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The Blue Grass League, An Overview

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THE BLUE GRASS LEAGUE, AN OVERVIEW

In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown was grief-stricken when his favorite player, Joe Shlabotnik, was optioned to Stumptown of the Green Grass League. I read that as a kid and never forgot it. Later I was surprised to learn that a league named the Blue Grass League had actually existed.

Many Blue Grass League alumni played in the major leagues. Some achieved star status. Pitchers Howie Camnitz and Hod Eller were 20-game winners for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, respectively. Second baseman Jim Viox became the second base partner in Pittsburgh of Honus Wagner, the best shortstop ever to play the game. Future Hall of Famer Casey Stengel played his first professional ball with the Maysville Rivermen in 1910. Slugging Don Hurst, who won the Blue Grass League triple crown with the Paris Bourbons in 1924, would lead the National League with 143 RBI in 1932 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 1909 righthander Fred Toney of the Winchester Hustlers threw a 17-inning no-hitter at the Lexington Colts, defeating them 1-0. This game was the talk of the baseball world at the time, and it is still the longest no-hit game ever pitched in professional baseball. Eight years later Toney, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, beat Chicago’s Hippo Vaughn in 10 innings after both pitchers threw no-hit ball for 9 innings, the only double no-hit game in baseball history.

Future governor, senator, and Commissioner of Baseball Albert B. “Happy” Chandler played a mean shortstop, third base, and left field for Lexington in 1922 and 1923, and he also umpired in the league. Chandler remains the only baseball commissioner ever to have played and/or officiated professionally.

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THE FIRST BLUE GRASS LEAGUE, 1908-1912

The Blue Grass League was formed in 1908 with franchises in six central Kentucky cities: Lexington, Frankfort, Lawrenceburg, Richmond, Shelbyville, and Winchester. In 1908 the BGL operated as a fully professional league but outside the purview of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, or “Organized Baseball.” In 1909 the BGL applied for and was admitted to the National Association.

Until 1964 the minor leagues were classified AAA, AA, A, B, C, and D according to the population of their member cities. The Blue Grass League was a Class D minor league from 1909 until it disbanded prior to the 1913 season.

In the days of the Blue Grass League, farm systems and working agreements with major league teams did not exist. A professional minor league baseball club had just one source of revenue – ticket receipts. But in the era before talking pictures and before television, baseball was even more popular than it is today.

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THE STATEMENT OF W. JOUETT

The Blue Grass League of Kentucky came into existence in 1908 with George I. Hammond of Lexington as president and six cities in the circuit, Frankfort, Lexington, Richmond, Lawrenceburg, Shelbyville and Versailles. A schedule of seventy games was adopted, and the season was played through. During the latter part of July Versailles, which was hopelessly at the tail-end and "in bad" financially, sold its franchise to Winchester, which city played out the season, taking Versailles' percentage.

The league played independent ball during the season of 1908, and was not under the National Agreement, but at the close of that season it adopted a regular constitution and by-laws and applied for membership in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Class D, to which it was duly admitted. During its independent career of one season it was the means of creating intense baseball enthusiasm throughout the Blue Grass section of the state and developed several players who the following season were promoted to faster company.

After coming under the protection of the National Agreement, Lawrenceburg sold its franchise to Paris, and the cities thus composing the league began preparing for the 1909 season with renewed zeal. George I. Hammond was re-elected president; each club was required to deposit $300 into the treasury as a guarantee that the season would be played through; a salary limit of $800 per month was declared and a schedule of one hundred and twenty games adopted, beginning April 27 and closing September 15.

The league opened most auspiciously and played out the entire schedule. Every club made good money with the possible exception of Frankfort and Shelbyville, and the league as a whole was at least fifty per cent stronger in playing strength than the previous year.

The 1909 race soon became nip-and-tuck between Winchester and Richmond for first place, and a vacillating race between Paris, Frankfort and Lexington for third, Paris finally winning out. The Winchester team, under the management of catcher Newt Horn of Nashville, finally succeeded in winning the pennant, nosing ahead of Richmond in the last week by the small percentage of five points, her percentage being .630, while that of Richmond was .625.

Some excellent players were developed in the Blue Grass League during the past season, and it is safe to say that in 1910 the managers of the minor leagues will keep their eyes on the movements of the players in this league, for there are some very fast youngsters among them.

Of the 1909 players, Dawson, the first baseman of Richmond, was drafted by Minneapolis; Golden, Richmond's star pitcher, by Pittsburgh, and afterwards released to Louisville; Goosetree, shortstop for Winchester, and Burden, her most successful pitcher, went to Louisville; Oakes, center fielder for Paris, went to Norfolk; while Dugger, Paris' best pitcher, was taken by Evansville.

