Baseball is where you find it.
Posted by athomeatfenway on April 23, 2012
One never knows when one will stumble across “our game” as we go about living our non-baseball lives. In the three cases featured in this blog, baseball is found at a magazine launch party, on a country road in search of lunch, and in a 83 year old book about a famed radio comedy act – and it isn’t Abbott & Costello.
Last week, while heading back to Connecticut from Exeter, R.I., I decided to get off the well beaten path. I took Rt. 154 from Old Saybrook through the charming town of Essex and into the classic New England town of Deep River. Rt 154 alternately hugs the wide waters of the Connecticut, than swings through the center of many a small town. The sky was blue and clear. The air was fresh.
I was hungry. There was a healthy food option along this colorful route, an IGA 1 mile ahead.
I slowed and pulled over quickly when a small marvel came into view. It was a concrete baseball, about 4 feet in circumference, on a landscaped pedestal adorning the entrance to a place named Devitt Field.
There were Little League fields in the complex behind the pull-in. I parked. I took a closer look at this 3 ton bauble.
It was inscribed “In Memorium, John George Desmond, Secretary & Treasurer, Middlesex County Baseball League, 1907 – 1942.”
Bummer, I thought. Desmond died young at age 37 and they erected the memorial to him because he was a local figure in youth and rec leagues.
On, June 23, 1942, The Hartford Courant ran a story titled, J.G. Desmond Dies; Leader in Baseball.
Desmond was actually born in 1868, and was 74 when he passed at Hartford Hospital after a short illness.
J.G., according to The Courant, played in the Southern league in the 1880’s, later got a job at a piano factory in Deep River, and helped found the Middlesex County Baseball League, “one of the first semi-pro leagues in the United States.” , in 1907.
J.G. was much respected. 8 years before his death, he was given a dinner in his honor. The featured speaker at the dinner was none other than George Moriarty, who swung a bat in the majors for 13 years, including 6 with Cobb and the Tigers, later followed by a career as an A.L. Umpire from 1917 to 1940.
The dinner was held at the Middletown YMCA. All 300 tickets were sold in advance. In addition to Moriarty, other speakers included James Murphy, a former Penn pitcher, Dr. Bill Wrang, a Red Sox team physician, and assorted Mayors, Judges and Selectman.
Courant Sports Editor, Albert Keane, not only spoke at the fete but wrote nuggets about the dinner in the 3 days following the event. He recalled how Moriarty compared Big Ed Walsh (of Meriden, CT) to Christy Mathewson, he argued that as great as Big Six was he could not compare in stamina and durability to Big Ed. He further said that Walsh’s spitter was “far more destructive to batting averages than Matty’s fadeaway.”.
Keane further observed that the spirited and sold out dinner should have calmed the “calamity shouters who like to tell us that tennis, golf, soft ball and other summer sports have killed baseball….”.
Funny thing. I had a friend tell me that soccer was killing baseball in 1999. It was just a matter of time before soccer playing youth broke from their baseball bondage and left the national pastime in economic tatters.
Some things never change.
In the polite hyperbole of the 1930’s, Keane quoted one attendee as describing Mr. Desmond in this way: “…he’s a kind hearted, good natured fellow who always wants everyone to have a fair deal and everyone satisfied. Desmond and the league are one.”.
So there. I’ve scratched the surface on the diamond of a man that was John George Desmond of Deep River, CT.
I’ve gone on longer than expected about J.G.. I’ll pitch the other two discoveries very quickly.
And I’ll sign back on to do that soon.