Demons, Colts, Giants, and Drybugs: Baseball in the 1916 Class D Potomac League

This article was written by Mark Zeigler

This article was published in the The National Pastime: A Bird’s-Eye View of Baltimore (2020)


The Hagerstown Hubs, the 1920 Class D Blue Ridge Champions, featured two pitchers from the 1916 Class D Potomac League, Charles Dye (second from left), star pitcher for the Cumberland Colts, and Tommy Verecker (behind seated boy), who starred for the Piedmont Drybugs. Verecker also pitched one game in the Federal League in 1914. (MARK ZEIGLER)The Hagerstown Hubs, the 1920 Class D Blue Ridge Champions, featured two pitchers from the 1916 Class D Potomac League, Charles Dye (second from left), star pitcher for the Cumberland Colts, and Tommy Verecker (behind seated boy), who starred for the Piedmont Drybugs. Verecker also pitched one game in the Federal League in 1914. (AUTHOR’S COLLECTION)

 

Western Maryland has had a long history of organized baseball going back to the late nineteenth century.1 Noted for its connection to the railroads to the west, and nearby coal fields that dotted the region of Allegany County, the activity of baseball became the outlet for many young men in the region, as town teams and athletic clubs became prevalent during this time period.2

For some, baseball became a way to get out of the coal mines. The most notable was a young man named Robert Moses Groves from Lonaconing.3 Taking advantage of his long frame and blazing fastball, he would go on to win 300 games in the major leagues, and enshrinement into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, as “Lefty” Grove.4

The first organized baseball clubs in Cumberland, Maryland date back to 1883, mostly amateur or town teams.5  The local coal mines and railroads started to field organized teams in the mid-1890s. In 1906, Cumberland was accepted in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League (POM), and fielded a team called the Giants. When the Butler, Pennsylvania club folded, the franchise was moved to nearby Piedmont, West Virginia, but after three weeks, the franchise moved again to Charleroi, Pennsylvania to finish out the season. After finishing the 1906 season, the club was moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Before the start of the 1908 season, the league was disbanded for financial reasons.6

The experience spurred interest in professional baseball in the region. In 1910, Cumberland organized a new independent club, the Colts.7 Soon other areas, like Piedmont, joined in and played against Cumberland and other local teams in Maryland and West Virginia. After not having grounds to play on in 1912, by 1913 the Cumberland Baseball Club had a “modern baseball park in South Cumberland (built) on the Walsh property, between the N. & G. Taylor Company’s tin mill and the Weber lumber yard.”8

In 1914, a local businessman, Colonel Nelson W. Russler, a big baseball enthusiast, became the club’s business manager.9 With his savvy business sense and knack of signing quality players, Russler was influential with the establishment of the amateur Georges Creek League in 1914.10 Based primarily in Allegany County, Maryland, the league added teams including Frostburg, Lonaconing, Midland, and the Tri-Towns of Piedmont/Westernport/Luke.

The Georges Creek League saw much success in 1914 and 1915, and the Russler-led Colts became local celebrities at South End Park, with hometown players such as Hugh Markwood, John Marean, George “Sonny” Geatz, Clarence Schafer, and the Lippold brothers, Frank and Charles.11

When the Class D Blue Ridge League was formed in 1915, including a team in Russler’s hometown of Martinsburg, he took great interest in trying to get Cumberland admitted into the league.

However, due to travel distance from the Pennsylvania clubs in the circuit, and Sunday baseball, which was allowed in Allegany County at the time, but not in any of the current league towns, their bid went for naught.12

Despite the setback, Russler was determined to get Cumberland a professional baseball club in 1916. With the help of Charles Boyer, the Blue Ridge League president, Russler spearheaded a group of businessmen to garner interest in bringing pro ball to the region. Soon the Piedmont club and a newly organized team in Frostburg, Maryland applied. The minimum number of clubs to be considered was four clubs, so Russler extended invitations out to towns in Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, but with no success. Midland from the Georges Creek League was too small to draw from, but the businessmen from nearby Lonaconing gathered funds to fix up their ballfield to become the fourth club of the newly minted Class D Potomac League, calling their club the Giants.13

