Chapter III – THE 1926 SEASON

The depression and estrangement of the 1925 season did not last for long.  The winter of 1925-26 brought rumors that Class D baseball was a possibility for some local cities in the Southwest.  This news was received with little enthusiasm.  Even El Paso, with its former interest in organized baseball in the Texas League, found the prospect of little advantage.  J. W. Tandy, of the El Paso club, wrote a letter saying that the league would not give up its outlaw players and the Class D was “little better than sandlot.”99
Other rumors flowed between the various cities.  Following the perceived fiasco at the end of the 1925 season, Douglas was said to be interested in removing Chase as manager and cutting him completely out of the league.  Buck Weaver, the always popular infielder, was rumored to be in the running for replacing Chase as the field manager.  The most exciting rumors came out of El Paso where the win hungry directors of the Giants were said to finally be looking with serious eyes at the greatest and certainly the most famous outlaw player of all, Joseph (Shoeless Joe) Jackson.  Reliable sources in El Paso stated “it is understood he is in a receptive mood.”100
In this air of enthusiasm and optimism, the directors of El Paso, Juarez, Douglas and Chino met in El Paso on February 20 to form the new league.  Unanimous approval was quickly given for the unlimited use of outlaw players.  Recognizing the potential problems involved with escalating costs, a salary cap of $2250 per month, per team was instituted.  In support of this salary cap, each team could carry only fourteen players on their roster.  The first draft set the limit at thirteen players.  Superstition among those assembled at the meeting caused them to feel this number unlucky and so they voted to raise the allowed number to fourteen.  In a masterful stroke of diplomacy, a non playing manager was allowed to be counted among the fourteen.  In a further attempt to lend credibility and organization to the league, all players and umpires were to be under contract to their team and the league.101
El Paso continued to negotiate with Jackson to manage and play for the Giants.  The primary stumbling block appeared to be Jackson’s demand for what at that time seem to be an unbelievable $500 a month salary.  In spite of El Paso’s desire for a competitive team, the directors balked at this amount, leading to lively debates among the many fans of the twin cities area.102
On continuing problem was an unsettled question of how the league would be organized.  Located at a much higher altitude and with spring coming much later than the other cities, Chino wanted to have the season start later and last for just four months.  By playing four games each week instead of three, the same number of games could be played as under the traditional schedule.  The other cities, still holding to some concept of a semi-professional league, held out for a five month schedule with three games, all to be played on the weekends.  Chino appeared to be poised to force a confrontation.  Just at that time, however, Bisbee indicated a strong interest in joining the league.  With it bluff called the Chino team acceded to the other clubs and accepted the five month, three game format.103
In quick fashion Bisbee and Fort Bayard expressed interest and then joined the league.  The dream league was forming.  The six cities were grouped in three locales, El Paso and Juarez, Fort Bayard and Chino, and Douglas and Bisbee.  With careful planning each of the three locales would have baseball every weekend for the entire season.
With the new teams now officially a part of the league, rumors again swept the league towns.  Jackson was reported as being ready to sign.  Weaver was reported as having left Chicago with Jimmie O’Connell, Ed Cicotte, Fred McMullin and others, ready to join the league.104 Outlaw mania was fanned when national newspapers released an interview with Ty Cobb, one of the premiere players of that or any other time.  During the interview he released his list of the greatest players to ever play the game.  Among those players chosen by Cobb were Chase, as the best first baseman, and Jackson, as one of the top three outfielders and as one of the greatest hitters.105
Contrary to popular rumors, Douglas announced on March 22 that they had signed Chase to a new contract to play, but not to manage.  Weaver was confirmed as returning from Chicago to manage and play.  Hope was expressed that other players could be found to support these two.106
On March 22 representatives of all six cities met officially for the first time to elect the league officers.  Attending the meeting from Fort Bayard was C. A. Couplin, president of the association.  From Chino was vice president Garlock.  President Robert Arias attended for Juarez and president D. M. Poe for Paso.  President William Alberts represented Douglas and Bisbee voted proxy by secretary Frank Work of Douglas.  The first order of business was to elect a president of the league.  Charles J. Andrews of El Paso was nominated and received unanimous acceptance.
The majority of the rest of the meeting was spent confirming previous edicts and establishing a schedule.  Again the season was divided into two halves, with the winner of the first half playing the winner of the second half for the league championship.  As expected the schedule had a game being played in each geographic area, every weekend.  No team was to be scheduled for more than two consecutive weekends away from home.  Each weekend was scheduled with one game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  In the event of cancellation it was hoped that double headers could be played to avoid having to reschedule games at later dates.107 “The question of outlaw players was discussed at the meeting at which the league was organized.  It was decided that players ineligible in the big leagues could be used in this league.”108 The meeting adjourned with a feeling of optimism and enthusiasm.
