Baseball is finally, and mercifully, back. And these days, it seems that phrase carries a double meaning.
Major League Baseball’s season kicked off on March 30, and the Red Sox are already breaking the hearts of fans everywhere. Add in the pitch clock and new rules designed to boost the speed of play and all of a sudden baseball has a spark. Beyond the pros, the hometown Magicians are off to a scorching 3-0 start.
But this week, I want to take you back to a time before pitch clocks, to the early 1930s and the beginning of the Dusties. Their origins were chronicled by Ernie Piper in July 1980 thanks to a conversation with Auvy Putnam, the man responsible for restoring semi-pro baseball in Marblehead during some of the most difficult days of the Great Depression after a 15-year lull.
Piper describes Putnam as a “rubber-armed pitcher and outfielder” who was the visionary behind the Industrials, better known as the Dusties. The team played their first game on May 30, 1932, and Putnam explained he opted to name his squad the Industrials in a failed effort to drum up some funding from businesses in town.
“I couldn’t raise half a dollar from them,” he said. “Who could? Nobody had the money.”
But somehow Putnam managed to keep the Dusties afloat for three seasons after needing a $200 infusion of cash to get the team off the ground in the first place. That money came from Harry Flint, who was the publisher of The Salem News at the time, and County Commissioner Eugene Fraser, who Lynn’s Fraser Field is named for.
Putnam’s squad got off to a strong start in the first season, playing 52 games and finishing 37-15. They traveled far and wide to face squads in Framingham, New Hampshire, and on Cape Cod. Some players were paid for their efforts — Lynn’s Joe McDonough, a pitcher, scored $2 per game — while others got nothing but exercise.
The Dusties quickly caught on in town, with the stands at Seaside Park packed with onlookers.
“Nobody worked,” Putnam explained. “And there was no TV, no radio, really. Most of us just played to have something from going crazy.”
In all, the Dusties played anywhere from 60 to 80 games, Putnam recalled, and seemed to hit their groove in 1934, which wound up being the team’s final season. That squad featured Arthur “Bummer” Adams at second base, Phil Clark at third base, Lou Hooper at shortstop, Count Brady behind the plate at catcher, Phil Stevens in right field, Spike Bassett at first base, Pinky Hunson in left field, and Putnam himself in center. McDonough was the squad’s pitcher, and Art Johnson was one of the umpires. The other umpire, Piper wrote, was the father of Red Hoffman, the Daily Evening Item sports editor in 1980.
But, all good things must come to an end, and Putnam traded in his “gray flannel monkey suit for a blue suit” and became an umpire. The reason? Umpires got $3 a game.
And so, the Dusties folded up. They briefly became the Industrial Cubs, before the arrival of the Headers in 1935.
The story cites the Yachtsmen of the North Shore League as the “current evolutionary result” of the Dusties. Nowadays, the Yachtsmen are known as the Seasiders, who finished dead last with a 2-22 record in a rough 2022 season. But, the spirit of the Dusties seemingly lives on in Marblehead — nearly a century later.