Tag Archives: Southern Michigan League

“They Have the Most Wonderful Ballpark in the Country”

2 Apr

The Interstate Association lasted less than one full season. The eight-team league with clubs in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, organized in 1906, seemed a stretch to some, to begin with. The Richmond (IN) Palladium said:

“League baseball will be an experiment in several of the cities…There has been little interest in the national sport at Muncie for several years, while Marion was a failure the second season it had a berth in the Central League.”

The experiment failed quickly; the league struggled from opening day and folded in July.

The demise of the Interstate Association created an opportunity for another league in its first season. The Southern Michigan League had just five clubs—Mt. Clemens, Jackson, Tecumseh, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek—and according to Sporting Life:

“(H)as taken the Saginaw territory of the defunct Interstate Association, with Clarence Jessup as manager of the team.”

Jessup had managed the Marion, Indiana club in the Interstate Association, and brought with him to Saginaw his best player, 18-year-old shortstop Donie Bush (most biographies of Bush say he spent part of 1906 with the Marion, Ohio team in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, but according to The Sporting Life he was sent by the Dayton Veterans in the Central League to the Marion, Indiana club in the Interstate Association in April.)

doniebush

Donie Bush

The Dayton Journal suggested that Bush and James Elmer Duggan, who had been sold to Marion with Bush, should be returned to the Veterans after the Interstate Association disbanded:

“The (Saginaw) club will be strengthened…by several of the Marion players. This doubtless explains the failure of Bush and Duggan to report here. Jessup may bump up against it good and hard if he persists in keeping these two players away from here.”

A lot was expected of the league’s new entry and Sporting Life said:

“Saginaw now has a salary list that will take a corking good attendance to pay off, but the fans promise loyal support.”

Jessup’s club finished last in their half-season in Saginaw, and the town failed to field a club for the Southern Michigan League’s 1907 campaign. The reason might have been the Saginaw ballpark.

Apparently hastily built on the site of a former lumber yard, the playing field in Saginaw might have been less than optimal.

The Superior (WI) Times told the story the following spring:

“They have the most wonderful ballpark in the country at Saginaw, Mich. Originally the field was a lumber yard and it is not much better today, the sod having been worn away in spots, allowing sawdust to percolate through.”

The paper spoke to William “Billy” Ragan, an infielder for the Jackson Convicts during the 1906 Southern Michigan League season. During one game:

“The batter hit a slow grounder toward third and the pitcher and third sacker started for the ball. About the time the latter was ready to pick up the sphere the earth seemed to move from under his feet, a cloud of dust struck him fairly in the eyes and the ball rolled to the left field.

“Another time when on the field Ragan kept jumping up and down around the third bag but was abruptly called down by the pitcher, who yelled, ‘Don’t you see you are jostling me off the rubber and I can’t pitch until you keep still?

“A little later in the game, Ragan was at bat and on an adverse decision by the umpire, the Saginaw team came running in to object in a body.

“A strange sight greeted Ragan’s eyes. The park seemed to swim before him, rolled like the swell of Lake Erie after a storm and little spurts of dust came shooting up all over the infield.

“’It’s an earthquake,’ screamed (Ragan) and he made ready, to make a hasty exit, but the laughter of his fellow players quieted him down and he pinched himself to make sure it wasn’t a dream.”

Ragan said he asked the Saginaw catcher what was happening. The catcher explained the park had been built over the old lumber yard:

“There are a lot of boards just under the surface. Every time you step on one end you tilt up the other end. This throws up the dirt and when the pitcher yelled at you a little while ago you were on one end and he on the other of a plank and you were bounding him around.”

Presumably, with a more stable ballpark, Saginaw joined the Southern Michigan League again in 1908.

The Two Cent Release

23 Jan

A small item in The Sporting Life in June of 1906 said John “Jock” Somerlott had been released by Jack Hardy, manager of the Fort Wayne franchise in the Interstate Association.

Four years later, when Somerlott was purchased by the Washington Senators the The Associated Press told the story of his release:

“Salary day at Fort Wayne was an event.  It rolled around regularly, but there was seldom money enough in the treasury to pay the players… (Hardy) didn’t like Somerlott, and Somerlott didn’t just exactly hanker after his manager, and the friction grew as money became scarce.”

Jock Somerlott

Jock Somerlott

Jack Hardy

Jack Hardy

Somerlott said he was tired of not getting paid and playing in front of sparse crowds so he approached Hardy one morning in June with an offer:

“Tell you what I’ll do Jack, I’ll give you every cent I’ve got for my release.”

After Hardy accepted the offer:

“(Somerlott) searched his clothing and allowed the manager to do the same, and the total output was two pennies.  He handed the cash to Hardy and got his release.”

Somerlott signed with the Winnipeg Maroons in the Northern-Copper Country League for the remainder of 1906.  After two years in the Southern Michigan League, he went to the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Central League.  After hitting .282 and .292 in 1909 and 1910, the Washington Senators purchased his contract in August.

Somerlott’s Major League career was brief; he appeared in 29 games for the Senators in 1910 and 1911 hitting .204. He returned to the minor leagues for five seasons after his release from Washington, finishing his career with the Pittsfield Electrics in the Eastern Association in 1914.

Somerlott returned home to Indiana and for many years managed the Angola team in the semi-pro Indiana-Ohio League; among his players was Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.

Somerlott is a member of the Fort Wayne Baseball and the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Halls of Fame.  He died in Butler, Indiana in 1965.