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The debate can now be settled. We know what the greatest championship series in baseball history is. It’s certainly not the 2014 San Francisco-Kansas City match-up, though that’s been entertaining.

What championship am I talking about? The year was 1908. Theodore “Big Stick” Roosevelt was finishing his second term as president. “Big Bill” Taft was running on the Republican ticket to succeed his friend and was taking on William Jennings Bryan, aka “The Great Commoner.” (This may have been the Progressive Era, but it was also the era of the best sports nicknames. Who could ever forget players like “Wee Willie” McGill, “Handsome” Griffin, or “Postscript” Fletcher? Even the head umpire of the series was nicknamed “Dusty”!)

The teams hailed from Chicago and Indianapolis and met on a sun-baked field in Michigan City, Indiana, for the first game. It had all the trappings of the modern game: two teams loaded with stars, two umpires, clean uniforms. See for yourself.Hoo Hoo baseball Chicago vs. Indianapolis

Oh, did I mention that this was the Hoo-Hoo‘s World Series? After all, lumber mills were big sponsors of teams back then. Nevertheless, there were bragging rights on the line. We’ll let our intrepid reporter take it from here:

At 1 o’clock the invading army of black cats took Michigan City without a struggle, the natives firing only one shot, that being from the artillery of a photographer. Immediately upon the landing of the steamer a brass band headed the line and the cavalcade proceeded to the park, where it was successfully photographed, and then steered to a great refreshment hall, where it was very successfully fed. The local accommodations for caring for the big crowd were found to be excellent and the hunger of all was satisfied without serious difficulty.

The chief event of the afternoon was the baseball game. Immediately after the luncheon the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies proceeded in a body to the b.p., meaning not baseball park but boiling point. The Northern Indiana penitentiary formed an appropriate background to this travesty on a baseball field. The sun turned all its calcium effects upon two inches of red hot sand, in which the athletes were compelled to disport themselves. The game itself was a contest between two teams selected from the lumbermen of Indianapolis and Chicago. They were made up as follows:

Two more formidable teams have never taken the field to battle for a title.

Just before the teams took the field E. F. Dodge, of Chicago, called [umpires] C. D. Rourke, of Urbana, Ill., and George Palmer, of Indianapolis, Ind., to the plate and presented one with a horse pistol and the other with a shotgun. Some of the decisions later proved that this was a wise precaution, undoubtedly saving both umpires from the fury of the populace.

Indianapolis won the game in the first inning, the Chicago team going up in the aeroplane a la Wright Bros. The procession of Indianapolis runs took ten minutes to pass a given point.

Pitcher Fox appeared to be a stranger in the neighborhood and was unable to locate the plate. He gave Mercer and Geisel, the first two men up, passes to first, and then Johnson started a grounder to first, which got through Saye’s legs and caromed into right field, Mercer and Geisel scoring. Avery struck out, but a passed ball assisted Johnson to third, from which he scored when Pritchard singled. Pritchard stole third, but expired there on infield outs of West and Maas.

In the third inning Giesel drew a base on balls, but was forced at second, McGill to Larson, on Johnson’s grounder. Avery’s single advanced Johnson a base and he scored when Lewis threw over Fletcher’s head. Pritchard grounded, McGill to Saye. West struck out.

Chicago got its lone tally in this inning and might have had more but for some bad base running. Larson opened with a beautiful two-base hit and went to third on a wild pitch. Matthias struck out, but Dodge singled through the box, scoring Larson. When Fletcher flied to Mercer, Dodge led away off and was easily doubled, Mercer to Pritchard.

During the four succeeding innings the two teams played airtight baseball, but thirteen Indianapolis men and twelve Chicago men going to bat. Fox opened the fifth inning with a single, but was nailed at second when he attempted to steal with the ball in the pitcher’s hands. Hamilton singled in the seventh with two out and was left at first.

The fielding features of the game were supplied by Fox, McGill, and Pritchard. W. H. Johnson, who besides being a good ball player is president of the Indiana Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association, gave a fine exhibition of backstopping. Wee Willie McGill accepted three chances at second without error. Postscript Fletcher did not have a chance at third, or undoubtedly would be included in the special mention column. The managing of Handsome Griffin was also a conspicuous feature. The score:

Box Score 1908

Immediately after the ball game the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies, many of whom had entertained themselves about Michigan City rather than swelter at the ball park or approach so dangerously close to the penitentiary, again boarded the [steamer] Theodore Roosevelt and enjoyed a beautiful twilight and moonlight trip homeward to Chicago. On the way they were entertained with music by talented vocalists and with explanations from members of the Chicago team.

That’s right. The Chicago players spent part of the trip home making excuses for the loss. I wonder what they said after Game 2, played ten days later in Indianapolis.

Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team 1908

The losers from Chicago.

Because once again, the Windy City Boys turned in a poor performance, this time getting shellacked 23-3, committing 12 errors, and not scoring their first run until the 7th inning. Let’s go back to our reporter, who appears to be making excuses for the Chicagoans:

Because of the wide difference in the score there was not much excitement, but what the game lacked in excitement was made up in fun. The local team is composed largely of big men who do not often indulge in such exertion as playing ball, most of them being office men. Until noon Monday part of the local team had not reported at their offices for work.

Indianapolis baseball 1908

The victorious team from Indianapolis.

The third and final game was played in Chicago. By then, the Hoosiers had already won the 3-game series, so their incentive to play all-out was not very great. Still, Chicago had to rally from 3 runs down to win 8-4.

A week later the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series title. Perhaps instead of a billy goat, their fans should bring a black cat to Wrigley Field to break the curse.

