Minor League history: Connecticut (State) League

Jim O'Rourke
Jim O’Rourke

The Connecticut League started as the Connecticut State League in 1884. In 1902 classifications were given to minor leagues for the first time. The Connecticut League, as it was renamed in 1901, got a class D classification but it was upgraded to class B in 1905. At the start the league was an independent league as it did not sign the National Agreement. But in 1898, Jim “Orator” O’Rourke, owner of the Bridgeport franchise pushed the league to do so and the league became part of organized baseball.

 

Cities represented:

Ansonia, CT: Ansonia Cuban Giants 1888, 1891; Ansonia Welcomes 1896
Bridgeport, CT: Bridgeport Giants 1888; Bridgeport Victors 1895-96; Bridgeport Misfits 1897; Bridgeport Orators 1898-1909, 1911-12; Bridgeport Mechanics 1910
Bristol, CT: Bristol 1891; Bristol Tramps 1897; Bristol Bellmakers 1899-1900; Bristol Woodchoppers 1901
Danbury, CT: Danbury 1888; Danbury Hatters 1898
Derby, CT: Derby Angels 1896-98, 1900-1901; Derby Lushers 1899
Hartford, CT: Hartford 1884; Hartford Babies 1885; Hartford Bluebirds 1895; Hartford Senators 1902-1912
Holyoke, MA: Holyoke Paperweights 1903-1906; Holyoke Papermakers 1907-1912
Meriden, CT: Meriden 1884 1888, 1891, 1908; Meriden Maroons 1885; Meriden Silvermen 1895; Meriden Bulldogs 1897-98; Meriden Silverites 1899-1905
New Britain, CT: New Britain 1884-85, 1891; New Britain Rangers 1898; New Britain Perfectos 1908-1911; New Britain Spuds 1912
New Haven, CT: New Haven Edgewoods 1896; New Haven Students 1898; New Haven Blues 1899-1908; New Haven Black Crows 1909; New Haven Prairie Hens 1910; New Haven Murlins 1911-1912
New London, CT: New London Whalers 1898-1907
Northampton, MA: Northampton Meadowlarks 1909-1911
Norwalk, CT: Norwalk 1888
Norwich, CT: Norwich 1891; Norwich Jackroses 1899; Norwich Witches 1900; Norwich Champs 1901; Norwich Reds 1902-1903, 1905-1907; Norwich Indians 1904
Portland, CT: Portland 1891
Rockville, CT: Rockville 1884
Southington, CT: Southington 1891
Springfield, MA: Springfield Ponies 1902-1912
Stamford, CT: Stamford 1888
Torrington, CT: Torrington Tornados 1896; Torrington Demons 1897
Waterbury, CT: Waterbury 1884, 1885, 1888, 1891; Waterbury Brassmen 1895; Waterbury Indians 1897; Waterbury Pirates 1898 Waterbury Rough Riders 1899-1902; Waterbury Authors 1906-1908; Waterbury Invincibles 1909; Waterbury Finnegans 1910; Waterbury Champs 1911; Waterbury Spuds 1912
West Haven, CT: West Haven 1891
Willimantic, CT: Willimantic 1884
Winsted, CT: Winsted Blues 1896
Worcester, MA: Worcester Reds 1904

In 1888 and 1891, when formal bans on African Americans playing baseball in white leagues already excisted, an all black team played in the Connecticut State League: The Ansonia Cuban Giants. The team contained future hall of famers Frank Grant and Sol White.

