“‘Finis’ was written to the 1927 chapter of the New York-Pennsylvania league yesterday afternoon as the season gasped its swan tones and passed on into peaceful sublime.”1
The Shamokin (Pennsylvania) News-Dispatch rolled out its purplest prose on September 12, 1927, invoking “swan tones” and “peaceful sublime” to summarize the hometown Shamokin Indians baseball team’s final game of the season.
In this case, though, the pomp and circumstance might have been justified. The season-closing September 11 game between the Indians and the Elmira (New York) Colonels turned out to be Shamokin’s last appearance in affiliated baseball. The small city in Pennsylvania anthracite country2 lost its team in the 1927-28 offseason and, as of March 2023, has not fielded an affiliated professional team since.
In front of more than a thousand fans3 on that long-ago Sunday afternoon at Shamokin’s Edgewood Park, the Indians jumped out to a 3-0 lead after three innings and never trailed. They held on for a 6-4 defeat of Elmira before passing on into the peaceful sublime.
Neither team entered the final day with much to play for. Elmira held fourth place in the eight-team league with a 67-72 record, while Shamokin held sixth place at 61-78.4 It was Shamokin’s third season in the league and Elmira’s fifth.
The New York-Pennsylvania League in which they played operated at Class B, three levels below the major leagues.5 The loop later renamed itself the Eastern League, where it operated well into the twenty-first century, for the most part two levels below the majors.6
The starting pitchers for the curtain-closer made a colorful pair. Elmira righty Eddie Matteson had turned 43 a few days earlier. He’d appeared in the majors with the 1914 Philadelphia Phillies and 1918 Washington Senators and had knocked around the minors ever since, with stops ranging from Salt Lake City to Providence. (Matteson returned for one more season with Elmira in 1928 before retiring.)
Shamokin started Ralph Franklin “Skally” Wagner, a 24-year-old local boy.7 In his previous start, on September 8, Wagner held the Binghamton team to four hits and a solitary ninth-inning run, only to lose as Binghamton’s Bill “Grunt” Lucas threw a no-hitter.8
Wagner never reached the majors, and his record in contemporary baseball databases is skimpy,9 but a retrospective interview with him in August 1973 described him as having been “one of central Pennsylvania’s most celebrated athletes.” According to the story, Wagner’s athletic feats included pitching with semipro teams in several Pennsylvania cities, participating in exhibitions with the barnstorming likes of Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson, and fighting a middleweight boxing bout in the old Boston Garden.10
Shamokin kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Matteson hit the Indians’ second batter, manager-center fielder Irvin Trout, with a pitch. The next batter, second baseman Jim Curry, drove a double into right field to score Trout.11 Curry was 41 and had had brief trials with three major-league teams between 1909 and 1918.12
The top of the Shamokin order caused more trouble for Matteson in the third. With one out, left fielder George Fox doubled and scored on Trout’s single. Curry followed with another single. Right fielder John “Jack” Roseberry, in the words of the Shamokin paper, “plastered out his first pair-sack ply”—which is to say, he hit the first of his three doubles on the afternoon.13 Trout and Curry scored for a 3-0 Shamokin lead.
Elmira dented Wagner but could not solve him for runs until the sixth inning. Third baseman Paul Speraw—who’d played one game with the St. Louis Browns seven seasons before—singled, then came home on a triple by right fielder James Conley. An out and a walk later, second baseman Dallas Locker hit a sacrifice fly to score Conley and bring the Colonels within 3-2.14
That was as close as Elmira got. Shamokin fought back with a run in the bottom half as first baseman Harry Davis singled, catcher George Artus sacrificed him to second, and pitcher Wagner delivered a run-scoring single to left field. Davis was in the third year of what became a 26-season professional career, in which he racked up 3,359 hits and spent three seasons with the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Browns.
