On Thursday morning, May 27, 1915, H.A. Albaugh showed his love of baseball in two ways. He drove 42 miles over stone and hard-packed dirt roads from his home in Westminster to Frederick in order to see the Frederick Hustlers make their professional baseball debut. The drive took him about two hours and before leaving home, he made a bet with a friend that Frederick would win its opening day game. If the Hustlers lost, Albaugh promised that he would walk home.
It was a daring bet. The Hustlers were playing the Martinsburg Champs who had been the league champs in the defunct Tri-City League the previous year. Albaugh and Frederick City had chosen their champion, though, and the Hustlers didn’t disappoint.
Professional Baseball Comes to Frederick
Though baseball came to Frederick County near the beginning of the 20th Century, it wasn’t played professionally in the county until 1915. Until that time, you could watch town teams compete against each other.
The semi-pro Sunset League formed in 1907 and included a team from Frederick City. The league, which was named because its games were played from late afternoon until sunset, folded in 1911. Then in 1914, the Frederick Hustlers became part of the Tri-City League with Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va.
As the season was winding down, Charles Boyer, a former president of the South Atlantic League, moved back to the Hagerstown area. He watched the town teams playing each other and saw that there was talent among the players that deserved to be rewarded.
He purchased the Hagerstown team and set to work forming a new baseball league that would soon be named the Blue Ridge League. Boyer wanted the league to be a professional league, which meant that it needed a minimum of six teams.
“The Frederick team had been called the Black Sox in the Tri-City League, but as the Blue Ridge League started, they had a very fast team so they became the Hustlers,” says Mark Ziegler who runs the web site BlueRidgeLeague.org.
Boyer started with the three teams of the Tri-City League and was able to convince Chambersburg and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to field teams. While the league certainly had enough teams to play the 1915 season, it was short the needed number to petition the National Commission (now the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues) for professional status.
Then in March of 1915, Hanover joined the league and the Blue Ridge League was granted Class D recognition – the lowest class of professional status in baseball.
“It was entry level baseball,” says Robert Savitt, author of The Blue Ridge League and a Myersville resident. “Even though the players got paid, they still needed to have other jobs.”
As the teams set about recruiting players, they had little to offer despite the fact they were professional teams. Frederick lost the chance of having Ty Cobb’s younger brother play for the Hustlers because the team had already reached its $500 a month salary cap, according to the Frederick Post.
With the introduction of professional baseball to the region, towns caught baseball fever.
“Not a thing has been left undone to make the big day of the advent of Frederick into organized baseball one long to be remembered…” the Frederick Post reported on May 27, 1915, opening day for the season and the league.
The Frederick mayor and aldermen had declared the day a half holiday with most businesses closing their doors in the afternoon so that both employees and customers could go out to Agricultural Field to watch the Hustlers play the Martinsburg Champs. While the Hustlers were the hometown favorites, the Champs had won the 1914 pennant in the Tri-City League.
The events of the day kicked off with a parade at 1:30 p.m. A marching band struck up “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and started down Patrick Street. The band was followed by Frederick Police Chief George Hoffman riding a horse and most the Frederick Police force. The parade continued with 20 cars and six carriages carrying the players and other officials, including Mayor Lewis Fraley, Alderman Lloyd Culler and Alderman Henry Abbott.
The parade proceeded to the cemetery and then traveled to the fountain on North Market Street, down Market Street to the town square and out to Agricultural Park. The Fairgrounds Board had built the field in 1903 at the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.
An estimated 3,000 fans turned out to see the 3:30 p.m. game. Frederick won with a final score of 14-3.
“The game was a slaughter from the time Frederick began scoring in the second round until the last Martinsburg player was out in the ninth and by the time the sixth had arrived the fans had lost interest,” reported the Frederick Post.
It seemed that the Hustlers were on fire. From the opening day victory, they went on to win 17 of their first 20 games of the season.
Playing the Big Boys
As the season progressed, the Hustlers looked like they were unstoppable. However, on August 31, 1915, they were stopped quickly decisively. The new professional baseball league had caught the attention of major league coaches like Jack Dunn and Connie Mack. They were on the lookout for new talent.
Mack had already stolen away one of the Hustlers named Lew “Cy” Malone.
