ATB 4 – Baseball in the Valley

You know, there’s something
about a ball field that stimulates all the senses– fresh cut grass,
the crack of the bat against that old
horsehide, the smell of an old leather
glove like this one. This is a beauty. It’s a 1940 vintage Rawlings
Mort Cooper autographed. Mort Cooper played
for the Cardinals. I think he won like 125
games in about 11 years. And it’s John McNamara’s glove. He lives up in Millville. We’re going to talk
to him a little later. He’s a great guy. He let me borrow his glove. This is indeed a
prized possession. And the reason why
we’re here today is to talk about
baseball in the valley. And we’re at McCoy Stadium,
home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Now they have a great
season going for them. They’re lead in the
league and all kinds of attendance statistics. And there’s a couple
of reasons for that. One– they have a great
marketing department. Two– they’ve got a
wonderful baseball team. They’re so far ahead of
all their competitors, it’s not even funny. Third, they got an
owner, Ben Mondor, who really cares about
the game of baseball and really wants to
make it affordable for the whole family. And finally, they’re
located right here in the Blackstone Valley. You got it right– Blackstone Valley,
home of Mill baseball, rival town leagues, semi-pro
organizations– a lot of baseball players who’ve
had their dreams in the major found their way to
the Blackstone Valley to play in one of those
leagues just so they could capture their dream. Remember, working
the mills was no fun. And very often, any kind of
diversion would be great. Plus, a lot of the
workers actually were ballplayers and
pretty good ones too. So we’re going to talk about
baseball here in the valley. So we’re going to hook up with a
historian, Doug Reynolds, who’s going to show us a little bit
about mill life and baseball and how they kind
of work together. We’re going to hook up with a
couple of old-time ballplayers from Millville who
will tell us how it was like to play
in the mills leagues and a little bit about
some of their friends who play with them. And finally, we’re
going to hook up with a gentleman who’s going
to tell us all about Walter Schuster, great baseball fan
and the motivating influence behind the establishment of
the Blackstone Valley League. So folks, grab a glove. You’re in right field. It’s going to be a good
game, so pay attention. [MUSIC PLAYING] Athletics, competition,
and mill life have a long tradition
here in the valley. Social events– a way
of releasing pent up energy, those natural
competitive instincts between rival
companies, and also a way of Americanizing
and controlling a diverse workforce,
baseball in the valley had an important role to play. We’re going to talk with
historian, Doug Reynolds, who was formerly with the Blackstone
River Valley National Heritage Corridor and today is with
the Museums and Preservation of the State of Pennsylvania. And he’s going to tell
us a little bit more about the relationship
between baseball and workers here in the valley. Hi, Doug. Awfully nice of you to stop
by here from Pennsylvania. Nice to see you, Chuck. One of the things that has
caught my interest here is you’re an historian,
and looking at the mills, how did you come up with
a baseball connection? Well, I tell you. I was looking at some aerial
surveys of the Blackstone Valley. And we all know the
rivers generally are the defining feature
of the culture here. All our mills are
next to the rivers. All our towns are
next to the rivers. And many of our best landscapes
are next to the rivers. But I also noticed that a
lot of our baseball fields were also next to the
rivers and, in fact, next to the mills. I got to wondering why
so many of the mills had baseball fields
next to them. So I started looking
into it and discovered that there’s a really nice
baseball history here. It’s got national significance,
just like the mills, and it’s got a nationally
significant baseball story to it. So that’s kind of why
I got interested in it. Now mill life and baseball–
how did it work together here? Well, it’s interesting. Baseball and mills have
a long, long history that go way back into
the 19th century. Providence had a World Series
Championship team in 1880. And the industrialists
everywhere, in fact, caught up with the
baseball leagues by 1900. Here, in the Blackstone Valley,
it was really particular because the whole
industrial system here was based on villages not on
big factories or on big cities but on absolute villages. And that was a decision made. And it brought a
lot of the luggage that small-town life brings. So mill owners, I think,
found, in baseball, a way of both expressing the
values of American culture but also in kind of
bringing harmony and content to village life, which
sometimes could be contentious. Now we’re here at
the Berkeley Oval, and the Berkeley Mill is right
