With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where Are They Now? Hartford Athletic Heroes

Athletics has long been a a unifying force for citizens to rally around. When a local team does good, individuals from all walks of life find common ground in cheering for the team. When a local grows up to have success on a national stage, the hometown takes great pride in one of their own "making it big." While some may dismiss athletics as frivolous, it is unquestionable that communities value athletic teams and athletes. Here we take a look back at both athletes that grew up in Hartford, and those that excelled playing in the city. Being a "Where Are They Now" piece we did not include active athletes (Dwight Freeney and Marcus Camby) or deceased athletes (Willie Pep).

Michael Adams: Adams was one of the NBA's greatest 3-point shooters. Born in 1963, Adams starred at Hartford Public High School before moving on to Boston College. Adams was the 66th pick in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. During his 11 year NBA career, Adams played for Sacramento, Washington, Denver, and Charlotte. He enjoyed his greatest success in Denver, twice leading the league in three-pointers and being named to the 1991-92 All-Star game. After his playing career, Adams got into coaching and has coached in the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA. In 2010 Adams was named an assistant coach to the St. Bonaventure basketball team but resigned just six weeks later to focus on supporting his son through his senior year of high school.

Jeff Bagwell: The Killingworth native attended Xavier High School in Middletown before attending the University of Hartford. After a 15 year career in Major League Baseball, Bagwell has no real competition as UHart's most successful athlete.  Though he played his whole career with the Houston Astros, Bagwell was traded while in the minor leagues by the Boston Red Sox for reliever Larry Anderson, a trade now considered one of the worst of all-time. Bagwell had an extremely prolific career, winning the 1994 MVP award and is considered one of the best first baseman of all time. Bagwell was named the Astros hitting coach for the last couple months of the 2010 season, but said he would not return for 2011. Bagwell lives in Houston and has been in news lately as he just became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Though falling short on his first eligibility to make the Hall, many baseball experts predict that he will make it, an honor that might solidify his claim as Hartford's greatest athlete.

Vin Baker: Another UHart athlete, Baker's career started out as promising as Bagwell's but had a much sadder ending. After high school in Old Saybrook, Baker excelled at UHart, a school not known for its basketball prowess. After Hartford, Baker was selected 8th overall in the 1993 NBA Draft. Baker was an immediate success in the NBA, named to the first of four straight all-star games in 1994 at age 23. His success was rewarded with a 13-year $87 million contract.  After the 1998-99, season that was shortened by a strike, Baker's weight ballooned and his play suffered. Baker later revealed that this is when his alcoholism spiraled out of control. As his play continued to decline his contract became an albatross and joke fodder for sports fans and media. While with the Celtics in 2004, Baker was suspended and his contract terminated after the coach smelled alcohol on his breath. Baker was never effective again and out of the NBA in a couple of years. In 2008, Baker's $2.5 million Old Saybrook house and Old Saybrook restaurant were foreclosed on. Baker can be seen talking about his problems and his life today in this interview.

Sean Burke: After the 1980's glory days of the Hartford Whalers, Sean Burke was too often "the only good player" on the mostly lackluster Whaler teams of the mid 1990's.  Burke was a sensation upon debuting with the New Jersey Devils and became the first rookie goalie to play in the NHL All-Star game. Following a contract dispute, he was traded to Hartford in 1992; he would be Hartford's starting goalie for the rest of the time the franchise was in town and was voted the team MVP from 1993-1997. As the Whalers left Hartford, it seemed Burke's time had passed as he was relegated to being a backup for years after 1997. He then made a stunning re-emergence as an elite goalie in Phoenix and was a finalist for the best goalie award for the 2001-02 season. Burke finally retired in 2007. He now lives in Phoenix and works as the Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach.

Kevin Dineen: One of the most popular players in Hartford Whalers history, Kevin Dineen hailed from a Canadian hockey family and debuted with the Whalers in 1984. His feisty style if play despite his small stature made him an immediate fan favorite. Dineen was one of the pivotal players during the Whalers greatest success in the mid 1980's. Dineen  twice scored 40 goals for Hartford including a career high 45 during the 1988-89 season. The popular Dineen was traded to Philadelphia early into the 91-92 season continuing a strip mining of Hartford talent that had began the year before. Dineen was traded back to Hartford during the 1995-96 season, rejoining a franchise that was now floundering. Named the team's final Hartford captain, Dineen gave Hartford fans one last memory by scoring the teams final goal to give the Whalers a 2-1 victory in the teams last game. Dineen retired in 2003 and since 2005 has served as a successful coach for the AHL Portland Pirates.

Ron Francis: Ron Francis was the greatest Whaler ever.  Drafted by the Whalers in 1981, Francis debuted that season and played almost 10 full seasons in Hartford before being traded late in the 1991 season to Pittsburgh in an underhanded deal that many point to as the beginning of the end for for NHL hockey in Hartford.  While in Hartford Francis was the captain for six seasons and set nearly ever Whalers scoring record. Francis would play in the NHL until 2004, including a 5 year stint with the Carolina franchise. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 and ranks 4th all-time in NHL points and 2nd in assists. Today he works in the Carolina Hurricanes front office.

Mike Liut: Mike Liut was an established star when Hartford acquired him from the St. Louis Blues in 1984. Cousin of Ron Francis, Liut was the workhorse starting goalie during the Whalers greatest success. During his time in Hartford he lead the Whalers to their only Adams Division title and was amongst the leagues best goalies while in the NHL. Traded to Washington in 1990, Liut was slowed by injuries and played sparingly until his 1992 retirement. After retiring Liut spent three seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan. Today Liut is Managing Director of Octagon Hockey.

