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Old ballplayers and teams are new again in baseball exhibit

July 11, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The origins of baseball are clouded by the mists of history, but in Franklin County the game dates to at least 1867, when a group of Civil War veterans formed the Greencastle, Pa., Kangaroos and defeated the Waynesboro First Nationals by the unusual score of 80-37.

The national pastime also has been the local pastime, from scholastic and town rivalries, to a visit by the Sultan of Swat and the career of a Hall of Famer. That history is the subject of an exhibit beginning this week at the Kittochtinny Historical Society headquarters in the Old Franklin County Jail on King Street.

"It's a good time for a lot of people to see it," said Ann Hull, who was putting the exhibit together Sunday. ChambersFest starts Friday and the town is hosting visitors from its sister city of Gotemba, Japan, a country that also takes baseball very seriously.

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Among the items visitors can view when the exhibit opens Thursday are a jersey and other memorabilia of Jacob Nelson "Nellie" Fox, the Chicago White Sox second baseman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

In 19 seasons with the Philadelphia A's, White Sox and Astros, Fox accumulated 2,663 hits while striking out just 216 times, according to Major League Baseball statistics. A 12-time All-Star, Fox was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1959 when the Sox went to the World Series.

Fox's scrapbook from a 1953 trip to Japan will be on display, showing him with Yankees Yogi Berra and Billy Martin on the barnstorming tour.

"I thought the delegation from Gotemba would be interested in seeing this," Hull said. The items from Fox's career were loaned for the exhibit by Fox's widow, Joanne, Hull said.

In 1929, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the Yankees visited Chambersburg for an exhibition game in which Ruth hit a three-run home run.

"The big fellow's magnetism drew the crowd to him from the time he entered the park and started his warming up exercises," according to a local newspaper account. The article also stated that temporary stands at the field collapsed under the weight of spectators, with one boy hurt.

Other county natives made it to the majors, including Tom Brookens, who played for the Tigers, Yankees and Indians and was on Detroit's 1984 World Series championship team. Harry Harlan "Mike" Mowrey played 13 seasons in the bigs from 1905 to 1917, including stints with the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates.

Augustus "Gus" Dorner played for the Cleveland Blues, the Reds and the Boston Beaneaters during a career in the early 1900s. Hull said Dorner threw the spitball when it was still legal, but to little apparent advantage as baseball records show he compiled a lackluster 36 wins against 69 losses.

Others, such as Jack Mull, made a career in the minors. Mull has spent 37 years in baseball playing for and coaching farm clubs of the Cubs, Giants and Indians, according to his wife, Naomi.

Mull played and managed as high as Triple-A ball and once was the bullpen coach for the Giants, she said. He won 1,265 games as a minor league manager and today works with catchers in the Indians' minor league system, she said.

Franklin County has what, at least locally, is a commonly accepted myth, Hull said. A paper presented years ago by a historical society member claimed Chambersburg as the site of the first night baseball game in May 1883.

"Everything written here uses that date, and it's wrong," Hull said.

"I looked through the microfilms of four newspapers and there was nothing," she said. Then she came upon a Tuesday, July 17, 1883, newspaper that reported a game played under the lights on July 14.

"It was determined a few weeks ago to attempt to play a game by electric lights, as one had been played in the west in that way," the article stated.

The exhibit can be viewed Thursdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through August, Hull said.

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