Reese Kaplan -- Baseball Symposium: Part III


This third and final article about the baseball symposium in New Mexico will cover the format of the event, the artifacts on display and the history of baseball in this area.  The latter is quite fascinating as it ties directly to the Black Sox Scandal and Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ efforts to clean up the game of baseball and rid itself of many of its unsavory characters.

Once banished from baseball, many ballplayers were left with nothing to do.  Upstart leagues around the country popped up to play organized ball where no franchises existed.  Remember, that in the early 1920s the furthest west the teams would play was St. Louis where both the Cardinals and the Browns were in the major leagues.  That left people on the other side of the Mississippi River to fend for themselves, particularly because even radio was spotty and television had not yet been invented.

One of the earliest of the so-called Outlaw Leagues to pop up was called the Frontier League based in Southern New Mexico and the extreme far left corner of Texas.  It originally consisted of four teams from El Paso, TX, Hurley, NM, Silver City, NM and Santa Rita, NM.  It was so named because of the mining operations performed in three of these four cities in Grant County (southern New Mexico).  We had the great pleasure of hearing from baseball historians, including Lynn Bevill who did his master’s thesis and then authored a book entitled Outlaw Baseball in the Old Copper League.  He was a walking encyclopedia of the era, and explained how later this league expanded to include additional teams from Bisbee, AZ, Douglas, AZ, Juarez, Mexico and Ft. Bayard, NM.

Though tiny in size, it was Ft. Bayard who had a hospital on its grounds and some of the New Mexico towns that were the most successful because they could promise the ballplayers paying jobs when they weren’t on the ballfield.  That was appealing to the post World War I era athletes who did not otherwise have ways of guaranteeing to support their families. 

After the Black Sox Scandal trial was concluded which resulted in the subsequent banishment of a great many players from the game, several took to playing in this region, including Black Sox alums Chick Gandil, Buck Weaver, Jimmy O’Connell and others.  Star first baseman Hal Chase was a player manager for one of the Arizona franchises as well.  There were several mentions of Hal Chase as local El Paso musician Pat Chase (stage name Guitar Slim) and his brother Hal Chase were the grandchildren of the former ballplayer.  Often the former star ballplayers had to take on assumed names so as to protect their identities from the vengeful Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was determined that no ballplayer he banished would ever earn a dime playing the game anywhere. 

Another presentation was from a screenwriter named Mary Darling who wrote a treatment for a television series about this period of American history, a fictionalized account of the actual games and players involved during that time, including the reunion of Hal Chase with his friend and former manager, Christy Mathewson, who came out this way in search of treatment for tuberculosis at the Ft. Bayard hospital which was a world renowned facility. 

Finally, for the Mets fans, I am ashamed to admit I was not aware that broadcaster Ralph Kiner was from Santa Rita, NM and there was an exhibit of autographed balls, cards, bats and photos from the Hall of Famer.  There were folks who were at the symposium who had fathers or grandfathers who played with Kiner during his youth. 

The last formal presentation was on the failure of New Mexico to secure any professional sports franchises despite attempts in NFL training facilities, a minor league hockey team and an ill-timed attempt to lure the New Orleans Saints to Albuquerque in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  All of these tales were fraught with corruption, wayward funds and eventual bankruptcies.  The lone exception was the upstart Albuquerque baseball franchise that evolved when the Dukes left for California.  A contest was held to name it and the overwhelming choice was based upon a "Simpsons" episode in which a fictionalized Springfield Isotopes was introduced during an episode in which they planned to relocate to Albuquerque.  Thus the name was selected and they have been a roaring success for the region as the Colorado Rockies AAA affiliate.  

One of my great thrills occurred when I was handed an old baseball glove to try on which was a bit small for me.  I volunteered that the player who wore it couldn't be very big, but Fernie Grado who had collected all of that historical baseball memorabilia said he was big enough to get into the Hall of Fame.  It turns out (with the accompanying certificate of authenticity from former umpire Ed Runge) that the glove belonged to Hank Greenberg.  I slid it off my hand VERY carefully.


Tom Brennan said...


I wonder if anyone these days would call them Black Sox if it happened now. Don't think so.

Hank and Ralph. Two greats.

We have Ralph II - his name is Pete Alonso.

Mack Ade said...


You have found a wonderful baseball friend in your own town which has turned out to be a bonus for our readers here.

Mack's Mets © 2012