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.
This seemingly generous but at the same time calculated act is an example of the
paternalism common to the factory towns that to a greater or lesser extent represented the
industrial life of this country. By the 1920s baseball had become one of the many
paternalistic practices through which business interests attempted to promote "healthier
citizenship," increase efficiency, block unions and "suppress Bolshevism." Blackstone
Valley League baseball can be seen as a microcosm of the mingling of paternalism, sport
and the history of industrial labor in twentieth century America.
The Blackstone River Valley, stretching forty-six miles between Worcester, Massachusetts,
and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has received considerable attention as the "Cradle of the
American Industrial Revolution." Samuel Slater founded the first mechanized factory in the
United States at Pawtucket in 1790, and workmen trained under Slater moved upriver to
establish their own factories. By the mid-nineteenth century the movement resulted in the
damming of more than 400 feet of the river's 438 foot drop, harnessing power for spinning,
cotton, woolen and other textile mills. The agricultural and mercantile nature of rural New
England life was forever transformed.
A prominent but little-recognized aspect of Samuel Slater's revolution was a philosophy of
paternalism, embedded in what became known as the "Rhode Island system" of
management. The practice consisted of mill owners' total domination of mill work and mill
life. Entire families worked long hours for low wages with employers providing necessities
such as housing, utilities, fuel, churches, civic organizations and education.
By the start of the twentieth century, a social contract was implicit in Blackstone Valley mill
village life. Mill owners established a moral economy in which workers earned only half to
three-quarters of the wages paid in similar factories but received considerable benefits in
exchange. Some firms, for instance, provided extensive housing in multiple family units at
reduced rents and important bread-and-butter benefits for workers. Company hospitals
brought workers into the world and company cemeteries bore them out. Workers enjoyed
company dances and athletic facilities and concerns. Immigrant workers participated in
company Americanization programs. Workers' children found jobs and security awaiting
them in the mills, just as the children of mill owners inherited their parents' good fortunes.
The companies offered jobs and community security, if not skilled work at high wages, and
the workers provided the loyalty and hard work that mill owners expected in return.
According to the corporate biographer of the Whitin Machine Works in Whitinsville,
"By projecting the company into civic affairs [the mill owner]...could visualize reflected
benefits in low taxes on the company's property. By providing, through the company, social
welfare and security he could envision a stable, loyal, and at the same time efficient force of
employees?. During the 1920s he invested a few well-placed hundred thousand dollars in
community betterment and in return obtained peaceful, friendly labor relations."
Baseball played a leading role in Blackstone Valley paternalism. Mill owners used
baseball, like other features of mill village paternalism, to reduce labor turnover. As a
recreational activity for participants and spectators, baseball also promoted the values of
the business community: team play through individual accomplishment, allegiance to
company and community, pride in skill and the belief that individual well-being and success
were directly dependent on the success of business. These themes loomed large in mill
owners' efforts to "Americanize" Armenian, Polish, Italian and other immigrant workers,
inculcating in them what the mill owners considered to be habits of loyalty and good
citizenship. The game also allowed mill owners the opportunity to fulfill a sincere sense of
noblesse oblige toward workers and communities in which they operated. Paternalistic
practices, if they appear to be hypocritical and dominating in hindsight, were often pursued
with goodwill and the best of intentions.
In 1905 when the textile industry was booming and paternalistic activities expanding, the
owners first formed and personally funded baseball teams. By the mid-1910s, as textile
growth continued, mill owners began hiring professional journeymen players from New
England and New York rather than relying on local amateurs. Both mill owners and
spectators enjoyed the heightened level of playing expertise. Managers funneled local
talent into shop leagues where more people could participate. The early leagues
stagnated under the social and economic pressures of World War I. In the ensuing
economic depression and social upheaval of 1919-1922, those regional leagues that
continued at all reverted to amateur status. By the mid-1920s, however, stabilized
economic and social conditions brought the return of professionalism to Blackstone Valley
In 1924, Massachusetts mill owners organized the Blackstone Valley Industrial League to
include teams from the Massachusetts mill towns of Whitinsville, Rockdale, Uxbridge,
Douglas, Fisherville and Millbury; the Draper Company team from Hopedale joined the
league immediately thereafter. E. Kent Swift helped found the league by pulling his Whitin
Machine Shop team from the Triangle Industrial League, founded in 1919 and comprised of
teams from factories in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. Swift believed that the active
recruitment of semi-professional and professional ball players by the Triangle League's
teams had taken the hometown pleasure of baseball out of the game. By contrast, he
noted that the Blackstone Valley teams were "located within more convenient distances...
