Book Review: Connecticut Baseball by Don Harrison

Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State (2008) by Don Harrison collects tidbits of Connecticut’s professional baseball history in one slim volume.  One can chuckle at the slenderness of the book – especially when imagining the tomes that states like California and Pennsylvania would have for the same topic – but Harrison makes a good case for Connecticut’s memorable, if not dominant role in the national pastime. At any rate, I’m from Connecticut and love baseball so I’m the perfect target audience for this book.  Apparently Library Thing Early Reviewers thought so too since they sent me a free copy of this book to review.

The first section of the book sums up the history of professional franchises in Connecticut, mainly the minor league teams in various cities, but reminds readers of the charter National League franchise the Hartford Dark Blues (1876-77).  I’m reminded of how annoyed I was when a proposal for a minor league franchise in Stamford flopped sometime when I was in Jr. High.

The next section is Harrison’s all-time Connecticut baseball team.  The team includes three Hall of Famers: Orator Jim O’Rourke in the outfield, DH Roger Connor, and manager Ned Hanlon (who managed Baltimore in the famed 1897 pennant race documented in A Game of Brawl).  First baseman Mo Vaughn of Norwalk is probably the most recognizable name on the squad.  Tim Teufel (who graduated from the same high school as I did, the name of which is featured on 143), who played in a 2B platoon for the Mets in the 80’s is oddly placed at third base.

The third and longest part of the book features profiles and interviews with 25 Nutmeggers who made it to the bigs.  These are actually articles that Harrison wrote for various Connecticut newspapers over a period of five decades, so they often have a feeling of immediacy from catching the player at a time in the midst of their career.  Standouts in this section include a 2007 article on Jim Piersall who was mistaken for a clown and a trouble maker during his career although he was actually struggling with serious mental health problems.  I’m adding his autobiography Fear Strikes Out to my “to read” list.  I was also fascinated by the story of Mike Sandlock who grew up and retired in Old Greenwich, the neighborhood adjacent to the Waterside neighborhood where I lived in my baseball-obsessed teenage years.  It would have been awesome to know that a former major leaguer lived so close by.  At least I was well aware of Stamford’s Bobby Valentine who played through a injury-plagued career and then sucess as a manager for the Rangers, the Mets, and in Japan (and operates a sports bar cafe in Stamford to this day).

Lots of players for New York’s franchises chose to live in Connecticut’s lush suburbs during their playing days, including Jackie Robinson who retired to Stamford.  The short part IV has profiles of baseball players who made Connecticut their second home including Smokey Joe Wood who took up a coaching job at Yale after his playing career ended.

The book concludes with a tribute to Connecticut-born umpires including Terry Tata and appendices filled with records and statistics for Connecticut’s all-stars. As I suggested at the beginning of this reviews, this is definitely a niche book. It’s not the best of sportswriting but good enough for readers with an interest. I definitely think that public and school libraries in Connecticut should add this book to their collections.

Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State by Don Harrison. The History Press (2008), Paperback, 160 pages

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