Baseball has always had its followers in the fair city of Lancaster, but from what I have discovered, the popularity of the sport was never more popular with the locals than it was 91 years ago in 1922.
Sure there were some good high school baseball teams back in the day, but I doubt any of them drew crowds that numbered in the thousands.
Playing in a town of 2,500 back in 1922, the Lancaster Dodgers would pack ‘em in at the fairgrounds ball park, where on the Fourth of July, an estimated 8,000 fans were on hand to watch them play the Union Giants, a colored team out of Chicago.
What’s most interesting about the 1922 Lancaster Dodgers, was that none of the players were actually from Lancaster, and the players were paid a salary ranging from $150 to $500 per month.
The 1922 Lancaster team even consisted of a couple of major leaguers, and was teaming with players who played college or minor-league ball.
The team, which was financed by an association of businessmen, had a total monthly salary of $2,700.
To give you an idea of worth in 1922, the per capita real estate wealth in Lancaster was $1,116, and the per capita personal property wealth was $277.
Each member of the association paid $10 per month toward the upkeep of the team, however most of the time the team was self supporting and it was not necessary to call on the businessmen’s contribution.
Before we get too far into the 1922 baseball season, it’s important that you know a little bit about the 1921 team.
It was in March of 1921 that a committee of baseball fans and magnates from the district met at the Columbia Hotel in Platteville to organize the Wisconsin-Illinois Baseball League.
Towns that were to have teams in the league included: Platteville, Lancaster, Highland, Shullsburg, Livingston and Galena.
The following officers were elected for the league: President W.A. Roddick; Secretary Sam Meisner and Treasurer Thomas Metcalfe.
The officers for the Lancaster team were: President J.C. Doolittle, Secretary-Treasurer V.L. Showalter; Manager Alva Elliot; Scorer F.C. Meyer and directors T.J. Haley, J.A. McCoy and C.M. Calvert.
The baseball season in Lancaster started on Sunday, May 15, and went well into September.
The 1921 team originally consisted of Lancaster men like Foster Porter, Ed Porter, Joe Adrian, Frank Adrian, Lawrence Adrian, Carl Young, Tommy Auel and Ben Cairns, to name a few.
Then around July, other names began popping up in the local newspaper coverage, and in the July 13, 1921 issue of the Grant County Herald, it was said that “the reorganized Lancaster team has won seven out of their last eight games.”
Names like “Rowdy” Elliott and “Jimmie” Pickett began showing up in the paper.
Elliott, who was born in Muscoda, was 24 years old. He was captain on the University of Wisconsin baseball team in college and an All-American football star for the Badgers.
Elliott also played professional football for the Racine Legion of the National Football League from 1922 to 1924, and professional baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1919.
It wasn’t all that uncommon for teams in the area to pull in “ringers” to play part of the season, or even just a couple of games.
In fact, Lancaster hired the services of a left-handed pitcher from Platteville’s team to pitch against Richland Center.
In the August 21, 1921 issue of the Grant County Herald, it was said that the baseball team would play its first game at the new diamond at the fair grounds on Sunday, Sept. 4, against the Rockford Maroons.
For that game, Lancaster was to have three new players who have been “secured” from Cresco, Iowa, where they had been playing ball from early summer to the close of the season that week.
A piece was written in the Platteville News on Sept. 14, 1921, about Lancaster’s exploits to improve upon their team, and reads: “Lancaster came reinforced with four Cresco, Iowa, players, each man being the real goods. What with Rowdy Elliott, Pickett of Beloit, the two Adrian boys and Hixon, the pick of the talent developed by Lancaster in its determination to build up a winning team, the line-up is as strong now as will be found in any burg in southwest Wisconsin.”
Lancaster indeed did build up a winning team in 1921, one that many baseball fans clearly enjoyed watching.
As reported in the Oct. 5, 1921 issue of the Grant County Herald: “The last ball game of the season resulted in the defeat of the city nine by the Chicago Union Giants to the tune of 5-1 and before the largest attendance of the season. A count of autos after some had started to leave netted 547 and it is safe to assume there were 600 cars at the game. There were over 1,850 paid admissions and it is estimated that over 2,000 persons witnessed the game.”
The 1921 Lancaster team concluded the season with a record of 23-2, and team officials were clearly looking to build upon that success in 1922.
On March 15, 1922, the Grant County Herald reported: “At a meeting Wednesday night, a local sentiment for a baseball team again the coming summer was much in evidence and an organization was effected. Papers were taken around during the week and enough money pledged to handsomely finance a team. Lancaster made a wonderful record last season with its team, and the local fans are ready to attack the problems of 1922 baseball in the same spirit that meant a string of continuous victories last year.”
Then on April 26, 1922, the local paper wrote: “Lancaster, with a record of 23 wins out of 25 games played last season, is slowly rounding up a team that will stand the test and hold local laurels. The main idea seems to be to select a strong battery as a first qualification and follow up with the various in and outfield posts.”
