The Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League  
 
Players of the Three-I League
by Bill Kemp
  Odell Hale (Decatur, 1930): During the 1930s, Cleveland infielder Arvel Odell Hale was known as "Bad News" by opposing pitchers. From 1933 through 1939, he drove in 552 runs and batted .300 or better four times. He played 488 games at second and 433 at third for the Indians, though his bat was more reliable than his glove. In 1934, his 41 errors were tops among A.L. second baseman, and the following season he led junior circuit third basemen with 31 miscues. 

Hale was born on August 10, 1931 in Hosston, Louisiana near the border with Arkansas and Texas. Since he claimed Native American ancestry, it was inevitable that he was also known as "Chief." In 1929, the 20-year-old Hale played for the Alexandria Reds of the Class D Cotton States League. In 217 games, he batted .324 with 116 runs and 159 hits. He also swiped 24 bases in 490 at-bats. The next year he played 129 games for Decatur of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. His offensive production remained impressive despite earning promotion to this well-regarded Class B loop. In 506 plate appearances, he tallied 114 runs, 160 hits and 23 stolen bases while batting .316, numbers remarkably similar to his previous year in Alexandria. The only decline came in home runs (23 to 8). The Commodores finished 77-59, several games behind the pennant-winning Evansville Hubs (79-55). 

In 1931, Hale started the season with New Orleans of the Southern Association. In 108 games of Class A ball, he batted 310. He finished the year with Cleveland, appearing in 25 games (15 at third base and 10 at second), batting .283 with 2 doubles and 3 triples in 92 at-bats. Though he held his own at the plate, he struggled in the field, committing 11 errors. The Indians determined Hale required one more year of seasoning, so they sent the 23-year-old infielder to Toledo of the American Association. Under the guidance of former big league outfielder Bibb Falk, Hale polished his overall game, especially base running. Falk, who batted .315 lifetime for the White Sox and Indians, later managed the University of Texas Longhorns, winning national championships in 1949 and 1950. In Toledo, Hale batted .333 in 158 games, finishing with a career high 206 hits.

The following year he was back with the Cleveland Indians. During the 1933 season, he appeared in 98 games (73 at second base and 21 at third), finishing the campaign with a .276 batting average. He enjoyed impressive seasons in 1934 (playing second base) and 1935 (playing third). In both years he batted over .300, drove in 101 runs, and reached double digits in triples. His fielding woes continued, though, and he committed 72 errors during that two-year span. He remained in Cleveland through the 1940, ending his Major League career the following year with the Red Sox and Giants.

He retired with 1,071 hits, 573 RBI, and a .289 batting average. Odell Hale died in El Dorado, Arkansas on June 9, 1980.

   
Fred "Lefty" Heimach (Moline, 1921): After leading the Three-I League in wins, Frederick Amos Heimach toiled in the big leagues and American Association for more than a dozen years. His proficient fielding and above-average hitting (for a pitcher) prolonged his career. 

Born in Camden, New Jersey outside Philadelphia, Heimach attracted the attention of Connie Mack's Athletics. In 1920, the 19-year-old lefthander was sent to Raleigh of the Class D Piedmont League (the P.L. would become a Class C circuit the following year). In Raleigh, he appeared in 34 games, ending the campaign with 11 wins and 18 losses. Though his won-loss record was less-than stellar, he surrendered only 55 earned runs in 271 innings (for a 1.83 ERA). He also struck out 188 batters. Near the end of the season, he appeared in 1 game for the Philadelphia Athletics. In this inauspicious big league debut, he was tagged with 8 earned runs in 5 innings. 

In 1921, Heimach pitched for pennant-winning Moline of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. Managed by Earle Mack (Connie Mack's son), the Plowboys won 85 and lost 55, comfortably ahead of the second-place Rockford Rox (72-64). Heimach ended the season 24-8, leading the Class B circuit in wins and ERA (2.38). In 273 innings of work, he surrendered 233 hits and struck out 137. At the end of the season, he again returned to the majors for a token appearance, though this time the end result was more encouraging. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Chicago White Sox, one of only two shutouts by A's pitching during a miserable 100-loss season.