At the end of the  1904 season a manager of the Wilmington Peaches franchise of the outlawed Tri-State League, Jesse M. Frysinger, signed a deal with the Holyoke franchise. He made a bold statement that he would make them a champion. This made him the most popular man in town in no time. He brought some of the players of the Wilmington Peaches with him, which would be the back bone of his team. The Holyoke Paperweights, as the team was called, was no stranger to wining a pennant, as they did in 1903 with a 66-37 record, despite the twelve games that were deducted due to ineligible player violations. But with Frysinger around the team would win the 1905 pennant in an easy fashion, going 73-35, leading runner up Springfield Ponies by seven games. After the season the Paperweights signed him to a deal that would keep him in Holyoke for 1905, managing the club for an amount of $1,400. But while playing a couple of exhibition games in Pennsylvania, he accepted an $1,800 deal of the Lancaster Red Roses, that played in the Tri-State League. The manager of the Paperweights refused to grant him permission to get out of his contract, but Frysinger simply jumped ships and took several players with him, just like he did when he came to Holyoke. The next season the Holyoke Paperweights didn’t come close to their 1905 shape and finished in sixth place in the eighth team league.
After Frysinger left all of a sudden, local newspapers called him a traitor and wrote that he was hated in the paper city.

The 1906 Holyoke Paperweights

 

 

When it comes to stability, the Connecticut (State) League was rather stable. In the first
few years several teams disbanded and so did the league a few times.
In 1885 the Southern New England League disbanded in August and four members formed the Connecticut State League, so in fact the original Connecticut State League didn’t make it into 1885. The New Britain team disbanded on September 7. The league would not return for the 1886 season either. In 1888 the league made a new start but it did not make it to the end of the season as two clubs disbanded and the league followed on July 25. Again it would take a few years before the league would be started again. That would be in 1891. The league would not finish the season due to bad weather. But with the folding of the league, the all black Ansonia Cuban Giants disappeared from the minor league map.
From 1895 the league would continue uninterrupted until 1912 but not without several stopping halfway the season or moving to other towns.

Champions:

1884 Waterbury
1885 Meriden Maroons
1888 Meriden (the league disbanded on July 25)
1891 Meriden
1895 Bridgeport Victors
1896 Bridgeport Victors
1897 Meriden Bulldogs
1898 Waterbury Pirates
1899 New Haven Blues
1900 Norwich Witches
1901 Bridgeport Woodchoppers
1902 New Haven Blues
1903 Holyoke Paperweights
1904 Bridgeport Orators
1905 Holyoke Paperweights
1906 Norwich Reds
1907 Holyoke Papermakers
1908 Springfield Ponies
1909 Hartford Senators
1910 Waterbury Finnegans
1911 Springfield Ponies
1912 New Haven Murlins

Despite winning the championship in 1906, the Norwich Reds did not draw many fans due to an extreme wet summer. Because of that the team got into financial problems and eventually were sold at a public auction for $25.

The aforementioned Jim”Orator” O’Rourke, owner of the Bridgeport franchise, wasn’t as narrow minded as many of his contemporaries. He believed in integrated baseball as he fielded black player Harry Herbert. Eventually Herbert was ousted out of organized baseball in 1898, but that did not stop him from umpiring a game in Bridgeport after an umpire did not show up, Herbert was pushed to call the game. According to O’Rourke, Herbert did a fairly good job despite the racial slurs by the fans and the opponent.

cards

Of course selling players to Major League clubs was an important source of income for minor league clubs. But the “war” between the upstart American League and the National League would be a disaster for the Connecticut League.
As American League clubs like the Boston Americans (Red Sox) and the Philadelphia Athletics raided the National League clubs’ rosters, the president of the National League, N.E. Young, decided to abolish the National Agreement between the National League and the minor league clubs. This led to NL clubs drafting players from minor leagues without paying compensation. Without an agreement, the minor leagues had no governing body to protect them. Eventually, Jim O’Rourke and others founded the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. This association would represent the minor leagues in the dispute with the Junior Circuit and the Senior Circuit. Eventually the NAPBL managed to stand ground against the Major Leagues, mainly because the latter were not organized at all.

In 1913, the Connecticut League would rename itself Eastern Association and would live on for the 1913 and 1914 season.

Jim O’Rourke, with his extensive MLB career and many years in MiLB, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1945. At the age of sixty, he caught a complete Minor League game (!)

 

 

 

 

 

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