By TOM DICKAU
This is the eighth of 10 articles to be written by Tom Dickau, president of the Bristol Historical Society and member of the Muzzy Field Anniversary Committee. Each article will be written to follow the history and activities of Muzzy Field through the decades.
SPRINGFIELD GIANTS CONSIDER MOVE TO MUZZY FIELD
General Manager, Charles “Chick” O’Malley, of the San Francisco Giants Double AA affiliate at Springfield, Mass. met at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce in late September of 1965. Those in attendance included Joseph Riley (superintendent of parks); Thomas R. Monahan (Bristol athletic director); Graham “Spike” Norton (Boys’ Club director) Henry Brophy (public relations director of New Departure Hyatt Bearing); Ed McHugh (Red Sox scout); Dr. James Gilhuly(American Legion baseball business manager); G. Theodore Zahnke (chamber president); and George Underwood( Chamber Executive Director). Members of the press corps were also present. He announced that his organization was highly impressed with Muzzy Field and that they were strongly considering moving their Springfield Eastern League team to Bristol in the Spring of 1966. The Bristol entry would be the only professional baseball team in Connecticut and one of three in New England. He also stated that several changes would be essential to bring the stadium in compliance with acceptable professional standards. The four areas included improvements in the lighting system; construction of parking facilities; moving the right field fence back; and the installation of a portable fence. The estimated costs were between $25,000 and $29,000. The mayor indicated the Board of Finance would meet to consider these expenditures. Riley said the Board of Park Commissioners would meet soon to consider the proposal and associated rental fees.
Although optimism abounded at the initial meeting, things did not go as smoothly or quickly as O’Malley and others anticipated. The verdict is still out as to why the Eastern League affiliate of the San Francisco Giants never landed at Muzzy Field. Did Chick O’Malley hurt his own cause by making inadequate or inappropriate contact from the beginning? Did he bypass critical personnel or committees at the initial planning session? Was he really interested in the welfare of the community or was he a “shrewd businessman” looking for the best financial deal? Was the loss of the Giants a case of “bureaucratic bungling” by the City of Bristol? Bristol had lost former opportunities by slow and/or inefficient action. Were the city boards and commissions able to work cooperatively or did personal agenda and power struggles interfere with solid decision-making? Is this again another lost opportunity generated due to inefficient political action?
To the contrary, maybe, the City of Bristol was looking out for its future welfare and development of the community and its citizens. Was the “Taxpayer’s Watchdog,” Thomas P. O’Brien, looking to protect city coffers, taxpayer interests and city assets or was he an “obstructionist” carrying out an agenda not in the best interest of the community? The answers are left to the discernment of the reader.
Sale Of Beer At Muzzy Becomes A Problem
Controversy arose almost immediately as O’Malley requested permission for the sale of beer at Muzzy Field. It needs, to be clearly understood, that neither the field deed issued by Adrian J. Muzzy nor the park deed of Albert Rockwell contained any reference to the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on these lands. This rule was established by the Ordinance Committee of the City Council and was given full support by that body. The discussions and solutions, therefore, rested with legal city provisions not with deed stipulations.
Superintendent Joseph Riley was immediately beleaguered by calls regarding the sale of beer at Muzzy Field. Three members of the clergy spoke out in opposition to the sale, but also indicated they were not against the Giants’ relocation to Bristol. These included Reverend Russell Deragon (Trinity Episcopal Church), Reverend David Rackcliffe (Asbury Methodist Church) and Reverend Robert Riedel (Immanuel Lutheran Church). Women’s groups throughout the city also started petition drives against this proposal.
The Board of Park Commissioners and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce threw their full support behind the Eastern League move to Muzzy Field. This even included the sales of beer, only at Bristol Giants games. Dr. James Gilhuly of the American Legion echoed their unanimous endorsement of this team. The American Legion program was in the midst of an outstanding decade of play. He stated the improvements made to the field, might ultimately work to bring regional or even national legion tournament play to the local diamond. He said scheduling concerns could be worked out and that, “the move would be desirable and beneficial to the community as a whole.”
Despite these endorsements the City Council vetoed the sale of beer. Councilman William Chase, supported by citizen groups, said if the proposal passed that they would force a referendum regarding this issue. Fellow Councilman Joseph Dinelli, chairperson of the Ordinance Committee, attributed strong pressure from the community as a major contributor to the City Council’s “about-face “on this crucial and volatile issue. The council, however, approved all other requests by the Giants including the $27,000 needed for repairs. This request was forwarded to the Board of Finance for their consideration.