From 1922 through 1924, Heimach started 64 games for the Athletics, winning 27 and losing 35. Over that three-year span, Connie Mack's club finished 48 games below .500. An injury limited Heimach to 10 games and only 20 innings of work during the 1925 season. On June 15, 1926, the Athletics dealt Heimach to the Boston Red Sox, where he won 2 and lost 9 for an abysmal club that finished 46-107. With his big league days apparently numbered, the lefthander spent 1927 and most of 1928 playing for St. Paul of the American Association. Fortunately, he revived his flagging career in St. Paul, winning a total of 34 games. 

During the 1928 season, the Yankees brought Heimach back to the American League. He started 9 games, winning 2 and losing 3 in 68 innings. He surrendered 25 earned runs for a 3.31 ERA, the lowest of his Major League career. The Yankees swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, though Heimach did not make an appearance. The following year, his last with the Yankees, he won 11 and lost 6 in 35 appearances (all but 10 in relief).

In 1930, Heimach was back in the American Association, this time with Toledo, where he won 11 and lost 7. By the end of the season, though, he was a spot reliever for the Brooklyn Robins. He finished his career in Brooklyn, winning 18 and losing 12 through early 1933. In May of that year, he broke his ankle during a game against St. Louis. That injury marked an end to a dogged career. He limped away from the game with a big league record of 62-69 and a lifetime 4.46 ERA.

Though his pitching career was middling, he received well-earned praise for his steady glovework. He retired with a streak of errorless games going back to 1926 (a stretch that covered 171 chances). He also earned a reputation as a solid hitter, batting .385 in 52 pinch-hit appearances. Left Heimach died on June 1, 1973 in Fort Myers, Florida.

   
  Kirby Higbe (Moline, 1937): Righthander Walter Kirby Higbe, an oftentimes wild power pitcher, earned 21 victories for the 1937 pennant-winning Moline Plowboys. He then won 118 big league games over 12 seasons. From 1941 through 1946, he went 68-38 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His league-best 22 wins in 1941 (tied with teammate and Three-I League veteran Whit Wyatt) helped the Bums capture their first pennant in 21 years. 

Born on April 8, 1915 in Columbia, South Carolina, Higbe played organized ball from an early age. In 1931, he led his hometown American Legion club to a national finish. One year later, at the age of 17, he signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Alas, the untested Higbe proved far too wild, and he lasted only 1 game with Tulsa of the Texas League. He then spent the next several seasons playing in various circuits, including a semi-pro textile league.

In 1935, he earned a roster spot with Portsmouth of the Class B Piedmont League, finishing 10-13. During the winter, he had his tonsils removed and spent ten days in the hospital. He was slow to recover, so he started the season with Columbia of the South Atlantic (Sally) League, another Class B loop. He finished with Portsmouth, and near the end of the season the Chicago Cubs purchased his contract. He spent spring training with the Northsiders, staying with the big league club through the final exhibition series against the White Sox. He pitched before 40,000 at Comiskey Park, surrendering only one hit in four innings of relief. On the strength of that performance, Higbe thought he had earned a spot on the Cubs Opening Day roster. Yet two days later, manager Charlie Grimm informed the righthander that the Cubs were sending him down to Moline of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. "In baseball that's the way it is," Higbe recalled in his memoir The High Hard One (Viking Press, 1967). "A player goes where he is sent. I went to Moline."

During his season with the Moline Plowboys, he married Anne Ellerbe from Columbia. "I told her I would send for her as soon as I got settled," Higbe remembered. "I called her from Moline and told her to come on. I didn't have much money. In fact, I had to borrow $10 from Frank Hearn, the business manager, to pay the preacher. Frank and his wife stood up for us. I was twenty-one years old." His contract with the Cubs was for $300 a month, but the salary limit in the Three Eye was half that amount. Still, he could recoup the difference (about $800) if the Cubs recalled him to the big leagues.