over in front of us right now. And this is exactly the way it
was laid out back in the 1900s. From my understanding,
yeah, this is one of the best-loved
places in the Rhode Island portion of the Blackstone
River Valley for many of the old timers here. And the reason is
they remember so well the nature of the ballgames,
a real cultural institution in this part of the valley. Thousands upon
thousands of people came here for games on
weekends and during the week after mill work. People probably don’t realize
that a typical ballgame may have 4,500 people
standing around. Is that correct? Yeah, in fact, a lot of
times the deliverymen would refuse to make a delivery
to a place like Berkeley when they knew a ballgame
was being played. The reason for
that, of course, is they knew nobody would be
home to accept a parcel. Moreover, if the entire
population of one village was absent, so was the other
village that they were playing. So between two villages
like Berkeley and Ashton, you may get actually you
know 4,500, 6,000, 7,000 people in the stands on
a Saturday afternoon. Some of the old
photographs show the field like this to just raining
with throngs of people. Yeah, Berkeley Oval had, I
think, about 10-high bleachers all the way down the sidelines. And people in the
outfield would watch too. So it was really a popular– it’s hard to convey how
popular it is, really, but it was a substantial
social event for the village. Now the level of baseball
play here was also significant because equality was quite good. That’s right. One of the interesting things
about mill league baseball in the Blackstone Valley was
that it was so widely accepted by both mill owners and
by village residents that they expected and demanded
a higher and higher level of play to the point where
often professional players were recruited or people on
their way to the majors or major league players
who were coming down. A lot of college kids played. And it was very, very
good baseball here. Now Doug, the nature of baseball
here was very democratic. If you were good, you
got a chance to play. Right. That’s very important
in these villages that are full of ethnic conflict. A place like Whitinsville, for
example, where both Armenians and Turks live, or in other
places as in Pawtucket, where you had both Irish
and French Canadians and, of course, different
Catholic churches to go with those groups. And baseball, in fact,
was a way of showing all the ethnic groups that
it was pretty much your skill level alone that
made you acceptable, your commitment to good
play and to teamwork and the actual production
that made you part of the team no matter where you are from
or what language you spoke. It’s very important
in mill village life where ethnicity can be
both a dividing factor and baseball a force to
bring people together. The other aspect was, you
had a number of players here from the colored
leagues, the black leagues. That’s right, and even though
a lot of African-Americans didn’t move to the
Blackstone Valley until after World War
II, they were regularly brought into play. And it was almost
integration as to that level because they were seen as good
examples of good hard workers and capable men who could
actually produce on the field and generally run a
good business life too because they were smart
enough to get into the system and to be paid for their
work and to move on to the next contract
when they were able to. So a lot of values came out of
this relationship between mill life and baseball, didn’t it? That’s right. Baseball, we all know is
one of the great American institutions. But the question of what
makes it a great institution is a separate issue. And I think it’s an
acceptable pastime. It’s clean. It’s natural. As opposed to regular mill life,
it’s got open fields and grass. So it almost, in a
lot of ways, calls out these democratic pastoral
ideals of American history and American life. Well, Doug, this has
been great sitting here talking a little bit about
mill life and baseball. And this is just the beginning
of our show this month because we’re going to travel
to more towns here in the valley and learn a little
bit more about some of the personalities that
made baseball so exciting here in the Blackstone Valley. We’ll catch you later. [MUSIC PLAYING] What’s the connection
between Pawtucket’s colorful political
past and baseball? Let’s catch up with Ranger
Jack Whittaker for a Blackstone moment and learn a little bit
more about Thomas P. McCoy. Hi, I’m Jack Whittaker,
National Park Service ranger with the Blackstone River Valley
National Heritage Corridor. I’m standing in front
of Pawtucket City Hall, which may seem a strange
place to talk about baseball. But we must remember that,
during the first half of this century, the two
most popular pastimes here in the Blackstone Valley
were baseball and politics. No one personified that more
than the five-time mayor of the Pawtucket,
