Blogs > New Haven 200 at 200

The New Haven Register sports department is celebrating our 200th birthday by sharing 200 of the most interesting stories relating to sports in Greater New Haven over the past 200 years. Check back daily for historical updates.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Peter Kormann: Southern Connecticut's Olympic medalist gymnast

The sense of disappointment, combined with a trace of injustice, found its way into Peter Kormann’s world on a groundbreaking July day in Montreal.

The men on the 1976 U.S. Olympic squad believed this was going to be their year to shock the gymnastics world. The all-around team event was going to be the ideal setting to do what some thought was impossible.

However, the dreams of earning a medal ended due to what the U.S. camp felt was unjust judging by the Eastern Bloc countries.

The bitter aftertaste of a disappointing seventh-place finish still lingered three days later when the Southern Connecticut State junior took to the mat in the floor exercise.

Kormann wasted little time sending a message that he wasn’t messing around with a crowd-pleasing opening routine, including a full-twisting, double-back mount to garner a score of 9.8, matching the best of the competition. When the final numbers were crunched, Kormann finished third to earn a bronze medal and make history as the first U.S. male gymnast to win an Olympic medal in 44 years.

“It was some solace for the low showing of our team,” Kormann said shortly after. “We felt, as a team, that we could get the bronze medal, but we considered the scoring very poor on the part of the judges.

Read Jim Fuller's complete story.

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Giants-Jets: First meeting took place at Yale Bowl

On the schedule, it was only an exhibition game. But to the members of the New York Jets and New York Giants, it might as well have been the biggest game of the season.

The teams had never played each other in any form when they met before a sellout crowd at the Yale Bowl on Aug. 17, 1969.

Engaged in a decade-long battle for tri-state fans (and their money), the Jets, formed nine years earlier, were still considered interlopers by the long-established Giants, an original NFL franchise, even if the Giants had little respect for either the Jets or the upstart AFL.

But the Jets’ astonishing upset victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III seven months earlier put the Giants’ status as football kings of New York in serious jeopardy. Joe Namath made sure everyone knew what was at stake.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Allen Stack: Yale's first Olympic gold medal swimmer

This summer’s Olympics take place in London.

The last time England’s capital city played host to the Olympic games, a 6-foot-5 backstroker by the name of Allen Stack became Yale’s first swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal. Stack won the 100-meter backstroke in 1948.

Along with that feat, Stack is known for transforming the backstroke.

“Allen had a unique stroke,” Phil Moriarty, who served as an assistant coach when Stack swam at Yale, told the New York Times. “He would put his arm in the water and pull through like a normal backstroker, but as he brought the arm to his side he would bend it a little at the elbow and push with his hands toward his feet. That created practically a brand-new stroke. Allen’s bend and his push are what everyone is doing today. It’s the logical way to go.”

There is a pair of interesting stories behind Stack’s two Olympic appearances.

Read Chris Hunn's complete story.

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Lou Gehrig's mom helped organize Little League in Milford

Christina Gehrig spent only a short time living in Milford, but quickly became a beloved figure who left a lasting legacy to the city.

Gehrig, mother of New York Yankees’ legend Lou Gehrig, had lost her only child to the deadly disease ALS in 1941. Her husband, Heinrich, died three years later. With no other immediate family, she moved from Mount Vernon, N.Y. to Milford in 1948.

Shortly after arriving, “Mom” Gehrig became involved in organizing the Milford Little League. She sat on the league’s board of directors and attended every meeting.

“Mom” Gehrig was a bit of a national celebrity in the years after 1942 release of “The Pride of the Yankees”, an Academy Award-nominated film in which she was portrayed as an old-fashioned mother who preferred her son become an engineer rather than pursue sports.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Jim Thorpe part of New Haven-Hartford baseball rivalry

Jim Thorpe was near the end of a glorious athletic career in the early 1920s.

He’d already won Olympic gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon; been a college football All-American and national champion; emerged as one of the first professional football stars; played seven seasons in the major leagues with the Giants, Braves and Reds.

He’d shaken hands with presidents, kings and viceroys; even had a meeting with Pope Pius X at the Vatican.
But by 1922, he was 34 and near the end of the line as a baseball player. Still eying a return to the major leagues, Thorpe was in his third (and final) season in the minors. On July 12, he came to New Haven as a center fielder for Hartford in an Eastern League game.