“Last season’s losing streak took place before August with a wonderful record of wins for the latter season. The team fathers are profiting by last year’s experimenting and will use no hasty judgment. The Lancaster team this year will be a freelance organization, taking on all comers proving they are big enough and fast enough. With its fine record, the town can afford to sit back and be choicy about selecting contenders.”
Once you take a look at Lancaster’s 1922 roster, you can understand the reason for their confidence.
Members of the 1922 Lancaster Dodgers included:
Johnnie Bell (captain/3B) from Chicago.
Jimmie Dodge (P) from Prairie du Sac, was 32 years old. Before playing for Lancaster, he played for the Milwaukee Red Sox. He was known all over Wisconsin as a premier pitcher. He also pitched for the Teckemeyer Candy Co., of Madison.
Art “Swede” Delaney (P) from Chicago.
Leo “Bud” Kappel (LF) of Milwaukee, was a big hitter. Played with the Milwaukee Red Sox.
Henry “Cy” Schultz (1B) of Milwaukee, was a big hitter and 28 years old. He also played for the Milwaukee Red Sox and also in the Des Moines Western League.
Walt “Piggy” Worden (3B) from Chicago.
Steven Driggett (SS) from Chicago.
Eddie Schacht (RF) of Beloit, was 22 years old.
Alvah “Rowdy” Elliot (SS) of Muscoda was 24 years old. He played professional baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1919, and played halfback for the Racine Legion of the National Football League from 1922 to 1924.
Orley “Cyclone” Otis (C) of Wisley, Kansas, was the team’s speedster. He had previously played with the Southern League and Nebraska Indians.
“Jimmie” Pickett (RF) was 22 years old, and returned to Lancaster after playing for them in 1921.
Ed “Home Run” Giencke (right field) was 32 years old and was from Milwaukee. He played with Portland of the Pacific Coast League from 1912 to 1916. From 1917 to 1920 he was pitcher and outfielder with St. Paul of the American Association.
With players of this caliber, baseball fans in Lancaster were turning out in droves to watch their local team.
In fact, it was said that the Sunday attendance for games was never below 1,000, and that the smallest weekday attendance numbered 460.
On the Fourth of July, Lancaster played the Union Giants of Chicago in front of an estimated crowd of 8,000.
Lancaster fans had an opportunity to see some excellent teams, who also had former major leaguers and consisted of out-of-town players.
Some of the teams Lancaster played included: the Beloit Fairies, Oelwein, the Stoughton Trucks, the Dubuque White Sox, the Chicago Union Giants, the Dubuque Ford Motors, the Triplex Lawn Mowers of Platteville and the McCoy-Nolan Giants of Milwaukee.
Excitement for the team began early in the season, and on May 3, 1922, the Grant County Herald wrote: “In addition to the Sunday games at home and abroad, there will be midweek games practically every week with various good clubs. Among these are the Fairbanks-Morse of the Chicago Mid-West League, the Union Giants colored team, the House of David players, which was said to be a crack team put out by the Michigan religious sect. The players wore their hair long and had long whiskers, but are real ball players just the same. It is entirely possible that the Lancaster fans and their guests for miles around will see the Chicago White Sox or Cubs on the home diamond this year. This event will draw thousands.”
I have not found any evidence in the old papers that either the White Sox or the Cubs played in Lancaster.
Baseball was a big deal in Lancaster and the surrounding communities, as with every win came bragging rights over your neighbors.
Prior to playing Lancaster, the team from Cassville was said to have hired a pitcher (McAuley) to beat the Dodgers. McAuley reportedly signed a contract with Charles Comiskey to play for the White Sox organization in 1923.
The ringer didn’t help Cassville all that much, as Lancaster pulled out a convincing 11-3 victory.
Some teams even took to cheating in order to beat the Lancaster team, as was reported in the June 28, 1922 issue of the Grant County Herald. The baseball article talks about a 2-1 ballgame Lancaster had lost to Oelwein, and their pitcher named “Slapnicker.”
“Slapnicker took the mound on Wednesday attired in his old Milwaukee “emery” suit and what he did to the ball was a caution. Before Murphy called a halt the old boy had doctored the balls to such an extent that his pitching was almost uncanny. Examination of the balls thrown out disclosed a spot on each ball which looked as though the ball had gone through a grater. With new balls thrown in and orders issued against roughing the ball, the old slab artist was able to get the same results with licorice and dirt and stayed right in there and dished up ‘sailers’ all afternoon.”
It appears from the old papers that sometime in late August, a lot of Lancaster’s big-named players left town for whatever reason, and the team took on a different look late in the season.
The final story of the 1922 Lancaster baseball team was written in the Sept. 20, 1922 issue of the Grant County Herald; “The swan song was sung on Lancaster baseball for this year Sunday (Sept. 17) when players were paid off and the team disbanded. On the last two games Lancaster tied with Shullsburg, taking one apiece. During the season, the team won 34, lost 26, tied one, total 61 games.”
By the time the 1922 baseball season had ended, the Lancaster Dodgers had played 61 games in a span of 120 days.
Back in the day, baseball was the main source of summer entertainment for the locals, and it was obvious Lancaster took its baseball very serious in 1922.