Top 100 Teams
International League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
With a new owner, bringing with him a new affiliation, the 1932 Bears began a streak of championships nearly unmatched in the annals of minor league baseball. However, the team was immensely helped by the fact that their new major league friend was one of the dominant teams in the American League. In addition, this team had a remarkable number of future and past major leaguers on the roster, with many of the group going on to successful careers off the field.
The city of Newark, New Jersey, located just west of New York City, has been a part of baseball history nearly from the beginning. In the 1850s and 1860s, amateur nines like the Newark Active and Amateur clubs met others of their kind on the field. Beginning in 1884, Newark’s first pro team played for three years in the Eastern League. They culminated their stay with a fine 68-26, .723 champion team in 1886.
After a one-year stay in the International League in 1887, Newark placed a team in the Central League the next year. This club, called the Trunkmakers, won the pennant in a memorable battle with Jersey City, eventually prevailing by one-half game. Newark finished 83-23, .783 while Jersey City came in at 84-25, .771. These two percentages were the two best compiled by any full-season 19th century minor league team.
Following a five-year stay in the Atlantic Association (1896-1900), the city placed a team in one of minor league baseball’s top ranked leagues in 1902--the Eastern League. After spending much of their first decade in the lower reaches of the league, the team broke away to win their first pennant in 1913, in what was now called the International League.
Two years later, Newark enjoyed its only taste of the big leagues. Following the 1914 season, Tulsa oil millionaire Harry Sinclair purchased the Indianapolis Hoosiers franchise in the “outlaw” Federal League and moved it to Newark where the team was called the Peppers. This gave the league two clubs in the all-important New York market, the other being the Brooklyn Tip-Tops or Brookfeds. Construction of a new steel and concrete 20,000-seat stadium was begun in Harrison, NJ, a block from the Passaic River. Harrison was just north of the Newark city limits. Harrison Field was still not completely finished by opening day, April 16, when 26,032 packed the stadium to see Newark beat Baltimore. An additional 5,000 fans reportedly were turned away. The team did fairly well, finishing fifth with an 80-72 record, only six games out of first in one of the tightest major league races ever. The Peppers’ star pitcher was ex-Cub and Dodger Ed Reulbach (21-10, 2.23). Future Hall-of-Famer Edd Roush hit .298. 3B Bill McKechnie, who later won National League pennants in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati in his Hall-of-Fame 25 year major league managerial career, got his first taste of piloting a team when he took over the reins from Newark skipper Bill Phillips in June.
Because of the Federal League invasion, the Newark International League club moved to Harrisburg on July 2. Following the 1915 season, the Federal League went out of business and the International League team moved back to Newark. In the process, the team took over the Feds’ Harrison Field. In 1917, the Newark team, which had been called the Indians, took the name Newark Bears for the first time.
The next 15 years were not blessed with success for Newark in the International League. Attendance sagged in 1919 in Newark and Binghamton and those cities were replaced in 1920 by Akron and Syracuse. The Akron venture was a failure and Newark was back in the league in 1921. The Bears finished last in 1922 and seventh in 1923. On August 18, 1923, Harrison Field burned down and the Bears had to return to old Meadowbrook Oval, which was being used by the Newark Eagles Negro National League team. On May 16, 1925, with an 8-20 record, the Newark franchise moved to Providence. After the 1925 season, Charles Davids rescued the team and brought it back to Newark where he built a new 15,000-seat ballpark in the meadowlands that he called Davids Stadium. After two years, Davids went broke and the club was purchased at a receiver’s sale by newspaper publisher Paul Block for $360,000 and the assumption of $160,000 of unpaid notes. Block owned the Newark-Star Eagle as well as newspapers in Toledo and Pittsburgh. When Block bought the club, he changed the name of the stadium, first to Newark Ballpark, then in 1929 to Bears Stadium.
Determined to have a winning team, Block hired the great Walter Johnson as manager. Johnson had just finished his last season as a Washington Senators pitcher. Block paid Johnson $20,000, making him the highest paid baseball man outside the majors. In his book “Walter Johnson, A Life, “ Jack Kavanaugh says “Block wanted a winner, and his way to put one on the field was to sign veteran players for Johnson to manage. Unfortunately, many of them were unmanageable, especially by such a mild-mannered leader as Johnson.” The 1928 Bears led the league in attendance, but finished seventh, albeit only 9-˝ games out of first. Johnson had a few fine team players, such as Jocko Conlan and ex-major leaguers Jack Bentley and Jacques Fournier. However, they were more than offset by OF “Good-Time Bill” Lamar and P “Handsome Hugh” McQuillan. Lamar had a .310 major league career average, but was described by Kavanagh as a “lazy, indifferent boozer who gathered a clique of dissolute dissidents around him.” Kavanagh calls McQuillan, a starter for the champion Giants in 1922-23-24, vain, quarrelsome and opinionated, and “the other major disrupter of team harmony.” After the 1928 season, Johnson had the opportunity to return to Washington as manager and Block released him from his contract. The next Newark manager was another baseball immortal, Tris Speaker. The 1929 Bears finished sixth, 21 games behind first-place Rochester. Speaker resigned in June 1930, and was replaced by popular Al Mamaux, a 36-year-old right-hander who had been the Bears’ pitching mainstay since 1926. In 1931, he led Newark to a second place finish, only two games out of first. Following the 1931 season, an event occurred which ushered in the glory days of Newark baseball.
