Speculation and uncertainty over the Duluth White Sox’ 1909 season began before the 1908 season officially ended. When the Fargo Browns disbanded in August 1908, the Northern League’s four-team season was shut down a month early. The remaining clubs—Brandon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Duluth—were a league in name only for the final weeks of the 1908 season.
On October 24, 1908, the Duluth News Tribune described a potential expansion of the Northern League to Grand Forks in North Dakota and Regina and Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, but the article suggested that Duluth would be better served by joining the Iron Range’s semi-pro league, a Wisconsin league, or a league that included teams from Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The White Sox opted for the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, a new Class D circuit formed in early February. The league included the Eau Claire Cream Puffs, La Crosse Outcasts, Superior Drillers, Wausau Lumberjacks, and Winona Giants.
The White Sox stockholders held an organizational meeting on February 24 at the Commercial Club to elect officers J. C. McGreevey (president), O. H. Clark (vice president), A. W. Kuehnow (secretary and treasurer), C. D. Jacobs (business manager), and Thomas “Darby” O’Brien as player-manager. O’Brien had played second base for the White Sox in 1908 and would remain the club’s player-manager until 1916.
The Sox met in O’Brien’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, on April 14 and went on an exhibition tour playing two games in Indiana, three in Michigan, one in Illinois, and three more in Wisconsin before heading home to Duluth. On May 10 The Sox defeated Duluth’s semi-pro team, the Fitwells, 8-6 at Athletic Park. The Fitwells performed admirably against the professionals considering it was the first game of their season and they had not conducted any practices.
Duluth started the season on May 12 with a 15-game road trip, losing the opener to Eau Claire. By the time they had returned to Duluth to play Superior in their home opener on May 29, the White Sox had an inauspicious 5-10 record. The Duluth Marine Band led the traditional parade along Superior Street prior to the game. But Duluth’s mayor did not throw out the first ball, as was tradition “Contrary to custom, the News Tribune reported, “[Mayor Roland D. Haven] did not throw the first ball in the game. He refrained from taking part in the usual ceremony out of deference to the recent death of the city’s fire chief,” reported the News Tribune. John T. Black, the head of Duluth’s fire department for fifteen years, had died the day before from appendicitis.
A crowd of 2,500 watched the White Sox defeat Superior, 4-3, with hometown hero Alvin Cummings pitching for the home team. Cummings, a 20-game winner for Duluth in 1907, was back after playing for the Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association in 1908. A rally in the seventh inning, the <News Tribune> reported, “…was mighty good stuff from the spectator’s standpoint. It kept the Duluth fans busy with some of the first real baseball rooting that has awakened the ore dock echoes this season.”
David (Dave) James “Beauty” Bancroft, an 18-year-old shortstop from Sioux City, Iowa, made his professional debut for the White Sox in 1909. He joined Duluth on May 18 but was released after just two road series. Superior signed him immediately, and he stayed with Superior through the 1911 season before moving on to Portland where he spent three years playing for the Beavers until 1915, when he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies.
In his 16-year big-league career, Bancroft played in four World Series and led the National League in assists three years in a row (1920–22). In 1922, Bancroft set a still-standing major league record of 984 defensive chances for a shortstop. His New York Giants defeated the upstart Yankees in both the 1921 and 1922 World Series. In 1924 he became player-manager of the Boston (now Atlanta) Braves. He stopped playing in 1927 and began a career as a minor-league manager, which included three years in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1948-50). Bancroft married Edna Harriet Gisin of Superior and the two remained lifelong Superior residents. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, a year before he died at age 81, and is the only Twin Ports resident to be enshrined at Cooperstown.
Three other 1909 White Sox players reached the major: Hooks Dauss, Don Marion, and Otto Miller.
Pitcher George August “Hooks” Dauss was born in Indianapolis in 1889. He made his professional debut for the White Sox in 1909 and returned to Duluth for the 1910 season. After stops in Winona and St. Paul, in 1912 he began a 15-year career for the Detroit Tigers. Dauss was a three-time 20-game winner and his 223 career wins is still the most in the history of the Tigers. He died in St. Louis in 1963.
Donald George “Rube” Marion, also a pitcher, was a combined 15–11 in two seasons (1914–15) for the Brooklyn Tip Tops of the Federal League, an ill-fated third major league. Marion was born in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1889, and he also got his start in the professional ranks with Duluth, where he played in 1909 and 1910. He played for Milwaukee and Wilkes-Barre before reaching the apex of his career with the Tip Tops, and returned to the Midwest for two seasons with the Bloomington (Ill.) Bloomers of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. He concluded his playing career in 1917 for Vernon, California, and died in Milwaukee in 1933.
Lowell Otto “Moonie” Miller—who was born in Minden, Nebraska, in 1889—spent 13 seasons as a catcher for the Brooklyn Base Ball Club of the National League. Miller debuted for the Sharon (Penn.) Giants in 1908 and, despite a .193 batting average for Duluth in 1909, went to the major leagues the next season. When Miller joined Brooklyn in 1910, the team was colloquially known as the Superbas or Trolley Dodgers, but for most of his career it was unofficially called the Robins, named for manager Wilbert Robinson (the Dodgers name did not appear on the team’s jerseys until 1932). In 1920, Miller led all National League catchers in fielding percentage (.986) and putouts (418). Miller collected 695 hits and batted .245 in his big-league career. He played in both the 1916 and 1920 World Series; Brooklyn lost first to Boston and then to Cleveland. Miller died in Brooklyn in 1962.
The White Sox won the league championship with a record of 65–52. Dauss and Marion had 19 wins each, and Cummings had 13. Arthur McCrone was the team’s leading hitter, with 131 hits in 116 games and a .307 batting average.
A postseason series pitting Duluth against Medicine Hat, the champions of the Western Canada League, was scrapped because it was assumed it would not entice enough fan interest to be profitable. Duluth’s old rival Winnipeg, which finished second in the league, took on the Sox instead. The Maroons won three out of the four games played in Winnipeg, including the fourth game which was shortened to eight innings to allow the clubs to catch their train to Duluth.
The Sox won the next two games at home to tie the series and set up a final game for the series championship. It never took place. Winnipeg, fearful the inclement weather would hamper gate receipts and assuming they would lose anyway, did not report to Athletic Park and forfeited the game. Instead, a makeshift game was played between the Sox and selected spectators. The <News Tribune> commented the action of the game would be better suited for the comic section.
Another home-and-home postseason series between the Sox and Hibbing concluded Duluth’s championship season. More important than winning a league championship for the third time in seven years, the club and its league were on solid financial ground, a rarity for both throughout the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online December, 2013.