In 1937, Higbe led the Three-I League in wins (21), winning percentage (.808), innings pitched (257), strikeouts (257), and walks (141). Moline finished the split-season with the best record (74-41), and in the post-season playoff, the Plowboys defeated the Clinton Owls 4 games to 2. Moline's skipper was Mike Gazella, a utility infielder for the New York Yankees from 1926 through 1928. Gazella was a key figure in a public spat over the division of the 1926 World Series payout. After New York lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, Gazella's received only a quarter share of the Series spoils. Although he appeared in only 66 games (45 at third base and 11 at shortstop), he was with the team the entire season. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis eventually ordered the Yankees to award Gazella a full share. 

Higbe's autobiography includes several telling insights into Three Eye baseball during the Great Depression. "On the road our meal allowance was $2 a day, and Mike [Gazella] would give it to us day by day so we wouldn't lose it playing poker," he remembered. "To get your money, you had to either get up by 7 A.M., when old Mike left for his daily round of golf, or leave your door open so he could put it on your bed." 

Not surprisingly, the monotony of life on the road was relieved through hard drinking and all-night carousing. "One Saturday night in Peoria I went to a late show with about five other fellows," Higbe recalled. "When we left about 1:30 A.M., Mike was right behind us. He said, 'Hig, you are going to pitch the whole game tomorrow if you get beat one hundred to nothing.' The next day it was about 109 degrees, and I got by the first inning, and then they started hitting the ball hard. About the fourth inning I was through. Old Mike came out and said, 'Hig, it is all yours. You are going to pitch the whole game.' The game lasted four hours, and we finally beat them 14-12. Old Mike said, 'Nice going, Hig, you really held them close.'"

Higbe also recalled a game against the Clinton Owls. "I had struck out thirteen in five innings. Clyde Sukeforth, their manager, was telling his hitters to go up there and hit. He said, 'I can hit Higbe with one eye closed.' In the sixth inning his catcher got in an argument with the plate umpire, and before Clyde could get between them, the catcher was thrown out of the game. So old Clyde, a fine catcher, had to come in to catch. His players said, 'Here's your chance, Skip. Close one eye and let's see you hit him.' Clyde came up in the seventh with a man on second and two out. I got two quick strikes on him. His boys kept hollering, 'Skip, close one eye!' I threw him a high hard one. As he ducked out of the way, the ball hit his bat and went over the third baseman for a base hit. Clyde said, 'Boys, I told you I could hit him with one eye closed.' One of them said, 'You done better than that, Clyde, you hit him with both eyes closed.'"

Curiously, both Higbe and Sukeforth would figure in Branch Rickey's momentous decision to integrate the big leagues. In 1945, Sukeforth, then a coach with Brooklyn, first scouted Jackie Robinson. Higbe started the 1947 season with the Dodgers, though the South Carolinian professed unease playing with a "negruh" and was traded to the Phillies.

At the end of the 1937 Three Eye season, Higbe returned to the Cubs. In his first regular season appearance in the Majors, he surrendered 4 hits and 3 earned runs in 5 innings of relief work. In February 1938, he signed a $2,500 contract with Chicago, but Higbe, stricken with a severe bout of homesickness, refused to report to spring training. Instead, he spent most of the season with Birmingham of the Class A Southern Association. In August, he finally returned to Chicago, where he started two games. 

