There have been several incarnations of the Interstate League, the first began in 1885 and the final one played its last game in 1952. None was more precarious than the one that operated in the 1890s, which newspapers annually announced was on the verge of collapse. One Interstate League franchise, in particular, was always a little closer to collapse than the rest.
Frank J. Torreyson became the owner of the Wheeling (WV) Nailers in 1897. He had been part owner of the Dayton franchise but just as that partnership was disintegrating the Wheeling team went on strike because they hadn’t been paid. The league solved two problems by awarding the Nailers to Torreyson.
Torreyson had been a semi-pro player in Pennsylvania and managed teams in the Tri-State League. His first effort at team ownership involved starting a Pittsburgh franchise in the Pennsylvania State League in 1892. By July He moved the team to Wilkes-Barre citing poor attendance.
His brother, Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson, was a 2nd baseman who had some excellent seasons in the Pennsylvania State and Atlantic Leagues; but by 1897 Thayer had literally grown into his nickname, and his best playing days were behind him.
Thayer joined Frank in the ownership of the team and continued to play and serve as captain.
In 1898, the Torreyson brothers moved the Wheeling franchise to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Frank had necessitated the move when, immediately upon acquiring the franchise, he sold off the best players and alienated the Wheeling fans–he also played the two towns against each other. While he was already aware he had worn out his welcome in Wheeling, he told The Grand Rapids Herald:
“I would very much like to have charge of an Interstate team here though Wheeling is a pretty good ball town. We can’t play Sunday there, though, unless we get the grounds outside of the town which we expect to have if we stay there.”
He managed to get the city of Grand Rapids’ “West Side businessmen to bear half the expense “of readying two ballparks for the season—the team played most of their games at Recreation Park, but Sunday games were played at nearby Alger Park
The first home Sunday game was a harbinger of what was ahead for Torreyson in Grand Rapids.
Despite each person who “Patronized the grandstand” receiving “‘The Art Gallery of Prominent Baseball Players of America,” fans stayed away in droves. Bad weather limited the crowd to “a few hundred,” and “stern luck was ‘agin’ the Cabinetmakers,” Grand Rapids lost the game 6 to 5, and their record for the young season slipped to 2-5.
Things never really improved.
Throughout the 1898 season, Torreyson complained about the lack of support from the Grand Rapids community and threatened to move the team.
For their part, the citizens of Grand Rapids, while not actually coming out to games in great numbers, seemed to appreciate Torreyson’s effort. In August, with the team in fourth place, The Herald announced that a benefit—whereby blocks of tickets would be purchased by the city’s leaders—would be organized to try to get the owner out of the red:
“Torreyson has given the city the best team it has ever had and this being a bad season f0r the game, there has been no money in it for him.”
There was no report of how much the August 19 benefit raised, but Torreyson, at least for the moment, expressed his gratitude in a letter to the people of the city he was desperately attempting to flee:
“The results show that Grand Rapids people appreciate honest endeavors for clean baseball. Hoping to continue to please all, I am, respectfully yours, Frank W. Torreyson.”
Over the next twelve months, he visited a number of cities in Ohio and Indiana soliciting the best offer to relocate the team. Attendance in Grand Rapids decreased further in 1899—while Torreyson’s club had hovered near .500 throughout the 1898 season, they were wire-to-wire doormats, mired in last place for all of 1899– and the already struggling Interstate League was in danger of having a team fold during the season.
In order to keep the eight-team league intact, an unusual trade was made. The Columbus Buckeyes in the Western League would move to Grand Rapids and Torreyson would take his team to Columbus, Ohio. The move would benefit both leagues by reducing travel costs.
In mid-July of 1899, the move was made official. Fans, thrilled to be rid of the cellar-dwelling Interstate League club, filled the ballpark for the first home game of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western League. Newspapers estimated the crowd between 1600 and 2000; at least double the best crowd Torreyson’s team had ever drawn.
Columbus fans were less enthusiastic; 167 attended the first home game of the Columbus Senators of the Interstate League, a 4 to 1 loss to the first place New Castle Quakers. The Herald said of Grand Rapids’ former club’s first game in their new town:
“That same old story comes from Torreyson’s team.”
The low attendance—they drew just 288 fans for their first Sunday home game– and not very friendly reception from the city of Columbus made Frank restless again. Less than two weeks later, he relocated once more, this time to Springfield, Ohio, where his team was appropriately dubbed The Wanderers. The team finished the season 49-91, 38 games out of first place.
In less than two years, Torreyson had incurred the wrath of the league and each member city. The Fort Wayne News called for the league to take the franchise away from him. The Toledo Bee said Torreyson was “Ruining the Interstate.” The Mansfield (OH) News said the transfer of the teams would have been better for the league “If Torreyson had been lost in the trade.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer said:
“The managers of the various other teams in the league say that Torreyson has done more to injure baseball in the Interstate League since he got into it than all other drawbacks combined. The say that if Torreyson is permitted to wander about the country with a club in Columbus this week, in Kalamazoo next week, Erie the following week, Saginaw of Bay City the week after, and God only knows where after that, the league might as well disband.”
Early in 1900, a deal was struck to buy him out of the franchise. The Youngstown Vindicator said the league had contributed to the purchase price in order to rid them of Torreyson, who they called “The Nomad of the Interstate League.” Torreyson, The Vindicator said, “(M)ilked at least three towns as dry as tinder. But then the fan is the legitimate prey of the magnet. Torreyson is now running a billiard hall in Braddock (PA).”
That wasn’t the end of Torreyson’s story.
He did, along with “Heavy,” open a billiard hall in Braddock—then two more in Homestead and McKeesport. But Frank also became a successful thoroughbred owner and managed dozens of boxers out of a gym in Braddock.
Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson
Both made headlines one more time.
In October of 1911, The Pittsburgh Dispatch said Thayer was on his way to New York and, “He took with him $21,000. He will wager this amount that the Philadelphia Athletics will defeat the New York Giants for the world’s championship.”
In 1912, The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times said Frank paid passage for two boxers from Whales to come fight for him in Pennsylvania. Leslie Williams and David John Bowen never made it to the United States; they went down with the Titanic on April 14.
Frank Torreyson died on April 10, 1918.
Thayer “Heavy” Torreyson continued to operate the billiard halls—and as The Pittsburgh Press said he was known to sell “horse race pools and (make) book on races.” He also remained active in Pittsburgh area amateur baseball until his death on May 7, 1939.
A shorter version of this post appeared in September of 2012.