The Indians fattened their lead to 6-2 in the seventh inning, starting with another single by Curry and another double by Roseberry. One out later, Davis’s single to left field brought home Curry and moved Roseberry to third. Artus’s sacrifice fly to center field delivered Roseberry with Shamokin’s last run. “It was hailed with as many cheers as though the home lads were battling for first place,” the regrettably unbylined story in the Shamokin paper reported.
Elmira didn’t go easily, tacking on a run in the eighth inning on a walk, a single, and a sacrifice fly. In the top of the ninth, shortstop Leo Hanley and catcher Bill Weismier led off with singles. A force play at second base on a groundball scored Hanley to make the score 6-4.15 To describe the final out in Shamokin history, it seems only right to turn things over to the Shamokin News-Dispatch:
“Then came the final play of the game and season. Speraw smashed one at [third baseman] Bobby Reece and the latter threw to Curry and Kerr was erased from the picture at the keystone sack. Adios.”16
Matteson and Wagner pitched complete games, scattering 12 hits apiece. Matteson walked one and struck out three, while Wagner walked three and struck out none. Shamokin helped Wagner by turning three double plays. The Shamokin paper credited Wagner for coolness under pressure, as well as second baseman Curry for serving as a run-saving defensive “bulwark.”17 The Elmira newspaper, not to be out-purpled, reported: “The supporting cast of the Troutmen came to the rescue of Wagner when he faltered in his cues and missed his lines.”18
The supporting cast of the Troutmen couldn’t, unfortunately, erase the fact that their franchise stood on shaky financial ground. Just a few days after the final game, the Shamokin newspaper reported that the team was $2,300 in debt. Clambakes, boxing matches, and dances were planned as fundraising opportunities.19
Local efforts to raise money and stabilize the team continued unsuccessfully into early 1928.20 On February 18 the directors of the Shamokin team finalized the sale of the team for $13,000 to interests from Syracuse, New York.21 A Class D loop called the Anthracite League was proposed for 1928, potentially to include Shamokin, but despite initial signs of interest, the league never began operations.22 Shamokin later fielded teams in local semipro leagues, but has been absent from affiliated minor-league baseball ever since.23
This story was fact-checked by Gary Belleville and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Sources and photo credit
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of minor-league games, but the September 12, 1927, editions of the Shamokin (Pennsylvania) News-Dispatch and Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette published box scores.
Photo of Eddie Matteson from the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune, May 9, 1920: 14.
1 “Indians Win Final Contest of Season from Colonels, 6-4,” Shamokin (Pennsylvania) News-Dispatch, September 12, 1927: 5.
2 According to US Census data, Shamokin’s population in 1927 was somewhere between 20,000 and 21,000. As of 2020, the city’s population was 6,942, having declined in every census since 1930.
3 “Indians Win Final Contest of Season from Colonels, 6-4.”
4 Extrapolated from New York-Pennsylvania League final standings printed in the Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette, September 12, 1927: 8.
5 The minor-league classifications in 1927, from highest to lowest, were Classes AA, A, B, C, and D.
6 The short-season Class A New York-Penn League that operated from 1939 to 2019 was a different league. Originally known as the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League (or PONY League), it adopted the New York-Penn name after the Eastern League gave it up. Baseball-Reference BR Bullpen page on the various New York-Pennsylvania Leagues, accessed February 28, 2023.
7 A FamilySearch.org page for Ralph Franklin Wagner, accessed February 28, 2023, gives his birthdate as June 24, 1903. This listing matches Skally Wagner’s date and place of death as listed in his newspaper obituary, cited in Note 10.
8 “Bingo Pitcher Turns Back Tribe Without Hit or Run,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, September 9, 1927: 6.
9 As of March 2023, Baseball-Reference had separate pages for Skally Wagner—listed as a pitcher for two teams in the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1928—and Ralph Wagner, listed as a pitcher for a different team in the same league in 1926. News stories confirm that Skally Wagner played for both teams. Neither entry for Wagner contained information for 1927 or other seasons.