Efforts were made at the annual meeting in November to have the league circuit increased to eight clubs, but the directors finally decided to have but the six.

The season of 1910 gives promise of being the most successful of the league's existence. Each team has materially strengthened and a close race is expected. Its playing schedule of one hundred and twenty games has been adopted and the entire circuit is enthusiastic and eager for the fray to begin. Dr. W.C. Ussery of Paris was elected president for 1910 and has assured the league directors and the fans in general that he will make it his special effort to see that the league is equipped with the very best umpires that can be had.

The Blue Grass League has the distinction of having broken the world's pitching record in professional ball when Toney, pitcher for Winchester, on May 10, 1909, in a game against Lexington, at Winchester, pitched seventeen innings without allowing the opposing team the semblance of a hit. Winchester won in the seventeenth inning by a score of 1 to 0.

(This statement appeared in the 1910 Spalding Baseball Guide.)

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THE STATEMENT OF W.C. USSERY

In 1910 the Blue Grass League completed the third year of its existence, the last two of which were as members of the National Association. From its inception the league has provided high class ball, better, in fact, than the amount of money coming in at the gate justifies. In 1910 the quality of ball was best of all. At least six scouts were known to be with us during the season. Five players were drafted. "Pick-'em-up" Jimmy Viox, shortstop of Lexington, and "Deerfoot" Kaiser, outfielder of Paris, were claimed by the Chicago Cubs, both players being immediately turned over to Louisville. San Antonio drafted pitcher Allison of Richmond, while Toledo took pitcher Williams and Dayton claimed pitcher Winchell, both of Paris. Since the season closed Paris sold pitcher Scheneberg to Atlanta and pitcher McCormick to Albany, both of the South Atlantic League.

Before the drafting season opened the Chicago Nationals bought "Germany" Angemeier, the crack Frankfort catcher, and Big Bill Toney, Winchester pitcher, hero of the famous world's record game with Lexington in May, 1909 -- seventeen innings without a hit, winning his game 1 to 0. This memorable game has never received proper consideration from baseball statisticians and historians; perhaps its authenticity has been doubted. I have the assurance of the official scorer that throughout the entire seventeen innings but one play came up where there was the least chance for an argument with himself as to how it should be scored; the fielder was given an error. The play came early in the game, when no one had reason to expect a record breaker. I make mention of it here to get the game on record, as I have made a thorough investigation of it and can vouch for its genuineness.

In the pennant race Paris went to the front early in the season and had no trouble maintaining the lead to the end. Frankfort was the early leader, taking a flying start at the bell tap. Frankfort and Paris, the latter then in second place, met in a series of four games late in May, all of which went to Paris by close scores; after these victories Paris was never headed. Winchester, the 1909 champions by six points, Richmond, the 1909 second-placers, and Lexington kept up a constantly changing battle for second place, Lexington finally winning out by a comfortable margin. Winchester defeated Richmond for third place by four points. Frankfort, the 1908 champions, met with accidents and reverses as the season advanced, finally finishing fifth. Shelbyville, predestined to the basement, did her duty nobly. The Shelbyville team became so thoroughly disorganized late in August that the franchise and players were turned over to the league; Maysville, a prosperous manufacturing city, bought the franchise and completed the season with four of five regular players and numerous experiments. Maysville came into organized ball naturally; years ago she maintained a fast independent team, Dan McGann, Jesse Tannehill, and other less famous players being at one time on her payroll. Of recent years the town had no club, but a new park and grandstand will be built for 1911.

There was extreme local rivalry between Lexington and Paris throughout the entire season, the cause being chiefly business competition between merchants of the two towns, helped along by the fact that the teams tied on the series in 1909. Lexington was scheduled to close the season in Paris; they were again tied up on the series 10 to 10; Lexington came down with several trolley loads of rooters; it was an ideal day for baseball and one of the largest crowds of the season turned out. After battling sixteen innings without a run being scored the game was called on account of darkness. Kline pitched for Lexington and Williams for Paris. Each side had an equal number of men thrown out at the plate, made an equal number of errors, and a nearly equal number of hits.

Rain played havoc with gate receipts throughout the first three months of the season. Frankfort, Paris and Lexington, the three Sunday towns, lost several Sundays because of bad weather, Frankfort being the greatest sufferer. On July 4, instead of six scheduled games being played, but one was pulled off, and that to a very slim attendance. As a consequence, every club except Lexington, the largest town, lost money. In spite of these drawbacks everybody is in line for 1911, full of pepper and a determination to win. With an even break on the weather question, a shorter playing season and a strict adherence to the salary limit, every club will pay expenses.

