Grove, Wilson: From Blue Sox to major leagues
MARTINSBURG – Baseball was king. As was its rightful place.
It was the 1920’s and professional baseball had a hold on the public’s pulse. The Major Leagues were flourishing with their total of 16 teams. The Minor Leagues sprouted teams of every stripe and in the smallest of hamlets, especially across the deep South where the state of Georgia had 45 franchises spread from Cedartown to Hazelhurst/Baxley and from Fitzgerald to Rome.
Baseball had a requited love affair with the gritty mill/railroad town of Martinsburg, where the Blue Sox resided in the Blue Ridge League and were stationed in Rosemont Park just off King Street near Red Hill.
Blue Ridge League baseball was given a Class D label, but that meant little or nothing to the people who attended games in Chambersburg, Hagerstown, Hanover, Gettysburg and Frederick as well as Martinsburg.
Martinsburg was a member of the Blue Ridge circuit from 1915-18 and again from 1920-30.
With the squat, muscular frame of outfielder Lewis “Hack” Wilson, the Blue Sox won the league pennant in 1922. Wilson was only 22 but he slugged 30 home runs in fewer than 90 games and terrorized the league’s pitchers with his .366 batting average. Wilson was gone to higher-class league after that season.
Later, in 1930 Wilson would drive in 191 runs with the Chicago Cubs of the National League. No player has copied that feat ever again. And baseball’s Hall of Fame inducted Wilson inside its hallowed walls.
Martinsburg was a minor league outpost staffed with farm hands of the famed Philadelphia A’s of owner/manager Connie Mack.
Robert “Lefty” Grove had a brief stop in Martinsburg as a 20-year-old just in from Lonaconing in western Maryland. Grove appeared in six games and quickly was promoted after the powers that were saw his 1.68 ERA in 59 innings of work. That was in 1920.
Grove eventually bulldozed his way through the American League and like Wilson was placed in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.
The Blue Sox earned league championships from 1922-25 and sent more than just Grove and Wilson to the big leagues. Those two were joined by “Doc” Cramer, Jimmy Dykes and Monte Cross as Blue Sox alumni playing in baseball’s highest classification.
Cramer played for Mack in Philadelphia, but only after setting a Blue Ridge record for a one-season batting average with a .404 norm.
Wilson’s 30 homers in a season also stood forever.
Though he stayed in Martinsburg with his wife from the area, George “Reggie” Rawlings could have had a career in the major leagues as well as the others. Rawlings played at least part of every season in all of Martinsburg Blue Sox baseball. He held the record for runs scored in a season with 104.
Hack Wilson’s home run-laced season in 1922 saw the Blue Sox win the pennant and dominate the laurels/honors handed out that season by the Blue Ridge League.
The manager was Burton Shipley, who has athletic facilities at the University of Maryland named for him. Rawlings led the league in hitting at .371, hits with 146, total bases with 251 and RBIs with 108. Wilson topped everybody with his 30 homers and .717 slugging percentage.
Ross Roberts had the most wins with 15 and Walter Seaman had the highest winning percentage at .750 with a 9-3 pitching record.
An all-star team was picked when the season was over and Martinsburg had outfielders Rawlings and Wilson, infielder Dave Black, catcher Mike Mullaney, pitcher Ross and utility player Mike Hulvey placed on the first team. Honorable mention status was given to first baseman Hughes, outfielder/pitcher Seaman, shortstop Jim Brehaney and third baseman Joe Brophy.
Rawlings was named the league’s most valuable player for that 1922 season.
When the Great Depression more than leveled playing fields, the Blue Ridge League stopped its games after 1930, never to provide access to “America’s Pastime” again.
Wilson Grove, Cramer, Dykes and others were gone to Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and other cities by that time.
Grove was only 20. Wilson was only 22. But both etched their deep marks in the lore of minor league baseball that held the public’s considerable interest in the 1920’s in blue collar Martinsburg.