Joe Cambria: International Super Scout for the Washington Senators


The video below a brief summary of Joe Cambria: International Super Scout of the Washington Senators from Paul Scimonelli himself.

Chapter 2

The 1920s: Blowing the Bugle

According to a Richard J. Conners article in the December 14, 1933, Sporting News, Joe Cambria, while still on crutches from his broken ankle in 1912, went to visit a friend who owned a laundry business in Washington, D.C. His friend gave him a tip about a laundry business in Baltimore that was up for sale. This could be a case of writer’s hyperbole, because the veracity of the statement is questionable. It would be six years before Cambria ventured to Charm City, with a war and a marriage intervening in between 1912 and 1918. Exactly how and when Joe and Lottie got to Baltimore is still shrouded in the ages.

But if ever there was a city for a b aseball-loving guy to settle into, Baltimore was that place. Just like crabs and Natty Boh beer, Francis Scott Key and the row house of Hamden, baseball had been part of the warp and woof of Baltimore. Beginning with the Baltimore Excelsior in the late 1850s, baseball has been integral to the life of the city and its people. Baseball was played in the camps of the Union soldiers during the Civil War. Say Baltimore and baseball fans there will begin to recite the litany of their patron saints: Brooks and Frank, Cal and Eddie, Weaver and Palmer, Boog and Belanger. And lest we forget the pioneers: Joe “Kingpin” Kelly, “Wee” Willie Keeler, Hughie “E E-YA” Jennings, Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity, and of course “The Babe.”

Every type of baseball existed in the city, from pure sandlot all the way up to John McGraw’s Baltimore Orioles in the newly formed American League in 1901. Ball fields were put up and taken down with regularity. Leagues of every kind were formed and disbanded, then reformed. It was baseball on Saturday, church on Sunday.

Joe Cambria was in baseball heaven. But first, he would have to make a living for himself and his blushing bride.

In 1918, the Cambrias settled into a quaint row house at 2325 Maryland Avenue, a veritable stone’s throw from Druid Hill Park. He and Lottie took ownership of the Bugle Coat and Apron Company, located at 224 St. Paul Street. The industrious Mr. Cambria would drive a horse and wagon around the town, delivering and picking up laundry, while the lovely Mrs. Cambria would run the books. Within two years, the company moved and expanded to 112 South Gay Street. In 1923, the company moved again to occupy almost an entire h alf-square block at the corner of 1501 North Chester and Olive Streets, now called the Bugle Coat, Apron and Towel Supply Company. The Bugle Company, employing over 250 employees and a fleet of 30 trucks, would become the largest laundry and linen supply house for hotels, motels, restaurants, boarding houses and nursing homes in the city, providing their customers with clean sheets, pillowcases, tablecloths and napkins as well as waiters’ aprons and chefs’ coats. They also did residential laundry. The  hard-working Joe Cambria would sell his first “American Dream” 


to Industrial Laundry Corporation for a handsome profit in 1938 in order to begin a new dream.1 But not without controversy.

All businesses have their share of legal problems, and Joe Cambria’s business was no exception. In May of 1922, the business was denied a permit to build a garage on their property by the Baltimore Building and Regulations Committee.2 In October of the same year, the company was given a permit for a  100-gallon gas tank to be located on their property as part of a deal with the Standard Oil company. People who protested the action were assuaged after Mayor William F. Broening convinced them that gasoline would drive away rats.3

In February of 1924, a Mr. James Mullineaux was awarded $15,000 in damages after being struck earlier in the year by a Bugle delivery truck.4 The company continued to have its share of ups and downs throughout its tenure in the city; a Mrs. Pearl Lubik was awarded $2,000 in a personal injury claim in 1933.5 There is an old adage which states, “the burnt child fears the fire.” In the case of Joe Cambria, I would paraphrase it to say, “the hurt ball player yearns the game.”