When the season opened two new outlaw players had joined the Copper League.  Chick Gandil had continued his 1925 post season affiliation with Fort Bayard and was now the permanent first baseman with the Veterans.  With him was the youthful Jimmie O’Connell, prepared to play outfield.  When Weaver did arrive at Douglas he brought with him Lefty Williams.  During the previous season pitching had been a constant problem with even the aging Chase occasionally coming to the mound to try to add some strength to the pitching staff.  Attempts to sign Jackson had finally fallen through and the Giants were again without any outlaw players.  Jackson apparently visited the Southwest during these negotiations.  Probably after Jackson’s negotiations broke down with El Paso he visited Fort Bayard and even worked out with the team one day.  However Fort Bayard also was unable to come to terms with Jackson and he moved on, possibly to visit other Copper League teams.109
The league opened play with scheduled series between the natural rivals.  Fort Bayard jumped into a lead by taking two out of three games from the Chino Twins.  Juarez tied by taking two of three games from the El Paso club.  The Bisbee-Douglas series had to be postponed due to the inability of the Bisbee to field a team.110
Problems immediately began to appear.  The most serious concerned the complete failure of the El Paso and Juarez teams to draw enough fans during their initial series.  After strong pre season promotion of the teams and an extensive campaign to publicize the opening weekend, the turnout was very small.  The small turnout came in spite of an excellent series that saw high scoring games with El Paso taking the first 19-5 and Juarez returning to take the Saturday game 16-9.  Only the Sunday game was anticlimactic with Juarez shutting out the Giants 6-0.  Without any outlaw players on either team, the two clubs appeared unable to attract solid fan support.111
The Douglas team did appear to be attracting strong support.  The local newspaper called for “The red blooded fans of the city….to report to the city ball grounds Sunday equipped….to put up new bleachers and repair fences where it (sic) has fallen down”112 Before the series on the weekend of April 16, the merchants of Douglas and Agua Prieta as well as government offices the custom offices all closed from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M. for the game with the El Paso Giants.  This celebration began with a huge parade leading through both towns.113
Bisbee, after not being ready for the initial weekend, hired S. E. Stradley as their manager and imported seven players from the Pacific Electric Company of Los Angeles.  Excitement was high in Bisbee and sell-out crowds were expected for all other their games.114 However Stradley had a very short tenure as manager.  Three weeks later he resigned after Bisbee lost the first week make-up series with Douglas and then was swept in the May 6 weekend series by Juarez.115
The Chino team suffered through a number of humiliating losses and then endured an even worse indignity when they were unable to field a complete team.  During a game over the weekend of April 23, in the eighth inning, a Chino player was ejected leaving the Twins with only eight eligible players.  A Mr. Hines was recruited from the stands and he played the ninth inning.  He was reported as playing bare footed with cut-off civilian pants, a baseball shirt and a baseball cap “set jauntily over his left ear with his trousers leg flapping above bare knees.”116 With the help of Mr. Hines selfless act, the Twins were able to take the game and the ensuing series.
In spite of the attempts of the officers to make the league appear to be organized and professional, problems occurred, especially with the officiating.  On May 8, the Bisbee team argued so strongly and the fans became so enraged over an umpire’s call, the umpire, Campbell, abdicated and left the field and the remainder of the game had to be called by the base umpire.117 During the week-end of June 11, an even more serious problem occurred when El Paso came to Fort Bayard to play their series.  Veteran’s manager Roy Johnson became so enraged at a call by the umpire that he actually assaulted the man and had to be physically restrained.  With feelings running high, fielder Roy Counts also showed a visible lack of restraint.  Becoming increasingly enraged heckling from a fan in the stands, Counts turned and threw the baseball at the offending fan.  No mention was made as to any injuries.  The league moved swiftly.  The suspended Johnson from both playing and managing and fined Counts ten dollars.118 It was later discovered that Counts was actually and escaped convict from a prison in Oklahoma where he had played baseball.  Two officials came to Fort Bayard and arrested Counts after a game.119
By June 19 two major changes also occurred among the outlaw players.  Lefty Williams left the Douglas Blues and joined the Fort Bayard Veterans.  Williams replaced the volatile Chick Gandil.  Gandil and Jimmie O’Connell had not worked well together during the infant season and there was a clash of egos.  Gandil kept riding O’Connell about his play.  At first the good natured outfielder took the “ragging” quietly.  The problem boiled over one day on the field.  When Gandil was again riding O’Connell, the young man turned to the former boxer, announced that the team was not big enough to hold both of them, and that Gandil was going to be leaving.  Then to everyone’s surprise, O’Connell picked up a baseball bat and chased Gandil across the field and out the player’s entrance.120 The move was popular with the Fort Bayard management and the Veteran’s fans and Gandil was quickly “released”.121
Within the next week, the struggling Chino team had signed Gandil.  In addition to Gandil, the Twins also were reported to have signed other new players, including a news report that they had signed Eddie Cicotte, star pitcher of the White Sox and a key member of the Black Sox conspiracy.  The Twins were also reported to be trying to attract Buck Weaver to jump from the Blues team.122 While the Chino team did go on a major search for new players, Weaver did not leave the Blues and Cicotte never appeared in any game with the Twins or any other Copper League team.