In May 1939, Higbe was part of a trade involving the Phillies Claude Passeau (another Three Eye veteran). The following year, Higbe enjoyed a solid season with the last-place (50-103) Philadelphia Phillies. He won 14 and lost 19 while striking out a league-leading 137 batters. After the season, Higbe was the centerpiece of a trade between the Dodgers and the Phillies. He was sent to Brooklyn for $100,000 and pitchers Vito Tamulis and Bill Crouch. From 1941 through 1946, he averaged 17 wins and 120 strikeouts a season. In 1941, the Dodgers captured the N.L. pennant due in no small measure to the moundwork of Three Eye veterans Higbe and Whit Wyatt (Evansville, 1928 and 1929). They both won 22 and appeared on the All-Star team. Wyatt finished N.L. MVP voting third and Higbe seventh. Higbe, known as "The Wild Man from South Carolina," led the N.L. in walks four times (1939-1941 and 1947) and wild pitches twice (1940-1941). 

Higbe was one of five Dodgers to oppose Rickey's "Noble Experiment." On May 3, the Dodgers traded the close-minded All-Star to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He then spent several undistinguished seasons with the Pirates and New York Giants. He left the big leagues with 118 wins and 101 losses in 418 games (238 starts). Over 12 seasons, he walked 979 and fanned 971 with a 3.39 ERA. 

He refused to hang up his gloves, though, and played in the minors for several seasons. In 1950, Higbe won 5 and lost 8 for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. In late July that season, he even threw a no-hitter against the Columbus Clippers. He then returned to the South Atlantic League as a 37-year-old pitcher, completing 21 of 26 starts. After his playing days were over, he remained in baseball, mainly in a scouting capacity. Higbe died on May 6, 1985 in Columbia.

   
Elon "Chief" Hogsett (Decatur, 1927 and Evansville, 1928): A fixture in Detroit's bullpen during the 1934 and 1935 pennant seasons, the lefthander finished an 11-year career with 63 wins, 87 losses, and 33 saves. During Hogsett's playing days, "Chief" was the standard nickname for anyone with Native American ancestry. Although described as half Cherokee in standard biographical accounts, Hogsett maintained he was "one-thirty-second Cherokee on my mother's side."

Born on November 2, 1903 in rural Kansas, Hogsett endured a difficult childhood. "I hated the farm," he remembered in Richard Bak's Cobb Would have Caught It: The Golden Age of Baseball in Detroit. "Part of the problem was my step-dad. My mother remarried when I was three. He liked the cathouses and drinking so there was always some sort of arguing going on . . . . I left home when I was fourteen. We had a herd of cows in the corral. One day I opened the gate, took them out to pasture, and never came back." Still, Hogsett played plenty of baseball during his formative years. "I pitched for the Brownell high school team and for town teams in the area," he recalled. "I was wild as hell, too. I'd walk eight, strike out ten, hit three, and throw a few wild pitches. That was because of my pitching motion. I was known as a 'submarine' pitcher, sort of how Kent Tekulve [pitched]. It's a strange way to pitch, I guess, but it seemed real natural to me. It was from growing up on the farm. I was so bored I'd always be skipping stones or trying to hit something. Wasn't a stone that I didn't pick up and throw when I was a kid."

In his early twenties, Hogsett pitched for the Cushing (Oklahoma) Refiners of the Class D Southwestern League. In  31 games, he won 16 and lost 15. He finished the 1925 season with a brief stint in Toronto. He began the next year in Fort Worth of the Class A Texas League, but lasted only one month before finishing the season in the Class D East Texas League. Playing for Marshall, he appeared in 38 games, winning only 6 while losing 14 in 194 innings of work.

In 1927, he found himself pitching for the Three-I League's Decatur Commodores. "That was the year Lindbergh flew the ocean," Hogsett recalled in Brent Kelley's oral history In the Shadow of the Babe (1995). "Carl Hubbell was the other lefthander on the club then at Decatur. I'd won two or three ballgames, but they decided to keep Carl and they sent me to Wheeling, West Virginia, in the Mid-Atlantic League. I should have been a gypsy." In this Class C loop, he finished with 9 wins and 10 losses.

