Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| Earl Mann|
(photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
In 1931, the Eastern League’s top team used a stifling pitching staff to throttle the opposition. One key member of the mound corps went on to be a solid major league performer. Guiding this staff of phenoms was a .300 hitting catcher who possessed, some said, one of the keenest minds in baseball history.
The city of Hartford, located in central Connecticut, hosted several fine amateur nines during the 1860s, including the Charter Oak club. In the middle of the next decade, the city joined the top professional league in the land, the National Association. After finishing a distant seventh in 1874, the team leapt to second with a fine 54-28 record in 1875. Unfortunately, the team had the misfortune of playing during the same campaign as the vaunted Red Stockings, who finished with a professional record-setting mark of 71-8, .899.
When the National League began play in 1876, a team called the Dark Blues was among the eight founding clubs. In its two years in the league, the team finished third twice. During 1877, still ostensibly hailing from the Nutmeg State, the team actually played most of its home games in Brooklyn.
In the final two decades of the 19th century, Hartford hosted teams in three different minor league organizations: the Eastern League, Atlantic Association and Atlantic League. None of these stays blossomed into championships, but the 1896 Atlantic League entry came close. Here a team called the Bluebirds (73-54) finished one slim game behind the Newark Colts.
For an eleven-year span during the early years of the 20th century, Hartford was one of the key members of the Connecticut State League. The team won pennants in 1902, 1909 and when the league became the Eastern Association in 1913, the club won yet again.
In 1916, Hartford joined the Eastern League, a new Class B circuit. In 1919, the league advanced to Class A status. After several middling campaigns, the Senators rose to fourth in 1920, finishing only eight games behind the New Haven Weissmen. Three years later, Hartford copped its first Eastern flag with a 98-55, .640 club. After a last place club in 1929, the Senators folded on June 30, 1930, along with Pittsfield. On July 18, New Haven and Providence followed suit, reducing the league to four clubs. In 1931, the Eastern League returned to eight clubs, with Hartford back in the fold under new ownership. The Senators now had a tie-up with the Brooklyn Dodgers, replacing Macon of the now disbanded Class A South Atlantic League. The Dodgers sent Earl Mann, who had been business manager at Macon, to run the Hartford operation. (More about Mann later.)
| Van Lingle Mungo|
(photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Fortunately for the Senators, opening day of the 1931 season, April 26 at New Haven, gave little indication of the kind of year the team was to enjoy. Hartford got off to a 13-0 lead and was ahead 22-14 at the end of eight innings. New Haven scored nine runs in the last of the ninth to win 23-22 as Van Lingle Mungo walked in the tying and winning runs. The league had adopted a straight-season 140-game schedule, but when Hartford took an early and commanding lead, the directors decided to make it a split season to give the other teams a fresh start. The Senators finished the first half with a 44-17, .721 record, six games in front of Bridgeport, which had ties to the New York Giants. Hartford started the second half slowly, but soon overtook Bridgeport and completed the second half with a 53-23, .697 record, this time 12 games ahead of the second place Bears. Hartford and Bridgeport were the only teams in the league to finish above .500.
The Senators were managed by 27-year-old Charlie Moore, who also served as backup catcher. Moore, a native of Louisville, KY, broke into pro ball in 1922 with St. Petersburg (Florida State). After hitting .350 for Macon (South Atlantic) in 1928, he was purchased by Brooklyn, but never appeared in a major league game. The Dodgers sent him to Rocky Mount in 1929 where he led the Buccaneers to the Eastern Carolina League championship, winning the second half, then defeating Wilmington in the playoff. In 1930, Moore piloted Brooklyn’s farm club at Macon, winning the second half once again, but losing the playoff to Greenville. He had many of his 1930 Macon players at Hartford in 1931. He began the 1932 season at Hartford, but when the Eastern League folded in mid-season, a victim of the Great Depression, the Dodgers sent Moore to Jersey City where he replaced the veteran Hans Lobert as manager. Moore started 1933 managing Atlanta (Southern Association), but with the Crackers at the bottom of the standings in August, he was replaced by club president Wilbert (Uncle Robbie) Robinson, the Hall-of-Famer and longtime Brooklyn Dodgers pilot. Robinson didn’t want to put his old friend Moore in the unemployment lines, so he made Charlie his coach for the rest of the season. That was Moore’s last baseball connection. He died suddenly at the age of 49 while on a vacation.
