The Duluth White Sox found themselves on surprisingly terra firma going into the 1910 season. Not only did the reigning champions of the Class D Minnesota-Wisconsin League (aka the “Minny” League) have manager Thomas James “Darby” O’Brien returning for the second of his eight seasons as manager, but after several years of affiliation upheaval the Sox finally belonged to a financially successful league. The placidity was fleeting.
O’Brien became the club’s fifth skipper in three years when he was promoted from second baseman to player-manager in 1909. He provided stability and displayed a knack for recruiting talented players near his home town of Cleveland, Ohio, where he coached at Western Reserve University. That first year at the helm he won over the hearts and minds of the team’s management as well as its fans after leading the Sox a pennant-winning season.
The Minny was the fourth league for the Sox since the club’s founding in 1903. Formed in 1909 and boasting a rare profit of $385 after its first season, the circuit looked to expand from six to eight clubs for its sophomore campaign. While Ashland (Wis.), Hibbing, and Virginia were all in the running, the organization first accepted Red Wing, whose boosters raised $3,000. The league then registered Rochester, a natural geographic rival for Red Wing, for the eighth club. Neither town had previously been represented in organized baseball. Because of Rochester’s association with the Mayo Clinic, the <Duluth News Tribune> called the team the Surgeons and the Red Wing squad was labeled the Manufacturers out of deference to the city’s many industries (and, sometimes, Indians for its Dakota chief eponym). Those teams joined the Duluth White Sox, Eau Claire (Wis.) Commissioners, La Crosse (Wis.) Outcasts, Superior (Wis.) Red Sox, Wausau (Wis.) Lumberjacks, and Winona (Minn.) Pirates.
In a prescient preseason poll of the league’s managers, Eau Claire was selected as the club with the best chance of taking the pennant. Then known as the Cream Puffs, Eau Claire finished in second place in 1909—four games behind Duluth—and was the only team returning the bulk of its players. Duluth had just two returning starting position players: O’Brien at second base and outfielder Tom Taylor. Eddie “King” Kohl, a shortstop in 1909, became the team’s regular third baseman upon his return in July after starting the season with Rock Island, Ill.
Bad luck came to the team immediately. A “long period of actual winter weather” caused the cancellation of the majority of the games on the three-week spring-training tour of nine cities in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. On May 4, the Sox defeated Duluth’s Kelley Hardware semi-pro team, 13–4, in their first exhibition game at Athletic Park. Only 150 spectators attended the game, played under cold, damp conditions.
As was the tradition, players rode in carriages behind a brass band as they paraded to the ball park before the season-opening game at Winona on May 11. O’Brien scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a wild pitch as Duluth prevailed, 4–3. Despite pitching “wilder than a hawk”—allowing seven walks and three hit batsmen, according to the News Tribune—future legendary Detroit Tigers pitcher George “Hooks” Dauss took the win for Duluth. The bitterly cold weather did not prevent a “record-breaking” attendance.
Dauss recorded a 19–10 win-loss record for the Sox in 1909 but an illness sidelined him for much of 1910. Duluth’s other 19-game winner from 1909, Don “Rube” Marion of Cleveland, started the fourth game of the season at La Crosse on May 14. O’Brien replaced him after he walked the first three batters and then surrendering a bases-clearing double that lead to a laughable 14–0 socking, Duluth’s third consecutive embarrassing loss since its initial win.
Marion began the season with the St. Louis Cardinals but “refused to go on the mound for the salary offered him.” So, St. Louis manager Roger Bresnahan offered him back to Duluth. A sore arm derailed his second, and last, season for the Sox, and he finished the season as a reserve outfielder. Injuries plagued the club so badly in the early going that Marion was also called upon to play first base.
The White Sox returned to Duluth in last place with a 2–10 record. The eighth annual home-opening-day parade on Superior Street from city hall preceded the game against Rochester on May 26. Mayor Marcus Cullum gave a speech to the “large crowd” and tossed out the first pitch. Dr. J. A. McCuen, “one of the most enthusiastic baseball fans in Duluth and a player himself at one time,” was to be the honorary catcher but he was unable to arrive on time. (In 1912, McCuen would defeat Cullum in Duluth’s mayoral race) A ceremony for the raising of the 1909 pennant was postponed because the banner had not yet arrived. The Sox cruised to a 13–2 win. Dauss exhibited his future promise: he tossed a five-hitter with 15 strikeouts and only one walk.
