Tag Archives: Eastern Illinois League

“If I ever get this Football Junk out of my Head”

23 May

George Henry Capron had a brief and relatively undistinguished professional baseball career.  He said football was what held him back.

Capron first made a name for himself at the University of Minnesota in 1906.  He excelled at football, track and field and baseball, The Minneapolis Tribune called him “a ten-second track man, a weight thrower, and a splendid ballplayer.”

The Golden Gophers football team was 2-2-1 that season; Capron, the starting halfback and drop kicker scored 44 of the team’s 55 points.  He accounted for all 12 of his team’s points (three four-point field goals) in a loss to Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team.  The Tribune said Capron “Figured in two-thirds of the offensive plays” for Minnesota.

Capron

George Capron

The Chicago Daily News said of Capron:

“(He) is an athlete of exceptional muscular development, although not above the normal size (the 5’ 10” 185 lbs).  he can punt from 50 to 60 yards with little effort with either foot.  The ball after leaving his toe acquires a most peculiar spiral motion, which makes it exceedingly hard to hold…In the work of scoring fielding goals, which appears to be Capron’s specialty, he is unquestionably a star.”

Capron kicking

Capron kicking

Early in 1908, there were rumors that Capron would leave Minnesota at the end of the baseball season and transfer to an Eastern school.  The New York Times said West Point football coach Bob Forbes was attempting to get Capron to accept an appointment, The New York Sun said he was headed to Dartmouth.

Capron chose instead to stay at Minnesota and was unanimously elected captain of the football team on September 14—although later the university would claim he wasn’t elected, but simply called local newspapers claiming an election had been held.  Two days after the “election,’ a scandal caused him to quit the team.

A story in The Chicago Tribune charged that Capron had played professional baseball for the Meridian Ribboners in the Cotton States League during the summer under the name “George Robb,” other reports said he played under the name “George Rapp.”  (The Sporting Life identified him as “Rapp” and “Robb” at various times in 1908).

The story also claimed that he met with “Captain Adrian C. Anson.  The later inquired of Capron’s ability as a ballplayer among local college men.”  Capron, the paper said, wanted to join the semi-pro Anson’s Colts.

Anson told paper:

“I didn’t sign Capron because he didn’t put on a suit and come out…I don’t remember that he said he played professional ball before.  I don’t care, anyhow.  There is no such thing any longer as a strictly amateur college team…They want their real names withheld.  I don’t care, I tell them.  (As long as) they can hit the ball on the snoot and can field decently.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

Capron denied the charges.   He claimed he had never played professionally and “had never in his life” met Anson.  His denials were quickly dismissed, as his identity was something of an open secret in the South—his election as Minnesota’s captain was reported by several papers, including The Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and The (Nashville) Tennessean –each mentioned his election and that “he played (with Meridian) under the name of Robb,” and that his contract had been purchased by the Mobile Seagulls in the Southern Association.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, he admitted he had played professionally, but continued to deny that he had met with Anson.  It was also reported that Capron had been drafted by the New York Giants, The Minneapolis Tribune said:

(John) McGraw drafted Capron on the recommendations of one of the New York club scouts…but if McGraw was informed as to the real identity of the brilliant young diamond performer he has carefully kept the facts under his bonnet.”

He left school for good in September, and The Sporting Life reported he was “captaining a professional football team in Minneapolis” that fall.   He also admitted, in a letter to the National Commission that he had played professionally under the assumed names “Kipp” and “Katt” for the Mattoon Giants in the Eastern Illinois League in 1907 and in the Northern League with the Crookston Crooks 1905.

In the spring of 1909, The New York World said:

“Capron, the former diamond star of the University of Minnesota, has notified the management of the New York Nationals and of the Mobile Southern League team that he will not join either of them, but has decided to play outlaw ball.”

Capron signed with the Seattle Turks of the Northwest League and immediately went on a tear.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said he was hitting a league-leading .324 in his first 19 games.

He also found time to elope with the former Ednah Race, a Minneapolis resident.

At the end of the season, with his average down to .275, Capron told a reporter for The Post Intelligencer:

“’If I ever get this football junk out of my head, I’ll make good in baseball yet.’”

The problem he said, was taking out his frustration:

“’When I got mad when playing football I could charge the line or make a fierce tackle and let off steam,’ continued the greatest kicker Minnesota ever had, ‘but when I get mad playing baseball it is back to the bench for me with a fine plastered on me like as not.’

“’It doesn’t do a man a bit of good to get mad while playing baseball…that rough stuff does not go.”

The paper agreed:

“So many times during the season just closed, Capron was no good to himself or the team because he could not see anything but red and he wanted to fight someone or something.

“Capron had a world of natural ability.  He is far above the ordinary as a fielder and he is a dangerous man at the bat.”

Capron

Capron

Capron was sold to the Vancouver Beavers the following season, but was limited to 35 games as the result of a knee injury.  He hit just .207.

The following spring, the 25-year-old said he was finished.  He told The (Portland) Oregonian:

“No more baseball for me.  I am going to retire.”

