the 20-piece Howe Band broke into a stirring rendition of “Hail to the Chief.” (Bridgeport Standard 9/22/1884.)
Circus Winter Quarters. The ball grounds were just out of view in the upper-right. The area shown is now Went Field, a public ball field. 1881 Engraving as reprinted in A History of the City of Bridgeport Connecticut, Orcutt, 1887.
Barnum Park was the first ball field in the city to boast a grandstand. The park also included bleachers, parking lot for carriages, refreshment stand, a “dressing-room” for players (Bridgeport Farmer 9-26, 1884) and an eight-foot wooden fence topped by four feet of barbed wire. The diamond was laid out so that the sun would not shine in the eyes of the fielders (Bridgeport Farmer, 9-5-1884).
“The general admission was 25 cents; boys under 15, 15 cents; admission to the grandstand, 15 cents” (Bridgeport Farmer 9-13-1884). The view was free if you could climb a tree in one of the vacant lots across Wordin Avenue, causing landowner N. S. Wordin to post notices against trespassing and the managers of the Bridgeport Base Ball Association to request Chief Marsh see that the order was “strictly enforced.” (Bridgeport Morning News 7-17-1885.)