Mike Roer

Barnum Ballyhoos Bridgeport Baseball

The Greatest Showman on Earth  and the City?s largest landholder, "presented a fine lot to the Bridgeport Club" for a professional club being organized for the 1885 season  (Fairfield Advertiser, 9-18-1884).  The land occupied by the ball field was known formerly as "the circus lot" (Bridgeport Farmer 9-2,1884).

The plot provided by P. T. Barnum was several acres on the northern portion of his Circus Winter Quarters, which ran between State Street, the railroad, Wordin Avenue, and Norman Street. This may also have been the site of the first amateur game in the city, in 1866, as that location was referred to as the "fair grounds."   

Barnum was a founding investor in the team (Sporting Life 12-10-1884, 8-19-1885) and a member of the board of the Horse-Railway Company (A. H. Saxon, P. T. Barnum: The Legend and The Man).  He saw the symbiotic relationship between baseball and local transportation companies (Gershman, Diamonds, 1993, p. 47) and convinced the trolley line to help fund the construction of the ball park.


1880-83.  No professional team in Bridgeport and limited intercity play by amateur or semi-pro clubs.


1884.  A new semi-pro nine, the Bridgeport Base Ball Club, was organized in July.  The team captain, Edgar Smith, who played for the National League Boston Red Caps as a substitute during the prior season, was also superintendent of a paper mill and had graduated from Yale "some time ago." Two other Yalies were Wheeler and Curtis, both attorneys in the Park City. (Bridgeport Farmer 9-15-1884).


Pitcher Odell must also have been a college student.  A Bridgeport Farmer article of 9-18 said that Odell, "while exercising in the Yale College Gymnasium, Tuesday, wrenched his arm so badly that he will be unable to toss the ball for some time." Mills was another college man who had to leave the team in late September to attend Harvard (Bridgeport Farmer 9-18-1884).

They Bridgeports of 1884 their first game on Saturday, July 17, at the Trotting Park before a crowd of 500.  In a game on Thursday, July 31st, against the Meridens, the Bridgeports appeared in new uniforms made by Ditson of Boston.  The shirt and pants were gray with blue trimmings. The players also sported white hats and blue stockings.


A new professional circuit, the Connecticut State League formed and folded in 1884. 


Bridgeporter John Campana and rookie Connie Mack helped Meriden win the pennant.







Bridgeport, after a sterling career in the amateur and semi-pro ranks, joined the professional Southern New England League (SNEL) as the Bridgeport Giants (Benjamin Sumner, Minor League Baseball Standings, 2000).  Formerly the State Base Ball League, the SNEL changed its name on March 5.


Each team was to play every other team 10 times. The guaranty to the visiting club was raised from $30 to $40 per game. The SNEL adopted the [National] League rules, with the exception that "The League rule, requiring the pitcher to stand flat on both feet at the moment of delivery, was rejected." (Boston Globe, March 6, 1885.)


The Globe predicted Bridgeport to finish in the top two or three in the standings due to "P.T. Barnum's substantial support." The Bridgeports were funded by a stock company, the Bridgeport Base Ball Association.  The Board of Directors included "such gentlemen as Henry R. Parrott, Russell T. Whiting,and Henry Setzer." (Bridgeport Post 2-14-1895) The "Old" Bridgeports continued to play intracity and intercity amateur matches.


Highlights of the 1885 Bridgeport professional season:


May 31 - Before a home crowd of 2500, Tommy Morrison threw a three-hitter against Hartford.  A Bridgeport record was set this day that has not been broken. But it wasn't the number of fans or hits; it was the number of minutes to complete the game: 65.


June 3 - Members of the Bridgeport City Council squared off in a benefit game for the Bertholdi Fund (the Statue of Liberty).


June 11 - Bridgeport pitcher Tommy Morrison threw a no-hitter against Waterbury.   (The Baseball Cyclopedia, Lanigan, 1922).


August 7 - Bridgeport withdraws from Southern New England League (Sporting Life 8-12-1885).  The Bridgeports had originally applied to the faster Eastern League (Sporting Life 12-24-1884) and when Lancaster withdrew from the class A League in July, Bridgeport was accepted as the replacement.   At the time the Bridgeports were in second place in the SNEL.  Upon joining the Eastern League, Bridgeport players  came under the reserve rule for the first time.  (Bridgeport Morning News  8-11-1883) 


Bridgeport finished fourth in the Eastern League with a 13 and 16 record. The Washington Nationals finished first.  Their payroll was triple that of Bridgeport's.