Despite the challenges to field four financially solvent teams, and a world war a continent away, Russler and Cumberland attorney Fuller Barnard Jr. — who was elected the league’s president14 — got the groundwork started to organize the Potomac League in February 1916. With much fanfare and Cumberland as its base of operations, Frostburg, Lonaconing, and Piedmont officially joined, starting play on May 3.15

The Colts had a rocky start before the season began, as Russler’s first pick as manager, Herbert Lewis, didn’t pass muster, and was released two weeks before the season began.16 Colonel Russler quickly found a replacement in Harry Deal of Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the Colts under his guidance quickly took shape at South End Park.17

Russler kept a mainstay of Colts from the Georges Creek League club, with Geatz at third base; Schafer, John Marean, and newcomer Mike Koroly in the outfield; Frank Lippold behind the plate and his brother, Charley Lippold at second base; and pitcher Jonny Stafford on the mound. Adding pitchers Eddie Price, Johnny East, and Merle Tannehill, Deal at first base, and 18-year old local boy named George “Brindle” Long at shortstop, Russler’s club was ready for Opening Day.18

However, after a nine-game losing streak, and never satisfied, Russler had a revolving door of players throughout the season, until he found a lineup he was satisfied with. Among the players he was able to add to the Colts roster were pitchers Charles Dye of nearby Barton, Maryland, John “Lefty” Fike, and Virginia native Kirk Heatwole. Dye started the season with Toronto of the International League, but a hand injury led to him requesting his release, and he soon signed with the Colts.19 Heatwole, a rangy southpaw from the Charlottesville, Virginia area, combined with Dye to give the Colts a competitive boost.20 Only Geatz, Schafer, and Marean both began and finished the season on the Colts roster.

The Lonaconing Giants featured a local left-handed pitcher named Frank “War Horse” Muster. Muster broke most of the pitching records in the Georges Creek League in 1915,21 and led the Giants contingent, which featured popular minor league veterans Roy “Shotgun” Keener and Joe Phillips, and newcomers Joe (Serafin) Cobb and Kenny (Mike) Knode, who both reached the major leagues.22 23

James McGuire started the season as the Lonaconing manager and, after losing the first five games, led the Giants to the best record, until he suddenly resigned on June 10th due to conflicts at his regular job.24 Keener, a West Virginia native, was soon tapped to replace McGuire, and helmed the Giants until they officially disbanded on July 23rd for financial reasons.25

Other notable Giants players were infielders Owen Flynn and John Nagle, and a local boy, pitcher John “Stub” Brown. The Lonaconing club was one of the best clubs in the league, vying for the lead with rival Frostburg Demons. Among the young Lonaconing fans was a promising 14-year old, who idolized Muster.26 They knew him as Bobby, a.k.a. the aforementioned Robert M. “Lefty” Groves.

Frostburg’s club featured one of the league’s better pitchers, with Somerset, Pennsylvania native R. S. “John” Baylor,27 and the controversial Bill Stair leading the pitching corps. Stair had the league’s best win percentage, but was run out of Frostburg after he was arrested and found guilty of chasing after and punching a fan on the street. That fan, a respected local businessman, did not talk kindly about the feisty Demon pitcher.28 Pat Brophy managed the Demons, leading his club through the loss of one of their star pitchers to still finish with the best overall record when the league disbanded on August 18.29

Many of the players who were in the league came from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region. One was Frostburg outfielder John Salb. Salb, a Washington, DC, native, had played previously for the Midland club in the old Georges Creek League from 1911 through 1915, and married his manager’s daughter, Dorothy Dillon.30 The Demons also featured infielders John “Shuck” Doyle and Fay Anderson, and catcher John “Sammy” Morgan.

