6/4/2020 - Phillies Minor League History - The Utica Braves, Blue Sox
Time Period - 1943 to 1950 & 1986 to 1987
Venues : Ambrose McConnell Field & Donovan Stadium
City : Utica, NY
Franchise History :
The Utica Braves began play in 1939 when Ambrose McConnell purchased the Auburn Bouleys franchise in the class C Can-Am League and moved the club to Utica. They initially were affiliated with the Boston Braves before switching affiliations to the Detroit Tigers in 1941 and the Springfield Rifles in 1942.
The Phillies became the affiliate in 1943, the team moved to the class A Eastern League and in 1944 the club was renamed the Blue Sox. The Phillies actually purchased the club but disbanded the franchise after the 1950 season.
The expansion Toronto Blue Jays resurrected the Utica Blue Sox name in 1977 introducing a short season team in the New York Penn League and played in Utica thru the 1980 season.
The Blue Sox played as an independent team in the NYP league from 1981 to 1985 and was owned by a group that included comedian Bill Murray. In 1986 the Phillies returned for a two year affiliation with the White Sox taking over from 1988 to 1992, the Red Sox from 1993 to 1995 and the Florida Marlins from 1996 to 2001.
After the 2001 season the team’s home field, Donovan Ballpark, was in need of significant repairs and renovations in order to continue in the New York Penn League ... instead the Ripken Professional Baseball Association led by Cal Ripken Jr purchased the franchise and moved it to Aberdeen, MD where it became the Aberdeen Iron Birds.
The Stadiums the Phillies played in :
1943 to 1950 : Ambrose McConnell Field :
The ballpark was built in 1937 and was originally named Braves Field. It was constructed almost entirely of wood and without amenities for fans or players. It was the innovation of one time major leaguer Ambrose McConnell who built it as a reprieve from the worries of war. Initially the semi pro Utica Braves played there, they then became a full fledged pro team and played in the Can-Am League. When McConnell died in 1942 the field was renamed after him, his wife Frances and their daughter Irene O’Shea took over as General Managers of the franchise ... they sold the ballpark and team to the Phillies in 1944.
In an article from the Observer-Dispatch written by Malio Cardarelli on July 17, 2012 he stated the following : “It was a time when ball retrievers were stationed throughout the parking lot and around the outer perimeter of the stadium to intercept foul balls and home runs before fans could get them, a far cry from dozens of balls given to fans today at each game played in the majors. Even when someone could retrieve a ball at McConnell Field, it was customary to exchange it for a grandstand seat at a future game.
Double headers were commonly scheduled as a regular attraction not just something to make up for a postponed game. The bleachers on both the first and third base lines were usually filled with youngsters, while the grandstand, covered with a frame roof, was occupied mostly by adults willing to pay the 50-cent admission.
There were few concession stands, mostly selling hot dogs and soft drinks, each for 10 cents. Beer, of course, was available with Utica Club and Beverwick being the best remembered.”
The ballpark was located off the New York State Thruway ( I-90 ) on the Mohawk River. It’s maximum seating capacity was 5,500 with dimensions originally in 1939 L to R 400-485-395 that were adjusted to 390-500-400 in 1950
The park was demolished in the 1950s to make a NYS Thruway Exit.
1986 to 1987 : Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field :
The site was originally used for high school sports. It was named for Charles F. Murnane, a coach and athletic director in Utica high schools, who died in 1939. In 1967 a movement began to remodel the field with State Senator James Donovan and the Utica Free Academy Student Council spearheading the effort to add a grandstand. The updated ballpark opened in 1976 with a seating capacity of 4,000. In 1991 the park was renamed for Donovan after he had passed away the previous year.
The RF fence was originally over 20 feet high, Utica's version of the green monster with field dimensions of 330 - left field, 400 - center and 290 to right.
The ballpark is the current home of the amauter Utica Blue Sox who play in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League and is also used for American Legion Baseball.
The Seasons :
Eastern League ... Manager: Wally Schang ... 37-101, 8th place ... Attendance: 50,058.
53 year old Manager Wally Schang also played in 18 games and went 5 for 29 at the plate. Four players on the roster saw playing time in the major leagues.
Eastern League ... Manager: Eddie Sawyer ... 69-69, 3rd place ... Attendance: 86,802.
26 year old LHP Wilbur Reeser won 15 games while 20 year old second baseman Tony Daniels posted a .290 batting average in 458 AB’s. Daniels was one of 8 players on the roster that would play or had played in the major leagues.
Eastern League ... Manager: Eddie Sawyer ... 83-52, 1st place ... Attendance: 99,731.
Lost in the playoffs to the Albany Senators 4 games to 2.
18 year old Richie Ashburn made his pro debut and posted a .312 batting average in 356 AB’s ... manager Eddie Sawyer converted him from a catcher to center fielder to take advantage of his speed ... smart move 🤓. Another 18 year old, SS Granny Hamner also made his pro debut. Eleven players on the roster including Ashburn and Hamner previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
Eastern League ... Manager: Eddie Sawyer ... 59-80, 7th place ... Attendance: 93,822.
Eight players on the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
Eastern League ... Manager: Eddie Sawyer ... 90-48, 1st place ... Attendance: 116,785.
Won the League Championship defeating the Wilkes-Barre Barons 4 games to 2
20 year old Richie Ashburn returned to Utica after serving in the military and hit .362 in 536 AB’s ... that was second best in the league. He led the league with 194 hits, 20 year old SS Granny Hamner also returned to Utica and was second in the league with 177 hits. 22 year old third baseman James Ackeret led the loop in doubles with 40. 21 year old Catcher Stan Lopata hit .325 in 375 AB’s. 21 year old LHP Dick Koecher posted a 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA in 36 games ( 198 IP ).
Twelve members of the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
Eastern League ... Managers : Dick Porter & Pat Colgan ... 83-56, 3rd place ... Attendance: 118,695 ... Lost in the playoffs to the Scranton Red Sox 4 games to 1.
25 year old RHP Arthur Hartley posted a 17-10 record with a 2.64 ERA in 215 IP ( 33 games ) and 26 year old RHP Max Peterson went 18-10 with a 2.03 ERA in 213 IP ( 29 games ) , Peterson led the league in ERA, it was his best year as a professional - later he advanced to the AAA level but retired after the 1954 season. 22 year old third baseman Willie “Puddin Head” Jones appeared in 26 games before being promoted to Triple A, he would later play 17 games that season with the Phillies.
Ten members of the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
Eastern League ... Manager: Pat Colgan ... 51-89, 8th place ... Attendance: 72,689.
Eight members of the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
Eastern League ... Manager: Lee Riley ... 64-73, 5th place ... Attendance: 57,139.
25 year old outfielder Mel Clark hit .325 in 352 AB’s ... that was second best in the league.
Five members of the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.
New York Penn League ... Manager: Tony Taylor . . . 26-52, 4th place ( Yawkey Division) .. . Attendance: 29,950.
19 year old RHP Scott Service posted a 2.67 ERA in 10 games ( 70 2/3 IP ) and 18 year old LHP Chuck McElroy posted a 2.95 ERA in 14 games ( 94 2/3 IP ).
Four members of the roster would go on to play Major League Baseball.
New York Penn League ... Manager: Tony Taylor ... 31-43, 5th place ( East Division) .. . Attendance: 51,435.
19 year old RHP Andy Ashby appeared in 13 games and 18 year old infielder Kim Batiste made his pro debut playing in 46 games.
Seven members of the roster previously played or would play Major League Baseball.