and the caliber of the players limited to such an extent that one team will not have any great
outstanding advantage." Plant owners intended to move away from the semiprofessional
and professional standings of the Triangle League in order to "develop local talent." An
underlying motive was to better preserve the isolated nature of mill town life that was
compromised in the 1920s by growing consumerism and the advent of the automobile.
Tight corporate control was reflected in the composition of the Blackstone League's board
of directors. Archie Cooper, head agent of the Rockdale Mills, was named league
president and H. S. Crawford of the Whitin Machine Works employment department served
as secretary-treasurer. Other board members consisted of two delegates from the
management of each mill. League games created immense local popular appeal. Rapidly
developing rivalries added to the flavor of the games, and by 1927 fan attendance was
usually in the thousands for league games.
Soon, however, the Blackstone Valley League proved no less resistant to professionalism
than the Triangle League. As one former employee of Walter Schuster noted, "They
brought in a lot of passable players that had been either in the big leagues or didn't quite
make it, and they had no place else to go but the money was good, the playing time was
good...always had big crowds, lots of enthusiasm." Recruitment was not limited to the
region. Some mill owners used contacts from their Southern mills to bolster rosters.
Colleges, too, proved a source of good players.
Sometimes a mill owner's deep passion for the sport was reason enough for the existence
of league baseball in a community and fueled the professional side of the sport. The best
example was Schuster, who regularly held Red Sox season tickets and corresponded with
professional teams. While his paternalistic practices never reached the levels of those
found in the neighboring Massachusetts towns of Hopedale or Whitinsville, he was a
baseball enthusiast, establishing a quasi-private player's club and regular social events
centered around the games. "Sports for sports sake has been Mr. Schuster's watchword at
all times," wrote one local sports columnist.
"Money has been no object to him. If any way he could increase the happiness of his fellow
townsmen by giving them the recreation they craved, there was no further debate about
such things as money. Mr. Schuster immediately dug down into his own pocket and saw to
it that his neighbors had the best there was - Mr. Schuster has been the good angel - [in]
the Blackstone Valley that has watched some of the best players in the game perform."
Schuster early began hiring scouts from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to
direct players to his team. Other mill owners soon followed Schuster's lead but could never
match his enthusiasm or the scale of his influence within professional baseball.
Schuster and other owners recruited local ball players and brought in others from outside
the region. Future major leaguers included Hank Greenberg, Leo "Gabby" Hartnett, Gene
Desautels, Irving "Bump" Hadley and Wes Ferrell. The players received jobs in the mills of
their teams as required by the league's rules. The work seems never to have been
demanding, when performed at all, and pay scales remained a closely guarded secret,
though ball players seem to have earned wages comparable to those of factory operatives.
As one former coach recalled:
"No question about it. Wherever they got money, nobody talked about it. They didn't have
to work too hard, he made them work, they would paint fences or some damn thing. You'd
work in the a.m. Then you'd stop in the p.m., but then you'd have to practice. You didn't
have to work a full day, then you'd play twice a week anyway."
Through the end of the 1920s, the industrial baseball leagues of the Blackstone Valley
rose to popularity and success. Games in Douglas and elsewhere regularly drew crowds
larger than the town's entire population. The league offered play and players as good as
any semi-professional and some professional teams. Dozens of players moved from the
Blackstone Valley into the professional ranks and back again. The league also took in
professional coaches and managers who already had, or would have professional
experience. Some team owners encouraged workers to regularly take up monetary
donations to temporarily purchase the talents of professional players, visiting Boston and
other New England communities, when available. As one former Fisherville worker recalled:
"Schuster had the dough...he had the money to dump in, and he'd bring in the big guys...
