Category: Baseball

Extra Innings: Coalfield Baseball Documentary

Bluefield Blue Grays of 1930s

Bluefield Blue Grays of 1930s

As the boys of summer are swinging their bats, I want to give a shoutout to the boys of summers past.

For anyone interested in the history of Appalachian baseball, check out the 1990s documentary, Extra Innings: Coalfield Baseball, from the archives ofWSWP Beckley/Grandview and distributed by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.


Having trouble? View on YouTube.

As the description says, “Many Southern West Virginia coal camps had baseball teams in the 1930s. This is the story of coalfield baseball’s golden era.”

Slab Fork Indians, an all-black team

The Sunday games after church were a “raucous displays of coalfield culture,” said the late Stuart McGehee of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives in the doc. “Every little coal company town, and there were maybe 500 of them in Southern West Virginia, had a baseball park. Everyone’s game was baseball…Quality of ball in the coalfields was as good or better at any level of semi-pro or amateur ball in America.”

The late Stuart Mcgehee of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives

The late Stuart McGehee of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives

The players interviewed were John, Willard and Gene McGraw (the “best brothers groups to play in the coalfields”), Harry Perkowski, Willard Artist McGraw, Angus Evans Jr., Charlie Kowaleski, Charlie Karbonit, Okey Mills, John Kerzic, Jimmy Harper, Tom “Lefty” Tudor, and Idie Scott.
McGraw Brothers

McGraw Brothers

And for some, coalfields  paid better than pro ball. “We would have played for nothing,” Angus Evans Jr. said. Many players went to the majors.
Teams mentioned include Ikeagle, Lillybrook, White Oak, Soap Creek, Kincaid, Raleigh Clippers, Hindale, Ethel, Amigo, Coal City, Layland, Montcoal, Marfork, Beckley Bengals, Bluefield Blue-Grays, Charleston, Williamson, Welch, Gary, Elkhorn, Moose Juniors, and Minden Reds.

County League system peaked right before WWII and disbanded in mid-1950s.

Baseball Tonight! Bowen Field

Baseball Tonight! Bowen Field

Do you have stories about Coalfield Baseball? Share them in the comments!

~Melissa

Vic Sorrell: World Series Pitcher, Bluefield Blue-Grays Player and Manager

Vic Sorrell’s 1932 Goudey Gum Company Baseball Card.

We are celebrating Major League Baseball’s Opening Day! Stubby Currence added so much to the legacy of baseball, especially in Four Seasons Country.

I found this article talking about Stubby’s connection to 1935 World Series Winner and Detriot Tiger pitcher Vic Sorrell, who played for the Bluefield Blue-Grays in the 1920s and 1930s.
“Sorrell was lured back to Bluefield, West Virginia, one year after his big-league career ended. According to his son, Sorrell and sportswriter Stubby Currence had maintained a close friendship since the pitcher’s coalfield league days in 1924. Currence persuaded Sorrell to pitch for the Bluefield Blue-Grays, recently admitted to the Class D Mountain State League. Down-to-earth and level-headed, Sorrell was a popular, beloved figure in the town of 25,000 residents. He took the mound for the Blue-Grays in his final three years of professional baseball (1938-40), went 26-11, and managed the club in in 1939 and ’40. He announced his retirement after the 1940 season, and 15 years in Organized Ball. In his ten years with the Tigers he was 92-101, logging 1,671⅔ innings with a 4.43 ERA.” -Gregory H. Wolf
Read the Sorrell’s biography by Gregory H. Wolf  on the Society For American Baseball Research. Sorrell went on to become the head baseball coach at North Carolina State University from 1946 to 1966.
Here is a column Stubby wrote about Sorrell in 1935.

March 14, 1935 Press Box column by Stubby Currence. Story references Victor Sorrell, baseball player, pitcher for Detroit Tigers and former player for Bluefield Blue-Grays and Wake Forest University. Click to zoom.

~Melissa

Don’t mess with Davis & Elkins fans

Oh, those cold winter nights of West Virginia of today and days past…

While staying warm, I found this reference to Stubby attending a Davis & Elkins basketball game in a Bluefield Daily Telegraph “Press Box” column from January 24, 1936:

This D & B crowd is no bunch of pansies. Especially those three husky members of the outfit who so generously pushed my marooned car out of the snow in front of that Fairmont road house the night after the ball game in which they were crowned state champs at the state tourney last season. I’ll love them for that, if for nothing else. But I hate to think to what might have happened to me that night had l gone to Wesleyan and not to D & B back in the days of my callow youth. And I love ’em for that, too.

