By Elizabeth J. Normen, Publisher (c) Connecticut Explored, Summer 2018
Sports have a way of putting Connecticut on the map. UConn basketball is Exhibit A. I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience: While I was poking around La Quinta, California on vacation last February, a local shop owner raved about UConn basketball after learning where we were from.
We can also thank our homegrown Olympic athletes who made us proud during the 2018 winter games and got our state plenty of press. So, too, did 2017 Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player George S. Springer of New Britain, outfielder for the Houston Astros. Springer won the MVP award in the same year that Jeff Bagwell (born in Boston but raised in Killingworth and who also played for Houston) was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both are graduates of Connecticut schools: Springer is a UConn alum, and Bagwell graduated from the University of Hartford.
Bagwell, who retired in 2006, is Connecticut’s first Hall of Famer since three inductees played in the earliest days of the game—more than 120 years ago. Roger Connor, born in Waterbury in 1857, was called “the Babe Ruth of the 80s” in his New York Times obituary (January 5, 1931). Ned Hanlon, born in Montville in 1857, was called “the Father of Modern Baseball” by Sporting Newsin 1937. And Jim O’Rourke, born in Bridgeport in 1850, played until he was 54 and then became a manager, umpire, and minor-league president. O’Rourke was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945, Connor in 1976, and Hanlon in 1996. (Read our story about Bagwell in our social studies book about Connecticut for third graders online at whereilivect.org/baseball-hall-of-famer-jeff-bagwell/.)
This issue is all about sports, and Springer’s story shows us how far we’ve come since baseball had a color line. Read Steve Thornton’s story “African American Greats in Connecticut Baseball” (see page 28) for a glimpse at the environment Springer (who is of Puerto Rican and Panamanian descent) would have encountered in the late 19th and early 20th century when Cuban players were accepted in the white leagues but African Americans were not. (And for more early Connecticut baseball history, see “The Hartford Dark Blues” Spring 2003.)
This issue isn’t all about baseball, though. We also bring you stories about wicket ball—the precursor to baseball—football, golf, horse racing, and yachting. We’re also celebrating summer vacation and bring you two stories about escaping the city heat for greener pastures. That makes this the perfect issue to tuck into your carry-on or beach bag to read while you travel. Don’t forget you can also listen to great Connecticut history while away from home with our podcast Grating the Nutmeg. Download episodes to your phone, laptop, or tablet through iTunes, Google Play, or Gratingthenutmeg.libsyn.com. And pick up a copy of our last sports-themed issue, Fall 2009.
Whatever you’re a fan of we’ve got a story for you. See Spring 2003 “Pastimes,” Summer 2006 “Great Escapes and Landscapes,” Summer 2008 “On and Off the Beaten Path,” and Summer 2010 “Exploring the Connecticut Landscape” (or really every issue) for ideas about places to visit and things to do this summer.