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Early History of Baseball in Bay City (1937)
Article by Paul Jablonski on early baseball history through 1937.
  • Transcribed (September 2006)
  • The Bay City Times - February 28, 1937 (Michigan Centennial Edition)

    Bay City Independents Was First Club Formed.

    Initial Organization Enjoyed Phenomenal Success
    Under Direction Of Frank Robards.

    By Paul Jablonski

    Bay City was a booming lumber center when organized baseball first made its appearance here way back in 1882. Enthusiasm in the diamond game brought about the organization of the Bay City Independents by Frank R. Robards who served as manager and shortstop. The team enjoyed phenomenal success and after cleaning up all opponents in these ports, entered the old Northwestern League along about 1885. When the team disbanded a few years later it could point with pride to a balance of $1,600 in the treasury after all obligations were paid.

    In 1890 Bay City and Saginaw combined their forces to enter the International League, other members including London, Buffalo, Hamilton and Toronto. The advent of John G. Clarkson, Harvard university pitching sensation who later gained fame in Major league circles, here at the turn of the century saw a local team entered in the Lansing State League and afterward the Southern Michigan, Clarkson was a real hero to baseball fans in those days as he organized a team of semi-pros and pitched at the Fairgrounds and later at the park bearing his name(1). When he retired he operated a cigar store on Center avenue for many years.

    Southern Michigan Loop.

    The Southern Michigan League was organized in 1909 and Bay City was a member of the circuit from its beginning to the time it was disbanded in 1915. Clarkson Park was constructed at the city limits on Center avenue in 1909 and dedicated in honor of the noted pitching ace that season. It was not until 1914, however, that the home team was able to figure in a championship playoff. Bay City was so far ahead in the first half that a split season was decided upon and Saginaw came through in the second half. In the title series Bay City and Saginaw battle all even through six games and then in the seventh and deciding contest, played before 5,000 fans here Sept. 22 of that year, Saginaw won, 4-3, in 10 innings behind the pitching of Jessie Haines who went up to the St. Louis Cardinals and still is listed as an active player of that team.

    Partly due to the World war, the Southern Michigan League passed out of existence in 1915 but in 1919 the Michigan-Ontario League was set up and organized baseball again returned to the city. Another local bid for a title failing in 1921 when after taking the first half, the Wolves dropped the playoff to London.

    Win First Pennant.

    Under the leadership of Punch Knoll, Bay City realized its first pennant in 1923 when it swept through the single season to grab the flag. In 1924 the local nine grabbed off the second half and bid for another league title against Flint. The Wolves lost three of the first four games in the championship playoff then came through with the victories in the next three tilts to grab the crown.

    The year of 1926 saw professional baseball make its final appearance here. The M-O circuit was consolidated to form the Michigan State loop to form the Michigan League that season when the Canadian entrants of London, Hamilton and Kitchener folded up. Bay City romped off with the pennant in the revised league in which there was no split season. In a post-season playoff with Springfield, of the Western League, the homesters lost four straight games, three at Springfield and one here.

    There remained no league for Bay City to enter in 1927 when neither the Michigan-Ontario nor the Michigan circuits were revived. The grandstand at Clarkson Park was destroyed by fire that year but was rebuilt the same season so that the city would be ready to reenter organized baseball if given the opportunity. However on June 4, 1929 the grandstand went up in an incendiary blaze and this time no attempt was made to restore it. Minor league ball never returned thereafter as movements to organize leagues in the state in the ensuing years proved futile.

    Many Graduates to Majors.

    Mint League baseball here had many outstanding graduates. Hazen (Kiki) Cuyler was sold to Pittsburg in 1921 for $3,000 after starring in the Wolf outfield for a season and a half. Later, the Harrisville flash, drafted from semipro ball in Flint, made good with the Chicago Cubs and at the present time is an active member of the Cincinnati Reds.

    The biggest price secured for a local ball player was the $6,500 which Sep Good brought from Detroit in 1923. Good, along with Jack Ziegler and Willie Ludolph made up a winning pitching staff which gave Bay City the pennant that year. Ludolph, under option from the Tigers, was recalled for season and is still toiling with considerable success as a hurdler for Portland in the Coast League.

    Bud Connolly, third baseman, and Jose Neiter, pitcher, went up from Bay City to the Boston Red Sox in 1924. Others who advanced to the big leagues were Cy Simon, third baseman, Bill Whale, outfielder, sold to the St. Louis Browns for $5,000 in 1922 and Spence Harris, an outfielder with the Wolves who saw service with the Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics and who now is with Minneapolis in the American Association.

    Additional notes:

      John Clarkson didn't play at Clarkson Park. Other accounts state he died before the park was completed. (See Clarkson's bio)

      Clarkson Ballpark opened in 1909.
      It was located on the south side of Center Ave., beyond Livingston St.