When the first half of the season ended after the weekend of June 18, the team of Juarez, led by Tom Seaton and an all Mexican contingent had taken the championship with a record of 25-12.  Fort Bayard followed closely with a record of 22-14.  El Paso, with its strongest start in years was above .500 with a record of 20-16.  The Douglas team, after such high expectations from both the fans and the management, struggled to a record of 16-19.  Buck Weaver took responsibility for the situation and resigned as manager, but remained as a player.  Chino with a record of 13-23 and Bisbee, with a slightly more dismal record of 12-24 brought up the cellar.
All of the outlaw players had strong seasons.  However Jimmie O’Connell had become the dominating hitter in the league and in the process became a huge crowd favorite.  During Fort Bayard’s thirty six games, O’Connell had an incredible batting average of .558 and hit twelve home runs.  Tom Seaton, serving Juarez as both a manager and as a pitcher, led the league with a record of eight wins and only one lose.123
The surface achievement of the league and the popularity of the individual outlaw players could not compensate for the underlying instability of the league’s organization and particularly of the organization of the member cities.  Both Juarez and El Paso continued to draw poorly at their games, even when a highly popular team such as Fort Bayard arrived for a series.  Juarez was successful on the field with their strong, youthful team and even El Paso showed a winning record.  For some reason that could never be fully explained, their success on the field could never transfer to enough convincing support from the fans.
Douglas, with its almost populist approach to financing and managing the club, was unable to be successful at the gate or on the field.  When Lefty Williams left Douglas for the friendly confines of Fort Bayard, the Blues lost their only pitcher with the potential to dominate opposing hitters.  The also lost one of the individuals who could attract the financial support necessary to maintain the fiscal solvency of the team.  Although it was never stated, it is highly likely that money was at the root of Williams’ move.
Bisbee suffered through a managerial change and a mediocre record.  While their pedestrian season on the field persisted, support from the mining companies and from the fans continued unabated.  Fort Bayard, with the addition of Lefty Williams and Jimmie O’Connell, was both entertaining and successful.  The departure of Chick Gandil seemed to have little or no effect upon the Veterans.  Chino suffered through an uncharacteristically poor first half of the season.  Like Bisbee however, neither the fans nor the mining companies lost their enthusiasm for the game and continued to support and encourage the team.
T       he second half of the season opened with few surprises.  Problems with debt began to surface quickly.  By July 8, club president Walter Alberts of the Douglas team announced that the Blues were anticipating an $1,100.00 loss.  The President pointed to the Blue’s payroll as the primary causes for the financial problems.124 The financial woes in Douglas led a Mrs. Lynn Palmer, with the assistance of other local ladies, to start a fund raiser.  They planned to circulate 2000 “tags” for fans to buy, with all of the proceeds to go to the retirement of the Blue’s debt.125 Like most of the money raising schemes of the time, nothing further was reported.
Douglas’ program continued to unwind when Buck Weaver severely injured his ankle and was sidelined for several weeks.  The team management tried to institute cost saving measures by allowing a local individual to use a private vehicle for transporting players to and from games.  This quickly led to problems when the team all rode on a truck to Hurley to play the Chino Twins.  The truck broke down eight miles south of town and the players were forced to walk the intervening eight miles and then play the game with no rest.126
The financial woes of the El Paso and Juarez teams led to a potentially divisive action by the rebuilding Chino team.  The Twins had elevated Chick Gandil to the position of manager.  In their drive to field a competitive team, they were reported to be directly contacting players on both the El Paso and Juarez teams and encouraging them to jump to the Chino team.  Left fielder Johnson of Juarez was interested and signed to report immediately.127
By the first week of August, El Paso was reported as going through a top level reorganization.  The motivation for the move was the releasing of an accounting report showing a debt of $1,800.00 for the year to date.  At the same time the Juarez team was also in serious financial difficulty.  The players were completely off any payroll and were reduced to dividing the gate receipts.  The management announced that it was hopeful that they could finish the season.  However they did acknowledge that several players had jumped to other Copper League teams.128 The situation quickly deteriorated when two days later the Juarez team management announced that it was officially disbanding.  All players were released from contracts and were free to join other teams.  The management did however announce plans to recruit new players and to finish the year at a diminished level.129
Unfortunately for the Douglas Blues their next series was with the high flying Fort Bayard Veterans.  Former Douglas ace Lefty Williams hit the first batter, but then threw him out when he tried to extend the play by going to second base.130 Williams then proceeded to retire the next twenty batters to order, the only reported no hitter of the season.
The financial problems in Douglas continued in spite of the ladies aid society and other civic groups.  The team management announced that the league was in danger of disbanding and that the Blues were two weeks in arrears for the player’s salaries.  The Douglas team management felt there were three alternatives to consider.  The first was to finish the season as originally planned, the second was to modify the schedule to drop out-of-town games, the third alternative was to drop out altogether.  A mass meeting for all fans was called for August 12 to consider the choices.131
