Holy Cross Celebrates Fitton Field's 100th Anniversary

April 19, 2005

By Brianne Mallaghan
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Holy Cross has one of the most storied programs in the history of any New England collegiate baseball team. In its 118 years, the Holy Cross baseball program has produced more than 1,600 wins, 121 Major League players and 81 Holy Cross Hall of Famers. The program has also been a part of 11 NCAA Tournaments, four ECAC Tournaments and two Patriot League Tournaments. In addition, Holy Cross has won 11 Eastern Intercollegiate Championships, one MAAC Championship, one New England Championship and one National Championship.

This year, the Holy Cross baseball program will add another milestone to its resume when the school celebrates the 100th anniversary of Fitton Field.

Father Fitton, for whom the field was named, was born on April 10, 1805 and ordained a Catholic priest in 1827. Born and raised in Boston, he purchased land in the name of the church in 1840 upon which he founded the Seminary of Mount St. James. In 1842, Father Fitton deeded the land to Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, who founded the College of the Holy Cross in 1843.

Holy Cross student-athletes began playing competitive baseball in 1876, but it was not until mid April in 1905 that the Crusaders played their first game at Fitton Field. Prior to that, the Purple and White played their home contests at both Driving Park and the Worcester Oval.

 

Fitton Field in 1905

 

Captained by James J. Spring, the 1905 squad, which was the first to step foot on Fitton Field, was coached by Thomas McCarthy. In total, McCarthy served as the head coach of Holy Cross for five seasons; 1899-1900, 1904-1905 and 1916. He amassed a 77-36-4 (.675) record and stands as the seventh winningest coach (by percentage) in HC baseball history. On Wednesday, April 19, 1905, McCarthy led the Crusaders, who were 3-1 at the time, to an 8-5 victory over Brown University in front of 6,200 people in the first ever game played at Fitton Field. The two teams combined for three doubles, two triples, seven stolen bases, 10 errors, 13 strikeouts and 16 hits in two hour and 10 minute game, which fell on Patriot's Day.

In 1905, Holy Cross went 9-6 at Fitton Field and finished 15-10 overall, despite outscoring its opponents, 186-107. Since then, there have been eight perfect seasons at Fitton Field (1920, 1923, 1924, 1935, 1943, 1952, 1953, 1960) and one undefeated season overall (1924; 18-0).

The letterwinners on the 1905 team included Spring, William Carrigan, George Cashen, Walter Loftus, Edward Hogerty, Francis Cahill, James Ennis, Herbert O'Drain, John Flynn, John Hoey, John O'Rourke, James Mansfield and the legendary Jack Barry. Barry, who went on to coach Holy Cross for 40 seasons (1921-1960) still stands as the winningest coach in Holy Cross athletics history (616-150-6).

 

Babe Ruth with Jack Barry at Fitton Field

 

Considered one of the finest grass fields in the northeast, Fitton has played host to some of the most memorable contests in New England college baseball history. Over the years, thousands have flocked to Fitton Field to watch the Crusaders match-up with other top teams around the region.

The Holy Cross-Boston College series, which began in 1890, has attracted some of the largest crowds New England college baseball has ever seen. On May 30, 1923, more than 22,000 fans surrounded Fitton Field to witness Crusader ace Owen Carroll hurl a five-hitter and lead HC to a 5-2 victory over BC. One year later, Carroll pitched a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts as Holy Cross edged the Eagles, 3-1 in front of 20,000 people. In 1925, a crowd of 25,000 packed Fitton to watch Carroll's final meeting with BC, a 2-1 victory for the Purple and White. And twenty-seven years later, in a springboard to its national championship, Holy Cross overwhelmed BC, 13-3, at Fitton in its final regular season game of the 1952 season. With the win, the Crusaders earned their first trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where they went on to defeat Missouri on back-to-back days to win their first ever national title.

On June 4, 1934, Fitton Field was the site of Holy Cross' 5-4 win over Casey Stengal's Brooklyn Dodgers, and just five years later, a rookie on the Boston Red Sox roster named Ted Williams hit his first home run in a Boston uniform, helping the Red Sox to a 14-2 win in an exhibition game over the Crusaders. In 1991, Fitton Field played host to the ECAC Baseball Championship, where Delaware earned a berth into the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

 

Ted Williams' first homer with the Red Sox

 

In its 100 year history, Fitton Field has seen the likes of many notable players, but none more recognized than professional Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Williams.

On June 9, 1922, Gehrig played at Fitton Field as a sophomore on the Columbia University baseball team. Holy Cross won that game, 8-5 on its way to a 24-5 overall record, but Gehrig's career was just beginning. Enshrined in Cooperstown in 1939, Gehrig led the American League in home runs three times, runs four times and RBI five times. The 1934 Triple Crown winner and 1936 A.L. MVP, Gehrig won six World Series in a 13-season span in the majors. Also known as the `Iron Horse,' Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, now second to Cal Ripken, Jr.

Ruth played at Fitton Field on April 15, 1935 in his only season with the Boston Braves towards the end of his career. At age 40, he helped the Braves to a 5-2 win over the Crusaders in an exhibition game, just one month before he retired from the game in late May, 1935. Holy Cross went on to have one of its best seasons in history, going 22-1, with a 14-0 record at home. At the same time, Ruth was wrapping up an illustrious career, which saw 2,873 hits, 2,213 RBI, 714 home runs and a .690 slugging percentage. After 22 seasons in the majors, Ruth, who was affectionately known as the `Great Bambino,' and the `Sultan of Swat,' was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

 

Drawing of Fitton Field following current renovations

 

A 1966 Cooperstown inductee, Williams played at Fitton Field during his rookie campaign with the Red Sox in 1939. Arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived, Williams played 19 seasons with Boston and was the last player to ever bat over .400 (1941). `Teddy Ballgame' was a 17-time All-Star and the A.L. MVP in 1946 and 1949. He also won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1946.

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett also has ties to Holy Cross and Fitton Field. Burkett coached the Crusaders for four seasons (1898, 1917-20) and amassed a 100-20-1 record (.831), which is tops in HC baseball history (by percentage).

This year, Holy Cross is playing in its 118th season of collegiate baseball, and while the complex is being renovated after 100 years of wear and tear, it is still the field that Fitton built. It is still the field that some of the best players in the history of the game played on. It is still the home of the Crusaders.