The summer of 1950 was a fairly successful one for the Ironmen of baseball. They failed to defend their New Brunswick Intermediate title they had won the previous year, but they defended their Miramichi Valley Baseball League crown and their North Shore Championship successfully. The Chatham nine were involved in some exciting playoffs along the way.
One memorable series, in particular, was the M.V.B.L. semi-final against the Newcastle Cardinals. It was a best of five series that ended in a deadlock, with each team grabbing two wins and one game ending with a tie score. A sixth and deciding game had to be played. The Ironmen started eighteen year old rookie ace, Billy Keating, and he pitched the Chatham squad to victory by the narrow margin of 5 to 4. The win upped Keating’s season record to an amazing 8 wins and no losses. The Commercial reports that Don Daley and Art Sutton were also standouts for the Ironmen in the crucial contest.
Chatham went on to the league finals against the Chatham Head-Nelson St. Pats and defeated them to capture the Miramichi Valley Baseball League Championship. They then beat Bathurst C.Y.O. 2 games to 1 in a best of three series to take the North Shore Crown for the second consecutive year. When the team entered provincial play downs, however, they were beat out by Minto Legion.
The next season Billy Keating was offered a chance to play with the Moncton Legionnaires, who played in a semi-pro league. However, over the winter Billy had severely cut the fingers on his pitching hand on a saw at the mill and it affected his pitching the next season. He didn’t stick with the Legionnaires because of it but, instead, came back to play with the Ironmen where he was a stalwart performer on the Chatham pitching staff throughout most of the fifties.
In the 1950’s, the Miramichi Valley Baseball League was in the midst of its golden era which lasted from the late forties to the mid sixties. The league included the Chatham Ironmen, Newcastle Cardinals, Douglastown Combines and Chatham Head Tigers. In the early years the Nelson St. Pats were also in the league and R.C.A.F. Chatham had a team entered during the fifties. It was one of the strongest intermediate circuits in the province. Whoever was the M.V.B.L. Champs usually had a good chance at becoming the New Brunswick Champs as well. The league was well balanced, too. The Ironmen, for instance, were usually high in the league standings, and often took the Championship. The Chatham Head Tigers were consistently strong. The R.C.A.F. Panthers usually challenged for the league lead as well. In the sixties, Douglastown was to become a powerhouse. Newcastle were hardly pushovers either.
All off this, of course, led to some very exciting play-offs in 1958. For example, the R.C.A.F. Panthers took the league championship by winning the best of seven final four games to three over the Chatham Ironmen. The series was a dogfight all the way, and the seventh and deciding game was won by a single run.
The fifties also saw the Chatham Ball Park built. The Ironmen had been playing in a diamond that had been located in the center portion of the Miramichi Agriculture Exhibition Association race track. This field, however, was hardly in the best of condition and the ball playing sometimes disturbed the horses and made them restless. Through efforts of men like Ben O’Reilly, Joseph Currie, Ray Pyne and Mayor D.J. Cripps, steps were taken to have a park constructed where it is today.
The new Chatham Ball Park had its official opening on July 12, 1954. Vince Moar was master of ceremonies for the affair and Mayor Cripps threw the first pitch. The defending M.V.B.L. champion Ironmen celebrated the occasion by blasting Newcastle 12-5.
The Ironmen, as always, it seems, had a wealth of talent playing for them in this era. One of the most notable was Wally Jimmo, who, when this was written, was still playing for the Ironmen almost three decades later. He put on his first Ironmen uniform in 1953 at age 15 after he had moved to Chatham from Escuminac to attend high school at St. Thomas Academy. Over the years Wally had played every position on the diamond, but he gained most of his fame from the catching and pitching chores he performed.
Another outstanding Ironman was Art Leggatt, who, like Jimmo, is still playing. Art came to the Chatham nine at age 15 in 1956 as a pitcher. The young left handed wizard then proceeded to win himself a reputation that later sent him on to bigger and better things.
Indeed, the Ironmen did seem to have a strong pitching staff in the fifties. Besides Jimmo and Leggatt, Willy Keating pitched until 1957 when he took over the coaching reins from Art Sutton and an ace chucker by the name of Ray Daley also threw for Chatham.
No matter how good the pitching was, however, the strong part of the Ironmen game has always been their hitting. During this era most of the power came from the bats of Don Martin, Charley “Ding” Farrah and Don Daley. Shortstop Frank Kane was a singles hitter who usually had a high average. Junior MacDonald also consistently had one of the best batting average. The Ramsey brothers, Sonny and Benny, and Gerald Dignam could also wield hot sticks.
There weren’t as many home runs hit in those day s as there are today. The main reason for this is that the old diamond in the race track had no fence around it and a fielder could chase down a long ball.
Other Ironmen stars from the fifties included John Keating, Bernie Keating, Ken Cripps, Josie Flanagan, Bill Whalen, Bernie Blakely, Paul McGraph, Bernie Simpson, Jack Seely, Mervin Trevors, Jack Stevens and George Sproul. Men like Frank Kane, Bob Reid, Don Martin, “Ding” Farrah, Bill Keating, Ray Daley, Don Daley, Art Sutton; and others had hung up their cleats or their skates, or both. Boxing was dieing out as Yvon Durelle went out. The St. Thomas football team would never again be as consistently strong as it was in the early fifties. Rugby was long gone from Chatham fields.
The forties and fifties had been the golden era for the Miramichi Valley Baseball League and the Chatham Ironmen and the glory years of the North Shore Hockey League and the St. Thomas Tommies. There would still be good things to come for both the Ironmen and the Tommies of course, but the magic of the carefree fifties that packed the Chatham Ball Park in the summer and the Lord Beaverbrook Arena in the winter was soon to be lost in the more complicated and confusing sixties. The forties and fifties would always be an era that people wold look back upon as the good old days of sports in Chatham.