Filling in the Blanks—F. Bassett

7 Jan

Baseball Reference lists the manager of the 1903 Hopkinsville Browns of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League simply as F. Bassett—something of a slight to a man whose obituary in The Chicago Tribune called him “The Father of the Kitty League.”

Dr. Frank Houston Bassett was born in Stephensport, Kentucky in 1873, and grew up in Hopkinsville.

Bassett, who came from a wealthy family, played with semi-professional teams in Hopkinsville in his 20s.  Late in 1902 Bassett began trying to line up cities in Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Indiana to form a new professional league; by February of 1903 the eight-team league was formed.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

Bassett owned, managed and played for the Browns.

Very few records survive for the Kitty League’s first season and no statistics for Bassett can be found.  The only reference to his abilities as a player came years later in an article in The Kentucky New Era which included a quote from Scott Means.  Means, a well-known amateur and professional player in Hopkinsville who played in the Kitty in 1913, saw Bassett play:

“Doc Bassett was a very good fielder.  Only trouble was he couldn’t hit.”

Bassett continued to own the Hopkinsville franchise, renamed the Hoppers for 1905 until the team was dropped from the league in July in order to keep a balanced schedule after the Henderson Hens disbanded.  The first incarnation of the league ended the following season.

Bassett maintained the Hoppers as a semi-professional team for the 2nd half of 1905 and all of 1906.  He then became an umpire in the Cotton States League and the Southern Association.  He also entered medical school.

In the spring of 1909, Bassett was the subject of a feature in The Chicago American after he had umpired an exhibition between the Cubs and the Nashville Volunteers.  The article said Bassett was worth more than $100,000 and had an income from investments of “$500 a month…and umpires for the love of it.”

The American noted that Bassett owned a car, “a forty horsepower French machine,” and drove it 72 miles from Hopkinsville to umpire Southern Association games in Nashville.  Bassett said:

 “I run over in the machine every day before the game and return in the evening.”

In 1910 Bassett helped to resurrect the Kitty League and was named President before the 1912 season; as he would continue to do throughout the league’s many incarnations Bassett used his personal fortune to keep the league afloat by financing the Evansville Yankees.

Frank Houston Bassett

Frank Houston Bassett

He was re-elected president for the next two seasons, but the financially troubled league folded again after the 1914 season.  An attempt to revive the league in 1915 failed, and after being revived again for 1916 the league folded in August.

Bassett seems to have temporarily lost interest in professional baseball in Kentucky and turned to politics.  He became a city commissioner in Hopkinsville in 1916 and became mayor in 1918; he served until 1922 when he was elected Court Clerk of Christian County.

In 1922, he again helped to revive the Kitty league; this version lasted for three seasons but was plagued by the same financial difficulties that doomed its predecessors.

Bassett tried again after a decade and was the driving force in reorganizing the league in 1935.  He was named president, secretary and treasurer of the new six-team league.

Bassett served for three seasons as president.  The league meeting after the 1937 season was contentious and several league owners felt Bassett had been a weak leader, and objected to his indifference in maintaining accurate statistics for the league and his opposition to night baseball.

There are a number of versions of what transpired.  Most sources say that after being re-elected Bassett left the meeting and team owners then voted him out; others say he, in effect, resigned by leaving—sometimes even the same source disagrees.  Some accounts in The Kentucky New Era said Bassett was ousted; others said he “became disgusted” and resigned.

In either case, night baseball was the primary issue that ended Bassett’s presidency.  The league would not survive without it and Bassett was dead set against it.   The New Era said:

 “The good doc contends that if baseball was supposed to be played after supper, nature would have made it light enough to see.”

With the exception of a few occasions when he was honored in Hopkinsville, Bassett seldom attended games after 1937 citing his hatred for night baseball.

He continued to serve as Christian County’s court clerk until his death in 1950.

Two weeks after Bassett’s death the Hopkinsville Hoppers held a memorial for him before their game with the Owensboro Oilers—it was a night game.

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