Thomas P. McCoy. Now, Mayor McCoy was
mayor during the late ’30s and early ’40s. And during that of time, he
was responsible for building this city hall as well
as Hammond Pond Stadium, later to be called McCoy
Stadium for the mayor after he had died. When the stadium
was built, it was built on a swamp, Hammond
Pond, and his critics were very quick to say
that it was a poor choice, that the equipment
that was being used was sinking into
the mud, that it was an unstable base for the field. But, be that as it may,
the stadium was built. It’s still there today. Although a recent
addition was turned down because of the instability
of the ground in right field. And they have a lightweight
aluminum bleacher out there rather than the heavy
concrete of the main ballpark. Remember that the Works Progress
Administration, the WPA, has at a main function
the employment of labor. Here, in the Blackstone Valley,
over half of the labor force was unemployed. And the WPA from the Roosevelt
Administration New Deal was an attempt to build
necessary structures– schools, libraries, city halls, town
halls, post offices, and even baseball stadiums because it
brought to the locale, where these structures were built,
the necessary funds to get the economy rolling again. This is Ranger Jack
Whittaker bringing you another Blackstone’s moment. [MUSIC PLAYING] You know, while it’s true that
the mill owners did recruit baseball players to come in
here to the Blackstone Valley and play, there was a
lot of good homegrown talent that made an impression
in the major leagues. Take Gabby Hartnett,
for example– the first baseball game
ever saw, he played in. He was a catcher
for Chicago Cubs. And after 20 years, he
found himself in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame. His best friend, Tim
McNamara, a pitcher, played for the Boston Braves
for five or six years. Good ball player, grew up
right here in the valley. Well, today, we’re going
to go up to Millville and meet with some of the guys
who played in the old mill leagues, who knew Gabby
Hartnett and Tim McNamara and can tell us
a little bit more about what it was
like to play baseball. Hey, I got it! It’s mine! We’re here in the
Millville Library to talk a little bit more
about baseball in the valley. And we’re fortunate enough to
have with us Charlie Mallaly. Charlie, besides being
a state rep for 18 years here in the Millville
area, he was a really fine second baseman. And rumor has it
around here, Charlie, you had really soft hands. You could put the tags on the
runners before they knew it. Is that true? No. I think they’re confusing
me with my father who was one of the best
baseball players in his day in the town of Millville when
John McNamara’s uncle, who was a former pitcher
for the Boston Braves, told me there were two fellas,
in his opinion, that could have made the big leagues from
Millville, Mike [INAUDIBLE] and my father, Charlie Mallaly. Well, how come he didn’t go on
and try it in the big leagues? Well, back in those
days, he had a family. And he was a bootmaker. And he worked steady, whereas
he couldn’t afford to just work in the summer time. Good point. The salaries back in those
days didn’t warrant that. Back in those days, Chuck,
all the local town teams had a baseball team. And baseball, particularly
during the Depression years, it kept the kids occupied,
and the townspeople, it was someplace for them to go to. We would pass the hat– someone for the team– and that was the admission. And that helped to supply
baseballs and the bats and so forth. And back in those years,
the United States Rubber Shop because of the
economy, the Depression, they all came here
to watch the games. Prior to that, when the
rubber shop was running prior to the depression of 1929
and ’30, on a Sunday, we’d get 200 or 300 people,
which for a little town– many times larger– and there was a
great rivalry between the various communities. And each one of them in their
village had a baseball team. And I can recall– we would go and– they had settees in
the back of the truck. And we all sat there, and
we were very contented. And sometimes, after you
would be on a local team, you get rocked by
them as you were leaving by some of the
younger people, the kids. However, it was a great deal
of fun and it kept us all busy. Millville, for being
a very small town, had some outstanding
baseball players– Gabby Hartnett and Tim McNamara. That’s correct. Gabby Hartnett– I lived on
Preston street, which is– I can look out the window
here now and see it. I lived at the top
of the hill, and he lived near the top of
the hill, his family. And he was voted into
the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and
that speaks for itself. He was a great
credit to the town because he brought
recognition, where a small town, such as
Millville, you don’t get that much recognition. And he had an
outstanding career. He was a big, strong fella of