The response from the fans was encouraging and the management announced that Douglas planned to finish the year as scheduled.  Three “loyal fans” volunteered to drive players to all out-of-town games, saving the team the cost of travel.132 This decision was to have disastrous results only ten days later.  After leaving Silver City following a series with Fort Bayard, the car carrying Hal Chase slid off the road.  Chase received extensive cuts to the face and arms.  He was knocked unconscious and suffered a serious injury to his right knee.133 Chase was unable to play again for the remainder of the year and his career in the Copper League was effectively ended.
Fund raising had also met with little success in El Paso and the management responded with a unique plan.  The asked the players to accept two weeks payment for the last three weeks of the season.  The majority of the team appeared to acquiesce, except for Harvey (Big) Munns, their only consistent pitcher.134 He shopped his talents around and finally signed with the opportune Chino Mines.
Mercifully the season ended after the first weekend in September.  Fort Bayard had made the second half of the season a runaway when they posted an astounding 25-5 record.  The resurgent Chino team, under the leadership of Gandil, finished a strong second place with a respectable record of 18-12.  Douglas, in spite of its financial woes and injuries to its stars Weaver and Chase, finished at .500 with a record of 15-15.  El Paso likewise was able to overcome fiscal problems and finished with a record of 14-16.  Bisbee, in spite of its strong financial and fan support, was still unable to win and finished with a poor record of 11-19.  The Juarez team was just a shell of its former self and finished with a dismal 7-23 record.135
Fort Bayard completed the season as the dominant team with a composite record of 47-19.  El Paso, surprisingly, played consistently both halves and actually finished second with a composite record of 34-32.  Chino, with its late season charge, finished third with a record of 31-35.  Douglas also played fairly consistently at around .500 ball and finished with a record of 31-34.  Juarez, after its disastrous fall during the second half of the season, finished with a record of 32-35.  Only Bisbee was consistently poor and finished a strong last with a composite record of 23-33.136
The league now faced a unique dilemma.  Fort Bayard had taken the second half championship in an overwhelming fashion.  League rules called for Fort Bayard to play the first half champion, the Juarez Indians.  However the team that had won the first half championship was totally disbanded with the individuals distributed around other teams in league or were even in other leagues.  The Juarez Brewer’s team now playing was obviously not of the caliber that should be competing in the league championship.  The compromise worked out allowed the Juarez to draft its former players still playing in the league and any other players available.  In essence Juarez became an all-star team of the rest of the league pitted against Fort Bayard.137
In spite of the availability of the players of every team, Fort Bayard proved itself the class of the league when it quickly dispatched the all-star team in the best-of-five-games series.  The games could only be described as slugging contests.  The first game was taken by the Veterans 14-4 on September 10 and the second slugfest was taken the following day by Fort Bayard with the ballooned score of 17-12.  In a double header the following day the Juarez all-stars were finally able to salvage some pride when they blasted the Veterans 15-5.  However in the second game, pitching finally became a factor and Fort Bayard won a close 3-2 victory and captured the final championship.138
While most of the players returned to their various homes after the end of the season, baseball in Mexico was still going strong and so an all-star team of Copper League players was formed under the name of the “Juarez Baseball Club.”  The team was to leave on October 2 and was to play teams in Chihuahua, Mexico City and other points as games could be scheduled.  Included in the roster was Fort Bayard’s star pitcher and outlaw player, Lefty Williams.139
For four of the six teams in the Copper League, the season was less than a success and for at least one team, Juarez, was a complete disaster. Juarez was hopelessly bankrupt and appeared to be unlikely to raise a serious contender for the following year.  Douglas and El Paso had again gone through mediocre seasons on the field and had both suffered serious budget crunches during the season.  Both teams appeared to be doubtful for the following year.  Bisbee, while financially successful, had a dismal year on the field.  The team management had been outspoken in its opposition to the outlaw players.  It appeared to be a strong candidate to play in a league that did not allow banned players and did not require long trips.  Only Fort Bayard and Chino could be considered to have had successful seasons and to be likely candidates for joining the Copper League the following year.  If events seemed depressing at the end of the season, events during the winter of 1926-27, many of which took place far from the borderlands, would further scramble an already confused picture.
The most valuable player in the league and certainly one of the most popular was young Jimmie O’Connell of the Fort Bayard Veterans.  In addition to leading the league in home runs, he also hit Copper League pitching at an astounding .546 rate.  Dr. McCamant (former league president) and Charley Andrews (current league president) were both so impressed with O’Connell as a person that they announced that they planned to send a letter to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in support of his return to organized baseball.140 This letter might well have started or have been a factor in the events that were to follow during the winter.

