Presque Isle’s Baseball History
Play Ball! Two words that has resonated in Presque Isle since the early 1900’s. Baseball in Presque Isle began in the early 1900’s. There are records indicating that Presque Isle had some excellent semi-pro teams in 1903, 1905 and 1906. Hundreds of local fans would travel long distances by buggy to watch their team play; it may have meant traveling to Caribou, Canada or downstate. In 1905 the local team won 25 of 40 games, and in 1906 they played a total of 55 games. Some of the familiar names from that era include Frank Smith, Theriault, Michaud, Graves, Crock, Upton, Gallagher, Burgess, Baker, Thibodeau and Good.
My research is dedicated to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and will deal primarily with the semi-pro teams that played in the Aroostook League, Northern Aroostook League and the Maine-New Brunswick League. There were many great local and imported players who played during this era.
During the early 30’s there were not many semi-pro teams but there was the Aroostook Legion League. The local entry was known as the Presque Isle Midgets and they competed against Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill and Caribou. During the 1930 season the team was coached by a Mr. Wylie and the team finished second in the league to Mars Hill Mountaineers. Mars Hill faced the Bangor Comrades at the ACI Field for the Eastern and Northern Maine Legion Championship and lost by a score of 6-1. Presque Isle also fielded a twilight league for semi-pro players. The league was comprised of four teams: the Kilowatts, Stamp Lickers, Drones and Pipe Fitters. A baseball tournament was also held at the Northern Maine Fair, featuring participants from Presque Isle, Caribou, Fort Fairfield and Van Buren.
The 1931 version of the Presque Isle Midgets was anchored by two strong pitchers, Ernie Clark and Hal Cheney. The team was coached by Spike Williams and sponsored by the local legion post. The team lost the County Championship to the Caribou Legion team 6-4 in a ten inning affair. This game saw Presque Isle pitcher Hal Cheney strike out 19 Caribou hitters and accumulate 3 hits including a triple. Caribou pitcher Peterson allowed four runs in the second inning and pitched shutout ball the rest of the way. The Midgets won the Northern Maine Fair tournament, winning four games in three days. They defeated the best teams that Washington, Penobscot and Aroostook County could offer. Caribou’s team was comprised of players from Caribou and Stockholm, Eastport was the Washington County champion and Millinocket the Penobscot County champion. Cheney won three games in two days while the hitting stars for the Midgets were Soup Willette, Bill Shaw and Ernie Clark.
1932: The National pastime was making a comeback in Presque Isle and the County this season. The Presque Isle Twilight League was formed. League members were the Presque Isle Boy’s Club, State Road, Presque Isle Legion Midgets and Battery A. Star Herald sportswriter, Claude Taylor, was very instrumental in organizing the league. Many towns in the County had a town team which played four times each week. The Presque Isle A.A. team was under the management of Henry Gagnon and played some excellent ball during the season. The team was led by the pitching of Hal Cheney, powered offensively by Henry Gagnon, Billy Shaw and Ernie Clark; Shaw and Percy Willette were also outstanding defensively, while other outstanding players included Carl Green, Verdelle Clark, Bus Shaw, Louis Gagnon and Bear Willette.
The Northern Maine Fair Baseball Tournament was held in September. This was the first attempt at a Baseball Tournament at any Fair in Maine and proved to be a real drawing card. Town teams participating were from Limestone, Westfield, Mars Hill Washburn, Mapleton, Easton, Caribou Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent and Van Buren. Mars Hill defeated Presque Isle to reach the Championship game against Van Buren. Mars Hill defeated Van Buren 24-7 as a result of an 11 run outburst in the seventh inning. Tapley, Adleman and Varney set the pace offensively for the winners.
1933: At a meeting of local baseball fans an athletic club was formed: Coach and manager was Spike “Elmer” Williams; business manager, Ralph Shaw: secretary and Treasurer William Mackin. There would be ten league games and and each season tickets would one dollar. Six teams formed the league: Presque Isle, Mars Hill, Caribou, Mapleton, Limestone and Easton. Presque Isle fielded a very competitive team and was tied for second, one game back of league leader Mars Hill for the league lead with one game left to play. Presque Isle lost to Caribou 11-8 and finished second with a 6-4 record. Caribou and Mars Hill tied for first with 7-3 records. Mars Hill and Caribou faced off in the championship game which Caribou won, giving them the league title. Ten of the leading teams in the County were invited to the Northern Maine Fair for further competition. Instead of using an elimination process, each team played an equal number of games with no champion being crowned. The games were well attended with large crowds swarming around the Northern Maine Fairgrounds field.
1934: This year the Aroostook League was headed by Claude Taylor and was comprised of teams from Presque Isle, Caribou, Mars Hill, and Fort Fairfield. A uniform ball was to be adopted this year for league members. The Presque Isle team was sponsored by the Abnaki club and coached by Spike Williams. Familiar names on the PI squad included Hal Cheney, Bill Hanscom, and Bill Haskell. In an outstanding regular season game Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield hooked up in a 15 inning affair which Presque Isle won 4-2. Hal Cheney was brilliant, going 15 innings and allowing 5 hits, striking out 17. Ernie Clark drove in the winning run in the 15th. The Indians continued their winning ways and went on to win the League Championship behind the pitching of Cheney who was backed by a solid infield of: Ernie Clark, Bill Shaw, Talbot and Walt Shaw. The outfield was composed of Bill Haskell, Cal Green, Willette. Bear and Crock were the catchers. Cheney was awarded the Most Popular Player (MVP) in the League, which was determined by fans who cast over 10,000 votes. The Presque Isle Indians had a record of 12-4, with Cheney garnering ten of those wins. Interest ran high as WAGM radio broadcast nearly all league games.
The Aroostook League All-Stars selected by the fans took on the Houlton Collegians in September. Players from Presque Isle selected were Cheney, Clark 1st base, H. Shaw leftfield and Willette back-up catcher. Milton McBride from Easton was also selected to the team. Approximately 10,000 fans watched as Cheney pitched 6 shutout innings, allowing the Collegians just one hit.