The New Haven and Hartford rivalry was heated. Bad blood dated back to the 1800s when Hartford outlobbied New Haven to be named the state’s permanent capitol. Residents of two cities simply didn’t like each other. A Hartford newspaper once ran an item offering to buy a drink for the unknown motorist who accidentally ran over a dog that served as the New Haven mascot.

Essentially, it was a feud every bit the equal of today’s Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Register started All-State football team in 1932

“Champions all!”

Those two words, written by New Haven Register scholastic sports editor Bill Lush, marked Connecticut’s introduction to the first Register All-State high school football team on Dec. 4, 1932. Eighty years later, the release of the annual team remains the most anticipated feature in the pages of this newspaper.

The first all-state team consisted of only 11 players, of whom Lush wrote “undoubtedly would show an edge over most of the high school combinations in the country (and) discloses no weakness.” The 11 were listed by their offensive positions, leaving a question of how they would perform when on defense. But most, if not all teams of the era had two-way players, so chances are they’d be just fine.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Short break

I will be on vacation this week, but will update this blog upon my return with each of the installments.

Thank you,

Sean Barker

1901 Yale baseball team beats Christy Mathewson, New York Giants

Associated Press

Yale would finish the 1901 baseball season with a 20-8 record, which placed it a rather ordinary fourth among teams in the Eastern Collegiate league.

But it was an early April victory over the National League’s New York Giants that stood as the signature victory. Yale won the game 5-4 with four runs in the top of the ninth, a comeback that came against a 20-year old rookie named Christy Mathewson.

Yale’s schedule was sprinkled with major league opponents back then, and a spring trip south included a loss to the Baltimore Orioles, managed by John McGraw, and a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics (Nap Lajoie had a single for the A’s).
The trip ended at the Polo Grounds on April 12. It was still two weeks before the start of the National League season, and the Giants had only been practicing a short time. It showed against Yale. Poor base running and situational hitting plagued the Giants, who would go on to finish near the bottom of the NL, a full 37 games behind Pittsburgh in the standings.

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Yale's Tom Shevlin, a 1905 superstar

Yale University

Ever seen those beer commercials featuring a fictional character referred to simply as “The Most Interesting Man in the World?” He’s a handsome, wealthy, well-dressed gentleman full of tales and experiences.

One hundred years ago, that ad campaign could easily have been based on Yale’s Tom Shevlin. Aside from being a world-class athlete with matinee idol looks, he had a massive bank account rivaled only by his outsized personality and ego.

Shevlin’s zest for living may well have made him the most interesting man in the world in the early days of the 20th century. He died in 1915 at age 32, but accomplished enough to fill three lifetimes.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Wilbur Cross' 1958 New England championship

No one is quite sure how it began. But within seconds a scrap between players from Wilbur Cross and Somerville (Mass.) in the finals of the 1958 New England boys’ basketball championships had turned the fabled parquet floor of Boston Garden into a wild scene that more resembled the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Wilbur Cross was ahead by 11 points with under a minute left, about to wrap up its first New England title in 34 years. A sellout crowd of 13,909 was on hand at the Garden, although a large contingent from Somerville in the upper balcony had been unruly most of the game.

The Governors were running out the clock when fists began flying under one of the baskets. Several players from both sides were soon fighting, and it wasn’t long before an estimated 75 spectators joined the fray. It took Boston police and several ushers upward of 10 minutes to break up the melee.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stonewall, oops Shoeless Joe Jackson played in New Haven in 1911

Associated Press 

The story that appeared in the Register in 1911


“Shoeless” Joe Jackson was a rookie outfielder with the Cleveland Naps of the American League when he arrived for an exhibition game at New Haven’s Lighthouse Point Park in September 1911.

Obviously, he had a ways to go before cementing his legacy as one of baseball’s tragic yet iconic figures.

At the time, he was such a relative unknown that Harry Robinson, the Register’s assistant sports editor, butchered Jackson’s fabled nickname in print. The future legend was denoted in the game recap as “Stonewall” Joe Jackson. (Say it ain’t so, Harry!)