99 “Slam Bangs,” El Paso Times, February 10, 1926.

100 ibid., February 12, 1926

101 El Paso Times, February 21, 1926.

102 ibid., February 2, 1926.

103 ibid., March 6, 1926.

104 Douglas Daily Dispatch, February 25, 1926 and El Paso Times, March 9, 1926.

105 El Paso Times, March 11, 1926.

106 Douglas Daily Dispatch, March 16, 1926.

107 ibid., March 23, 1926.

108 Silver City Enterprise, March 26, 1926.

109 Thomas P. Foy, Sr., Personal Interview, December 28, 1988.

110 Douglas Daily Dispatch, April 10, 1926.

111 El Paso Times, April 27, 1926.

112 Douglas Daily Dispatch, March 26, 1926.

113 ibid., April 16, 1926.

114 ibid., April 15, 1926.

115 ibid., May 9, 1926.

116 El Paso Times, April 24, 1926.

117 ibid., May 9, 1926.

118 Silver City Enterprise, June 18, 1926.

119 Thomas P. Foy, Sr., Personal Interview, December 28, 1988.

120 ibid.

121 El Paso Times, June 19, 1926.

122 Silver City Independent, June 22, 1926.

123 El Paso Times, June 22, 1926.

124 Douglas Daily Dispatch, July 8, 1926.

125 ibid., July 15, 1925.

126 ibid., July 31, 1926.

127 El Paso Times, July 15, 1926.

128 ibid., August 4, 1926.

129 ibid.

130 ibid., August 9, 1926.

131 Douglas Daily Dispatch, August 12, 1926.

132 Douglas Daily Dispatch, August 13, 1926.

133 El Paso Times, August 22, 1926.

134 ibid., August 19, 1926.

135 ibid., September 7, 1926.

136 ibid., September 9, 1926.

137 ibid., August 12, 1926.

128 ibid., September 11, 1926, September 12, 1926 and September 13, 1926.

129 ibid., September 29, 1926.

130 ibid., October 3, 1926.  Whether this letter was ever sent or had any effect on the upcoming winter’s events is unknown and can only be left to conjecture.

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