Bridgeport had five members who had played in the majors the prior year, and seven others would go on to play in The Show.


The Bridgeport Mets?


An intriguing article in the Bridgeport Morning News of December 11, 1885, hinted that the New York Metropolitans might transfer to Bridgeport:


"Rumors are floating about to the effect that the Bridgeport base ball association may secure the franchise of the Metropolitan club of New York. The 'Mets' have been expelled from the American association after the purchase of their franchise for $25,000 by Erastus Winans of Staten Island.


Matters with the Eastern league, of which Bridgeport is a member are in an unsettled condition. At the last meeting a committee was appointed to see about securing an eighth club. The present report is that the eighth club is likely to be the Metropolitans. This would not prevent there being a separate club here and would not prevent the 'Mets' from playing on Staten Island by electric light according to Mr. Winans published scheme, besides filling other engagements with the Eastern league clubs.


The report about Bridgeport acquiring the 'Mets' could neither be substantiated nor disproved last night. The chief supporters of base ball in Bridgeport rather scouted the idea but acknowledged there might be something in it. For Mr. Winans to save the money he has already invested in the 'Mets' franchise it is necessary for him to enroll them in some other association besides the American, and possibly they may come into the Eastern league with headquarters at Bridgeport.


1885 Bridgeport Opponents

Southern New England League:




New Britain



Eastern League:


Newark Domestics

Trentons (replacing the Jersey Citys
in July and moving to that city

Norfolks (replaced by Waterbury in September)

Richmond Virginias

Washington D. C. Nationals 


One for the Book


As a pre-season warm-up the 1885 Bridgeport team took on the National League champion Providence Grays.  Against Hall-of-Fame pitcher “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Bridgeport was defeated 18 to 11.  The Bridgeports were also twice defeated by the New Yokr Giants at the polo grounds. However, only a few months later the seasoned Bridgeports went three for three against major league teams.  In post-season play they defeated the NY Mets, Louisville, and Brooklyn by a combined score of 18 to 7.

A Rash of Injuries


In 1884, pitchers were permitted to throw overhand.  The new rules created opportunities for young pitchers like Adonis Terry of Bridgeport.  Terry wasn't set in his ways like many of the veterans, and adapted easily to the new overhand style.  But opportunity came at a price.  The faster speed was taking it's toll on catchers: 


  • Bridgeport catcher Ed Lockwood, died from an injury to his chest.  (Sporting Life, 2-11-1885.)
  • Bridgeport catcher Cooney's right arm was fractured when he was hit by a pitcher while batting, in game against Waterbury (Bridgeport Morning News 8-13, 1885).
  • Three players injured in a game with Newark on September 29:  "Mack McCormick while in the second inning was struck by a foul tip in his right side and rendered unconscious." 
    Wilson, the catcher, had a finger injured by another foul tip.  "[Ed] Flanagan had a tooth broken by getting his face where the ball wished to go." (Bridgeport Standard 9-30,1885.)
  • J. J. Beecher, catcher, suffered a split finger, "which will cripple him for a short time."   (Standard 7-25, 1885)  
  • Ace pitcher "Morrison has so badly strained the muscles of his arm that he will probably not be called upon to pitch any more this season."  (Bridgeport Morning News 7-14-1885).


The depiction below from the July 26, 1884, Police Gazette, shows what meager protection was available to the catcher during the early years of professional baseball.



1886.  Professionalism must have been a little lax in 1885.  For 1886, the Eastern League raised the forfeiture bond each team must post from $250 to $500 to "insure the playing out of the schedule." (Bridgeport Morning News 3-8-1886). The following club fines were also established:

    1)  $40 for not providing three balls per game;

    2) $100 for leaving the field before a game is finished (Bridgeport Morning News 3-13-1886).


The league adopted the Spalding ball for 1886. The Morning News reported on April 17 that it "stood the test of the damp ground yesterday and after the game there was not the least sign of an injury to the cover."  Yes, there was a time when the question was how many games per ball, not how many balls per game.


The Bridgeports were late getting organized because none of the stockholders was willing to take on a leadership role. 