Cambria loved baseball. Period. One would be safe to assume that he felt his broken ankle cheated him out of his proverbial shot at the title. He was determined to get back into the game, and t urn-of-the-century Baltimore was a hotbed of baseball activity. (The Baltimore Sun has articles on baseball being played in the city as far back as 1859.) Like most towns and cities in the nascent United States, especially on the East Coast, Baltimore had dozens of teams, leagues, and ball fields. In 1924, the Baltimore Baseball Federation (the ruling body of amateur league baseball) reported they would have up to 15 separate baseball leagues, 135 teams and leagues of every iteration: juvenile, sand lot,  semi-pro, police and fireman, Sunday schools, Catholic, hotel employees, and of course Industrial leagues.6 Joe Cambria wanted to be part of that.

Writing for the Washington Post, Shirley Povich described Cambria as “an incurable fan and a purveyor of money.”7 This sobriquet would be ever so apt for our Mr. Cambria. He was a  hard-working immigrant who saw his laundry business as a means to an end and utilized it as such to start a baseball empire.

If there was a spare acre or two of pastureland in Baltimore City, a ball field was constructed. The  minor-league Baltimore Orioles played in several ball parks before coming to roost in the renamed Memorial Stadium in 1954, and then to iconic Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992. From the 1880s through the 1940s, dozens of ball fields would spring up throughout Baltimore City, only to be torn down to feed the need of the burgeoning population.

Cambria’s first step was to buy an old ball field called The Label Men’s Oval. In a 1953 reminiscence article for the Baltimore Sun, a Mr. Edward C. Lastner recalled how in 1912, he and several of his fellow  co-workers received a $100 gift from their boss, Mr. Henry Doeller, Sr., owner of the Simpson & Doeller label works, to build a ball field. They found a cow pasture east of what is now Belair Road (in the Orangeville section of Baltimore) at the corner of Federal Street and Edison Highway (US Route 1). Mrs. Carrie Snyder owned it, and they rented it from her for $25 a year. He and his friends leveled the field, built a small grandstand, and—beginning in 1912—the Label Men’s Athletic Society Baseball Club won the city’s amateur championship four out of seven years, tying twice. The team played there until World War I shut everything down in 1918. With most of the men gone, the field was sold that year to Dr. Edward J. Cook, who owned the St. 

Andrews team.8

Chapter 2. The 1920s: Blowing the Bugle 


The ball field was in an ideal spot for two reasons. First, it was in walking distance for most downtown Baltimore residents. (As a point of reference for those who have enjoyed the friendly confines of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one would walk about a  quarter-mile up Calvert Street, turn right on East North Avenue [Route 40] for a good  quarter-mile, then a few blocks south of the Baltimore Cemetery to the corner of Edison Highway and Federal Street. It later became a trolley stop for the No. 27 car.)

Second, since the park was technically on the outside of Baltimore City proper, Sunday baseball was allowed.

Cambria bought the ballpark from Dr. Cook sometime in 1924 and renamed it Bugle Field, in honor of his laundry business. He set about to renovate it into one of the finest  semi-pro ball fields in the city. The park had a  built-in fan base and soon became one of the foremost sports venues in the city. Bugle Field would become home to his first team and home to the Baltimore Black Sox in 1930 and in 1938 to the Baltimore Elite Giants. Between 1928 and 1938, when he sold it to the Gallagher Realty Company, Joe Cambria expanded the grandstands to seat up to 3,900 fans, improved the roads surrounding the field, installed lights for night baseball, and built team clubhouses with running water.9

Cambria’s first foray into team ownership seems to have occurred in mid–May of 1928, when he took over the Homesteads in the Baltimore Amateur League from manager Bud Stack. Cambria’s timing could not have been more propitious. The Homesteads had won the league championship in 1927 and were considered one of the strongest in the league. When he took over the team, he renamed them the Bugle Coat and Apron Company after the laundry business. It was obviously too long a name to print in the minuscule box scores of the day, so they were promptly christened the Bugles and sometimes the Buglers by the local press.10 With Bugle Coat emblazoned on their jerseys, Joe Cambria had his first baseball dream and a lot of free advertising for the business!

The Bugles’ first game was a 10–9 loss to the Foresters, unfortunately. But their bad fortune did not last long. The Bugles played good ball in May, and with their 9–4 win over the Alcazar Athletic Club on June 4, they climbed into second place in the standings.11

The Bugles seesawed their way in the standings through June and July, suffering a crushing 15–0 loss to Clifton on July 16.12 They would bounce back, however, with decisive wins on July 16, 23 and 30.