6’3, weighed about 250 pounds. And I’m going to tell you
about an incident that happened to me on
one of the trips that I took with Milford Travel. We were down in Quincy
in one of the restaurants where they were putting
on a travel show. And a former member
of the Boston Braves was there working. And I made his acquaintance,
Elbie Fletcher. Some people, particularly
baseball fans, would recognize him right away. And he came from Milton. And he was the first baseman
for the Boston Braves and also for the
Pittsburgh Pirates. And he told me an incident. They were playing
a Braves field, and Hartnett was the catcher
for the Chicago Cubs. And he was on second
base, and the batter hit a long hit to right field. And the right fielder had
to go out and get the ball and retrieve it and
get it to home base. And he said it was
so far, he said. And I could run pretty good,
and I was a big fellow. So he said, “I thought sure
I score from second base.” He said, “I ran
around second base, all the way to home base,”
and he said, “I looked up, and I was traveling
as fast as I could.” And he said, There was
Hartnett with the ball.” And he said, “My only chance
was to knock him over.” Well, he said, “I hit
him as hard as I could. And he knocked me,” he said,
“about five or six feet away.” And he said, “Oh, boy.” He said, “I didn’t play
for a couple of days. I got bruised so badly.” He said it was like
hitting a brick wall. And I can recall,
right over in the back of this present building
that we’re sitting in, that was a billboard
here on the other side where we packed our cars. And it was a picture of Gabby
Hartnett endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes with his father
pointing this particular day when someone took a picture
of the father who was saying, “There’s my boy.” We’re going to head over
to the Rubber Shop Oval and meet with John
McNamara who’s a nephew of Tim McNamara, a
pitcher for the Boston Braves, and find out a little more
about baseball in the valley. We’re here with John McNamara
at the old Rubber Shop Oval here in Millville,
a historic baseball field because it’s seen–
how many generations of aspiring major league ball
players played here, John? 300. 300. [LAUGHTER] No, but everybody
that’s ever played here had aspirations, you know,
because of Gabby and Tim. They really set the trend
for doing it, didn’t they? Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Now, you happen to be the
nephew for Tim McNamara– Uncle Tim. –grew up with– My hero. Your hero. And he was a great pitcher too. Oh, he absolutely was. My uncle Tim never played
in the minor leagues until after his major
league career was over. We played for Fordham. Actually, Tim left
here and went to work in the mills in Connecticut
and played in some leagues down there, mill leagues. And he got a full scholarship
to Fordham University. And he had some great
years at Fordham, a teammate of Frankie Frisch’s,
who is in the Hall of Fame. And Tim went directly from
Fordham to the Boston Braves. And he held a record for years. His first two games were
shut-outs, 2-0 and 3-0. And he held that for
20-some-odd years. He had some great years. Then he got arm trouble. He went to the New York
Giants from the Braves. Because he had beaten
the Giants so many times, McGraw bought him. And then Tim got arm trouble. And he was sent down to Toledo,
and his manager at Toledo was Casey Stengel. And then they became
famous friends. Yeah, if you ever saw Tim’s
scrapbooks and the letters he has from Casey Stengel,
they became very fast friends. And Tim has some great
stories about Casey. So sure Tim McNamara
and Gabby Hartnett, they’re both like God
to all kids in Millville and to all of us Simonsville. Well, it’s interesting
you come from such a baseball-oriented family. Can you account
for any of that– why baseball was so
big here in Millville? Well, there was not much
else to do in Millville. I mean, you know, the
kids in those days, if they were sports-minded,
they went and picked blueberries or something. But I don’t know many kids that
weren’t interested in sports– boys and girls. And we’d come down here. I lived right up there, they
called it Bannigan City. It was named after Joe Bannigan
and who built the old rubber shop that has burned down. And we’d come across the
old red bridge right there and come down here and play
ball practically every day that you could. Even if there were only
three or four of you, you’d play a game of
scrub or something. But everybody loved baseball. And, of course, we
had heroes of our own, like Charlie Mallaly and the
fellows on the old Rovers who were absolutely
terrific to me. And they encouraged me to play. They’d let me sit on a
bench, be their bat boy, and sometimes they’d
hit a ball in the river, and I have to go shack it. I thought that was an honor too. [MUSIC PLAYING] Worcester, Massachusetts
has a long tradition of mill baseball, but for
