When Jeff Bagwell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday (July 30th), it provided more justification to the placement of a plaque in his honor at Yale Field more than 20 years earlier.
As most of those who have been to that legendary ballpark in West Haven have probably noticed, the concourse area under the stands is bedecked with what, for better words, is Yale Field’s “Wall of Fame.”
On the wall are plaques honoring some of the countless baseball notables who, over the years, have been on those grounds as players or, as in the case of Bart Giamatti, have made significant contributions to the game.
These signs resemble baseballs, depicting their familiar stitching, and each is imprinted with a name and a year in which that person appeared at Yale Field. Among those so recognized are at least three who made it to Cooperstown, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.
The number has now increased by one.
The plaques were first nailed to the wall during the early tenure of the New Haven Ravens in 1993, who used the field as their home park. Someone had the foresight to include a Jeff Bagwell sign, without imagining that Jeff would one day in 2017 be awarded a different kind of plaque symbolizing induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Long before his Major League career, Bagwell was a college sensation at the University of Hartford, where he starred for three seasons. Then he passed up his senior year to turn pro. This writer unearthed the fact that during his time at Hartford he played in two doubleheaders at Yale Field, once in 1987 and again a year later.
Yale and Hartford have been playing each other, usually in the cold of March or early April, for many years, prior to the beginning of their respective conference seasons. But in those two years, the Hawks included a superstar in the making.
I thought it would be interesting to research how Bagwell performed in those four games in West Haven. The short answer is “very well.”
March 28, 1987
Bagwell’s first appearance at Yale Field was with a slumping Univ. of Hartford team during his freshman year. The Hawks, coached by Bill Denehy, had just returned from a dismal Florida trip with a 1-7 record. They faced a good Yale team that had won 12 out of 15 games, all on the road, under Shelton’s Joe Benanto.
Although Hartford dropped both games in the doubleheader, 5-4 and 10-5, it was through no fault of Bagwell, who was sporting a .450 batting average. The young third baseman went a combined four for seven, including two doubles.
March 27, 1988
Before the teams met the following season Benanto told the Yale Daily News “Hartford is the top-rated team in New England. They were all anyone was talking about when we were down south.”
By then the Hawks were coached by Dan Gooley, who had come over from Quinnipiac.
Yale got a pair of runs in the first inning of the opener, but Hartford came back with eight in the second. The rally included Bagwell’s three-run blast. Those eight tallies were all that Hartford would get, and they were just enough for an 8-7 win. The Bulldogs loaded the bases in the seventh only to have the Hawks pull off a game ending double play.
Yale won the second game, 7-3. One of the losers’ runs was Bagwell’s second home run of the day, a solo shot in the fifth against Yale pitcher Mike Farrell. Jeff also had another hit in the game.
One more meeting, but not a Yale Field, in 1989
Contrary to the imprint on the plaque at Yale Field, Bagwell did not play there in 1989, but the teams did meet at Ray McKenna Field in East Hartford. For the record, Yale took a 4-0 first inning lead and the Hawks broke a 7-7 tie with three in the bottom of the sixth en route to a 10-7 victory. The decisive inning started with a walk to Bagwell, followed by a hit batter, a sac bunt, and a three-run homer off the bat of Joe Bellino, the DH from Waterbury. In addition to the run he scored that day, Jeff had a pair of hits and two RBI’s in his final game against Yale.
The Bagwell Legacy
Jeff Bagwell showed potential greatness in his five games against Yale, four of which were at Yale Field. In his honor, a plaque still hangs in its concourse on the “Wall of Fame.” It’s a simple sign, not nearly as elaborate as the plaque he was presented with at the Hall of Fame ceremonies last week. But it recognizes a player who, by his collegiate accomplishments there, has solidified the designation of “Historic” Yale Field.