Book examines baseball's past

June 13, 2004|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Mark C. Zeigler's research into local baseball of the 1910s and '20s has produced a reference book as peculiar and memorable as a steal of home plate.

He has compiled a ream of stories and statistics about the Blue Ridge League, reviving an era when baseball was a staple of Tri-State life.

He has stories of ...

-- Fantastic fans - Issac Beall of Boyds, Md., drove his new car to Agricultural Park in Frederick, Md., to see the hometown Hustlers play the Gettysburg (Pa.) Patriots. He climbed a tree to avoid paying 10 cents to get into the ballpark. Upon seeing "a long fly ball along the third base line that flew over the cow barns for a home run," Beall yelled with approval - and fell out of the tree, breaking his arm.

-- Hidden identities - Walter Phillip Warwick pitched for Hagerstown, Frederick, Waynesboro, Pa., and Hanover, Pa., but no one knew him by his real name. He used the name Wick Winslow - devised by a manager who saw an ad for "Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup" - because Hagerstown already had the maximum of two players with high-level professional experience.


-- Social mores - Despite "Blue Laws" of the time that declared Sunday as a day of rest, the Cumberland, Md., team scheduled some games. But teams from Martinsburg, W.Va., Hagerstown and Gettysburg, Pa., refused to play in those games, leaving Frederick as a frequent visiting team for Cumberland.

They were different times, rich with stories. Zeigler, the senior account manager for the Frederick Keys, is trying to rescue and preserve them.

"It's part of our history, but it's been a history that's been forgotten," he said.

Three Blue Ridge Leaguers later were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame: slugger Hack Wilson (who holds the single-season Major League record for runs batted in), pitcher Lefty Grove and umpire Bill McGowan.

Many others in the Blue Ridge League went on to play and manage in the Major Leagues.

The Blue Ridge League existed from 1915 to 1930, except for 1919, when it was defunct because of World War I.

It was Class D, a low level of play.

Pro ball in Hagerstown

Hagerstown was in the league every year, although with different nicknames. First, Hagerstown was the Blues, then the Terriers, the Champs, the Terriers again and the Hubs.

Chambersburg, Frederick, Hanover, Martinsburg and Waynesboro were other mainstays in the league. Cumberland, Gettysburg and Piedmont-Westernport had brief runs.

Zeigler explains the league from 1915 to 1918 in his book "Boys of the Blue Ridge."

The book is in rough form now, 80 photocopied pages. A draft is in the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library. Portions of his work are also on a Web site,

Zeigler, 41, who lives in Thurmont, Md., points out that the Blue Ridge League is not the start of baseball here.

That would be 1866, he said.

The first team, the Hagerstown Antietams of the Sunset League, formed in 1907.

The Sunset League of 1907-11 and the Tri-City League of 1914 both were semiprofessional and independent.

Zeigler said the Blue Ridge League was the first professional league sanctioned by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which is now known as Minor League Baseball.

'Baseball wild'

May 28, 1915 - Opening Day in Hagerstown, where the league was based - was momentous.

A procession of automobiles paraded players through town, arriving at Willow Lane Park on South Potomac Street before the 3 p.m. game. The Silverine Band accompanied them.

Stores closed so employees could watch the game.

The next day's Morning Herald said: "The city seemed baseball wild. Downtown in the morning everybody appeared to be filled with the spirit of the day's game. The crowds that watched the ball players' parade adjourned en mass to the grounds and all the trolley cars on the South Potomac street line were taxed to accommodate the swarms that were anxious to witness the opening game. ...

"From noon the enthusiastic fans had been gathering, and the crush at the gates when they were finally opened at 2 o'clock was so great as to require the services of several policemen to keep them in order and prevent fans (from) hurting one another."

The fact that opening day unfolded as scheduled was an achievement.

In 1914, Hagerstown played in the Sunset League; its home games were at the fairgrounds.

But in 1915, shortly before the Blue Ridge League was to start, the lease went up from $100 to $350, Zeigler said.

Charles Boyer, who owned both the Hagerstown team and Henry's Theater, balked.

H.A. Bester stepped in and offered his land, which had been an amusement park. A grandstand and bleachers seating a total of about 1,000 were built within weeks, finishing just in time for the first game.

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