On November 12, 1931, Col. Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the New York Yankees, bought the Newark International League team to serve as a farm team for his American League club. Based upon the success of similar farm teams, Ruppert wanted the same for his Yankees. As a bonus, because of Newark’s proximity to the Yankees’ digs in New York, callups could be handled with alacrity. Even Branch Rickey and his far-flung Cardinal network could not boast of such proximity for his top farm team. The ballpark was upgraded, its capacity enlarged to 19,000 and it was renamed Ruppert Stadium.
Newark fans were afraid Mamaux would be replaced by some ex-Yankee player and petitions bearing thousands of signatures were sent to New York urging his retention. On December 3, Ruppert announced that Mamaux would return, saying that his job was never in danger. Mamaux had enjoyed a pair of 21-win seasons for Pittsburgh in 1915-16 and pitched for Brooklyn in the 1920 World Series. He had a 76-67, 2.90 major league record in a career spanning 12 years, ending in 1924. He sat out 1925, then joined Newark. He led the International League in ERA (2.22) in 1926 and in wins and ERA (25-10, 2.61) in 1927. He led Newark to another first-place finish in 1933, but lost the first round of the playoffs. Mamaux managed Albany in 1935-36 and was head coach at Seton Hall University from 1937-42. For 20 years during the off-season, he toured the vaudeville circuits as a singer and was known as “The Golden Voice Tenor.”
The 1932 Newark Bears, with 15 former or future Yankees on the roster, mowed down the opposition, winning their first International League title in 19 years. In the first part of the season, Newark battled defending champion Rochester, Baltimore, Buffalo and Montreal for the lead, but took over first place to stay in the first week of July. They finished with a 109-59, .649 record, 15-˝ games ahead of second place Baltimore. Following the regular season, the Bears dispatched the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers, 4 games to 2, in the Junior World Series. The series was tied at two wins apiece when the Bears, playing in Minneapolis’ bandbox Nicollet Park, out-slugged the Millers in the last two games, 12-9 and 8-7, coming from behind both times. Veteran catcher Charlie Hargreaves led the Bears at the plate with a .417 average. Don Brennan pitched two complete game wins, giving up only two runs in 18 innings. In the regular season, Newark showed off its batting and speed by leading the league in batting (.304), triples (86) and stolen bases (132). The Bears also set a new International League attendance record, drawing 345,001 fans.
Of the 31 Newark Bears who saw service in the majors, several stand out. Top batting honors fell to outfielders Dixie Walker (.350-15-105) and Forrest (Woody ) Jensen (.345), followed closely by first baseman Johnny Neun (.341). Walker, who finished an 18-year major league career in 1949 with 2,064 hits, starred for Brooklyn in the 1940s, winning the batting title (.357) in 1944 and playing in four Major League All-Star Games. One of the most popular players in Dodger history, he was affectionately known in Brooklynese as “The People’s Cherce.” Jensen, on option from Pittsburgh, played nine years for the Pirates, batting .285. Neun, who also led the league in hits (212) and stolen bases (25) in 1932, played six years for the Tigers, hitting .289. Later in his 65-year baseball career, Neun managed another top 100 team, the 1938 Newark Bears.
Just a notch below were OF Jess Hill (.330-17-114) and SS Red Rolfe (.331). Rolfe went on to become the Yankees’ starting third baseman from 1934-1942, accumulating 1,394 hits while batting .289.
He led the American League in triples (15) in 1936 and in runs (139), hits (213) and doubles (46) in 1939. In the closing weeks of the 1946-47 basketball season, Rolfe coached the Toronto Huskies in the pre-NBA Basketball Association of America. He managed Detroit from 1949 through the first half of 1952. From 1954 until his retirement in 1967, he was athletic director of his alma mater, Dartmouth College. Hill also batted .289 in parts of three seasons with the Yankees, Senators and Athletics (1935-37). Hill was a sports legend at the U. of Southern California where he was an athlete, coach and administrator for six decades. He starred in baseball, football and track and was a running back on the 1930 Rose Bowl team. Hill returned to USC after four years in the Navy in World War II as head track coach, was head football coach from 1951-56, taking his Trojans to two Rose Bowls, and served as athletic director from 1957-72, his teams winning 29 national championships.