1935: This season the Presque Isle Indians withdrew from the Aroostook League as result of a dispute with the league over player eligibility. Players had to reside in the town they were to play for a minimum of 90 days prior to opening of the league schedule. There was also some confusion over the use of neutral officials. The Indians could have elected to play non-league opponents this season, but ultimately decided to play a league schedule... The Boston Braves traveled to Aroostook County to play the Aroostook All-stars. The game was played in Houlton, players chosen from the Presque Isle Indians: Hubert Shaw, Hal Cheney. A familiar name from Mars Hill chosen was Clarence Keegan as well as Red Osgood from Easton.
The Boston Red Sox also traveled to Bangor, Maine to take on the Maine All-Stars at Bass Park. Several County players were selected to play including: Cheney & Shaw, PI and Clarence Keegan of Mars Hill.
A series of games again were played at the Northern Maine Fair and organized by Sid Cook, the business manager of the town team. The Fair tournament was so popular that the Director of the Fair’s baseball program, W.J. Mackin, was inundated with applications for the Fair games.
The Indians competed against many non-league opponents, including Edmundston, Vanceboro, Millinocket, Calais and Corrina of the Eastern League. They continued to play improved ball with the additions of Ernie Clark and Fay Ladner who provided them with batting power; Bill Haskell and Lefty Hughes aided the Indians cause. Presque Isle finished second in league action behind an excellent Mars Hill team.
There were many fine hurlers in the league this year, but Cheney again was at the top of the class. He pitched 14 games, winning eleven; he had two one hit games and two three hit games during the summer. He pitched 129 innings, striking out 155 hitters and allowed only 80 hits. In his all-star appearance against the Boston Braves, he gave up only one hit in his two innings of work.
The Indians were coached by Spike Williams and had an outstanding season. The completed the Aroostook League with a record of 12-2. They defeated such teams as the Calais Southerners, Aroostook Major League All-stars, Houlton Collegians, Danforth, Patten A.C., Caribou A. A., East Millinocket and Guilford Advertisers. There two losses were to the St. Stephens N.B. Kiwanis Club. This season saw Hal Cheney pitching for the Guilford Advertisers; the Indians staff was now headed by Ralph Peabody, Lefty Hughes and Bill Haskell. Despite having a fine year the Indians finished 2nd in The Aroostook League behind the Mars Hill Mountaineers. The Indians played many outstanding opponents from around the state. One of the high-lights of the season was Presque Isle’s 1-0 win over Guilford at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds field. The “Advertisers” came in riding an eighteen game winning streak. It was a pitcher’s duel between Presque Isle’s Peabody and Guilford’s Cheney. Each pitcher allowed 6 hits and the Indians lone run scored on an error in the 7th inning. The game was played in front of more than 3,000 fans.
During this season there was also a Presque Isle-All Star Tilt Benefit Game, featuring the Presque Isle A.A. against the Aroostook League All-Stars. The game was to raise funds for Clarence Keegan of Mars Hill and Hubert Shaw of Presque Isle who were to leave for Baltimore where they would try out for the U.S. Olympic baseball team. Some of the members of the Presque Isle A.A. included: Hubert and Bus Shaw, Harold Cheney, Eddie Bear, Henry Gagnon, Fay Ladner, Cal Green, and Bill Haskell. The All-stars lost to Presque Isle 5 to 1 as Cheney held the all-stars to four hits while striking out thirteen.
1937: The Indians enjoyed a successful season, winning the 1937 Aroostook Semi-pro Baseball Crown and compiling a 17-8 record. The Indians won the title by defeating the Fort Fairfield Wanderers 6-3 in a well played game. Bill Haskell came up with a solid pitching performance, allowing only six hits and no runs after the fourth inning. The offense was paced by Bill Shaw, Frank Tapley, Verdelle Clark, Fay Ladner, Cal Green and Eddie Bear.
This was also the year the Hal Cheney was offered a tryout with the Boston Red Sox. He tried out for the Sox under the supervision of Hugh Duffy. He was placed under contract and sent to Mansfield, Ohio in the Ohio State League. He lost his first start 1-0 and then won his next six. Mansfield won the Ohio State League Pennant.
1938: This season the Aroostook League was divided into the Northern Aroostook League and the Southern Aroostook League. The Northern Aroostook League was comprised of six teams: Mars Hill, ft. Fairfield, Limestone, Presque Isle, Caribou, and Van Buren. The Indians had their poorest record in many years, ending at 8-14 in the cellar with Caribou. They were plagued with a lack of seasoned players. Ed Packard and Q. Niles were the top pitchers for the locals, although with some support Lefty Swett and Ken Ballard would have had improved records. Fay Ladner was the “Indians” top hitter with a .421 average which was among the leagues best. The team batting average was an anemic .239.
In the Annual Northern Maine Fair tournament the Indians edged Van Buren 4-3 and Fort Fairfield Wanderers edged the Caribou Clovers 4-3 before over 2500 fans during the semi-final round to move into the finals. Fort Fairfield overwhelmed the Presque Isle squad 17-4 to win the tournament. Presque Isle had beaten the Houlton Collegians 9-1 and Caribou had beaten Fort Kent to reach the semis.
Hal Cheney was recalled to Hazelton to pitch in the Eastern League. He has a sensation record with Clarksdale bringing that team from the second division to second place.
1939: The Northern Aroostook League included five teams: Caribou, Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield and Madawaska. The Presque Isle Indians were sponsored by the Presque Isle Fire Department. They were an outstanding sponsor, taking care of many jobs connected to the ball club, including providing transportation. The department also paid the teams expenses to the State semi-pro tournament in Portland. The Indians opened their season with a 24-13 win over Fort Fairfield Wanderers; they then lost five straight and never seemed to recover. Nor did they fare well in the Aroostook semi-pro tournament either. They easily defeated Madawaska 12-5 in the opening round but lost the second game to Fort Fairfield 4-3 as a result of several errors. In the State semi-pro tournament the locals defeated the S.D. Warren team of Westbrook in the first round, but then lost to the State Championship team from Lisbon Falls 2-0. Lefty Swett was outstanding on the mound for the Indians against Lisbon Falls. Swett was one of the best hurlers in the league, losing only one game in league competition.
The Indians and the Caribou Clovers were in a record breaking game when they played a 12 inning 0-0 game. Frankie Ouellette pitched for Presque Isle, while Higgins pitched for Caribou.
