Minor League History: Blue Ridge League

The Blue Ridge League was located in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. The league was founded in 1915 and had headquarters in Hagerstown. It started with six teams, as the National Commission (now known as National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or NAPB) required. Charles H. Boyer, who also owned the Hagerstown franchise, became the president of the league, something that would cause a controversy later.

The league was qualified as a Class D League. Shortly before the season, the city of Hagerstown let Boyer know that the lease of the ballpark where the Hagerstown Blues would play, was raised to $350 per season.The previous year,  Boyer’s team also played at the place for 100 for the season.  Boyer said that the new amount was to costly for his club to operate.

Without a place to play, Boyer feared that the city that was home to the headquarter of the league would be without a team. But three weeks before the season started, someone donated a piece of land where a small ballpark was erected with wooden bleachers. So the first season for Hagerstown in the Blue Ridge League was saved.

The league had an eighty-game schedule in that first sesaon.

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Opening day 1915 in Hanover

Cities represented:

Chambersburg, PA: Chambersburg Maroons 1915-1917; Chambersburg Maroons 1920-1928; Chambersburg Young Yanks1929-1930
Cumberland, MD: Cumberland Colts 1917-1918
Frederick, MD: Frederick Hustlers 1915, 1917; Frederick Champs 1916; Frederick Hustlers 1920-1928; Frederick Warriors1929-1930
Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg Patriots 1915; Gettysburg Ponies 1916-1917
Hagerstown, MD: Hagerstown Blues 1915; Hagerstown Terriers 1916-1918; Hagerstown Champs 1920-1921; Hagerstown Terriers 1922-1923; Hagerstown Hubs 1924-1930, moved to Middle Atlantic League 1931
Hanover, PA: Hanover Hornets 1915; Hanover Raiders 1916-1917; Hanover Raiders 1920-1929
Martinsburg, WV: Martinsburg Champs 1915; Martinsburg Blue Sox 1916-1917; Martinsburg Mountaineers 1918; Martinsburg Mountaineers 1920-1921; Martinsburg Blue Sox 1922-1929
Piedmont, WV & Westernport, MD: Piedmont-Westernport Drybugs 1918
Waynesboro, PA: Waynesboro Red Birds 1920; Waynesboro Villagers 1921-1927; Waynesboro Red Birds 1928-1930

Even though a war was raging in other parts of the world, the Blue Ridge League brought excitement during the first years.

Even though there was not something like a farm system in those days, that didn’t mean that no agreements were made between Minor League clubs and Major League clubs. The Washington Senators for example sent down shortstop Tom Connely. At the time there was no room for him on the Senators’ roster, so the club sent him to the Frederick Hustlers to get playing time.

Halfway the season, the owners of the clubs decided to impose a salary cap of $800 per month. In general players were paid $50 a month but the salary of the better players varied from $75 to $125 per month.

The ballparks in the league differed enormously. There were fields without a proper outfield fence, so cars could line up to the outfield grass to watch the game. Other ballparks had barns in the outfield and perhaps the worst playing field at the time was that in Chambersburg, which was a converted corn field during the summer.

After the Frederick Hustlers had won the 1915 pennant, the team changed its name into Frederick Champions. The Martinsburg team named themselves this way in 1915, after they won the Sunset League championship in 1914. In 1916 the club adopted Mountaineers as their club moniker.

Before the start of the 1916 sesaon a new rule was imposed that limited the use of players with MLB experience (like Tom Connely of the Washington Senators) and to use only two players that had played in Class B or C leagues. Even though the idea was good, the ways to verify a player’s status were limited, is was still possible to play under an alias.
As mentioned above, the double interest of Charles H. Boyer, caused controversy. The other owners in the league claimed that the upmpires that Boyer hired were calling in his team’s favor, especially when the team was playing home games. Also newspapers outside Hagerstown spurred the public opinion about the situation. Boyer resigned as league president and eventually sold his Hagerstown club too. The owners voted to replace Boyer and a local Hagerstown business man, named James Vincent Jamison jr.

The Chambersburg Maroons would win the pennant in 1916 and they would be followed by the Hagerstown Terriers in 1917. Jamison faced some difficulties in 1917 as some teams faced financial difficulties and didn’t pay their forfeit to the league. Jamison issued an ultimatum to the Chambersburg franchise. If they would not pay the forfeit money before June 30, the club would be withdrawn and replaced by another club.
Jamison proved to be a man of his word as the Maroons were pulled and their place was given to the Cumberland Colts that played in the now-defunct Potomac League in 1916, and had kept their club intact, playing an independent schedule.

The league started the 1918  season with four teams but after three weeks the league ceased activities because a lack of players and a lack of funds due to war effort of the United States.

After the war was over, the league didn’t return immediately in 1919, but in 1920 the league would start playing again. The league would field six teams again; five of the original league when it started in 1915 (Hagerstown, Martinsburg, Chambersburg, Hanover and Frederick). The new kid in town was Waynesboro that was awarded a franchise when Gettysburg did not have an adequate facility.

The teams had a fourteen-man roster including the player/manager and played a schedule of hundred games. The season ran from mid-May through Labor Day.

During the second run, the Blue Ridge League was home to several future hall of famers like Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove and Hack Wilson.

Champions of the Blue Ridge League 1920-1925:

1920 Hagerstown Champs
1921 Frederick Hustlers
1922 Martinsburg Blue Sox
1923 Martinsburg Blue Sox
1924 Martinsburg Blue Sox
1925 Hagerstown Hubs

1925 would be the last year in which the pennant would be decided without play offs. In 1926 the Hagerstown Hubs finished on top of the standings and faced the runner up, the Frederick Hustlers in the play offs. Hagerstown ended up beating Frederick  by three games to one.
In 1927 the Chambersburg Maroons woud beat the Martinsburg Blue Sox 2-0.
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The Hanover Raiders (shown above) won the pennant in 1928 by beating the Chambersburg Maroons 4-1.
Hagerstown would bring another title home in 1929 when they beat Martinsburg 4-2 in the play offs.

The 1930 season would be the last for the time being. Many clubs were facing financial difficulties due to the 1929 stock exchange crash.
The league would start the season with four teams (Chambersburg, Frederick, Hagerstown and Waynesboro). The league would even finish the season as other leagues folded during the season. Chambersburg, now an affiliation of the Yankees, beat Waynesboro 2-1.

Even though there were no signs at the end of the season, the league announced on February 10, 1931 that it would dissolve (see attached PDF for a copy of the Frederick Pos of February 10 1931.

BRL end – 02101931
In 1946 a new Blue Ridge League would start. But it didn’t have anything to do with the previous one as the states where it operated were North Carolina and Virginia. The league lasted five seasons.

If you want to read more about the Blue Ridge League, I can recommend this book:

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For the real baseball history freaks, this is a must read.

 

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