Because of their late start, the Bridgeports had slim pickins? of players; although, as the Bridgeport Morning News pointed out on April 12, "clubs [with deep rosters] will soon begin to weed out the players [giving] other clubs a chance." The team played its first game on April 13 against the NY Giants at the Polo Grounds.


The team debuted new dark grey and maroon uniforms at an April game observed by 5000 fans, a new attendance record.  The Bridgeport population at the time was around 40,000.


In any event, the Bridgeports finished fifth in a field of eight with a 33 and 57 record.  But they looked good. 

The Directors vs. the Knothole Gang


A nine-foot fence was raised around the park (Bridgeport Morning News 3-8-1886).  Trees outside the park were tarred, and lookouts with clubs were located along "the top of the fence to keep away the peep-hole fellows who use jack-knives and augurs." (Bridgeport Morning News 3-26-1886).


"The directors of the Bridgeport club are highly indignant the way the fence at the Athletic park is kept up.  They have done everything in their power to prevent the small boys from getting in free.  The Beardsley Brothers have promised them they would fix it up but day after day has gone by and nothing has been done.  There was some strong talk of making a change and going back to the Barnum grounds." (Bridgeport Morning News 6-9-1886).


"A ball was knocked over the fence and a young man standing on a wagon with half a dozen others, pocketed it.  Captain Stapleton was told of the fact, and he sprang over the fence and questioned them.  Not getting any satisfaction , he jumped on the wagon and felt of all their pockets till he found the ball.  Stapleton's enterprise was rewarded with applause form the reporters' balcony."  (Bridgeport Standard 9-18-1886.)






A former stockholder offered the following explanation as to why subscriptions for stock to recapitalize the Bridgeport Giants for 1886 did not pour in:  "I told them this year I would subscribe $250 or $300 if they could get 10 who would do the same. ... I never enjoyed myself as much in my life as I did going out to see the ball games last season.  ... The trouble is that everybody is afraid to put their hand in their pocket."  Former board member E. L. White added: "The great difficulty is to get somebody to run the business.  There seems to be a disposition to put the whole business on one or two men who can't attend to it."  [In 1885, the board made all decisions, including hiring and firing players.]  "If there should be a nine here it would be a losing enterprise.  The prices we should be compelled to pay for good players are so high there would be no money in it."  According to the Bridgeport Morning News of April 6, "some" of the players earned as much as $250 per month, or $1500 for a 112-game season, a very good wage for 1886.


Many Bridgeport business leaders were willing to invest funds even with the likelihood they would not be repaid; but as White pointed out: "It is hard work to get along with the players and 10,000 others who have suggestions to make."  Baseball is enjoyable as a business if you can just sit in the stands and watch, but it is no fun trying to "get along" with the players, investors and fans. 


The Bridgeport Morning News of January 5 predicted "Bridgeport will have no professional baseball club for the season of 1886;" adding on January 29: "Those appointed to get subscriptions haven't done anything yet."  No wonder, if you stepped up to the plate with your wallet out they made you president!  And there's no fun in that. But the Morning News did uncover one "baseball man [who said] that if there was no regular nine in the field, he would run a good nine here himself next summer, backed by married men.  He has already conferred with the managers of the West Stratford horse railroad in reference to establishing a ball ground in West Stratford (now the East Side of Bridgeport).  Gentlemen interested in the horse railroad company will take $500 worth of stock in such an association, to benefit the company by the increased traffic it would give."


The next day, the paper printed the following correction: "Of course nobody intended to say in yesterday's News that a ball nine was to be organized here 'backed by married men.'  That was a compositor's idea.  In justice to the editorial rooms it should be stated that their word was 'moneyed' men. Such little differences of opinion often come up between the men who write for a newspaper and the men who set the type, and the latter always win."


Besides the transit magnates, there were other men in the city who had a vested interest in baseball, like W. H. "Josh" Josselyn, who held the scorecard and refreshment concessions.  He set about selling 100 shares at $25 a throw, and within two weeks had achieved the goal, but said "he never was engaged in a harder task."  (Bridgeport Morning News 2-14-1886.)


The West Stratford Horse Car Company invested heavily and H. N. Beardsley, one of its owners, was elected one of the four directors of the Bridgeport Club (Bridgeport Morning News 2-20-1886.)   Not surprisingly, the board of the ball club decided to move from Barnum Park to the soon to be built Athletic Park in West Stratford.  The new facilities were bigger and better. 