Lefty Swett (with four wins) was the mainstay of the Indians staff, but the team suffered a severe loss when Lefty Graves had to refrain from pitching because of a sore arm. Dick Pelletier led the team in hitting with a .393 average. During the season the Indians secured a number of out of town players, including Clarence Keegan of Mars Hill who served as a coach and played several positions while hitting .388. Ron Livingston played an excellent brand of ball at third base and at times was a solid hitter. Fort Kent eventually won the Northern Aroostook League title.
The Northern Maine Fair Tournament was held with the six best teams in the County participating. Baseball chairman William Mackin organized the tournament. They were also entertaining the thought of inviting one of the top teams from downstate to play the winner of the Fair Tournament.
Hal Cheney was now in his third season with the Red Sox farm clubs. He was pitching for Rocky Mount (North Carolina) in the Piedmont League. He started out the season with Scranton PA in the Eastern League.
Next we I take a look back at the Northern Aroostook League during the 40’s. Feel free to send comments to the Star Herald or contact me @ 764-1217.
Northern Aroostook League
1940 The Northern Maine league’s Presque Isle Indians was comprised mostly of local baseball talent, plus a few players from out of town. Some players were still playing out the college schedules and would join the team when their seasons concluded. The locals were coached by Spike Williams, and Dr. Alex Graves headed various business committees to assure a fine financial start for the Indians. The Northern Maine League was comprised of teams from Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, Caribou and Fort Kent. The Indians were expected to have a fine team with excellent pitching from Wilfred Sapier, Lefty Swett and Quentin Niles, supported by receiver Eddie Cluff of Washburn. However, the team lost Sapier when his left arm caught in a planer, severing it just below the elbow. He was working at N.W. Downing & Son Company when the accident occurred. A benefit baseball game was played at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds field to pay tribute to Sapier. The two teams were comprised of Aroostook County All-stars; over 1200 fans attended the game.
The Northern Maine Fair held its fourth annual baseball tournament with the four Northern Aroostook League teams participating. The conclusion of the tournament marked the end of the baseball campaign for the Indians. They finished the season with 14 wins, 12 loses and one tie. The locals suffered crippling injuries besides Sapier,losinf catcher Cluff twice and third-baseman Ron Livingston. The most improved player on the team was first-baseman Don Kilpatrick, an excellent fielder who seldom struck out. Frank Downie of Houlton played second-base while Parker Dempsy of Millinocket played short-stop. The outfield was covered by Henry Gagnon, Clarence Keegan and Lewis Johnston. Gene Hunter, Ben Curtis and Eddie Packard also saw action and played well when called upon.
During the league season the Indians compiled a 9-8 record and finished second to the Fort Fairfield Wanderers, the league champs.
1941. The Presque Isle Indians were a revamped team this season. Dr. M. D. Harris served a business manager and Cal Green assumed the coaching reins. The line-up was nearly 100 percent local boys. Pitching was to be handled by young Eddie Packard, veteran Gene Stewart from Van Buren and Charles Clark. The receivers were Freeman Brewer and Luther Smart. Stan Parker and Don Kilpatrick played first-base, second base Billy Bonville, third base Henry Gagnon, short-stop Gene Hunter, left-field Tim Willette, centerfield Cal Green and right field was handled by Eddie Packard when not pitching.
This was probably the first year that the baseball field was referred to as Mackin Field, honoring Bill Mackin, an avid baseball supporter. Previously, the field had been called the Northern Maine Fairgrounds Field.
The Northern Maine Fair Baseball committee, chaired by Elmer Spike Williams, announced that they would hold the annual fair tournament with the winner taking on the Emerson Pills, a semi-pro team from Millinocket. The Pills were captained by George Wentworth, a former Notre Dame pitcher
Fort Kent won the Northern Aroostook League Championship with a 15-2 record. The Presque Isle Indians won three games but did play their best ball the late in the summer. This also marked the season that Caribou withdrew from the league and was replaced by the Houlton Collegians. The Star Herald All-League first team had three players from Presque Isle: pitcher, Stanley Bear; 3rd baseman Billy Bonville and centerfielder Clarence Keegan. Two players represented Presque Isle on the second team. Left fielder Fay Ladner and centerfielder Henry Gagnon.
1942. The Northern Maine League this year consisted of teams from Presque Isle, Presque Isle Air Field, Houlton Air Field, Houlton Collegians and Fort Fairfield. Business manager of the Indians was again Dr. M. D. Harris and the team was managed by Fay Ladner. There was an Aroostook League which included the four teams listed previously, and teams from Oakfield, Sherman Station, Staceyville and Benedicta.
Forty-two was a hitter’s league. Overall the pitching in the Northern Maine League was not good; there were many free scoring games with many games seeing over twenty hits. Presque Isle Air Field had a strong team and won the league title with the Presque Isle Indians finishing second with an 8-5 record. On many occasions during the season, the locals had a difficult time fielding a complete team. Manager Fay Ladner had to play the outfield; Gene Hunter started out at shortstop, moved to second base and then to first-base. Jack Buffington also played some second base, Ron Livingston played at the hot corner, with Joe Gray at shortstop. The outfield was strong with Ladner, Frank Kilcollins and Ed Packard. Ken Clark did some catching and played outfield while Bill Kelly, Eddie Packard and Ken Clark handled a majority of the pitching chores.
This same year Hal Cheney decided to retire from pro-baseball, but was undecided if he would continue semi-pro baseball.
1943. The Presque Isle Indians opened their season vs. the Fort Fairfield Wanderers. They would face pitcher Hal Cheney, now a Wanderer hurler. Starting lineup for the Indians was Phil Mealy catcher; Ed Packard, pitcher, Waldron 1st base; Joe Gray 2nd base; Beckwith shortstop; Giggey 3rd base; Long, Ladner, Boulier, Parsons, and Roberts would roam the outfield.
The Presque Isle Army Airfield successfully defended their Northern Maine League baseball title by defeating the Houlton Air Force Base 2-1 in the Championship game. Nelson Trout the PIAF pitching ace allowed just five hits. The same Presque Isle team also won the State of Maine Army Championship by defeating Fort Williams of Portland 11-3. The combined efforts of George and Trout limited the losers to four hits. The Presque Isle Indians finished last with a 1-8 record.