10 “‘Skally’ Wagner Once One of Top Athletes in This Area,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, August 28, 1973: 7. It was fortuitous that the newspaper captured Wagner’s reminiscences when it did, as he died about a month later in a car accident. “‘Skally’ Wagner Killed in Crash,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, October 1, 1973: 5. The archives of the Boston Globe confirm that a Ralph “Kid” Wagner, listed as being from Philadelphia, fought Willie Oster at the Boston Garden on March 7, 1930.
11 All play-by-play is a combination of “Indians Win Final Contest of Season from Colonels, 6-4” and “Indians Capture Decision in Final Game with Locals,” Elmira Star-Gazette, September 12, 1927: 8.
12 Curry played a single game with the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics, four games with the 1911 New York Highlanders, and five with the 1918 Detroit Tigers. He played in the minors through 1928.
13 According to “Indians Win Final Contest of Season from Colonels, 6-4,” Roseberry led the league in doubles that season. The article did not mention his total. Baseball-Reference credits Roseberry with 43 doubles in 1927.
14 The description of this half-inning of game action is taken from the box scores, which credit Conley with a triple. The Elmira paper credits Donovan with a triple, but neither box score agrees. The Shamokin paper has Speraw singling and coming home on center fielder Mel Kerr’s triple—an unlikely turn of events, given that Kerr batted directly before Speraw in the Elmira lineup.
15 The Elmira and Shamokin newspapers differ on the scoring of the final run. The Shamokin paper’s account credits Shilling’s groundball with scoring Hanley. The Elmira paper said Shilling’s grounder advanced Hanley and Mel Kerr’s grounder scored him. Neither box score includes a specific credit for runs batted in.
16 The Shamokin newspaper mistakenly called Elmira’s batter “Sheraw” in this sentence; the author of this story has corrected the spelling. For those not fluent in 1920s sportswriter jive: Speraw grounded to the third baseman, who threw to second for the game-ending force.
17 “Indians Win Final Contest of Season from Colonels, 6-4.”
18 “Indians Capture Decision in Final Game with Locals.”
19 “Steps Taken to Raise Money for Athletic Association,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, September 15, 1927: 6. According to an online inflation calculator provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, $2,300 in September 1927 was equal to about $39,774 in January 2023.
20 “Fans Must Decide if Baseball Is to Remain in Shamokin,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, January 5, 1928: 6.
21 “Shamokin Sells Ball Franchise to Syracuse, New York,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, February 20, 1928: 1. A sum of $13,000 in February 1928 had the same purchasing power as $227,439 in January 2023.
22 “Slants on Baseball Here,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, May 1, 1928: 6. Russ Green, a Pennsylvania sportswriter, reported several times that the proposed 1928 Anthracite League stalled in planning stages. See “Sport Notes,” Mahanoy City (Pennsylvania) Record-American, June 30, 1928: 4; “Sport Notes,” Mahanoy City Record-American, July 3, 1928: 5; and “Christmas Bouts at Williamsport,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, December 22, 1928: 6. As further evidence, a Newspapers.com search of the Shamokin News-Dispatch conducted in August 2023 found that the phrase “Anthracite League” appeared in the paper only 10 times between the start of May 1928 and the end of August—not nearly as often as it would have if Shamokin had hosted a team in the league and the paper had regular reason to report on it.
23 Baseball-Reference does not list any Shamokin teams after 1927. In 1964 the centennial edition of the Shamokin News-Dispatch contained extensive reminiscences about the city’s sporting past. The only post-1927 professional baseball to be mentioned was a local circuit of the 1930s called the Central Penn League. Baseball-Reference and other databases do not include the Central Penn League of the 1930s as an affiliated professional loop. Edgar Marlok, “Marlok Recalls,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, June 26, 1964: Section 5: 7; “Coveleskie Brothers Pitched Area to Fame in Major Leagues,” Shamokin News-Dispatch, June 26, 1964: Section 5: 8.
Shamokin Indians 6
Elmira Colonels 4
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