Well, we gotta do something about this. We can't beat him with local help so we got an
organization in the Fisherville mills, and the Farnumsville mills and the Rockdale mills, and
them places. [We'd] say well, we've got to take up a collection. We got mad, see, so we
said we've got to throw in a half dollar apiece and hire a pitcher and catcher, right?...And
the next thing it got growing...so that maybe this week you'd have to throw in a dollar to get
a first baseman and an outfielder that could hit."
By 1929 mill owners, seeing the community and shop floor benefits of having a winning
team. Hired full time players and managers. They paid for bats, balls, gloves, uniforms and
transportation, erected ball parks, sold concessions and expanded the league. Not every
ball field, however, had ideal playing conditions. One worker recalled a Grafton,
"There'd be an open [factory] shed and down in back there was the sorriest sort of ballpark
that you'd ever want to see. They had a diamond; the diamond itself was beautiful! But
other than that there was a sewer - there was a cesspool running down through left field.
And there was a fellow named Ernest Prue got nicknamed "Skipper" because where the
cesspool was running down through left field he could tell by the thickness of the grass it
was time to jump...He would be running like the dickens and when he got to where the grass
was tall, he'd jump...and it'd look like he was flying through the air and he'd catch that ball.
They called him Skipper from skipping that cesspool. The name stuck with him."
A Worcester newspaper in 1926 gushed that, "When it comes to singling out and naming
the hotbed of baseball in these United States, you can cross off your list such cities as New
York, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit...The most red blooded baseball center in America...
inch for inch, and soul for soul... is in the Blackstone Valley. "
Baseball in the Rhode Island portion of the Blackstone Valley stands in a different light
than the well-organized and thoroughly dominated system of league play that
Massachusetts Blackstone mill communities experienced. Textile work also predominated in
Rhode Island, and mill owners in the Blackstone Valley began forming industrial leagues at
the same time as their Massachusetts peers. Two semi-professional leagues operated in
the lower valley. One was the Manufacturers' League of Pawtucket. The second, covering
mill villages and the Woonsocket area, was the District Manufacturers' League. Again the
logic was mostly a response to the labor market.
Mill owners in Rhode Island, however, tended to be less involved in day-to-day community
activities. They were more often absentee owners, and their company's stock was more
widely held. They also tended to be more involved in local and regional manufacturing
organizations and delegated many of their specific mill tasks to managers and lower level
officials. Further, the river's geography fostered larger communities like Pawtucket and
Woonsocket, where the mills clustered for water power. Population bases were therefore
larger and more ethnically diverse, and mill life was somewhat less cloistered.
In Massachusetts towns like Whitinsville and Hopedale, there was never any pretension
that employees had a voice in controlling the activities of the firms. The tone of labor
relations there reflected the influence of the vocal and sometimes brusque National
Association of Manufacturers. By contrast, labor relations in Rhode Island were influenced
by the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). For example, Fenno J. Porter, who in
1928 served as head of the service committee at the Sayles Finishing Company in
Saylesville, Rhode Island, had formerly served as secretary to the Pawtucket YMCA and
came to Sayles to oversee the organization of all leisure time activities for workers.
The YMCA sought to impart white, male, Protestant and capitalistic culture to prevent
ethnic and "radical" unrest. Quiet mill and factory communities that were already more or
less dominated company towns, like Saylesville, were directly tied by Porter and others to
the Y's 1920s labor relations movement. The YMCA's apparent influence gave labor
relations and mill community life in Rhode Island a more sophisticated tone than those in
Massachusetts communities. This atmosphere produced employees' associations modeled
after those founded first at General Electric - today commonly referred to as company
unions. These existed at Sayles and elsewhere. Giving workers a sense of participation in
Nevertheless, in Rhode Island as in Massachusetts, the common objective of employers
was to control local labor markets and the social atmosphere of the shop floor. Henry J.
Veins, superintendent of the General Fabric Company's central plant, admitted that,
"Everything being done here is with the idea of encouraging our people to stay with us."
