Connecticut’s Pastime

Honus Wagner

I love baseball. The modern game, the old timers, my collection of vintage gloves, visiting the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown(and getting married there, my wife’s idea!), reading about it, watching it, hopefully soon getting my little ones to play the game. Yea, I’m one of those guys who will sometimes bury my nose in my old glove just to smell the leather. And yes I also cried like a baby at the end of Field of Dreams……..

So I’m psyched we are hosting author and librarian Michael Bielawa this week who will speak on the subject of Connecticut and more specifically, Bridgeport baseball. Connecticut has a great baseball history. Famous players who donned uniforms here in Connecticut include Candy Cummings (inventor of the curveball), Warren Spahn, Lou Gehrig, Mo Vaughn, Wade Boggs, Jeff Bagwell and David Ortiz just to name a very few. Many towns across the state had factories and mills that sponsored teams over the years, we’ve had ball parks that housed teams with names like the Dark Blues, Senators, Mansfields and of course the Charter Oaks.  And we have had baseball inventions, lots of them, here’s two you’ve heard of and one you probably haven’t:

We’ve invented tools of ignorance:

“Tools of Ignorance?” That’s old baseball slang for catchers gear. Maybe you’ve heard of Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, Jorge Posada, Joe Mauer, Roy Campanella, Elston Howard? They all have relied on a Connecticut invention to keep them safe when crouching behind the plate, waiting for a curve, fastball or slider. The catchers chest protector.

William Gray was granted patent # 295543 in 1884 for a Body-Protector, known today as a chest protector.  Gray (born 1850 in Tarriffville) was the inventor of this vital part of catching  gear.  Mr. Gray was an apparently an ardent baseball fan when he was living and working in Hartford during the late 19th century. (He worked for both Colt and Pratt and Whitney during their early days, which I think is very cool…..) When he wasn’t in the factory he was inventing. A “Sand Handle Base-Ball Bat” was another of his inventions. While that one didn’t set the baseball world on fire, his body protector sure did. His patent was bought by Spalding, the leader in baseball gear at the time, and was soon featured in their catalogues and baseball guides…..

The protector consisted of pneumatic ribs that could be inflated as needed by the catcher. According to the Spalding description of it “this body protector renders it impossible for the catcher to be injured while playing close to the batter” and it does not “interfere in any way with the movement of the wearer, either in running, stooping or throwing.”

Spalding Base Ball Guide 1889, Page 175, Courtesy Library of Congress

And the Candy Man brought his invention to Hartford in the 1870’s:

We’re not talking Snickers, Milky Way or M+M’s! Candy in this case refers to Candy Cummings, baseball pitcher and according to many baseball historians the inventor of the curveball. William Arthur Cummings was born October 18, 1848 in Ware, Massachusetts. There is a great bio of Candy on the Society of American Baseball Research site. And the Baseball Hall of Fame (he was elected there in 1939) has some good info about him on their site. His Connecticut connection includes time spent pitching for the old Hartford Dark Blues of the National League in 1875-1876. (I love to see people’s reaction when I tell them little old Hartford used to have a team in the National League!) Here’s a picture of the Blues from 1876:
1876 Hartford Dark Blues

The Hog River Journal (now Connecticut Explored) has a good article on the Blues.

Why was William Arthur Cummings nicknamed “Candy” you ask? It’s a Civil War era term meaning the “best of anything”.

And while we are on the subject of the curveball:

The “Device For Use of Base Ball Pitchers” was patented in 1897 by Edward J. Prindle of Torrington.  This “Device” according to Prindle would allow players to pitch “what are termed curved balls with greater facility and with a greater deviation or degree of curvature than has heretofore been possible.”

Prior to getting a patent for the device, Mr. Prindle advertised its benefits in the 1895 Spalding Base Ball Guide.  Prindle boasted that the device is “neatly constructed on scientific principles and is a marvel of simplicity” and accordingly the “pitcher who uses one of the ‘Curvers’  has the opposing team completely at his mercy”.patents_003

Sounds like this CT invention would have been useful pitching against the greatest ball player of them all, Babe Ruth. Who by the way did play a number of exhibition games in Connecticut. Besides being a prodigious hitter he had a knack for quotes that left little to the imagination:

“Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.” Source: The Babe Ruth Story (Babe Ruth)

“How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball…The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” Source: Words of Wisdom (William Safire)

And finally my personal favorite:

“I’d play for half my salary if I could hit in this dump (Wrigley Field) all the time.”

Babe in Uniform for the Savitt Gems of Hartford

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