As the 1912 baseball season approached, the Duluth White Sox and Superior Red Sox didn’t know if they would play ball that year. Both teams were part of the Minnesota-Wisconsin (Minny) League, and relations between the league’s northern and southern regions had deteriorated. Besides that, newspapers reported in March that popular Duluth skipper Thomas J. “Darby” O’Brien would manage the Bay City, Michigan, club in the Southern Michigan League. The area’s baseball fans wondered if this the end of professional baseball at the Head of the Lakes.
When the perennial dream of placing Minneapolis and St. Paul teams in the Minny League was once again shot down, Duluth and Superior made no secret of their desire to join a league with larger cities—and more potential revenue. The only real alternative for the two teams was to realign with their old rival, the Winnipeg Maroons, and any other former Northern League cities they could convince to field a team. Coincidentally, Winnipeg was seeking to leave the Western Canada League and the high cost of traveing to Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Meanwhile, the independent club in Virginia, Minnesota, resumed its annual talks to join a league with Duluth and Superior, which caused derision from the southern end of the Minny. Virginia’s population was around 15,000, “including Finns and Indians,” according to a sarcastic partisan sports writer for the La Crosse Leader (as reported in the Duluth News Tribune), and the writer “wish(ed) the northern towns joy in their metropolitan company.”
Fears of losing O’Brein were calmed by April 1, when newspapers announced he would return for his fourth of what would be eight seasons as the White Sox player-manager. He gathered a squad together in his hometown of Cleveland for spring training, not knowing what awaited the boys when they arrived in Duluth the following month. “I can make expenses on the road trip and then if Duluth decides to have baseball, I’ll have a team for them,” he told the News Tribune.
On April 3 the Minny finally granted release of its claim on the Twin Ports territory, on the condition the clubs each pay a $250 fee and all other indebtedness to the league. Although the release fee was a concessionary action in that it was only half of what was technically required, it did carry weight: nonpayment meant banishment from organized baseball. The Minny attempted to carry on without its two major sources of income, but the circuit disbanded on July 1—long enough to see the professional debut of future Hall of Fame spitball pitcher Burleigh Grimes for Eau Claire.
A new Class C league, the Central International League (aka “See-Eye”), was created in a meeting at Superior’s Commercial Club on April 8. Dr. J. A. McCuen—the mayor of Duluth—acted as chairman. He was accompanied by Robert Blackwood. Superior sent William Sommers and C. D. SeCheverall. Winnipeg’s A. Bell and Virginia’s Ted Finch also attended. According to the News Tribune, “Superior voted Fargo’s proxy, while Grand Forks was not represented…but agreed to join the league if organized.” Duluthian Harry A. Blume was elected president.
On April 20, the News Tribune published the entire certificate of incorporation for the new Duluth Baseball Association, the entity that took over ownership of the White Sox and Athletic Park. One thousand shares were made available at $25 each, for a capital stock of $25,000. The first board of directors were McCuen, president; E. H. Lee, vice president; Robert B. Liggett, secretary; Blume (the See-Eye’s president), treasurer; and George B. Lucore. The association hosted a dance at Becklinger’s Hall on May 4 as a benefit to help pay for new uniforms.
The See-Eye finally solidified its schedule on May 3. Fargo could not muster a squad in time and Virginia refused to join a four-team league, leaving it up to the Grand Forks Flickertails to answer the call to join Duluth, Superior, and Winnipeg. The season was set to open on May 14 with Winnipeg at Duluth and Grand Forks visiting Superior, but rain forced a May 15 start instead.
The tenth annual opening day parade from old city hall westward on Superior Street through downtown preceded the contest. “Members of the city council, baseball association and the two clubs along with the Third Regiment band comprised the procession.” At Athletic Park, Mayor McCuen delivered a short speech reiterating the hope of roping in the Twin Cities in 1913. Winnipeg dampened the faithfuls’ spirits by crushing the Sox, 10–2. The News Tribune described the crowd: “Several hundred air-cooled fans had as good a time as if being buried alive…We’ll watch another day before commenting too strongly, for one swallow won’t make a big night, nor one game a season, so cheer up.”
Besides Darby “Dook of Duluth” O’Brien, the White Sox roster was fleshed out by the likes of pitcher Robert “Buttermilk Bob” Worman (he worked as a butter maker for Bridgeman-Russell), “Rube” Johnson and Elmer P. “Bunny” Kuehn. The White Sox Roster that summer also boasted two future major leaguers, Elmer Miller and Harvey “Red” Bluhm.
Born in Cleveland in 1894, Bluhm may have begun his professional career in 1911 with Youngstown, Ohio, and played just one season in Duluth. Maurice Bouchard of the Society For American Baseball Research writes that, “Statistics are incomplete, but Bluhm played in at least 30 games, achieving a .342 batting average while playing first base,” Bluhm stayed in the minors until 1918, when he signed with the Boston Red Sox. But he played just one game in the major leagues, in which he made an out in a pinch-hit appearance. Bouchard also states that Bluhm was scheduled to play another game in place of the starting first baseman, who was injured, but Babe Ruth convinced the manager to let the Bambino play instead. Before the month was out, Bluhm was optioned to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he finished the season before ending his professional career with St. Paul in 1919. (Read more about Bluhm here.)
For 44 years, Bluhm’s appearance for Boston was not officially recorded, inspiring this limerick by Lee Allen, historian at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which appeared in The Sporting News in 1962:
There once was a player named Bluhm,
To pitchers he symbolized doom.
He belongs on the list.
But just when did he play, and for whom?
On May 24, 1912, Bluhm and the White Sox faced the Maroons in Winnipeg. The league scheduled a double-header in celebration of Canada’s Decoration Day. Winnipeg set a new city record for one-day baseball attendance, as over 10,000 people watched the Sox defeat the Maroons twice, 3–1 in the morning and 11–1 in the afternoon. The second game boasted a crowd of 6,500, many of whom spilled onto the field turning most fly balls to the outfield from sure outs to hit, as the fielders were unable to perform their defensive duties among the throng.
The Sox won the 1912 See-Eye pennant with a record of 58 wins and 41 losses, 10 games ahead of second-place Superior (51–54). It was O’Brien’s second of three league championships as manager of the Sox; he led them to the Minny title in 1909, and would take them to the top again in 1914. Grand Forks (50–55) placed third and Winnipeg (50–59) finished last. The Sox traveled to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a five-game series against the winners of the Wisconsin-Illinois League.
While the White Sox won the pennant in 1912, attendance was less than spectacular—“probably the poorest support ever given a club here,” according to the News Tribune. On August 30 the newspaper asked, “Is Duluth as a baseball town a dead one?” and went on to answer its own question, suggesting it was “merely recovering from three seasons in the Minny.”
At a league meeting on September 4, Superior protested six losses to Duluth, one against Grand Forks, and two with Winnipeg, claiming umpire unfairness and favoritism of the Duluth team by President Bloom. The league’s executive board did not give the protests any credence.
Despite this turbulence, the Central International League did enough things right to expand the following year, when the league gave Virginia its start in organized baseball and finally knocked down the doors to the Twin Cities. The league would succeed, but the name wouldn’t last; in 1913 it became the third Northern League. More on that next time.
Story by Anthony Bush; originally appeared on Zenith City Online June, 2014.