Remembering the glory days

Examining the rise and fall of county league baseball in Northeast Michigan

News File Photo Members of Miller Genuine Draft pose after winning the 1995 Northern Michigan Baseball League trophy. Pictured right to left in the back row are Bob Hamp, Dave Szejbach, Greg Skiba, manager Steve Zann, Dan Marquardt and Dave Antkowiak. Pictured left to right in the front row are Brandon Jaskolski, Mike Collins, Chris Rospierski, Nick Alexander, Andy Rohn, Trent Sherman and Brad Phillips.

Gary Dodd remembers when County League baseball was a big deal in Northeast Michigan.

In its heyday, it seemed every city, small town and village had a County League baseball team playing and more than 50 teams competed in five different sanctioned leagues across the area, all vying to stake their claim as one of the area’s best squads.

“County League baseball was an event every Sunday. There was baseball being played all over the place. There was a huge following and it was a big thing,” Dodd said.

Unfortunately, those days are no more. After decades of spirited competition and baseball being played all over Northeast Michigan, County League baseball has faded in recent years and 2017 marked the first summer in a century that there was no competitive baseball or County League baseball in the area.

As the dog days of summer near, those who played County League baseball still remember fondly when County League baseball was an annual summer tradition with spirited competition and exceptional talent. Families gathered, friends bonded, memories were made and kids with a passion for baseball slowly turned into young men.

News File Photo Delton Alexander of Miller Genuine Draft delivers a pitch during the 1989 Shaughnessy Playoff’s championship game. Alexander pitched a complete game and picked up the win to help MGD claim the 1989 title over Hubbard Lake.

“County League baseball was a lot of fun. It was so successful because you had guys that were committed, enjoyed playing the game and were good ball players,” Former Ossineke player/manager Bill Hawley said. “Competition was good, teams were very competitive and there were always more guys coming up to play ball in Northern Michigan because it was so competitive up here.”

Of the five sanctioned leagues in the area, the North-Eastern Michigan Baseball League was the oldest and was founded in 1916 and lasted until 1986. Alpena County, Presque Isle County, Alcona County, Huron Shore, Top-O-Michigan and Bi-County all had their own leagues that featured teams from the area.

Teams from Alpena, Barton City, Lincoln, Hillman, Rogers City, Oscoda, Posen and Atlanta all had teams along with even smaller areas such as Hubbard Lake, Lachine, Indian Reserve, Nicholson Hill, Herron, Long Rapids, Maple Ridge and Mikado.

Other cities such as Tawas, Standish, Gladwin, Houghton Lake, West Branch, Grayling, Charlevoix, Kalkaska, Boyne City, Mackinaw City, Bay City and Midland all had teams competing among these leagues.

When the North-Eastern Michigan Baseball League began in 1916, it remained one of the best leagues for a long time. Other leagues began to form in the early 1930s, but during World War I and World War II, baseball came to a standstill.

About a decade after World War II was over, baseball in northern Michigan experienced a renaissance starting with a boom in the 1960s and lasting until the early 2000s.

Competition was fierce on the diamond during this 40-year stretch. No matter where you traveled, a ball field could be found in any of the small towns or villages. The amount of teams participating, along with the level of competition made for a special period of baseball

“It was a great atmosphere. Sunday afternoons on the diamond were special. The players were good, the fan bases were good and there was a lot of interest in the games,” Hawley said. “One of the things that made it so competitive was the pitching. There was always a lot of pitching and every team had guys who could throw and throw well. It was so competitive up here that downstate teams would travel up here just to compete in our leagues and annual tournaments that we held during the summer.”

These leagues were brimming with competition and many local baseball players starred in County League ball before going on to have impressive collegiate careers. For players such as Blaise Ilsley, Andy Rohn and Dan Rohn, the level of competition in County League ball was just as good or more competitive than what they saw in college.

All three of those players were drafted and went to play Major League Baseball.

“The competition was fantastic. There were guys in college traveling to play ball up here and at that time, if you weren’t playing baseball, I don’t know what else you could have been doing,” Dodd, a former Harvest Table player, said.

Northeast Michigan was loaded with talented players year after year and it was common for each town and team to have its own star player. During this time, not only was the game of baseball special, but so were its players.