1944. The Presque Isle Air Field nine again had a strong team and rode the left-handed slants of Lefty George to get off to a quick start. There was no Northern Aroostook League this year. However, under the coaching of Spike Williams, former Northern Aroostook League pastimers from Presque Isle, Caribou and Fort Fairfield formed an all-star team to play the PIAF team. The All-star line-up included: Phil Mealey, Caribou, catcher; Hal Cheney, Fort Fairfield, pitcher; Robert Waldron, Ft Fd, 1st base; Vavel Guiggey Ft.Fd 2nd base; Henry Gagnon, SS, Presque Isle; Harold McCrea 3rd base, Ft Fd.; Faye Ladner, LF, Presque Isle; Red Russell, RF, Ft Fd.; Phil Peterson, CF, Caribou. This was a two game series and the first game was played at Fort Fairfield diamond at the Lockhart Field dedication; the second game would be played at Presque Isle’s Mackin Field. The All-stars won the game 2-1 behind the brilliant one hit pitching of Cheney, who gave up one unearned run. The defense of short-stop Henry Gagnon was stellar.
The All-stars defeated the Quoddy Seabees 7-5 in their second game. Fort Fairfield’s Red Russell hurled a masterful game, scattering eleven singles. First baseman Bob Waldron was the hitting star with a pair of triples and a single.
1945. As a result of the War, the Northern Aroostook League did not operate this season. In April President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became President. General Mark Clark hero of the African and Italian Campaigns came home from the European Wars and his first stop in the United States was Presque Isle.
Spike Williams, chairman of the Northern Maine Fair baseball committee, announced that there would be a four day schedule for a Fair tournament. Teams participating were from Caribou, Hodgdon, Van Buren, Mars Hill, Fort Fairfield, Monticello, Presque Isle and Limestone. A scrappy team from Monticello defeated Hodgdon 13-3 to win the Northern Maine Fair baseball tourney. Since the Northern Maine League did not operate this season because of war time conditions the Fair crown represented the baseball championship of Aroostook.
1946. Semi-pro baseball returned to Aroostook with the Aroostook League divided into the Northern and Southern Division. A play-off between the division winners would determine the league champion. The Northern Division was comprised of teams from Presque Isle, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill, Limestone and Van Buren. The Southern Division was made up of teams from Monticello, Hodgdon, Oakfield, Island Falls and possibly Bridgewater and Houlton. Wilfred was President of the Northern Division and Faye Ladner was the umpire –in-chief. The Presque Isle Indians were coached by Jack. Beginning this season only the regular residents of each community could play on the respective teams. Enthusiasm was high and the following players reported to practice for the Indians: Bud, Henderson, Eddie Packard, Bill Kelley, pitchers; Keith Thompson, Flynt Dillen, Poddy Johnston, Ron Livingston, Gene Hunter, Real Proulx, Roy Parsons. Hal Cheney also planned to return to the baseball wars this summer and would pitch for the Indians.
The Northern Maine Fair brought back their baseball tourney for the championship of Aroostook. Spike Williams chaired the tournament committee and announced that eight teams would compete in the event. The Presque Isle Indians won the tournament with a 4-3 win over the Fort Fairfield Wanderers. The Indians used the strong pitching of right-hander Bud Henderson and the hitting of Bonville, Livingston, Rafford and Hussey to gain the win.
The Fort Fairfield Wanderers won the league championship with a 17-2 record while the Presque Isle Indians finished tied for second with Caribou at 12-8. The two teams had a play-off to determine sole possession of second which the Indians won 9-3.
During this season discussions began on the possibility of installing a portable night lighting system so that each town in the circuit could play night baseball. Lawrence Sear, the star catcher from the Fort Fairfield Wanderers, was voted the Most Valuable Player and received the Hugh Lockhart Memorial Trophy. The Wanderers also received the league championship trophy; Fort manager Charlie Sloat accepted the award. Players from the Presque Isle Indians selected to the All-Star team were third baseman Ron Livingston, pitcher Bud Henderson, first baseman Gene Hunter, second baseman Maynard Strong, and outfielder Ed Packard.
The Aroostook All-Stars rode the ninth inning double of Ron Livingston with the bases loaded to defeat the Brewer Eastcos 7-6. Ed Packard pitched into the fifth inning for the All-stars before being replaced by Don Graves.
1947. Many fans expected the Indians to challenge for the Northern Aroostook League crown but lack of hitting kept them from accomplishing that goal. The team had a number of pitchers available including Harold Brown, Bud Henderson, Lefty Hughes, Finn Dillen, and Real Proulx. The infield was solid with Maynard Strong and Pat Proulx manning second and short respectively; Cliff Beckwith was at third and Harvard Whitten and Ivan McGlauflin battled for the first base duties. Bennie Livingston started as catcher while several candidates battled for outfield spots, including Henry Gagnon, Poddy Johnston, Bert Rafford, Bud Bragdon, Darrell Bragdon, Carl Hallet and Cooper. At the beginning of the season the Indians were coached by Gene Hunter who was later replaced by Cal Green when Hunter returned to college.
The Fort Fairfield Wanderers and the Mars Hill Cubs were tied for the league lead going into the last game of the season. In that game the Cubs overcame a four run deficit to upend the Wanderers 6-5 in an eleven inning affair. After struggling the first few innings, Left Graves, the Cubs pitcher, settled down and pitched beautifully the rest of the way. Red Russell was also dominant for Fort, pitching no-hit and no-run ball the first five innings. Mars Hill then lost the County Championship to Oakfield.
The Presque Isle Indians were a disappointment finishing in third place. They did however place four players on the All-Star team: Bud Henderson, pitcher; Ronnie Livingston, catcher; Bert Rafford, outfielder; Pat Proulx, infielder. Faye Ladner of Presque Isle managed the all-stars. Mars Hill place five players on the team: Eddie Cluff, catcher; Lefty Donald Graves, pitcher; Bobby Morris, centerfield; Von Shaw, leftfielder; Everett Beals, shortstop. Red Russell and Bob Waldron of Fort Fairfield were also selected to the team.
Poddy Johnston and Bert Rafford were the two leading hitters for the Indians. Johnston hit over .400 most of the year, and Rafford was around the .350 mark. Jim Buck of Limestone was voted the Outstanding Player in the Northern Aroostook League.
