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A Short Summer: New book unveils hidden history of West Virginia baseball

By Nick Henthorn | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The history of America’s pastime is long and winding, taking twists and turns into famous moments that have been forever etched into antiquity.

But with such a history, some of its most interesting chapters have been forgotten.

West Virginia native John Wickline has released his book “A Short Summer: The Story of the Ill-Fated West Virginia Baseball League in 1910.” The book looks at a league comprised of teams in Fairmont, Mannington, Clarksburg, and Grafton and featuring players from across the state.

One such chapter has now been unearthed and revisited by Clarksburg’s John Wickline in his recently released book “A Short Summer: The Story of the Ill-Fated West Virginia Baseball League in 1910.” Comprised of teams in Fairmont, Mannington, Clarksburg, and Grafton, the league— though short-lived— captivated Wickline more and more as he pulled back the curtain on its history.

“I had knowledge that it existed, that it was four teams,” Wickline said. “You’re looking at Fairmont, Clarksburg — and I knew they had extensive baseball histories before World War II — but then, you go through Mannington today, and you’d never believe that was a big huge booming town right prior to World War I that could support a minor league baseball team. And the same with Grafton.”

Wickline had been researching the league since 2009, though his intentions were not always to make his findings into a book. Wickline is a member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, and he had written articles for their publications in the past. Wickline intended to write an article about the recently-uncovered league, but quickly discovered it could be more than that.

“I was kind of intrigued to see why it only lasted a few weeks, didn’t make it through the whole season,” Wickline said. “The more I started researching it, found some interesting tidbits here and there, the more I thought if I flesh this out a little bit, it might make a really neat book that would be of regional interest.”

Though not equal in scale to the major leagues, Wickline found the regional league was chock full of moments that deserve to be made public. No-hitters, 24-inning odysseys, surprising connections to some prominent figures in baseball history, and equally surprising connections to local landmarks all stemmed from a league that had been forgotten to time.

“A lot of these people who live around here probably didn’t even realize that this league ever existed,” Wickline said. “You find out little things. You’ve probably covered games at East-West football stadium. That was the Fairmont team’s baseball field. That’s why it is an odd shape. That was a baseball field, they also held fairs, carnivals, outdoor movies in the summer there. That’s the only remnant of any of the parks, all that’s still standing is East-West Stadium.”

Uncovering the story of the little-known league forced Wickline to look into every nook and cranny he could find, from any source he could get his hands on. The author said that the WVU Regional History Center (“They’ve got almost every edition of every West Virginia newspaper from the time God said go.”) and the Fairmont State Library were great resources to go through old newspaper editions, which he had to comb through individually.

“It’s not like you can just drive down to the corner and grab all this information,” Wickline said. “A lot of it’s not even on the internet. I would love to know how many miles and miles of microfilm I looked at from all the local newspapers.”

“It was fun, there was a lot of interesting things that happened within the league. When you’re first starting, you’re really excited — ‘Oh, I found this, I found that, did this,’ then the longer you go through it, you start saying ‘Man, I just want to get through this, get it done.’”

It was a laborious process to track down the records of the league, but even after finding them, there were added frustrations in getting information from the sources he found.

“The main thing I discovered is the journalistic standards of 1910 are nowhere near the standards of 2022,” Wickline said. “You’ll look in there, and every team was going to be great, everybody was the best, people need to go out to the games and support them. It was all rah-rah stuff, but actually put in the papers.”

“It seemed to me that they didn’t realize they were recording history. That some guy with nothing else to do 100 years from then would be combing through old issues. It seemed like they were more concerned with showing people how they could turn a phrase than telling you what happened in a game. You want to hear how the run scored, how many strikeouts the pitcher had, something like that. But back then, it was ‘Ol’ Sam was really chucking the pill.’ ‘Everett’s some shortstop, he’ll make good!’ It could be frustrating.”

Nevertheless, his findings led him to interesting places, and interesting people. “A Short Summer” details everything from the formation of the league down to where many players ended up after the league’s ending. And while the four teams employed many players who never made it big, it also showcased some that made it to the top of their profession.

“Obviously, I can’t tell you what every player from every team did after this league shut down,” Wickline said. “I think one of the lines in the book is ‘Some went on and some went home.’ But some of the more prominent ones, I traced them up until their obituary.”

“Some of these players went on to greater things. You had one of the players for Fairmont, a guy named Everett Scott. He was in the majors four years later, and he had the consecutive games played record until Lou Gehrig broke it. His first year in pro baseball was in Fairmont, West Virginia.”

Scott was one of many colorful characters Wickline explored in his research. From WVU legend Bull Smith, to a catcher who continued his career under an assumed name, it seemed there was always another wrinkle to look into from this little-known league.

Wickline also works as a basketball official, but after last year’s high school basketball season was lost to COVID, he saw a silver lining in his newfound free-time.

“I had all this stuff sitting in a box for a few years, and then last year we didn’t have basketball season in the winter,” Wickline said. “I referee basketball, and I said ‘You know what, this stuff’s just sitting here, I just need to do something.’ So last winter I sat down and just started pounding my keyboard.”

The result was a dive into a hidden gem of regional history, from its inception to its demise.

“A Short Summer: The Story of the Ill-Fated West Virginia Baseball League in 1910” is available now. To order a copy, visit the Facebook page, A Short Summer, and send Wickline a message or comment on one of its posts. Cost is $10 plus shipping, if necessary.

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