Mike Roer

The Bears

Convinced of the need for a manager with major league experience, owner Clark Lane hired former superstar Ed Walsh to lead the Bridgeport team.  When Big Ed pitched for the White Sox (1904 through 1916), he won over twenty games per season four times.   


Lane wanted the best for the Park City, but he was confusing player ability with management savvy.  The Bridgeport Americans finished sixth in 1920. 


Bridgeport placed third three times during the twenties, but this was the high-water mark until the end of the decade, when the NY Giants bought the club.  Those guys knew how to win.  Between 1904 and 1928 the Giants had placed either first or second in the National League twenty times. 


The Giants organization also scouted  for the Bridgeport team. 


Bridgeport manager and Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh filled in at third base and pinch hit for the Bears, setting an example for his charges by hitting .292 for the season.


Off the field, Walsh gossiped around town that he knew about "crooked stuff" that went on prior to the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal.


Four of five Grimes brothers were playing baseball, three for Bridgeport: Ray at shortstop, Roy at first, and Ken in right field.  Loman Grimes was playing with the Minerva (OH) team.  Brother Harry had played professional ball, but quit to manage the family farm. 


Ray Grimes would advance to the Chicago Cubs in 1921, hitting .321 in his rookie year.  The following year he hit .354, second only to Rogers Hornsby in the National League.  He also set an all-time league record by earning an RBI seventeen games in a row. 


But luck and Ray went their separate ways in 1923.  He suffered a slipped disc and neither he nor his game fully recovered.  Still, his lifetime average in 433 games over 6 years is an impressive .329.  (Linkugel and Pappas, They Tasted Greatness, p. 235.)


George "Kid" Sherwood was at second for Bridgeport.  His son, Bobby, would help to return baseball to the Park City after WWII.


Bridgeport finished sixth in 1920 with a .500 win rate.



The minor leagues began bouncing back from the war.   The classification of leagues was: major, AA, A, B, C, and D.  The Eastern League was class A.


Pitching legend and Bridgeport manager Ed Walsh started 3 games for Bridgeport, winning one and losing one.  Halfway through the year he resigned  to accept a job umpiring in the American League.  Gene McCann was brought back to manage the team.


The team finished third.


The Bridgeport franchise was valued on the books of ACCO (American Chain and Cable) at $15,000. 


The team was dubbed the "Brown Derbies."  (Since these chapeaux were becoming dated, the name was not exactly a tribute.)


McCann again was the manager, and again the team finished in third place.



On June 6, Clark P. Lane, the president of ACCO, resigned the presidency of the Bridgeport Baseball club, a position he had held since 1917, "because of the pressure of other business." ACCO sold the Bridgeport franchise to Jack Kearney, who assumed the presidency of the club (New York Times, June 7, 1923.) 


The Brown Derbies finished fifth.


Former Bridgeport star Ray Grimes was playing first base for the Chicago Cubs.  Since the Cubs were scheduled to meet the NY Giants on August 26, some of Ray's fans organized "Ray Grimes Day" at the Polo Grounds.  Three hundred Bridgeporters traveled by steamer to New York for the occasion.



Kearney sold the team to Timothy J. Sullivan Jr. of Springfield.  The new owner brought in fresh talent like  veteran first baseman Dick Hoblitzel, and the heavy-hitting Moe Solomon. 


Unfortunately, Kearney also thought it would be a good idea to allow the team to elect the manager.  The team finished last.  (A baseball club is not a democracy.)  The fans are indebted to Sullivan, however, for changing the team name to the "Bears."



Having done no better than previous owners, Sullivan passed the torch to George T. Stallings who also owned the Rochester team in the International League.  Stallings had extensive management experience with the Yankees, Braves, and several minor league teams.  He hired major-league veteran Irvin "Kaiser" Wilhelm to manage. 

1914 Cracker Jack card.

1933 Goudey card.

1925 Owner George Stallings.
Stalling’s had 22 years experience managing major league teams, including the champion "Miracle Braves" of 1914. 


