Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young. – Roger Angell, editor and writer
Baseball, like the rest of America, was changing. A 1930 game in Des Moines saw the first night game under permanent lights. Twelve thousand fans showed up for a team that usually sold 600 tickets. Night games saved the cash strapped depression era minor leagues. The majors caught on and night games revolutionized sports.
Joe DiMaggio came onto the national scene in 1936 and electrified fans. DiMaggio was the first rookie ever to make the All Star team and the only player to go to the midsummer classic every year he played. His 56 game hitting streak for the Yankees in 1941 is considered one of baseball’s greatest feats.
When there was no Eastern Shore minor league action, local baseball survived with town teams supported by local businesses, and the 1936 Cambridge City Championship between the local Coca-Cola distributor and Phillips Delicious turned out to be such a escalating game of one-upmanship, there ought to be a movie.
Phillips & Company, a nationally known Cambridge canning company that supplied “C” rations for Admiral Byrd‘s Antarctic Expeditions and Americans fighting world wars, was the largest oyster packing firm in the United States and famous for their canned tomatoes and sweet potatoes sold across the country as “Phillips Delicious.” Coca-Cola was Coke.
Despite not playing each other all season, the two teams dominated whoever crossed their paths and the rivalry of the best seethed. When the two were finally scheduled to clash in a best of seven series early that October, competitive tension came to a head.
A baseball arms race started when Coca-Cola’s manager put a couple International League players on his roster. These guys were the next best thing to pros. Albanus Phillips, the strong willed founder of one of the Eastern Shore’s largest businesses was not used to losing, and before it was over the teams were aggressively stacking the deck against one another until the field was covered with Orioles, Red Sox, Athletics and Senators. Stars like Max Bishop, Roger Cramer and Billy Werber brought out thousands of fans. Even local boy made good Jimmy Foxx, who hit a 400 foot plus dead center homer in the fifth game, ended up on the Phillips team. Thousands of fans turned out.
Phillips Delicious won the series and the excitement of the spectacle encouraged a group of Shoremen to think that maybe it was time to start a new league.
The Phillips family stayed in the grocery business. They also opened a couple of seafood restaurants you may have heard of.
1937. The Eastern Shore League was back on the field. The Easton Star Democrat announced: “The Eastern Shore League got off to an auspicious start this year. Large crowds have turned out for the games, especially those played at night. Three clubs now are equipped for night baseball – Dover, Salisbury and Cambridge, and within a week Pocomoke and Federalsburg expect to have lighting systems installed.”
Major league affiliations were reestablished or started fresh. Stadiums built or rebuilt. Salary limits set and class players scrutinized. There were four cities represented from the original 1927 league: the Salisbury Senators, Crisfield Giants, Cambridge Cardinals, and the Pocomoke City Dodgers. The Easton Browns and Dover Orioles reentered and they were joined by new teams the Centreville Red Sox and Federalsburg Athletics.
And then the headlines: SALISBURY IS PENALIZED FOR BREAKING RULES. CLUB IS NOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST.
In June of 1937, after a 21-5 start, the league took away all of Salisbury’s wins for violating the class player rule. First baseman Bob Brady’s ineligible play took the team from 21-5 to 0-26, first to last. Manager Jake Flowers, an ex-major league infielder, vowed his team would still take the pennant. They came back to do just that, winning 48 of their next 58 games. The Sporting News named Flowers their Minor League Manager of the Year and The Official Minor League website rates the 1937 Salisbury Indians number eight in their list of the 100 all time top minor league teams.
Across the league there was still rowdiness; fights broke out between players, between fans, between players and fans, between umpires and everybody. Police protection was provided for game officials as necessary.
By 1941, every town’s attendance numbers were down. Dover and Pocomoke dropped out of the league. Milford was 15 games ahead, so there was no excitement, no pennant race. There were, however, persistent financial problems.