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
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, Massachusetts:
"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 baseball.
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
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, Massachusetts park:
"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 forty dollars."
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
"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 players.
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 Blackstone mills.
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 times."
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 Deal.
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 resident,
"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 transition:
"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 was eliminated."
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
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 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 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 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.
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
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