a brief shining moment, the second largest
city in New England had a Major League franchise. February 3rd, 1880,
Worcester’s dream was realized as it joined
the National League. It wasn’t until June 12th
when Worcester’s rookie entry into the National
League made baseball history. The pitching sensation
J. Lee Richmond, awaiting his graduation
four days later from Brown University, faced Cleveland’s
ace pitcher, Big Jim McCormick. Worcester was allowed
only three hits all day. But error gave
Worcester its only run. As for Cleveland, well,
not a single runner reached first base. 27 men went up, and
27 men went down. A senior from Brown had
pitched the first perfect game in the history of
professional baseball. Of the 12 regular
season perfect games ever pitched WHERE the starting
pitcher was also the winning pitcher, the very
first perfect game was played in a fair city
of Worcester, Massachusetts. We’ve looked at baseball
here in the Blackstone Valley from the standpoint of
some of the old players. We’ve looked at it at standpoint
of why the mills and the towns got so involved with baseball. The one element to our
story that’s missing, however, is the owners. We’re over here in East
Douglas, a very small town right along the Massachusetts-Rhode
Island line. And we’re going to learn more
about the owners’ relationship with baseball from
Clarence Gagne who happens to be one
of the local historians on the Blackstone
Valley Baseball League and who was actually
the secretary and treasurer for a long time. Now, Clarence,
why don’t you tell us a little bit
about Walter Schuster and just how he became
such a mover and shaker in the world of
Major League Baseball from such a small
town like Douglas? Well, there’s no question
that Walter Schuster devoted practically all of
his life, probably not from birth, but from
age 15 until the time of his death in 1932. He was dominant in the baseball
world of the Blackstone Valley. Everyone wanted to beat
him, which was likely because competition was high. Now that Mr. Shuster couldn’t
use Major League Baseball players on the league
team, he still took advantage of all his
connections and brought a lot of those fine players up
here in the Blackstone Valley anyhow, didn’t he? I think we have to look
at another side of Walter Schuster. He was a very generous person. He and a couple of partners
gave the town of Douglas a new high school in 1925. He brought his team
for exhibition games to the New England Fairgrounds
in Worcester, Worcester Tech Field. He’d went to Milford, a
competitor in the league, and brought Nick Altrock,
the great baseball comedian, in order to enhance
the show, which was for the benefit
of the Milford YMCA. There was constant
generosity on the part of the gentleman, which
I think led to the fact that the so-called love-hate
relationship was probably more love-envy. He had the money to
provide these things, but he was always
putting on a good show. He was constantly doing
things of that kind. And people, I feel,
after reading volumes of clippings and score
books from ’91 on, that people respected him. Major League players would play
for Walter Schuster in Douglas uniform but not
in a league game. They would play in
exhibition games. He had reached a reputation
of having such a fine team that players from all over the
countryside would write to him and reach him somehow asking for
a tryout with the Douglas team. This led to many of the players
coming from the colleges. And they were eligible
to play and, as a result, got their starts here
in the town of Douglas. A total of about 55
Major League players played in Douglas uniform
at some time or another. We sometimes lose
sight of the fact just how hard and tedious
working in the mills really was. And that’s why any kind
of a diversion that would bring family,
friends, and fellow workers together was welcomed by all. And baseball was a great
way to accomplish that. The intense rivalry between
the different towns, the mills, was something to behold,
legendary as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, that
same sense of rivalry that everybody thought was great
on the baseball field worked against these towns
and communities later on after they suffered
some significant economic downturns. That sense of rivalry prevented
them from working together. And that’s one of the reasons
why the Blackstone River Valley National Herod’s
Corridor is here– to kind of help facilitate
coming together so we can all meet a common purpose and grow. Now we had a great time
learning a little bit about the history of baseball
here in the Blackstone Valley. It really has a
tremendous history. But one thing I want
to caution you about. Don’t let mom throw away
your baseball cards. They could be really valuable. Anyhow, we’ll catch
you in the valley. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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