Mike Roer

Jim O’Rourke Brings Professional Baseball Back to Bridgeport


Midway though the decade, Jim O'Rourke, after playing every position in the major leagues, retired to a quiet law practice in the Park City.  This lasted all of a month.  Then the 24-year veteran of the national pastime began to pine for the crack of the bat.  He  helped coach a local church team, the St. Joseph TL&B.  But this was not enough action. Within twelve months O'Rourke created a new professional team, the Victors. And when there was no room in the east coast circuits for the Victors, he founded a new league.


Three parks competed to be O'Rourke's baseball venue: 

  •    Athletic Park on Boston Avenue
  •    Pleasure Beach in the East End
  •    Avon Park in Stratford


All three grounds were privately owned, fenced in, and offered both bleachers and covered grandstands for spectators.


Seaside Park, the birthplace of baseball in Bridgeport, was still going strong.   While popular for amateur contests, Seaside Park was not fenced in nor did it offer seating.   It was therefore unsuitable for professional contests.  Nevertheless, the amateur games played their attracting large and enthusiatic crowds. According to the Post (5/15/1894), two to three policeman were needed "to keep the crowd within the rope."  


Annual Baseball Highlights:



Limited baseball activity in Bridgeport.  The Bridgeport Standard lamented April 30, 1891: "This city is denied the pleasures of the national game."



Three superb amateur teams emerged in the Park City.  The top-ranked St. Joseph TL&B Baseball Club won the state amateur title hands down. No wonder, the team's battery was composed of veteran catcher Jim O'Rourke and pitcher Billy Lush, who would join the Washington Senators on September 1, 1895. 


Although O'Rourke was a National League umpire during the first half of the season, he played ball at every opportunity when at home in Bridgeport. Jim O'Rourke's only son, Jimmy, was bat boy for the St. Joe's.


The second-ranked Bridgeport club, after the TL&Bs, was the Y.M.C.A. team with pitcher Clarence "Pop" Foster, who would later play in the majors.  In 1894 Foster struck out eighty batters in an eight-game streak (sixteen in one game).


The third-ranked team, the East Side Athletics split a double-header with Milford on the Fourth of July, drawing a crowd of 400 to Athletic Park, at a time when a National League team might draw only 1500 spectators. 


Jim O'Rourke resigned from his position as a National League umpire to set up a full-time law office in room 27 of the Fairfield County Court House, 172 Golden Hill Street. 


It wasn't long before Attorney O'Rourke decided to have some fun.  He gathered together the best players from the three Bridgeport amateur  teams of 1894 and coached them into an unbeatable nine. 


The new team, the Victors, played at three-year-old Pleasure Beach as well as Avon Park, typically drawing 1000 fans per game.  To cap off the year, Jim arranged a post-season exhibition game with the New York Giants (Bridgeport Post 10-2-1895).



Jim O'Rourke took the Victors into the professional ranks, apparently as a semi-pro club, for the Boston Globe mentioned on June 4 that "Jim O?Rourke's players have made a kick against the percentage of the gate they have been receiving."  There was no league available for the Victors to join, so O'Rourke created the Naugatuck League.   As a warm-up contest, the Victors hosted the National League Boston Beaneaters at Athletic Park, where they were resoundingly trounced by their guests 30-2. But the Victors won the Naugatuck League pennant (Bridgeport Post, April 13, 1896).




Bridgeport Fans Cheering from

Pleasure Beach Grand Stand, 1896.


The 1896 Bridgeport Victors

All were Bridgeport lads (Post, 9/21/1896).


[Front row]: Terry Rogers, Pat Cunningham, Jim O’Rourke, Howard Dunbar, Jack Doherty.  

[Back row]: Jack Kelly, Jack Dempsey, Phil Blansfield, “Pop” Foster, Harry Herbert, and “Dick” Mansfield.  (Rogers, Dempsey, and Blansfield later joined the Bridgeport Police.)




The Naugatuck League reorganized as the Connecticut State League.  Senator Whitlock  served as its first  President. 


The  Victors finished third.



In response to complaints about difficult access to Pleasure Beach (there was no bridge), the O’Rourke brothers built Newfield Park on the family farm that they had inherited from their parents; a real-life version of the movie Field of Dreams


The Victors finished third again, but led all of organized baseball with the most consecutive wins: 14 (Sporting Life 7/30/1898).


1899.   The Victors dropped to seventh in an eight team league.  It was time to shake things up.