South Jersey Baseball History:
Monday, April 10, 2000
By Charlie Schick
With the coming of the 20th century, the bitter battle between the major leagues, American and National, was finally settled, and baseball, once again, could get down to the business of trying to win the hearts of America's young and old alike. And they did just that, as the infant American League expanded major league baseball to numerous new cities, and attendance plus fan interest reached all time highs.
Meanwhile, in South Jersey, the baseball craze was also taking hold, and this was particularly true at the amateur level of play. More specifically, scholastic baseball was growing by leaps and bounds, as more and more local youngsters were honing their diamond skills in hopes of someday playing professional baseball. Of course, as it is still today, only a very few ever realized this wonderful dream, but nevertheless many played and enjoyed the great game with the same vigor and intensity of their big league idols.
A number of these young men of the day went on to set standards of play that lasted for as much as 70 plus years. Some were lucky enough to witness or actually stand on the same field with some of the greatest players of all time, and a few even made it all the way to the big show. Here's just a sampling of some of the more talented or lucky few.
In the coming months, follow along with us as we highlight this wonderful century of South Jersey baseball.
FIRST HIGH SCHOOL .600 HITTER - 1909
Emory "Ty" Helfrich was born in Pleasantville New Jersey, and attended the local high school from 1903 to 1905. In 1906, his senior year, he had to transfer to Atlantic City High, because Pleasantville was only a three year school at the time.
Upon his arrival at A.C., Helfrich quickly established himself as one of New Jersey's premier athletes. He starred on his new school's undefeated football squad, and excelled both defensively and offensively on their top-flight baseball team.
At an early age, Helfrich's desire and baseball instincts were so advanced, they earned him the nickname "Ty", because his style of play reminded fans and friends of the great Ty Cobb.
Although Ty's 1906 senior year was filled with brilliant athletic deeds in both the fall and spring seasons, his most memorable accomplishments were produced on the baseball diamond. Even before the season had started, Helfrich's reputation as a quality player had baseball experts touting him as one of the top notch infielders in the state, and the lanky third baseman didn't disappoint them as he led Atlantic City High's squad both defensively and offensively throughout the year. He wrote his name into the South Jersey baseball record book with his bat, however, when he compiled an amazing .657 batting average to set an all-time area record that stood for over 70 years. Even though opposing pitchers often walked Ty instead of facing his dangerous bat, he still managed to collect 28 hits in 35 official at bats to produce his unbelievable record setting single season average.
Ty went on to play baseball and star at the Peddie Prep school, at Lafayette College, and in the major leagues for the Brooklyn team of the Federal League in 1915. He was inducted into the South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.
FIRST HIGH SCHOOL PERFECT PITCHING RECORD (10 or more games)- 1916
Although there had been a number of dominating scholastic pitchers in the early years of South Jersey baseball, not one had ever posted a double digit perfect record until 1916. Joe Esposito of Hammonton High changed all that when he registered a flawless 10-0 pitching slate.
As the star right-hander of the Hammonton club, Esposito was one of the state's most prolific mounds men, as he appeared in over 70 per cent of his team's games during the 1916 campaign. Being the workhorse of the club's staff, he virtually set every pitching record for not only this school, but all of South Jersey.
A perfect example of Esposito's dominance while on the mound was Hammonton's record 24 game winning streak that was set in his junior and senior seasons. After Joe graduated, Hammonton went on to increase that record to 26 straight wins in a row without a defeat. Esposito's perfect 10-0 mark stood as a South Jersey record for 46 years, when it was finally broken by St. James High's pony sized right-hander Ed Reiger, who posted a 13-0 pitching slate in 1962.
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