Stay warm, kids!

Bluefield vs. Bramwell

I got a stumper for you today. Well, probably not for YOU, but for me, because I didn’t get a chance to ask The Dad about this one. Here is a photo from Stubby’s archives. Unfortunately, we’re losing the image to the ages.

Bluefield vs. Bramwell. Click photo to zoom.

Bluefield vs. Bramwell. Click photo to zoom.

From what I can tell, it is a photo of a baseball game with the catcher and batter at home plate. The crowd is behind them and baseball bats on in the foreground. But Stubby’s caption reads fine: “Bluefield vs. Bramwell – Glenwood Park, Aug. 1922. Bluefield easy winners over League winners – Walters, at bay.”

I wanted to share this one because this game was played 90 years ago this month. But the stumper is the dates. According the Bluefield Blue Jays website, the Blue-Grays (a precursor to the Blue Jays) were formed in 1924, two years later than this game was played. I’m confident Stubby got the year right, so I’m guessing games were being played before the League was formally formed. The town of Bramwell also lists 1924 as the start of the Coalfield Baseball League:

Interesting Fact: In 1924 “The Coalfield Baseball League.” consisted of four teams in the league including the Bluefield “Blue Grays,” the Gary “Coal Diggers,” the Pocahontas-Bramwell “Indians” and the Coalwood “Robins.”

Even 90 years later, I’m glad Bluefield was victorious.

~Melissa

Bird dog for the Braves

Stubby Currence and the Boston Braves

“There’s one!” Spotting future Braves. Stubby the second from the right. Click for larger photo.

Since we’re in the dead heat of July, let’s continue with the boys of summer. In the 1940s, Stubby was a scout for the Boston Braves, and in 1948, he attended the World Series where the Cleveland Indians ultimately beat the Braves in the 6-game series. The Braves franchise moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then to Atlanta in 1966.

Thanks to Larry: “Currence was a scout for the Braves when they were still in Boston and a keen judge of talent. He referred to the assignment as being a “bird dog” for the Braves in the decade before they moved to Milwaukee.”

Photo details: Holy publicity shot, batman! As a practitioner of the public relations arts, I can spot a staged photo at 10 paces. But I like this one. These guys are committed. Kudos on the acting job, fellas. My fav is the flag. It’s laminated to give it that perfect summer breeze stiffness. I’m not sure who else is in this photo. If you do, let me know in the comments.
~Melissa

P.S. I’m excited to be heading to the Reds vs. Diamondbacks game tonight. The Dad says baseball was Stubby’s favorite sport, as it is mine. I’d like to think if Grandpa Stubby was around, we knock back a few cold ones and he’d regale me with tales of the Bambino and the good ole days.

The Beau Brummel of Bluefield

Stubby Currence, Colts Baseball

The Beau Brummel of Bluefield?

I love a good sassing, don’t you? I found this gem by Duke Ridgley, the longtime sports editor of the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch and the man credited with nicknaming Marshall University the Thundering Herd.

Diamond Dust by Duke RidgleyDidja know?
Ripley-It-Or Not, Virgil (Stubby) Currence, the Beau Brummel of Bluefield and the man who annually picks the All-State High School Basketball Team, is the youngest athlete ever to captain a college baseball team in the United States. You Don’t believe it? Well-l-l, it’s as true as Truth. At the ender age of 16 Mr. C was captain and shortstop of the Davis & Elkins club. That was the year D & E had a perfect season on the diamond. They played nine games and lost all nine of ’em..And for dragging this skeleton out of the closet I have reserved a place for myself behind the No. “8” ball in “Stubby’s” dog house.
Good one, Duke! I love the Beau Brummel reference. As if! Exhibit A on that one.
~Melissa

The baseball started early

Elkins West Virginia Central School circa 1920 class photo

“Stay calm, boys,” Stubby whispers. “The faster they take the photo, the faster we can play ball.” (Click the image to see a larger size)

Guess who’s holding the bat in the front row? It’s Stubby, of course! Various baseball accouterments are scattered among the boys, and the girls look none too thrilled (but I love those hair bows). There was no date on the photo, but  it was most likely taken in Elkins, WVa., when Stubby lived there as a child.

I’m guessing the kids here are around 8 or 9. If that’s the case, this photo was taken around 1911. Do you agree? I’m not sure what school Stubby attended in Elkins, but it could have been in “the old Central Building that still stands and is now occupied by apartment dwellers,” according to Randolph County Schools.

~Melissa

P.S. I hope all the dads out there had a great Father’s Day yesterday! It’s tough work being a dad, so thank you.