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The Blue Grass League, 1908

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THE BLUE GRASS LEAGUE, 1908

The Blue Grass League, a union of six ballclubs playing a regular schedule of games, was conceived in January 1908 and dedicated to the proposition that baseball fans in central Kentucky would support professional baseball. Although all its players were paid employees, the 1908 BGL was not a member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues and therefore operated outside the realm of “Organized Baseball.” Its first season was very much an experiment.

Although attendance was generally healthy, the league barely survived its first two months of operation. The Versailles franchise, wobbly from the start, threatened to disband. In June several teams canceled their scheduled league games in order to engage a barnstorming team called “Green’s Nebraska Indians.” The Lexington club set aside part of its schedule to play a series of exhibition games in Knoxville.

Blue Grass League regulations stipulated that each team hire its own umpire to officiate at home games. Predictably, almost every home-team victory was protested by the loser, creating a nightmare for league president George I. Hammond. In July Hammond decided that the league would hire its own umpires. This helped reduce the wrangling that threatened the stability of the league.

Because most franchises were making money, the league’s schedule was amended in midseason to include more games. Blue Grass League clubs began the season playing three games a week, but by late July they were playing almost every day.

When the Versailles franchise folded in mid-July, a Winchester town team that had been competing on the semipro circuit was granted admission to the Blue Grass League after it agreed to assume Versailles’ remaining schedule and its 11-25 won-lost record. Although a few former Versailles players signed with Winchester, the team was a separate entity.

With a less contentious atmosphere, more games to whet fan interest, and six stable franchises, the Blue Grass League ended its season in mid-September in good shape. In 1909 the organization was admitted to the National Association, gaining official recognition as a Class D professional league.

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RESEARCHING THE 1908 BLUE GRASS LEAGUE

The six original 1908 Blue Grass League franchises were Frankfort, Lawrenceburg, Lexington, Richmond, Shelbyville, and Versailles. Versailles ceased to operate in July, but its franchise was not transferred to Winchester. Rather, Winchester was admitted as a separate franchise with the understanding that the team would play out Versailles’ schedule and assume its won-lost record.

Investigating the 1908 Blue Grass League is difficult. No team owner, official, or player is still living, and the papers of the league and its individual clubs have not come to light. Lacking documentary evidence or other primary sources, the researcher must rely on newspaper coverage, which is somewhat sparse. Even the most basic information, the standings and box scores, is often absent or inaccurate.

The best source of information about the Blue Grass League is the Lexington Herald, which published more (and better) articles and box scores than any other newspaper. Box scores of home games appeared occasionally in the Lexington Leader, Shelby Record, Shelby Sentinel, Woodford Sun (Versailles), and Winchester Democrat. Other hometown newspapers confined themselves to line scores.

Because only about 90% of the box scores were published, it is impossible to compile a complete record of performance for any individual.

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1908 BLUE GRASS LEAGUE STANDINGS

 
Frankfort Lawmakers
47
23
.671
 
 
Lexington Thoroughbreds
37
31
.544
 
 
Richmond Pioneers
36
34
.514
 
 
Lawrenceburg Distillers
33
35
.485
 
 
Shelbyville Millers
32
37
.464
 
 
Winchester Reds*
22
47
.319
 

* began season as Versailles Aristocrats

These standings were published in the 1909 Reach Baseball Guide and are reprinted in the 2nd Edition of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to verify them through game-by-game research.

Many hours of investigation have not yet solved the mystery of how many official games each team played. The final won-lost records that league president Hammond released to the newspapers do not tally with any of the game-by-game logs I have compiled for the seven BGL clubs. Apparently some contests between league teams were designated as exhibitions only, and the results of other games were thrown out after protests were upheld. Sometimes these decisions were rendered weeks after the fact, and the newspapers do not always offer an explanation. At least one forfeit victory was awarded when a team failed to appear for a game, and there may have been others. The published standings that appear during the season are more hindrance than help. Frequently the won and lost columns don’t add up equally, or wins and losses appear and disappear without relation to games that were actually played. More research is needed.