“Cy Malone was an infielder for the Hustlers before Mack took him up to the majors,” says Ziegler.
On August 31, Malone, Mack and the Athletics came to Frederick to play the Hustlers. Turnout at Agricultural Field was back to its opening day level.
Frederick took an early lead in the game, but “A fusillade of extra-base hits in the ninth inning of yesterday’s great game at Agricultural Park, enabled the Philadelphia Athletics to carry off a victory,” according to the Frederick Daily News. The final score was 7-3.
The newspaper noted that Malone played well and “looked like a big leaguer from every angle.”
By mid-August, the Hustlers had clinched the first pennant for the Blue Ridge League with six scheduled games left.
“They have obtained such a lead in the last month that it will not be necessary to play off the several postponed and tie games,” the Frederick Daily News Reported.
The Hustlers finished the season with a record of 53-23-1. The team also finished the season with the top hitter and pitcher in the league. Bobbie Orrison from Brunswick was an outfielder with a .341 batting average. Bill King of Jefferson was the pitcher with 17 wins.
It had also been a financially successful season. The Frederick Post noted the following year that, “The fans were joyous, we had a winning club, the pitchers and the best hitter was also a member of the Hustlers. Yes we were proud of our team and at the end of the season when the receipts were totaled it was found as already expected that the gate receipts of the Frederick club were far in advance of any other.”
For Hustlers’ catcher, Poke Whalen, the championship was even more important. He not only won a pennant, he won his wife. Nellie Wallet of Baltimore had promised to marry him if the Hustlers won the championship.
“This cheered Poke on and after the pennant was declared Frederick’s property, Poke went to Baltimore and had some minister to declare that Miss Wallet now belonged to him,” the Frederick Post reported.
Recapturing the Magic
However, as the Hustlers tried to maintain their championship title the following season, they faltered.
Though Martinsburg’s 1915 team had been the Champs, the Hustlers took the name for 1916, which seemed to set off a slew of name changes for the teams. The new name was no help. The Frederick Champs finished the season at 46-51. They took it as a bad sign and changed back to the Hustlers for 1917. However, Frederick wouldn’t produce another championship team until 1921.
Big League Buyout
Though the Major League teams recruited players from the Blue Ridge League, the teams remained independent. As the Blue Ridge League teams struggled financially, some dropped out of the league and others had to be added in order to maintain professional status.
In the late-1920’s, the teams began agreeing to Major League ownership. Not only would the Major League team financially support the small Blue Ridge League teams, but they would also lend the prestige of their names to the smaller teams.
“The Blue Ridge League was the pioneer in the formation of the farm system,” Savitt says.
In 1929, the Cleveland Indians purchased the Hustlers and the team changed its name to the Warriors, which was a better match with the parent team. The Indians had already plucked a Hustler from Frederick (Ray Gardner) years earlier and were hoping to develop more players in the future. The Indians even came to Frederick to play an exhibition game with the Warriors in June 1929.
“Having the Major League teams play exhibition games really generated fan interest,” says Savitt.
Though the Blue Ridge League was on the lowest rung of professional baseball, it had a lasting impact on baseball in addition to introducing the farm system to the sport. The league also pioneered playing night games under bright lights and playing games on Sunday. The latter actually led to players being arrested for violating Blue Laws.
The End of the League
Despite the support of Major League ownership, the Blue Ridge Teams continued to struggle.
“With the stock market crash in 1929, a lot of Major League team owners lost money and could no longer support the Blue Ridge teams and the league never came back from that,” Ziegler says.
The longest-running Class D baseball league ended its run on February 10, 1930.
A few attempts were made to revive the league in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but these leagues lasted only a few seasons and were never more than semi-pro.
The Blue Ridge League’s legacy is not only the lasting changes that it introduced to baseball, but also the many Major League players who got their professional start in the league. This includes Baseball Hall of Famers pitcher Lefty Grove who played with Martinsburg in 1920, outfielder Hack Wilson who played with Martinsburg 1921-1922 and umpire Bill McGowan who was with the league in 1917.
Find Out More
- The Blue Ridge League by Robert P. Savitt (Available from the publisher online at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.)
- The Blue Ridge League: http://www.blueridgeleague.org
- Baseball-Reference.com: Frederick Hustlers: http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Frederick_Hustlers