At 18, Barker played for Legion, made majors
CHARLES TOWN – Ray “Buddy” Barker was the most productive 18-year-old the Charles Town American Legion Post 71 baseball team ever had.
That might not come as a rousing surprise … because at age 24, Barker made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles.
After graduating from Martinsburg High School, the left-handed batting first baseman/infielder was summoned to Charles Town by Post 71 management to play for their team against the various military and semi-pro teams they regularly saw.
Dotting the Charles Town schedule were army, air force, marine and naval base teams that had all manner of professional players on their rosters. Coming to Charles Town’s finely manicured Legion Field were major league pitchers Al Francis, Johnny Antonelli and Art Houtterman … along with catcher Harry Chiti, infielder Danny O’Connell and outfielder Wes Covington.
Fort Belvoir, Ft. Myer, the Quantico Marines, the Camp Lejeune Marines and Andrews Air Force Base brought teams to play in Charles Town against squads that had Chalky Hopkins, Wimpy Zombro, Dyke Ashton, Teddy Keller, Elwood Heironimus, Flick Bond, Woody Walters, John Pratico, Bucky Bolyard and Gilbert Miller and pitchers Charles Miller, Paul Miller and Harvey McCutcheon.
Barker, now 81 years old and residing in Martinsburg, came to Charles Town’s Legion team right after graduating from Martinsburg High. He was placed in the starting lineup, no matter if the Frederick Hustlers, Falmouth Braves, professional team Hagerstown Braves or one of the military outfits was on hand for the Sunday afternoon games just east of town along Route 9 at Legion Field.
Later, after signing a professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles, Barker would begin a much-traveled career in the minor leagues. He had summer stints in places like Portland (Oregon), Jacksonville, Rochester, Vancouver and Syracuse before being called to the big leagues by Baltimore to make his debut on September 13, 1960.
Even after his late-season debut in 1960, he was returned to the Class AAA ranks by the Orioles.
Finally, at age 29, Barker joined the Cleveland Indians in 1965.
The next season found Barker on the roster of the struggling New York Yankees.
That Yankee team fired manager Johnny Keane and brought back Ralph Houck, who tried to energize a roster that had 34-year-old Mickey Mantle, 31-year-old Roger Maris, 37-year-old Elston Howard, 37-year-old Whitey Ford, 30-year-old Bobby Richardson, 29 year-old Clete Boyer and relative youngsters Joe Pepitone, Roy White, Mel Stottlemyre, Al Downing and Jim Bouton.
Mantle batted. 288 with only 333 at-bats, Maris hit .233 with 348 at-bats, Ford started only a handful of games . . . and the Yankee closer was Washington Senator castoff Pedro Ramos, who had 13 saves but a 3-9 record.
New York finished last in the 10-team league as pennant-winner Baltimore was nine games in front of Minnesota and 10 games ahead of Detroit in the standings.
Barker was with the Yankees again in 1967, making his final appearance on May 21.
His three-year major league career saw him finish with a .214 average (62-for-318) in 192 games. He hit 10 career homers and drove in 44 runs.
Barker must have been a virtual hitting terror in high school … because Max Brown, Dr. Morison and the braintrust of Post 71 baseball team were not ones to take any chances or cut any corners when it came to the Legion team playing against top-flight competition on Sunday afternoons. It was serious business. Very serious.
And Barker was competing at times against players who had been in the major leagues and would return when their military commitments were completed.