Sports Meets Tradition
Many Americans take pride in their country. Many more celebrate the holidays that encourage our patriotism. But few have what it takes to truly devote themselves to rallying the people into love for their homeland. Back in the early 20th century, 12 men stepped forward to take up this banner, combining our national pastime with one of our nation's oldest and most highly regarded traditions. These men were the 1931 New England Britkickers, a baseball team from Connecticut that captured the American competetive spirit for just one year.
In August of 1930 at a National Kick a Brit in the Nuts Day party, Roger Stanley Crenbau, an upper class Connecticut man with a great love for baseball, drunkenly missed the brit mannequin hanging from his 2nd story deck and fell. He shattered his kneecap and fractured his leg, but refused to go to the hospital until his family held him up long enough to deliver a booted foot to the british mannequin crotch. Eventually receiving medical attention, he was out of commission for the rest of the summer and most of the winter. When February eventually rolled around and baseball season loomed ahead, Crenbau had already learned that he would not be able to play this year or any other, due to his reliance on a cane. Not to be discouraged from participating somehow in his favorite sport, Crenbau campaigned to form his own baseball team in the Atlantic Gentlemen's League. Crenbau was a very influential man and had been a skilled player, and so was awarded charge of his own team. The only problem was that he needed to form a team before opening day and have them ready for competition.
March of 1931, Roger Crenbau traveled all throughout New England trying to find the best players that had not already been assigned to a team. Some other managers would report that Crenbau had stolen players from some of their teams with generous monetary "gifts", but those reports could never be substantiated. By mid-March Crenbau's team, which he had decided to name the New England Britkickers in honor of his fateful fall, was nearly complete. They were missing only a pitcher. This was not entirely true, though, because Crenbau knew of a great pitcher, except that he was British. Walter Wigginsworth had been a superstar in the AGL in previous seasons, but was looking for a new team. With the deadline nearing and Crenbau still without a pitcher for his team, Wigginsworth was eventually asked to join the Britkickers. Sports journalists all over the East coast were overjoyed with the irony. Visions of the pages that they could fill with speculation and jokes regarding the Britkickers' clubhouse danced through their heads.
The Britkickers entered the Atlantic Gentlemen's League in April with a smaller than usual roster, but a complete team. Not being a professional league, it was enough. Crenbau coached, Wigginsworth pitched and dodged the occasional boot flying over the lockers, and the other players did their best to bring victory to their team and owner. Below is a picture of the team at the beginning of the season, posing for the sports pages
From counterclockwise from bottom left: Billy Flynn (Second Base), Martin "Squeaky" Dunn (Right Field), Shawn Mcgillis (Shortstop), Jeffery "Kicks" Manning (First Base), George "Kid" Philman (Left Field), Stan Bagley (Catcher), Roger Crenbau (Coach & Owner), Walter Wigginsworth (Pitcher & Brit), Eli Stephenson (Backup Pitcher), Hank "Handyman" Willis (Utility Player), Max Giovanni (Third Base), and Jeremy "Swifty" Schramberg (Center Field).
Wigginsworth proved to be an excellent baseball investment, pitching several great games. Swifty Schramberg was the star hitter, followed by Squeaky Dunn and Kicks Manning. Together with the wonderful defensive play of the rest of the team, early August found the Britkickers in a race for the championship series in the league. The only ones standing between them and the championship series were their quickly adopted rivals, the Boston Ballwranglers. The Ballwranglers had been having a good year, as usual, but found themselves in many tense games against the Britkickers. This led to some fan rivalry and upon finding out that some business deals had been blocked by their owner, the target of Crenbau's hatred.
The league championship was set to take place in early September, making August a serious month for teams looking to contend. As fate would have it, the Britkickers opened a 4 game series against the Ballwranglers on August 17th 1931-- The first day of National Kick a Brit in the Nuts Week. If they won the series, they would have a 3 game lead on Boston, otherwise, they may have trouble closing out the season in the race for the championship. In the Atlantic Gentlemen's League, games were played every other day, making the four game series span the entire week. The teams each won one of the first two games, but the third game would land on the one year anniversary of Crenbau's injury. Not even his rivalry with the Boston team could quench his patriotism, though, and Crenbau absolutely refused to let the British pitcher play on his favorite holiday.
The game was a catastrophe. Stephenson filled in as the pitcher, but was showing signs of weakening after the fourth inning of play. When sports reporters later asked why Crenbau did not put in Wigginsworth to save the series, he reported that Walter had been out that day with a "groin injury". This seemed to persist on Sunday, another game that the Britkickers lost, costing them the series. With the Ballwranglers three games ahead and their star pitcher suffering a groin injury the season did not end in the glory that it should have.
With the championship series out of reach and the season over, Roger Crenbau imformed his team that next year he would not be managing. He had decided that the stress of managing took much of the fun out of the game for him. So, he sold the New England Britkickers to a man from Concord, who thought the name was a bit too harsh on one ethnic group, and changed their name to the Stickswingers in 1932. Wigginsworth went on to play professionaly in the minor leagues, but never achieved fame. The Stickswingers never got close to a championship again until they were disbanded in 1943 because of World War II.
Thus recounts perhaps the only time National Kick a Brit in the Nuts Week mated with our national pastime and the only year that the New England Britkickers played. Happy Brit Kicking, everyone.