While “Shoeless Joe” wasn’t quite a household name yet, Robinson hardly deserves a pass for his blunder. Jackson, in his first full season, was pushing Ty Cobb for the batting title and well on his way to stardom on the day of the exhibition with the Eastern League’s New Haven Murlins. Only 18 regular season games remained and Jackson would finish the year at .408, a rookie record that stands 101 years later; likely for eternity.
Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Gary Liberatore: UNH's scoring machine

University of New Haven athletics photo
Liberatore, at left, with coach Don Ormrod and Dick Jackson


Gary Liberatore, at left above, was already a near-flawless shooter when he arrived at New Haven College (now the University of New Haven) in 1962. Over the next four years, he developed into one of the purest scorers New England has ever seen.

It was no coincidence one of his influences at New Haven was Frank “Porky” Vieira, an assistant basketball coach to Don Ormrod at the time. Vieira, just a few years removed from his days as a scoring machine at Quinnipiac, helped harness Liberatore’s knack for scoring.

Liberatore scored 3,176 career points, a school and New England record.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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19th century boxing in New Haven

One of the earliest forms of sport in New Haven was boxing, despite the fact that it was illegal for most of the 19th century.

Prize fighting, as it was more commonly known, was a brutal form of entertainment. Fights were fought with bare knuckles, continued until someone scored a knockout and sometimes resulted in death.

Adding to boxing’s poor reputation were the associations with gambling, drinking and shady back-alley deals. Riots were a common occurrence.

Still, if you were interested in attending a prize fight in New Haven in the 1800s, they weren’t hard to find. Bouts were held in private rooms, on steamboats, the backwoods or other clandestine locations to avoid police. This kept the sport from becoming mainstream, yet it still attracted scores of followers.

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Carm Cozza: Yale football coaching legend

Register file photos

In retrospect, the “what ifs” barely warrant a mention in the telling of Yale football history.

However, there were a couple of instances when the legendary Carm Cozza almost walked away from Yale before coaching his first game.

A decade ago, when Cozza was on the eve of being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the winningest coach in Ivy League football history recalled a time when he wasn’t sure Yale was the place for him.

“I was leaving a beautiful country setting (Miami of Ohio) and when I came to Yale, it was a dreary day,” Cozza said in a 2002 interview. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh boy, I don’t know if this is my cup of tea. Am I doing the right thing bringing three young girls and my wife into a new environment?’”
That was in 1963. The following year Cozza had another chance to head off to greener pastures. Cozza was offered the head job at the University of New Hampshire and seriously considered it.

Delaney Kipputh, Yale’s athletic director at the time, wanted Cozza to replace the departing John Pont as Yale’s coach, beginning in the 1965 season. Kipputh asked Cozza to give him 24 hours before committing to take the UNH gig. Cozza obliged and the next day he became Yale’s head coach.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Cozza spent the next 32 seasons at the helm of the Bulldogs. Cozza won 179 games, posted 19 winning seasons and led Yale to 10 Ivy League championships.

Three part tribute to Cozza from YouTube


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Roger Graham: UNH's Harlon Hill Trophy winner

Register file photo


When senior Roger Graham stepped onto the practice field for the first time in late August 1994, teammates had a bit of a surprise for the record-shattering University of New Haven running back.

Fresh off a junior season in which he won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the top football player in Division II, Graham had to get used to a new nickname.

“The guys have nicknamed me ‘Harlon.’ It doesn’t bother me,” Graham said in a 1994 story in the Register.

“It was a lot of fun and celebrating, at least for a while. It’s certainly something I can never forget. But once I went to the first workouts this spring, that was that. It was over. Time to move on.”


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bria Holmes, Connecticut's first female McDonald's All-American

Not only did Hillhouse’s Bria Holmes become the first girl from Connecticut to be selected to play in the McDonald’s High School All-American Game, she shined in the national spotlight too.

In front of thousands at the United Center in Chicago, Holmes scored 13 points (second-highest total on the team) and added two rebounds and two steals to help the East to a 79-78 win back in March. East coach Anne Long had her on the floor in critical moments down the stretch. She displayed her athleticism, swarmed passing lanes and used her long strides to get to the basket.

If anyone was doubting Holmes, she certainly proved herself against the nation’s best.

Read Chris Hunn's complete story.

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Yale-Harvard 1968: The Tie

The words “Harvard Comeback Stuns Bulldogs” were plastered atop the New Haven Register’s sports cover on Nov. 24, 1968, but in reality it was the Harvard Crimson’s famous headline “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” which best captured the essence of the most unforgettable finish in the proud history of The Game.

