Hartford Kid Struck Out 25, But Never Got Chance At The Majors

"Schoolboy" Johnny Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, from 1950. (Courtesy of Estelle Taylor)

The Courant headline across the top of the sports section read: "Johnny Taylor, Bulkeley Ace, Gives Up One Hit And Strikes Out 25".

Yes, 25.

On June 2, 1933, Taylor, pitching in his final high school game, set the Connecticut record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

His achievement might well be a national high school record, too, because there's no definitive high school record book for nine-inning games. Regulation high school games, since the mid-1980s in many states, including Connecticut, have been seven innings.

Taylor would later pitch in the Negro League for many years, but he never made it to the majors, where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Taylor wasn't bitter at not being afforded an opportunity to play in the majors because of racial prejudice. He said it wasn't his time and that he was content knowing he helped pave the way for blacks to play in the majors.

"In 1933, a scout for the New York Yankees read clippings on me and came up to Hartford to see me pitch," Taylor told George Smith in a story published in The Courant in 1976. "He didn't know I was black.

"I've heard about and been asked many times about being born too soon. What can you do? You can't live in the past. I've always taken things as they come ... I like to think that what we did in the 1930s and '40s by barnstorming with white teams paved the way for the next generation."

Taylor's memorable game, a 13-4 Bulkeley victory, started with his first pitch at 4:30 p.m. on a cool, 59-degree day at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford.

That New Britain scored four runs was because of his wildness. He walked nine, threw three wild pitches and hit one batter.

Taylor's fastball was overpowering. The Golden Hurricanes were overwhelmed. And curves from the slender righthander were a formidable task for Bulkeley's catcher to corral.

According to The Courant of June 3, the curves "were breaking with a vicious zip and "Sonny" Carroll, working behind the plate, had a strenuous afternoon trying to stop his slants."

The Courant wrote the "whip-armed Jackson" went on to break his own record of 19 strikeouts.

Chuck Wojack's single in the seventh was the only hit by New Britain. Other than that, Taylor, who also was 3-for-3 at the plate, was dominant. And this happened as a senior in his first varsity season after being a high jumper and pole vaulter on the track team in his previous springs.

Twenty three years later Steve Dalkowski of New Britain approached Taylor's strikeout record with 24 against New London in 1956.

So Taylor remains No. 1 in state history.

After leaving Bulkeley, "Jackson" Taylor, as the newspapers called him, gained a new nickname. It was "Schoolboy" because he started playing in the Negro League at 19. He had an impressive career with the New York Cubans, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords and Homestead Grays, and in the Mexican and Cuban leagues in 1935-1945.

On May 9, 1937, pitching for the Savitt Gems, Taylor and Will Jackman of the Philadelphia Colored Giants hooked up in a 20-inning duel before 3,400. Back then newspapers had multiple headlines and headline decks. The main headline in The Courant of May 10: "Campion's Home Run Climaxes 20-Inning Pitching Duel Between Taylor, Jackman." The two-deck headline under it: "Johnny Fans 22 Batters In Marathon Ball Game." The three-deck headline under that: Gems' Ace Turns In Brilliant Performance To Gain Third Successive Victory In Beating Philadelphia Colored Giants; Will Meet Next Sunday."

Amazing for multiple reasons, two of which are pitchers today can't even make it through nine innings and the 20 innings took 4 hours, 15 minutes, which seems to be the amount of time it takes the Yankees and Red Sox to play nine innings against each other.

Later that season pitching for the Negro National League All-Stars, he pitched a no-hitter against Satchel Paige and his all-stars, winning 2-0 Sept. 23, 1937, before 20,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Taylor's wife, Estelle, is 93 and lives in a retirement community in Bloomfield.

"My daughter Maureen, who lives outside Philadelphia, has saved most of the baseball mementos," said Estelle. "But that baseball, the Satchel Paige game, we don't have. We don't know what happened to it."

Estelle, who married Taylor in 1944, said he was very modest about his baseball deeds.

"He'd mostly let others do the talking," she said. "He'd be happy just to listen to them."

The pride of Taylor's accomplishments in baseball and for his family remain vibrant with Estelle, son John III and daughters Lynnette, Maureen and Kathy, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

"He didn't hide his God-given talent," Estelle said. "He let his light shine in many places. He helped others, his son and daughters, friends, coaching them and showing them things about baseball and life."

During Taylor's baseball career he pitched eight no-hitters, but none in the majors. He was 7-7 with the Hartford Chiefs in 1949, but at 33 neither the Boston Braves — the Chiefs' parent team — nor any other team — brought him to the big leagues.

Taylor died in 1987, Owen Canfield writing in The Courant that "the late Babe Allen, coach for 38 years at Bulkeley High, used to brag without letup about the monumental talents of Johnny Taylor. Bill Savitt, who sponsored the old Savitt Gems, can still talk for hours about the ace of his staff. He is the name you hear more than any other when old-timers assemble to talk of Hartford's baseball past."

Taylor's baseball idol was Josh Gibson, who played in the Negro leagues and who many consider the greatest catcher in baseball history. While Taylor batted .428 in his only season at Bulkeley and also hit the longest homer by a scholastic player at Bulkeley Stadium, he was renowned more for his pitching.

Biographer Jon Daly wrote on the SABR Baseball biography project that John Arthur Taylor Jr. was born in Hartford to John and Etta Taylor on Feb. 4, 1916. Daly said Johnny's father was a lather in the building trades. Johnny grew up in the South End on Douglas Street, a predominantly white area at the time. Lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and boxer Willie Pep, younger than Johnny by a few years, grew up in the same area.

Taylor had so many great moments in the game, but his time in Connecticut scholastic baseball history happened on June 2, 1933 when he towered on the mound.

"I played shortstop, and the ball never came my way," Whitey Piurek told The Courant in 1997. "I told John to let the team hit it once in a while to keep us awake."