Friday, January 27, 2012


With the transfer of the St. Louis Cardinals to Rochester professional baseball appeared doomed leaving Syracuse without International League Baseball. Warren Giles & Branch Rickey name's were the most disliked at this juncture of Syracuse baseball history. Given the opportunity to leave with the Cardinals and relocate in Rochester, Michael J. Kelly the longtime team secretary decided to remain in Syracuse. He invested his own personal funds, solicited Harry Ryan and John Putnam for the balance and purchased the Shamokin franchise in an attempt to bring professional baseball back to Syracuse. A franchise was secured in the New York Pennsylvania League. Stock was sold at $100 per share, and a total of 250 shares were issued. Mr. Kelly needed all his 27 years of experience in baseball to promote this lower class of pro ball. Mike served as president, secretary and treasurer of the 1928 Stars team and managed to bring the club through a trying season, although taking a personal financial loss..

 Mr. Kelly secured the services of Michael Joyce O'Neil to manager the the club to another sixth place finish (64-74), with Harrisburg taking the league title. But the 1928 Stars did posses some good hitters and finished third in team batting. Players like Syracuse University products. Harlon "Gotch" Carr (.291) and Vic Hanson (.244). Along with Harry Davis, Booby Reece, Bob Richards, Lew Wilski  and John Roseberry.  Roseberry would lead in New York State League in doubles with 40. The pitchers having the greatest success were John  Doyle (14-10), Paul "Sheriff" Sherman (13-14) and John Milligan (12-7). Milligan was sold to the Philadelphia Nationals on August 5 to bring in some badly needed income. Local semi-pro pitching sensation Ray Mertens also made his pro debut at Star Park (West Genesee St.) that colorless season.

Looking back on the many memorable moments in Syracuse Baseball History, the one event that many old-timers still talk about today is the Babe Ruth - Lou Gehrig exhibition played at Star Park on October 21, 1928.

During the 1920 & 30's. ballplayers would  'barnstorm" after the playing season, playing from city to city earning extra money. Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth two of baseball's greatest name, would pick up local semi-pro and professional players in each city and put on a show. The game in Syracuse was arranged by Ruth's agent Christy Walsh. But despite a rainstorm that had washed out the affair a week earlier, the parties agreed to play the following weekend to the cities delight.

The "Bambino" would team up with the Post Standard League Champions the Sacred Heart Athletic Club. The Sacred Hearts included  Al & Reggie Grabowski, Emmitt Slake, Oscar Dear, Frank Mack, Joe Orsell, John Crouse, Joe Stanski, Bill Skay, Tony Weaver and a youngster John Rutkowski. Rutkowski, who six years later would become the box office manager of the Syracuse Chiefs. A position he held for the next 45 years.

Gehrig's All-Stars consisted of International League home run champion Bill Kelly ( I.L Hall of Famer), Jimmy Walsh (who played with the Athletics, Yankees and Red Sox), Dutch Dotterer Sr. (Cardinals). and semi-pro players- Parker Knapp, Ed Ryan, Bob Tubbert. Lukes Diamonds, Jim Kerwin, Billy Eisemann (S.U.), Tom Costello, Ray Mertens (Stars) and George Dear.

Over 3,500 fans packed tiny Star Park as the "Larrupin Lou's" defeated the "Bustin Babes" 9-2. Gehrig thrilled the on-lookers by blasting a home run in four at bats. While Bill Kelly took a Babe Ruth pitch deep and pounded out three hits. Ruth was considered by many as one of greatest pitchers of his era before moving to the outfield full time. Ruth was quoted as saying "I pitched pretty good that inning until I threw to Bill Kelly and he hit the ball so far out of the park they may never find it".

The Babe played first base, and singled in four trips to the plate before replacing Al Grabowski on the mound. Centerfielder Jimmy Walsh had two hits, while Henry "Dutch" Dotterer singled in five trips.

The game was a success, and afterwards both Ruth and Gehrig took time to sign everyone's baseballs and scorecards. Lunch was served at what known in the 1960-80's as Del's Fish Fry on State Fair Blvd. Former owner Stella Stevens recalls Babe downing 18 hot dogs before he took the field that afternoon.. A post game party was held at Haberles Brewery on Butternut Street on the city's north side. Ruth watched a customer lie on his back with a glass of beer on his forehead and stand up without spilling a drop. This was to much for the Babe, so on a bet he claimed he could do the same. A hour or so later, covered with beer the "Mighty Bambino" had met his match at the amusement of all.

In the early spring of 1929, Michael J. Kelly could not keep the team afloat. The Stars went through bankruptcy. After only a $250 offer at the bankruptcy hearing was not accepted, H.P Jergensen and Joseph Lechick purchased the team from the bank. The price did not include uniforms and equipment as they had already been sold. Mike Kelly served as secretary of Shamokin and Scranton clubs in the N.Y.P. League for the next two years. Then made his home in Buffalo for a year, but in ill health and missing his Syracuse friends, returned to this city. Michael J. Kelly remained a baseball figure as he served as first president of the Post Standard Baseball League. His happiest days were realized in 1942, when the Syracuse Chiefs battled in the Little World Series. Upon pro baseball's return a few years later, Mike Kelly became one of the Syracuse Chiefs greatest rooter, Sadly Mike Kelly left us on November 3, 1942,

The New York Penn League opened on April 30, 1929 with a 5-2 victory over Binghamton. New manager was Irving "Kasier" Wilhelm could only achieve fifth place by June. The club was still losing money and could not make payroll. On June 2, the Stars were taken over by the league. This was a result of backer from Rochester bid for the club was denied. Their bid was withdrawn after a disagreement with N.Y.P. League president John H. Farrell. Manager Wilhelm tried to scrap money to pay the players, but on June 15, 1929, the franchise was shifted to Hazelton, Pa as their record read 19-23. Wilhelm not only lost his financial help, but his managerial position upon the teams transfer. The Syracuse Star had made its last hit and scored its last run. It's name now though of only as a baseball legend.

Note- This was not the only time Syracuse fans didn't except the lower class of pro ball, it would happen again following the 1955 season when the Chiefs I.L. franchise was sold to Miami, Florida interests. For a second time the NYP League was tied (by Joe Reardon) but to no avail. The 1957 Chiefs were shifted  to Allentown, Pa in July 1957. Maybe we can learn something as it happening twice. Maybe the Syracuse baseball fans did not, and will not except or support a lower class of professional baseball. ?

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