December 16, 1990

    The legacy of Blackstone Valley baseball endures even today in the major leagues.  Boston Red Sox
    manager Joe Morgan played shortstop for the Draper Company team in Hopedale, Massachusetts, during
    the summers of 1949, 1950 and 1951.  He recalls that an acquaintance, Johnny Turko, asked him to
    consider playing in the Blackstone Valley League when he was eighteen years old and preparing to start
    his college baseball career at Boston College.  Morgan found the skill level of league players higher than
    any he had ever experienced.  "You got a rude awakening in that league...college ball wasn't as good as
    the Blackstone Valley League, no comparison."  Teams "had a ton of guys that played professional ball."

    Morgan credits three main factors for the high quality of play in the league.  The first was the willingness
    of managers to pay for professional baseball services.  In addition to average mill wages for a forty hour a
    week job as a grounds keeper, Morgan received $25 for each baseball game - the payment rate for
    infielders and outfielders.  "I worked two years for the mill and one year for the Larches.  That was a bar
    just across the Hopedale town line.  Hopedale was dry in those days." (I'm sure most who were familiar
    with The Larches would object to Morgan's description of it as a bar. It had been built as a Draper mansion. For
    years I thought it had been the George Otis Draper mansion and was being used by Draper Corporation as an
    inn and restaurant at the time Morgan worked there. Hopedale was a "dry town" in those days. It was said that
    the town line ran through the middle of the building and alcohol was served on the Milford side.I knew Draper's
    original home on the site had burned, but thought the current structure was what he had built to replace it.
    Eventually I learned that he sold it to his aunt, Hannah Draper Osgood. The fire occurred a month after she
    purchased it, and the place that's there now is what she had built.) ] Pitchers and catchers on the Hopedale
    team received $35 per game and sometimes bonuses.  Team officials also made sure players had housing
    and food.  Morgan spent his first year in a Hopedale boarding house and succeeding seasons with a local
    family.  

    A second reason league teams were exceptionally good in the Morgan era was the age and maturity of a
    lot of the players.  Many had "already been in the army for four or five years" where they found the
    opportunity to hone skills on semi-professional military teams during and after World War II.  Nearby Fort
    Devens had a team "that was something" and regularly played Blackstone Valley League teams.  Most
    players in the late 1940s under the G.I. bill continued baseball careers on college teams after leaving the
    service.  The better industrial teams recruited players from the colleges.  "It was tough," Morgan explains,
    "on a high school kid.  For a guy leaving home for the first time it was quite an experience."  

    A third reason for the quality of play in the league was the recruiting activity of mill officials.   The Hayward -
    Schuster Mill in East Douglas drew southerners.  Whitinsville had "some connection with the Phillies"
    organization.  Hopedale was "mostly Holy Cross" when Holy Cross was still a national power in college
    athletics.  "That was a good league in those days.  There were an awful lot of really good players in it."

    Why did mills join the Blackstone Valley League and recruit the best players they could?  "Entertainment.  
    It definitely was entertainment.  A real good crowd [in Hopedale] might have been 1,000 or 1,500," and in a
    mill village of fewer than 6,000 people, that was something. (Actually about 3000 in the 1950s.)

    And why was the league discontinued?  Morgan does not know.  But his statements provide a clue.  
    Draper Field, the ball park his team played in, "...was a beauty.  They made a parking lot out of it and sent
    the lights down south somewhere." [Well, they didn't make a parking lot out of it but they did send the
    lights south. I believe they went to Spartanburg where Drapers had a large plant.]  Indeed, the prosperity
    of World War II and its aftermath did not continue in New England mills.  With the migration of textile and
    related industries to less expensive labor markets, mill owners no longer had a reason to continue the
    league.

                         
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    .

    Draper Corporation Blackstone Valley League
    baseball team, 1951. Back row, fifth from left,
    former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan.

Remembering the End of an Era

Telephone interview with Boston Red Sox manager Joe Morgan

By Doug Reynolds

Labor's Heritage, April 1991

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