The Piedmont club was known as the Drybugs, and though its offices were on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River in Tri-Towns section of Luke, they played their games on a little island on the Maryland side of the river, near Westernport, called Potomac Park.31 The Drybugs were managed by Baltimore native Owen Harris,32 and featured the league’s best pitcher, Ben Schaufele, another Baltimore native, who won 14 games.33 The nucleus of the Drybugs roster was from the Baltimore area, including shortstop Arthur T. Smith, outfielders Frederick “Jake” Zinnell, G. C. Plaxico, and Porter Wamsley, catcher Leroy Bruff, and pitchers Tommy Verecker and E.L. Morseberger. The only homegrown regular player from the Piedmont/Westernport area on the Drybugs roster throughout the season was outfielder Don Whitworth.34

 

Hebron, Maryland native Samuel Freeny attended St. Johns College while playing professional baseball for several teams in the Blue Ridge League. Upon graduating in 1917, he joined the Marines. During World War II he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and was beheaded in the Philippines. (MARK ZEIGLER)Hebron, Maryland native Samuel Freeny attended St. Johns College while playing professional baseball for several teams in the Blue Ridge League. Upon graduating in 1917, he joined the Marines. During World War II he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and was beheaded in the Philippines. (MARK ZEIGLER)

 

The league, however, never prospered, with Cumberland the only club able to come close to turning a profit. Lonaconing, despite having the best record, was forced to disband on July 23rd, leaving the league with only three clubs.35 Despite rearranging the league schedule, the Frostburg club suffered the same fate as Lonaconing, and by August 18th had also disbanded, leaving only two clubs standing, forcing the league to disband for good.36

The Cumberland Colts and Piedmont Drybugs continued to field their clubs and played an independent schedule.37 On September 24th, the Drybugs played an exhibition game at Potomac Park against the National League’s Cincinnati Reds, whose roster included Piedmont resident Bill “Baldy” Louden. The game featured an appearance by future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, which drew the largest crowd to date by the Piedmont club.38

In keeping his Cumberland club together through mid-September by playing an independent schedule, Russler found the club losing money for the first time, some in part from the extra salaries he paid to bring in the best players from the Lonaconing club after they disbanded in July, which included Keener, Phillips, Knode, and Cobb.39 This dismayed the club’s stockholders, and by the end of the season, all but two sold out their shares of the club, leaving Russler, and George E. Jordan as sole owners.40

Cumberland, still itching to return to professional baseball, again applied for entry into the Class D Blue Ridge League for the 1917 season.41 Three towns vied for the struggling Gettysburg, Pennsylvania franchise, but the league decided to keep the franchise in Gettysburg as is.42

Despite Cumberland’s application being denied again, Russler’s patience would soon pay off, as the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania franchise, the defending league champions, failed to pay their franchise fee by their league deadline of May 30th. President James Vincent Jamison Jr. transferred the Chambersburg franchise to Cumberland.43 Russler and the Colts were back in business, and they quickly got South End Park ready for play. Professional baseball was back in business in Cumberland.

After completing the 1917 schedule, Cumberland prepared for the 1918 season, but by that time, World War I had entered into American homes, and interest and finances dwindled in many towns in the region. Most leagues disbanded, but thanks to Russler’s persistence, the Blue Ridge League was able to field four clubs to start the season as the only Class D club to play that year.44 However, the Frederick club bowed out a week before the season was to begin,45 threatening to force the league to disband, until the Piedmont Drybugs came forward and quickly fielded a team as the fourth club.46 Piedmont tried to bring in hometown former major league infielder Bill Louden to manage, but he was still under contract with the Saint Paul, Minnesota ball club. Instead they hired their shortstop from the 1916 team, Arthur T. “Shorty” Smith, as manager.47 Smith, a Baltimore native, recruited many players from the Charm City region, including a former Drybugs teammate, Ben Schafeule.48

Like Piedmont’s first entry into professional baseball in 1906, their stay in the Blue Ridge League only lasted three weeks in 1918, as the league disbanded on June 16th due to the war effort and lack of interest and finances among the other clubs.49 Neither Cumberland nor Piedmont ever played in the Blue Ridge League again, though Cumberland did field a Class C Mid-Atlantic League club from 1925 to 1932.50

A native of Boonsboro, Maryland, MARK ZEIGLER has researched minor league baseball since 1996. A graduate of Salisbury University in Maryland, Mark spent 20 years in professional baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers minor league affiliates, primarily with the Orioles, Advanced A, Carolina League affiliate, Frederick Keys. He has extensively researched the early years of the Class D, Blue Ridge League, and his research can be found on his website at www.blueridgeleague.org. More recently, he has been researching the Class D, Potomac League, which played less than one full season in 1916. Mark is a Realtor in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, and lives with wife, Margaret, and his two children, Gracie and Jacob, in Kearneysville.

