On this day more than a century ago, the Yankees traveled abroad to begin spring training in Bermuda, becoming the first in baseball history to do so.
The Yankees/Highlanders/Chances were looking for a change after an atrocious 102-loss season in 1912. The team was without much sense of promise, and also without a name. The “Highlanders” name was proving too long for headlines, and by the time spring training rolled around, the franchise was still a nameless team. They didn’t even have a real home, as they had decided to move out of their original home of Hilltop Park and share the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants.
Of course, the team would eventually settle on the name “Yankees” prior to Opening Day in 1913, capitalizing on the press’s common nickname for them. Before that would occur, new manager Frank Chance looked for a spark that could ignite a stronger performance out of a club that underperformed (to say the least) in 1912. Chance had built a winning pedigree in Chicago with the Cubs in the form of four league pennants, and was prepared to do the same in New York. Well, in Bermuda first.
Chance orchestrated a spring training to take place at the Hamilton Cricket Grounds in Bermuda,. The field was exactly how the name sounds: a converted cricket field. It had been utilized a year prior by a minor-league team in New Jersey called the Skeeters.
The Yanks talked the Skeeters into returning to Bermuda in 1913 to scrimmage the team, using the island as a pleasant climate area with enough isolation for the teams to focus. Yes, the juggernaut franchise that is the New York Yankees once played a team named the Skeeters on an old cricket field.
Chance and the rest of the team’s management fell in love with Bermuda’s conditions. The New York Times reported that pitchers appeared to be in “midseason form” due to the pleasant weather, and players were able to tolerate added conditioning and running. In fact, first impressions were so positive that the Yanks began mulling over the idea of building their own field in Bermuda. The New York Times offered a glimpse at the day-to-day life in camp:
The trip to Bermuda, a more genteel setting than previous Yankees camps in Georgia and in Alabama, marked the first time a major league team was venturing outside the United States for spring training. With few cars on the island, the ballplayers rode bicycles to and from practice at the pristine Hamilton Cricket Grounds. At the hotel, they dined in style with provisions, including drinking water, shipped in twice a week from New York.
By the time spring training neared an end, rumors swirled of other teams being interested in training in Bermuda for following seasons. The Yanks and Skeeters (that feels so weird to write) came to an agreement that they would see each other again at Hamilton Cricket Grounds the following spring.
Hopes were running high around Yankees camp heading into the regular season, while the city of Bermuda had their own sense of excitement that a successful relationship with Major League Baseball was under construction.
Then the regular season happened. The Yanks improved, but barely. Instead of 102 losses, the Yanks “improved” to 94 defeats. The team finished second-to-last, and the pitching staff that carried so much optimism out of Bermuda crashed and burned back in the states. The season was an overall disaster.
Most likely in search of some kind of excuse for the team’s poor play, Chance and the Yankees scrapped their plans to return to Bermuda, instead electing to move to Houston to spend their springs. Chance even proposed that his pitchers’ reaction to northern climates after being exposed to the pleasantries of Bermuda may have had a negative impact on their performance. It would take until 1925 before the Yankees found a more permanent home in St. Petersburg.
The other interested teams, including the Dodgers, cancelled their travel plans and put away their passports. Baseball has always been a sport of unexplainable superstition, and perhaps the Yankees presented a bad omen that kept teams in the comfort of the United States.
Of course, baseball has traveled overseas numerous times since 1913. The Yanks just wanted no part of it for a while following their catastrophic season.