Life's still a ball for former pitcher

November 10, 2004|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Joe Shaffer

Age: 89 (will be 90 on Valentine's Day, 2005)

Occupation: Retired lineman for Chesapeake & Potomac phone company

Hometown: Hagerstown

Where would you see Shaffer? Shaffer has been a member of the Hagerstown YMCA since 1979 and says he's gone faithfully ever since. He gets up at 6 a.m. to meet his "cronies" five days a week for an early morning workout.

Shaffer walks on the treadmill and does upper body exercises with weights, counting everything he does.

"He said it's added 10 years to his life, but now he's changed that to 15" said Shaffer's wife, Charlotte, with a laugh.


Shaffer has long been an athlete. The 1934 Hagerstown High School graduate was a pitcher for the school's baseball team.

In his senior year of high school, Shaffer's team played the University of Maryland freshman team and Shaffer, a lefty, had them "beat until the last inning." Turns out U-Md. was looking for a left-handed pitcher and offered Shaffer a scholarship, which he passed up.

Instead, Shaffer pitched for local leagues, including the Washington County League for Mt. Briar, then pitched the Blue Ridge League, until he was picked up by a Detroit Tigers farm team. He played in the New York-Penn League in Charleroi, Pa., and made $75 a month.

Shaffer played for one year, then quit to marry his first wife, Jane, in 1937. They had a son and a daughter, three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

After Jane's death in 1974, Shaffer married Charlotte Clemson of Walkersville, Md., and they've been married almost 16 years. Shaffer met Charlotte, 67, who has two grown sons, through a travel club they both belong to.

Shaffer was employed by Potomac Edison for 10 years, then worked for 35 years as a supervisor for Chesapeake & Potomac, retiring in 1980. Ironically, Charlotte also worked for C&P for 39 years.

Sports have always been in the forefront of Shaffer's life. His talent was recognized when he was inducted into the Washington County Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was instrumental in starting the Federal Little League and coached American and Federal Little League teams for 15 years.

In addition, Shaffer was on the Washington County Youth Commission. He also coached in the Hagerstown Junior Basketball League and served for two terms as president of the league.

Shaffer, who lives on Dover Drive in Hagerstown, grew up in the Security area of Hagerstown, the youngest of five children. His father, Frank Shaffer, emigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1902, followed by his wife in 1907. Their two oldest children chose to stay behind.

Joe has memories of a trip to Hungary with his family in 1924 when he was nine.They sailed aboard the Aquitania from New York City to Cherbourg, France, then traveled by train over the Alps to Jank, Hungary, where their family was.

Shaffer recalls the primitive conditions - no electricity and dirt floors - and how the younger Shaffer children persuaded their parents to return to the U.S.

On the return trip, they sailed past the Statue of Liberty, then passed through Ellis Island. They saw many immigrants standing behind a screen, those who were rejected and being sent back to their countries.

Shaffer remembers sailing past the Statue of Liberty. having to strip to the waist at Ellis Island and screaming when an officer stamped his papers and chest, thinking he was being rejected. "You can't forget something like that," Shaffer said.

He still has the papers he carried through customs, his name written as Jozsef Safar. Shaffer thinks the current spelling for the family's surname probably resulted from a customs agent's misunderstanding the way his father pronounced the name.

"I'm more appreciative of this country, I'll tell you that," Shaffer said.

Hobbies: Travel, exercise and the Baltimore Orioles top Shaffer's list. He also enjoys playing cards and loves University of Maryland football and watching the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins.

"If there's a ball connected with it, I like it," Shaffer said.

What does Shaffer like best about Washington County? "I think it's a wonderful place to live. I like the size of it," Shaffer said. He also likes the four seasons.

The Shaffers have been on 12 cruises and traveled to just about every state, including Hawaii, which makes Joe appreciate home even more.

- Janet Heim

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail janeth@

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