Having dropped Crookston and Superior, the Northern League looked to two mining regions from which to add clubs in 1906: the Mesabi Iron Range and Michigan’s “Copper Country,” the Keweenaw Peninsula. The owners of the independent clubs in Eveleth, Hibbing, and Virginia were resistant to change so the league set its sights on Michigan. The Copper Country became available following the disbandment of the Copper Country Soo League—a Class D league like the Northern League—in the middle of its first season in August 1905. While the Duluth White Sox had grabbed the league pennant the past two years the league was essentially new. Duluth’s baseball faithful wondered if the boys from the Zenith City could pull off a threepeat facing these new foes.
The merger of the leagues became official by a unanimous vote at a meeting held on March 18 at the St. Louis Hotel in Duluth, creating the Northern-Copper Country League, an eight-team Class C circuit that included the Fargo Trolley-Dodgers, Grand Forks Forkers, and Winnipeg Maroons to the west, Duluth White Sox in the center, and Calumet Aristocrats, Hancock Infants, Houghton Giants, and Lake Linden Sandy Lakes to the east in Michigan.
Alfred W. Kuehnow, formerly the White Sox’ treasurer, replaced Leonard Van Praagh as manager. Van Praagh, who had managed the ’Sox since 1903, moved to Winnipeg, where he owned a cigar factory. Arthur O’Dea returned for his second season as the ’Sox captain.
The White Sox first gathered on April 3 for an exhibition game at Peoria, Illinois, the first of a 25-game spring tour with scheduled stops in Burlington, Davenport, Fort Dodge, Minneapolis, Sioux City, Des Moines, and Decatur before the first home exhibition game, played against Hibbing on May 6 at Athletic Park. On the mound for Hibbing was a hurler named Freeman (first name unknown) who was known as the “sporting lawyer.” He had reportedly played for the University of Wisconsin and professionally for Des Moines and St. Paul. Hibbing won 8–3 in weather so cold that “catching a fast line drive or a swiftly thrown ball would make a player’s hand swell up like a poisoned toad.” Only 800 fans—“chilled to the very marrow of their bones”—braved the brisk weather to welcome the ’Sox to Duluth.
Duluth lost a series at Hibbing to conclude its pre-season. The Duluth News Tribune claimed George Disch, from St. Paul’s American Association club, pitched the final game for Hibbing. Disch was no slouch: he had pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 1905. The alleged ringer not only out-dueled Duluth pitcher George Krick for a 3-2 win, he also batted in the game-winning run with a triple. Hibbing’s manager denied the allegation, telling the News Tribune’s C.M. Atkinson that “the Hibbing pitcher’s name is Dumphrey, or some name like it and that the fellow works around the mines.”
The White Sox began the regular season with a road trip. Their first game was played on May 18 at Fargo, a 3–2 loss that was again played in near-freezing weather. On May 25 at Winnipeg the Maroons’ shortstop—named Hippert—did not like the umpire’s strike call and “…rush[ed] from the batsman’s box with his ‘Louisville Slugger’ uplifted [and] made for (umpire) Bassen. Other Winnipeg players joined in the rush and for a time things looked exceedingly dark for the umpire. Prompt interference on the part of the White Sox was all that saved him from a serious mauling.” Duluth won, 8–6, and Hippert was slapped with a 10-game suspension. The ’Sox returned home in third place with a 5–4 record.
The home opener was played on May 28 against Fargo. Prior to the game came the traditional parade, called “the grandest event of the kind the city has ever witnessed” by the News Tribune. It began at city hall (now Tycoons Alehouse) on Superior Street and 2nd Avenue East and concluded at 8th Avenue West. Flaaten’s Third Regiment band led the way, followed by three carriages carrying civic and Northern-Copper Country League dignitaries. The two teams marched behind the carriages and “a large tally-ho containing between 20 to 30 rooters brought up the rear.” The News Tribune reported many hundreds of people lined Superior Street. At the ball park, Mayor Marcus Cullum gave a speech which mentioned Duluth’s 1904 and 1905 Northern League championships before he threw out the first pitch. Duluth took the win, 7–3.