The details of the financial arrangement between the ball club and the owners of the ball grounds, the Park City Athletic Association, are not known.  Meriden paid "$12 a day rent for their grounds" (BMN 4-12-1886).  Bridgeport may have had a similar deal.


As the Morning News summarized, "All's well that ends well.  Bridgeport is to have a baseball club in the Eastern League for the season of 1886."


Of course, Barnum and his partners in the Bridgeport Horse Railway company were livid.  They spruced up their facilities to entice the Bridgeports back to their territory the following season, but after a few games the players and fans demanded a return to the more luxurious Athletic Park. 




Convinced of the importance of fashion, the team unveiled its third uniform in three years.  The new outfits sported red trousers for home games and blue for the road.  It worked. Bridgeport jumped out to a 9 and 2 lead.  (Or it may have been that five of the players had major league experience, and another five would soon be picked up by big league clubs.) Four players hit over .400.


On Monday, May 30, in a game against New Haven, a triple play was pulled off by Brown, Wilson, McGuirk, and Shannon.   On June 24, Cox made a superb catch and was "compelled to doff his cap twice in response to the applause." They're cookin' now.
But on July 4, Bridgeport played its last professional game of the season.  With more than fifty games played, the team was in first place with a .686 winning percentage.  Actually, they were too good.  They so outclassed their rivals that fans lost interest.  The club disbanded, sold off its best players to Oshkosh for $4400, and paid back investors $20.50 on each $25 investment.


Springfield had gone belly up on May 22, leaving only five teams in the league.  (Eight is ideal; six is the minimum workable number.) So the Bridgeport owners did not feel the league would remain viable.  They were right. New Haven folded on or about July 22; Hartford on August 2.  That was the ball game.  With only two teams left, Danbury and Waterbury, the Eastern League disbanded. 



The Sporting News

"April 23, 1887. Strange things have happened on the ball field, but none stranger than that which took place at Bridgeport, Barnum’s home last Saturday. The Bridgeport and Portland teams were playing there on that day. In the sixth inning Jones of Bridgeport, batted the ball over Portland’s left-fielder. It was a three-bagger. The left-fielder chased the ball, but fell down. An elephant engaged in pushing one of the circus cars out of the enclosure saw the man fall and left the car. The ball bounded near the animal, and he seized it with his trunk, waved it over his head and then hurled it across the field towards first-base. The ball passed over the first baseman’s head and Jones made a home run. It was the longest throw on record."



The year began full of promise for Baseball in Bridgeport. On Friday, March 23, at the Atlantic Hotel in Bridgeport, "an organization was formed to be known as the Connecticut State Baseball League." The following towns were represented: Danbury, Waterbury, Meriden, Norwalk, Derby and Bridgeport.... Hugh [F]. Reddy of Bridgeport was elected Secretary of the league....It was voted that the salaries of the players be limited to $60 per month... [and] to open the season April 28 and close September 29....Mr. Reddy was authorized to draw up a constitution and bylaws of the league and offer them for approval at the next meeting. It was voted that after the umpire calls the game no money or rain checks be refunded or given out. Each club may make their own price of admission except on holidays, when the admission shall not be less than 25 cents. Complimentary stockholder and season tickets not to be used on those days." (Bridgeport Morning News 3-24-1888).  


On April 6, the Morning News reported that "The Bridgeport ball club will have for a uniform gray pants, red stockings, maroon shirt with the word 'Bridgeport' and gray caps. The suits have already been ordered. The Bridgeport base ball team signed yesterday James Lovett of Providence, a younger brother of Tommy Lovett. Mr. Lovett will play as pitcher.... Secretary Reddy of the Connecticut state base ball league reports everything indicates a prosperous season for the organization."


Also in the same issue it was reported that "P. T. Barnum gave his consent Wednesday to the Connecticut state base ball league that they might use the grounds adjoining his winter quarters during the coming season. Work will begin on preparing the grounds as soon as the weather permits.


"The Bridgeport base ball nine will play their first exhibition game at the Barnum Grounds, April 14, with the Cuban Giants of New Jersey [rained out]. On the 17th [later changed to the 16th] they play the Wilkesbarre [sic] team of Pennsylvania, under James Donnelley, who managed the Bridgeport team in 1886."