A former National League back-up catcher (4 games for Brooklyn in 1890 and 3 for Philadephia in 1897 and 1898), Stallings rallied the Bridgeport boys with the cry: “You can win.  You must win.  You will win.”  Well, not quite.  He and “Kise” pulled the Bears up from last place to sixth in a field of eight. 

 Stallings Teamography as Major League Manager

 1897-98     Philadelphia (National League) 
 1901            Detroit (American League)
 1909-10      New York (American League)
 1913-20      Boston (National League)




Leo Durocher makes his professional debut in Bridgeport.

Durocher tried out for the Hartford Senators but was told he was too small.  But as luck would have it—and there is a lot of luck in baseball—Hartford’s starting shorstop was injured and Leo was dragged out of work on April 22, 1925, to fill in. Leo picks up the story: “I remember I dressed in the car behind the [Newfield Park] stands.  There was skin on the field, no grass. But I handled eight chances without an error and I also got two hits. I was flying.”  (Gerald Exkenazi, The Lip1993, p. 38.)


The Lip quickly developed his contentious style, “always picking fights with the fans,” according to one witness.


One day Yankee chief scout Paul Krichell (and  former Bridgeport manager) caught Durocher in action.  The Yankees bought Leo at the end of the Eastern League season, and he debuted in the majors on October 2.


An association of business leaders was organized to “take over the franchise.”  George S. Hill, Bridgeport Republican leader, was named President and Treasurer and charged with raising from $25,000 to $50,000 in new capital from the association members (New York Times, April 11, 1916). 


Hill hired Frank “Bud” Stapleton of 164 Flanders Street, Bridgeport, to manage.


The Bears climbed to third place.

1926 Bears

1. Macklin,  2. Enzmann,  3. Rush,  4. Bishop,  5. Nagle,  6. Stapleton,  7. Jacobs,  8 Van Alstyne, 

9. Oberc,  10. Fuller,  11. Shay,  12. Yordy,  13. Thormahlen,  14 LePard,  15. Brescia (Mascot)


The Bears dropped to fourth.  



Hill sold out to Bridgeport entrepreneur Fred J. Voos, of 159 Housatonic Drive, who hired “Billy” Whitman to manage.  The two ran the club down to seventh place.  In the process, they set a  record by rotating 150 players through the roster; 27 at second base alone. 


Voos also guided the team into the cellar financially. On October 29, 1928, The Bridgeport Baseball Club, Inc. declared bankruptcy, citing liabilities of $52,137.65 and only $35.70 in assets.


Voos then did a very wise thing.  He contacted the New York Giants to ask for help.


The Giants bought the Bridgeport team as a farm club, the first ever for the Giants organization (New York Times, December 18, 1928).  Voos stayed on as President. 


The Giants appointed one of their coaches, former major league star John "Hans" Lobert to manage the Bears.  Lobert preached a philosophy for success to his Bridgeport charges: "If [a player] has natural ability enough and faith in himself and has spirit and perseverance enough to stand the sarcasm which is heaped upon him he is bound to make good."  Baseball is about enduring failure and persevering.


According to ticket-taker Mike Kelly, over 9000 attended an exhibition game with the Giants in 1929, setting an all-time crowd record for Newfield Park.  At the time, the Bridgeport population was 147,000.  (Post interview with Ed Shugrue, May 23, 1943.)


According to former Bridgeport Bear Bob "Rabbit" Emmerich, the 1929 Bears were the "nicest" nine that ever took the field. 

Emmerich remembers the time he missed home plate at New Haven.  Their catcher, Johnny Nagle, pointed this out to the umpire who told Nagle to tag Emmerich.  Emmerich knew he couldn't get back to the plate so he ran toward the dugout.  Nagle chased him into the dugout and under the stands, with the  crowd roaring encouragement to both.  In a Post interview twenty years later, Emmerich said: "He hasn't tagged me yet."

1929 Bridgeport Bears

  This photo was taken at Newfield Park, looking East toward Newfield Avenue. 

Manage Hans Lobert, is kneeling, second from the left. 
 The mascot is Smith, fifth from the left in the first row.

Photo source: Bill and Candace Callan