Chick O’Malley, within a day, met in joint session with the finance board, city council, park commissioners, park superintendent, and Mayor Henry Wojtusik. He stated that his organization would continue to consider Muzzy Field as a destination, but that they were deeply disturbed by the lack of support for the sale of beer. He indicated that this decision would cost his franchise an estimated $8,000 to $10,000 each season. This loss had strong implications within their budgetary process. O’Malley indicated he needed some definitive answers as quickly as possible. He also indicated his organization was wondering what other requests would fall by the wayside. There were some heated discussions. At one point, O’Malley stated, “You are acting like a bunch of babies.” He quickly apologized saying that his emotions had gotten “the best of him.” He also admitted he evidently had gone to the wrong people at the beginning, and didn’t realize he had to go through so many boards to gain approval.
The next hurdle facing the Eastern League entry was to garner support from the Board of Finance for the $27,000 allocation needed to bring the field up to standards. This board met the next week. Although the City Council had voted unanimously in favor of the allocation, there was strong disagreement amongst finance members. Members were already experiencing difficulty with the budget. This proposal presented an additional burden. After a great deal of discussion and compromise, the board voted 6-4, in favor.
Controversy, it appears, was just beginning. The next obstacle to be confronted was the writing of the lease agreement. Once approved by the City Council and the corporation attorneys, Harry Yarde and James Tracy, this document would be forwarded to the San Francisco headquarters. This office would either grant its final approval or resubmit it back to Bristol for further consideration or change.
The lease was to encompass: per game rental and groundskeeper fees, clean-up responsibility provisions, deletion of the former per spectator head tax, language pertaining to all changes requested by O’Malley, stipulations regarding the concession stand and several other areas of concern.
Thomas P. O’Brien ‘The Taxpayer’s Watchdog’
Former Board of Finance member, Thomas P. O’Brien, seemed to be “waiting in the wings” observing the procedures and progress made to bring an Eastern League team to our city. He had always been in opposition to these plans, but had remained relatively quiet. Envisioning the forward movement of this objective, it was now time for him to insert himself into the fray by presenting legal roadblocks. O’Brien argued the Muzzy Field deed did not permit a fee to be charged for admissions; the field was dedicated for public use only; and that it was a city recreational facility for years and needed to remain that way. He stated that if the lease was approved, he already had plans in action calling for a city-wide referendum on Dec. 14. He had also engaged the services of the prestigious law firm of Koskoff and McMahon from Plainville and stated this firm would seek injunctions and court action against the Springfield Giants moving to Bristol. Former Mayor James Jennings also became strongly involved at this stage, demanding more transparency in procedures.
O’Brien’s attorneys heard through the newspaper O’Malley had set up a Main Street office and was utilizing it for promotional purposes. They demanded an immediate hearing with the mayor saying, “that the land would no longer be owned, operated, maintained or controlled by the City of Bristol.” They also drafted a cease and desist document, which they sent to the mayor, corporate counsel, the planning commission, park superintendent and to the City Treasurer, Woodrow Violette. The letter indicated that any procedures or expenditures utilized to bring the franchise to the city were illegal actions. The letter ordered the city, “to cease and desist now and forever the lease to private enterprise corporations…. otherwise this will be resolved in court.”
Mayor Wojtusik, under advisement from Corporation Counsel Louis Hanrahan, ignored the order, as a stall tactic. No meeting was held for several months.
The Writing Is On The Wall
Charles “Chick” O’Malley was beginning to “see the writing on the wall.” With the divergent thinking, argumentation, lack of action, and threats of injunctions and court action, how could he adequately plan for an April 1966, opening at the West Side ball park? He had to be thinking that stall tactics alone could cause the effort to fail. Even the mayor sitting on the cease and desist order ate up valuable time. Although still engaged with Bristol, he was communicating with two other communities, Waterbury, Connecticut and Manchester, New Hampshire. In a visit to Waterbury he indicated that the Municipal Stadium, designed as a football venue, would cost over $100,000 dollars to meet league standards. There appeared little promise for that kind of financial support and a move there was thought to be “out of the question.”
Talks continued between Bristol and the Springfield Giant organization. Every aspect of the lease was finely scrutinized and extensively debated. Mistrust of O’Malley and his organization was beginning to grow. He had originally asked for a lease from April 1 to Labor Day. With the formation of the Bristol Exhibition Corporation, he now requested that the lease begin March 1 and extend to the first day of December. This would virtually, according to contract, give him the concession rights during all Muzzy Field events. He did promise a portion of the proceeds to local organizations using the field. This appeared to be a very unsatisfactory solution. A semipro football circuit or at least semipro exhibition football games were considering Muzzy Field as a possible site. George “Jocko” Yarde was spearheading this venture. He said, with the concession “locked up”, this endeavor would never take place. The completed lease was sent to San Francisco in November.
