By JOHN ANDERSON
When World War II ended, it looked like the end of the Wellsville Yankees PONY League franchise as well.
The locally owned club had financial problems and the board announced the team would disband after three seasons, all as the Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
On this date (Jan. 11, 1946), veterans from Wellsville who served in World War II stepped up and refused to let this happen.
The war veterans said “We followed the Wellsville team when they were in all parts of the world … and now (we) want a chance to see a few games in person.”
The reporters said the World War II veterans, “were back home again and anxious for a little rich civilian life again.”
The veterans teamed up with local businessmen and had their first meeting on this night in 1946. The passion from the veterans and the financial support from the local businesses in Wellsville kept the Yankees in town.
The league, which started in 1939, would have a Wellsville team for the fourth straight season in 1946.
In fact, Wellsville would keep a minor league team until 1961.
In that 1946 season with the Yankees, Player-Manager Joe Abreu led the league in hitting with a .352 average and the team finished 52-72. How much money did the local businesses have to “pony” up each year to keep the team? Judging by attendance, probably 85% of operating costs.
The 1946 Wellsville Yankees drew 38,014 fans to Tullar Field, which was last in the league, behind Lockport and the Hornell Pirates (49,236). The top attendance was Jamestown with 112.371 fans.
The final year of the PONY League was 1956, as the league became the New York-Penn League. In 1956 as the Wellsville Braves, the team had one of the best-ever seasons.
Wellsville in 1956 not only won the regular season PONY League title, but won the playoffs as well. First, the Wellsville Yankees took a series from the Hornell Dodgers and then beat the Olean Oilers, 3 games to 2 in the championship.
The Wellsville manager was Alex Monchak and the top pitcher was Keith Nichols, who had a league-best 1.76 ERA. The other teams in the league that season, in order behind Wellsville, were Corning, Olean, Hornell, Jamestown, Erie, Hamilton and Bradford.
Back to that 1946 team. Abreu, it turns out was not on his way up to the big leagues, but on the way down. He had a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Reds in 1942, then went down the minor leagues and wound up as a player-manager at the Class A level.
Abreu’s parents were from Portugal and he was one of nine children. Three of his brothers were professional boxers. Abreu knew over 400 card tricks and his nickname was “The Magician.” He was a member of the National Society of Magicians.
Abreu died in 1993, and I remember he contacted the now-closed Wellsville Daily Reporter with a hand-written letter to say hello. I wonder how many fans of the team in 1946 remember a player-manager who did card tricks with the kids in town?
(The article is courtesy @NYPennNews on Twitter)