This article was published in The National Pastime: A Bird’s-Eye View of Baltimore (2020)
Emergence of Summer College Baseball
For more than a century, summertime baseball has been a significant part of the lives of young Marylanders. Over the decades, this has evolved from pickup games to town teams and then to amateur leagues. In the middle of the twentieth century, formal leagues with strict eligibility rules emerged. The focus of this article is on summer baseball leagues for college-age players in the Baltimore and Washington regions over the past century, and the impacts of these leagues on the development of future professional players.1 Teams from the Baltimore and Washington franchises have won 39 of the 75 titles at the iconic All American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA) championship played each year at Johnstown, Pennsylvania with 68 Baltimore alumni and 67 Washington alumni making it to the major leagues.2
Amateur Baseball in Baltimore
Baltimore amateur baseball was flourishing in the middle of the twentieth century, with more than a hundred teams playing in the region. The roots of that mid-century activity may be traced back to two leagues of the early 1900s.
The first league, founded in 1909, was the Maryland Amateur Baseball League.3 At least one of its teams featured players from Washington College 4 The League did not last, but re-emerged in 1930 and continued as a major force in Baltimore baseball until 1947.5
In 1918, the Baltimore Amateur Baseball League was formed. It lasted continuously through the proliferation of leagues in the Baltimore area in mid-century.6 Started as a league for age 18 and under, the BABL barely touched upon the college age group, but as it evolved, it became more specialized in developing the talents of the older youths. For instance, by 1929, the Homestead Club in that league was featuring an ace pitcher from Loyola College.7
In the maturation process of amateur baseball around Baltimore, the leagues found they needed a superstructure of associations above them. In 1936, two rival associations united to form the Maryland Amateur Baseball Association.8 This association became the canopy under which the amateur leagues thrived. In 1944, the Baltimore Amateur Baseball League came under the aegis of this association. The association oversaw three clusters of leagues that year: Junior Leagues (7 leagues with 45 teams), Intermediate Leagues (7 leagues with 52 teams), and Unlimited Leagues (4 leagues with 33 teams).9
The Impact of Walter Youse
To bring the reader forward into the second half of the century in Baltimore amateur baseball, it’s necessary to introduce two important figures: Dominic Leone and Walter Youse. Leone was a future Baltimore City Councilman who had experience managing local sandlot teams. He and two of his brothers owned a café and tavern in South Baltimore. In 1952, Dom Leone’s team, which would become a famous winning team as Leone’s Café, got its start in the Riverside No. 1 League.10 The following year, the team moved to the age 16-18 Monumental League under the Maryland Amateur Baseball Association, and dominated with talented players like Al Kaline.11 Kaline’s final heroic act as an amateur was tying a game for Leone’s in Gambrills, Maryland just before reporting to the Detroit Tigers.12
Not long after the beginning of Leone’s Café, Youse arrived to take over the helm of the team. He became manager in 1956, and before he was through, would earn legendary status. Youse said about Dom Leone: “You had to be happy working for a man like Dominic. He just didn’t sponsor the team; he had the welfare of the players at heart. He helped the boys who played for us in a lot of ways, including getting jobs.”13 Dominic, Vince, and Tony Leone were elected to the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2006.14
Youse was not only an amateur baseball coach in Baltimore, but a long-time scout with the Orioles, Angels, and Brewers. He briefly managed amateur teams prior to World War II and then became a minor league manager for three teams after the war. He was a successful summer baseball manager of the American Legion Westport Post No. 33 from 1948 through 1955.15 He coached the Calvert Hall High School team beginning in 1953 and stayed through 1958, but he diverted his summers to coaching Leone’s in 1956.16 Before he was through, the Leone’s squad would run through a series of sponsors, and be known also as Johnny’s and Corrigan’s.17
As reported in the Baltimore Sun, “Youse’s run of success with (age) 20-and-under summer league teams starting with Leone’s in 1956 and ending with the Maryland Orioles in 2001 is unmatched. He is the winningest amateur coach in Maryland history.”18
For the first ten years, Youse was his team’s manager, but after that, he called himself the general manager. Nevertheless, as renowned Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman put it, “There was no question about who was running the show.” Although Youse was in civilian clothes, he was always on the bench or in the dugout and gave every sign and made every critical in-game decision. 19 Youse’s longest-serving field manager was iconic high school coach Bernie Walter. 20
