There are some who think Hagerstown lives in the dark ages.
Not local author Bob Savitt who has proof that Hagerstonians have been an enlightened bunch since at least the early 1900s, especially when it came to their baseball.
“We were pioneers of baseball,” Savitt said. “Back then, Sunday baseball was big at the amateur level, but it was nearly impossible here on the professional level because of blue laws. ... The first night baseball game was played here in Hagerstown in 1930 at Municipal Stadium before first night game was played in the major leagues in Cincinnati (in 1935).”
The Blue Ridge League threw the switch to start to jolt professional baseball. The circuit lasted for only 15 years but its effects on the area, the era and the foundation of baseball as we know it has sent ripples for a few lifetimes.
Savitt traces the history of the league and this area’s contributions to baseball in his new book, “The Blue Ridge League,” which debuts today. Savitt illustrates the former Class D minor league was not only successful, but it was an innovative slice of local Americana.
“A theme of mine has been that baseball in areas like ours was more than a game,” Savitt said. “It was part of our culture — an activity to view, discuss, argue about, cheer over and if you were skillful enough — to play. Moreover, in small communities like those of the Blue Ridge League, having a professional team was a source of communal pride that validated importance and standing.”
Savitt spent 15 years researching the book — ironically, precisely how long the league lasted. He has assembled 128 pages of memories, 200 images and standings from a league that played in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia from 1915-30.
The league not only challenged local Sabbath laws to play games, but it sent 100 players to the majors — including Lefty Grove and Hack Wilson. It provided a prototype for present day minor league farm teams, like the Hagerstown Suns.
“The league shows baseball was ‘it’ in the 1930s as far as the sporting culture of the times,” Savitt said. “The Blue Ridge League was a microcosm of what was happening around the country. Everyone wanted to have a team in their hometown. It was a craze.”
The support was rabid. Savitt shows how the area romaticized the league with press clippings and research interviews, sparking competition between towns through controversy created by fans, players and umpires.
For Savitt, an admitted transplant to the area, Blue Ridge interest began casually in 1995, becoming “a slow life of its own.”
“I would always stumble into things,” he said. “It was like finding a lot of pieces of a puzzle.
“It was very fulfilling after all these years to get the nostalgia and anecdotes out there. A lot of people shared their stories. Most people in our area don’t know they had professional baseball in their towns.”
“The Blue Ridge League” brings back the days when baseball was truly America’s pastime when attending a game was a must for the whole family. Savitt shows the world might forget the history of baseball, but it can’t eliminate the game’s impact on history.
"The Blue Ridge League," $21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or at 888-313-2665.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org