Society's event features Muzzy Field's history
By BILL SARNO, The Bristol Press
BRISTOL -- The site of the Bristol Historical Society's annual dinner was Nuchie's restaurant in Forestville, but for a few minutes Tuesday evening the more than 120 people present were transported verbally to Muzzy Field in September 1919.
The featured speaker of the evening was Doug Malan, who is writing a book about the history of the city's venerable ball park. Much of the former ESPN production assistant's research is taking place at the historical society's headquarters and involves its collection of bound volumes of The Bristol Press.
Malan, who currently writes for a Connecticut magazine, focused his talk on the weekend nearly 96 years ago when downtown Bristol, particularly Muzzy Field, was the "epicenter of activity" as the site of New Departure's annual party and barbecue and a baseball game between the then-World Champion Boston Red Sox, featuring home run champion Babe Ruth, and the New Departure baseball team.
Society President Frank Johnson said that Malan's work is an asset to the city organization and that the society's resources and the pages of The Bristol Press are an asset to writer's research.
The society is excited about the book project, Johnson said, and plans to sell the volume at its headquarters and have book signings by Malan.
In his talk, Malan described the preparations New Departure, the city's major manufacturer at that time, made for the 1919 barbecue, which took place shortly after World War I ended and was attended by 4,300 people, including workers from the company's Bristol and West Hartford plants. "It rivaled the giant barbecues of the South at that time," he said.
New Departure, he said, had 176 spring lambs shipped from Chicago and the smoking pits were a quarter-mile long.
The day's events included track events, a greased pig contest and sack races in the morning at Muzzy Field before the throng moved to other grounds where 250 servers were present to dish out the food.
That afternoon there was musical entertainment by the ND band as well as boxing and wrestling matches, Malan said. "It was the party of its times," he said.
New Departure leader DeWitt Page was very supportive of sports, Malan said, and the company employed several talented ballplayers. The ND team, led by Swat McCabe, Les Lanning and Clyde Waters, had won the state championship by defeating an East Hartford team.
The Red Sox boasted future Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and much of the pre-game publicity in The Press was about Stuffy McInnis and Everett Scott of the Boston team, Malan said. The team also included Joe Wilhoit (left), who set the professional baseball hitting streak record, 69 games, that year at Wichita in the Class A Western League.
However, Bristol baseball fans were primarily interested in seeing if Babe Ruth, then 24, could hit the ball out of the park. Muzzy's dimensions at that time were a spacious 388 feet down the left-field line, 441 feet in center field and 322 down the right-field line.
"Not too many balls flew out of the park," the writer said.
About 5,000-6,000 people crowded the Muzzy stands for the Sunday game, Malan said, with Ruth hitting four home runs in that morning's battling practice.
During the game, Ruth blasted a pitch over the right-field wall, Malan said, to give his team a 4-0 lead en route to a 6-2 victory over the home team.
Legend has it, said Malan, that Ruth's home run landed in the Pequabuck River.
"Ruth's game at Muzzy Field was one of his last in the Red Sox uniform," he said.
The next day, the Babe hit his 29th home run of the year against the Yankees to set the Major League record. The next season he would be playing for the New York team.