The 1907 Duluth White Sox

The 1907 Duluth White Sox were lead by Frank “Smiley” Smith—shown here not smiling—until he left the Duluth team to go play in Madison. (Image:X-comm)

When the Northern League and the Copper Country Soo League merged to form the Northern-Copper Country League in 1906, the new circuit included eight clubs. Part-way through the 1906 season, the league dropped Grand Forks and Hancock. The following year, the league operated with just four clubs. In a February, 1907, meeting at Duluth’s Commercial Club, the league excised Fargo and Lake Linden, neither of which bothered to send representation. In fact, only three clubs were present at the meeting: the Calumet Aristocrats, the Houghton Giants, and the Duluth White Sox. A. H. Tulford of Winnipeg Maroons was stuck in a snowstorm. With only four teams, the Northern-Copper Country League dropped from Class C to Class D, but its biggest problem would be drawing spectators in the Copper Country.

Alfred Kuehnow was back for his second straight year as the business manager for the Duluth White Sox in 1907. Frank “Smiley” Smith replaced Arthur O’Dea as team captain. Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, Smith had played for Houghton in 1906. O’Dea, who played for Duluth in both 1905 and 1906, signed with the Lethbridge (Alberta) Miners of the Western Canada League.

The White Sox gathered in Madison on April 15 for spring training. Their first exhibition game was a 2–3 loss to Madison of the Class D Wisconsin State League on April 27, before a crowd of 600 people. White Sox pitcher and Duluth native Alvin Cummings was playing in Madison for the first time since he pitched for the University of Wisconsin the previous year, and he received a “great ovation from the students.” The White Sox’ preseason tour included exhibition games scheduled for Madison, Freeport (Illinois), Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Green Bay, Eau Claire, Hudson, and Stillwater. Duluth lost 10–0 in its last road exhibition game at Eau Claire on May 5 and headed north.

The first home exhibition game at Duluth’s Athletic Park was a 2–3 loss to Duluth’s Kelley Hardware semi-pro team on May 10. Tommy Robinson—described by the News Tribune as “a fat boy who wears his pants real long and has a bunch of avoirdupois intended for two men of his height”—got the big hit for the locals. The White Sox also hosted Lethbridge, O’Dea’s new club, in an exhibition series. The Sox won the second game 6–5 on May 12 despite starting pitcher George Krick’s ouster in the first inning after allowing three runs. The newspaper described his pitching as “wilder than any back-alley cat.”

Duluth’s fifth consecutive opening-day celebration, scheduled for Thursday, May 16, was pushed back to Saturday, May 18, by poor weather that turned the playing surface at Athletic Park into a field of ankle-deep mud. Houghton arrived in Duluth from Hibbing where the Giants were to have played an exhibition series. A storm dumped eight inches of snow on the Mesabi Range, canceling the games.

A crowd of 1,200 witnessed the “informal” opening-day game in the Zenith City, a 9–2 Sox win over Houghton on Friday, May 17. The Duluth News Tribune harshly criticized the play demonstrated by Houghton: “If the Giants are not away inside the salary limit the owners of the aggregation are being handsomely robbed. Twelve hundred glistening dollars should purchase a fair bunch of performers; but it appears Kid Taylor in getting his squad together must have gotten into the remnant department on a salesday.”

Three key memebers of the 1907 Duluth White Sox. (Image: X-comm)

The Sox season opened with the same fanfare that had accompanied the past fews season: thousands turned out, standing five-deep along Superior Street to witness Flaaten’s military band lead a parade from city hall at 2nd Avenue East and Superior Street (now Tycoons Alehouse) to 14th Avenue West. Following the band were “most of the city officials, members of the city council, the officers of the Duluth club, the members of the White Sox and Houghton teams and representatives of the local press.” Assistant city attorney McKeon, in “relief” of Mayor Marcus Cullum, threw out the first pitch. Cullum was missed: McKeon’s pitch sailed wide of the plate and “bump(ed) against the grand stand.” Hometown hero Cummings, in his second season with the Sox, came on to pitch and struck out the first batter on three pitches. Duluth overcame a 3–0 deficit with a five-run fifth inning to win 5–3, to the pleasure of the 2,700 people in attendance.

Following financially lackluster trips to the Copper Country by both Duluth and Winnipeg, the league schedule was changed to provide as few home games as possible for the two Michigan teams. Duluth earned all of $268 in an early-June trip east, which approximately equaled the cost of hotel bills. The club lost nearly $700 on the trip, the nadir of which was a game against Houghton at Hancock that had a paid attendance of four people. The two clubs split the day’s $1 “profit” in half. Houghton and Calumet each posted $500 guaranteeing they would finish the season.

Smith was released on July 23 due to an injury. The Duluth News Tribune stated he returned to Madison to go into business with his brother, but the extent of his injury is questionable: he ended up playing 54 games for Madison in 1907, one more than he had played for Duluth. Harry Tracey, “the elongated first baseman,” was appointed as new captain by Kuehnow. Tracey also switched to the Wisconsin State League, playing for LaCrosse, for the final weeks of the season after the Northern-Copper Country League folded up its tents.

There was no exciting pennant chase for Duluth fans in 1907 as Winnipeg (70–27) won the league by 23.5 games over the second-place White Sox (49–53); Winnipeg became the first team in the history of professional baseball to win every series of a season. Duluth won a $500 bet with Houghton, however, by edging the Giants (47–55) in the standings by winning both games of a doubleheader at home to conclude the season on September 2. Calumet’s 34–65 record took last place.

While no members of the 1907 Duluth White Sox reached the major leagues, Cummings posted a 20-13 win-loss record and led the league in wins. William McCormick’s .306 batting average was the highest on the team and fifth best in the league.

The White Sox took on Hibbing, the champion of the semi-pro league of the Iron Range, in a post-season exhibition series. Duluth played without catcher John Helding, “the Knox college boy,” who left to take a job as physical director of Kempton College in Booneville, Missouri. The opening game of the series was to be played at Athletic Park on September 4, but it was rained out. The teams then headed to Hibbing for four games. With Cummings on the mound, Duluth won 9–4 on September 5, but dropped the next two games, 2–6 and an embarrassing 1–16 respectively, before eking out a 2–1 win to even the series on September 8.

A meeting was held in Winnipeg on September 14 to wrap up business in the Northern-Copper Country League. The Duluth News Tribune reported that, “All that is mortal of the…league will be laid at rest…. There will be little ceremony. Slow music and the solemn tread of mourners will not be a feature. No American beauty roses, banked in beautiful profusion, will lend splendor to the scene. There will be no ceremony at the grave. Only near relatives will be permitted to attend the funeral. No requiem will be chanted.” The newspaper reported the Copper Country towns would plan a semi-pro league and Duluth would look to either join the Wisconsin State League or reestablish the old Northern League that existed from 1902 to 1905.

A December 28, 1907, Duluth News Tribune article claimed, “Never before in the history of baseball, so far as is known, has an individual team accomplished what… (Houghton) did last year, the sale or disposition by draft of practically its entire team.” Organized baseball’s three-year connection to the Copper Country ended in 1907; never again would Michigan’s Upper Peninsula host a National Agreement league or club. The following year the second Northern League emerged from the ashes of the defunct Northern-Copper Country League, with the ghost of the 1906–07 league haunting its brief existence.

Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online October, 2013.



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