There is always baseball

Looking for clips, I found this one, published in the Daily Record in 2000.

Offered here in honor of baseball players everywhere

BY MICHAEL DAIGLE
Daily Record
The playing fields now are parking lots or shopping centers, and the rickety fences over which batted balls sailed, or where outfielders leaped to pull a potential home run back into the park, are flattened.
The dusty base paths are only a memory, but the ballplayers remember them well.
“We played pretty top-notch baseball,” said Wharton’s Ed Tierney. “I was surprised myself that we were as good as we were.”
From the turn of the century into the 1950s, before interstate highways, suburbs and television, there was town baseball.
Tierney and a few other former players of the town leagues stood in the spring wind Friday, in the lot behind St. Mary’s School in Wharton. For them, the same winds that bring Opening Day to the major leagues today also seemed to fill the empty field with memories of their teammates and the games they played.
“I worshiped baseball,” Bruce Cheney of Randolph said. “I played so much that one night my mother came into my room and said, ‘I’m taking this glove out of here.”‘
A game between Victory Athletic Club and the East Dover Field Club at the old field on South Salem Street could draw a couple hundred fans, Cheney said, recalling the 1930s and 40s.
But when the teams from St. Mary’s and Irondale met, it was something special, Tierney’s teammate, Joseph “Bud” Schiffner of Wharton, said. The teams represented districts from the opposite ends of town, St. Mary’s in the south and Irondale in the north.
The intense rivalry would draw crowds that spilled over the grounds of the ball field, straining behind a rope stretched across the outfield located where St. Mary’s School now stands.
Tierney began playing left field for the St. Mary’s team in the St. Mary’s Twilight League in the 1930s, a career that, with an interruption for Army service in World War II, lasted for about 15 years and included a long stint as team manager.
“Our manager was Tim Rogers of Wharton,” he said. “He was an older man, about 70, and he had to retire. He asked me to manage the team. There I was, 28, and managing the team. I still played on for a few more years.”
Tierney explained that there were no ground rules when he played in the 1930s and late 1940s. A batter who hit the ball into the woods was allowed to take as many bases as he could.
“Once Tim Rogers told me to put a ball in my back pocket,” Tierney said. “If a ball was hit into the woods, I was to run in there, look around for a second, and throw in the ball I had in my back pocket. The problem was that ball was almost new and the ball we used in the game was old and dirty. I was sure someone would notice the difference. Sure enough, a batter hits the ball into the woods and I run in after it. Then I throw in the ball I had in my pocket. The shortstop looks at it and looks at me, sure we were not going to get away with it. But the ump never said a word.”
The St. Mary’s league was just one of many in Morris County at the time. Rosters were filled with boys out of high school, young factory workers and men in their 30s.
Newspapers of the time featured box scores and rosters for the Victory Twilight League, Dover City League, Dover Twilight League, the Inter-County League and others. Teams came from Mine Hill, Wharton, Boonton, Whippany, Morristown, Mount Arlington, Roxbury, Rockaway, Denville and other towns.
“East Dover and Irondale divide in two games,” the Dover Advance screamed in tall headlines on Sept. 2, 1947. “EDFC defeats Denville, still sets pace in Victory,” the paper proclaimed another day.
Sponsors included local factories, businesses and athletic clubs. Mine Hill’s Alan Wood Steel Co. had a team, as did the East Dover Field Club, Gotham Hosiery, the Lackawanna Frog and Switch Shop, Ulster Iron Works, Replogle Iron Works, Richardson and Boynton Stove Works.
Over time, Tierney said, the town leagues evolved during the 1950s to a level similar to the current American Legion leagues, as well as Little League or some softball leagues. Tierney evolved with it, coaching Little League for more than 15 years.
Cheney, Tierney and Schiffner stood on the grass field at St. Mary’s and pointed out where the foul lines once ran toward Main Street, and how the Catholic sisters’ residence was nearly in fair territory.
“Tarzan Hoskey once hit a ball over the residence,” Schiffner said. A ball hit between the nuns’ house and a janitor’s residence about 25 feet away was a home run because the ball would end up in Main Street, Tierney said.
Schiffner said he was a first baseman and an occasional pitcher. The gloves they used were smaller, and the first time he used a real first baseman’s mitt, Schiffner had trouble picking up bunts.
“I felt so clumsy,” he said.
Most of players in the twilight leagues were not paid, he said, except pitchers. A hat was passed among the crowd at games to cover expenses.
Schiffner said he got paid once. While he was playing for the Alan Wood team, he and another player were asked to play a game for a team from Middletown, N.Y.
“I got $5,” he said.
World War II interrupted his local baseball career in 1940. He spent part of the war at the Army’s Aberdeen Testing Grounds in Maryland and later worked in hospital admissions in Calcutta, India.
Schiffner said his baseball career spanned about 11 years.
Tierney played left field and was known as a good defensive player.