      The following are pictures of some of the early players that appeared on the same page of this article:

      1884 Base Ball Team

    Additional Notes:

    • "In 1882 the Northwester League, which later produced several major league players, was formed at Chicago. It comprised a circuit composed of the following cities: Peroria, Springfield and Quincy, Illinois; Bay City, East Saginaw and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio. Toledo won the pennant." -- [Source: America's National Game, by Albert G. Spalding, 1911.]
    Related References & Pages

    Clarkson Ballpark

    Related pages
    Caswell, Jabez B.
    Clarkson, John G.
    {Sports Pictorial}
    People Referenced
    Clarkson, John G.
    Connolly, Bud
    Cuyler, Hazen (Kiki)*
    Fuetz? **
    Good, Sep
    Haines, Jessie*
    Harris, Spence
    Jablonski, Paul (author)
    Koehler, Ben*
    Knoll, Punch*
    Laurence, Babe*
    Ludolph, Willie
    Matuzak, Frank*
    Neiter, Jose
    Robards, Frank R.
    Robinson, Wilbert C.**
    Simon, Sie
    Stumpf, Benny*
    Watkins, W.H.**
    Whale, Bill
    Ziegler, Jack

    * Picture.
    ** Team picture.
    Subjects Referenced
    American Association
    Bay City, MI
    Bay City Independents
    Bay City Wolves
    Boston Red Sox
    Buffalo, NY
    Chicago Cubs
    Cincinnati Reds
    Clarkson Park
    Coast League
    Detroit Tigers
    Flint, MI
    Hamilton, Can.
    Harvard Univ.
    International League
    Kitchener, Can.
    Lansing State League
    London, Can.
    Major League
    Michigan-Ontario League
    M-O Circuit
    Michigan League
    Michigan State Loop
    Minneapolis, MN
    Minor League Baseball
    Northwestern League
    Philadelphia Athletics
    Pittsburg, PA
    Portland, OR
    Saginaw, MI
    Springfield, IL
    St. Louis Browns
    St. Louis Cardinals
    So. Michigan League
    Toronto, Can.
    Washington Senators
    Western League
    World War
    Internet Resources

    Jesse Joseph Haines
    aka: Pop, Grandpa
    Life Span: 1893-1978
    Born: Clayton, OH.
    Enter majors: 1918
    Hall of Fame: 1970
    [Baseball Hall of Fame]
    Charles Elmer Knoll
    aka: Punch
    Life Span: 1881-1960
    Native of Indiana.
    Evansville Hall of Fame
    [Baseball Almanac]
    Mervin Thomas Connolly
    aka: Bud
    Life Span: 1901-1964
    Entered Majors: 1924
    [Baseball Almanac]

    Hazen Shirley Cuyler
    aka: Kiki
    Life Span: 1898-1950
    Native of Michigan
    Entered majors: 1921
    Hall of Fame: 1968
    [Baseball Hall of Fame]
    Spence Harris
    Life Span: 1900-1982
    Native of Minnesota
    Entered majors: 1925
    [Baseball Library]
    William Francis Ludolph
    aka: Willie
    Life Span: 1900-1952
    Native of Calif.
    Enter majors: 1924
    [Baseball Almanac]
    (Picture below article.)
    Bernard James Koehler
    aka: Ben
    Life Span: 1877-1961
    Native of Germany
    Entered majors: 1905
    [Baseball Almanac]
    Other news on this page.
    Reverse Earlier Defeat By Smothering Bay City Fie At Mt. Pleasant.

    MT. PLEASANT -- Despite yeoman work by Klemach, Bay City Junior College was unable to stem the torrent of baskets poured through the hoops by Central State Teachers college freshman here last night and was buried under the top heavy score of 56-29. The win for the locals avenged an earlier 32-28 defeat suffered at Bay City several weeks ago.

    Norris and Norton were the big guns for the winners scoring 12 and 11 points respectively, and playing excellent games in every respect. The latter was ousted on personal fouls in the last half, following a teammate Johnson who was put out of the game with nine minutes gone in the first half. Beck was the only Bay City cager chased via the foul route.

    Although Greenstein led the scores for the visitors with 12 markers it was Klemach who shone the brightest. Klemach scored three baskets and a free throw for seven points.
    St. Stanislaus Faces St. Joe, St. James Meets St. John In Holy Name

    The St. Mary-Kaysees game in the Holy Name Basketball League today holds the greatest interest. This tilt will be the second on the program with St. James meeting St. John in the first and St. Stanislaus, present leaders of the loop, meeting St. Joseph in the final.

    The Poles will not have much difficulty in holding the leadership for another week in spit of the fact that St. Joe came home with win No. 1 last Sunday over St. John. St. James may encounter a bit of trouble with the Essexville five.

    Last Sunday St. Mary was without the services of Roy Robb, lanky center, and this may have had something to do with the sound beating from St. James. The last time the Kaysees played St. Mary, the game was a bitter-fought affair with the clubmen getting the best of the argument in the final stages.

    Val Krukowski of St. STanislaus who scored 13 points against the Knights last week held a lead of 21 points on his nearest rival in the high scorers with a total of 88 points. Second to the blond Pole star is Norm Sauve of St. James with 67 points. Norm made 11 points agaist the west siders last week.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.