Just four more weeks until spring, and for many people, that means baseball. Aside from a few old-timers, not many people know Parkesburg once had a professional baseball team.The number of original PICO (Parkesburg Iron Co) Nine fans becomes few and far between, but the legend lives on as it has been passed between generations.
On Aug. 20, 1918, "Ty Cobb ran wild on the bases" in the morning game of a double header when the Parkesburg Iron Co. Baseball Club, popularly called the PICOs, fell to both the Detroit Tigers and Connie Mack's Athletics. In August 1919 the Parkesburg team played the Cincinnati Reds, who went on to win the World Series the same year. On Sept. 27, 1920, the PICOs won in a shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies.
As spring training has begun and over 90 years have passed since the PICOs were formed, it seems timely to pay tribute to the team that attracted thousands, putting Parkesburg on the map.
"People might not have known where Parkesburg [then-population 2,500] was, but they knew that Parkesburg had as good a team as there was on the East Coast," said former Mayor J. Wilson Moore in a 1980 interview.
Horace A. Beale, Jr., president of the Parkesburg Iron Co., established and financed the ball club for five seasons from 1917 to 1921. Beale spared no expense to add the best ballplayers to his 15-man roster. Players were recruited from college and semi-professional ranks. The PICOs were an independent team, playing exhibitions, barnstorming Negro League teams, and semi-pro teams from company-supported industrial leagues on Saturday afternoons.
What is now Minch Park used to be a baseball stadium that Beale had built and designed to major-league specifications. Several future Hall of Fame ballplayers graced PICO Field. Parkesburg at that time was connected to both Philadelphia and Lancaster by a trolley line.
According to a 1918 newspaper clipping found at the Parkesburg Free Library, the PICOs were the first independent team in the history of local sporting annals to play a double-header game with two major league teams. These games reportedly attracted the largest crowd in PICO Park's history and the accounts suggest that the town completely shut down and united, all for the love of the game.
One particular article read: "The mill had closed down, most of the stores suspended business, the Conestoga Traction Company was carrying capacity loads upon extra cars, Chief Shoemaker and 26 of his officers were filling up the meadow with motor cars, and according to a conservative estimate, 2,000 persons had been seated in grandstands, bleachers and entirely around the field on the banks. Every fan who could get out of Coatesville or any other place for miles around was there."
Regular admission to the park cost 25 cents, seats in the "New Grand Stand" were 15 cents, employees of the Parkesburg Iron Co. paid 11 cents, and general admission was free for the ladies.
With Beale as president of the team, Robert Thomas managing, and Si Pauxtis, a former University of Pennsylvania star and PMC athletic director, as the coach, the team included established ballplayers such as Joe Peploski, Fred Weise, from Coatesville, Sid Agnew, Vernon Touchstone, Henry "Ted" Baldwin of West Chester, who played with the 1927 Phillies, and Jimmy Irving. Other local heroes who filled the roster included Herb Steen, who later played with the South Phillies and Brooklyn Bushwicks and some said was the "craziest" ballplayer around, pitcher Sal Reilly of West Chester, and George Silknetter, outfielder, and John Miller, catcher, both former Parkesburg residents.
Several pro-teams made frequent stops at the PICO Field, including the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Giants, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies. During PICOs win over the Phillies in 1920, "Casey" Stengel was the right fielder for the Phils, he later went on to be the manager of the great New York Yankee teams of the 1950s.
Barnstorming Negro leagues also made their way through Parkesburg. These regular opponents included the Pennsylvania Giants of Harrisburg, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the Cuban Stars from New York, and Hillsdale of Darby. According to the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame, the Hillsdale team featured a slugger named Oscar Charleston, who was later known as the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues.
The semi-pro teams from company-supported industrial leagues to visit PICO Park included teams from Bethlehem Steel, New York Ship, Baltimore Dry Dock, Sharples Separators (West Chester), Autocar (Ard-more), and Lebanon Steel. Parkesburg's rivalries included Allentown, Camden, Coatesville, Kennett Square, Pottsville, and Trenton.
The late Maris Mullen, former borough secretary and a history teacher with the Parkesburg School District and later Octorara, is responsible for every record of the team that currently rests in the archives of the Parkesburg Library. There are two files of original letters and articles that were all found in Mullen's possession after he passed. He was an incredibly well-known resident and history buff and an obvious fan of the PICO Nine, even though he was only a child when they played.
He attended most of the games as a youngster and his uncle, Chester Mullen, served as property man for the team. Mullen later became President of the Octorara Area Historical Society and was the secretary for the Borough of Parkesburg. In 1982 he ran for mayor and without even campaigning won in a landslide against popular long-time mayor William E.Wilson Jr. Mullen passed away on the exact day that he was to begin fulfilling his duties as mayor of Parkesburg.
Included in the archives is a letter written to Mullen on letterhead from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. in Cooperstown, New York. According to the letters, Mullen had sent information and statistics about the team to the company who in turn added it to the industrial baseball file.
The PICO Nine hung up their gloves in 1920 and Parkesburg Iron Company closed its doors in 1926, but the land that is now Minch Park marks the spot where local heroes battled some of the greatest baseball players of our time.