Lawrence Public Library


The New England League was a mid-level league in American minor league baseball that played sporadically in four of the six New England states (Vermont and Connecticut excepted) between 1885 and 1949. They styled themselves the Lawrences, the Blues, the Haverhills, and so on. After 1901, the league existed in the shadow of the two Major League Baseball clubs in Boston and alongside stronger, higher-classification leagues. Ultimately, it could not survive the region's economic problems (and the impact of televised MLB games) in the mid-20th century.

The League played its first game in 1885 as the Eastern New England League, with clubs in Massachusetts and Maine. Lawrence (as well as teams from Haverhill, Newburyport, Portland, Brockton, and Boston Blue) participated in that first season. The Lawrence team was the first league champion in 1885 after a post-season playoff with Brockton. John A. (Jacky) Flynn pitched for Lawrence that year. He would move to the Chicago White Stockings in 1886 helping them to a NBL pennant along with John Clarkson and Jim McCormick. When Flynn went to Chicago, he brought his own catcher, fellow Lawrence native George Moolic, who did not distinguish himself at that level.

Lawrence was in the NEL 1885-87, 1892, 1902-1915, 1919, 1926-27, 1946-47. The next year, 1886, the name was changed to the New England League. The league was inactive in 1889-90, then resumed play from 1891 to 1915 (with the exception of 1900). When the minor leagues were assigned classifications in 1902, the NEL was graded Class B, at that time two levels below major league status, equivalent to Class AA today. Lawrence played its games at Association Grounds from 1885-87. The burning of the Union St. Bridge in 1887 isolated the park, forcing the team to move to Nashua. From 1902-1910, Lawrence played at Glen Forest. When that was taken for building lots, Lawrence played at Riverside Park on Water St. That park was renamed O'Sullivan Park in 1919. The Boys and Girls Club is located there today.

Disruption caused by the outlawed Federal League and the coming of World War I shut the leagues down in 1916 and ended the NEL's most long-lived period of operation. The league attempted to revive in 1919, then closed down in early August. Seven years later, the NEL returned in 1926 with eight clubs in the region's mill towns, but the Great Depression devastated the minor leagues. The NEL was no exception -- it disbanded June 22, 1930. Jim Thorpe, well known Olympic athlete, played for a Lawrence team in the Twilight League (a semi-pro organization) in 1924. A 1933 revival was followed the next season by a name change to the Northeastern League -- and another shutdown that would last through the end of World War II. In 1946, with the postwar baseball boom, the New England League was restored as an eight-team, Class B circuit. Its most notable member, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, was a Brooklyn farm club where, in 1946, African-American players and future Dodger greats Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella made their debuts as part of the handful of men who broke the baseball color line. The players succeeded on the field and were very complimentary in remarks about their Nashua experience in later years. It should be noted, however, that they faced taunts and racial epithets in visiting ballparks, even though New England was far removed geographically from the supposed locus of racial tension, the Southern United States.

Nashua was the most successful member of the postwar league, winning three consecutive playoff championships from 1946-48. Lawrence fielded a team through 1947 (Lynn, Pawtucket, Nashua, Providence, Manchester, Lawrence, Fall River, and Portland) and styled themselves the Lawrence Millionaires. But, by the middle of 1949, it became clear that the New England League was not viable. The league began the season with its usual complement of eight teams, but four clubs (Providence, Fall River, Lynn, and Manchester) disbanded by mid-July and the league closed for the final time at season's end. Its final regular-season champ was the Pawtucket Slaters, a farm club of the Boston Braves, but the Portland Pilots, a Phillies affiliate, won the playoffs, thus bookending the championship earned by the Maine city's entry in the NEL's maiden season 63 years earlier.

During the 2nd World War, many professional baseball players were serving in the military. Some of those stationed in Fort Devens would slip into O'Sullivan park and play under assumed names. It has been said that young fans would circle the park watching for fly balls. These balls could then be used as a ticket into the park. More than once, boys would take a dip into the Merrimack River to retrieve a ball that had plopped into the river.

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