Hagerstown Braves 1952
Washington Countians’ passion for baseball goes back over 150 years. The “Hagerstown Base Ball Club” was holding regular meetings and ballgames during the Civil War and rival town teams were competing in spirited contests throughout the latter half of the 19th century.
The first professional organization – the Cumberland Valley League – operated for a brief period in the 1890s before costly payrolls forced its closure.
In 1915, a group of businessmen in Hagerstown, Chambersburg, Waynesboro, Martinsburg and several other nearby towns established the first area league to be sanctioned by major league baseball – the Blue Ridge League. Local pioneers included Charles W. Boyer -- a hotel and theater entrepreneur – and J. Vincent Jamison – head of a very successful Hagerstown business. The league operated until 1930 – with a wartime break in 1918-19 – and was considered one of the most successful operations of its kind by major league baseball leaders. Among the baseball greats who got their starts in the Blue Ridge League were Lefty Grove, Hack Wilson, Jimmy Dykes, Lu Blue, Clyde Barnhart and Willie Sherdel. Over 100 Blue Ridge ballplayers ultimately played in the major leagues.
Unfortunately, economic conditions during the Great Depression forced the league to fold after the 1930 season. Hagerstown had an entry in the Middle Atlantic League for a brief period in 1931, but the team was forced by the poor economy to abandon the city.
It was not until 1941 that Hagerstown was again able to host a professional team. The 10-year void, however, was filled by several local amateur/semi-pro leagues, including the highly respected Washington County League. The latter produced several major league stars, including Charley Keller, Boots Poffenberger and Vic Barnhart.
In 1941, Hagerstown city leaders were able to convince a Sunbury, Pennsylvania businessman to move his entry in the Inter-State League to Hagerstown. The Hagerstown Owls were affiliated with a higher-level minor league team in Buffalo before joining the Chicago Cubs organization in 1945 and the Detroit Tigers in 1947. In 1950, the team was sold and became the Hagerstown Braves when it switched affiliations to Boston’s National League franchise.
The Inter-State League folded in 1952, but Hagerstown was able to secure a team in the Piedmont League. The team signed a working agreement with the Washington Senators and changed its nickname to the Packets – a link with the city’s Fairchild aircraft operation. When the Piedmont League ceased operation in 1955, Hagerstown faced a void in professional baseball representation until 1981.
Local amateur/semi-pro teams – which had remained popular throughout this period of professional baseball – again stepped into the breach and provided quality, spirited baseball to Washington Countians.
In 1981, professional baseball returned to the county in the form of the Hagerstown Suns of the Carolina League. Over a quarter-century later, the Suns remain a popular draw at Municipal Stadium. During this period, the team has played in the Carolina League, Eastern League and South Atlantic League and has been affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and, now, the Washington Nationals.
|Western Maryland Regional Library is grateful to Bob Savitt for his History of Professional Baseball in Washington County.