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Bruce Caldwell, briefly in MLB, but eternal Yalie

Posted by athomeatfenway on November 18, 2009

Caldwell had a cup with these mugs in '32

Who was Bruce Caldwell ?   That’s a question I started to ask 3 months ago, and will continue to ask for awhile.

The Southern New England Chapter of S.A.B.R. has undertaken a book chronicling every MLB Player born in Rhode Island.  SABR members can take a crack at writing a chapter on a player.

I wanted to participate without presumptuously asking for a status guy like Napoleon LaJoie or Gabby Hartnett.

I intentionally chose a no-name.  A fellow named Bruce Caldwell.

How much more obscure could a ballplayer be than Bruce Caldwell ?  I never heard of him.   He batted .184 in 45 plate appearances for the ‘28 Indians and the ‘32 Dodgers.  That’s all there was to him.  I thought there wasn’t much of a story to tell.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  At one point, he was national news — before he even played pro ball.

Caldwell of the Diamond

Caldwell was a major success in the minors from 1929 to 1932.  Over 4 year minor league seasons, he logged a .356 BA and a .629 Slugging Average —  an O.P.S. of .984.

Let’s go backwards in time.

In 1932, he faded from pro baseball, choosing to attend Yale Law School after notching a .301 BA in a split season with  Hartford & Harrisburg.

In 1931, He won the Eastern League Triple Crown with the New Haven Profs, with a .356 BA, 38 HR, 130 RBI – and — 327 TB !  A quadruple crown.

In 1930, he batted .380 and .333 in a season split between Albany (A) and Minneapolis (AA).

While in Albany, he played with Billy Werber, a doubles-and-speed guy who went on to receive NL MVP votes in 4 seasons, and played in the 1939 & 1940 World Series for the Reds.

In 1929, with New Haven, he batted .366 with a .661 slugging average, playing with Jim Weaver, who would go on to lead the NL in shutouts in 1935, and Cliff Bolton, who later as a Senator faced Hubbell in the ’33 World Series.

And in 1928……Before he ever played an inning in the minors, he made his MLB debut for the Cleveland on June 30, 1928, pinch hitting for Dutch Revsen and striking out in a 6-2 loss to Lena Blackburne’s White Sox.

So how does a rookie with no minor league experience jump immediately to the Bigs and get in the box score with Mel Harder, Joe Sewell and Lew Fonseca ?

The answer to that question is:  Billy Evans.

7 days before he struck out in his debut against Chi Sox ace Tommy Thomas, Caldwell sent a telegram to Indians General manager, Billy Evans.

The AP wire story said…. “Billy Evans, general manager of the Cleveland Indians, announced tonight that he has received a telegram from Bruce Caldwell, versatile Yale Athlete, accepting terms of a contract to play for the Indians and expressing his intention of joining the club in Chicago in a few days.”

“Caldwell waited until today’s conclusion of the Yale-Harvard baseball game before taking the plunge into professionalism, Evans said, in order to remove all question of his eligibility to compete for his alma mater.”

“While his fielding is not sure, his coach ‘Smoky Joe’ Wood, ex Cleveland and Red Sox player, considers that he will be a batting rival of Rogers Hornsby within two years, Evans stated.”

Caldwell of Yale

Smokey Joe Wood was indeed Caldwell’s Baseball Coach when Bruce was a Yale undergrad (1925-1928).  And Caldwell was a fine collegiate Baseball player.

But Caldwell’s national fame stemmed from what he did on – and off — the Yale gridiron as the starting left halfback in his senior year, Fall of 1927.

He had come to Yale from Providence, the son of working class millworkers.  He was the only member of the backfield that did not Prep at a blue blooded private school.

He made himself fit in on the athletics fields and in the classrooms.

He turned the Georgia defense inside out in an unexpected 19-0 victory.

He made All American.

He was the star of the Yale team at a time when College Football in the East was near the pinnacle of Sport in America.

But he would be thrown off the Yale team halfway through his senior season when he was declared ineligible for playing a few freshman football games for Brown in 1924.

Caldwell’s own words describe the odyssey in this excerpt by the Hartford Times from an article he authored in the Dec. 2, 1938 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, titled, “After the Ball is Over”.

“Because of the chores involved in working my way, and a broken ankle at the outset of my junior year, I got a slow footed start.  But in my Senior year, the newspapers told me that my forward passing was phenomenal, my drop-kicking and punting superb.  I averaged 5.3 yards carrying the ball.

I was getting the same kind of publicity Albie Booth, Jay Berwanger, Larry Kelley, Clint Frank, Marsh Goldberg, Sid Luckman, Whizzer White and others were to enjoy later.  Particularly after the Army Game.

The year before, Army had defeated Yale 33 to 0.  The ’27 Army team was supposed to be even stronger.  The battle was billed as a duel between Harry Wilson, then playing his eighth year of college ball, and me.

With a bale of newspaper clippings under my bed back in my room, I enjoyed the pleasant knowledge that the eyes of 72,000 people were focused on my bright number 48.  As it happened, I managed to live up to even Tad Jones’ expectations.  Tackle Sid Quarrier, now a surgeon in Hartford, shifted out of the line trickily, became an eligible receiver, and caught one of my long heaves.

“I converted for the extra point.  Then, after enjoying a couple of nice runs, I kicked a 47-yard field goal.  We won 10 to 6.  That was the year Army trimmed Notre Dame and remained undefeated, except by the Bulldog.  The sportswriters turned cartwheels for my glorification.

A few weeks later, along came what looked like a bad break, but something that caused the publicity spotlight to play on me more brilliantly than ever.

In 1924, because I wouldn’t get a (Yale) scholarship…I had entered Brown University as a Freshman. I was cut from the Brown Freshman squad on the second day.

But when books threw some of the boys for losses, they took me back.  I played for short periods against Andover and Harvard seconds, but did nothing notable and wasn’t a regular.  The next year, 1924, I entered Yale, still a Freshman.

On Nov. 8 of my Senior year, I picked up a Providence Bulletin to discover that those few minutes of playing obscurity on the Brown freshman eleven were to make me a more talked about halfback than anything I had ever done in big games for Yale.

A reporter had written about my Brown record, and cited the Yale-Harvard-Princeton agreement not to use any player who had been a competitor on any other college football team.

I was barred from Yale football immediately.  A New York paper offered me $1,000 for the story of my life.  Press and public seemed to resent the technicality which had disqualified me.  The Yale A.A. broke a rule and awarded me a letter.  After the close of the season, Ashton, R.I. took a day off to celebrate Bruce Caldwell Day.

An American Hero

Mr. Caldwell is an American story.  He rose from the Rhode Island mill town of Ashton.  He was educated beyond his class at America’s most prestigious University, where he was a star athlete, and would later return to earn a Law degree.

He would go on to serve in the Navy during the War and earn the rank of Lt. Commander.  He would be a successful lawyer in private and public practice.  He would serve in Government as the Commissioner of the Hartford Housing Authority and lead a $10 Million slum redevelopment.

He never married.

He passed on Feb. 15, 1959.

One obituary said it was cancer.  Another one said it was pneumonia.

His Death certificate indicated liver disease.

My research isn’t done.  I’ve just scratched the surface.  Any living survivor of Bruce Caldwell or anyone with a connection to him can contact me at

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