MORE THAN JUST A GAME, A TRADITION
The World Series Club was founded in 1926 by a group of Hartford, Connecticut businessmen who wanted tickets to see the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. This group included John Reardon and Tommy Frazier (owner of the Lobster Restaurant on Asylum Ave), among many others. One of these businessmen, a friend of Yankee General Manager Ed Barrow, managed to get the tickets.
Seeking tickets to the Fall Classic continued for many years. The group stayed at the Lincoln Hotel in New York City while attending the Series. Before attending games, members were regularly invited to tour the Ruppert Brewery, and Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert was named an honorary member of the Club.
Soon the Club also started inviting baseball personalities to speak at dinner meetings during the baseball off-season, commonly known as the ‘hot stove league’. Speakers in the early years included Lou Gehrig (who had played minor league ball in Hartford), Frankie Frisch and Lefty Gomez. In a meeting celebrating the Club’s 25th anniversary in 1951, the guest speaker was legendary owner, manager, and Hall of Famer Connie Mack.
The Club continued to attend the World Series in New York in the 1950’s and 60’s when Jack White, a friend to the Club, was employed as Ticket Manager for the Yankees. During this period in the Club’s history, membership was strictly male and limited to 100 members. Ladies were invited to a well-attended dinner/dance which traditionally wrapped up each ‘hot stove’ season in the spring.
Many of the Club’s speakers during this period appeared for free as part of their employment duties for Ballantine Beer in the offseason. On occasion, sports other than baseball were used in attempts to further promote the Club. For example, boxer Jake LaMotta once appeared as a guest speaker.
Sportwriters Night featured local scribes at the podium as guest speakers. Bill Lee of the Hartford Courant, Art McGinley of the Hartford Times, and John Wentworth and Gerald Crean of the New Britain Herald all appeared before the Club in this capacity. These four gentlemen were all awarded the Walter Lawrence Memorial Award for their outstanding contributions. Other media members who appeared as guests included Earl Yost of the Manchester Herald, Bill Newell of the Hartford Courant, Bart Fisher of the New Britain Herald, Charlie Hibbert of the Bristol Press, George Ehrlich of WINF Radio, and Bob Steele and Arnold Dean of WTIC Radio. 'Sportswriters Night' continued until the early 1980's.
Dinner meetings of the World Series Club were held for many years at The Hedges restaurant in New Britain. Often, guest speakers would be interviewed by Bob Steele on WTIC-TV or radio prior to attending. Bill Reardon, son of founding member John Reardon, owned The Hedges and helped the Club in many ways over the years. Bill was the first recipient of the Walter Lawrence Memorial Award in 1971.
It was common for members and guests to participate in card and poker games after meetings at The Hedges. Often these card games lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Some members can recall guest speakers participating in these card games. For example, former Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen reportedly enjoyed this portion of the evening so much that he slept in his car before heading back to New York after sunrise.
The World Series Club has proved to be quite resilient through some trying times. Attendance dwindled in the early 1970’s and the Club’s future was in doubt. Again it was suggested that the Club attempt to attract speakers and fans from other sports such as football and basketball.
Through the hard work of board members such as Mort Dunn, Dick Thurston, and Ray Begley, the Club began to flourish again and remained strictly baseball oriented. Dinner meetings at the Hedges continued into the mid-1970’s. To commemorate the Club’s 50th anniversary in 1976, the guest speaker was Ken Smith, curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Club membership was opened to women in the mid 1970’s, and the 100 member limit was eliminated in 1983. After the closing of the Hedges, the Club continued to meet at the Nutmegger Restaurant in Newington, Ricky’s Restaurant in New Britain, the Elks Club in New Britain, and finally Zabara’s Restaurant in New Britain in the early 1990’s.
Guests during this period included such baseball luminaries as Johnny Pesky, Brooks Robinson, Monte Irvin, Bobby Thomson, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Mo Vaughn and Jeff Bagwell. The leadership of the Club was in excellent hands during the fifteen year period from 1978 to 1992 during the tenure of Club Presidents Rich Cottone and Hank Carlson.
Again in 1994 the Club withstood a threat to its existence. It was becoming increasingly difficult to meet the financial demands of guest speakers from the modern game. Additionally, the baseball strike that year caused many fans to lose interest in baseball, and membership suffered. Once more the Club’s leadership, under the direction of President Tom Zocco, made the dedicated effort to continue on. Board members contributed money from their own pockets to keep the Club afloat.
During this period the Club met at the Knights of Columbus in Newington. The Club has thrived under the direction of Presidents George Mandeville, Larry Brennan, and Dan Keating. Prominent guest speakers since 1996 have included Fay Vincent, Bob Feller, Bobby Bonds, Luis Tiant, Ralph Houk, and Tommy John.
The World Series Club aims to secure the future viability of the club by engaging new members and baseball families who value the opportunity to meet and talk with baseball greats in an intimate, informal setting. On the threshold of our 100-year anniversary, we hope to continue our success and provide enjoyment of what Babe Ruth called: