Mike Roer

  Jim O’Rourke raises a ball club and a family in Bridgeport.

As the century turned, so did the fortunes of the Bridgeport Baseball Club. From 1900 through 1905 the  club won 56% of its games.  Bridgeporters set records at home and in the majors. 


Annual Baseball Highlights



O'Rourke's son, Jimmy, graduated from Bridgeport High School, where he covered third base for the school team. In the fall he enrolled in Yale law school and  played on the college nine during the spring of 1901 and 1903. In 1902 he was ineligible due to grades (Boston Globe, February 23, 1902).


Meanwhile, pop was up to his old tricks.  The Hartford Courant reprinted "Gossip about O?Rourke" written by his old chum Tim Murnane that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  According to Murnane: "Now and then some visiting pitcher must be rattled, so James has a small army of boys that are let loose at a given signal, and as they gather back of first base with Indian yells O'Rourke can be seen wreathed in smiles."  (Hartford Courant, July 27, 1900.)  Murnane and O'Rourke were teammates thirty years earlier on the Stratford Osceolas.



The Bridgeport Orators finished in second place in the Connecticut League.



Sam Harris, a clothier, offered a suit to the first Bridgeport player to hit the ball over the center field fence.


Lawyer O'Rourke successfully led a fight against locating a saloon across the Street from Newfield Park.  





At O'Rourke's suggestion, the Connecticut League in 1902 changed the number of innings required for a legal game from three to five.  Rain checks therefore had to be issued if fans saw less than five full innings.


The league voted down a suggestion to expand to ten teams because it would mean more travel and more "struggling tail-enders."


The home/visitor split of the gate was 60/40. Visiting teams therefore received 10 cents of every 25-cent admission.  If the attendance was 500 (which was good for a weekday) the visiting team took home only $50.  This barely covered their food and transportation.



O'Rourke's son, Jimmy, played third base for the Orators and attended Yale in the off-season.  Rookie Jimmy led the league in fielding among third basemen, with a .939 average (Spalding Guide).


Jim O'Rourke had Mickey Finn, a heavy hitter on an opposing team, arrested during a game for using offensive language.


Bridgeport and New London set a record that will never be broken, by completing a doubleheader in two and a half hours (Spalding Guide).



New Haven won the Connecticut League pennant "on the field."  However, at a March 20, 1905 league directors meeting the pennant was stripped from New Haven for having an ineligible player and was awarded to second-place Bridgeport. 


Jim O'Rourke spoke out against syndication (owning more than one team in the same league).  O'Rourke was concerned about an owner of the New  Haven club who also had an interest in the Meriden club.  This arrangement allowed the owner to switch pitchers, between teams for a tactical advantage (Bridgeport Herald, 9-11-04).


Son Jimmy played six games at third base for Bridgeport, before jumping to Manchester to play independent ball (Hartford Courant, 3-14-1905).



The Orators finished in third place in the Connecticut League, winning 64 and losing 49.



Jim O'Rourke, now referred to as "Uncle Jeems" by his fans, played his last full season,  batting .244.   The aging team placed seventh. 


Son Jimmy played third base and hit .303 for the Orators.  Junior also posted a league high for the season of 98 runs scored. James senior appeared in only 24 games and batted .193.  The 36-year professional career of Jim O’Rourke was winding down.


Bridgeport pitcher “Red” Waller was “discovered” in an exhibition game against Brooklyn by Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets.

Fire and Rain. A fire burned down the grandstand at Steeplechase Island (now Pleasure Beach) on August 18, just before the start of an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, but the game still went on.  According to The Chicago Tribune :


"The players were first to see the fire, which was already beyond control at the far end of the bleachers. They gave a warning cry and almost before the occupants could pile out on to the field the bleachers were a mass of flames, which the wind was blowing right toward the main stand. Those packed in the grand stand became panicky and started a crushing rush for the one small exit. But the cooler heads staid the first panic. Players worked like mad tearing down the wire screen and low fence in front of the stand, then helped out the frightened women and frantic men over the railing. No one was hurt beyond a shaking up and a bruise or two."


Ten minutes later, the entire stadium was ablaze and burned to the ground. Dynamite was used to stop the spread of the flames to the rest of the park. When the structures died down to a smoldering pile of charred rubble, the players decided to go ahead with the game for the benefit of the 5000 fans who had paid to witness it, and as many more from the adjoining amusement park who were drawn by the excitement. The crowd pressed around the players as all boundaries between them and the fans had been obliterated by the flames and smoke and their shared ordeal. The cubs won 3-1.


The Bridgeport ball grounds on Steeplechase Island were owned by George C. Tilyou, who also owned Steeplechase Park on Coney Island–that had also burned down only three weeks earlier.


Two years later, in another ironic twist to this story, the Chicago White Sox stopped off in Bridgeport to do battle with O'Rourke's men. That contest, on June 13, 1909, was halted by rain after five innings.


The Orators finished in sixth place,  winning only 44% of their games.



The Orators winning rate dropped to 36%.  They finished dead last.  It was time for new blood.

Jim O’Rourke played in only one game this season, but he was one for three at bat and pegged two of two attempted steals.  His career as a regular player was over, but the annual game with “Uncle Jeems”  would become a Bridgeport tradition.



One for the Book


In 1909, Neal Ball, of 448 Wilmot Avenue in Bridgeport,
made the first unassisted triple play in the major leagues. 

The historic feat occurred during a game with the Boston Red Sox while Ball was playing shortstop for the Cleveland Indians.  In the second inning, with Jake Stahl on first and Heinie Wagner on second, the hit-and-run signal was given.  Batter Amby McConnell hit a line drive which Neal stabbed just behind second base.  That's one. 


Neal instinctively stepped on second to put Wagner out.  That's two.  


Stahl was half-way to second and had built up too much momentum to turn around quickly.  Neal easily ran him down.  That's three.


A  quiet and unassuming individual, Neal took the fame in stride.  He later managed the Bridgeport pro team.  Ball donated the glove used in the triple play to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (New York Times 3-15-1953).


A game report from 1878 (Providence Evening Press of May 9) that says Paul Hines of the Providence Grays turned the trick over forty years earlier, but Jim O'Rourke, who played in that game for Boston, says Hines threw to another player for the third out (Washington Post, 9-8-1902).