One of Vein's chief tasks was to oversee game scheduling and maintenance of the ball field
across the street from the mill. Similarly, Fenno Porter explained that, "these new sports
are the best thing we have...to bring employees together. They create a spirit of
neighborliness and good friendship throughout the plant." And Benjamin Griffith, director of
the service program department which sponsored a variety of activities at J.P. Coates
Company in Pawtucket, in a rare admittance, explained the bottom line to corporate support
of baseball in the Blackstone Valley.
"Let the worker get outdoors [either as participant or observer]...and when the whistle
blows he will return refreshed both mentally and physically...adding to the life of the worker
and to his period of productivity. Both the worker and the company benefit."
The contribution baseball made to workers' quality of life cannot be dismissed. Blackstone
Valley baseball stood in stark contrast to the often dreary and monotonous village life of the
factory operative. In contrast to the darkened and noisy factory with its carefully measured
machines, materials and time, baseball is played outside, by task and without a clock. In
baseball managers not only sit on the bench with players, but also wear the same work
clothes. Without lapsing into the romantic sentimentality that so many intellectuals seem to
enjoy in their regard for baseball, it is worthwhile to remember that the sport is essentially
preindustrial and grew in popularity as industrialism grew. Even today baseball conjures
images of an idyllic American past more so than an idyllic American present. It is no
coincidence the Draper Corporation, the Whitin Machine Works and other industrial firms
were experimenting with scientific management programs at the same time they started
their league, or simultaneously discontinued the league and scientific management
experiments in the Great Depression.
There was also a democratic egalitarianism associated with baseball that did not exist in
the mill or mill community. Polish, French-Canadian, Armenian and other workers,
ethnically segregated on the shop floor, played on integrated teams. A handful of African-
Americans, who would not find valley employment available to them until World War II
except in metropolitan Pawtucket, were also recruited to play ball. They played on teams in
most communities that otherwise remained lily white. One mill worker recalled this
experience, couching baseball in the language of the shop.
"They had what they called the Philadelphia Colored Giant...Great big tall fellow, and he
was a terrific pitcher. So they would pay him a hundred dollars to come down here and
pitch...and they'd give him so much per strike-out. He'd be like he was on piecework. He'd
probably get twelve or fourteen strike-outs a game, for which they'd give him a hundred and
The advent of the Great Depression brought sharp changes in mill-town and shop floor
relations. A series of sharp wage cuts in the early 1930s signified the breaking of the moral
contract between employers and workers that paternalism had previously signified.
Employers, however proved loyal to ball players:
"You played ball, Schuster made you work, you had some job in the mill, you didn't kill
yourself, but you worked everyday...[And] you practiced everyday. He had a place where
you stayed, a rooming house and he made sure you got your meals and so forth, and then
you got paid. I would say that they got as much [money as workers] if not more, depending
upon if you were a pitcher you would probably get a little more. Everybody [was] quiet
about what you were getting and how you were getting it."
This favored treatment, however, created animosity both on the shop floor and in the
community. "Yes, he'd give them a job, no question about that. Sometimes this created
[jealousy]; if you weren't working you're not too fond of someone that is working. Yes, it did
cause some problems." For many workers and managers, the sport especially had become
a point of potential conflict during the textile industry's slow season, which coincided with
the baseball season, because the mill owners showed favoritism by not laying off baseball
Unemployment in larger Rhode Island mill communities such as Pawtucket and
Woonsocket ran as high as fifty percent. Figures for Blackstone Valley towns in both
Massachusetts and Rhode Island are much lower but misleading because once
unemployed, a worker and his family were evicted from company housing and, quite
literally, the community as well. In January 1932 workers launched a bitter strike at five mills
belonging to the Uxbridge Worsted Company, protesting a reduction in wages. The
workers lost their strike when owner Charles Root threatened to close the mills permanently.