Teams run by Youse won 46 consecutive Baltimore city titles and a record 19 titles in the AAABA competition in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.21 In total, Youse’s teams won more than 3,000 games and lost fewer than 500.22 Bobby Ullman, a former assistant to Youse, called him “the Babe Ruth of amateur baseball.” 23
More than fifty of Youse’s players rose to become major leaguers.24 These included Dave Boswell, Phil Linz, Ron Swoboda, Jim Spencer, Butch Wynegar, and Reggie Jackson.25 When Jackson arrived under Youse’s tutelage, he seemed to be headed for a football career. For the freshman team at Arizona State (ASU), Reggie had caught seven passes for 98 yards and had rushed for 161 yards at 7.7 yards per carry. ASU baseball coach Bobby Winkles directed Jackson to Leone’s for the summer.26 When Youse saw him in a workout, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He compared Reggie’s speed and power to that of Mantle at age 19.27 He took him on as that summer’s project and was rewarded by the star leading the team to another trip to the AAABA tournament. The scouts attended the tournament in droves, and watched the young slugger put on a power display that launched his baseball career. 28
Reggie Jackson respected Youse’s toughness, saying, “He was a tough cookie to convince. If I hit a ball 450 feet, he’d want to know why it wasn’t 500. Yeah, old Walter was a toughie, but I owe a lot to him.”29
Walter Youse was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 1998, and died in 2002. The successor team in the Leone’s/Johnny’s/Corrigan’s franchise was called the Maryland Orioles.30 It was managed by Dean Albany, also a scout for the Baltimore Orioles.31 In 2005, the team would be renamed Youse’s Maryland Orioles in honor of the legend.32 The Albany-led Orioles won nine additional AAABA crowns, and Albany himself was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2009.33 In achieving this success, Albany’s team had to make two adjustments. First, he noticed that Griffith League competition in the AAABA tournament fared better when they used aluminum in tournament play, because after using wood all summer they could generate greater bat speed when switching to aluminum. So the Maryland Orioles started using wooden bats in 2000. Second, his team had done well in the past with mostly local players and only a few from out of the area, but would have to change. Stated Dean Albany: “Once the Griffith League teams started recruiting out of town players, we had to follow to stay competitive.”34
1946 Griffith League Championship Game on the Ellipse. (BETHESDA BIG TRAIN)
Down the Road in the National Capital Region: Clark C. Griffith League
The National Capital City Junior League, established in 1945, gave many of the most talented young players in the greater Washington area an opportunity to showcase their skills on the Ellipse behind the White House. From its inception, Clark C. Griffith, owner of the Washington Nationals (commonly called the Senators), supported the league. Upon his death in 1955, the league was renamed in his honor.35
Griffith’s nephew Calvin, who had taken over the Senators upon his uncle’s death, had a son named Clark. Clark II illustrated the amateur league’s popularity while describing one night when his team was playing for the 1959 Griffith League championship and the Senators were playing at Griffith Stadium. “At our game, we’ve got people standing four rows deep all around the outfield, the baselines, behind the backstop, people everywhere. As I’m leaving…, a guy yells at me, ‘You know, Clark, you guys outdrew your dad’s team tonight!’ I looked around and thought, ‘Wow, we probably did.’”36
In the late 1960s, the league moved its games off the Ellipse to Northern Virginia in part because of the deteriorated field conditions.37 In 1993, the Griffith League took the step that moved it from a league of mostly local players to the upper ranks of summer collegiate baseball when it decided to follow the lead of the Cape Cod League and switch from the aluminum bats used in high school and college to wooden bats used in professional leagues. League president Mike McCarey explained to The Washington Post: “The premier leagues in the country use wood, and we wanted to step up…. Our function is to get kids with a lot of talent the opportunity to showcase that talent before the scouts. Professional scouts like wood because it gives you an idea of bat control, bat speed.” 38
The Griffith League was a charter member of the AAABA in 1944.39 The Washington franchise won the AAABA national championship ten times: Marx Jewelers (1947), Federal Storage (1956, 1960, and 1962), Reston Raiders (1986), Prince William Gators (1997), and Arlington Senators (1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002). Legendary Griffith League Managers Joe Branzell (1995) and Chuck Faris (2004) as well as Coach Jake Jacobs (2003) have been inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame.40
