Mike Roer

The Depression Years

Economics has played a decisive role in baseball since teams began offering signing bonuses in the 1860s. Pprofessional teams obviously need patrons in order to pay the players.   But if people are out of work they cannot afford to attend ball games.  No work = no spectators = no baseball.


Nevertheless, the Giants continued to underwrite their Bridgeport Bears farm club, so long as the Eastern League held together.


On July 15, 1932, local lad Joe Clabby got his big break.  The Bears signed him to play third base.  Two days later, the Eastern League racked its bats for the last time. 


Professional baseball would not be seen in Bridgeport again until the 1940s when the Second World War rekindled Connecticut's defense plants and put jingle back in the pockets of fans.


Annual Baseball Highlights



In mid season, the Eastern League dropped in grade from "A" to "B" because two of its teams were forced by the depression to liquidate.  Class "A" leagues were required to have at least eight teams.


Under the leadership of President Voos and Manager Lobert, the Bridgeport Bears were the winners of the second half of the season, and placed second overall. 

1930 Bridgeport Bears.

1. Rush,  2. Hunter,  3. Veltman,  4. Powley,  5. Signor,  6. Nason,  7. Smith,  8. Bolaski,  9. Higgins, 

10. Parker (trainer),  11. Reese,  12. Michaels,  13. Fitzgerald,  14. Lobert,  15. Voos (pres.), 

16. Nealay,  17. Powers,  18. Parenti,  19. Smith (mascot),  20. Wilkie.   1931 Reach Guide.


First Night Game


The Depression was cutting into attendance in the summer of 1930, forcing some Eastern League cities to fold during the season.  But Bridgeport Bears President Fred Voos decided to fight back with a novel idea: light. 


Ever since 1865, when Bridgeport first played before a crowd, games began between 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm.  This allowed enough daylight for one or two games and the fans ample time to make it home for dinner.  The problem was that few working people–baseball's mainstay–could turn out in force for daytime games, except on weekends.


The decision to invest in lighting took a great deal of business courage.  Experimental games under light had been played as far back as 1880 at Nantasket Beach, near Boston (Lee Allen, The Hot Stove League, 1955, 2000, p. 93), but a regular season game was not witnessed by artificial light until April 28 of 1930, in Independence, Kansas.  The board of the ball club was worried about $13,000 price tag, but they gave Voos the go sign.


General Electric supplied 136 arc lights that projected a total of 5,250,000 candlepower.  United Illuminating set eight 72-foot poles at Newfield Park, strung the lines, and installed three "monster" transformers for what would be the largest outdoor lighting system in the northeast.


The first night baseball game played in New England commenced at 8:45 pm on Monday, August 4, 1930, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Herald sportswriter Myron Townsend was so excited about the 6900 attendance that he did not mention in his  post-game column who had won the game, Bridgeport or Springfield.


Two days later, on August 8, curiosity lured the NY Giants to play an exhibition game against Bridgeport.  It was the first night game played in the East by a major league club.


Although Bridgeport lost the game to the Giants, it won the bigger contest against the depression.  The increase in attendance during the first week alone paid back half the installation cost of the lighting.  Bridgeport stayed the course and ended the season in first place with a 48 and 36 record.

Cartoon by Beaty,

Bridgeport Herald, 8/30/1930.

Giants Manager John McGraw did not think much of the newfangled lights. He predicted it would be a passing fad. (He said the same about Babe Ruth and the home run as a game-winning strategy.)


The first regular major league game under lights was played at Cincinnati on May 24, 1935.


Photo by Bain, July 7, 1913.

Source: Library of Congress.






Many owners in the Eastern league complained that free industrial league games and amateur contests cut into attendance.


The factory teams were tough competition for the professional circuits.  After all, the plant manager could offer a full-time job to a promising youngster or seasoned ball player.


The owners were caught in a “Catch 22” situation: they could offer higher salaries for the better players in order to attract more fans, but without a healthy cash flow from gate receipts, there was not enough money to do so.




The Bears finished second for the third straight year.  Eight players batted .300 or better.



"Bud" Stapleton was brought back to manage the Bears. Major league rules, under which the Eastern League operated, dictated that a team must clear up its debts before it can participate in a new season.  Because of the times, several teams were not able to do so by the deadline and the League, already down to six teams, was forced to disband.  (This rule, no doubt, was written during better days.)  The league still managed to get in 75 games per club before it was forced out of existence.



Only semi-pro ball played in Bridgeport.  Excursions were also organized to support the prison team at Sing Sing managed by Billy Lush.

[Above] Ticket to a Game at Sing Sing, 1936.

The prison nine was managed by Bridgeport native Billy Lush.  (See Player Bios.)

The White Eagles were a Bridgeport Semi-pro club.



[Below] Poster, Circa 1937.
Auto racing paid the light bill during the depression and preserved Newfield Park for the return of baseball in the 1940s. 
Courtesy George Dragone.