Springfield Hustlers, Three-I League champions, 1904
These 1904 team photographs (see above and below) are courtesy of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide (New York: American Sports Publishing Company, 1905). Note the captions incorrectly reverse the order of Illinois and Indiana in the league name. In 1904, Springfield (72-47) captured its first Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League pennant, outdistancing Cedar Rapids (69-52) and Dubuque (69-54). The pennant-winning Hustlers, second-place Rabbits, and third-place Shamrocks were the only clubs to finish the eight-team league above .500. The also-rans were Bloomington, Decatur, Rock Island, Davenport, and Rockford. Springfield was led by player-manager Frank Donnelly (center, back row), who batted .242 in 118 games. Donnelly managed nine seasons in the Three Eye: Rock Island (1902-1903), Springfield (1904-1906, and 1913), and Peoria (1907-1909). His only pennant came in 1904.
At mid-season, Springfield sold righthander Charlie Case to the National League Pirates for $1,200. That same year, Case went 10-5 for fourth-place Pittsburgh, but his brief big league career (23 wins and 19 losses) was over by 1906. Pittsburgh then loaned Howie Camnitz (first row, holding the dog) to Donnelly’s club to make up the loss of Case. Camnitz, known as “The Kentucky Rosebud,” appeared in 19 Three Eye contests, finishing with a .742 winning percentage. From 1908 through 1912, Camnitz was one of the finest pitchers in the National League. During that five-year span he won 95 games for the Pirates, highlighted by a 25-win season in 1909 when Pittsburgh won the World Series. Camnitz finished his career (133-106, 2.75 ERA) in 1915 with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League.
Lou “Big Finn” Fiene of Cedar Rapids led the Class B loop in victories (23) and ERA (2.45). From 1906 through 1909, Fiene appeared in 26 games (10 as a starter) for the Chicago White Sox. Charles Jaeger of the Rockford Red Sox led Three Eye pitchers in strikeouts (218) and innings (218). That season, the Ottawa, Illinois native had a cup of coffee in the Majors, winning 3 and losing 3 with a 2.57 ERA for the Detroit Tigers. William Connors, an outfielder for Bloomington, led the league in batting (.329) and Rockford first baseman Herman Meek finished second in average (.324) and first in hits (167). Charles Buelow, Dubuque’s player-manager, batted .316 and finished league play tops in total bases (266)
“The Three-Eye league closed the season of 1904 with $5,000 in the treasury and with every club in an excellent condition financially,” noted E. E. Pierson, sports editor of The Pantagraph(Bloomington’s newspaper). “As with other leagues, it was anticipated that the digressions of campaign year [the Theodore Roosevelt-Alton Parker presidential tilt] and the St. Louis [world’s] fair would injure the attendance and lessen the interest. This was happily found to be untrue, and the patronage continued unabatedly until the close.” After the season, the Three-I League ended its relationship with struggling Rockford and awarded a franchise to the central Illinois city of Peoria (though the shift required the requisite legal wrangling).
Bloomington Bloomers, 1913.
The Bloomington Bloomers finished the 1913 Three Eye season in seventh place with 65 victories and 71 defeats. The Quincy Gems (80-59) and Dubuque Dubs (74-63) finished first and second respectively. Until capturing the 1919 Three-I League pennant, the Bloomers struggled through much of the decade. In 1911, after legal and political intrigues, Quincy purchased the Bloomington franchise, leaving the city without a team for the first time since the league’s inception. The Bloomers were back in 1912, but finished in last place, 20 games below .500. The manager was longtime minor league pitcher Harry Syfert (bottom row, third from left). He pitched for Bloomers in 1904, Decatur the following two seasons, and then two more for Bloomington. Syfert’s 52 appearances in 1907 remained the league’s record high until 1957. After four years in Class B ball, he found himself playing for Nashville in the well-regarded Southern League. His career included stops in several other minor league circuits, culminating with a no-hitter for Winnipeg, Manitoba of the Northern League. In 1912, he returned from his continental wanderings to play for his hometown Bloomers, and the following year the club hired him to manage. During the 1914 season, Pete Lister (bottom row, second from right) replaced Syfert as manager, and the struggling Bloomers finished another dismal season in seventh place, 21 games below .500.
