Today in 1913, arrest warrants were issued in Bridgeport for players on the Bridgeport Mechanics minor league baseball team. It was not the first time members of the Bridgeport nine had faced justice. They had, in fact, been arrested, tried, and convicted twice previously during the preceding two months. Their crime? Playing baseball on Sunday.
The Gilded Age had brought great changes to the Land of Steady Habits. The Industrial Revolution transformed the land of Puritan farmers into a multi-ethnic industrial colossus. Though the third smallest state, Connecticut in 1910 had the 11th highest manufacturing output in the nation. Producing those new manufactured goods was a workforce of immigrant newcomers, many from southern and eastern Europe, who had brought their languages, customs, Catholic faith and Continental sensibilities to Connecticut with them. Their attitudes toward many things – especially religious practice and, importantly, Sunday time off – soon rubbed hard against long-standing Yankee views of what was – and mostly wasn’t – appropriate Sunday activity.
Connecticut had invented the venerable so-called “Blue Laws”– acts prohibiting recreation or entertainment on Sundays – back in the 1600s, to keep people’s Sabbath Day attention focused tightly on religion and morality. But for Connecticut’s new Catholic arrivals – whose only break from a six-day, 10-hour-a-day work regimen came on Sundays – the Blue Law restrictions simply made no sense. They saw Sunday recreations, like visiting amusement parks and attending baseball games, as needed breaks, welcome pleasures, and workers’ rights.
The Mechanics – named both as a nod to manager Gene McCann and in recognition of the work and workers that generated the team’s audiences – played Sunday games at Bridgeport’s Newfield Park, which attracted upwards of 2000 spectators. This did not sit at all well with some pious Yankee traditionalists – particularly the members of Bridgeport’s local Pastors Association. They decided to intervene to see that the state’s Sunday laws prohibiting commercial sports were enforced.
On June 6th, the pastors’ group filed a complaint with state’s attorney A. L. Delaney against the Mechanics team for playing in a Sunday game against Pittsfield the preceding May 17. DeLaney seemed in no rush to issue warrants for the team’s arrest, so the pastors – sure the law was on their side – hired a detective, Maurice T. Berwald, to attend the team’s Sunday games and gather evidence.
On June 29th, after Berwald filed a complaint naming specific individuals as perpetrators, four players and an umpire were arrested for playing in Sunday games on both June 8th and June 22nd. A trial was scheduled for 10 days later, on July 9th.
On trial day, which was attended by supporters and members of the Pastors Association, the President of the Eastern Baseball Association (the League in which the Mechanics played), as well as friends and fans of the accused, the judge arraigned the catcher, pitcher, first baseman, center fielder, right fielder and the umpire for “violating the Sunday law by playing baseball.” Investigator Berwald testified that he had attended the games, paid 25 cents for each ticket, knew the players (whom he identified individually by name), and that he had personally seen them play against Springfield on the 22nd and against New London on the 29th.”
The defense attorney for the players claimed that baseball did not violate the state’s Sunday laws since necessary work on Sunday was permitted, and giving so many people such pleasure, as baseball did, was necessary work. For his part, the prosecuting attorney A L Delaney wavered, saying, he thought it was better “to have the public witnessing a ball game than participating in . . . card playing where profanity and immorality prevail.” Nevertheless, the judge found all the defendants guilty, letting them off with a chastisement and a relatively mild $15 fine each. The players, left the courtroom, having presumably learned their lesson.
But three days later, on July 12, the Bridgeport Mechanics played in a Sunday game at Newfield Park again. The outraged pastors went first to Delaney, then, when he proved recalcitrant, to the police chief, and on July 17th the team members were once again arrested and arraigned, along with their manager and ticket seller, for playing “commercialized baseball on Sunday,” on this day in Connecticut history.
The battle to change the state’s Sunday laws did not end there, nor was it fought just by the Bridgeport Mechanics. Similar confrontations between pastors groups and baseball teams occurred all across the state.
In 1921, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing Sunday recreation, which Governor Lake immediately vetoed, understatedly calling it “one of the greatest menaces to the stability of the nation.”
Two years later, Governor Charles A. Templeton vetoed a similar bill, but with less hyperbole about its impact.
Finally, on April 8, 1925 a Sunday Recreation bill was signed into law by Governor John Trumbull. The fight over whether to allow Sunday double-headers could now begin.
Note: Main Image is of the 1914 Bridgeport team on the first day of spring training. Thanks to baseball historian Mike Roer for research help.
“Sunday Baseball and Other Sins: America’s Pastime and the Decline of Blue Laws,” Political Theology
Albert J. Menendez, “The Battle for Sunday Baseball,” Liberty Magazine