Go Hoo Hoos!

What we like to think might have been the pennant won by the Hoosiers!

The Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team.

Chicago’s not-so-lovable losers.

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Tonight’s MLB All-Star game in fire-prone Arizona reminds us that Smokey Bear had his own All-Star team back in the 1980s (back when the Pittsburgh Pirates used to have winning seasons). During spring training, Smokey—a Hall of Fame-caliber manager if ever there was one—would pose with players from teams for his own trading cards. Some card sets feature Smokey with an entire team. The back contained info about the player, the sponsors’ logos, and a cartoon with a fire prevention message (see last card below). These cards are from 1987, and feature Ozzie Smith (15-time all-star), Steve Garvey (10 times), Johnny Ray (1 time), Mike Scott (3 times), and Steve Sax (5 times). Smokey has his own card, of course, because when it comes to fire prevention, he’s a perennial all-star.

Ozzie Smith and Smokey Bear

Ozzie Smith and Smokey Bear. Known as "The Wizard" for his outstanding defense, Smith is in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Steve Garvey and Smokey Bear

Steve Garvey and Smokey Bear. Garvey spent his career in fire-prone Southern California with the L.A. Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. He was known for having a hot bat in his many playoff appearances.

Smokey Bear and Johnny Ray. Perhaps if Johnny had used a bat instead of a shovel, he would have made the All-Star team more than once.

(more…)

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This week’s Major League All-Star Game in Anaheim, California, brings to mind baseball history as seen through the FHS Library. In the early 20th century, in addition to the two major leagues in the Northeast and the numerous minor leagues around the country, semi-pro baseball teams were sponsored by business owners—including lumber mill owners—and business organizations like the Hoo-Hoos. Baseball was the national game in America, played in towns big and small. In addition to trade publications like American Lumberman, local papers like the New Orleans Times-Picayune covered baseball games between company teams as thoroughly as the large urban daily newspapers did games on the senior circuit. And baseball at this level was big business. In 1908, the trade publication American Lumberman reported rumors of the formation of a “national league of lumbermen” teams. With its collection of trade publications, the FHS Library and Archive is a great resource for investigating this neglected aspect of baseball history.

We’re particularly intrigued by one team, the Patterson Greys (sometimes spelled “Grays”) of Patterson, Louisiana, the “crack amateur baseball team of the F.B. Williams Cypress Co.,” as a 1921 article called them. Built by Frank B. Williams, the F.B. Williams Cypress Co. dominated the cypress logging and milling business in the region and helped establish a national market for cypress. Williams may have built the town of Patterson, but his son’s baseball team put it on the map. The Patterson Greys dominated the sport on a regional level but also had a national impact.

One of Frank’s sons, Harry “H.P.” Williams, described as “an ardent sportsman and particularly addicted to baseball,” organized and managed the team for many years (we’re not sure when the team started or disbanded). The team regularly competed for the Louisiana state championship against other “amateur” teams, and also traveled the Deep South playing other semi-pro teams and even college squads. His players received $150 a month plus room and board. Williams paid bonuses for outstanding plays at the plate and in the field.

Patterson Grays 1921

The Patterson Greys, in 1921, with manager H.P. Williams. (from American Lumberman, click to enlarge)

What’s most fascinating is that the quality of players was such that Williams sold a number of them to the New York Giants and other clubs. This same 1921 article claims that he did not stock his Greys with experienced professional players “but fill[ed] up his string with promising Louisiana boys, some of whom are college students.” Given that F.B. Williams Cypress Company (now Williams, Inc.) was one of the largest lumber companies in the United States in the early 20th century and paid its players well, it wasn’t too surprising that the company team attracted such high-caliber talent from across the South.  The article lists the handful of players Williams had sent to the major leagues who lasted about two years each: Ivy Griffin, Johnnie Monroe, John Paul “the Admiral” Jones, Dick Humphries, Sammie(?) Hale, and a shortstop name Doty. Eddie Morgan and Carl Lind lasted seven and four years respectively with the Cleveland Indians. The one who did have a long, successful career? Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Mel Ott (1934-45), perhaps the greatest right fielder of his era. For Williams, it was an impressive achievement just to send players from his mill-town team to the senior circuit, let alone the man they called “The Little Giant.”

So how did this player pipeline that stretched from rural Louisiana to New York get established? According to Fred Stein, Met Ott’s biographer, Harry Williams was old friends with the Giants’ long-time manager, John McGraw, as well as Philadelphia Athletics’ owner-manager Connie Mack. It’s possible that Harry was introduced to these men by his wife, the famous stage and screen actress Marguerite Clark, one of the most popular actresses of her day. Or scouts working for McGraw and Mack came through Louisiana looking for the next “Georgia Peach”, a.k.a. Ty Cobb, and they met that way.  We don’t know. We’re still trying to find out.

We do know that after the F.B. Williams Company exhausted its cypress holdings (their employees are seen logging cypress in this footage), Harry and his brothers (who took over operations from their father by 1913) started closing down their four mills in 1929 and were out of the lumber and milling business by 1933. As luck would have it, oil and gas were discovered on company land during this time, and the company quickly shifted into those fields along with real estate development. As the mills were winding down, Harry—long fascinated with airplanes—entered the airplane design business with airplane mechanic and designer Jimmie Wedell. Together they built some of the fastest airplanes of the era and became pioneers in the airline industry in Louisiana. Harry died in an airplane accident in 1936. Today Williams, Inc., is owned and operated by the decedents of his brothers.

Enjoy this slide show of some of the teams highlighted in American Lumberman from that era. Note how the various uniforms rarely incorporate a logo.

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