The Post-Journal

Joe Nagle, Baseball Player, Manager, Organizer

Mention Grass Flats down Pennsylvania way and people often snicker or smile knowingly, just as they do when Slippery Rock crops up in conversation.

But Grass Flats turned out some pretty capable baseball players in the old days and one of them was Joe Nagle, 75 years old and still as spry as a colt.

"Grass Flats is a little Swedish community and I married one of them, Ethel Gustafson, 52 years ago," Joe smiled recently in talking over his yesteryears both in Pennsylvania and here in Jamestown.

Joe, who once hit a home run off the renowned Grover Cleveland Alexander, the longtime major league pitcher and the St. Louis Cardinals' hero of the 1926 World Series victory over the New York Yankees, started playing at Grass Flats as a catcher. He was 15 years old.

"I saw him play back during his prime," an old-timer once told us. "He was no bigger than a pint, but he had a quick bat and he could kill you with the long ball despite his lack of weight and size."

Joe stood 5-4 and weighed about 140 when he was working behind the plate and scampering around various infields prior to 1946 when he sang his swan song as a player. He carried on for years, however, as a manager and baseball organizer.

In 1944 he helped pick the All-Stars for the state semi-pro tournament and was named manager of the club. The state tournament was played at College Stadium here and the All-Stars won it. They traveled to Wichita, Kansas for the nationals and lost their first two games by close scores. In 1947, has another team in the national tournament in Wichita and again the locals were kayoed in two straight games. "That 1947 trip was quite an experience," Joe relates. "We had our own excursion car complete with porter where we slept and took our meals in restaurants."

In 1948 Jamestown was again eligible for the Wichita playoffs but did not go. The Westfield Moose substituted and managed to win one game before also finding the top-flight national competition a little tough.

Joe Nagle, who shifted from catching to the infield after coming to Jamestown, played with Billy Webb's storied Spiders at Celoron, a club that met and often defeated the best touring teams for years.

With the Webb's, Joe saw action against both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Braves during a day when the big-league teams often toured the "sticks" as they put it.

The Homestead Grays, House of David, Palmer House All-Stars, and Crawfords of Pittsburgh were all on the road then - clubs good enough to play major league teams during spring training.

It was while with the Webb's that Joe homered off Alexander, who was with the House of David. He also hit a home run off Joe Williams of the Homestead Grays. Williams, considered on of the best "money" pitchers of his time during the era when the black man was barred from the majors, once pitched a one-hitter for seven innings against the New York Yankees, striking out Babe Ruth who was with the House of David. He also hit a home run off Joe Williams of the H the only time the Bambino was up.

Some of those overnight and weekend baseball trips out of Jamestown during Nagle's playing days were grueling affairs. One he recalls was to Toronto for a doubleheader then back to Medina the next day. Marshall Studd of Falconer pitched the 16-inning game and won 3-2. Later Studd went to Bradford of the old PONY League.

Another tough trip was to Pittsburgh for a game against the Crawfords on a Friday night. A doubleheader followed on Saturday and the team rushed back to Celoron to play the Homestead Grays on Sunday.

After the Sunday game, Nagle staggered home and collapsed on the kitchen floor from stomach cramps and complete exhaustion.

In later years, Nagle managed the Jamestown Steel Partitions team, which played and won consistently in the local leagues as well as represented various communities on Sundays and holidays. "We represented Chautauqua Institution for years, also Salamanca and Corry at times," he recalls.

One of the best Steel Partition Bomber teams, Joe believes, boasted such good, all-around players as Les James, Bobby Fredo, Bruce Martinson, Cy Weaver, Frank Smrekar, John Carlson, Lefty Pratt, Murray Marsh, Ted Wyberanac, Joe and Bob Bender, Donnie Nagle, Joe's son, and Lou Brown, who served as player-coach.

Nagle claims he never struck out more than seven times during any one season, so it was natural he should have a yen for pro ball. So he went to Erie for a tryout with the Mid-Atlantic League team managed by Chief Bender, Connie Mack's star with the Philadelphia Athletics years before. Bender was impressed but felt Joe's age and lack of size (this was during the big-man scouting era) would count against him.

One of the more unusual incidents Nagle was involved in during his long and colorful athletic career happened in a father-son game at the local stadium. Joe was playing third base when his son, Donnie, slid into the bag. Joe put the tag on him but Donnie hit the sack and broke his leg. The late Stanley Olson, chief Post-Journal photographer, snapped the picture of the play. It won first place at the annual New York State Editorial Association meeting. The picture hung in the stairway leading to the composing room at the old Post-Journal building for years.

Nagle, of course, was not a professional. Baseball was his hobby, so a job was a necessity. He worked for Salisbury Axle Company before the firm moved to Ohio; Jamestown Chair Company, managing the company's team; Art Metal, Hope's Windows and Marlin Rockwell as well as Steel Partitions.

His playing days, in addition to those pit stops mentioned in the foregoing, also included stints with the Johnstown club and National Forge, another strong Pennsylvania team that made weekend and holiday tours.

Now retired, Joe lives with his wife, Ethel, at 59 1/2 Hazeltine. They had one child, Donnie and are very proud today of three grandchildren.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.