1948. On the evening of June 8, 1948, a double header was scheduled for Mackin Field with four Northern Aroostook League teams participating: Easton, Ashland, Mars Hill and Presque Isle. Ashland took on Easton and Mars Hill played Presque Isle in five inning contests. A near capacity crowd, estimated to be near 3000, witnessed the inauguration of night baseball in Northern Maine. Albert Brewer, secretary of the Northern Maine Fair, spoke briefly before the first game, and Edwin Parkhurst threw out the first ball. The Presque Isle High School band was also on hand for the opening exhibition of night baseball. The first regulation game between Grand Falls A.A. and Presque Isle was played June 10, 1948. Presque Isle, Ashland, Easton, and Mars Hill played their week day home games at night at Mackin Field. Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Van Buren and Limestone used the night lighting that was being installed at Caribou for their mid-week home games.
The 1948 season officially opened June 20, 1948 with day games. The first Aroostook League night contests were played June 22 when Presque Isle visited Caribou and Van Buren and Ashland played at Mackin Field. During the Northern Maine Fair, teams from Patten, Brewer, Calais, and Lincoln were brought in to play Presque Isle, Houlton Collegians, Oakfield Oakies, Caswell and Monticello).
The Houlton Collegians were a powerful team, paced by pitchers Lefty Swett and hard throwing Jim Difrederico. Difrederico was to have a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers when the season was finished. The Indians were able to hand the Collegians their first home defeat in more than two years in a game played in front of 1500 fans.
The Indians went on to win the Northern Aroostook League crown and later defeated the Oakfield Oakies to win the County Championship. The team was coached by Cal Green and offensively led by Real Proulx, Gene Hunter, Jim Dyer; Joe Cronkite and Bert Rafford. On the mound Bud Henderson was 16-6 and Ed Packard was 14-3. The team finished with a record of 40 wins and 17 losses. Dyer was named Most Valuable Player for the season. Henderson and Packard combined for 30 of the Indians 40 wins. Henderson also struck out 138 in 22 games. He will also be remembered for a Sunday afternoon in which he pitched the Indians to a win over the Caribou Clovers and then traveled to Grand Falls where he hurled the ‘Cataracts’ to a win over another strong Canadian team. He had accomplished a unique feat: the winning pitcher of two games on the same day in two different countries.
This season the Indians also upset the Augusta Millionaires, one of the top semi-pro teams in the state, 1-0 behind the pitching of Ed Packard. Packard also had three hits while Gene Hunter added two.
The Presque Isle Indians completed a successful season, compiling a 33-23 record against the best teams in Northern and Eastern Maine. This year also set a new attendance record in Presque Isle with more fans witnessing games than ever before. This was also the inaugural year for outside paid ball players; six players received salaries. With the exception of Jim Dyer, who was guaranteed a salary at the beginning of the season, all other local players provided their services without compensation. George Wales (catcher) led the league in hitting .367, 13 home-runs, and 56 runs scored. Dyer scored 54 runs and had the most hits with 87. Jim Keefe led the pitchers with a 10-4 record.
The highlight of the ’49 season was the appearance of the Birdie Tebbetts Major League All-Stars exhibition game vs the Aroostook County and Brunswick League All-Stars. This was the second consecutive year that the All-stars came to Presque Isle. Besides Tebbetts the major league roster was comprised of such players as Dom Dimaggio, Johnny Pesky, Vic Wertz, Mickey Vernon, and Joe Coleman. Approximately 3000 fans attended the game at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds baseball diamond. The Major league all-stars defeated the locals by a score of 10-5. Dick Cormier of Fort Fairfield won the home-run hitting contest prior to the game. Red Russell also of Fort Fairfield pitched 4 shutout innings against the all-stars, allowing just one hit, a single to Johnny Pesky. Local all-stars who participated were Joe Cronkite, Real Proulx, Jim Dyer and Bert Rafford of Presque Isle, Hal Cheney of Easton, Dick Cormier, Hal Melkonian, John Gorman and Red Russell of Fort Fairfield.
Next we I take a look back at the Northern Aroostook League during the 50’s. Feel free to send comments to the Star Herald or contact me @ 764-1217.
Maine – New Brunswick League
Baseball in Presque Isle and the County has had its ups and downs through the years. There have been many outstanding high school, legion and semi-pro teams. Baseball can be traced back to the early 1900’s locally. There were many local stars in the early years: Hal Cheney, Milt MacBride, Verdelle Clark, Bill Haskell, Ron Livingston and Bert Rafford. Verdelle Clark holds the distinction of having hit the longest homerun at Mackin Field, a blast that reportedly travelled over 500 feet, clearing the racetrack in centerfield.
During the 30’s and 40’s baseball continued to thrive in Aroostook as a result of the Northern Maine League. The Maine-New Brunswick began in 1950 with Gordon Bither of Houlton serving as it first president. The first year the league was comprised of four towns: Edmundston, Grand Falls, Houlton and Presque Isle. From 1950-1955 many of the teams were comprised of imported talent and a few players from the local area. The league was one of the better leagues in operation. The Presque Isle Indians played their games at Mackin Field and brought many thrills to the local fans. Presque Isle won the league in 1950 and 1953.
The first year of the Maine-New Brunswick league saw an influx of North Eastern collegiate players and some player from the sandlots of Pennsylvania. The league president was Gordon Bither of Houlton. The PI Indians had a solid team with George Wales catching, Ozzie Osgood, Pat Proulx, Bobby Wallace and Archie Armstrong in the infield; Johnny Moore, Jim Dyer and Bert Rafford in the outfield. Jim Keefe, Andy McAuliffe, Mac Andrews and John Moore did the pitching. The team was coached by Dick Desmond of Medford MA. One of the highlights of the season was the league’s first no-hitter pitched by Mac Andrews against the hard hitting Edmundston team. The new league was comprised of Presque Isle, Edmundston, Houlton and Grand Falls. The Northern Maine League continued its existence with ten teams: Fort Kent, Limestone, Mars Hill, Ashland, Van Buren, Caribou, Presque Isle, Easton, Mapleton and Fort Fairfield.