Pennant-Raising Day was rescheduled for June 19. League president John A. Elliott, accompanied by Toledo Mud Hens president and co-owner William Armour and Chicago Cubs scout Frank Huff, was on hand to give a speech to commemorate the flag’s ascent. Dauss was again victorious in the game that followed, this time defeating Wausau, 4–1. Despite a great day, the Sox remained stuck in the cellar at 15–22.
As the News Tribune noted on the occasion of the home opener, “No city can insistently be proud of failure, and the most exuberant and loyal fan can stand only a reasonable percentage of ‘butter fingers’ and ‘glass arms.’ Hope is eternal, but it is realized in dollars only when fed at least occasionally with realization.” The 1910 White Sox were no exception to this fundamental rule of the business of minor league baseball.
Citing financial duress, White Sox president J. C. McGreevy announced Duluth was dropping out of the league on July 11, just days after the resignation of secretary and treasurer A. W. Kuehnow. As majority stockholder, McGreevy put the franchise up for sale at $2,500. The La Crosse team was en route to Duluth, uncertain of what lay in store, while Duluth’s players were instructed to turn in their uniforms.
The crisis was averted the following day when a triumvirate consisting of McCuen, Joe Maitland, and Jack Desmond announced it would purchase the club. They treated fans to a doubleheader at a bargain price to celebrate the new ownership and the continuation of the season after a one-day hiccup. The formal transfer occurred on July 15.
A News Tribune article from August 22 summed up the season: “It always appears that the team…is persistently getting the worst of the breaks in luck. That is what has happened…in practically all of the close games on the road.” The final game of the season was no different. Playing at Superior on Sept. 11, Duluth lost 2–1 in 11 innings. Two Duluthians playing for Superior, Frank “Muggsy” McGraw and Sam Meniece, got the big hits in the 11th inning. In the second inning, the game was interrupted so that umpire Ollie Anderson could present Superior’s Hal Chase (not to be confused with the major league’s Harold “Prince Hal” Chase) with a check for $50 from the Bull Durham company. One of Chase’s hits had struck the “bull” sign on the left field wall.
The 1910 White Sox finished in seventh place with a record of 50 wins and 70 losses. Only Rochester fared worse, at 46-68. As predicted, Eau Claire (79–44) claimed the league’s championship by ten games over second-place Winona (69–54).
Daus dipped to 7–7 in his final season for Duluth. The next year he rebounded with a 22-win season for Winona and made his major-league debut with Detroit in 1912. Only one pitcher in Tigers history has surpassed Dauss’s 538 pitching appearances: former Duluth resident John Hiller, who played for the Duluth-Superior Dukes in 1964 and pitched in 545 games between 1965 and 1980.
Although Marion resumed pitching in subsequent years—including posting 12 wins for the Federal League’s Brooklyn Tip-Tops in 1915—he did not regain the form he showed in Duluth in 1909. He went 7–19 for two minor league teams in 1917, his last season of organized baseball.
Besides Dauss and Marion, the Sox featured one other future major-league player: outfielder George Jendrus “Andy” (or “Lightning Bug”) Anderson. Born in Cleveland in 1889, Anderson made his debut in organized baseball in 1910 for Duluth. He played for Providence and Wilkes-Barre between 1911 and 1913 before spending two seasons (1914–15) with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. He concluded his career with three seasons (1916–18) with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, but did play 35 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1917. Anderson died in Cleveland in 1962.
The lone bright spot for the 1910 White Sox was shortstop Walter “Baldy” Altermatt. In a “Do You Remember When?” article published by the News Tribune on August 14, 1921, one of the segments read in part: “Baldy Altermott (sic) used to crack out home runs at Athletic park, before anyone ever knew of Babe Ruth.” Altermatt, born in Brown County, Minn., in 1889, was a rookie sensation for the White Sox in 1910. Statistics on baseball-reference.com show he hit 30 doubles and led the league with 12 home runs, but a 1910 News Tribune article stated he smashed 13 home runs at Athletic Park alone. Altermatt played for Duluth again in 1911; he interrupted his 12-year career in the minors for military service in World War I and died in Orlando, Florida, in 1962.
After surviving a mid-season ownership change and a lackluster season, the White Sox would remain in the Minnesota-Wisconsin League for just one more year.
Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online February, 2014.