Minor League History: Blue Grass League

As the name indicates, the Blue Grass League was located in Kentucky. There were two leagues with the same name. The first operated five seasons from 1908 through 1912, the second lasted three seasons from 1922 through 1924. The 1908-1912 edition operated as a Class D league.

In the five seasons of the 1908-1912 Blue Grass League, only three teams claimed championships. The Paris Bourbonites won back-to-back championships in 1910 and 1911. The Frankfort Lawmakers won the league title in 1908 and 1912 and the Winchester Hustlers were the only other team that won a championship.

The cities that were represented in the first run of the Blue Grass League were:

Frankfort, KY: Frankfort Lawmakers 1908-1912
Lawrenceburg, KY: Lawrenceburg Distillers 1908
Lexington, KY: Lexington Thoroughbreds 1908; Lexington Colts 1909-1912
Maysville, KY: Maysville Rivermen 1910-1912
Mount Sterling, KY: Mount Sterling Orphans 1912
Nicholasville, KY: Nicholasville 1912
Paris, KY: Paris Bourbonites 1909-1912
Richmond, KY: Richmond Pioneers 1908-1912
Shelbyville, KY: Shelbyville Millers 1908-1910
Versailles, KY: Versailles Aristocrats 1908
Winchester, KY: Winchester Reds 1908; Winchester Hustlers 1909-1912

Around the turn of the century, central Kentucky was surrounded by professional baseball with former MLB club Louisville continuing as a minor league club and the Kitty League located in the west of the state. In the spring of 1908, the professional Blue Grass League was highly anticipated. As it started as an experiment, the founders quickly realized that the thirst of the fans for professional baseball would not be quenched with only fifty games, so halfway the season the league reworked the schedule and added twenty more games. Most teams drew well but only Versailles didn’t and folded halfway the season. Their place was taken by Winchester that finished the schedule of Versailles.

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Baseball cards of the Blue Grass League

After a season functioning as an independent league, the Blue Grass League was awarded the Class D status and it adopted a 120-game schedule.
The rosters of the clubs contained only twelve or thirteen players, so the teams looked for players that could play multiple positions.
The managers of those days didn’t care too much about pitch counts. Starting pitchers were expected to pitch a complete game and play outfield on the days they were not on the mound. If a pitcher had some bad luck and a doulbe header was planned on the day that he had to pitch, he had to pitch both games.

In those days, the phenomenon farm team wasn’t known yet, so the teams were controlled locally. Even though the teams earned money with advertising and concessions in their ballpark, the biggest source of income was the sale of players to clubs in higher leagues.

In 1910, on August 24, the Shelbyville Milers moved to Maysville, where they became the Rivermen. Even the great plays of a certain Casey Stengel could not prevent the Millers from moving to Maysville. Even though the fans in central Kentucky were crazy for baseball, the attendance quickly fell as soon as a team fell out of contention.

In 1911 the deadball era ended as Spalding introduced the more lively cork centered ball. All of a sudden homeruns were hit and advertising signs promised money and goods to players that would hit the ball over that sign.

Eventually the league folded after 1912 as it got competition from cinemas, a rather new affordable phenomenon. As the Winchester Hustlers had trouble o make ends meet, the team moved to Nicholasville on June 8. Eighteen days later the team moved to another city: Mount Sterling.
Despite fielding a pennant winning team, the Frankfort Lawmakers could barely pay it’s players.

Despite the financial problems, league president Thomas M. Russell was convinced that expanding the league would make it survive. So he announced that the league would add teams in the Northern Kentucky cities of Covington and Newport. In Covington they already had started to build a ballpark but as both cities were on the other side of the Ohio River, the Cincinnati Reds did not accept two minor league teams in their back yard. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues was put under pressure and eventually cast out the Blue Grass League and declared its players free agents. As the league didn’t want to continue as an outlaw league, the Blue Grass League disbanded.

A restart in 1922

In 1921 a group of businessmen prepared a rerun of the Blue Grass League. After negotiations with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the new league was granted the Class D status again.

Cities represented in the 1922-1924 Blue Grass League:

Cynthiana, KY: Cynthiana Merchants 1922; Cynthiana Cobblers 1923-1924
Lexington, KY: Lexington Reos 1922-1923; Lexington Studebakers 1924
Maysville, KY: Maysville Cardinals 1922-1923
Mount Sterling, KY: Mount Sterling Essex 1922-1923
Paris, KY: Paris Bourbons 1922-1924
Winchester, KY: Winchester Dodgers 1922-1924

The season started in April and contrary to the wild schedule that the league had at its start in 1908, the league started with a schedule of games on Thursdays and Sundays. But because the fans wanted more, the league added Saturday games halfway the season. Unlike the first run, this league organized play offs in the first year.

Once again a team quit before the end of the season in 1922. Owner of the Lexington Reos, Jesse Morton sold a couple of fan favorites, so the team quitted  en masse and forfeited the final three games of the season to finish in last place. Despite finishing second and third in the regular standings, the Maysville Cardinals and the Cynthiana Merchants faced each other in the play offs that Maysville won by three games to one.

In the next two years the league would not organize play off games.

The Merchants would get a revenge as they finished on top of the standings in 1923.

In the 1924 season the league would contain only four teams as the Maysville Cardinals and the Mount Sterling Essex had dropped out.
The owner of the Lexington Reos Jesse Morton signed a deal with a car dealer and the team was renamed Studebakers.
Despite high expectations because of a new stadium and a new manager, former Lexington great and Pittsburgh Pirates player Jimmy Viox, the team finished with a losing record in third place.

The Blue Grass League would not return for the 1925 season.

 

 

 

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