Yale, led by the irrepressible offensive duo of future NFL star Calvin Hill and Mr. Clutch Brian Dowling, led rival Harvard 29-13 with less than a minute to go when the unthinkable happened.

The visiting sideline was jubilant as the Bulldogs appeared on their way to a 17th straight victory and just the program’s second unbeaten, untied season since the mid 1920s.

What transpired was a final 42 seconds that had to be seen to be believed. A crowd of just over 40,000 was on hand at Harvard Stadium, although the number of fans who claimed they were there to witness history probably now numbers in the six figures.

Harvard scored two touchdowns and converted a pair of two-point conversions to tie the mighty Bulldogs 29-29.

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Pat O'Sullivan Lucey: Golfing legend

If Pat O’Sullivan Lucey isn’t the most important person in the 100-year history of Race Brook Country Club, she certainly has to be in the top three.

Forget the fact that Lucey won the women’s club championship at Race Brook 26 out of 28 attempts, and that she’s been a member for 70 years. She is arguably the state’s best women’s golfer ever with 10 Connecticut Women’s Golf Association and three Connecticut Women’s Amateur championships and a very accomplished amateur golfer with three North & South and three New England Amateur titles.

Her most prestigious amateur championship was the Titleholders Championship in Augusta, Ga., in 1951. The Titleholders Championship was only won by three other amateurs, including Babe Didrikson Zaharias, one of the greatest female athletes in our nation’s history. At the time, that was similar to winning the Masters in men’s golf.

Read Joe Morelli's complete story.

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Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Race Brook CC in 1942

Golfers Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson combined to win 14 major championships during their Hall-of-Fame careers. Hogan is one of just six golfers to win all four major championships.

Hogan and Nelson played one of the most famous exhibition matches of all time, teaming against amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in 1956 at Cypress Point Club in Monterrey, Calif. Hogan birdied the 18th to halve the hole and help he and Nelson beat Venturi and Ward 1-up. The match is detailed in full in a book called “The Match” by Mark Frost.

On May 17, 1942, Hogan and Nelson were opponents in another exhibition match held at the Race Brook Country Club No. 1 course in Orange. Race Brook had 36 holes at the time. Nelson teamed with Charlie Clare of the host club while Hogan partnered up with Bobby Grant from Wethersfield.

Read Joe Morelli's complete story.

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Sugar Ray Leonard and Howard Cosell's toupee

Boxing, once the heartbeat of New Haven, was barely a blip on the radar in the city by the 1970s. While Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier kept the sport thriving nationally, the only boxing action at the New Haven Coliseum was live simulcasting of the big fights.

Shady deals and thieving promoters led to the state general assembly banning live boxing events in 1965, a decree that was lifted in 1973. On March 19, 1978, the Coliseum played host to its biggest boxing card, headlined by a young Sugar Ray Leonard.
Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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New Haven women's basketball: 1987 Division II national champions

Perhaps they were too young to realize they were not supposed to end the championship reign of Division II women’s basketball powerhouse Cal Poly Pomona or simply too talented to be denied their date with destiny.

Buoyed by precocious sophomores Joy Jeter and Charlene Taylor, both of whom hailed from the athletic hotbed of Beaver Falls, Pa., and still rank No. 1 and 2 on New Haven’s career scoring list, the Chargers capped a remarkable season with a 77-75 win over the two-time defending national champions in the 1987 national title game.

The victory was the 28th straight for New Haven and gave the program its one and only national title.

Read Jim Fuller's complete story.

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Darling-Viola / Yale-St.John's 1981: Greatest game ever played

College baseball games are generally played in front of a smattering of fans, and by all accounts, that was the generally the case at Yale Field on a late May afternoon in 1981.

That’s where the details begin to fluctuate. New Haven Register columnist Dave Solomon once wrote that you’d think that over 50,000 fans were in attendance when the Bulldogs met St. John’s in what is called the greatest college baseball game ever played.

Ron Darling pitched Games 1, 4 and 7 of the 1986 World Series for the world champion New York Mets, one of the last pitchers to start three games in a single World Series. But around New Haven, the former Yalie is best known for his classic duel against Frank Viola and the Redmen in an NCAA regional.