Marylanders Steve Barber (Takoma Park/Orioles), Tom Brown (Silver Spring/Senators), Jim Riggleman (Rockville/Nationals Manager), Steve Schmoll (Rockville/Dodgers), and Mark Teixeira (Severna Park/Yankees) are among the 67 Griffith League alumni who made it to the major leagues.41 Derek Hacopian, who managed the Bethesda Big Train to the 2004 league championship and played in the league during his All American college career, is one of more than 250 Griffith League alumni to play in the minor leagues.42
While most Griffith League teams were based in Virginia, the Griffith League did have Maryland-based teams, especially in its last decade, including Baltimore Pride, Bethesda Big Train, Germantown Black Rox, Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, and Southern Maryland Battlecats. The Griffith League played its last season in 2009 after some of its teams moved to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.43
Newcomer in Washington-Baltimore Regions: Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League
The Bethesda Big Train and Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts joined the Clark Griffith League in 1999 and 2000 supported by nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing community-based baseball on the model of the Cape Cod Baseball League. After the 2004 season, the two teams joined with College Park Bombers, Maryland Redbirds, Rockville Express, and Youse’s Maryland Orioles to establish the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League named to honor former Baltimore Orioles manager Cal Ripken Senior. All six of the teams in the inaugural season were based in Maryland. The new wooden bat league expanded eligibility from the AAABA’s 20 years old and under to include all players with college eligibility remaining.
The inaugural 2005 regular season turned into a battle of champions with the 2004 Griffith champion Big Train edging the 2004 AAABA champion Youse’s Orioles by one game. Big Train and Thunderbolts were declared co-champions when the championship game was rained out. Three different teams won the championship the next three years: Thunderbolts, Youse’s Orioles, and Rockville Express. For the next ten seasons, the league championship games were Big Train versus Redbirds. Big Train captured the crown five times. Redbirds won four in a row from 2012-2015. The teams were declared co-champions in 2018. The Redbirds left the league after the 2018 season, and Big Train captured its eighth league championship in 2019.44
In 2019, the league’s fifteenth season, the league established a Hall of Fame. In addition to Cal Ripken Senior, MLB All Stars Brett Cecil (2005 Thunderbolts/Blue Jays, 2013) and Brian Dozier (2006 Big Train/Twins, 2014) represented in the inaugural class the two dozen Ripken League alumni who have made it to the major leagues.45
Two of the league’s most successful managers were part of the inaugural class. Big Train manager Sal Colangelo has led his team to nine regular season titles and eight league championships with a regular season record of 434 wins and 177 losses for an eye-popping winning average of .710.46 Dean Albany, co-founder of the Ripken League, captured nine AAABA titles in his roles as manager and general manager of Youse’s Maryland Orioles. Bruce Adams, the sixth member of the inaugural class, co-founded the Ripken League, co-founded the Big Train, and led the construction of Shirley Povich Field.47
Collegiate Summer Baseball Register ranked the Ripken League as the third and fifth best league in summer college baseball in 2018 and 2019. Big Train was ranked the nation’s number six team in 2019, highest of any summer team in the country not from the Cape Cod League. In 2011, Perfect Game USA named Big Train the nation’s top summer college team.48
After 21 seasons, 42% of Big Train players have gone on to play professional baseball with sixteen of them making it to the major leagues. After 15 seasons, 440 Ripken League alumni have been drafted by major league teams and thirteen players have signed as free agents.49
The league expanded to include teams throughout the greater Washington region. For the 2020 season, the Ripken League had intended to field six teams: Alexandria Aces, Bethesda Big Train, D.C. Grays, FCA Braves of Virginia, Gaithersburg Giants, and Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.50 The 2020 Ripken League season was canceled, though, as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Other Maryland Summer Baseball Leagues
Along with the Ripken League, the Maryland summer college-age baseball season features two other organizational entities, a league and an association.51 These are the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League and the Maryland State Baseball Association. They both can be associated with one man, Eddie Brooks, another AAABA Hall of Famer (1997).52
In 1945, a group of individuals interested in promoting amateur baseball throughout Maryland held a series of meetings that resulted in the establishment of the Maryland State Baseball Association. Edward W. “Eddie” Brooks became its first president, a job he held until his death in 1968.53 In his honor, there have been several versions of an Eddie Brooks League, and one still exists today.
