By Tony E. Windsor

Baseball has long been touted as “the nation’s pastime,” but for one Seaford man, baseball is more than that, it’s a passion. Mike Lambert, a 1976 graduate of Seaford High School, is quickly making a name for himself as a true baseball historian and expert on details of the Eastern Shore League (ESHL).

Lambert put his knowledge of the history of the ESHL to paper about 13 years ago and wrote a book titled “Eastern Shore League.” The book chronicled the stories of league players who graced ball fields from throughout the Eastern Shore, including Pocomoke, Salisbury and Cambridge, Md., Parksley, Va., and Dover, Milford and Seaford, in Delaware. With teams such as the Dover Senators, Milford Giants, Laurel Blue Hens, Seaford Eagles and the Rehoboth Beach Pirates, the Class “D” minor league baseball is a rich part of Delaware’s sports history.

Local author, Mike Lambert, left, and his wife, Cara, visited Philadelphia Phillies promoter Larry Shenk who spent 52 years with the Phillies as Director of Public Relations. He started his career with the team working for Bob Carpenter, son of former DuPont Company Vice-President, R.R.M. Carpenter, who bought the Phillies in 1943 and put his son in charge.

The baseball games which were significant community entertainment featured 15 years of professional minor league baseball that spanned three decades 1922 through 1949. These ball players in many cases went from the ESHL into  Major League Baseball, including Don Zimmer, Mickey Cochrane, Red Ruffing, and Sid Gordon. In many cases Lambert has had the opportunity to interview former players for his books and become close friends with them.

The success of “Eastern Shore League,” among local history and baseball enthusiasts, led the author to convince his publishing company, Arcadia Publishing, to support his efforts to write a second book to share an expansive story of the ESHL. “Eastern Shore League: Extra Innings,” is now available and Lambert has featured a plethora of historic commentary and photographs.

In his most recent book, Lambert has taken the time to not only introduce and re-introduce the ball players, but also to highlight the role of the team managers. A chapter is dedicated to the managers and Lambert feels these represent “one of the finest parts of the Eastern Shore League.”

In his book, Lambert explains that the history of the ESHL is sporadic in nature due to such things as World War II and unfortunate lack of financial and moral support. The first league ran from 1922 until 1928, but folded due to lack of support. The second phase of the League started again in 1937 and ended in 1941, just before the start of World War II. Lambert said many players left just after the 1941 season and entered the military.

It was in 1946, following the war that the third installment of the Eastern Shore League commenced. Then just after the season of 1949, the league ended for the final time after teams lost the support of the Major League baseball teams. “Only a couple of the league’s ballparks are still in use today,” Lambert said. “Most were torn down, and today something different occupies the properties.”

Lambert has been making the lecture circuit since the release of his second book and said he is getting a great response from the book. “I can’t explain how much I love learning and sharing about the Eastern Shore League,” he said. “I am a history and baseball buff, and this has become an addiction for me.”

He said he is inspired by the passion and love that the league players had for the game of baseball, especially at the local level. “It was not about money for these guys,” Lambert said. “It was all about passion for the game. These guys did not make much money at all playing baseball and the majority of them had other jobs. I think about players like Gene Corbett who played major league ball for the Philadelphia Phillies during parts of three seasons in the 1930s. Then he came down and played and managed minor league teams. It was not about money because he was certainly not making a lot.”

Corbett, born in Winona, MI in 1913, played his last major league game in June 1934. He then played 20 seasons in the minor leagues, including two seasons (1948 and 1949) with the Eastern Shore League “Salisbury Cardinals,” in Salisbury, which at the time was an affiliate of the National League St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Corbett lived in Salisbury until his death at age 95 in January 2009.

Lambert said “Eastern Shore League: Extra Innings” focuses on individual players and managers and he finds the stories inspirational. “Whether a player played one season, or went on to be in the Hall of Fame, these stories are extraordinary. I will never know it all. But, the reception I have gotten from people I talk to, or I meet during my lectures, has been great,” he said.

Lambert said it has been rewarding to have people reach out to him by phone or email after they have read his book and share personal stories about a grandfather or other relative who was a player in the Eastern Shore League. “They are so appreciative of the book,” he said.

One of the most exciting things that has happened as the result of his extensive recording of the Eastern Shore League history in his book came this past winter while Lambert was recovering from knee surgery. He received a call from a writer who was doing a story on the Rehoboth Beach Pirates and he asked if Lambert would fact-check his article.

The Rehoboth Beach Pirates had its first season in the Eastern Shore League in 1947. The team competed against other local teams in Seaford, Milford and Dover in Delaware and Salisbury, Cambridge, Easton and Federalsburg in Maryland. The club was a Class D affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 and 1948. They won the Eastern Shore League title in 1949, when they were known as the Sea Hawks.

Lambert said he fact-checked the article, but was excited to learn that the man who had contacted him was Larry “The Baron” Shenk, a 52-year veteran on the Philadelphia Phillies baseball organization front office. Shenk became the Phillies’ Director of Public Relations in 1963, a position he retired from in 2008. Most recently he runs the alumni page on the Phillies’ website, posting old stories and vintage photos. 

The honor of fact-checking an article for one of the greatest major league baseball promoters was not lost on Lambert. He and his wife Cara, were in Pennsylvania and took the time to stop by and visit with Shenk and his wife, Julie, at their home in Glenn Mills, Pa.

Lambert said he has been obsessively documenting the history of the Eastern Shore League for more than 30 years and his greatest takeaway has been the friendships he has forged with former players, managers and people like Shenk.

Lambert will be doing book signing for “Eastern Shore League: Extra Innings” at the Georgetown Historical Society on July 22 and at Arthur Perdue Stadium, Salisbury, on Aug. 18. Perdue Stadium is home to “The Hall of Fame Museum,” which opened on May 24, 1997, and is dedicated to the history, preservation and recognition of amateur, semi-pro and professional baseball on Delmarva.

Preserving the glory days of local minor league baseball has become a mission for Lambert and his two books are quickly proving that it’s a story worth telling.