Darling pitched 11 innings of no-hit ball that day, only to lose the game 1-0 in the 12th on a single, an error and a double steal.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yale Bowl's saddest day: Oct. 24, 1931

It was another perfect autumn afternoon at the Yale Bowl on Oct. 24, 1931. A crowd of 75,000 packed the stadium to see Yale and Army, two college football heavyweights of the day. The mood was positively electric as the teams traded touchdowns on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs elevating the spirit of the home crowd on an 88-yard kickoff return by Bud Parker to knot the score at 6-6.

Within minutes, however, the bowl went silent as Army’s Richard Sheridan lay motionless on the turf.

Sheridan, a junior end who weighed 149 pounds, attempted to tackle Yale’s Bob Lassiter following a punt. Sheridan’s head struck Lassiter’s knee. The Army cadet suffered a broken neck.

Rushed to New Haven Hospital in critical condition he underwent emergency surgery, but doctors held out little hope. Sheridan died there two days later, the first and only on-field fatality in Yale Bowl history.

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Heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan New Haven appearances

Although wildly popular, boxing was considered a shady and barbaric form of entertainment for much of the 19th century. New Haven was one of several cities in the country to outlaw the sport, and made no exceptions even for world famous fighters like bare-knuckle champion John L. Sullivan.

In 1887, Sullivan, who for years toured North America giving boxing demonstrations, arrived in New Haven for an exhibition at a local opera house. But the board of aldermen denied Sullivan a license, so he lectured a crowd of 500 instead.

The aldermen’s decision to uphold the boxing ban was surely influenced by the spectacle that occurred four years earlier, the last time Sullivan was permitted to spar in New Haven.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Wild Bill Donovan managed in New Haven

To understand how much the baseball community loved “Wild” Bill Donovan, the ex-major league pitcher who managed the New Haven Profs to the 1922 Eastern League title, just look at what New Haven did to honor him prior to his sudden death in a train crash.

Donovan had been hired by team owner George Weiss to replace another beloved, ex-major league player/manager, Charles “Chief” Bender. Shortly after Donovan led the team to a pennant, fans threw him a testimonial dinner, presenting him with a solid gold watch and a large bonus check, funds taken directly out of their own pockets.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, was among those in attendance.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Bad Chad Dawson: World Champion boxer

The son of a professional fighter, Chad Dawson was born into boxing. Still, based on genetics alone, few could have anticipated his rise to the pinnacle of the sport.

His father, Rick, had a record of 1-6-1 as a lightweight, according to boxing archives web site

Rick Dawson moved his family, which included four boys, to New Haven from Hartsville, S.C., in the late 1980s. A few years later, his sons began training as boxers. It didn’t take long for Chad Dawson, who trained under Brian Clark at Ring One in New Haven, to show potential. He was dubbed “Bad” Chad as an 11-year old, and as a student at Hillhouse quickly became one of the top amateur fighters in the country.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Jim Brown appeared at Yale for lacrosse, not football

In the spring of 1957, Jim Brown was a unanimous first-team All-American fullback at Syracuse and first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. He was set to graduate in May, but not before spending one final semester starring in lacrosse.

On April 22, Brown and undefeated Syracuse came to town to take on Yale. Lacrosse didn’t get much coverage in the pages of the Register, but Brown’s appearance warranted a game day advance and a feature story (with a photograph of Brown) on the game.

The game itself took place on an unnamed field next to Coxe Cage. Brown’s three goals and one assist in Syracuse’s 10-6 victory qualified as a subpar day by his standards. Brown would finish the season with 43 goals in 10 games to earn first-team All-America status.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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The longest home run in New Haven history?

Who hit the longest home run in New Haven history? It’s a question that can’t be answered with any degree of accuracy. But there’s plenty of juicy urban legends.

Honus Wagner, just before being called up to the majors, allegedly hit the longest ball at old Hamilton Park in 1896. While the tape measure had been patented in New Haven 29 years earlier, no one had one handy that day.

Ted Kluszewski crushed an epic blast to right-center field at Quigley Stadium in 1950. The distance is unknown. Perhaps because it never landed. The next day’s Register said of the ball, “it’s still going.”