Evasion of the salary limit has been a great evil since the league was organized, 1910 being the worst of all. There has been no adequate means for its detection and no league official has been clothed with power to curtail its abuse. At the annual meeting in October the directors, seeing the drift of things, and that the league must soon fall because of excessive salary expense, passed a resolution giving the president complete power to use any means he desires to investigate a suspected violation of the salary limit of $1000 and player limit of twelve. The player limit is a new rule which goes into effect in 1911 for the first time. No hardships will follow accidents or illness to players, as the new rules provide amply for honest relief for clubs in either event.

Acting on the principle that guilt is personal and not corporate, each club treasurer must forward to the president immediately after the first and fifteenth of every month a sworn statement of the amount paid to each player, directly, indirectly and every other way, the preceding pay day, giving a list of players and amounts in detail. A fine of $25 follows a failure to promptly forward such affidavit. It is not believed that any man will swear to a lie to evade the salary limit.

(This statement appeared in the 1911 Spalding Baseball Guide.)

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THE SECOND BLUE GRASS LEAGUE, 1922-24

In 1913 the Lexington and Maysville franchises joined the Class D Ohio State League. The Maysville franchise folded midway through the 1914 season, but Lexington was an Ohio State League mainstay until the league disbanded in July 1916.

In 1922 a revived Blue Grass League once again sought and received recognition as a Class D minor league. Lexington, Cynthiana, Maysville, Mount Sterling, Paris, and Winchester were represented. The league disbanded after the 1924 season.

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HAPPY CHANDLER’S PLAYING AND OFFICIATING RECORD

Because Chandler played fewer than 10 games in 1922 and 1923, his name, as was customary in the early days of baseball record keeping, was excluded from the year-end published lists of official statistics. I compiled the records below from newspaper box scores. Chandler did not play or umpire in the Blue Grass League in 1924.

 
Date
POS
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
SH
SB
PO
A
E
DP
 
 
6-22-22
PH
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
 
7-22-22
SS
4
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
2
3
1
0
 
7-23-22
SS
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
 
 
1922 totals
 
5
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
3
3
1
0
 
 
Date
POS
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
SH
SB
PO
A
E
DP
 
 
4-27-23
LF
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
 
4-29-23
SS
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
 
5-03-23
3B
3
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
1
2
0
0
 
5-04-23
3B
4
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
2
0
 
5-05-23
3B
5
2
3
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
0
 
5-06-23
3B
3
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2
0
 
5-19-23
3B
3
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
1
2
0
1
 
5-23-23
3B
4
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
3
2
0
 
 
1923 totals
 
23
2
4
0
0
1
1
0
5
8
6
1

RBI were not available.

Chandler hit his home run off Lou Frebis of Maysville.

In 1923 Chandler umpired 20 Blue Grass League games: Lexington at Paris (May 17), Mt Sterling at Lexington (June 2 and 3), Cynthiana at Winchester (June 9), Lexington at Maysville (June 13 and 14), Maysville at Mt Sterling (June 15, 16, and 17), Mt Sterling at Winchester (June 20 and 21), Cynthiana at Mt Sterling (June 22 and 23), Cynthiana at Lexington (June 24), Mt Sterling at Paris (June 27), Mt Sterling at Lexington (June 29 and 30), Paris at Winchester (July 1 and 2), Lexington at Cynthiana (July 4).

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GAME LOGS AND MASTER ROSTERS

The official papers of the Blue Grass League have not come to light. However, I have collected a complete set of newspaper box scores of Blue Grass League games for the 1909-12 and 1922-24 seasons, with the exception of three 1923 games whose box scores were not published.

From these box scores I have compiled game-by-game logs for all the teams, year by year. These show the date of each game, the teams that played, the site, the result, and all the players.

From these logs I have compiled complete Master Rosters for every Blue Grass League ballclub, year by year. These list the number of games each participant played at each defensive position, or as a pinch hitter or pinch runner when no defensive position was assumed.

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1923 STATISTICS

After the 1923 season the Blue Grass League did not release official batting, fielding, or pitching statistics.

The 1923 Blue Grass League season consisted of 291 games. 2 of these games were not played. These were forfeit decisions awarded to Winchester when Maysville did not appear in that city for their scheduled games of August 27 and August 28. Box scores of 286 of the other 289 games were published in at least one central Kentucky newspaper.

I have compiled complete batting, pitching, and fielding statistics from these newspaper box scores. In the absence of the league’s official documents, these tables list the best information available about the accomplishments of the men who played in the 1923 Blue Grass League.

None of this material is currently posted on the WWW. However, if you need any of it you may contact me and I’ll do my best to get it to you.

 

February 2002

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