“Ed and Johnny Chirip, they could fly,” Schiffner said.
“You see why I was in those woods all the time?” Tierney asked. The woods ring the northwestern end of the St. Mary’s lot today. When baseball was played there, he said, the woods were a lot closer.
Schiffner said that as boys, they would roam through the woods and the edges of the outfield during games and press the balls into the ground with their shoes so fielders could not find them.
“Our balls were all taped up, and our bats had nails and tape to hold them together,” he said.
Tierney said the teams would pay 25 cents a ball if they were returned. “That was pretty good money.”
John Chirip, now of Randolph, played the infield for 10 years, from 1944 to 1954. When he was drafted in 1944, he was stationed at Fort Dix.
“I would hitchhike to Dover to play in the twilight league,” he said.
He got a taste of town ball as a 10-year-old in 1936 when he was batboy for the Arrow Athletic Club in Dover. A photo shows Chirip as a boy seated behind a pyramid of bats as the team kneels behind him, the manager in a suit, tie and hat at the center.
He later played for the East Dover Field Club team, and in 1954 as manager, led the team to the twilight league title.
In 1951, he said Yankees great Whitey Ford was drafted into the Army and played games in Dover to keep in shape. The locals treated him to all the food and drink he wanted, Chirip said.
Cheney was the second in his family to play baseball in Dover.
“I was a good glove man,” he said about a career that included stints with the Picatinny team, St. Mary’s, Alan Wood, Victory Gardens and a tryout with the Hilltop Athletic Club of Dover.
In 1946 or 1947, he said, a friend told him the Hilltop club needed a good infielder, so he tried out.
“He told the manager I was a good glove, and wouldn’t you know, at the plate I hit the ball all over the place, but in the field, I couldn’t catch a ball,” he said.
His father, William “Billy” Cheney, came to town in 1905 from Potsdam, N.Y., to play ball at the behest of his friend, George “Duke” Duquette, pitcher and manager of the Dover’s entry in the Lackawanna League, an early semi-professional circuit.
Six teams from Stroudsburg, Pa., Morristown, Summit, Maplewood, Gladstone, and Phillipsburg — whose team later moved to Madison — played a 30-game schedule that year. The league lasted until 1939. The games sometimes drew thousands of fans, and the rivalries between Dover and Morristown, and Dover and Summit, were fierce.
“My father said that he never had to work another job until he was 27, he made so much playing baseball,” Cheney said. The players were all paid, but many times in a game, a fan would yell from the stands that he would pay a player $2 if he hit a homer, he said. “Two dollars was a lot of money.”
Billy Cheney and Duquette were the toast of the town, according to 1905 newspapers, The Iron Era and Dover Index. Cheney was among the league’s leading hitters and top fielders, playing right field.
Duquette tossed unhittable “twirlers,” probably curve balls, and led the team to the title that year. Controversy raged because several teams used players without contracts, and Summit also claimed the title because the league commissioner disallowed some Dover victories.
The Lackawanna League formed two years after the first major league World Series was played between Boston and Pittsburgh in 1903. One newspaper clipping noted that Clark Griffiths of the New York Highlanders, now the Yankees, was scouting Bill Cheney and Duquette.
Bruce Cheney said his parents met at the shop along Blackwell Street where his mother worked. His father later had a 35-year career at the Dover Post Office.
“We had a great generation,” Bruce Cheney said. “We went through the Depression. My mom and dad never had a car, but we didn’t know we were poor. We didn’t have much, but we had pride.”
When he got a job at the boiler works in Dover after high school in 1937, he earned $14 a week.
“I couldn’t spend it all,” he said.
He said his father once had a tryout with the Kansas City farm team of the Yankees in 1907 or 1908.
“He went all the way out to Kansas City and broke his leg,” Cheney said. That probably ended his career.
Brian Cheney, Bruce’s son, has researched his grandfather’s baseball career and compiled files of newspaper clips.
“These things are worth remembering,” he said.

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I have written at least three complete novels, have three others started and on my website michaelstephendaigle.com is the draft chapter of the latest effort,"The Swamps of Jersey."
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72 Responses to There is always baseball

  1. Brendan says:

    Thank you for writing this story and thank you for putting it on your blog for posterity. My grandfather and great-grandfather are featured in the article, and you treat their history very well. I also really like the descriptions of early- and mid-1900s baseball.

    On another note, you wouldn’t happen to have the photo from the story on file? There was a picture of three of the people in article holding baseball bats.

    Anyway, thanks again for this great story.

    • Wow, thanks. I really enjoyed writing this story and researching the history and speaking your great-grandfather and grandfather. What fun stories and memories. The photo would be the property of the Daily Record. To get a copy, please contact Bob Karp, their photo chief.

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