One of the few shots with a documented distance may indeed have them all beat. Anthony Sanders, playing with the New Haven Ravens, cleared the 25-foot center field wall at Yale Field in 2003, a ball later measured to have traveled 505 feet.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story

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Jeff Bagwell: Star began shining at Xavier

Dan Gooley took over as baseball coach at the University of Hartford in 1988, and inherited a fairly decent third baseman out of Killingworth — a sophomore named Jeff Bagwell. It didn’t take long for Gooley to discover he had a special player.

During a game early in Gooley’s tenure, Hartford went into extra innings. The opposing team brought in a reliever to face Bagwell. Kneeling in the on-deck circle, Bagwell watched the new pitcher warm up.

Gooley, recounting what happened next, provides visual aid. He gets down on one knee, a bat on his shoulder, and turns his head.

“(Bagwell said) ‘Hey Skip’,” Gooley recalls. “‘It’s all over.’”

Bagwell then stepped into the batter’s box and crushed a walk-off home run that might still be going.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

New Haven Profs beat the mighty Yankees in 1928

An overflow crowd estimated at 11,000, around 3,500 over capacity, jammed into Hamden’s Weiss Park on May 17, 1928.

The occasion? An exhibition game between the minor league New Haven Profs and the team widely considered one of the greatest ever assembled — the “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees.

Mind you, the Yankees had played in the city before. This time around, just months removed from the 1927 World Series championship, their arrival created all-out hysteria. New Haven fans flocked to catch a glimpse of Babe Ruth, now the biggest celebrity in the world, and Lou Gehrig

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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1916 World Series champion Red Sox at Lighthouse Park

As a sports promoter, New Haven native George Weiss was part magician, part bulldog and totally brilliant.

How else could one explain Weiss enticing the Boston Red Sox to come to Lighthouse Park to play an exhibition game against the semi-pro New Haven Colonials — a mere three days after clinching the 1916 World Series championship?

Weiss, a New Haven High (later named Hillhouse) graduate, would go on to be the general manager of the New York Yankees. But in 1916, he was a 21-year old Yale drop-out with a savvy business sense and rising reputation.

After a brief negotiation with Weiss, Boston arrived on Oct. 15. Most of the regulars, in need of another pay day, were present. The Sox would pitch their ace, a budding 21-year-old named Babe Ruth.

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Chris Drury: From Little League to NHL, always a winner

Chris Drury used his strong right arm to pitch his hometown Trumbull team to the Little League World Series championship in 1989.

He tossed a five-hitter as Trumbull stunned Taiwan in the title game 23 years ago.

Drury got to visit the White House, threw out the first pitch in Game 2 of the 1989 World Series and was honored as “Young Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated.

But it turned out to be the ice — not the baseball diamond — where Drury really flourished.

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John J. Lee: Ivy League's Sports Illustrated cover boy

Last February, former Harvard standout Jeremy Lin was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, once again bringing Ivy League basketball into the spotlight.

The first man to do so was Yale’s John J. Lee on Jan. 21, 1957.

Labeled by the sports magazine as the “next great Ivy League scholar-athlete,” the 6-foot-3 forward is one of only two Yale players to score 40 or more points in a game. No Bulldog has reached the 40-point plateau since Lee did it against the rival Crimson in 1958.

Read Bill Cloutier's complete story.

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Turk Wendell: Quinnipiac's eccentric pitcher

First there was Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Then Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.

Then came Turk Wendell.

One of the most eccentric players to ever play in the majors, Wendell honed his pitching talents at Quinnipiac under coach Dan Gooley. He graduated in 1988, viewed by Gooley as one of the best in program history.

Wendell went 5-3 that season with 66 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Although odd, Wendell’s histrionics were real and gained national attention with the Cubs and Mets in the 1990s.

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Ron Guidry and West Haven Yankees, 1974

Mike Ferraro came to Quigley Stadium on a major league scouting assignment in 1974, and wasn’t sure what to make of the rail-thin, almost sickly looking left-handed pitcher for the West Haven Yankees.

But once Ron Guidry started throwing, it became clear the gangly kid from Louisiana had other-worldly stuff.

“I saw him make four appearances, all in short relief,” Ferraro once told the Register. “I remember he faced 11 batters and he struck out all 11 guys. Now that was impressive, and I gave New York my evaluation.”