The Senators’ leading hitter was 22-year-old Murray (Red ) Howell (.329-13-87), who was fourth in the Eastern League in batting. The previous year he had been the South Atlantic Association’s top slugger, hitting .340 with 147 RBI in 142 games. Howell was one of ten 1931 Senators who were on the Dodgers’ 1932 spring training roster, but he never appeared in a regular season game. He was an excellent hitter, but had a reputation for being hard to handle and often out of shape. He had one brief stay in the majors. After leading the International League in batting in 1940, hitting .359-22-122 for Baltimore, he was drafted by Cleveland. He hit .286 in 11 games for the Indians in 1941, then was returned to Baltimore. He had a 17-year .326 career average with 2,509 hits in 2,121 games.
Bob Parham, a 24-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder, and like Howell, from Atlanta, GA, was fifth in the Eastern League in batting (.327-11-67) and led the league in triples (18) and runs (105). 20-year-old Bobby Reis hit .327-9-76 in 107 games, finishing a fraction of a point of Parham. Reis played a few games for the Dodgers in late 1931 and 1932, then returned to the National League with Brooklyn and Boston from 1935-38 as a pitcher and utility player. His best year was 1936 when he went 6-5, 4.48 for Boston.
Outfielder Alta Cohen batted .316-5-47 and led the league in walks (87). He had made one of the strangest major league debuts on record in the second game of the 1931 season. The Dodgers were playing at Boston and the game became a high-scoring contest. As Jack Kavanagh and Norman Macht told it in their book, “Uncle Robbie,” “The Robins (Dodgers) were still batting and before the inning was over, Robinson had used Boone as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher. When the inning ended, Boone headed for right field and was announced as Herman’s replacement. However, the score was close again. Robbie didn’t like having Boone defending the vast spaces of Braves Field. He looked down the bench and spotted Cohen. ‘Take over for Boone,’ he ordered and the youngster raced to right field. This made Cohen a replacement for Boone, who had batted for the pitcher, not Herman. When the Robins came to bat, though, the eager rookie stepped to the plate in Herman’s cleanup spot. He singled and the Braves failed to appeal the fact he had batted out of order. Brooklyn’s rally kept going and Cohen’s correct turn, ninth in the order, came around. Cohen stepped to the plate again and lined his second hit in the inning. Among the beat writers covering the game was a journalist who became one of America’s favorite feature writers and book authors. After the game, Quentin Reynolds heard Alva Cohen naively wonder whether anything would be told in the papers about his feat, ‘I’d like my mother to know,’ he told Reynolds, a writer who was always looking for an angle. The reporter wrote his game account as a letter to Mrs. Cohen at her home in Newark. In the middle of the night, Reynolds was awakened by an irate editor at the New York World-Telegram. ‘Where’s your copy?’ he demanded. Reynolds insisted he had filed it hours earlier. He dressed and took a cab to the Western Union office, where he learned the news story had been delivered as an 800-word collect telegram to Mrs. Cohen. He never asked who paid for the wire.” The next day, Cohen was farmed out to Hartford. He hit .156 in nine games for the Dodgers in 1932 before returning to the Senators. He was leading the Eastern League in hitting with a .409 average in 59 games when the league folded in mid-season. Cohen hit .198 for the Phillies in 1933. Like Reis, he became a pitcher and had two good years with Toledo (American Association) in 1936-37 with a 29-19 record. Now 92 and living in Maplewood, NJ, Cohen is believed to be the last surviving member of the 1931 Senators.