The industrial leagues virtually disappeared between 1931 and 1935 as worker unrest
grew. In 1934 workers at Rockdale, Uxbridge Worsted Company and other Blackstone
Valley mills joined a national strike by textile workers from Maine to Georgia for recognition
of the Textile Workers Union. Rockdale employees eventually returned to work, but only
after the company sold workers' homes to break the union. Similar threats were made by
employers elsewhere in a coldly calculated strategy designed to deliver an irrevocable
message to workers who might consider further protest. For workers this strike and its
results became the symbol of paternalism's end in the Blackstone Valley. Employers
throughout the region pointed to it as an example of the evils of unionism and their reaction
successfully forestalled union organization for another fifteen years in most Massachusetts
In northern Rhode Island workers also joined this national movement for recognition of the
Textile Workers Union. Anger and desperation turned to looting when several plant
managers refused to shut down and local police fired tear gas into crowds. Mill owners in
Rhode Island had traditionally maintained closer ties to elected officials at the state level
than had the Massachusetts mill owners, and with the full support of Governor T. F. Green,
the National Guard intervened. Barricading streets and setting up machine gun nests, the
Guard "restored the peace" but not jobs or wage cuts.
The strike did prove important to the career of Thomas P. McCoy, a former labor leader
with the Transit Workers Union and an Irish Democratic machine politician, cast in the spirit
of Tammany Hall in New York City and the Pendergast organization in Kansas City,
Missouri. McCoy was elected to the powerful city auditor's position in Pawtucket. From that
position he forged ahead with tax restructuring and issued bonds to pay off indebtedness.
Elected mayor in 1936, McCoy gained control of police, fire and other services, allowing
him to control considerable job patronage, and he instigated a crusade for municipal
ownership of utilities. He used public funds and New Deal programs to build new schools,
water and filtration systems, a new city hall and a dozen other public facilities. These
activities, however, brought sensational but accurate charges of mishandling of finances,
corruption, graft and favoritism. McCoy argued that his administration had "helped the
needy, saved and expanded industry, increased new private construction by eleven million
dollars and instituted the lowest per capita tax rate in New England."
No charge against McCoy drew more attention than "McCoy's Folly," the building of the
Hammond Pond Stadium on swampland. Using federal and local money, the planning,
filling and construction of the stadium was begun in 1939 and completed in 1942; it served
as the home of the Pawtucket Slaters, named for industrial pioneer Samuel Slater. As with
all of McCoy's public building efforts, this one served several purposes. The project
expected to provide jobs, to "eliminate the Malaria swamp" and to "build baseball."
According to one recollection, "there were reports of machinery sinking into the mud and
disappearing and betting was rampant that [it], once finished, might still sink into the muck."
The stadium, however, remains operational to this day.
Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium established baseball as a New Deal institution for public good
rather than private interest. A columnist for the Pawtucket Evening Times proudly noted
that "Baseball and politics, like hot dogs and mustard, go together in this city...McCoy knew
that Pawtucket voters loved baseball; his stadium was built and he was re-elected four
I'm not including photos with this article at this time, but here's a caption from a picture of
McCoy Stadium that is in the original article: "McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island,
present home of the Boston Red Sox's top minor league team. Originally known as
Hammond Pond Stadium or 'McCoy's Folly,' the building of this ball park signaled the shift
of local area baseball from the corporate to the public sphere."
In Rhode Island McCoy shifted big time baseball from the corporate to the public sphere at
precisely the same time that mill owners, in the face of New Deal labor legislation and labor
upheaval, lost the paternalistic grip they held over textile communities, In 1937 workers had
successfully installed the Independent Textile Union in Woonsocket. The same year McCoy
supported bringing union organization to Pawtucket's mills. The rise of independent
professional and semi-professional community, rather than corporate, teams paralleled the
growing force of the industrial labor movement under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New
The start of World War II, however, temporarily curtailed the emergence of baseball as
controlled by the community. Labor shortages during the war, when millions of workers,
including baseball players, went into the armed services, returned the Blackstone League
once again to amateur status. But the purpose of baseball and work in a mill community,
from employers' viewpoints, remained the same. Baseball and mill work both provided:
"The form of unselfishness and devotion to friend and fellow man which makes organization
of any sort possible. It is the basis of business success, the foundation of the home, of the
church, of the state, and of society itself. Loyalty in business is evidenced by a man's
becoming a real part of the organization with which he is connected; by his being fair and
square in all dealings with his associates and by his exerting a whole hearted attitude
towards success. The loyal worker is...heart and soul with the organization because he
knows that his welfare is bound up with the success of the business. The loyal employer is
the one who is heart and soul with his workers because he knows that his success depends
upon his cooperation." This quote, along with the others, is footnoted but the copy I have
doesn't have the footnotes.]
