Hopedale History No. 9

    With spring training season here, I thought it would be a good time to send out an article on
    Blackstone Valley baseball.

    First, though, I want to mention some changes I’ve made to the Hopedale history website. I don’t know
    much about putting a website together except what I learn as I go along so I’m frequently finding things
    that need to be changed.  The site looked fine on my monitor but I wasn’t thinking about those of you
    who had screen resolutions set for 600 x 800 or something other than 1024 x 768 which is what I use.  
    You should be able to read it now without dragging the page back and forth.  Also, I took care of some
    links that weren’t working.  

    Now, on to the baseball story written by Doug Reynolds and published in Labor’s Heritage in 1991.  
    Below, is the first paragraph of the main article and an interview with Joe Morgan. Click here to read
    the entire article.

    Reflecting on a lifetime in baseball spent as a player, front office executive and part owner, Hall of
    Fame member Hank Greenberg recalled, "If you could visualize East Douglas, Massachusetts and the
    East Douglas ball club and the Blackstone Valley League you would understand much of the United
    States in the 1920s" Before the former first baseman signed a professional contract with the Detroit
    Tigers, he played for the East Douglas team, hitting a home run his first time at bat.  Walter Schuster,
    who owned the East Douglas team, the woolen mill and just about everything else in town was so
    impressed with this feat and so desperately wanted to make sure that Greenberg would continue to
    play for his team that he gave the teenager $175 on the spot, an amount equal to two months' wages
    for the average working man at the time.

                                         Remembering the End of an Era

                     Telephone interview with Boston Red Sox manager Joe Morgan
                                                      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 the George Otis Draper mansion and was being used by Draper Corporation as an inn and
    restaurant at the time Morgan worked there.  It was said that the town line ran through the middle of the
    building and alcohol was served on the Milford side.] 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 1,200" and in a mill village of fewer than 6,000 people, that was something.

    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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