 

TOP PLAYERS FROM THE 1916 CLASS D POTOMAC LEAGUE

  • BA: Joe Phillips, Lonaconing/Cumberland, .367                            
  • R: Roy Keener, Lonaconing/Cumberland, 51                               
  • H: Roy Keener, Lonaconing/Cumberland, 82                               
  • HR: Joe Cobb, Lonaconing/Cumberland, 6                                 
  • SB: Jake Zinnell, Piedmont, 25                               
  • Games Played: Joe Phillips, Lonaconing/Cumberland, 52                               
  • ERA: Ben Schaufele, Piedmont, 1.66
  • Games Pitched: Ben Schaufele, Piedmont, 29
  • W: Ben Schaufele, Piedmont, 14
  • IP: R.S. “John” Baylor, Frostburg, 207
  • K: R.S. “John” Baylor, Frostburg, 114
  • Win Pct.: Bill Stair, Frostburg (8-1), .889
  • Fielding Pct.: Owen Harris, Piedmont, .989                            
  • PO: Harry Deal, Cumberland, 578
  • A: Arthur T. Smith, Piedmont, 153                             
  • E: Arthur T. Smith, Piedmont, 30
  • Total Chances: Harry Deal, Cumberland, 616

Sources: Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball 2nd edition,, Baseball America, Inc., p. 207; Fielding Statistics from “Final Fielding Leaders,” The Baltimore Sun, August 20, 1916, p. 26; additional league leaders, including pitching statistics from author’s extensive research on the 1916 Class D Potomac League.

 

1916 CLASS D, POTOMAC LEAGUE STANDOUTS

1B

Owen Harris, Piedmont

 

P

Ben Schaufele, Piedmont

2B

John “Shuck” Doyle, Frostburg

 

P

John Baylor, Frostburg

3B

George “Sonny” Geatz, Cumberland

 

P

Bill Jamison, Lonaconing

SS

Arthur T. Smith, Piedmont

 

P

Frank Muster, Lonaconing/Frostburg

LF

Ray Keener, Lonaconing/Cumberland

 

UT

John Salb, Frostburg

CF

Don Whitworth, Piedmont

 

MGR

Pat Brophy, Frostburg

RF

Joe Phillips, Lonaconing/Cumberland

 

Umpire

Doll Derr

C

Joe Cobb, Lonaconing/Cumberland; Leroy Bruff, Piedmont/Cumberland (tie)

 

 

 

Honorable Mention: Bill Stair, Frostburg, P; Sammy Freeney, Frostburg, 1B; John Morgan, Frostburg, C; John Brown, P, Lonaconing/Frostburg; Tommy Vereker, Piedmont, P; Harry Deal, Cumberland, 1B; Charles Dye, Cumberland, P; John Herbert, Frostburg, P; Jake Zinnell, Piedmont, OF; Porter Wamsley, Piedmont, OF; Clarence Schafer, Cumberland, OF; and Mike Boyle, Frostburg, SS.

 