Guidry was clearly the most celebrated player in the 11-year history of Double-A baseball at Quigley. Four years after leaving, he’d already won two World Series championships, the Cy Young Award and turned in one of the greatest single-season performances by a starting pitcher in Yankees history.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Jack Dempsey fought in New Haven in 1919

In the months before he would become the most famous boxer in the world, Jack Dempsey embarked on a training tour through some of the most prominent boxing cities in the country.

The final stop on the excursion was the original New Haven Arena.

The year was 1919. Dempsey, at 23, had established himself as the main challenger to heavyweight champ Jess Willard. In preparation for that bout, Dempsey had five sanctioned fights between January and March, all first-round knockouts.

He arrived in New Haven on April 1 to take on native heavyweight Tony Drake.

Read Chip Malafronte's compete story.

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Sports during World War I

The United States formally entered World War I in 1917, and its involvement greatly affected the national sports scene. Greater New Haven was certainly no exception.

As young men enlisted by the hundreds, many of them college athletes, Yale was forced to suspend several varsity sports or field patchwork teams. The football team in 1917 was made up of ROTC students and played only three games that fall.

Perhaps the biggest game played at the Yale Bowl was a matchup of training stations from Rhode Island and New York who played for the football championship of the U.S. Navy. Walter Camp, a New Haven resident and Yale football alum, helped bring the game to the city to aid the war effort as part of his duties as head of fitness programs for the Navy and Army Air Service.

Yale did not field a team the following year, marking the first and only time in 140 years the school did not play the sport it helped pioneer.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Rogers Hornsby: 0-4 against Weissmen in 1920

Associated Press
Rogers Hornsby in 1920 (Not in New Haven)

The New Haven Weissmen, under the direction of manager and future Baseball Hall of Fame player Charles “Chief” Bender, had just wrapped up their second successive Eastern League title in 1920 when the St. Louis Cardinals came to town for an in-season exhibition on Sept. 20.

Games like this were common, given most cities’ prohibition of Sunday baseball in those days. New Haven native and sports promoter George Weiss, the team owner, had set the contest up under the strict conditions that St. Louis manager Branch Rickey play all of the uninjured Cardinal regulars.

That included future Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, in the midst of winning the first of six successive National League batting titles (he won seven overall). Hornsby could have rested — he missed both ends of a doubleheader to injury the day before at Boston — but he was in the lineup at New Haven, where he would pick up a few extra bucks by playing.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

Rogers Hornsby stats page

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Abie Grossfeld, SCSU and Olympic gymnastics coach

The first sense that Abie Grossfeld was cut from a different cloth came when the teenaged Abie dove into the Harlem River to save a 5-year-old from drowning.

As would become his persona during a Hall of Fame gymnastics career, the selfless act was rarely mentioned or highlighted in Grossfeld’s dealings with others.

True to his nature, Grossfeld was an unassuming figure — at least as unassuming as a three-time U.S. Olympic head coach could be — during a 41-year run as the gymnastics coach at Southern Connecticut.

Read Jim Fuller's complete story.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Floyd Little, New Haven's Pro Football Hall of Famer


Hillhouse product Floyd Little was arguably the greatest running back in Connecticut schoolboy history.

He was a standout running back at Syracuse University, where he formed a backfield with Larry Csonka and current New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

He went on to a terrific nine-year professional career with the Denver Broncos, where he gained more than 12,000 career all-purpose yards and was ultimately — some say belatedly — inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, delivering a stirring acceptance speech.

But perhaps no honor touched Little more than when a glistening, 105,000-square-foot athletic center bearing his name was officially dedicated in his honor on Sept. 15, 2011.

Floyd Little Hall of Fame Speech (YouTube)

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Kevin Gilbride: North Haven to SCSU to Super Bowl champion

Kevin Gilbride had dreams of becoming a major league pitcher while growing up in North Haven, where he starred at every level right through his time with high school coach Bob DeMayo.

Arm injuries derailed his baseball dreams. They also limited him as a quarterback at Southern Connecticut State, where he finished his career as a tight end.

Gilbride would still go on to great achievements, albeit as a coach. He is regarded as one of the premier offensive minds in football, winning his second Super Bowl ring as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants in February.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Eric Johnson, Yale football: The Catch, 1999

Associated Press photos

Eric Johnson has been a regular in the gossip magazines the past few years, famous in this age of TMZ for fathering a child with singer Jessica Simpson (the two have been engaged since 2010).

