WARREN, THE BASEBALL CAPITAL OF RHODE ISLAND

 

As the severity of the Depression deepened, Warren High School was unable to come up with $300 for annual supplies, and as a result, the school did not field a baseball team from 1932 to 1934. 

In 1935 the Red Raiders were back on the diamond, and led by All State first baseman Duke Abbruzzi, reached the finals of the Class B Championship before losing to St. Raphael’s Academy.

This was the prelude to an amazing twenty-one year stretch of baseball excellence.  During that period Warren High, with the smallest male enrollment of any high school in the state, captured three state championships, finished as the state runners-up twice, and won four more divisional titles before bowing out of the “every school is eligible” playoffs. 

And things were no different outside of the Interscholastic League.  In 1941 the Crown Zippers nine won the Rhode Island Baseball League Championship.  Ed Barry formed the Hitless Wonders, leading a group of “little squirts,” many of whom played on future title teams, against older squads from Fall River, Newport, Providence, and beyond.  In 1943 a combined Warren and Bristol under-sixteen squad won the state championship.  The American Legion Warren Post’s 1949 team, led by All Staters Bill Servant and Pat Abbruzzi (in football!) and with help from three Bristol starters, captured the Rhode Island title and reached the national semi-finals before bowing out of competition.  And the Bristol County Babe Ruth All Star squads of 1952, 1953, and 1955, with significant Warren participation, captured the Rhode Island championship and reached either the semi-finals or finals of the New England playoffs before falling to the eventual national champions.

Returning to the accomplishments of Warren High School, the 1936 nine that was coached by Jim McGeough “rose from the dead” on a first-in-his-career home run by Donat Brochu against South Kingstown, beat Burrillville to win the Class C title, and then downed Class B Champions West Warwick before losing to Class A Cranston in the state finals.  Shortstop Brochu (who served as assistant coach for many of the subsequent titlists), first baseman Duke Abbruzzi, and third baseman Paul Sevigny all received All State recognition.

In 1939 the Redskins became the first Class C team to win a state championship in any sport.  After vanquishing Cumberland for the Class C Championship, the Charlie Burdge-led nine won two of three against Class A powerhouse Mount Pleasant before sweeping Class B winners Woonsocket and earning the title of State Champions.  Winky Correia, Big Ben Ferrazzano, and Beany Ryan (who hit “only” .418 after winning the state batting title the prior year with an average of .585) were all named to the All State squad.

A year later the Warren youngsters won the Class C Eastern Championship, but fell to Cumberland in a battle for the Class C title.  In 1942, Warren High finished second in Class C East, but All Stater John Abbruzzi captured the state hitting crown with an average of .454 and second baseman Joe Tavares also earned All State honors.  And two years later the Redskins, led by the All State battery of Roger Higgins and Ed Polak (he’d also been All State in 1943), just missed making the playoffs, as they lost to North Providence for the Class C Championship.

And then came three amazing seasons!  In 1945 a rout of Burrillville produced another Class C Championship.  In the playoffs Warren went undefeated, easily defeating West Warwick before edging East Providence twice to win the school’s second State Championship in seven years.  Outfielder Ben Coccia and Roger Higgins, who was named the state’s best pitcher for the second year in a row, received All State honors.  (With Charlie Burdge still serving his country in the military, Charlie McCanna was at the team’s helm.)

The next year La Salle replaced East Providence as the Class A Champion and Charlie Burdge returned home, but otherwise it was “déjà vu all over again.”  The Broncos of Burrillville were downed for the Class C title, while La Salle (2-1) and West Warwick (3-2 in 12 innings and 6-3) were Warren High’s victims in the state playoffs.  Center fielder Jim Barry and Ace Boulanger, who was designated the state’s best pitcher in both this and the next season (making four years in a row that Warren High fielded Rhode Island’s ace moundsman) were the Redskins’ All State designees.  Is it any wonder that a La Salle religious brother opined that Warren boys were good for only two things: raking quahogs and playing baseball?

Sadly the quest for a three-peat fell one game short.  But considering that three Warren stars had been suspended for the season “for being bad boys,” the fact that the Redskins again downed Burrillville for the 1947 Class C title and defeated both La Salle and Woonsocket in the playoffs was amazing.  Especially since the State Champion La Salle nine was led by two Warrenites.  Pat Barba, Ace Boulanger, Harpo Tavares, and La Salle’s Slick Cariglia (like Ace, for the second year in a row) and Johnny Karcz were all named All State.

The following year the Burrillville Broncos finally “got the Warren monkey off their back,” easily defeating the Redskins in the Class C final.  But all was not lost, as Buzz Barry and his brother Jim, who led the state in hitting with a .525 average (and more than fifteen extra-base hits), both received All State recognition.

And finally in 1956 Charlie Burdge coached the last of his six divisional title teams, leading the Redskins to an Eastern Division Co-Championship with St. Raphael’s Academy.  (With geography now playing a larger role in the creation of divisional alignments, the Eastern Division consisted of five Class A and B teams and the Bristol County nines of Barrington, Colt Memorial of Bristol, and Warren.) Pitcher/shortstop Chico Andrade was named to the All State squad.

 Thus ended an outstanding twenty-one year stretch, made even more impressive by the fact that until Warren High School was merged out of existence in 1993, the Redskins never captured another divisional or state title.

 (Mt. Hope High School’s Huskies captured divisional championships in 1995 and 2008.)