Bristol Works Behind The Scene To Thwart O’Brien
During the early months of 1966, while sitting on the cease and desist order, the City of Bristol was working behind the scenes to thwart O’Brien’s efforts. The long- forgotten heirs or the assignees of the Muzzy Field deed were being contacted to release their rights and sign them over to the city. Two local institutions, the Bristol Hospital and the Bristol Public Library, agreed and quickly released all ownership to the city. Five members from the Bristol community traveled to Boston to secure the remaining two titles. The mayor, two members of the corporation counsel, the chamber of commerce president and the park superintendent, armed with the hospital and library releases, met with officials at Simmons and Wellesley Colleges. These schools were the remaining assignees. They also agreed to waive their future rights, should Muzzy Field ever be sold. The group of Bristol dignitaries traveled home from this clandestine meeting assured that they now had the materials necessary to defeat O’Brien’s attorneys, if they were summoned to Hartford Superior Court.
On Feb. 15, the Giants asked that they be permitted to place advertising signs on the new outfield fence. O’Malley indicated that this would make up for part of the lost beer revenue. He said he didn’t think his organization would take another “shafting.” This request was a “must” in order to raise funds. Personnel had already been hired to sell advertisements. He stated, that upon his arrival, he was assured there would be no delays, but instead encountered many problems. Park Commissioner Perry Spinelli favored bringing the franchise to Bristol, but was strongly against ruining the park’s beauty with advertising billboards. Commissioner Chet Merrow asked a decision be delayed until city ordinances could be studied.
Several days later, the approval for outfield advertising was granted by a 6-1 vote of the Park Commissioners. Spinelli was the dissenting vote. The Park and Recreation Department would maintain jurisdiction over the type of advertising. Local merchants, businesses and industries would have preference, at all times, over out-of –town concerns. A Bristol Press editorial was highly critical of this concession.
Park Superintendent Joseph Riley indicated he never envisioned the complexity of bringing a professional team to the city. He also stated that the unsigned lease, which was delivered in November, was somewhere in San Francisco. He instructed corporate counsel to send an addendum, changing the original lease year of April 1 thru December 1, to end after the first week of September. This was to accommodate the possibility of semipro football during the fall.
Thomas P. O’Brien, at the beginning of March, again requested an answer from corporation counsel for the information he had requested in the unanswered letter of Oct. 27, 1965. He said he needed this information for the March 24 court date with the City of Bristol. This information concerned the deed of Adrian J. Muzzy.
Despite the pending court case, things seemed to be moving favorably. The Giants hosted a press conference on March 8 at the Polish American Citizens Club. The virtues of Muzzy Field were extolled and future planning by the franchise was discussed. O’Malley, at that time, still emphasized the need to move up the March 24 court date. A week later Chick O’Malley was holding exploratory meetings at Torrington. He also indicated Waterbury, Reading, Pennsylvania; Hagerstown, Maryland; and Jersey City, N.J. also were in communications with him. This certainly seemed like strange, but business-like behavior.
A meeting was scheduled, for Monday March 21 at City Hall, at which time all important players would be assembled. The purpose of the gathering was to finalize the planning for bringing the franchise to Bristol. O’Malley committed to attend. When assembled, Mayor Wojtusik was going to inform O’Malley about the quick-claim deeds and the likely dismissal of the March 24 court case, which no longer had any validity. Surprisingly O‘Malley was a “no show” at the meeting.
Instead of being in Bristol, Springfield’s general manager was conferring with Waterbury officials. In a brief press conference the next evening, he read the following brief and prepared statement: “The San Francisco Giants regret to announce that because of complications and legal entanglements, which have been encountered during its efforts to locate in the City of Bristol, the ball team now, because of time elements must rule out any possibility of locating the ball team in the City of Bristol.” The next day they announced their move to Waterbury. The Brass City would become the benefactor of over 30 years of minor league affiliation.
Blame was certainly in abundance. Everyone involved in the process including the news media received criticism for their role in the loss of the Eastern League franchise.
A Bristol Press editorial of March 22, 1966 can probably best represent what transpired and what needed to be learned. The following is an abbreviated version:
“The dust has settled around home plate and the umpire gave the sign. You’re out, he bellowed and the Waterbury fans cheered. Bristol had lost. … The starch has been taken out and all that remains is resentment. Bristol lost more than the Giants. Bristol lost face with its citizens, with the State of Connecticut and heaven knows who else…. If any good can come out of any situation, it is the public relations lesson we should have learned. It is apparently obvious that the entire case was bungled from the beginning. Closed door promises were made, which couldn’t be kept…. It’s unfortunate that Mr. O’Brien felt it necessary to go to this extreme. Mr. O’Brien, however, demonstrated the right of any citizen to bring his case to court. It is unfortunate that our judicial system had to be used in this way, but our laws and constitution are much dearer to each Bristol citizen than are the Bristol Giants…. Let us learn from the case of the Bristol Giants.”
The ninth article in the series of ten will highlight the Bristol American Legion beginning with the 1960s and 1970s program under Coach Jim Bates. The final and 10th segment will discuss the Bristol Red Sox’s arrival, history and departure from Muzzy Field.