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RESEARCHING THE 1908 PLAYERS

SURNAMES

Newspapers were not particularly careful about the spelling of athletes’ surnames. Kentucky census and death records have revealed the correct names of some of the players, but for most of the names I had to rely on the newspapers. When two or more spellings of a player’s surname were published, I chose the form of the surname that appeared most often. Significant spelling variations are listed in the team rosters.

CHRISTIAN NAMES

Sportswriters of the early twentieth century commonly omitted athletes’ Christian names from their stories, perhaps to underscore the less-than-respectable social status of the people they were writing about. A close reading of published game accounts has yielded some Christian names and middle initials. For some players I have, in addition to the surname, only an initial or a nickname. For the majority I have a surname only.

SIMILAR SURNAMES ON ONE TEAM

The following teams suited up two or more players with identical surnames: Frankfort (Leo and Louis Angermeier); Lawrenceburg (John and G. Gilbert); Richmond (Earl and Roy Golden, Jerry and William Parrish); Shelbyville (Douglas and Lucian Harbison, Dan and Harry Lally, Arthur and Paul Long, Emmett and Goodloe O’Neal); and Versailles (Cal and Joe Arnold, plus Emmett, Goodloe, and Joe O’Neal).

Usually these players were brothers, and often they were capable of playing the same defensive positions. Both Jerry and William Parrish, for example, could play first base. When both Parrishes appeared in a game, newspaper box scores usually used a first initial to indicate who was who. When only one Parrish played, however, the box scores did not always record which Parrish, and a specific identification was not always included in the narrative account of the game, if there was one. Using published information, therefore, it is impossible in these cases to determine with accuracy the number of games each man played, and at what position.

SIMILAR SURNAMES ON DIFFERENT TEAMS

In the course of the 1908 season, many players competed for more than one Blue Grass League team. For instance, Dick Crutcher pitched for Lexington on Opening Day (April 21), then signed with Frankfort. In other cases, however, similarly named players were not the same individual. For instance, right fielder Howard of Richmond could not be the Howard who roamed right field for Versailles, because both Howards were playing on the same day in different cities. The rosters designate them as Howard (1) and Howard (2). When it is not possible to determine if the players are one and the same, they are listed as separate players.

FALSE SURNAMES

The surreptitious use of “ringers” (nonstudent professionals) in college baseball games was a fairly widespread practice early in the century. Even bona fide students, if sufficiently skilled, were sometimes paid for their participation.

When the spring semester ended, many of these men wished to continue playing for pay. Some, to protect their amateur standing, signed false names to professional contracts. Most of these players performed in the lower minor league classifications, although there were some exceptions, most notably Columbia University’s Eddie Collins, who played a few games for the major league Philadelphia Athletics as Eddie Sullivan in 1906.

This often winked-at subterfuge would become front-page news when it was revealed, after the 1912 Olympics, that gold medal winner Jim Thorpe had competed pseudonymously in the Class D Eastern Carolina League in 1909 and 1910.

Some players had other reasons to conceal their identities. A man blacklisted for bad character might wish to make a fresh start in a league where he was unknown. A status-conscious individual might wish to mask his participation in an enterprise that was not quite respectable in 1908.

At least three 1908 Blue Grass League players competed under false names. The player the Lexington Herald listed as “Stone” in Versailles and Winchester box scores was identified as Harry Shultz in the Winchester Democrat. Emery Stephen Turner’s surname appeared as “Caudill” in the Lexington Leader.

Lawrenceburg’s “Fox” was really a player named Adolph. When the Lawrenceburg franchise was transferred to Paris in 1909, Adolph signed with Lexington. On May 11 the Lexington Herald revealed that the 1909 Adolph was the Fox of 1908. Most fans probably knew this already. The Herald certainly did, because Adolph’s real name had crept into a few of the 1908 box scores they printed.

It is likely that at least a few other players competed under false names and succeeded in keeping their identities hidden.

 

February 2002

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