During the Seventies and Eighties, the Eddie Brooks League competition centered around Anne Arundel County with a perennial champion being Wagner’s Baseball from Severna Park, as the teams fought for the privilege of representing the league at the AAABA tournament. The age caps at various points had been 18, 19, and 20.54 In 1997, the Eddie Brooks League was reconstituted as a wooden bat league designed specifically for college freshmen and sophomores. That inaugural season saw the league with six teams from the Eastern Shore, Baltimore, Howard, and Prince George Counties, and Baltimore City.55
When the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League was formed in 2007, several teams from the Eddie Brooks League joined. Only the Putty Hill Panthers remain in 2019.56 Two of the current teams are affiliates of Ripken League teams. Those two are the “Little” Big Train and “Little” Gaithersburg Giants. The Rockville Express is a former Ripken League team. Other teams in the league are Baltimore Chop, Baltimore Clippers, Diamond Pros, Dig In Baseball, Koa Sports Green Wave, and Maryland Monarchs.57
The leagues in the Maryland State Baseball Association (MSBA) have teams that contain a mix of junior college and high school players. The association has been headed since 1968 by Charles Blackburn, who has over sixty years of experience in amateur baseball operations. He was inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame in 2010. MSBA teams serve players 18 and under just as the Baltimore Amateur Baseball League did 100 years ago. With the Cal Ripken League featuring elite Division I players, there remains a strong need to provide player development opportunities for players 18 and under. The leagues under the MSBA are the Eddie Brooks League (reconstituted), Western Maryland League, Blue Ridge League (serving Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania), and Eastern Shore League.58
The tradition of summer collegiate baseball in Maryland has been well established and has laid the groundwork for hundreds of major league and professional baseball careers. With the continuing presence of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League, and the Maryland State Baseball Association, the Chesapeake Bay State looks forward to many more years of playing its part in the development of baseball talent and showcasing this talent throughout the state.
BILL HICKMAN chaired SABR’s Pictorial History Committee for ten years, and currently maintains the “near major leaguers” database on the SABR website. Bill co-founded the Rockville (MD) Baseball Hall of Fame and is the historian for the Bethesda Big Train Collegiate Baseball Team.
BRUCE ADAMS co-founded Bethesda Community Base Ball Club (1998), Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League (2004), and Fields of Dreams after-school program in Washington, DC (2002). A SABR member since 1990, Bruce was selected as a member of the inaugural class of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League Hall of Fame.
1 According to the NCAA, the first baseball game between colleges was played on July 1, 1859, with Amherst beating Williams 73-32 in a game played under the Massachusetts rules (Daniel Wilco, www.NCAA.com , July 1, 2019). The NCAA was founded in 1906 to add safety and structure to intercollegiate athletics. The first College World Series (CWS) was played in 1947, eight years after the NCAA’s first national basketball championship. California beat Yale by winning the first two games (17-4 and 8-7) in a best of three contest played June 27-28, 1947 (W. C. Madden and Patrick J. Stewart, The College World Series: A Baseball History, 1947-2003, 58, McFarland & Company, 2004). Future president George H. W. Bush played for Yale in that series. Future American League MVP Jackie Jensen played for California.