In 1928, he returned to the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, joining future big leaguers John Stone, Gee Walker, and Whitlaw Wyatt in Evansville. In 41 appearances, won 14 and lost 15 for a club that finished 6 games below .500. In 235 innings, he surrendered 235 hits and 86 earned runs (for a 3.33 ERA) while striking out 105. The following season, Hogsett enjoyed a solid year with Montreal of the International League. He went 22-13 in 37 appearances with a 3.03 ERA. That season, the local Iroquois championed Hogsett an honorary chief, giving him the name "Ranantasse," or "Strong Arm." He finished the season in Detroit, winning 1 and losing 2 in 4 starts. 

In 1930, Hogsett's enjoyed his first full season in the big leagues. For the fifth-place Detroit Tigers, he won 9 and lost 8 in 33 appearances (including 17 starts). Hogsett threw submarine style, causing problems for power hitters who preferred the high fast ball. "I had pretty good luck against the Babe," he said, "but someone like Ossie Bluege with Washington [43 home runs in 18 seasons] could hit me in the dark with a strand of barbed wire." He split 1931 between Detroit and Toronto of the International League, but remained with the Tigers from start to finish the following season. 

From 1932 through 1935, Hogsett appeared in 158 games, all but 17 in relief. His first big league skipper was bullpen innovator Bucky Harris. When Harris managed the Washington Senators to consecutive pennants in the mid-1920s, Fred "Firpo" Marberry became the Majors first great relief specialist. Hogsett followed Marberry's career path, and in 1932 and 1935 the Three Eye veteran led the American League in relief wins. Beginning in 1934, the Tigers were led by fiery player-manager Mickey Cochrane, the hall-of-fame catcher. "Ol' Mick never let you fall asleep out there," Hogsett reminisced. "I'd come into a game and feel like trying out a new pitch. Mickey would call for a fastball and I'd cross him up. God! He'd come stormin' out halfway to the mound and fire that ball back to me. 'Wake up, you big Indian son of a bitch!' he'd yell. I knew what he meant: quit experimenting out there." 

In the 1934 World Series, Hogsett appeared in 3 games against the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals, surrendering 1 earned run in 7-plus innings of relief work. Joining Hogsett on Detroit's pennant-winning roster were fellow Three-I veterans Elden Auker, Tommy Bridges, Pete Fox, Hank Greenberg, Gee Walker , and Jo-Jo White. All six had played for legendary skipper Bob Coleman (Auker played for Coleman's 1932 Decatur club while the others spent a season or more in Evansville). In 1935, Detroit claimed its first World Series crown in franchise history, a 6-game triumph over the Chicago Cubs. Hogsett, though, appeared in only 1 inning of relief.

In 1936, the Tigers needed a dependable first baseman to fill the void left by the injured Hank Greenberg (who was out with a broken wrist). Detroit then traded Hogsett to the St. Louis Browns for first baseman Jack Burns. In two seasons in St. Louis, Hogsett finished with 19 wins and 34 losses. In 1937, he lost 19 for a last-place club that finished 62 games below .500 (three starters had 17 or more losses). By 1938, the 34-year-old Hogsett was in Washington, appearing in 31 games (9 as a starter), winning 5 and losing 6 with a 6.03 ERA. 

With his big league career apparently finished, he played 6 seasons of AAA ball, enjoying considerable success in the high minors. From 1939 through 1941, he won 50 games for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. In 1944, at the age of 40, he returned to Detroit for a brief wartime appearance, recording 6-plus innings of work in 3 games. He retired with a big league record of 63 wins and 87 losses. In 330 games (114 starts) he worked 1,222 innings, finishing with a lifetime 5.02 ERA. 

Hogsett returned to Kansas and worked as a liquor salesman. "Well, I've been through the mill," Hogsett recalled in 1982 while living as a widower in dusty Hays, Kansas. "I've slept on the ground, in straw stacks, depots, and boxcars. I've slept in the richest homes, and I've slept in the poorest shacks. I don't think I'd change anything I've been through. I've got no regrets. Que sera sera." 

Elon Chester Hogsett died on July 17, 2001. He was 97-years old.

 
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Last revised: 08/20/08