When the Yankees came to Bermuda

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This article by Don Burgess appeared in Bermuda’s Sun.

Imagine Bermuda as a spring training mecca for Major League Baseball.

While most teams now dash off to Florida and Arizona, in March 1913 the New York Yankees trained in Bermuda and played nine games against the International League’s New Jersey Skeeters.

And what’s more, the club was trying to make the island its permanent spring home as well as hook up the Brooklyn Dodgers to come here.

Perhaps, if things had gone better for baseball’s most successful team in 1913, Bermuda’s history would have been changed.

While some may know that the Yankees were the first major league team to train outside the US when it played here in 1913, there’s a lot more to the story.

In December 1912 New York Yankees owner Arthur Irwin and trainer Charles “Doc” Barrett came to Bermuda to scout it as a training destination for the club.

The New Jersey Skeeters had trained in Bermuda in 1912 at the Hamilton Cricket Grounds — basically what we call Bernard Park today.

Irwin looked at the facility and toyed with the idea of bringing in portable housing, but later secured hotel facilities at the Brunswick and the Oleanders, both 10 minutes from the park.

Barrett told the Gazette Times Bermuda is “an ideal place to train. If this is a sample of the weather. Why you could cut your pitchers loose here, if necessary, without it being afraid of a bad break in the weather to stiffen up their arms. If it’s like this in March, I don’t see how the place can be beaten.”

The paper called the hotels “A regular Garden of Eden” with “their semi-tropical surroundings and well-equipped with airy sleeping rooms and baths and modern improvements generally. The surroundings are delightful and in an adjoining garden banana trees are growing to say nothing of grassy reaches, a flowering vegetation and shady vistas, a fairlyland in fact.

In February manager Frank Chance and management arrived in Bermuda to set up for the rest of the Yankees to follow.

The Hamilton Cricket Grounds was big enough to house two diamonds without causing problems for either the Yankees or the Skeeters.

By the first week in March the entire team was in Bermuda.

According to the New York Times Chance told Barrett: “You have this gang in bed every night at 11:30pm, and see that they stay there.”

After each day’s workout, the manager ran the players around the outside of the Hamilton Cricket Field three times, a distance of over a mile, and “then they jog easily back to their hotel”.

On March 4, the NY Times said the weather was so good that the pitchers were reported to be in “mid-season form” and that Chance had to caution the position players not to over-exert themselves.

By March 10 things were going so well that the Yankees were scouring Bermuda for a location to put up their own baseball field.

The El Paso Times reported: “It is more than probable that Bermuda will be the Yankees permanent spring training headquarters. Although it is a bit early to figure on what weather the future may hold or how it may affect the players, the conditions to date have been so propitious that a continuance of the same would undoubtedly bring this about.”

‘Superior conditions’

“Business manager Arthur Irwin and manager Chance are delighted with the place and the players share their views. The conditions are so much superior to those met in the South that there appears to be only one choice.

“It is also probable that other clubs may seek to come here for the present experiment is being watched closely by them. One club planned to send its pitchers this spring and would have done so could they have found a suitable training ground.”

By March 17 The NY Times said the Skeeters had locked up the Hamilton Cricket Grounds for 1914-15 “and it is understood that he has an arrangement with president Farrell of the Yankees to share the use of the field with the New York club”

The Times added on March 31 that an announcement would be made in the “near future” about the Yankees new home in Bermuda.

Manager Chance told the Times: “I am greatly encouraged by the showing of the players in Bermuda… work under the hot sun in Bermuda gets a player in condition very rapidly”

The team sailed back to New York on April 1 and the rumours continued to fly about Bermuda.

By the end of April the El Paso Herald headlined “Dodgers may try Bermuda next season. Islanders enthusiastic over the national game of the United States and exhibition games will draw big gate receipts.

“New York will return to Bermuda next year. One other major league club is likely to go there. Charles H. Ebbets, the Brooklyn magnate, believes a visit would not only be beneficial but financially successful as well.

“The clubs are booked to battle next year at the new Farrell Field (in Bermuda). Charley is not adverse to grabbing off all the money he can and sees a nice little pot of it in Bermuda.

“It would be easy enough for two or three big league teams to find accommodations on the coral isle. Business manager Irvin discovered a real big field at Somerset. This town is 12 miles across the bay from Hamilton and within easy driving distance. There is another field at the navy yards where the blue jackets decide their soccer or cricket arguments.”

So everything seemed a go for 1914 with not only the Yankees and the Skeeters returning, but bringing along the Dodgers for the new field in Somerset, so what happened?

Basically, the Yankees pitching staff started to tank and they needed a scapegoat and Bermuda was to blame.

The Oswego Palladium on May 25 reported “The New York Americans will not train in Bermuda.” Farrell said that manager Chance had reached the conclusion the extremely warm weather and the dampness in Bermuda had caused a reaction when the players began preparations in the cold climate in US.

He explained Chance would give no other reason why his pitchers have been suffering from lame arms and backs ever since the opening of the season.

So instead of luring other teams to the island, the Yankees went off to Houston and what could have been a love affair between baseball and Bermuda can now only be dreamed about.

For the original report go to http://www.bermudasun.bm/Content/SPORTS/Sports/Article/When-the-Yankees-came-to-Bermuda/8/203/65003

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