After the disastrous financial problems of 1926, combined with the visit of Commissioner Landis, it seemed highly unlikely that the Copper League would survive to continue into the 1927 season. However it became obvious that not all teams had thrown in the towel. Just before the visit by Landis it was rumored that the Chino team, in addition to keeping Chick Gandil as manager, was going to bring in Hap Felsch and Buck Weaver, free from his Douglas commitment. Fort Bayard would once again have Jimmie O’Connell and Lefty Williams as the nucleus to lead their team.156
Fort Bayard was the first team to organize during the initial week of March. Only a few days later the Chino team was organized with Chick Gandil as manager, as expected. Hap Felsch and Buck Weaver did not ever appear in Twins uniforms or for that matter in any other Copper League uniform. It is unknown if the baseball hearings during the winter influenced their decision not to join the Twins or if the rumors of their coming were never based in fact. By the second week of March a new league was formed made up of the Fort Bayard, Chino, El Paso and Bisbee clubs.157
El Paso had difficulty in deciding how to organize a city team. They explored several possibilities including just supporting the team of the Southern Pacific Railroad. They finally chose their old form and organized a club, supported once again by admission receipts and individual subscriptions.158 This formula had been inadequate for raising money during the previous two seasons and it seemed unlikely that it would succeed this year. Their main attempt to overcome their mediocre records of the previous two years was to hire Tom Seaton as both a pitcher and as the on-field manager.159 No one seemed excited about the up-coming year in El Paso.
The decision by the Bisbee team is the hardest to understand. During the entire 1926 season Bisbee had a losing record. They also had been outspoken in their opposition to the use of outlaw players. As the 1927 season was preparing to begin they did not appear to have changed their view on the use of the ineligible players. However, when the season opened they were once again in the league and the ineligible players were on the rosters of at least two of the teams.
At the official meeting on March 12 it was decided to again allow players ineligible in the Major Leagues to play in the Copper League. In spite of the cut back to only four teams, it was decided to stay with the three game format on each week-end with a game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As with previous years, the season was divided into two parts with champion for each half to play for the final championship.160
Gone from the previous year was Buck Weaver. He had been highly popular in the league, on a par with Jimmie O’Connell. Whether the decision not to return was Weaver’s or the league’s is not known at this time. Also gone was the controversial Chase. After suffering the serious injuries during the wreck of August, 1926, Chase had been unable to return for the rest of the season. He remained in Douglas but seemed to have little to do with baseball. He was reported to be suffering from the effects of the wreck and to be selling automobiles for a local dealer.161 Chase was to make one more try at in comeback in the league but would be unsuccessful and his career with the Copper League was completed.
The season opened on the weekend of April 29 with Fort Bayard at Chino and El Paso at Bisbee. Fort Bayard swept the three game series and established itself as the dominate power of the league. Jimmie O’Connell was once again the commanding hitter and highly popular gate draw in the league. Lefty Williams, along with Roy Johnson and Harry Althouse, gave the Veterans a pitching rotation that was unexcelled by the rest of the league. The team quickly came to be called the “Bayard espress.”162
On Sunday, May 19, between the first and second games of a double header, Fort Bayard was given the Marice Swartz trophy, emblematic of the Copper League championship for the 1926 season.163 There seemed to be no existing combination in the league that could hope to stop the Bayard express or even slow them down.
El Paso was once again playing sub par baseball. After realizing that Tom Seaton could not carry the team by himself, the Giant’s management decided that they needed to import instant winners. They announced a plan to try to raise $2500 in the hope of recruiting two unidentified players and the highly popular Buck Weaver, who was playing semi-pro baseball in the Chicago area.164 Like so many grandiose plans during this three year period, nothing further was reported of the rumor and El Paso continued to stumble along in mediocrity.