The Presque Isle Indians clinched the Maine-New Brunswick title the last week of the season. The new league was rated one of the best semi-pro circuits in New England. The Indians ended the regular season with a 33-18 record giving them the league championship. They also won the Governor’s Cup by winning the league four team tournament. They compiled a home record of 20-6 and many locals thought this was the best team to ever play in Presque Isle. Leading hitters were Armstrong .333, Bert Rafford .319, and Pat Proulx .314. All-star selections were Ozzie Osgood, Andy McAuliffe, Jim Keefe, Bert Rafford and Pat Proulx. Gerry Duffy, playing for the Houlton Collegians, was the leagues leading hitter with a .390 average and tied for the league home-run crown with seven.
The Birdie Tebbetts Major League All-Stars again visited Presque Isle to face the league all-stars. Locals selected to the all-star team coached by Jim Dyer were Jim Keefe, Andy McAuliffe and Pat Proulx. Others from the local area; Red Russell & Dick Cormier-Fort Fairfield, Floyd Weeks & Vaughn Shaw – Mars Hill, Jim Murchison – Caribou.
1951 & 1952
The ’51 and ’52 seasons were two of the poorest for Presque Isle. Grand Falls won the league and play-off in 1951 (30-8) and Houlton accomplished the same feat in 1952. Jim Dyer began the 1951 season as manager of the Presque Isle club and also played the outfield. After six games he was hitting .385 before suffering an ankle injury which kept him on the bench for several games. The locals got off to a slow start and there were many players coming and going. Dyer was removed from his position as player/coach but was signed by the Houlton Collegians. Now ready to move back to the outfield he continued his hitting at a clip of .354. Johnny Moore led the Indians in hitting with a .328 average and was selected to the Maine-New Brunswick League All-star team. Presque Isle finished the season with a 13-31 record. Bob St. Pierre a 19 year old south-paw was league MVP compiling a record of 6-3 and an era of 2.61. The Birdie Tebbetts Major league All-Stars traveled to the County and took on the Eastern Maine-New Brunswick League All-Stars. The league all-stars were coached by Jim Dyer for the second year in a row. Team members were: Roly McLennan, Doug Sewell and Don Johnson of Fredericton, Murray Ralston of Woodstock, Omar Norton of Eastport, Phil Bonner of Woodland, Jim Defrederico, Bill Wing, Dick Cormier and Jay Brewer of Houlton, Floyd Weeks and Vaughn Shaw of Mars Hill, Harold Goodall of Oakfield and West Giles of Patten. The Major league all-stars won the game by a score of 10-0. Johnny Pesky had two hits for the major leaguers and Shaw had two hits for the local all-stars.
The 1952 season got kicked off in an appropriate way with a gala pre-game parade and ceremony which preceded the home-opener for the Presque Isle Indians against the Edmundston Republicans. The Indians were managed this year by Fred Harlow from Westbrook. Sid Cook, sports announcer, was master of ceremonies for the opening night event. The Indians did not possess any local talent, and most of the roster was supplied by Detroit Tiger scout Ray Garland; a majority of the players were from major colleges from around the country. The Indians finished the season in the cellar of the league. Andy McGowan of the Houlton Collegians was voted Most Valuable Player after hitting .343, stealing 12 bases and picking up 24 RBI. Harry Hews was the leading hitter for the Indians at .307 and was also the all-star second baseman. The leading pitcher for Presque Isle was Ed Gaski with a 4-6 record and era of 3.51; he was also selected to the all-star team. Bill Wing of Houlton lead the league with a 1.53 era and a 5-1 record, Bob Davis was close behind with a 1.89 era and an identical 5-1 record. Indians manager Fred Harlow was selected Manager of the Year; he was well liked all over the league by players and fans.
This season saw DR. L. H. Batchelder of Presque Isle take over as president of the league. It was during this season that a hot controversy developed involving two Presque Isle players, Pat Proulx and Dick McCarthy. After a two year hiatus Proulx decided to return to baseball in ’53, confident he could help the Presque Isle squad. In 1950 he was selected the league’s outstanding shortstop, hitting .312 and displaying excellent glove work.
This year the Houlton Collegians got off to a fast start, but behind Proulx and McCarthy the Indians began to close the gap. It was a known fact that Proulx had played professional ball at one time and McCarthy had recently signed a contract to play professionally after the season was concluded. A complaint was filed and league officials barred both players from any further league competition. At the time he was declared ineligible (August) Proulx was hitting .343 and led the Indians in runs scored, runs batted in and homeruns. In the first three weeks of the season McCarthy was hitting .545 and had six homers.
Despite the crippling loss of Proulx and McCarthy, the Indians finished the regular season with a 29-29 record. After losing their first two games in the play-offs the Indians won three straight which propelled them into the finals against the Houlton Collegians and a best of five series. The Indians won the series in dramatic fashion. In the final game a three run homer by local product Ron Staples and a spectacular relief job by left Dick Black sparked the Indians to a 5-4 win, giving them the tournament championship and the Governor’s Cup. The local’s rode the pitching arm of Mac Andrews and the hitting of Joe Oliva throughout much of the tournament. The team was again managed by Fred Harlow.
Indians catcher Jack Kurty led the league in hitting with a .364 average, and Johnny Skypeck was the number two hitter for the Indians with a .333 average. Mac Andrews was had a 4-3 won/loss record with a respectable 3.48 era. Perley Dean posted a 2-7 record and a 3.88 era.
The 1954 and ’55 teams had good ball clubs but failed to win either the league or play-off title. The 1954 club was managed by player/manager Frank Kurty which possessed some fine pitching and defense but was plagued by weak hitting. Many felt that this was the smoothest fielding team to ever play in Presque Isle. They spent much of their time in second place, playing a little better than .500 ball. The league race this year was one of the closest since it organization. The league featured many players from New England and New York, and many players were eventually signed to major league organizations. Major league scouts from the Dodgers, Cubs, Reds, Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers were familiar faces in the Presque Isle stands. Pitcher Bill Sanford made league history by recording nine wins in a season; the previous record was eight set by Bill Anderson.
The Indians placed five players on the league all-star team in ’54: Bill Sanford (P), George McCafferty (1B), Ron Weidenhammer (SS), Angie Dagres (CF) and southpaw pitcher Freddy Jack. Jack finished second to Sanford in the balloting and was considered one of the best pitchers in the league. Jack Kurty again led the league in hitting with a .339 ave. while Freddy Jack led the league with a 1.43 era and was considered to be the best left-hander to ever pitch in the league. Sanford led the league with nine wins and had an era of 2.18.
