The on-field success of the 1904 Northern League pennant-winning Duluth White Sox did not make up for the financial losses experienced not only by the Sox but by the whole Northern League. To cut costs, Duluth had released all but one of its players mid-season in favor of cheaper labor, and the league shortened its season to avoid a financial crisis. In 1905, the league had made various adjustments and Duluth, led by manager Leonard Van Praagh for the third straight year, was set to defend its Northern League championship.
The financial troubles of the truncated 1904 season were attributed to the league’s attempt to pay players salaries equivalent to those of the American Association, a minor league consisting of clubs in larger Midwest cities. The players lured in by those salaries were largely past their prime—and too “rowdy,” according to the Duluth News Tribune. The bottom line was that they did not attract enough fans to cover the higher salaries. The league went in the opposite direction and featured younger, less expensive players in 1905. Players would be paid through the office of the league president to ensure the clubs abided by the new $850 salary limit.
Following the usual off-season speculation over which clubs would enter or leave the circuit, the league kept five of its six franchises intact. Crookston, Duluth, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Winnipeg returned, but Superior was replaced by a club that would split its home games between Brainerd and St. Cloud. E. H. Kent, who founded the Northern League in 1902, replaced D. J. Laxdal as league president. Kent promised newspapers a new league, telling them, “I believe the managers are prepared to put into execution a plan whereby the league will be self-supporting, and the public will be given a good clean sport, conducted on proper and correct lines.”
The White Sox played their first exhibition game of the season in Minneapolis on April 23 and were promptly defeated by the Minneapolis Javas, an amateur team, by a score of 14-6. Future major leaguer Hank Gehring, a St. Paul native who had spent the past two seasons with Duluth, pitched for the Javas as a warm-up before he joined Wichita for the season.
A crowd of 2,200 attended Duluth’s first home exhibition game at Athletic Park on April 30 and watched their Sox thump Chippewa Falls 10-4. Duluth’s exhibition season also included a trip to Upper Michigan where games were played against the Calumet and Lake Linden clubs of the Copper Country Soo League.
Duluth opened the regular season with a road win, beating St. Cloud 9-0 on May 18. Just as it did the previous year, the club returned home with a firm grasp of first place after a season-opening road trip during which they won 10 of 12 games.
The home opener was played on June 1. Once again Duluth’s Third Regiment band led a parade down Superior Street to Athletic Park, marching ahead of both teams. Duluth Mayor Marcus Cullum, members of the city council, and other city officials followed behind. The parade also included “The large auto that is to be won by some lucky purchaser of a $1 ticket,” reported the Duluth News Tribune. At the park, following a speech by Cullum, the teams marched along to the band’s music to the flag pole where their captains, Arthur O’Dea for Duluth and Harry Clayton for Winnipeg, hoisted Duluth’s 1904 league championship banner. The defending champs beat Winnipeg, 4-2.
As promised by Kent, none of the 1905 White Sox were rough has-beens, but only one would make it to the big leagues—Cecil “Cy” Neighbors. Neighbors was born in 1880 in Fayetteville, Missouri. He was 24 years old in 1905 and Duluth was his first team in organized baseball. He batted .295 in 84 games for the White Sox before joining the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association for the remainder of the season. Like Chisholm’s Archie “Moonlight” Graham, portrayed by Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley in the film Field of Dreams, Cy would only play one game in the majors as an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 19, 1908. And just like Graham’s 1905 appearance for the New York Giants, he never got up to the plate. Neighbors enjoyed a 14-year playing career in the minors. His best season was 1910 for Sioux City, when he had 206 hits and batted .333. He died in 1964 at age 83 in Tacoma, Washington.
In late June, Kent decided three of Duluth’s wins would be forfeited. Two of those forfeits came from Duluth using a pitcher by the name of Harris who was later revealed to be George Feye, who had jumped his contract with Birmingham of the Southern Association and thus was an illegal player. The other game, a 10-5 Duluth win over Grand Forks on June 7, was ruled a forfeit because a dog had run around with the ball in its mouth long enough to allow a White Sox base runner to score. The Duluth News Tribune remarked, “As the Champs can afford to lose several more there is no kick [protest] registered, but in throwing out this game Mr. Kent, were the race real keen and exciting, would have placed himself well toward the middle of the ridiculous bench.”
On June 22, it was announced the St. Cloud-Brainerd club would be transferred to Superior and Thomas Patterson would take over management of the franchise. The experiment of the two towns sharing a team resulted in poor attendance at both sites. Professional baseball did not return to Brainerd until 1933. St. Cloud had to wait until 1946.
The Northern League ended its season on Sept. 4. The White Sox wrapped up their second-consecutive championship with a record of 64-34 and a nine-game lead over second place Grand Forks.
A post-season barnstorming tour of Upper Michigan started smoothly as Duluth played games in Calumet in early September, but poor weather caused the premature end of the tour that was scheduled for further stops in Michigan and Wisconsin. An account from Sept. 27 stated the players were broke and planning a hike from Iron Mountain to Houghton, “whence they figured on exercise as deckhands or cargo wrestlers to provide a passage to the home waters.” Two championship seasons in a row, and the White Sox players couldn’t afford a ticket home.
Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online July, 2013.