Washington County Baseball

In honor of Baseball Opening Day 2021, this article will focus on Washington County’s rich baseball history through the lens of Hagerstown. 

The alluring aroma of concession stand popcorn. The taste of a perfectly cooked ballpark hot dog. The indescribable, yet intimately familiar sound of bat hitting ball.

There is some dispute as to when, where and how the game of baseball began. One popular myth credits Civil War hero Abner Doubleday with its invention in the summer of 1839. Meanwhile, scholars attest that as early as the mid-18th century, some early variations of the game were being played in colonial Philadelphia and Massachusetts, having developed from early British folk games. 

Modern baseball can be traced all the way back to September 1845, when Alexander Joy Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter and bank clerk created a new set of rules that formed the contemporary basis for the sport. Among these rules? A standardized, diamond-shaped field, foul-ball lines, and the three-strike rule. With these new rules, the popularity of the sport began to grow, and many amateur, semi-professional, and professional leagues were formed all across the United States beginning in the late 1840s through the 1860s and 70s. 

Baseball in Washington County can be traced back to the Civil War, when the sport’s growing popularity led to the creation of teams at all age and skill levels, including amateur and semi-professional. The historic Blue Ridge League, an outgrowth of the Tri-City League, a semi-professional outfit, was established in 1915. Charles W. Boyer of Hagerstown is considered to have been the driving force behind the league’s establishment. 

The Blue Ridge League opened as a minor league outfit with a Class D designation. Hagerstown’s James Vincent Jamison was President of the Blue Ridge League from 1916 until 1931, when the league shut down. Competing in the league were six teams, among them, the Hagerstown Blues (1915), Hagerstown Terriers (1916-18, 1922-23), Hagerstown Champs (1920-21), and Hagerstown Hubs (1924-30). Although the Blue Ridge League shut down, professional baseball returned to Hagerstown once again in 1941 when the Detroit Tigers moved their minor league affiliate to town. The newly-named Hagerstown Owls joined the Class B Interstate League. The Owls did well in their first year, posting a respectable record of 75-48. 

In 1950, the Hagerstown Owls were renamed the Hagerstown Braves, and became a minor league affiliate of the Boston Braves. The Hagerstown Braves had an excellent first year, making it to the playoffs and defeating the Trenton Giants at Municipal Stadium in future Hall of Famer Willie Mays first Minor League appearance with the Giants. Unfortunately, the Braves lost to the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Championship. The Braves would go on to win the Championship in 1952, the Interstate League’s last season. 

In 1953, the Braves joined the Class B Piedmont League, and underwent yet another name and affiliation change in 1954. This time, the Hagerstown Braves were renamed the Hagerstown Packets, and became a minor league affiliate of the Washington Senators. The Piedmont League ceased in 1955, leaving Hagerstown without a professional team until 1981 when Hagerstown became home to the Suns, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. 

While I have chosen to focus on Hagerstown for the purposes of this article, Washington County’s baseball history is by no means limited to its County Seat. To be sure, Hagerstown has fielded many Minor League teams throughout its storied history, but Major League Pitcher Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger was born in Williamsport, as was Dave Cole.