The first half of the season ended with Fort Bayard in the controlling position as expected. They had compiled a record of nineteen wins and eight losses. Bisbee finished a surprising second with a good record of fifteen wins and twelve losses. El Paso finished with a disappointing eleven wins and fifteen losses. The real surprise of the season was the dismal finish by the Chino team under Gandil’s leadership. After high expectations at the beginning of the year, they fell to a disappointing record of eight wins and eighteen losses.165 As expected Jimmie O’Connell led the league in most of the hitting categories. He batted .481, had thirteen doubles and had nine home runs. Gandil finished the first half with a respectable batting average of .421. Lefty Williams was one of the top players with a record of five wins and two losses, with twenty three strikeouts and only seven bases-on-balls.166
The many problems the league faced were summed up in the El Paso Times,
Whats (sic) Wrong with Copper League. Growing rivalries and increased ambitions have swelled the salary limit and the
expense budget with every passing year. The clubs adopt a $2000 salary limit and then privately wink at it.
n a separate article on the same page, columnist Slam Marshall stated “At no time has a Copper League team maintained itself on gate receipts.”167
In spite of its faltering play and inability to secure Buck Weaver, the Giants were not yet prepared to throw in the towel. On July 13, El Paso announced that they wanted to sign Hal Chase, but, mysteriously, also announced that they needed to have Bisbee’s permission. The next day Bisbee had still not responded. On the third day, July 15, El Paso reported that they had secured permission from the other three teams to sign the aging and worn Chase. The paper further stated that this permission was necessary to waive the rule using any other outlaw players.168 No mention has been identified from any other source to clarify what this rule might have been. Perhaps it was just another money saving gesture. It also might have been a compromise adopted to bring Bisbee back into the league for the 1927 season. Whatever the background of the this rule, this series of events makes it clear that even after almost three years of baseball the subject of the outlaw players was still a controversy that had not been settled or fully clarified.
After announcing that Chase would join the Giants, the local newspaper announced the next day that Chase would arrive the following week. On July 20, Chase still had not been heard from. On July 21 a telegram arrived from Chase saying that he had been ill but would join the team in Bisbee for the upcoming series. However on July 27, Chase decided not to play and returned to Douglas. The following day it was announced that Chase had finally signed a contract and would arrive the following weekend for the upcoming series. The reported reason he had been reluctant to play was due to a dislocated knee left over from the serious car wreck he had been involved in the previous August outside of Silver City.169
Chase finally arrived in time for the series with Fort Bayard the first weekend of August. Chase was fairly effective at the bat, going two hits for four at-bats in the first game. However, his play on the field was severely limited by the painful injury to the knee. Loyal fans, watching the game, realized that they were watching a shadow of the baseball giant they had all enjoyed over the last two years. After the three game series, Chase was quietly dropped from the El Paso team and also dropped out the annals of the Copper League.170 Chase never achieved the popularity in Douglas that he found in other Arizona cities. He was the mainstay of the Douglas team, was instrumental in introducing the outlaw players and yet seemed under a cloud. At the age of 45 Hal Chase’s baseball career seemed to be over.
The remainder of the season progressed with little or no controversy. The only surprise was the emergence of the Chino Twins as a powerful team. After a year of managing, Chick Gandil finally produced a strong, viable, competitive team. He did it without using any of the name players, including any of the outlaw players. He finally found a combination of local and regional players who formed a workable team.
When the season ended after the first weekend of September, the Twins had managed to best the Veteran’s outstanding team. Chino completed the second half of the season with a strong twenty one wins and only ten losses. The Veterans express ended the season two games back with a record of nineteen wins and twelve losses. The surprising Bisbee Miners completed the season with an acceptable record of seventeen wins and fourteen losses. Every team had beaten up on the lackluster El Paso Giants who finished with a dismal record of five wins and twenty six losses.171 In accordance with league rules, the following weekend was scheduled for the playoff between the first half winners, the Fort Bayard Veterans, and the second half winners, the Chino Twins.
When Chino arrived to begin the series in Fort Bayard they released the news that their manager and star player, Chick Gandil, had resigned just before the playoff was to begin and had left the area.172 No reason was given for Gandil’s departure. After being with the Chino team for almost a year and a half, Gandil had taken the Twins from the cellar of the six team league to the championship of the four team league. The upcoming series appeared to be the culmination of Gandil’s work with the baseball mad Santa Rita and Hurley players. To this point no explanation has surfaced to indicate if the departure was Gandil’s choice or the choice of the Twins. Whatever the reason, Gandil left the region, never to return. With Gandil gone, the Twins elevated Johnny Meanor, a local player, to the manager position and prepared to play their close neighbor.