3 Baltimore Sun, June 3, 1909, 9.
4 Baltimore Sun, August 4, 1909, 9.
5 Baltimore Evening Sun, August 21, 1930, 31, and Baltimore Sun, March 25, 1947, 19.
6 Baltimore Evening Sun, April 19, 1918, 16.
7 Baltimore Sun, September 2, 1929, 10.
8 Baltimore Evening Sun, December 24, 1936, 14
9 Baltimore Evening Sun, April 27, 1944, 23.
10 John Segraves, “Leone’s ‘Pickup’ Team Ruling Riverside Roost,“ Baltimore Evening Sun, May 30, 1952, 26.
11 Robert Sommers, “Leone’s, Sun Vie,“ Baltimore Evening Sun, May 27, 1953, 78.
12 Baltimore Evening Sun, June 22, 1953, 24.
13 J. Suter Kegg, “Tapping The Keg,“ Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, April 20, 1976, 8.
14 AAABA website, https://aaabajohnstown.org/hall-of-fame-class/2006/ .
15 While with Westport, Youse managed Al Kaline in 1950 and 1951. In one particular game, Kaline played centerfield and then pitched three innings to close out a no-hitter. The Baltimore Sun, July 29, 1951, 31.
16 Email of January 20, 2020, to Bill Hickman from Jim Henneman, who had played under Walter Youse at Calvert High School
17 Pat O’Malley, “Walter Youse Dead at Age 88; ‘Guru of Amateur Baseball,’ “ Baltimore Sun, April 16, 2002, D1 and D4. The three minor league teams managed by Youse were Seaford (Eastern Shore League), Welch (Appalachian League), and Bluefield (Appalachian League).
18 O’Malley, “Walter Youse Dead…
19 Bruce Adams and Bill Hickman interview with Jim Henneman and Dean Albany, January 9, 2020. Also Email of January 28, 2020 to Bruce Adams from Dean Albany.
20 Bernie Walter, baseball coach and athletic director at Arundel High school, was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame and the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2007, The Baltimore Sun, April 21, 2015, B 1. He was the first individual from Maryland to be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame, which occurred in 2017.
22 O’Malley, “Walter Youse Dead…”
23 O’Malley, “Walter Youse Dead…”
24 Email from Dean Albany, former manager of Youse’s Orioles, to Bruce Adams, December 8, 2019.
25 Salisbury (MD) Times, July 18, 1967, 8, Baltimore Evening Sun, August 24, 1976, C 6, and Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1983, C 13.
26 Jim Henneman, “Reggie’s Baltimore Sandlot Days Helped Pay His Big-League Ticket,” Baltimore Evening Sun, September 6, 1985, C 1. Reggie Jackson’s mother lived in Baltimore — a fact confirmed in authors’ interview with Jim Henneman on January 9, 2020 and by Lou Gorman, High And Inside: My Life In The Front Offices of Baseball, 56, McFarland & Company, 2007.
27 Jerry Eaton, “Runs Like A HB Because He Is,“ Arizona Republic, August 7, 1965, 35.
28 Bob Ibach, “Youse Tough Man for Jackson To Convince,” Baltimore Evening Sun, July 16, 1973, C 7.
29 Ibach, “Youse Tough Man…”
30 The years under the various franchise names were as follows: Leone’s 1952-68; Leone’s-Johnny’s 1969-71; Johnny’s 1972-91; Corrigan’s 1992-99; Maryland Orioles 2000-04; Youse’s Maryland Orioles 2005-08; Youse’s Orioles 2009-14.
31 Other franchise managers were Dom Leone, 1952; Ray Muhl 1952-56; Bernie Walter 1966-79; Jim Foit 1980-81; Mel Montgomery, 1982-84; and Norman Gilden 1985-91. Youse and Muhl were co-managers in 1956. Youse managed 1956-1965 and again in the Nineties; held general manager position in intervening years.
32 Use of the names Maryland Orioles and Youse’s Maryland Orioles may be found at Baltimore Sun, March 18, 2005, H4, and Baltimore Sun, August 14, 2005, E2.
