Cumberland Times-News

James Rada - Looking Back

October 3, 2011

Looking Back: National pastime deadly for local residents

The team may have been amateur, but the baseball game on July 8, 1928, was considered excellent. St. Patrick’s of Mount Savage were the leaders in the Holy Name Baseball League, which was made up of church teams in the county.

St. Patrick’s team came to Frostburg on July 8 expecting to win, which they did. However, they encountered unexpected resistance from the team from St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Frostburg. The game went 10 innings before St. Patrick’s pulled out a 7-5 win in a game played at Johnson Farm on National Highway, about two miles west of Frostburg.

However, in the days that followed people weren’t talking about the fact that St. Michael’s pitcher Dickle struck out 14 batters and allowed only six hits. No, they only wanted to talk about a single pitch that spun off a batter’s bat and into the spectators. Eighteen-year-old William Callin was watching the game from about 50 feet behind the batter when the foul ball hit him in the neck.

While it most certainly hurt, the Cumberland Evening Times reported that “The injury was regarded trivial at the time but a serious condition developed within 48 hours.” Callin developed neck pain where he had been struck. He died early in the morning on July 13. It was determined that the foul ball had fractured one of his vertebrae.

The young mine electrician for Brophy Mine was survived by both of his parents and four sisters. He was buried in Allegany Cemetery two days later.

You might think that death by baseball is an unusual way to die, but on the day that Callin was buried, the Midland and Moscow teams played a baseball game in Midland. A foul ball landed off the field near the crowd.

Thomas Johnson of Gilmore picked up the ball and threw it back onto the field, but not before it hit Cecil Thomas of Moscow. Thomas was the 17-year-old first baseman for the Moscow team.

“Johnson says he threw the foul ball back on the diamond in the direction of no one in particular and Thomas in attempting to catch it stumbled and fell, the ball striking him behind the left ear,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

The blow from the baseball knocked Thomas unconscious and he died 10 minutes later without ever regaining consciousness from “a concussion of the brain.”

A horrified Johnson turned himself in to police. He was taken to Cumberland and held there overnight. State’s Attorney William A. Huster, County Investigator Terrence A. Boyle and the county coroner meanwhile traveled to Midland to investigate the crime scene and question witnesses. The reason for the formal investigation was that it had been reported that there had been bad feelings between Thomas and Johnson.

As could be expected, the investigation confirmed Johnson’s version of the story.

He was released the day after the game when the investigators ruled that that the death had been an unfortunate accident.

Thomas, who was survived by his parents and a brother and sister was buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Jim Rada Jr. is a freelance writer. His email address is jimrada@yahoo.com.

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James Rada - Looking Back
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