Minor League history: Middle States League

In today’s episode, we pay attention to the Middle States League. This independent league lasted for a year (1889) and was rather unstable.

The Middle States League was quite unique for its time as it was an integrated league. Three of the clubs that participated in the league were what would be called Negro League teams in a later stage of baseball history. The Trenton Cuban Giants, the New York Gorhams and (allegedly) the Lebanon (Dutch) Grays. But the integration was only to a certain extent. As colored teams were allowed to participate, the other teams were strictly segregated. As the league didn’t sign the National Agreement, it was regarded as an independent league.

Cities represented: 

Easton, PA/ Hoboken, NJ: New York Gorhams
Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Ponies
Hazleton, PA: Hazleton Pugilists
Lancaster, PA: Lancaster Dutch
Lebanon, PA: Lebanon (Dutch) Grays
Norristown, PA: Norristown
Norwalk, CT: Norwalk
Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Giants
Reading, PA: Reading Actives
Shenandoah, PA: Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters
Trenton/Hoboken, NJ: Trenton Cuban Giants
Wilmington, DE: Wilmington Quicksteps
York, PA: York Hayseeds

The Middle States League wasn’t a stable league. It started with six teams, finished with four and between the start and the end of the season, various clubs joined and left the league. An example of a team joining the league during the season was the Lebanon (Dutch) Grays. The team joined the league late summer. The Grays would finish the season with a lackluster 6-16 record. Despite the bad record, the Grays would be one of the four teams that finished the Middle States League season next to the Harrisburg Ponies, the Trenton Cuban Giants and the Hazleton Pugilists.

Both the Cuban Giants and the Gorhams were refused accommodations to stay for the night in Easton. Also the Philadelphia Inquirer accused the Cuban Giants to do things their own way and not following the rules of the league. According to the newspaper, the manager of the Cuban Giants, Stanislaus Kostka, violated the league’s $75 monthly salary cap by using “players who have not signed regular contracts,” and not using league’s official ball in games. The club was also accused of using its own balls instead of those of the league. The Philadelphia Inquirer said: “It appears that the colored club has been running things to suit its own sweet will.” If the allegations were true or if it was the racism Philadelphia was known for at the time, is not clear.

Several teams played games next to the Interstate League schedule

An example of a team leaving the league rather quick was the Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters. The club was financially strapped and a hotel owner confiscated their uniforms as they didn’t pay their hotel bill. The club lasted only fifteen games as the team joined the league mid-July and disbanded on August 6.

But not only the Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters were in financial trouble. Most of the other teams were as well. Only the Harrisburg Ponies made money. The New York Gorhams, for example, were not able to pay the Hazelton Pugilists the guarantee for a scheduled game and were expelled from the league. As a result, the Gorhams played the remainder of the season as a barnstorming team.

Not only was the league rather unstable, but it was also loosely organized as pitcher George Stovey pitched briefly for both Negro teams.

To stay financially afloat, the Cuban Giants played about sixty exhibition games next to the seventy-four league games. Nevertheless, the team was in a tight race for first place with the Harrisburg Ponies. At the end of the season there was some controversy as the league pennant was awarded to the Harrisburg Ponies due to the following standings:

The final official standings:

Harrisburg Ponies 64-19 .771

Cuban Giants 55-17 .764

But Cuban Giants owner John Bright protested the outcome and took his case to the press. He claimed that Harrisburg was incorrectly awarded three victories for forfeited games, one against the Gorhams, when neither team showed up for the game, and two games against Wilmington after that team had disbanded.(1)

Bright also charged that Harrisburg also lost a September game to Lebanon, and after the fact “Harrisburg turns it in as an exhibition game.”  He said his team was stripped of two victories in games where the official league ball was not used, while there were two games  they lost while playing with the wrong ball “but much to our amazement, only one game was not counted.”  Additionally, Bright claimed the league failed to award the Cuban Giants two games won against the Hazelton team.(2)

According to Bright, the standings should be as follows:

Cuban Giants 57-16 .780

Harrisburg Ponies 61-20 .753

After the 1889 season, the Middle States League would morph into the Eastern Interstate League in 1890.

(1+2) Quotes of baseballhistorydaily.com


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