Names such as Rohn, Skiba, Alexander, Tadajewski, Somers, Glennie, Hamp, Morely, Franklin, Klinger, Morris and LaBell were a big part of the county league and they were names that were often feared, but always respected during the time when baseball was alive and well in Northeast Michigan.

There were always perennial powerhouse teams in the county league. Clubs such as Harvest Table, Club 32, Mikado, Barton City, Lincoln, Maple Ridge Model Printing and Miller Genuine Draft were among the top teams for a period of time and it always made for a thrilling quest to capture league titles and the grand prize of a Shaughnessy Championship which was the World Series for northern Michigan county league baseball.

“It was great baseball. I started playing when I was 15 years old. The competition was awesome. College players would come home, everyone could throw in the 80’s, there were great rivalries between counties and it was just a really fun and special time for baseball,” Former Mikado player Terry Franklin said. “When I wasn’t old enough to play, I used to ride my bike down to the field just to watch baseball because you could learn so much just by watching. The Sunday County League baseball tradition was awesome because everyone wanted to play and loved the game.”

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Northern Michigan Baseball League

Champions

1962 – Pine River

1963 – Pine River

1964 – Hale

1965 – Standish

1966 – Barton City

1967 – Standish

1968 – Standish

1969 – Midland

1970 – Standish

1971 – Midland

1972 – Ossineke

1973 – Barton City

1974 – Tawas

1975 – Standish

1976 – The Grove

1977 – Mt. Forrest

1978 – Mt. Forrest

1979 – Mt. Forrest

1980 – Mt. Forrest

1981 – Harvest Table

1982 – Harvest Table

1983 – Lincoln

1984 – Barton City

1985 – Club 32

1986 – Mikado

1987 – Barton City

1988 – Miller’s

1989 – Mikado

1990 – Miller’s

1991 – Barton City

1992 – Lincoln

1993 – Mikado

1994 – Miller’s

1995 – Miller’s

1996 – Maple Ridge

1997 – Barton City

1998 – Barton City

1999 – Ossineke

2000 – Mikado

2001 – Hubbard Lake

2002 – Barton City

2003 – Barton City

2004 – Barton City

2005 – Model Printing

2006 – Oscoda

2007 – Barton City

2008 – Barton City

2009 – Hubbard Lake

2010 – Barton City

2011 – Barton City

2012 – Ossineke

2013 – Ossineke

2014 – Ossineke

2015 – Barton City

2016 – Rogers City

Alpena County League Champions

1947 – Maple Ridge

1948 – Greely

1949 – Greely

1950 – Indian Reserve

1951 – Indian Reserve

1952 – Hubbard Lake

1953 – Hubbard Lake

1954 – Alpena

1955 – Alpena

1956 – Alpena

1957 – Alpena

1958 – Alpena

1959 – Ossineke

1960 – Hubbard Lake

1961 – Ossineke

1962 – Alpena

1963 – Lachine

1964 – Lachine

1965 – Posen

1966 – Rogers City

1967 – Posen

1968 – Alpena

1969 – Posen

1970 – Alpena

1971 – Rogers City

1972 – Tom’s Sport Haus

Alcona County League Champions

1947 – Mikado

1948 – Black River

1949 – Spruce

1950 – Lincoln

1951 – Oscoda

1952 – Harrisville

1953 – Black River

1954 – Black River

1960 – Lincoln

1961 – Lincoln

1962 – Lincoln

Top-O-Michigan County League Champions

1947 – East Jordan

1948 – Hillman-Cheboygan

1949 – Hillman-Gaylord

1950 – Alpena Merchants

1951 – Alpena Merchants

1952 – Alpena Merchants

1953 – Rogers City

1954 – Onaway

1955 – Atlanta

1956 – Rogers City

1957 – Alpena D&M

1958 – Alpena D&M

1959 – Alpena D&M

1960 – Alpena D&M

Bi-County League

Champions

1971 – Atlanta

1972 – Atlanta

1973 – Posen

1974 – Posen

1975 – Posen

1976 – Hubbard Lake

1977 – Maple Ridge

1978 – Hubbard Lake

1979 – Onaway