33 The strength of the Baltimore amateur franchise over the years may be seen by the large number of major leaguers (68) developing from it. AAABA website, https://aaabajohnstown.org/franchise/baltimore/ .
34 Bruce Adams and Bill Hickman interview with Dean Albany and Jim Henneman, January 9, 2020.
35 Griffith League website, “History of the Clark Griffith League,” https://tinyurl.com/svurngr .
36 Dave McKenna, “Cal Ripken versus Clark Griffith,” Washington City Paper, July 9, 2010.
37 The Washington Evening Star, June 13, 1969, F 4.
38 Frank Hughes, “Wood Bats Prove Big Hit in Clark Griffith League,” The Washington Post, June 25, 1993.
39 The AAABA was organized on Feb. 10, 1944. Shamokin (PA) News-Dispatch, February 10, 1944, 10. The AAABA’s first tourney was held that September at Martin Park of the Glenn L. Martin Company in the Middle River area of Baltimore, Maryland. In the championship game, Cummins Construction of Baltimore beat the Heurich Brewers of Washington, DC. Scrantonian Tribune (Scranton, PA), September 17, 1944, 27.
43 Mark Giannotto, “Clark Griffith Collegiate Baseball League Falls on Hard Times While Counterpart Benefits,” The Washington Post. July 30, 2010.
44 Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League website, http://www.calripkenleague.org/view/calripkenleague/previous-champions .
45 Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League website, http://www.calripkenleague.org/view/calripkenleague/hall-of-fame .
46 SABR members will recognize the surname Colangelo. Sal’s brother, Mike, was a major league outfielder with the Angels, Padres, and A’s during the 1999-2002 period.
47 For a detailed history of the Bethesda Big Train and Shirley Povich Field, see Bruce Adams, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Big Train,” Bethesda Big Train Baseball 2018 Souvenir Program, 6, accessible on website, http://www.bigtrain.org/history/20-questions.
48 Collegiate Summer Baseball Register bases its rankings on a data base of 8,000 players on the rosters of 260 teams in 32 summer leagues.
49 Statistics on Big Train players maintained by Bill Hickman. Ripken League statistics included in email of December 10, 2019 from Jason Woodward, Commissioner of Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, to Bruce Adams.
50 Ripken League website, (click on “Teams”), http://www.calripkenleague.org/view/calripkenleague
51 Historically, there have been many more alternatives than just these two. For example, the following source presented the options for summer baseball in the Washington area in 1987: David Izenson, “Summer Baseball Abounds,” The Washington Post, June 25, 1987, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1987/06/25/summer-baseball-abounds/39db8928-d6c0-4cc2-81b3-d4596e9a2e67/ .
52 For decades, Eddie Brooks had been president of the Belair-Harford Road League (founded in 1929), the largest independent amateur league in the US. The Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1948, 14. Brooks also went on to be president of the Maryland Amateur Baseball Association (the organization founded in 1936) starting in 1949 and continuing until it dissolved. Bill Hickman phone interview with Charles Blackburn, Executive Director, Maryland State Baseball Association, January 22, 2020.
54 Baltimore Evening Sun, August 3, 1978, E 5; Pat O’Malley, “”Wagner’s, Inc., Succeeds in the Business of Sandlot Baseball, Baltimore Sun, June 25, 1980, 57; and Pat O’Malley, “Two Baseball Teams Combine to Make One Champion,” Anne Arundel County Sun, July 16, 1989, 19.
55 William Haufe, “A League of Their Own,” Easton (MD) Star-Democrat, May 30, 1997, 15.
56 Bill Hickman phone interview with Richard Pietryka, Commissioner, Maryland Collegiate Baseball League, December 8, 2019.
57 Maryland Collegiate Baseball League website, https://www.hometeamsonline.com/teams/?u=BUCKEYE&s=baseball .
58 Bill Hickman phone interview with Charles Blackburn, Executive Director, Maryland State Baseball Association, December 13, 2019.