The playoff was a boon to the Silver City region with the possibility of a seven game series in the area. However the league wanted to offer some type of consolation to the El Paso area and scheduled the final three games, if they were needed to be played, in El Paso.
Even without Gandil, the Chino Twins were a strong match for the Veterans. Fort Bayard opened the series with a seven to five win on Friday, September 9. The following day Chino replied with an equally close score of four to two. On Sunday, the Veterans returned with Lefty Williams in rare form and took the third game with a convincing fourteen to three victory. The series continued on Friday, September 17 when Chino returned the favor to Fort Bayard by evening the series at two and two by winning the fourth game convincingly fifteen to one. The series then moved to El Paso for the final games.
The final games had been needed. On Saturday, the Veterans, again behind the strong arm of Lefty Williams, took a strong lead in the series. In a rain shortened game, Fort Bayard squeaked by with a six to five win. On Sunday, Chino was faced with the unpleasant prospect of beating the Veterans twice in order to claim the championship. However, in a true show of ability and composure, the Twins did just that by capturing the first game three to one and then returning to take the second game by an equally close score of four to two.173 In spite of the seeming invincibility of the Fort Bayard Veterans, the Chino Twins pulled off what can only be called a major upset, first by winning the second half championship and then by defeating the Veterans in a hard fought series. Unfortunately outside of the Silver City area, no one really seemed to care.
With the season over, Tom Seaton, Lefty Williams and Jimmie O’Connell joined a Juarez team called the Brewers. The all star team was organized from Copper League players to play a touring team of Cuban stars.174
In the Silver City area the prospects for baseball never looked better. Both Chino and Fort Bayard had completed highly successful seasons. Both teams drew large crowds and both were strongly supported by their corporate sponsors. However their success might well have contributed to the demise of the league. With Douglas and Juarez both out of the league, the departure of only one more team would spell the end of a viable league. El Paso had suffered through a devastating and humiliating season. After the 1926 season El Paso appeared to be on the edge of dropping league play. The frustration of the 1927 season appeared to have finished their involvement in the league. They not only suffered serious financial problems, but had also failed to draw fans to their games. In spite of the large population base of the El Paso/Juarez area, the baseball club was never able to find the combination that could produce a winner on the field and at the gate.
Bisbee had completed a successful season with a winning record during the first and second half of the season. Corporate sponsorship had been strong and reliable and, win or lose, they always played to large crowds. However, even before the season ended, it appeared unlikely that Bisbee would again field a team in the Copper League. Bisbee had been a foe to the outlaw players from the beginning of 1925 and had continued to voice objection during the following two years. During their two years of participation in the league they did not use and known outlaw players and seemingly restricted the use of outlaw players as the price of their participation during the 1927 season.175
With two teams, for differing reasons, showing strong feeling against forming a new league, the Copper League was doomed. El Paso did drop its participation and did not field another city wide team until three years later. Bisbee also dropped participation in the league but was able to join a new league formed in central and southern Arizona. Only Fort Bayard and Chino remained and they had in fact run out of anyone to play on a league basis.
156 El Paso Times, April 9, 1927.
157 ibid., March 13, 1927.
158 ibid., March 26, 1927.
159 ibid., April 14, 1927.
160 ibid., March 13, 1927.
161 Bob Hoie, “The Hal Chase Case,” Baseball Research Journal, 3 (1973), 33.
162 El Paso Times, May 7, 1927.
163 ibid., May 26, 1927.
164 ibid., June 7, 1927.
165 ibid., June 29, 1927.
166 ibid., June 29, 1927.
167 ibid., July 8, 1927.
168 ibid., July 13-15, 1927.
169 ibid., July 16-27, 1927.
170 ibid., August 3, 1927.
171 ibid., September 6, 1927.
172 ibid., September 14, 1927.
173 ibid., September 10-21, 1927. The El Paso Times offered the most extensive coverage of the series of all local and regional newspapers.
174 ibid., September 24, 1927. Unfortunately the results were never printed nor any further information as to whether this team played any other games or series.
175 See Chapter 4.