Posts Tagged ‘Hartford’

Bobby Valentine, Tommy Lasorda, and the 1970 Spokane Indians

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Among its symbols, Spokane boasts The Historic Davenport Hotel, the Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Monroe Street Bridge.  They are, to be sure, propellants of the city’s physical, cultural, and architectural landscapes.

Baseball contributes an equally significant identifier to this foothold of the Inland Northwest.

And so it was—and continues to be—with the 1970 Spokane Indians.

Indians shortstop Bobby Valentine won the Pacific Coast League MVP Award, with a .340 batting average, 211 hits, and 122 runs scored.  IN a 2015 Hartford Courant article by Owen Canfield, Valentine praised Tommy Lasorda, the Indians manager, for offering positive reinforcement at a low point.  “After one particularly tough fielding game for me, he came into the locker room and said to the other players, ‘Go and get yourselves a pen and paper and get Bobby’s autograph, because some day he’s going to be great.'”

At the time, the AAA Indians belonged in the Dodgers’ minor league hierarchy.  Lasorda, of course, succeeded Walter Alston as the Dodgers’ manager, stayed at the helm for the next 20 years, and became a Chavez Ravine icon.  Spokane was a highly significant facilitator for the Dodgers—Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Von Joshua, Joe Ferguson, and Charlie Hough played for the Indians before getting called up to “the show.”

In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, written with David Fisher, Lasorda described his strategy of converting ballplayers to different positions—Davey Lopes, for example.  “He was a bona fide, blue-chip, big league prospect,” explained Lasorda.  “His only problem was that he was an outfielder, and the organization had an abundance of talented outfielders.  We needed shortstops and second basemen.  Since Russell and Valentine were already working out at shortstop, I told Davey I wanted to make him a second baseman.  He resisted the idea at first, but once I’d convinced him he would get to the big leagues a lot faster as an infielder, he accepted it.”

Lopes became a mainstay of the Dodgers infield in the 1970s, along with Ron Cey at third base, Russell at shortstop, and Garvey at first base.

In 1970, the Indians notched a 94-52 record, captured the PCL’s Northern Division by 26 games, and won the PCL championship by defeating the Hawaii Islanders in a four-game sweep.

From 1958 to 1972, the Indians belonged in the Dodgers organization, with subsequent affiliations to Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Kansas City.  The team’s genesis began, effectively, on December 2nd, when the Dodgers and the Giants agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to the PCL for transporting into the league’s territory upon their exoduses from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

A three-team move followed, rearranging the Los Angeles Angels to Spokane, the San Francisco Seals to Phoenix, and the Hollywood Stars to Salt Lake City.  Hollywood and the other PCL teams—Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, San Diego—split the $900,000 equally, receiving $150,000 apiece.

Of the realignment, Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times clarified, “Long Beach, which has been a strong bidder for the Hollywood franchise, has no chance of landing it.  Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, among others, are solidly opposed to the beach city because of its proximity to Los Angeles.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 14, 2016.

Morgan Bulkeley, the Hartford Dark Blues, and the Birth of the National League

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the character of Malvolio says, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

By a conventional wisdom paradigm, Morgan Bulkeley fell into all three categories.

Bulkeley was born into greatness by virtue of the stature that ran through the blue blood of his prominent Connecticut family.  With the Mayflower’s voyage in his family tree, the Bulkeleys enjoyed a rarefied lineage.  Bulkeley’s father, Eliphalet Bulkeley, wielded connections to the power structure in Connecticut’s Republican party through employment as judge, a state senator, and a state’s attorney.  He also co-founded the Aetna Life Insurance Company and served as its first president.

Bulkeley achieved greatness by furthering the family’s political legacy in staking out political territory of his own:

  • Mayor of Hartford for four terms (1880 to 1888)
  • Governor of Connecticut for two terms (1889 to 1893)
  • U.S. Senator for one term (1905 to 1911)

Additionally, Bulkeley became the third president of Aetna, a position he held for more than 40 years, until his death.

Bulkeley had greatness thrust upon him by luck dictating the responsibility, honor, and prestige of the National League’s inaugural presidency in 1876.  Sort of.

With other members of Hartford’s elite, Bulkeley formed the Hartford Dark Blues, which played in the National Association in 1874 and 1875.  When the NA folded after the 1875 season, its demise created a void for professional baseball.  The Dark Blues received an invitation to be one of eight charter members in the nascent National League, set to début in 1876.  “Hartford owed its selection over larger New Haven to the substantial reputation of Bulkeley and his fellow Hartford shareholders, the strength of their team, and the financial reliability they had demonstrated in two NA seasons,” explained David Nemec in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2: The Hall of Famers and Memorable Personalities Who Shaped the Game.

Bulkeley’s one-year presidential reign was neither significant nor outstanding.  Its greatness, therefore, may be a matter of opinion.  A pro-Bulkeley argument rests on the thesis that Bulkeley provided baseball with a necessary image of honor, respect, and stability to contradict the edgier parts of a game that was, in some cases, far removed from the 19th century pastoral activity depicted in the iconic Currier & Ives painting of a Hoboken baseball game—rowdiness, gambling, and liquor pervaded a game that struggled toward growth, organization, and prosperity.

Representing the Chicago White Stockings, another National League charter member, William Hulbert was a primary force in creating the new league.  Hubert signed marquee pitcher Albert Spalding, the future sporting goods mogul.  They endorsed Bulkeley’s rank in the National League hierarchy.  Bulkeley’s biography on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site states, “A drawing was held to determine the first president of the new league, and Bulkeley’s name emerged first.  This sat well with William Hulbert and Albert Spalding of Chicago, who saw in him the integrity and character needed to drive the league’s acceptance.”

It is a matter of debate concerning Bulkeley receiving the presidency through a drawing, describes Nemec: “Whether the directors were actually chosen by lot or Hulbert deliberately engineered their selection, all of its members could probably have seen as well as Hulbert that Bulkeley was a natural choice for the presidency as an easterner who was personally respected but did not represent one of the traditional powers of eastern baseball.  The office was essentially an honorific one, at any rate.  All the president did was preside at meetings.”

Even so, Bulkeley’s aristocratic image cannot be ignored.  Figureheads can be useful in projecting a reputation of solidity, value, and importance.  Bulkeley was a critical component in helping the National League build a foundation for a sustainable enterprise.  His baseball days ended, however, shortly after his National League presidency.

In 1877, the Dark Blues played their home games in Brooklyn.  It was their last season.  Consequently, Bulkeley’s pursuits did not include further baseball opportunities until he joined the Mills Commission in 1905 to ascertain baseball’s origins.  It labeled Abner Doubleday as baseball’s creator, a mistake rectified in later decades by numerous baseball historians.

Morgan Bulkeley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 26, 2014.