As a portent of things that not to come, the turnout for game with Wilkes Barre was light: "There were 700 spectators at the Barnum grounds yesterday when the Bridgeports of the Connecticut State League, and the Wilkesbarre [sic] club of the Central League, under the management of James Donnelly, crossed bats" (Bridgeport Morning News, April 17, 1888).


Then things got worse. At a second game with Wilkesbarre on April 27, the local club was shut-out 14-0, behind 19 Bridgeport errors. Park City fans had been accustomed to seeing games played by former or future major leaguers. They apparently did not feel the 1888 brand of Bridgeport baseball worth witnessing (Bridgeport Morning News, April 28, 1888).


Within two weeks, due to low attendance, Manager Bullen "decided to transfer the Bridgeport team to Stamford and will play out the league schedule from that place. The first game will be played on Saturday with the Derbys which was scheduled for [Bridgeport]. To-day the team goes to Danbury."  (Bridgeport Morning News, May 11, 1888). 


Although poor attendance in Bridgeport was the announced reason for abandoning the Park City, perhaps that was only the cover story for a more interesting motivation. The Bridgeports were 2-5 prior to the shift of venue.  One thing managers and owners had learned during the first two decades of play for pay ball was that fans back winners, and the Bridgeports were losing. Therefore, why would Manager Bullen think attendance would be higher in a smaller city?  And since when did managers decide matters of venue?


In doing player research at the Norwalk Museum, which houses a collection of newspapers that have never been microfilmed, I stumbled upon a notice that Barnum and his partners decided to maintain a Winter Quarters in Bridgeport (despite the devastating fire that gutted the complex in November of 1887).  This time they would build fireproof  structures and added six acres "on  State Street" to the site, giving the circus a total of 12 acres to roam.  This notice to rebuild the Winter Quarters bigger and better than before appeared in the Norwalk Gazette on June 6, 1888, less than a month after the Bridgeport Base Ball Club pulled up stakes from the site and hit the road for greener pastures in Stamford. 


If the real reason for shipping the Bridgeports to Stamford was to free up valuable land for the circus, no hint of this ulterior motive leaked out through the Bridgeport press. At the end of a listing of game scores from Saturday, May 12, as the only epitaph of a four-year run of pro ball that propelled a score of players to the majors, the Bridgeport Morning News of May 14, tersely reported "Stamfords (formerly Bridgeports) 7, Derbys 1."


The new owners of the team were sincerely, if naively, optimistic about their purchase. On June 1 the Stamford Advocate reported: "Our readers who are interested in the game of base ball will be pleased to learn that some well-known gentlemen of this village have taken the charge and ownership of  the local club. Under the new management everything possible will be done to make the club all that it should be."


However, only two weeks later, on June 15, the  Advocate was reporting that "Owing to bad whether and some unavoidable disappointment" the club was faring no better financially in Stamford than it had in Bridgeport. The club dropped out of the Connecticut State League to play as an independent professional team and allow for more home games on Saturdays. The owners attempted to raise additional capital through the sale of stock and the Advocate appealed to the fans for financial support: "If each one interested in the game will contribute a small amount, the club can and will be kept together for the entire season." But within a week, the owners, who had "lost considerable money" abandoned the team to the players, who ran it as a cooperative (Advocate 6-22).


On August 10, the Advocate reported the "Stamfords have struck a streak of poor luck or poor playing, or both. Let us hope they will soon get out of it."  Apparently they did not as they were not heard from again.



For baseball recreation and entertainment, Bridgeporters returned to amateur clubs. As motivation for their non-paid players, team captains commonly placed a keg of beer at third base, which could only be accessed via the base paths.  In describing a game sponsored by the Elks between Bridgeport and New Haven, The New York Clipper remarked "The way both teams ran the bases would make the St. Louis Browns and the Chicagos turn green with envy."  (Ira and Allen Smith, Low and Inside, 1949, p. 194.)



No professional baseball in Bridgeport.  However, a Norwalk club was organized in the Middle States League and was admitted into the Atlantic Association on August 6. On August 19, the Norwalks and Newark held each other to one run in a twelve-inning battle.  But in this tumultuous era for baseball, the Norwalks, on September 3,  folded.  (Players? League Guide, 1890,  p. 17-19.)