The Newark Bears

This article was written by Randolph Linthurst

This article was published in the 1977 Baseball Research Journal


     Beer baron and New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert purchased the Newark International League club on November 12, 1931, and over the next seven years some of the best young baseball talent ever assembled would perform in Newark. The Bears from 1932 to 1938 finished first five times, won over 100 games during four seasons, and twice figured in thrilling Junior World Series.

     Many baseball historians consider the 1937 Bears the greatest minor league club ever assembled. However, another almost equally outstanding team was the 1932 aggregation, managed by Al Mamaux, former big league pitcher, as well as gifted tenor singer and performer on the vaudeville circuit. An advantage that the 1932 club had over the 1937 team was that it possessed a better balance of promising players and seasoned veterans.

     Former major leaguers of interest who played in Newark in 1932 included switch hitting first baseman Johnny Neun, who later managed the Yankees and Cincinnati; 33-year old catcher Charlie Hargreaves, once the favorite batterymate of Burleigh Grimes in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh; and Don Brennan, a usually overweight pitcher called the “Mortician”, who had a spectacular season, winning 26 games.

     A pair of future greats, Dixie Walker, who later became the “Pride of Flatbush” for Dodgers, and Red Rolfe, a young shortstop out of Exeter and Dartmouth who later was a fixture in the Yankee infield, were two of the more promising prospects on the club. Big 6-7, 230-pound Jim Weaver, George Selkirk, the man who replaced Babe Ruth in the Yankee outfield and Andy Cohen, one-time Giants Jewish hope, were also on the team at the season’s outset.

     In the early weeks of the 1932 season, Newark, Baltimore (with home run slugger Buzz Arlett), Buffalo, Billy Southworth’s Rochester club and Montreal battled for the lead. Ruppert and his farm director, George Weiss, sent a steady stream of new players to the Bears, including Forrest (Woody) Jensen, a future Pirate; former Fordham ace Johnny Murphy and Pete Jablonowski, a piano player and curve ball pitcher who later changed his name to Appleton. Marvin Owen, the best defensive infielder in the league, was acquired from Toronto, and second baseman Jack Saltzgaver, a $75,000 bonus baby, came over from the Yankees to bat cleanup.

    By the first week in July, the Bears moved into first place to stay and won the pennant by 15½ games. The team batting average was .305 with Walker winning the league bat title.

    In the Junior World Series against Donie Bush’s Minneapolis club, the Bears trailed two games to one as the series moved to the Millers’ cozy Nicollet Park. The Bears then bounced back to win three straight as Owen hit a towering home run to win the final contest, 8-7.

    In 1933, the Bears finished first again, winning 102 games with a club that featured Rolfe, Myril (Duke) Hoag, Hargreaves, Neun, minor league great George Puccinelli, Weaver (25-1 1), Jimmy DeShong (16-10), Jablonowski and Johnny Murphy.

    Lanky Bob Shawkey, former Yankee pitcher and manager, took over as manager from Mamaux in 1934 and won the International League pennant with some good pitching. Dale Alexander, American League batting champ in 1932, played first base, and ball-playing dentist Dr. Eddie Farrell was at third. Also on this club were Ernie Koy, Joe Glenn, Selkirk, Neun, Jesse Hill, who also was a regular on the 1932 team; Vito Tamulis, Walt (Jumbo) Brown, the biggest man in baseball who then weighed some 275 poinds.

    The great 1937 team, managed by Oscar Vitt, won the league championship with a 109-43 record. Of the 17 regular players, 16 made it into the big leagues, including nine the next year.

    The Bears’ infield featured flashy George McQuinn, who would make it big with the St. Louis Browns and Yankees, at first base; Joe Gordon, who became a standout with the Yankees, at second; Babe Dahlgren, who is remembered as the man who replaced Lou Gehrig, at third and Nolen Richardson, a superb fielding shortstop.

    Outfielders included Charlie Keller, who was right off the University of Maryland campus and led the league in batting; future Chicago Cubs player Jim Gleeson, a switch-hitter; and Bob (Suitcase) Seeds, who went from the Bears to the Giants.

     Catchers were Willard Hershberger, who would take his own life  in 1940 in a Boston hotel room while a member of the Cincinnati Reds; and Warren (Buddy) Rosar, who would play for over a dozen years in the major leagues.

     The bulk of the pitching staff consisted of youngsters with little pro experience. The most successful were hard-throwing Atley Donald (19-2), Joe Beggs (21-4), Steve Sundra (15-4) and Vito Tamulis (18-6), who had hurled for the 1934 team.

     Opening the season in Ruppert Stadium, the Bears won their first five games. Toronto also got off to a good start and the two teams took turns sharing the lead until May 16, when Newark moved ahead to stay.  By June 10, Newark had a 35-1 1 record and a 7½ game lead. The Bears: lead increased as Donald won his first 14 decisions and seven teammates were hitting over the .300 mark. At the conclusion of league play, Newark finished first by a 25½ game margin.

     Newark then swept through the post-season playoffs in eight straight games and moved into the Junior World Series against the American Association champion Columbus team, pride of the far-flung St. Louis Cardinals farm system. Columbus was loaded with such talent as Enos Slaughter, Dick Siebert, Johnny Rizzo, Max Macon, Morton Cooper and Max Lanier.

     The series opened in Newark and the Red Birds won the first three games, setting the stage for an unbelievable comeback. The series moved to Columbus and Beggs got the Bears back on the winning track with an 8-1 win. In the fifth game, Donald pitched a three-hitter, winning, 1-0. Spud Chandler, who had been sent to Newark by the Yankees to nurse a sore arm, had his fastball humming in game six and the Bears rapped out 14 hits to score a 14-1 triumph.

     In the finale, Gleeson hit a 400-foot home run and Phil Page allowed only three hits after relieving Beggs in the fourth inning, to highlight a 10-4 victory. A story book season had come to an end.

     The 1938 Newark Team, managed by Neun, dominated the league to such an extent that a Buffalo newspaper refused to publish the Bears’ record in the standing of teams and labeled their contests merely exhibitions. Some of the players on this club were Gleeson, Seeds and Keller, outfielders on the 1937 team; first baseman Les Scarsella, Pinky May, Mickey Witek, Buddy Rosar, who won the league batting title; Mike Chartak and pitchers Atley Donald, Marius Russo, Red Haley, Nick Strincevich and Lee Stine.

    This club possessed unusual hitting ability and had a team batting: average of .303. It would have probably been rated right up there with the 1937 and 1932 teams if it hadn’t been upset in the Junior World Series by Kansas City, another Yankee farm club.

    On May 6, Seeds, showing awesome power, hit four consecutive home runs in four consecutive innings. One was with the bases loaded.  The next day, Seeds slammed three more home runs. In the two games, Suitcase Bob went to bat officially 10 times and hit seven home runs, two singles, scored eight times and had 1 7 runs batted in.

    Seeds was sold to the New York Giants in late June after amassing 96 runs batted in and 75 runs scored in 59 games. By July 1, the Bears had a 47-19 record and 10½ game lead. The team coasted to an 104-48 record in 1938, 18 games ahead of the pack.

    Ruppert died in January, 1939 and the greatness of the Newark clubs passed on with him. Kansas City became more prominent in the Yankee minor league system. Following the 1950 season, the franchise was moved to Springfield, Mass. One wonders how the Bears of the 1930’s, with all that stockpiled talent that couldn’t break into the Yankee lineup, would fare in the big leagues today.

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