For valley residents the world became a smaller place during and after World War II. The
decline in immigration following that the national immigrant restriction laws of 1921 and
1924 meant that by the post-war era a second more acculturated, generation worked in the
mills. Many had served in the armed forces or in valley defense plants where production
became openly tied to the fight for democracy. Because of this experience workers proved
less willing to accept full corporate dominance. "And all of a sudden," said one valley
"They saw Paree, and that's true, and back they came and it's like it was every place else in
the country. It's never going to be the same again, and we had been out there. We'd seen
what's out there, and you know, you [the bosses] are not going to oppress us any longer.'"
War and related work pressures, including long hours and low wages, brought further
efforts to unionize in the valley. In 1945 Whitin Machine Works employees won a thirteen-
week union recognition strike and joined the United Steel Workers of America. Richard
Malgren, who was Whitin's starting pitcher twenty years earlier but had long retired from
regular baseball activities because of his age, not only helped organize the union but was
also elected its first president. He and other Whitin workers, like McCoy before them,
wrested the social activities of mill town life away from the control of employers and put
them into the public sphere.
In post-war collective bargaining Whitin workers won the right to purchase their own
baseball equipment. John Andonian, a union organizer and foundry worker, recalled this
"They had what they called a shop league. They supply you the bats and the balls and
you could buy spike shoes at a reduced price. Things like that. That was a sort of a fringe
benefit you got; who the hell wanted that? We wanted to pay for all these things like normal
human beings. We worked on it during negotiations, we don't want any baseball, we don't
want any bats, we'll let each team pay for their own. Never mind all this baseball business
and the low rents and they give you a plot of land and you can plant vegetables and....They
gave you the fertilizer on top of all that... that kind of shit we could get on our own. So that
Baseball now represented an independence and self-determination which for Whitin's
industrial workers, unionism brought to mill life.
After the war baseball remained popular with local residents and workers. Officials at the
Hayward-Schuster Mill in Douglas recognized that a vigorous contest for control of
American labor relations was underway - the largest strike wave in history - and that
resurrection of paternalistic policies would mark a strong attempt to beat back a labor
movement arriving at the company's door. On September 26, 1946, Haywood Schuster
Mills staged an exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in
Douglas. Twelve thousand people were in the stands. The game stands firmly and proudly
in the memories of Blackstone Valley workers as the last great gasp of paternalism in
Douglas. While industrial league baseball in the Blackstone Valley at a semi-professional
and professional level continued until the early 1950s, giving career starts to future major
league players such as Chet Nichols, Jr., Joe Morgan and others, mill owners could no
longer use the game "to keep workers busy." Employers could not manage to bring the
Yankees and the Red Sox to the valley every weekend. Workers with more money,
automobiles and increased leisure time, as well as greater political and social
independence, found other diversions.
This was a national trend due in equal parts to the collapse of industrial support of
community well-being and the rise of New Deal philosophies that encouraged a role for both
working-class citizens and state and federal government in day-to-day life. Semi-
professional industrial league baseball could not compete with a professional minor league
system and televised major league games. Most importantly, mill owners, like industrialists
across the nation, found themselves unable to achieve the same, insular flavor and control
that the game brought them in the 1920s. Corporate heads could no longer forestall the
rise of industrial unionism and the advent of state and federal programs that usurped
community roles formerly dominated by individual mill owners. By the late 1940s and early
1950s these owners ceded their paternalistic role and influence over community life. Mill
owners discontinued the Blackstone Valley League in 1952. The rest of the industrial
leagues of the Blackstone Valley died an almost unnoticed death by 1955.
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
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 rat 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. It 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.
For years I thought it had been the George Otis Draper mansion. 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 had 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
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
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.
Park, Pond and Sports Menu Red Sox and Yankees play in Douglas
Draper Field Draper team of 1935, reunion in 1976
Now and Then at Draper Field HOME
|Hardball Paternalism, Hardball Politics
By Doug Reynolds
Labor's Heritage, April 1991
Backstone Valley Baseball, 1925 - 1955