Youngstown Baseball Has a History Dating Back to 19th Century
By Vince Guerrieri
Before there were the Cleveland Browns, there were the Youngstown Browns.
And before that, there were the Tubers, the Ohio Works and the Little Giants. Tuesday, Aug. 14 is the New York-Penn League All-Star Game at Eastwood Field in Niles, home for the Indians’ short-season A affiliate, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
The Scrappers started play in 1999, with players like Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia on the roster. It was the first minor-league baseball game played in the Mahoning Valley since 1951. But prior to that, the area, like most of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, was a hotbed for minor-league baseball.
In the 19th century, Youngstown was home to a team in the Interstate League team called, variously, the Puddlers and Little Giants. From 1905 to 1911, there was a Youngstown entry in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, known variously as the Ohio Works (1905-06, league champions in both years), the Champs (living up to their name in 1907, and folded the next year), the Indians and the Steelmen. The teams played their home games at Wright Field, an open area just outside downtown which was also home to a semi-pro football team, the Youngstown Patricians. The Patricians had some success in the 1910s, but folded after its players were poached just before the American Professional Football Association (the forerunner of the NFL) was founded in a Canton car dealership in 1920.
In 1931, the Parkersburg Parkers of the Middle Atlantic League moved to Youngstown and became the Tubers (the city’s largest employer at the time was a steel company, Youngstown Sheet and Tube). The following year, the minor league team was the Buckeyes, but in the depths of the Great Depression, they were unable to make a go of it.
By then, there was a baseball field at Idora Park, the city’s amusement park, which fielded everything from softball games at company picnics to barnstorming tours by Major League and Negro League players. In 1939, The Youngstown Browns began play in the Mid-Atlantic League at Idora Park. The field had a wooden grandstand and wasn’t bordered by a fence, but by the Jack Rabbit, a roller coaster that dated almost back to the turn of the century.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, many eligible young men – men in the same age range as those who would be playing baseball – joined the service or were drafted, and the Mid-Atlantic League suspended operations.
In 1946, minor league baseball was back at Idora Park. This time the team was named the Gremlins, and they went 67-62 to make their only Mid-Atlantic League playoff appearance. The following year, the team was the Colts, and from 1948 to 1951, they were the Athletics.
The teams didn’t draw particularly well. Youngstown, at the time, was a hub for amateur baseball tournaments and had many steel-and-concrete ballparks – some with lights – in better condition than the one at Idora Park. In May 1951, during the season, the Athletics moved to Oil City, Pa., and folded in August. That year turned out to be the last for the Mid-Atlantic League.
In general, the 1950s weren’t a good time for minor league baseball. As major league games started to be shown on television – and fans could watch it while drinking their own beer and eating their own food – fewer people started going to minor league games. Leagues folded, and with the Dodgers and Giants moving to the West Coast, Major League Baseball was finally a national game.
When Major League Baseball expanded to Denver and Miami in 1991, the new Rockies owners were Youngstown natives Mickey Monus, the man behind Phar-Mor, and John Antonucci, the owner of Superior Beverage. There was talk of a minor-league farm team in downtown Youngstown – on the site now occupied by the Covelli Centre, an arena that hosts concerts, boxing matches, basketball and hockey – but Monus was indicted for embezzlement of Phar-Mor, and he and Antonucci hurriedly sold the Rockies.
In the late 1990s, the Indians were on the forefront of what was starting to become a trend in the major leagues: having farm teams in close proximity to the parent club – and facilities that were a cut above the standard corrugated metal stadiums thrown together. The Canton-Akron Indians became the Akron Aeros, moving out of Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton to Canal Park in Akron (in fact, when the Little Indians were formed, they considered Youngstown as a home). And Jerry Uht Park in Erie was going to become home to the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate, displacing a New York-Penn team, which became the Scrappers.
Since then, baseball fans in the Mahoning Valley have been able to watch minor league baseball, seeing some prospects on the way up while getting a relatively inexpensive – compared to Major League Baseball – night out.