History of the Minors: Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

In the 1916 World Series, the Boston Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Dodgers four games to two. The clincher was played on Oct. 12. Three days later they were in a ballpark called Lighthouse Park in Connecticut playing a semi-pro team called the New Haven Colonials. But this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill small town semi-pro team. The game report in the next day’s Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer tells you why:

Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb

“Ty Cobb played first base for the Colonials and put forth his best efforts from kickoff to curfew. He hit the Boston pitcher for a double and a single, displayed speed on the paths that do not show in the box score…”

Cobb, the Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame center fielder, was coming off a season in which he hit .370, had over 200 hits, and led the league in stolen bases with 68. And who was that pitcher who he got two hits off of?

“Babe Ruth, the big left-hander, who pitched the Red Sox to victory in the second game of the world’s series classic, was on the mound for the visitors. Ruth yielded his opponent but six hits, Cobb helping himself to two.”

The game ended in a 3-3 tie, abandoned after the ninth inning. The Bridgeport Times reporter explains, “The impending darkness, together with a cold wave which made it uncomfortable for players and spectators alike, forced operations to cease before the knot could be untied.”

Baseball players were not awash in lucrative contracts back in 1916. The New Haven game was an extra payday, a side hustle.The American League didn’t see it that way and the league fined Cobb and each of the Red Sox players $50. Not a problem for Cobb, who still cleared $750 for the day’s work.

The Colonials were the brainchild of George Weiss, who as a 21-year old Yale dropout, put the team together in 1915 with two former high school teammates. Later the Colonials would become a member of an “outlaw” minor league affiliated with the Federal League, a third major league created to compete with the American and National at the time.

New Haven Colonials
New Haven Colonials 1915

Weiss is the one who brought Cobb into the picture. It was in August 1916 when Weiss enticed Cobb to spend his day off playing in New Haven by floating an offer of $300. Cobb joined the Colonials for a game against their inter-city rivals the New Haven Murlins. Cobb hit a single and double and scored a run in four at bats. More importantly for Weiss, the game attracted 5,000 fans.

The Murlins were an Eastern League single-A team affiliated with major league baseball. That should have provided an advantage for the Murlins, but they were no match for Weiss. Since New Haven had a ban on playing baseball games on Sunday, the Murlins were on the sidelines as Weiss took his team to Lighthouse Park just outside the city limits. The fact that Major League Baseball also banned Sunday games gave Weiss the opportunity to bring in top ballplayers for an extra payday on Sunday.

Among his other promotions were games against a bloomers womens team and a team from China. The Murlins couldn’t compete at the gate. They didn’t do that well head-to-head either. The two New Haven teams met on Sept. 23, 1917. Here’s the Hartford Courants game report:

“With Ty Cobb on first base, the New Haven Colonials overthrew the New Havens 6-3 today… Cobb fanned once, smashed out two hits, scored two runs and drove in another.”

Eventually the Murlins threw in the towel and they sold the Eastern League franchise to Weiss for $5,000. The new Eastern League franchise was named the New Haven Profs, although it was also known as the New Haven Weissmen. Cobb and Walter Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher who had also played some games with the Colonials, were shareholders. The team lasted until 1930.

George Weiss

Weiss went on to have a long career with Major League Baseball and was elected to the Hall of Fame as an executive. He is credited with creating the New York Yankees farm system which produced the players that made the Yankees a dominant team for much of the mid 20th century. He was general manager of the Yankees for 13 years and later became the first president of the New York Mets.

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1 Response to History of the Minors: Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

  1. Pingback: History of the Minors: Was This the Worst Team Ever? | off the leash

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