In August, Cambria abruptly decided to move the team into the Baltimore  semi-pro league, playing the likes of Hampden, Georgetown, Alco, and Bethlehem Steel teams. No data exists as to how well they placed in that league; however, the Bugle Coat and Apron baseball team, as well as their manager, Joe Cambria, were off to a very auspicious 


The Bugles started 1929 full of hope. Cambria decided to play in the Interclub League on Saturdays and the  Semi-Pro League on Sundays. Ducky Knoedler, who had pitched brilliantly during the 1928 campaign, was named p layer-manager for the season.

The Bugles played well in April and May, with decisive wins over Fells Point, Edgewood, Arsenal, and Brighton. However, by June 4, they were mired in a  three-way tie for third place in the Interclub League. Looking to shake things up a bit, Joe Cambria hired Bill Callahan, the former manager of the Hampden Club, as the new manager, and Ducky Knoedler went back to his position as ace of the pitching staff.13

The s hake-up seemed to work. With a doubleheader win against the Baltimore Athletic Club on June 24, the Bugles began winning consistently, even between the two leagues. The fought their way into the Interleague Championship game with the Bloomingdales on September 8. But alas, hoisting the gonfalon was not to be. Playing on Bloomington’s home field with the score tied 3–3 in the bottom of the ninth and a man on third, pitcher Ray Atkinson was brought in to save the game and take it to extra innings. But his first pitch bounced a foot in front of the plate, allowing the runner on third to practically walk in for the winning run.14

Revenge, always served cold, would be on the menu a month later, however. In a season-ending special series played in October, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Bugles took a doubleheader over the Bloomingdale Club before a crowd of 8,900 at the club’s home field.15

Sometime during the year, Cambria was appointed Commissioner of the Baltimore Baseball Federation Association, the City’s baseball ruling body. Through this, he would be able to get a great look at all that Baltimore sandlot baseball had to offer, which would come in very handy for him in the foreseeable future.

Nineteen  twenty-nine was the year for him to flex his entrepreneurial muscle. He kept the Bugles busy from April through October, playing games in the Baltimore Interclub League and the S emi-Pro League, as well as contests with independent and barnstorming teams.

July 8 saw the Bugles hosting the barnstorming House of David ball club for a special Monday night exhibition game at Bugle Field. The House of David, a benign Adventist cult founded by Benjamin and Mary Pernell in Benton Harbor, Michigan, prohibited all their members from having sex, drinking alcohol, eating meat, and their men from cutting their hair or shaving their beards. Their hirsute appearance was a humorous attraction to the conservative “shaven and shorn” society of Baltimore, not to mention their tremendous baseball skills. The original Benton Harbor team was started in 1915 as a means of physical exercise for the men and as a way to thwart their minds’ amorous intentions. They barnstormed with great success starting in the early 1920s. Needing help with the nuances of the game, the team hired several famous  major-league players as coaches and to make guest appearances. Notable alumni included Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and the omnipresent Satchel Paige. Babe Ruth was famously photographed in a House of David uniform and fake beard and at one time was offered a contract after his playing days were over; however, the team was advised that the Babe’s notorious  off-field activities were in direct opposition to their religious tenets, and the offer was rescinded. The team became the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball, rarely losing a game.16

This night, however, they would have to work for their supper in a close, 10–8 win over the Bugles. The Bugles actually shut out the Davids, 4–0, for the first four innings, but the Davids finally figured out the Bugles’ pitchers and quickly turned the score around. The stadium was packed with appreciative fans and Cambria was smart enough to see they were “good gate.” They were invited back regularly throughout the 1930s.17

Always the showman, Joe Cambria and his Bugles played host to the Bloomer Girls of New York the following weekend. The Girls played respectfully well in spite of the apparent odds, losing by only an 8–3 margin. A Miss Houghton provided one of the more spectacular plays of the day. Her long line drive to deep center field forced the Bugles’ Freddy Fitzburger to make a spectacular, o ver-the-shoulder, bare-handed catch to end a rally. 18