A June 10 home game against Houghton resulted in a 7–6 victory and a sweep in the series for the ’Sox and a record-breaking day for attendance at Athletic Park as over 3,300 fans crammed into the park. “The overflow from the seating capacity became so great that the gate to the field was opened and hundreds of men and women were posted in left field and along the first and third base lines. The jam became so dense that it was finally impossible for the players to get to their benches and they reclined on the grass.”
The 1906 Duluth White Sox featured only one player who made it to the major leagues. Frank Moore, a pitcher, played in one game for the Pittsburgh Pirates the previous summer. On June 14, 1905, Moore tossed three shutout innings in a 3-5 loss to the Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves). Moore—born in Dover, Ohio, in 1876—started the 1906 season with the Greenville (Texas) Hunters and was sold to the St. Paul Saints on June 14. He was later purchased by Duluth and made his first appearance for the White Sox on August 20. He went 2–2 in four starts for Duluth and was sold back to St. Paul after Duluth’s season ended. He played in the minors from 1902 to1912 and was a manager from 1912 to 1914. He died in 1964 at age 87 in Portsmouth, Ohio.
On June 15 Duluth native Alvin Cummings returned home from Madison, Wisconsin, where he was playing baseball for the University of Wisconsin and was quickly signed by the White Sox for the remainder of the season. As a pitcher for Duluth Central High School, Cummings had defeated the White Sox in an exhibition game in 1903. He posted an 11–9 win-loss record in 20 games for Duluth in 1906.
A league meeting was called for June 28 at Duluth to discuss a changes following a disastrous several days which saw all eight teams playing within 20 miles of each other in Michigan. Attendance was poor since the area was saturated with baseball. Speculation arose over the Hancock club moving to Ashland to alleviate the problem, but nothing materialized except for a revised league schedule.
On July 14 the News Tribune stated, “Reports sent out of the Copper Country to Chicago and Milwaukee papers saying that the Northern Copper Country league is a failure have been traced to an over-ambitious reporter whose love for money has caused him to carelessly handle the truth.” League secretary P. M. Glass added that, “The league is in excellent shape. We have no complaints whatever and are perfectly satisfied with conditions.” Glass was bending the truth a bit, and the facade cracked two weeks later when the league voted to drop Grand Forks and Hancock on July 29. Grand Forks, with its brutal 13–40 record, had already forfeited its season, and although Fargo was also slated for removal the league instead severed Hancock to keep a geographical balance. Hancock retained franchise rights, including its share of the league’s profits.
After Duluth, according to the Duluth News Tribune, “waded through the Maroons and Calumet Aristocrats like a moose going through a snowdrift,” a post-season series between the Duluth and Houghton teams was proposed by Howard Cassiboine, manager of Houghton’s Giants. The Duluth News Tribune reported that Houghton had clinched the league championship by August 31, when headlines read “Houghton Has Pennant Cinched, Giants could not lose flag if they tried” as the team headed into its final series against Calumet. A $400 wager was accepted by O’Dea and a five-game series was scheduled for Athletic Park between September 4 and September 8.
The series never took place. And the Duluth News Tribune’s sportswriter’s math concerning Houghton’s record was a little fuzzy. Houghton lost four out of five games to Calumet and the Aristocrats (61–37) captured the league championship with a one-and-one-half game lead over Houghton (56–35). Winnipeg (57–38) was third while Duluth (52–44) rounded out the four clubs with winning records. Cassiboine wired Duluth to call off the post-season series on September 5, saying he could not keep his players together. There was no penalty for forfeiture in the bet. Duluth’s players went their separate ways for the off-season that evening.
While the Duluth White Sox failed to grab their third straight pennant, the Northern-Copper Country League survived its inaugural season despite the usual financial difficulties so common during the era. Its luck would run out in 1907.
Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online September, 2013.