In a 1939 article in the Bloomington Pantagraph, Syfert, then a grocer, reminisced about his youthful turn with the Bloomers. “Our entire club was made up of boys who lived within a radius of 100 miles and the fans knew them personally and turned out to see their friends play ball,” he recalled. Once, after beating Dubuque on a Friday, Syfert received permission to spend all Saturday fishing. He returned Sunday to pitch 15 innings in a Bloomers win, a performance that included hitting the game’s winning home run.
Righthanded pitcher Jim Bluejacket (born James Smith) represented one of the few bright spots for the 1913 Bloomers. Born in Adair, Oklahoma in 1887, Bluejacket (bottom row, last on right) led the Three-I League in wins (23) and strikeouts (198). In 1914 and 1915, he appeared in 41 games (winning 14 and losing 16) for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the short-lived Federal League. In 1916, he appeared in 3 games for the Cincinnati Reds. After his playing days, Bluejacket enjoyed a successful career in the oil industry.
Bloomington Bloomers, Three-I League champions, 1919.
Managed by Joseph Dunn, the Bloomington Bloomers finished the 1919 Three Eye season with 80 wins and 41 defeats, far ahead of the second place Peoria Tractors (63-54). The Bloomers played home games at Fans Field, a since-razed stadium located at the southern end of Bloomington.The 1919 season marked the return of baseball in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League after the gloom of World War I. In 1917, the Class B loop suspended play in early July due to manpower shortages associated with the “war to end all wars.” The league’s parks remained shuttered the following season. In 1919, six clubs joined the reorganized Three-I League, including the Evansville Evas, Rockford Rox, Terre Haute Browns, and Moline Plowboys. That year, there were eight low minor leagues in operation throughout North America: Four Class B loops (Michigan-Ontario, New England, Texas, and Three-I); three Class C (South Atlantic, Virginia, and Western Canada); and one Class D (Florida State). In 1920, the number of low minor leagues doubled to sixteen (seven B loops, one C, and eight D).
A few notes on the 1919 Three Eye season: Terre Haute’s new nickname was a tribute to its player-manager, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, a former big leaguer who retired with 239 wins (see the Cooperstown page for a profile). This was Brown’s second go-around in the Three Eye. In 1901, he pitched for Terre Haute during the league’s inaugural season, winning 23 and losing 8. Unfortunately, Brown enjoyed little success as a manager. Terre Haute ended the 1919 campaign in fifth place, twenty games below .500. The following year, Terre Haute continued to struggle and “Three Finger” was gone before the season was over.
The Bloomers Frank Romine led all Three Eye pitchers with 25 wins, and Tim Murchison of Peoria recorded a league-best 218 strikeouts. J. A. Thompson of Bloomington led the circuit with a .346 batting average, and “Bevo” LeBourveau led all batters with 163 hits. De Witt Wiley LeBourveau (one of the greatest names in Three-I history) finished the 1919 season with the Philadelphia Phillies. From 1920 through 1922, he appeared in 251 games for the Phils. After that, he became one of the better players in the American Association, though he never replicated his minor league success in the Majors. He led the A.A. in batting in 1926 (.377) and 1930 (.380).
Bloomington Bloomers, Three-I League champions, 1920.
In 1920, the Bloomers captured their second consecutive Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League pennant with a record of 82 wins and 57 losses. The Evansville Evas finished a close second, ending the campaign with 80 victories and 56 defeats. The Rockford Rox (70-70) were the only other team to finish .500 or better. The 1919 and 1920 Bloomers were managed by former big league catcher Joseph Dunn (back row, in street clothes). In four seasons as Bloomington’s skipper (1919-1921 and 1931) Dunn finished with 285 wins and 228 losses. He also managed Evansville for two years (1924 and 1925), finishing 147-127. In 1909 and 1910, Dunn appeared in 30 games (27 as catcher) for the Brooklyn Superbas. In 89 Major League at-bats, he hit .169.
The Bloomers were led by future Detroit Tigers outfielder Bob Fothergill (unidentified in the picture). In his first season of professional ball, the crafty line drive hitter led the Three-I League in at-bats (542), hits (180), total bases (261), triples (15), RBIs (116), and batting average (.332). His 10 home runs fell 1 short of league leaders Norman Glockson of Rock Island and teammate Earl Sykes. In 12 seasons in the big leagues, he finished with 1,064 hits, 225 doubles, 582 RBI, and a lifetime .325 batting average.