Ron Perranoski pitched for the Edmundston Republicans, boasting a 1.91 era. Perranoski was later signed by the Dodgers and became one of the best relievers in major league baseball during the ‘60’s.
This season also brought concern about the loss or revenue experienced by the clubs in the league. The financial losses were a result of so many rained out games that summer. League officials thought they could re-coup the losses by staging fund raisers during the off-season and were considering adding two teams for the 1955 season. Houlton Collegians won the league championship for the third consecutive year as well as the Governor’s Cup.
The 1955 season began with six teams in the league. The Loring Air Force Bombers and the Presque Isle Air Force Base Sabres were the new additions. Mackin Field also underwent some renovations; bleachers behind home plate were replaced, left and right field bleachers were repaired, a new concession stand was brought in, loam was brought in for the infield and a new sound booth would be located either down the first or third base line. The field would be in the best shape it had been in years.
The Indians had many veterans returning this year and only one local boy, catcher Ron Staples would be on the roster. With manager Frank Kurty again at the helm, the Indians finished in second place behind the Edmundston Republicans with a 28-9 record. The locals also won three games in the play-offs and four exhibition games to go 35-14 overall. The season may have had a different outcome if not for the losses of three key players during mid-season: Bill Kunkel, Ralph Lumenti and Larry Bossidy; the loss of Spypeck in the play-offs was also a major blow. The roster was sprinkled with top flight talent, one of which was Ronnie Staples, who caught 90 percent of the games and played well enough to be chosen as the league’s all-star catcher. Staples hit for a .315 average. Also selected to the all-star team from the Indians were Angelo Dagres who led the league in hitting with a .422 ave, 15 homers, 26 steals all were new league records, he also was tops with 52 rbi, 57 hits and runs scored with 46. Infielders Jack Brennan and Charlie Lehman as well as pitcher Larry Bossidy were also all-stars. Bossidy finished with a 6-1 record and 1.52 era. Bill Kunkel did not finish the season but had a 5-0 record and 1.97 era.
Other high-lights of the ’55 season were when the County All-Stars took on the Indians at Mackin Field. Fort Fairfield’s Dick Cormier belted two homers for the all-stars, one being a grand-slam. Gerry Duffy also picked up two hits for the all-stars, including a homerun high over the left field wall. The Indians did hang on for a 9-8 decision. Earl Francis, who pitched for the Loring Bombers, later went on to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Presque Isle Air Force Base team withdrew from the league during the season.
In 1956 Aroostook Baseball took on a different appearance. The Maine-New Brunswick league no longer existed. It was now a league for local talent whereas from 1950-55 it had consisted primarily of imported talent. The Presque Isle Indians were the only semi-pro baseball team in the area and they played an independent schedule. There was a Northern and Southern Aroostook League but they did not possess the talent of the Maine-New Brunswick League. In ’56 Presque Isle was the only city in New England outside of Boston which had a top notch professional ball club. The Indians had brought a great deal of publicity and entertainment to the local community. There were many players who went on to play in major league organizations. Besides those players brought in from outside there were such great local players such as Bert Rafford, Pat Proulx, Jim Dyer and Jim Keefe. During this same year Ron Staples began to make a name for himself as a college star while playing at Colby College.
The ’56 team was coached by Lowell Osgood and had several top notch local players on the squad; Pat Proulx, Al Barber, Gary Beaulieu, Gerry Desmond, Dwight Hunter, Lin Hersey and John Lambert. Even though the Indians had an excellent team, attendance began to drop which became discouraging to the directors, manager and players of the club. The Indians toured downstate against teams from Rockland, Pittsfield and Auburn as well as a team from Dalhousie and Edmundston. It was a successful trip as they proved themselves Maine’s outstanding semi-pro team. The Indians ended their season with an outstanding 25-4-2 record, despite facing the best opposition. The team featured strong pitching with Pete Brown 6-0, Leo Demm 6-1 and Bob Defino 6-1; a sound infield with Jerry Leone at third base .430 ave., Eddie Burke .350 ave. at first-base, Dick Hlister .308 at short-stop and Charlie .363 at second-base. The tribe’s outfield of Hersey, Proulx and Bohner offered plenty of solid punch; Bohner hit .443, Proulx .346 and Hersey boasted a.326 average. They played teams from Loring AFG, Presque Isle AFB, Dalhousie, Pittsfield, Grand Falls, Woodstock, Edmundston, Limestone, Blue Hill and Millinocket.
Four players on the Indians roster were signed by major league clubs and went on to play in their minor league systems: Charlie Lehmann, bobby Bohner, Leo Demm and Pete Brown.
1957. This year the local area received visits from pitcher Frank Sullivan and catcher Sammy White, stars with the Boston Red Sox. This season saw an effort made to form the Northern Aroostook League, which needed six teams. The local team would be made up of local talent for the first time in eight years. Players trying out for the local team were Ron Staples, Lin Hersey, Jerry Desmond, Earl Adams Steve Griffiths and Dwight Hunter, Terry McKay Bill Gerrish Ken Moran, Fred Ames, Darrell Russell, Dale Theriault, Dick Plummer and Terry Cassidy. An active Junior Legion program was also being promoted. Legion teams were being located in Presque Isle, Houlton, Fort Fairfield, Limestone, Mars Hill, Fort Kent and Caribou. Eddie McNeal took on the coaching duties of the local legion team.
The Presque Isle Indians planned and hosted a Semi-pro Tourney held at Mackin Field. The invitational tournament consisted of eight teams from Northern Maine and New Brunswick and was called the North East Invitational Baseball Tournament. Some of the well know stars who would be participating from other teams included Dick Cormier, Gerry Duffy, the Redmond brothers from Portland, Conrad Cyr, Dick Barnes of the Limestone Chiefs and Jim Chase. Teams participating were the Presque Isle Indians, Lee AA, Presque Isle Air Force Base Scorpions, Limestone Chiefs, Millinocket Pills, Patten AA, Mars Hill Cubs, and the Houlton Collegians. Jim Dyer and Fay Ladner were the umpires for all tournament games.