Normally an outfielder, 28-year-old Max Rosenfeld was Hartford’s regular second baseman in 1931, batting .312-3-68. He played for Brooklyn briefly in 1931-32-33, hitting .298 in 42 games.
| Paul Richards|
(photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
The Senator who became the most famous in later years was 22-year-old catcher Paul Richards from Waxahachie, TX. Richards began his pro career as an infielder in 1926 and became a catcher in 1930 at Macon. In 1931 he hit .301-15-74, leading the Senators in home runs. The Dodgers brought him up in 1932, but after three games he was sold to the Giants who sent him to Minneapolis. He hit .361-16-69 in 78 games and was the American Association’s all-star catcher. Richards was the second-string catcher for New York in 1933-34 and was a member of the Giants’ championship team in 1933 although he didn’t play in the World Series. He was with the Athletics in 1935. Richards spent the next seven years (1936-42) with Atlanta (Southern) becoming manager in 1938, leading the Crackers to the pennant in his first year. In 1941, Atlanta finished first by 15-˝ games, but was defeated by second place Nashville in the playoffs. He returned to the majors as a player with Detroit in 1943 and led American League catchers in fielding that year and in 1945 when he was named catcher on The Sporting News’ Major League All-Star Team. He caught all seven games for the Tigers in the 1945 World Series and although he batted only .211, he hit two doubles and drove in four runs in Detroit’s 9-3 win over the Cubs in Game Seven. After 1946, he returned to managing at Buffalo, finishing first in the International League in 1949. Richards piloted Seattle (PCL) in 1950, then was appointed manager of the Chicago White Sox. The Sox had finished in the second division for eight straight years, but under Richards they made the first division four times. Chicago was third with a 91-54 record on September 14, 1954 when Richards resigned to become GM and field manager of Baltimore. He gave up his front office position during the 1959 season, but continued to lead the team on the field until August 31, 1961. With the Orioles in third place with an 84-77 record, he resigned to become general manager of the expansion Houston Colt .45s who were to begin play the next season. Richards remained with Houston until June, 1966 when he was appointed director of personnel and vice president of operations of the Atlanta Braves. He left the Braves after the 1972 season and was retired until Bill Veeck persuaded him to manage the White Sox in 1976. However, the Sox had only a 64-97 record and Richards stepped down. He remained with Chicago as director of player development through 1980. Later he was a scout and consultant for the Texas Rangers. Richards died May 4, 1986 in his hometown of Waxahachie.
The Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball states: “Paul Richards is generally credited as one of the smartest men in baseball history - a catcher with an exceptional gift for handling pitchers, a great teacher and a true innovator. Richards is credited with inventing the ‘Iron Mike’ pitching machine and the “Big Mitt’ used to catch (knuckleballer) Hoyt Wilhelm. Yet, for all his smarts, Richards never seemed to be around when his efforts at building teams paid off. By then, he’d already moved on to the next challenge.” While with the Giants, he carefully studied the art of managing from Bill Terry and pitching and catching from Carl Hubbell. For better or for worse, depending on your viewpoint, Paul Richards is credited with being the first manager to regularly use the pitch count.
Bridgeport left-hander Jim Mooney, who finished the season with the New York Giants, was the Eastern League’s ERA leader with a miniscule 1.69, but in a rare occurrence, the next five pitchers in order were all Hartford Senators. All five were right-handers and all were on the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training roster in 1932. One never appeared in a regular season big league game, three had brief major league careers and one became a mainstay of the Dodgers staff. Art Jones, 22, from Kershaw, SC, was second in the league in ERA with an 18-6, 2.10 record and led the league in wins. He pitched in one game for Brooklyn in 1932. Phil Gallivan, 24, from St. Paul, MN, posted a 14-4, 2.21 record. He pitched for the Dodgers in 1931 and the White Sox in 1932 and 1934. Earl Mattingly, 26, from Washington, DC, went 17-2, 2.25 and led the league in won-lost percentage (.895). He was 0-1, 2.51 in eight games for the Dodgers at the end of the 1931 season. John Krider, 24, from Macon, GA, had a 16-4, 2.29 record. He never pitched in a major league game.
