Hunting Bears

The 1937 Newark Bears

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a few nice finds when it comes to historical New Jersey baseball. This Newark Bears team photo was discovered when I decided to click on one of those promotional e-mails I usually just delete. It was for a discount in the Historic Images store, and when I searched for “Newark,” this popped up titled simply, “Newark Bears team photo.”

It was less than $10, so I bought it to add to my collection of former news photos of Garden State teams and players. I do not think it’s a vintage photo, however. The condition of the paper is too good, the back is blank and the markings on the front do not feel like they were drawn on — they feel like part of the photo, so this is likely a reprint of a scan. That’s OK, because the image quality is still excellent. Not having any notations on the back is a loss, however, because that would probably have at least noted the year it was taken, if not identified everyone in the photo.

Still, I wanted to try to find out which Bears team this was, and after not matching any faces to other photos I have of old Newark teams and players in my collection, I turned to Baseball In Newark from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of Baseball series. There, appropriately on p. 37, is the 1937 Newark Bears:

1937 Newark Bears (Baseball In Newark)

And the caption identifies three people easily spotted in my photo: trainer Jimmie Mack, manager Oscar Vitt and outfielder Bob Seeds. Mack, obviously, is the man in slacks and a shirt, but his tenure in Newark lasted from the mid-1930s into the ’40s, so his presence was of little help. But Vitt and Seeds made it easy to pinpoint the year. Vitt in my photo is standing in the center, behind the player with his hands on the shoulders of the teammate sitting on the grass. In the Baseball In Newark photo, Ossie Vitt is seated front row center, his head cocked and a wide smile on his face. Seeds’ distinct face and protruding ears make him easily identified in my photo, seated second from right, and in the published photo standing in the back, the fourth player from the right.

Because Vitt managed the Bears only in 1936 and ’37 and Seeds played in Newark only in ’37 and ’38, their presence in my photo pegs the year and the club as one of the greatest minor league teams in history. Just look at this roster: Nearly all of the players went on to the Major Leagues. The Bears won 109 regular-season games (losing just 43) and swept both Syracuse and Baltimore in the International League playoffs (so that’s 117 wins).

In the “Junior World Series,” against the Columbus Redbirds of the American Association, Newark decided to make it exciting. The Bears fell behind in the series, 3-0, before winning the final four games. That adds up to an overall 1937 record of 121-46, a .725 winning percentage. The Bears won nearly three out of every four games they played. Or think of it this way: If a team played one game a day, seven days a week, for six months, winning every weekday game and losing every Saturday and Sunday contest, its winning percentage would be .714 — or precisely what the 1998 Yankees did in going 125-75 (including the postseason). These Bears dominated their competition a touch more, though over fewer games. Still, what a feat.

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