The Indians went on to win the Northeast Invitational Tournament by defeating Patten 14-2, Lee AA 26-1 and Limestone 11-6 in the finals. The Indians were led in the pitching department by Terry McKay, Lin Hersey and Bobby Dow. Ronnie Staples, Charlie Ritter, Elmer Deprey, Lin Hersey and Dwight Hunter played major roles offensively. The Indians placed four players on the tournament all-star team Jerry Leone (3rd), Ron Staples catcher, Charlie Ritter and Lin Hersey (outfielders). Lin Hersey of the Indians was signed by Red Sox scout Larry Woodall and was to report for spring training the next year with a Class ‘S’ club in that chain. Ron Staples was a near unanimous choice for MVP for the tournament. He was outstanding behind the plate and was 7 for 12 during the tournament.
The Indians started slow this season losing their first seven games, but late player additions and improvement helped the team roll to seven victories in their next eight games. Jerry Leone (third base), Charlie Ritter (CF) and Elmer Deprey (1st base) helped tighten up the defense and hit .400, .435 and .562 respectively. For the season player/manager Earl Adams (second baseman) was the leading hitter with a .450 average while Lin Hersey hit .433 and led the team in runs batted in, triples and doubles. Ron Staples led the team in home-runs.
1958. The New Maine-New Brunswick consisted of two divisions. The Northern Division consisted of teams from Edmundston, Grand Falls, Dalhousie, Presque Isle Indians and the Loring Independents; the Southern Division consisted of Houlton, Mars Hill, Woodstock, Marysville and Presque Isle, Presque Isle Air Force Base. Familiar faces returning to play were Jerry Duffy and Dick Cormier of Woodstock, Jimmy Fox at Dalhousie, Elmer Deprey, ScottyBrown and the Redmond brothers at Houlton, Lin Hersey, Dwight Hunter and Barry Tapley at Presque Isle. The Presque Isle Air Force Base Scorpions were considered a strong contender for the league title because of the strong pitching of Dave Wyner and lefthander Lindsey. The Presque Isle Indians, utilizing only local talent, had a tough time in the New Maine-New Brunswick League. They finished the season with a 7-19 record, losing several close games: six by one run, five by two runs and two by three runs. Terry McKay and Lin Hersey led the Indians pitching staff while other contributors were Dwight Hunter, Barry Tapley, Don Emmons, Dick Barnes and Bill Chase. Lin Hersey was the player/manager for the Indians.
The Woodstock Elks, paced by the big bats of Dick Cormier and Jerry Duffy, went on to win the League championship and the New Brunswick senior baseball title. The League All-Star game was held at Edmundston with the Northern Division all-stars taking on the Southern Division al-stars.
Finances were a problem for the league and fund raising plans were to be completed in the off-season in order to continue the league in 1959.
There was some skepticism as to whether the Maine-New Brunswick league would exist this season because of traveling distance for some teams. A meeting was held in Van Buren to determine if a six team summer league could be formed. Teams that comprised the league were Loring AFB, Presque Isle, Edmundston, Presque Isle Air Force Bace, Limestone, Fort Fairfield and Dalhousie. The Indians won two important games, Loring and Edmundston. Lin Hersey hurled six innings of shutout ball in the first game and the offense was paced by Hersey, Cecil Hansen, Lew Kelley and Bill Colbath with two hits a piece. The Indians beat Edmundston behind the two hit pitching of Cecil Hansen. The strong pitching of Hansen, Terry McKay, Lin Hersey and Roland Duprey had the Indians in second place. With a win over the Limestone Chiefs, the Indians assured themselves a place in the play-offs and virtually eliminated the Chiefs.
Edmundston won the league title with a 14-4 record. Loring was second, Presque Isle Indians third and Limestone fourth. Loring withdrew from the league play-offs to prepare for the Air Force tournament. The Indians reached the finals of the league tournament by defeating PIAFB behind the stout relief pitching of Lin Hersey. The Edmundston Republicans went on to win the league play-offs by sweeping the Indians in the best of five series. In game two of the series Roland Duprey hurled several strong innings of relief, allowing on one run on four hits, however the Indians failed to hit with men on base and lost the game 10-6.
Easton’s Barry Tapley led the team in hitting with a .352 average, followed by Hersey at .344 and Mckay at .307. The Indians finished the regular season with an 8-8 mark and an 11-11 mark including play-offs.
Due to poor playing conditions in Presque Isle, the Indians played only a total of 5 actual home tilts of their 22 games. Most of the talent on this year’s club came from Houlton and Easton, while only Roland Duprey and Cecil Hanson hailed from Presque Isle. From Easton the team had consistent performances from Don Smith, Terry McKay, Barry Tapley and Lin Hersey. The group from Houlton included Scott and Tommy Brown, Pete Webb, Bill Colbath, Gary Dwyer and Wood Dunphy, and Caribou natives Bill and Lew Kelley.
1960 saw the demise of the Maine – New Brunswick with only four teams participating; Grand Falls, Edmundston, PIAFB and Loring. The regular season consisted of 19 games and a round robin tournament. Edmundston won the league over Grand Falls.
There were many great name associated with “Old Aroostook Baseball”. Hal Cheney, Milt McBride, Verdelle Clark Ralph Peabody, Jim Buck, Jim Dyer, Dick Cormier, Joe Dobbins, Bud Henderson, Mac Andrews, Chubby Clark, and Graden Swett, to name but a few.
In addition to the great local players, many outstanding college players performed in the County: Ron Staples (Red Sox organization) Matt Forman, Frecht brothers, Dick Tettlebach, Johnny Moore, Dick McCarthy, Tony Blose, Andgie Dagres (Baltimore Orioles), Jack Sanford, Buddy Getchell, Andy McGowan, Ron Wiedenhammer, Andy McAuliffe, Jim Keefe, Tom Gastall (Baltimore Orioles), Jim Davins and many more.. During the Maine-New Brunswick League those mentioned above brought Aroostook the best baseball in New England.
Pitchers who performed in the original Maine-New Brunswick League and made it to the major leagues were Ralph Lumenti, Ron Perranoski, Dave Stenhouse, Earl Francis and Bill Kunkel. Many others signed with major league organizations and toiled in the farm systems.
I conclude my series of articles about semi-pro baseball in Presque Isle with an article about Ron Staples a local standout who signed with the Red Sox organization. Feel free to send comments to the Star Herald or contact me @ 764-1217.