The will host a baseball celebration to honor the minor league players from the Hudson Valley who helped contribute to the popularity of the national pastime of baseball in the years following World War II. Many of the honorees served in the military fighting in WWII or in the Korean War, which ended their professional baseball careers when they got injured in war or could not find a team when they returned home.
The museum has invited these 80 and 90-year-old men to share their stories and experiences in professional baseball and to educate the public about the sport along the Hudson River and Peekskill’s contribution to the game in the 1940s. The event will be held at the Peekskill Museum and other city establishments from Friday, July 20 to Sunday, July 22.
A press release from the museum explains some of the background history:
The Hudson River Valley towns were playing baseball as early as the 1850’s and played host to professional baseball as early as 1886 when the existing Hudson River League became affiliated with the minor leagues. This professional league did not last long, but was again active from 1903-7 with teams along the river from Yonkers to Kingston, including Ossining, Peekskill, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. After some short-lived leagues (Eastern Association, Atlantic, and New York/New Jersey) prior to 1915, minor league baseball was not present in our area until 1946 with the formation of the Class D North Atlantic League. The championship of the league that year was won by the Peekskill Highlanders. Several NAL teams were from Pennsylvania, but other New York teams in the league included the Nyack Rockies, Kingston Dodgers and Newburgh/Walden Hummingbirds. Peekskill was active in the league through 1949 and played in the championship playoff series each year.
In 1947 another minor league, the Class B Colonial League was formed further up the Hudson. Poughkeepsie, Kingston (shifting from the NAL in 1948), and Saugerties fielded teams as did Port Chester and several towns in Connecticut. Interestingly Lou Baselice of Mount Vernon, the owner of the Peekskill Highlanders also owned the Poughkeepsie team and at the end of the season, he would move his best Peekskill players to Poughkeepsie. The Colonial league lasted into 1950, when many minor leagues folded due to the televising of Major League baseball games and poor attendence.
In December, 2011 Peekskill museum baseball historian and collector Bob Mayer began contacting as many of the living players from these local teams as possible. It was difficult to locate the players since the Minor League Database maintained by SABR and BaseballReference.com does not often have up-to-date information on these men, Mayer wrote.
But staying persistent, Mayer was able to locate nearly 40 players or their families, most former Peekskill Highlanders and Poughkeepsie Chiefs.
About a dozen players and some widows and deceased players’ sons plan to attend the museum events in July.
Below is Mayer’s description of the weekend events:
The Mayor of the City of Peekskill has agreed to have the city take on a supportive role in this project and will assist with transportation, reception, and publicity. The Peekskill Museum (non-profit) will also play a pivotal role.
The plan is to play host to these men and their companions in Peekskill where we will gather for a Welcome at the Peekskill Museum Friday afternoon July 20th. Mayor Foster will be one of our guest speakers. Then we’ll have an informal dinner at the Westchester Diner (across the street from the old Peekskill Stadium). The players and their companions will have several options to explore Peekskill and the vicinity on Saturday morning. This could include a water tour, shopping or visiting the Arts Center, etc. This will be followed by an event for the public which will be held at the Cove Restaurant and include: an exhibition of Hudson River baseball memorabilia, a player panel discussion and a guest speaker.
The player panel will be moderated by a professional sports interviewer (John Vorperian of “Beyond the Game”) who will get the players talking about their experiences and sharing their many stories. The players will also respond to questions from the public, and there will be time for the attendees to mix with the players and get autographs before we have a dinner/reception for the players and their guests. We are trying to arrange for a baseball celebrity to speak at the dinner.
On Sunday July 22nd the players will have a breakfast at the Inn on the Hudson then attend a Peekskill Tides (Westchester/Rockland College Wood Bat League) baseball game at Peekskill Stadium, where they will be brought to the field, announced and honored by the home team. Our Local Little Leagues will have a chance to meet the players who will also sign autographs at the game.