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.”
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.”
County League system peaked right before WWII and disbanded in mid-1950s.
Do you have stories about Coalfield Baseball? Share them in the comments!
We are celebrating Major League Baseball’s Opening Day! Stubby Currence added so much to the legacy of baseball, especially in Four Seasons Country.
“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
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.
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.