by Frank Hyde
August 20, 2009
The 1939 Pirates ‘Threw Out’ First Pro Baseball Here
(This article first appeared in The Post-Journal on July 13, 1963. Jamestown's 70 years of professional baseball will be celebrated at the Jamestown Jammers game on Tuesday.)
It goes back 25 years to 1939, and right here you'll get some arguments.
We're referring to first professional baseball team under a National Association charter and that was it, the 1939 Pirates.
They played at Celoron Park. One of the club's most avid followers was Ray Sholin of 109 Falconer St., so when Ray uncovered, the other day, a picture of the old original Pirates, he was stirred deeply.
"My what a period in baseball what a time we had. It was the beginning, and just think what it grew to," he added.
And see what it is declining to, he might have added in view of the current Tigers' skimpy draw at the gate.
Jamestown had baseball teams long before 1939, to be sure. In fact, the area had baseball teams long before the turn of the century, but the 1939 Pirates is the first Jamestown team listed in the official files of the National Association at Columbus, Ohio.
The old New York State League in which Jamestown played shortly after the turn of the century, was not governed by the original National Association. Jamestown never had a club in the Eastern League as many claim.
Some of the original Pirates still live here. Baseball was different then. Local owners were unfettered by complicated scouting systems in their quest for hometown talent. It was assumed a hometown name in the lineup helped as it probably would today so the search was always on for the local lad who was even a passable ball player.
So the Celoron Park Pirates had George Goodell, brother of Congressman Charles C. Goodell, at first base. George is a public accountant and still lives here.
Johnny Pollock, the original Pirates' catcher is still a Jamestown resident, as are Les James, who played third, and Merlin Peterson, the Falconer Central graduate, an outfielder.
Lewis (Napoleon) Mickey LaLonge was manager. Clayton Rugg, still a steady customer at College Stadium baseball, was the original club's treasurer. The late Stuart Maguire served as president for a short time. George E. Dodds was secretary.
Jamestown operated independently for the first eleven days of the 1939 season. The rest of the league was composed of Batavia, Bradford, Niagara Falls, Olean and Hamilton, Ontario.
Pittsburgh soon took over the operation. William Broadhead was named president. James F. Matthews was named business manger in a reorganization put through by Dr. Charles F. Goodell and Oliver French, the latter general manager of the Rochester club of the International League.
French, in fact, helped organize the original Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, forerunner of the present New York-Pennsylvania circuit.
Jamestown's first PONY League team was called the Jockeys, but when Pittsburgh came onto the scene, the handle was changed to the Pirates.
Jamestown opened on May 10, beating Batavia, and followed by defeating Niagara Falls. Dick Hines of Warren hurled that win for the Pirates but the next day Don Newark of Brocton was knocked from the hill and the Pirates lost.
So, professional baseball was on its way here. Big events like the construction of Municipal Stadium, now College Stadium, and its opening in 1941 were still in the future. Five pennants and attendances near 150,000 per season were also still to come - to become part of the "golden years" of minor league baseball here.
But in 1939, guys like Goodell, James, Hines, Pollock, Newark and Peterson, along with Perry (Lefty) Hall, also of Jamestown, and Ralph Mee, Falconer, plus outsiders like Art Watson, Joe and Bill Black, Paul Peterson, Henning Swanseen, Chuck Ireland, Paul Wiskup, Leon Skidgel, Al Krist, Ray Lawrence, Herb Kam, Eddie Carmichael, Hank Buzzinotti, Bobby Barnhardt, John Lukon, Eddie Welch, Joe Price, Stan Zetusky, Chuck Taylor, Al Mucha, Jack Lange and Leo Murray made up the old Pirates at various times.
Teams were never as solid in those days as now, so players came and went at regular intervals. During the early days of the PONY, it was not unusual for a club to have 75 men on its season-long roster, so an accurate rundown of those who toiled for Jamestown's initial professional team is difficult.
Misfortune befell Goodell, the Jamestown resident. A bad hop broke his nose during the final week of the season, but his .988 fielding average not only led the league but was a record for first basemen to shoot at for several years thereafter.
Jamestown finished in the basement of the newly formed league in '39. Olean, managed by one of the most colorful men baseball has ever known, Jake Pitler, won the pennant and the playoffs.
Pitler who served as a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers, is still a major league scout. He makes his home in the Elmira area.
"They weren't the greatest, but I have a lot of fond memories of those days," Sholin said.
That's the way with beginnings - they plant memories that become nostalgic moments in the years to come. Many oldtimers probably remember the original Pirates the same way.