Rick Mahorn: Hartford native Rick Mahorn gained his greatest fame as a key member of the Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys" teams of the late 1980's. Mahorn was with the team when they won the first of their two straight championships in 1989. Mahorn played professionally until 1999 including a brief stint in the Italian professional league. After retirement Mahorn served as an assistant and then head coach of the WNBA Detroit Shock. In 2010 Mahorn filed bankruptcy, declaring that he had only just over $1,000 to his name. Today he works as a radio analyst for the Detroit Pistons.

Eugene Robinson: Poor Eugene Robinson. After starring at Weaver High, Robinson played football at Colgate and then was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. While Robinson was one of the best safeties in the NFL during his 11 years in Seattle, the team was rarely good and Robinson was often overlooked. In 1996 Robinson joined the Green Bay Packers where he was a key player on their championship team. The Packers and Robinson returned to the Super Bowl the next year, but despite a critical interception by Robinson, the Packers were defeated. After the season Robinson joined the Atlanta Falcons and was a crucial player in the team making their first ever Super Bowl, the third straight for Robinson.

The day before that Super Bowl, Robinson was given an award for "high moral character" from evangelical group Athletes in Action. Robinson was seen as a role model athlete and regularly espoused his religious beliefs. Later that evening Robinson was arrested for soliciting oral sex from an undercover officer for $40. His wife and two children were at the team hotel at the time. During the game Robinson played very poorly and took much of the blame for the teams loss from the media.

Robinson would play one more season with Atlanta and then finish his career for Carolina in 2000. Today he works as an analyst for the Carolina Panthers radio broadcasts (apparently Hartford athletes make great radio analysts) and a high school football coach in Charlotte. With the Super Bowl coming soon, Robinson will get mentioned as one of the biggest Super Bowl cautionary tales to players and be joked about in the media. All over a $40 blowjob he never got.

Mike Rogers: When the New England Whalers became the Hartford Whalers and part of the NHL, Rogers was the teams first superstar. An undersized player at 5'9'', Rogers had to overcome doubts that he was big enough to play professionally. After being traded from Edmonton to the Whalers (still in the WHA) Rogers flourished playing on a line with Mark and Gordie Howe. When the Whalers entered the NHL, Rogers soared to superstar heights scoring over 40 goals and 105 points in each of the first two seasons in the NHL. After these successful seasons Rogers was dealt to the New York Rangers where he would play five seasons. He retired as a player in 1986. Today Rogers is the radio commentator for the Calgary Flames. You can read his hockey blog here

Marlon Starling: Starling is Hartford's greatest pugilist outside of Willie Pep. After an outstanding amateur career, Starling turned professional in 1979 and was an immediate success. Starling won his first 25 fights before his first loss in 1982. Starling won the WBA Welterweight Title in 1987. He lost the title in his third defense in a controversial fashion after being hit by a punch clearly after the bell. In 1989 Starling won the WBC Welterweight Title. He successfully defended that title in October of 1989 at the Hartford Civic Center in what would be his last victory as a fighter. In his next fight he lost a challenge for the Middleweight Championship and then retired after losing his Welterweight Title in a close decision in his following fight. Starling retired with a professional record of 47-6-1-1 (27 KO's). Today Starling lives in East Hartford and works with special needs people at Catholic Charities in addition to helping young local boxers.

During his fighting career, Starling worked with F.Mac Buckley, a flamboyant defense attorney who lived in just outside of Hartford in what happens to be the hometown of both Jumper and Hakaan. Starling would often train at F.Mac's house and on a regular basis would jog by Hakaan's, who would usually be outside tossing tennis balls into the air and pulverizing them with an aluminum baseball bat in preparing to become the next Mike Greenwell. A Sad City writer may have even had his first female friend and first crush on the youngest of F.Mac's daughters and may have been babysat on a regular basis by the next youngest. Years later F.Mac would gain notoriety when he ran afoul of the law and went MIA for a period.


  1. What about Ray Allen???

  2. Ray Allen never played in Hartford.

  3. Do not forget Marcus Camby!

  4. If im not mistaken there jmac Ray Allen was on the uconn huskie and a majority of UCONNs games are played at the XL center so how can you say he didn't play in Hartford? as a matter of fact the celtics played in Hartford about 3 months ago?

  5. If you mention Willie Pep and Marlon Starling, you can't forget about Johnny Duke, one of Hartford's premier boxing greats. While little is on the internet about him, a Farmington author wrote a book entitled "No Pretender." It's hard to find, but it's out there:


  6. So is this a "they once played here in some fashion" thing or a "they grew up here and moved on to national acknowledgement/iconisms" or something else? Either way there are a lot of UCONN mens and womens basketball players that played for us even without growing up in our state that made a name for themselves later on in life or stuck with us as icons in Connecticut.

    Jen Rizzoti
    Rebecca Lobo
    Marcus Allen (he's on a championship caliber Celtics team and stayed in the New England scene for gods sakes)

    Just to name a few!

  7. bill rodgers, greatest american marathoner of all time, ran collegiate in middletown, ct, which gets its drinking water from the same river into which hartford dumps its sewage.

    btw, i'm referencing this post in a blog post i'm working on re a story which touches upon the david messanger murder story, which touches upon f mac buckley, which touches upon marlon starling, the best boxing name ever. http://orionoir.blogspot.com/2013/06/celebrating-one-billion-page-views.html