Delaware, Play Ball!

April Showers bring May flowers as we all know. But April also brings a new major league baseball season and with it thoughts of seasons past and, at least to some Delaware baseball fans, curiosity about famous players who may have graced the ball fields of Delaware. Even well versed Delaware sports fans might be surprised to hear that current major leaguers Carlos Beltran, right fielder of the New York Mets, and Johnny Damon now with the Tampa Bay Rays both played in what is now Frawley stadium for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Beltran played minor league ball in 1995, 1996 and 2000 for the Blue Rocks who were at that time a single A+ minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Johnny Damon also played in 1994 for the Blue Rocks as a Kansas City prospect.

Perhaps even more noteworthy and certainly less well known is that one of baseball’s all time greatest hitters, Joseph Jefferson Jackson, known better to the world as Shoeless Joe Jackson  once played baseball in Wilmington. There is quite an interesting story surrounding this event as one would imagine. For the complete story, visit the Delaware Historical Society’s research library to read an article by Peter Dalleo and Vince Watchorn entitled If You Research It He Will Come,  a tongue and cheek title in homage to the baseball film Field of Dreams.  But the bare bones fact is that Shoeless Joe played baseball in Wilmington somewhere along the Brandywine River near the King Street bridge. The year was 1918, just one year before the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919 when Jackson was suspected of being part of an agreement to deliberately throw the World Series while with the Chicago White Sox.  Whether Joe really did intend to take a dive in the 1919 World Series or understood the gravity of even discussing doing so is debatable. In the series, he batted .375, made no errors, and drove in six runs.  Not something one does to help his team lose.  In any case, the previous summer of 1918, with the World War still raging, Jackson and many other major leaguers sought War exempt employment with companies for whom they could also play baseball.  Shoeless Joe took a position as a foreman at Harlan and Hollingsworth Shipbuilding Company and played for their company ball club at what was known as Harlan Field. Exactly where the field was is hard to tell. But the Historical Society library has an excellent atlas for Wilmington in the early 20th century which might provide clues. Also interesting to research would be the newspaper accounts of the day as provided in the Every Evening newspapers which are available in bound volumes at the DHS library.


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