The paper said “His teammates sniffed” and were sure he would return, but noted that “he is being sought by several clubs of the Northwest league this year and was tendered contracts by Seattle, Vancouver, and Tacoma, but has returned them unsigned.”  He said his new wife had encouraged the decision.

Capron left baseball and football for real estate.  He sat out the 1911 season.

In January of 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a personal letter and contract to Capron:

“The contract is a ‘blank’ paper with the salary figure to be filled in by the recipient.

“Apparently, Dreyfuss was prompted in this move by some strong boosting out on the Pacific Coast, for in his letter he told George that information had reached him that a first-class ballplayer was going to waste.”

But despite the blank contract, Capron told The Oregonian:

“I guess (Dreyfuss) knows I can murder (right-handed pitching).  My wife says no, however, so it’s me for the bleachers.”

Capron also told the paper he expected his brother Ralph—a former Minnesota Quarterback– to make the major leagues soon—Ralph played one game that season with the Pirates and two the following year with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ralph abruptly quit baseball at age 25, before the 1915 season.  George told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, his brother “expects soon to marry the daughter of a wealthy Minneapolis merchant, who is strongly opposed to a professional athlete for a son-in-law.”  Opposition from his father-in-law doesn’t appear to have stopped Ralph from dabbling in professional football.

Capron moved from the Pacific Northwest to Long Beach, and later Fresno, California, and found real estate to be more lucrative than either baseball or football.  In 1964, he was worth more than $30 million dollars, when, after 55 years of marriage, Ednah was awarded a $16 million dollar divorce settlement which The Associated Press said was “the largest ever.”

He died on October 26, 1972.

The League That Billy Sunday Helped Shut Down

12 Nov

The Eastern Illinois League began with great promise in the spring of 1907 to fill the void created by the collapse of the first incarnation of the Kitty League.  Joe “Wagon Tongue” Adams, an Illinois native who appeared in one game for the 1902 St. Louis Cardinals, was said to be the guiding force behind  the league, he was also manager on the Pana Coal Miners.  Adams had helped create the Central Illinois League two years earlier with teams from many of the same cities—unlike the 1905 effort, the Eastern Illinois League was granted membership in the National Association.

The six-team league had franchises in Centralia, Charleston, Mattoon, Pana, Shelbyville and Taylorville, and elected Charles Welvert, a Pana businessman  league president.  Midway through the 1907 season the Centralia team relocated to nearby Paris, Illinois, and replaced Welvert as league president by Louis A. Godey Shoaff (often incorrectly spelled “Schoaff”), editor and publisher of The Paris Gazette.

The teams in Charleston, Mattoon, Pana and Paris were supported, as The Associated Press said, “In great part from saloon interests.”

The league made news in August, when during a heated series between the Mattoon Giants and the Pana Coal Miners, The Sporting Life reported that Mattoon second baseman Fred Wilson during a dispute with  Pana manager Adams:

“Wilson put Adams down with a straight jab on the jaw. The manager came up, but another blow in the same place fractured his chewing apparatus.”

The Mattoon Giants won the 1907 championship, led by the pitching of future Major Leaguer Grover Lowdermilk, who posted a 33-10 record with a 0.93 ERA.  Although records for the league are nearly nonexistent, contemporary newspaper accounts mention other past and future Major Leaguers who appeared in the league including Harry Patton, Joe Yeager (after his release from the St. Louis Browns in 1908), Cecil Coombs, and Hosea Siner.

The league appeared to be in good shape heading into 1908, adding teams in Danville, Illinois and Vincennes, Indiana.  But as it prepared for the beginning of its second season other forces were ensuring it would be its last.

William Ashley “Billy” Sunday, the former outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings, Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Philadelphia Phillies, turned evangelist and temperance supporter was spending the early months of 1908 holding a five-week long  revival in Decatur, Illinois and advocating for citizens throughout Illinois to vote their towns dry during local option elections in April.

Sunday’s revival was a huge success, according to The Associated Press “there were 5,843 conversions;” and the service “on ‘booze’ was attended by 8,000 enthusiastic local optionists.”

When the polls closed on April 7, six of the league’s eight towns were voted dry.  The Associated Press said:

“With the saloons out of business, subscriptions of new stock (in the teams) will be cancelled in many instances.”

The league was in trouble.  It got worse worse when Sunday moved his revival to Charleston in April and began a new crusade against playing games on Sunday.

The 1908 season was chaotic.  New investors were scarce.  Some Sunday games were played, but attendance was down.  In July the Danville Speakers relocated to Staunton and the Pana Coal Miners moved to Linton, Indiana (incorrectly listed on Baseball Reference as Linton, Illinois).  Early in August the Mattoon Giants were on the verge of collapse.  The league finally disbanded on August 20, 1908, the Speakers were declared 1908 champions.

Professional baseball never returned to Charleston, Pana, Linton, Staunton, and Shelbyville.  Taylorville had a team in the Illinois-Missouri League in 1911.  Vincennes was part of the reformed Kitty League in 1910-11 and 1913.  Beginning in 1910 Danville was in and out of the Three-I League for the next forty years.  Mattoon did not have a professional team again until 1947, Paris until 1950.