It was the fifth pitcher and the youngest, 20-year-old Van Lingle Mungo, from Pageland, SC, who was to become famous. Mungo went 15-5, 2.12, was third in ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 151 in 191 innings pitched. He finished the season with the Dodgers, going 3-1, 2.32 in five starts. During a 14-year major league career, Mungo won 120, lost 115, with a 3.47 ERA and struck out 1,242 batters. From 1932-36 he averaged 16 wins a season for a mediocre Brooklyn team. In 1934, when he went 18-16, he led the National League in innings pitched (351). In 1935 (16-10) he led the league in shutouts (4) and struck out 15 Phillies batters in a game on September 29. The next year, although he had a losing 18-19 record, he led the league in strikeouts (238) and lowest opponents batting average (.234). In one game that year he struck out seven batters in succession. Mungo pitched in the All-Star Game in 1934 and 1937 and was named to the National League roster in 1936. He injured his arm in the 1937 game and finished the year with only a 9-11 record and 161 innings pitched. In June, 1940, he underwent arm surgery and subsequently dropped down to the minors with Montreal and Minneapolis in 1941-42. The Giants brought him up late in 1942 and he was with them in 1943, going 3-7, 3.91 mostly in relief. Mungo was in the Army in 1944, then returned to the Giants for one last successful season in 1945, going 14-7, 3.20. He retired after that year. Two years later, on August 14, 1947 he made the news in a tragic way. A truck loaded with watermelons, driven by Mungo, collided with the Greensboro (Carolina League) team bus. Killed in the mishap was 28-year-old Greensboro hurler Woody Crowson. Mungo survived the accident, living until 1985 when he died at the age of 73.
The Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball says: “If you play word association and say ‘Van Lingle Mungo,’ you’re likely to make somebody think of a clever, jazzy early ‘70s ditty by songwriter Dave Frishberg. It strung together names of players from the ‘30s and early ‘40s with Mungo’s unusual name serving as the refrain. But few of today’s fans know much besides the name of the fireballing right-hander with the high leg kick. One account called him ‘wild and mean.’ He would get visibly upset when his teammates made mistakes and, since he spent most of his career with poor Dodgers teams, that was a frequent occurrence. He tried to strike out as many batters as possible to minimize the chances for error and as a result led the National League in walks three times. A heavy drinker who liked to carouse, once Mungo had to be smuggled out of Cuba to escape a machete-wielding husband. Apparently, Mungo had been caught in bed with the man’s wife, a nightclub singer.”
The Senators dominated the Eastern League All-Star selections just as they had the pennant race, with seven selections: Parham, Reis, Richards, Mungo, Mattingly and Gallivan.
Earl Mann held the title of Secretary of the Senators, equivalent to today’s General Manager. When the Eastern League collapsed in 1932, Mann joined the Yankees organization for a brief period. In 1934, he became business manager of the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association and upon the death of Wilbert Robinson in 1935 was appointed club president. The Coca Cola Company took over the club in a mortgage foreclosure and Mann remained in his position. Under his direction, the Crackers regularly set minor league attendance records. Mann was named The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year in 1936 and 1946. A successful and innovative promoter, in the late 1940s he booked an exhibition with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1948, he and Branch Rickey concocted one of baseball’s more bizarre deals. The trade sent Atlanta radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell to Brooklyn for catcher Cliff Dapper. In 1949, Mann purchased the club from Coca Cola. Long an advocate of independent minor league operation, in 1950 he felt the Crackers no longer could compete on the field without a major league affiliation and signed a working agreement with the Braves. As the 1950s progressed, minor league attendance, and consequently profits, steadily declined. In 1959, he sold the club to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Following the demise of the Eastern League in 1932, Hartford was without professional baseball for five seasons. In 1938, the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League, which had been in business since 1923, changed its name to the Eastern League and added Hartford as a member. Six years later, Hartford once again clambered on the Top 100 list with a fine champion squad in 1944. In 1952, the team left the league and dropped out of Organized Baseball.
By placing five pitchers among the top six ERA qualifiers, the ’31 Senators dominated their league’s pitching stats as few teams have ever done. As a result, the club was able to set league records by racking up more wins and finishing with a higher winning percentage than any other Eastern League champion.
|1931 Eastern League Standings|
|1931 Hartford Senators batting statistics|
|Jim Pattison (Richmond)||P||41||73||10||16||6||2||0||0||5||9||2||.219|
|E.V. Fisher (Albany)||P||37||73||6||19||8||0||0||0||2||9||0||.260|
|1931 Hartford Senators pitching statistics|
|E.V. Fischer (Albany)||11||11||.500||30||12||1||168||182||41||63||3.96|
|Jim Pattison (Richmond)||8||6||.571||21||13||2||142||117||47||61||2.35|