On August 5, Cambria was able to coax future Hall of Famer Charles “Chief”  Bender out of retirement to pitch the first game of a Monday doubleheader for the Bugles against the North Philadelphia Club. Bender, one of the winningest pitchers for Connie Mack’s early Philadelphia Athletics, easily outpaced the North Philly club, 8–2. The Bugles’ ace, Joe Atkinson, threw a masterful game to win the nightcap, 14–2.19

Cambria was quick to utilize the talents of former major leaguers as a gate attraction, most notably former Washington Senators spitballer Allan Russell, Washington, D.C., sandlot legend and Babe Ruth teammate Walter Beall, and former St. Louis Browns and Cleveland Naps hurler Thomas “Lefty” George. These players, a bit past their prime, still supplied valuable teachings to the young Bugles teams.

September 7 saw the Bugles in an epic battle, splitting a doubleheader with the Cuban Red Sox. The Cubans had a huge fan following, and in anticipation of a full house, Cambria rented out the International League Oriole Park.

Originally formed in 1907 as a Negro League ball club, the Cuban Red Sox was made up of African Americans predominately and with a couple of Cuban black players. Thus, they were called “Cubans” to gain acceptance with white audiences. By 1929, however, this iteration of the Red Sox featured a predominately Cuban team with several  American-born African American players. Most notable on the team was their ace, a young Luis Eleuterio “Lefty” Tiant, Sr., father of the Boston Red Sox great, Luis Clemente Tiant, a hero of the 1975 World Series. In addition to being skilled players, the Red Sox were showmen:

The pregame festivities at Oriole Park started out with the Red Sox coming onto the field wearing their navy blue uniforms with red trim and lettering and performing their famous rendition of shadowball, a synchronized pantomime in which they went through their infield and outfield drills without using a baseball. The Cubans engaged in their  on-field chatter in Spanish during this dazzling presentation while singing their signature song, “Whoopee.” The Havana team was made up of some of the most talented players from Cuba. In addition to their skills on the diamond, they were entertainers in the same vein as the  latter-day Harlem 

Globetrotters basketball team.20

The first game featured a 0–0 pitching duel between Cuban Red Sox ace Tiant and the Bugles’ ace, Joe Atkinson, for the first two innings. But the Bugles got to Tiant for four runs in the bottom of the third and five runs in the home fifth, and that would be all for “Lefty.” The Bugles would score three more runs, Atkinson would give up four runs in the late innings, but the damage had been done. Bugles 12, Cubans 4.

In the nightcap, the Bugles were no match for the Red Sox’s two biggest hitters, Tomas “Pipo” de la Noval and Basilio “Home Run” Cueria. The d arkness-shortened second game went only seven innings, with the tired Bugles losing, 5–1.21

The Bugles proved their mettle by winning at least one game of the twin bill with such a decisive score and against one of the  all-time great Cuban players of the century. Luis Tiant, Sr., would go on to be a major force in Latin American and Mexican baseball until 1947 and would be enshrined in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Bugles, emboldened by their great showing against the Cubans, invited the Eastern Colored League champions Baltimore Black Sox to Bugle Field for a September 20 doubleheader. Victory eluded the Bugles, with the Black Sox easily taking both games 6 to 2 and 5 to 4. The Black Sox became frequent visitors to Bugle Field in the 1930s, and Cambria, figuring “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” bought the team in 1932.22

The Bugles Nine played hard and stayed competitive to the end, losing to the Baltimore City Police team and finishing second in the s emi-pro league.23

From 1928 until he sold it in 1938, the indefatigable Mr. Cambria utilized his Bugle Field to its fullest advantage  year-round. Even before the baseball season had finished, he promoted both sandlot and  semi-pro football games at the field, as well as renting it out for high school contests. In the spring, he promoted lacrosse and soccer matches. He leased out the park and promote boxing and wrestling matches throughout the year when the ball team was not using it. And if that was not enough, he would do the same for traveling circuses and Wild West shows. Add to that the revenues engendered from the barnstorming team matches, and Cambria would make a comfortable profit from the use of the ball field.

All to be used in building his empire.