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From Statesmen to Power
Minor League Baseball in Charleston

By Bob Barnett

The Charleston Senators in 1932. Photograph courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.

West Virginia has a long and honorable history of supporting minor league baseball teams. The first recorded sports event in West Virginia was an 1866 baseball game played in Wheeling between the newly formed Hunkidori Baseball Club and the veteran Union Club of nearby Washington, Pennsylvania. The Union Club used their experience to crush the Hunkidoris 45-12 before a rain storm mercifully ended the game.

Interest in baseball reached a fever pitch across the United States in the late 1800’s. In 1876 the National League, a league of professional teams, was founded. To fill the desire for professional baseball teams in smaller progressive cities, minor leagues were established beginning in 1877. Wheeling, which was then West Virginia’s largest city, became the home of the Green Stockings, a team which joined the Ohio State League in 1887 as the first minor league team in West Virginia. Between 1887 and 1910 Clarksburg, Fairmont, Grafton, Parkersburg, and even tiny Piedmont also had teams that played in various minor leagues.

By 1910 Charleston, the state capital and a growing city with a population that had doubled in the previous decade to nearly 23,000, was more than ready for a professional baseball team. That year the Charleston Statesmen joined the Class D Virginia Valley League, (minor leagues then ranged from Class AA through D) a six-team circuit that included  Montgomery, Charleston, Parkersburg, Point Pleasant, and Huntington, along with Ashland, Kentucky. The Huntington Blue Sox won the 1910 league championship with a 61-42 record. The Charleston Statesmen, who played at Wherle Park in South Charleston, the best field in the league, placed second with a 62-53 record.

In 1911 the Charleston Statesmen joined the seven-team Class D Mountain States League where they also played in 1912. The ill-fated Statesmen went bankrupt, but only shortly before the Mountain States League collapsed in the middle of the 1912 season.

Baseball historian William E. Akin, in his excellent book, West Virginia Baseball: A History 1865-2000, contends that the 1913 season was the most exciting in Charleston baseball history. The team took the nickname the Senators and moved to Exhibition Park, which had seating for 3,500 fans. The Senators joined the Ohio State League, which included Huntington and Charleston from West Virginia, Lexington and Maysville from Kentucky, and four teams from Ohio cities.

The Senators opened the 1913 season with a standing- room-only crowd of 4,000.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.