John Tesar of Cedar Rapids led the Three Eye in wins (25), Alex Pearson of Moline captured the strikeout crown (209), and the Bloomers Allen Conkwright finished with the league’s lowest ERA (1.72). After the Three Eye season, Conkwright pitched for the Detroit Tigers, winning 2 and losing 1 in 5 appearances. His win-loss record was deceiving, though. In 19-plus innings, he surrendered 29 hits, 16 walks, and 15 earned runs. Conkwright never returned to the big leagues.
After the triumphs of 1919 and 1920, Bloomington struggled for several seasons. The Bloomers finished the 1921 and 1922 seasons in sixth, finishing 65-69 and 63-75 respectively. The club would not capture its fourth Three-I League pennant until 1935.
Opening Day, April 28, 1927
Springfield Senators versus the Bloomington Bloomers
Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library, Springfield, Illinois
On April 28, 1927, the Springfield Senators defeated the visiting Bloomington Bloomers 20-2 before an opening day crowd of 8,485. The panoramic photograph depicting pre-game ceremonies is offered below as four separate images. This photograph is held in the Sangamon Valley Collection room of Lincoln Library.The opening day crowd was the largest ever to watch a Three Eye game in Springfield. U.S. Senator Frank Leslie Smith, a Republican from Dwight, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. “It was an opening with all the trimmings,” reported The Daily Pantagraph of Bloomington. “A full house that stretched entirely around the hem of the outfield and made traffic regulations necessary, limiting blows into the overflow to two bases; a brass band, the parade of both teams to the pole in center field, the raising of the American flag, and, of even more importance, an ideal day for baseball.”
Unfortunately for the visitors, this ideal day fast turned to disaster. The Senators (also known as the “Salons”) scored 5 runs in the first, 4 in the second, and 5 more in the third. Before the cheering crowd could catch its breath, the score was 14-0. When the dust settled, Springfield had scored 20 runs on 20 hits. In contrast, Bloomington mustered a mere 2 runs on 6 hits. “Roman Holiday Marks Season’s Opener” proclaimed the front page headline in the Illinois State Journal of Springfield.
Senators starting pitcher Herman Schwartje (formerly of the Bloomers) went the distance while Bloomington skipper Bill Campbell employed four twirlers in the losing cause (George Hall, Gus Goeckel, Jim McCarthy, and Al Biot). Light-hitting Buster Woodworth of Springfield recorded two singles and two doubles. Noted the Bloomington Pantagraph: “‘Bus’ incidentally has some real competition at Springfield this year . . . which may account for the unusual activity on the part of the Decatur boy. The danger of losing that old meal ticket has spurred on a lot of the boys.”
This game mirrored the state of both franchises. Bloomington struggled throughout much of the 1920s. The Bloomers finished sixth in the eight-team league in 1921, 1922, and 1925. In comparison, Springfield enjoyed relative success. In 1926, the Senators captured the league pennant with a record of 77 wins and 59 losses. On the other hand, the Bloomers finished last, a full 46 games below .500 (42-88).
In other opening day games in the nation’s oldest Class B loop, the hometown Terre Haute Tots defeated the Danville Veterans 2-1 before a crowd estimated at 5,000. In Evansville, the Hubs beat the visiting Decatur Commodores 13-10 in front of 4,713. And in Quincy, some 4,000 watched as the beloved Redbirds lost to the Peoria Tractors 3-2.
In the final standings for 1927, Springfield (72-66) fell to third behind Danville (86-50) and Peoria (87-51). Bloomington again struggled, finishing seventh at 55-83, several games better than hapless Evansville (50-84). That season, the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League featured several future big leaguers, including Phil “Fidgety” Collins (Terre Haute), Paul Derringer (Danville), Carl Hubell (Decatur), Chuck Klein (Evansville), and Rabbit Warstler (Quincy). “Bad Bill” Mizeur of Peoria led the league in runs (125), hits (186), RBI (128), and HR (23, tied with Red Menze of Springfield). Teammate Ralph Judd led the league in wins (21), strikeouts (121), and ERA (2.01).