Notes

  1. “Cumberland’s Proposed Army Reunion,” The Baltimore Sun, June 13, 1884, 1. “Former Cumberland Star Visits Old Battlefield,” The Baltimore Sun, September 12, 1915, 31.
  2. Jim Kaplan, Lefty Grove: American Original, Society of American Baseball Research, 2000, 44.
  3. Kaplan, 30, 39.
  4. Kaplan, 275.
  5. The Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1883, 4.
  6. Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed January 18, 2020. https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland_League
  7. “Won 1910 Steinweg Cup,” Cumberland News, April 26, 1956
  8. “Will Build New Ball Park,” The Washington Post, March 2, 1913, 2.
  9. “Colonel Russler Will Lead Cumberland Ball Team,” The Baltimore Sun, January 14, 1914, 9.
  10. V. Burns, “Sports Slants: Colts Birthplace, et al…,” The Cumberland News, September 12, 1967, 10.
  11. “The Aces of 40 Years Ago,” The Cumberland News, May 12, 1955, 47.
  12. Public Opinion, January 13, 1916, 1.
  13. “Organize Baby Circuit at Cumberland Meeting,” The (Hanover) Evening Sun, February 24, 1916, 3.
  14. “Organize Baby Circuit at Cumberland Meeting.”
  15. “Potomac League Season Opens Tomorrow with Parade and Speeches,” Cumberland Evening Times, May 2, 1916, 8.
  16. “Manager Lewis Given His Release – Yannigans Trims Regulars 2 to 1,” Cumberland Evening Times, April 18, 1916, 6.
  17. “Deal Arrives for Practice,” Cumberland Evening Times, April 25, 1916, 10.
  18. “Mayor Koon to Toss Out First Ball at Opener,” Cumberland Evening Times, May 2, 1916, 8.
  19. “Dye Signs with Russler’s Colts,” Cumberland Evening Times, June 27, 1916, 5.
  20. “Heatwole Gets a Job,” The Baltimore Sun, May 9, 1916, 10.
  21. “Frank Muster, Now 90, to be Honored June 16,” Cumberland News, June 6, 1972, 12.
  22. “Joe Cobb, Minor League and Major League Statistics,” Baseball-Reference.com, https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=cobb–005jos
  1. “Mike Knode, Minor League and Major League Statistics,” Baseball-Reference.com, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/k/knodemi01.shtml
  1. “Jim M’Guire Resigns…,” The Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1916, 29.
  2. “Lonaconing Quits,” The (Frederick) News, July 22, 1916, 3.
  3. Suter Kegg, “Tapping The Sports Keg,” Cumberland Evening Times, January 12, 1960, 12.
  4. “Baylor Throws Colts into White Kalsomine,” Cumberland Evening Times, May 29, 1916, 6.
  5. “Bill Stair Found Guilty of Assault,” Cumberland Evening Times, June 27, 1916, 5.
  6. Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball 2nd edition, Baseball America, Inc., 2007, 207.
  7. “J. B. Salb Weds Miss Dillon, of Frostburg,” The Washington Times, July 26, 1911, 12.
  8. Robert P. Savitt, The Blue Ridge League, Arcadia Publishing, 2011, 37
  9. “Cumberland President is Busy Signing Players,” The Baltimore Sun, March 13, 1916, 10.
  10. “Piedmont Signs Schaufele,” The Baltimore Sun, March 25, 1916, 11.
  11. Donald P. Whitworth’s World War I Draft Registration Card, 1917.
  12. “Lonaconing Quits, League Continues,” Cumberland Evening Times, July 24, 1916, 8.
  13. “Potomac League Will Not Finish Season’s Second Half,” Cumberland Evening Times, August 14, 1916, 9.
  14. “Two Teams to Stick: Cumberland and Piedmont of the late Potomac League to Play Independent Ball,” The Baltimore Sun, August 20, 1916, 26.
  15. “When the Reds Play Piedmont,” Cumberland Evening Times, September 19, 1918, 5.
  16. “More Chances to Sell Ball Club: Three Towns are now after berths in the Blue Ridge League,” The Gettysburg Times, December 20, 1916, 1.
  17. “Blue Ridge League Spent About $70,000 in Season,” The Baltimore Sun, December 18, 1916, 8.
  18. “Blue Ridge League Spent About $70,000 in Season.”
  19. “More Chances…”
  20. “Franchise is Switched: Cumberland Gets Chambersburg’s Berth in Blue Ridge,” The Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1917, 25.
  21. Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball 1st edition, Baseball America, Inc., 1993, 148.
  22. “League Sure to Continue, Says Jamison,” The Baltimore Sun, May 12, 1918, 24.
  23. “Opening of Blue Ridge League Season Postponed Four Days,” Cumberland Evening Times, May 15, 1918, 8.
  24. “Must Take a Back Seat: Bill Louden Cannot Manage Piedmont Unless He is Released,” The Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1918, 24.
  25. “Piedmont Pilot in Balto. After Players: Manager Smith Endeavoring to Land Pitcher Schaufele and Klingenhoffer,” Cumberland Evening Times, May 24, 1918, 5.
  26. “Blue Ridge League Closes Season Sunday,” Cumberland Evening Times, June 15, 1918, 4.
  27. Johnson and Wolff, 165, 167, 169, 171, 173, 176, 178, 180.

 

 

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