December 1, 1885: Duluthians organize the city’s first professional baseball team

On this day in Duluth in 1885, the Zenith City’s first professional baseball team was organized. The team’s executive board consisted of president D. G. Cash, Vice President Major J. H. Upham (the man who cut the Duluth Ship Canal), Secretary Alonzo J. Whiteman (then a state senator, later a renegade forger and gambling cheat), Treasurer John B. Sutphin (who would be elected Duluth’s mayor in 1886), saloon owner Jay W. Anderson, Dr. McComb, Thomas Cullyford, Paul Ray, and L. O. Wile. The team played in the Northwestern League, organized in late 1885 and including teams from Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to baseball historian Anthony Bush, on May 24, 1886, Duluth faced St. Paul in its first home game, played in a newly built facility later called Recreation Park located adjacent to Michigan Street near the Graff Lumber Mill at 24th Avenue West on Rice’s Point. The home team won 9–7. The team faced ace pitcher Mark “Fido” Baldwin, who won 39 games that year and in one game struck out 18 batters, including a stretch of 12 in a row. (The next year, Baldwin was pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, today’s White Sox). Duluth clinched the league pennant with a 9–4 victory over Minneapolis at home on September 30, finishing the season with a record of 47–33. The league championship pennant was displayed for many years at Jay Anderson’s saloon on West Superior Street in downtown Duluth (though the team did not have a nickname, modern baseball researchers refer to them as the “Jayhawks” in honor of Anderson). The league would dissolve before the 1887 season was complete. Professional baseball would return to Duluth briefly in 1891, and in 1903 a new Duluth team joined the Northern League and represented the Zenith City until World War I put an end to the league. It returned when the Northern League was resurrected in 1935, when the Duluth Dukes first took the field.

A baseball game underway at Recreation Park on Rice’s Point, ca. 1900. (Image: Library of Congress)