We generally believe history is composed of events occurring long ago, but two present-day Fulton County organizations will be creating fresh history this Labor Day weekend. The activities they're sponsoring nevertheless retain historic connections with past local events, and therefore serve at least in part to reconnect today's Fulton County participants and observers with some doings their immediate ancestors may have enjoyed.
First, the Fulton County Baseball and Sports Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction ceremonies Saturday at Gloversville's Parkhurst Field, plus present two entertaining vintage baseball games. Inductees honored will be baseball legends Loren "Lorne" Stewart, Bradley "Babe" Baldwin Sr. and Charles "Chuck" Harmon. Second, on both Saturday and Sunday, Johnstown's Pine Tree Rifle Club will host the first International Benchrest Shooters Association competition matches held there in three decades.
All three Hall of Fame inductees have personal connections with Fulton County. "Babe" Baldwin is a lifelong Fulton County resident. While attending Mayfield High School, he became a three-sport star athlete, earning letters not only in baseball, but also in basketball and soccer. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1959. In 2008, Mayfield honored him by retiring his basketball jersey number.
This marker will be dedicated at Parkhurst Field. The marker recognizes Jumpin’ Jack Johnston, who was a freestyle skier from Fulton County.
Pine Tree Rifle Club member John Del Savio of Gloversville displays his new history book, “Pine Tree Rifle Club, Johnstown N.Y., 1937-2014” published in time for Labor Day weekend’s International Benchrest Shooter’s Association record match at the club.
Lorne Stewart was such an excellent pitcher, he opened for Gloversville High's varsity team while only a sophomore. He was so quickly signed by the American League's St. Louis Browns after graduating in 1948 that he faced his first professional game only three weeks later. Surprisingly, he faced the Browns themselves when their national team played an exhibition game against the Gloversville Glovers at Glovers Park on Fifth Avenue Extension.
Few students of professional baseball's integration years realize Fulton County was directly involved in breaking baseball's color barrier. This happened when Charles "Chuck" Harmon played portions of the 1947-48 seasons on the St. Louis Browns' minor league Glovers team before joining the majors, where he became the first African-American player on the Cincinnati Reds. Before sending Harmon to their Gloversville Glovers farm team, as baseball historian Michael Pietrusza explains, Browns management worried whether our local white players and fans would accept a black player. Upon receiving positive opinions from the Glovers' local management, they sent him. The Glovers, their fans and the community all welcomed Harmon to the team. The exact wording of the Glovers' telegraphed acceptance, as reported in the July 19, 1947, Morning Herald, was that Harmon would be welcomed, "provided he was good enough to help the team." They discovered quickly that he was certainly "good enough."
Harmon not only succeeded here as a ballplayer, but on Dec. 29, 1947, at Toledo, Ohio, he married a Gloversville girl, Miss Daurel Woodley, of 21 Wells St. On April 20, 2004, the 50th anniversary of Harmon's debut as the Cincinnati Reds' first black player, the Reds honored him at a special Chuck Harmon Recognition Night. As event co-chairman Mike Hauser observed, "Harmon's long career in professional baseball speaks for itself, but for all practical purposes, it began at our old Glovers Park back in 1947."
At Cooperstown, I once witnessed a "throwback" baseball game played according to the 1840s Massachusetts Baseball Rules, complete with players in vintage costumes. The two games played this coming Saturday at the Hall of Fame induction event will also be throwback games, re-creating local baseball history. The first game will be between two re-created old-time teams, the Gloversville Glovers and the Johnstown Buckskins, competing for the Parkhurst Cup. The Glovers team members will actually be today's Gloversville Little League All-Star team, and the Buckskins will be the Johnstown Little League rivals, both wearing throwback uniforms honoring the old-time Glovers and Buckskin teams.
The second vintage game will have another historic theme. Using Major League rules of 1886, the Whatley Pioneers of Western Massachusetts will challenge the local A.J. & G.'s (Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville) team, re-created for this occasion by former Gloversville Little League team members, both teams dressed in early 1900s uniforms using authentic time-period gloves, balls and bats.
The impressive Parkhurst Field Museum will be open and Fulton County Museum officials will join Baseball and Sports Hall of Fame personnel to dedicate the next two Fulton County Sports Historical Society historic markers, one honoring "Jumpin'" Jack Johnston at Royal Mountain Ski Center and the other commemorating Glovers Park baseball stadium. Gates open at 11:30 a.m., and the first game begins at noon. It would be hard to find a more pleasant, historically relevant Labor Day weekend family activity close to home for only a $5 admission charge, especially when the profits support the historical society's efforts.
The Pine Tree Rifle Club's hosting of an International Benchrest Shooters Association competition is also a historic event, considering that the first modern benchrest rifle match leading to the formation of this present organization occurred at the Pine Tree on Labor Day weekend 1947. Around 60 competitors from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York have already signed up, representing the continuing quest among their peers to break old accuracy records and establish new ones.
Commemorating the IBSA's return to their place of origin, veteran Pine Tree member John Del Savio of Gloversville has published a 100-page history, "The Pine Tree Rifle Club, a Pictorial History, 1947-2014." The public is welcome to attend and will no doubt get a bang out of the proceedings.
Peter Betz, a former Fulton County historian, lives in Fort Johnson.