In early June, the Yankees made a deal which brought 3B Marv Owen, who was on option from Detroit, from Toronto in exchange for three Newark players whom the Yankees optioned to the Maple Leafs: OF George Selkirk, INF Bobby Stevens and P Frank (Bots) Nekola. Owen hit .317-11-92 and was voted the International’s MVP. Owen played for the Tigers, White Sox and Red Sox for nine years, batting .275. He was the third baseman on Detroit’s championship teams of 1934-35 and enjoyed a 35-year career as a minor league manager and major league scout. Selkirk, nicknamed Twinkletoes by a sportswriter because of his manner of running on the forward part of his feet, hit .290 in a nine-year Yankee career. He is best known as the man who took Babe Ruth’s place in right field when the Babe left the Yankees after the 1934 season. After Navy service in World War II, Selkirk managed in the minors for ten years, was in player development for Kansas City and Baltimore, then was general manager of the Washington Senators from 1962-69. Nekola, a bespectacled southpaw, had pitched Evander Childs High to the New York City title and the NewYork-Chicago intercity championship before attending Holy Cross where he went 27-0. Just before the end of the 1928 collegiate season, he was suspended by Holy Cross for having secretly entered into an agreement to sign with the Yankees. He pitched briefly for New York in 1929 and Detroit in 1933 with a 0-0 record. Nekola scouted for the Red Sox from 1949-76 and is credited with signing Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli.
The pitching corps was anchored by 28-year-old ex-Georgetown U. right-hander Don Brennan, who had difficulty throughout his career keeping his weight anywhere near his roster-listed 210 pounds. Brennan (26-8) led the league in wins, ERA (2.79), complete games (21) and shutouts (6). Brennan was a major league reliever with the Yankees, Reds and Giants (27-12, 4.19) from 1933-37. 28-year-old, 6’6”, 230-pound Big Jim Weaver went 15-6, 3.83. He pitched in the majors during eight seasons and with Pittsburgh in 1935 went 14-8, 3.42 with a National League high four shutouts. Ex-U. of Michigan star and accomplished pianist Pete Jablonowski (11-1) led the league in percentage (.917) after coming down from the Red Sox in a July trade for P Johnny Welch. Pete, who had his last name changed to Appleton in 1934, pitched in the majors for seven teams during 14 seasons (57-66, 4.30). He scouted for Washington/Minnesota from 1954-74. On June 19, lefty Rufus Meadows (9-6) pitched the only International League no-hitter of the year, a 9-0 seven-inning win over Montreal.
Fordham graduate Johnny Murphy was only 6-7, 4.18, but went on to a brilliant 13-year career as one of the greatest relievers in major league history. All but one year, his last, 1947 with the Red Sox, was spent with the Yankees. He went 93-53, 3.50 and reconstructed saves records gave him a total of 107, leading the league four times (1938-39, 1941-42). In 1944-45, during World War II, Murphy went on the Voluntarily Retired List, working at Oak Ridge, TN, where atomic energy experiments were performed. The Sporting News reported that many of his duties were secret. Following his retirement as a player, he became the Red Sox farm director in 1949 and remained in that position until 1960. The next year he joined the expansion New York Mets organization as an assistant to George Weiss, whom he knew in his Yankee days. Murphy later became a team vice-president and in 1968 was appointed general manager. He was named Major League Executive of the Year by The Sporting News in 1969 for his work in building the “Miracle Mets” team that won the World Series that season. Unfortunately, Murphy died of a heart attack in January, 1970. His brother, Robert Murphy, was police commissioner of New York City for several years.
Newark’s success in the International League in the next ten years was nothing short of phenomenal. The team won seven more pennants in the next 12 years, including three which made the top 100 list (1937, 1938 and 1941). In 1950, a victim of poor attendance and the encroachment of television, pro baseball left Newark when its team moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.
With the help of new ownership righting a moribund franchise, the 1932 Newark Bears launched a successful era for themselves and the Yankees. In addition, this version of the Bears were distinguished by the number of players who had successful careers in sports after their playing days were over--long after their achievements on the field had become part of baseball history.
|1932 International League Standings|
|1932 Newark Bears batting statistics|
|Marv Owen (Toronto)||3B,SS,2B||160||587||103||186||92||38||14||11||55||47||13||.317|
|George Selkirk (Toronto)||OF||90||310||50||89||61||13||5||11||41||55||11||.287|
|Frank Doljack (Tor-Alb)||OF||58||174||22||38||26||8||2||6||16||18||6||.218|
|Big Jim Weaver||P||44||55||5||8||6||1||0||1||3||19||0||.145|
|Robert Stevens (Toronto)||SS||37||109||12||25||12||1||0||1||8||8||5||.229|
|Frank Nekola (Toronto)||P||25||42||4||8||2||0||0||0||4||14||0||.191|
|1932 Newark Bears pitching statistics|
|Big Jim Weaver||15||6||.714||44||4||1||160||150||80||137||3.83|
|Frank Nekola (Toronto)||6||11||.353||25||7||0||122||151||45||43||4.20|