A dozen years ago, Johnson was an unstoppable force for the Yale football team. A 6-foot-3, 225-pound flanker, he graduated with nearly every receiving record in the Bulldogs’ book.

His athleticism was remarkable. When Yale found itself in need of a punter, Johnson not only filled in for two full seasons, but had one of the best kicking averages in the nation.

But his performance in the 1999 edition of “The Game” cemented his legacy as a Yale legend.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Tracy Claxton, women's basketball

Had New Haven’s Tracy Claxton been born 15 years later, she may well have been a WNBA superstar and household name. Women’s professional basketball has grown by leaps and bounds since she starred at Old Dominion in the 1980s.

Still, there’s no denying the impact she had on women’s basketball in the pre-WNBA era.

Claxton, a 1980 graduate of Wilbur Cross, was the most outstanding player at the 1985 women’s Final Four. She led Old Dominion to a national championship, scoring 17 points with 20 rebounds in a 70-65 win over Georgia in the title game.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

Old Dominion profile page

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Nathan Mann: Boxer fought Joe Louis for title in 1938

Associated Press photos


Natalino Menchetti was 15 years old and working a heavy bag in the garage of his parents’ home in Hamden during the spring of 1930 when his life changed.

A truck driver named Bill Reynolds, a former boxer turned part-time trainer, was making a delivery from the local bakery. He pulled into the driveway, watched the kid for a few minutes and saw a power puncher with a world of potential.

Eight years later, Menchetti, who boxed as Nate Mann, was fighting Joe Louis for the world heavyweight championship before a sellout crowd of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden. It was Feb. 23, 1938. Mann, 22, and Louis, 24, became two of the youngest to fight for a heavyweight title.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story fight by fight for Nate Mann

Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame


YouTube video of the fight

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New Haven Glees tied Canton Bulldogs, Jim Thorpe

Imagine if the Pittsburgh Steelers came to New Haven to play a local club team. Not a city all-star team, mind you, but a team made up of players from a specific neighborhood. And the locals battled their professional opponents to a a game that counted in the NFL standings.

Ridiculous, right? In modern times, yes. But, 92 years ago, this unlikely scenario actually happened. A New Haven team played the Canton Bulldogs, an original NFL club, to a scoreless tie. Even more astonishing? Jim Thorpe played for the opposition.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Podoloff brothers: Brains behind New Haven Arena, AHL and NBA

Associated Press
Maurice Podoloff, center, at merger of NBL and NBA in 1949.

Associated Press
Maurice Podoloff with Bob Cousy in 1956.

Associated Press
Maurice Podoloff prior to college draft in 1958.

Associated Press
Maurice Podoloff providing President Harry S. Truman with season pass to Basketball Association of America season in 1949.

Associated Press
Maurice Podoloff with Stamford's Walter Kennedy, the second commissioner of the NBA, as he passed the baton in 1963.

Associated Press
The Maurice Podoloff trophy, presented annually to the NBA's Most Valuable Player.


New Haven brothers Nate and Maurice Podoloff were brilliant men, and not just because both were Yale graduates. They had street smarts and savvy business instincts matched by few, if any, in the sports world.

Nate Podoloff held a degree in engineering. He designed and built the New Haven Arena, running the hub of city entertainment from 1927 until its doors were shuttered for good in 1972.

Maurice Podoloff, older than Nate by five years, assisted with the operation of the Arena and its hockey clubs but moved on to other things. He was president of the American Hockey League, and in 1946 also became president of a new venture, the Basketball Association of America. It led to a position as the first commissioner of the National Basketball Association, a post he held until 1963.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

Winners of the Podoloff Trophy (NBA MVP)


AHL induction video from YouTube.

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Johnny Unitas, 5 TDs in 1961 visit to Yale Bowl

In an effort to raise money to construct the Albie Booth Memorial Boys Club, city officials were able to entice the New York Giants to play their final NFL exhibition game at the Yale Bowl in 1960.

That game was a rather ho-hum 16-16 tie against the Detroit Lions.

But when the Baltimore Colts were secured as the Giants’ opponent for a similar game on Sept. 10, 1961, star quarterback Johnny Unitas, in an interview with Register reporter Bill Ahern, promised to deliver.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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