By Bill Dougherty | Team Historian
In 1939 professional baseball came to Batavia and Genesee County. There had been talk of a professional baseball team for Batavia as early as 1936, but lack of a proper playing field including fences and lights which were the criteria, did not exist in the city.
This was not the first professional baseball team to represent Batavia. As early as 1897 a franchise was transferred to Batavia from Pittston, Pennsylvania in the New York State League. Other cities making up the league that year included Auburn, Canandaigua, Lyons, Palmyra, and Cortland.
The Batavians, wearing crimson uniforms and sometimes referred to as the Batavia Reds, played home on a diamond built on Swan Street but failed to compete the season here. A woefully poor team, it lost its first nine games before beating Canandaigua 11 to 5. Though managers and players were changed, play did not improve. Batavia was mired deeply in last place. At the end of July with a record of only eleven wins and thirty-three looses, the players refused to play without pay. Batavia fans were unwilling to pay even the 10 cents admission charge to watch inept baseball. The team was moved to Geneva, that city being hot to get the losers. The ball club left local merchants and contractors with an assortment of unpaid bills. Amateur and semi-pro baseball flourished for the next forty-two years. In 1939 during the Great Depression, grant money to create jobs mainly through construction projects from the Works Progress Administration created two full size baseball fields, one in Kibbe Park and one in the State Street Park. They were both patterned after Rochester's Red Wing Stadium built by the Major League St. Louis Cardinals in 1929. The State Street Park diamond was touted as equal to a professional playing field. After meeting in Olean, Batavia and Buffalo, a Class D professional baseball league formed with six teams: Olean, Batavia, Niagara Falls, and Jamestown in New York State, Bradford, Pennsylvania and Hamilton, Ontario Canada. The January 8, 1939 meeting in Batavia confirmed the formation of the league, making Batavia the birthplace of the Pennsylvania, Ontario New York League, today's NY-Penn League.
Batavia Major James J. Mahaney obtained additional Works Projects Administration funds to enclose the ballpark with a wooden fence and to construct an 800 seat roofed grandstand. Seventeen local men were employed on the ball park project. However, the fence and the grandstand remained incomplete for the opening day, May 10, 1939; the outfield was enclosed with snow fence. Folding chairs borrowed from a local mortuary were used for seating. These temporary measures did not deter the opening day crowd of over 3,000, largest baseball crowd in Batavia's history. The Clippers lost to Jamestown, 9 to 4.
The new league mane P-O-N-Y was suggested by Batavian Joseph M. Ryan, the letters standing for Pennsylvania, Ontario and New York. Mr. Ryan served as the first president of the Batavia Baseball Club. In 1956 the league mane was changed to the present New York-Pennsylvania Professional Baseball League, it was formed originally as a Class D League and reclassified as a short season Class A League; its classification today.
Batavia was a charter member and a mainstay of the league; except for the years 1954-1956 and 1960 when it was forced to drop out for financial reasons.
Batavia won league championships in 1945, 1946 and 1963. The team has been affiliated over the years with major league teams, the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. Their nicknames have included Clippers, Indians, Pirates, Trojans and since 1998, Muckdogs.
During the affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a former Major League infielder, Gene Baker was named on June 20, 1961 as manager of the Class D Batavia Pirates. He led them to a second place finish. Baker is credited with being the first African American to manage a minor league team with a major league affiliation. Gene Baker died in 1991, at the age of 74.
Approximately fourteen Genesee County men have put on the uniforms and played for the local team. The first was Gordon "Bus" Merrill of Elba in 1939 and the most recent was Mickey Hyde of East Bethany in 1989; both were outfielders. The first pitcher to win a game for the 1939 Clippers was Frank "Pike" Trigilio, an Oakfield athlete. He beat the Niagara Falls Rainbows 13 to 3 allowing only three hits.
During World War II the State Street Park baseball field, in a burst of patriotism, was named MacArthur Stadium after General Douglas MacArthur.
Since 1939, many well known Genesee County people have contributed time and money to the maintenance and operation of the team. The most dedicated of there was Edward D. Dwyer, long time club president. In 1973 MacArthur Stadium was officially renamed Dwyer Stadium in his honor, a fitting tribute to the county's "Mr. Baseball". It is because of Mr. Dwyer that Batavia has a team today. Mr. Dwyer died in 1995 at the age of 92. He had continued to attend games until his health prevented him.
At the close of the 1995 season old Dwyer Stadium was demolished and replaced with a new three million dollar facility, which opened in time for the 1996 season.
To coincide with the new stadium a new club nickname was chosen by the fans in a stimulating contest. The old Batavia Clippers became the Batavia Muckdogs; along with the name change came a new logo. The name Muckdogs identifies the area with its strong agricultural background especially the importance of the rich Elba muck land. The Muckdogs name and logo took off with the public and became known nationwide. Under General Manager Paul Marriott and his staff, Muckdogs merchandise sales skyrocketed putting Batavia in the top ten of minor league sales leaders along with the nearby Rochester Red Wings and Buffalo Bisons, both Triple A franchises.