Minor League History: Mississippi Valley League

In today’s episode of Minor League History, we pay attention to the Mississippi Valley League. This was a class D league that ran from 1922 through 1933. Only in its last year of operation, the league got the B classification.

In its first year of operation, the league contained six teams; five from Iowa and one from Illinois.  After two years, the league expanded to eight teams and remained an eight-team league until 1933 when it scaled down to six teams again.

Cities represented:

Burlington, IA: Burlington Bees 1924-1932
Cedar Rapids, IA: Cedar Rapids Bunnies 1922-1932
Davenport, IA: Davenport Blue Sox 1929-1933, moved to Western League 1934-1937
Dubuque, IA: Dubuque Climbers 1922-1923; Dubuque Dubs 1924; Dubuque Ironmen 1925; Dubuque Speasmen 1926; Dubuque Dubs 1927-1928; Dubuque Tigers 1929-1932
Keokuk, IA: Keokuk Indians 1929-1933
Marshalltown, IA: Marshalltown Ansons 1922-1928
Moline, IL: Moline Plowboys 1924-1932, moved from Three-I League 1919-1923
Ottumwa, IA: Ottumwa Cardinals 1922-1925; Ottumwa Packers 1926-1928
Peoria, IL: Peoria Tractors 1933, moved to Central League 1934
Quincy, IL: Quincy Indians 1933
Rock Island, IL: Rock Island Islanders 1922-1933, moved from Three-I League 1920-1921
Springfield, IL: Springfield Senators 1933
Waterloo, IA: Waterloo Hawks 1922-1932

In the first ten years of operation, the league never used a playoff format. The team that finished on top of the standings at the end of the season was declared the champion. Only in 1932, the league introduced a championship series between the top two teams of the standings.  In both 1932 and 1933, the Rock Island Islanders and the Davenport Blue Sox faced each other with different results. In 1932, the Islanders beat the Blue Sox 4-2, in 1933 the Blue Sox beat the Islanders 4-1.

The league’s first president, Michael H. Sexton from Rock Island, IL, was a thoroughbred minor league man. His efforts to establish local baseball clubs in his home town earned him the nickname Mr. Baseball. From 1909 -1937 he served as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (nowadays MiLB). From 1901-1904 and in 1909 he was president of the Three-I-League. He combined that function with being president of the Western League (1902-1904). From 1922-1924 and in 1927, Sexton was president of the Mississippi Valley League. 

The first champion of the league was the Cedar Rapids Bunnies. The moniker was a nod to the Rabbits moniker many previous teams from Cedar Rapids sported.  The Bunnies finished on top of the league with an 18.5 game lead over the runner up.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor 1923 Dubuke Climbers
1923 Dubuque Climbers

No Mississippi Valley League team did change its name as often as the Dubuque franchise did. The team started the inaugural season of the league under the Dubuque Climbers moniker which they kept for two seasons. In the second year under that moniker, the club won the league championship. In 1924 the club renamed itself into Dubs, a moniker that was used by a previous minor league team in 1906. In 1925 into Ironmen, in 1926 into Speasmen. In the following two seasons, the Dubs moniker was adopted again and from 1929 through 1932, the team’s final season in the Mississippi Valley League, the name Tigers was adopted but there was no relationship with the Detroit Tigers.

Another team that belonged to the charter members of the league but did not make it to the end, was the Waterloo Hawks. In the eleven years in which the club played in the Mississippi Valley League, the club won the league’s championship in 1924 and 1928. After the 1932 season, the club withdrew from the league. Later teams adopted the Hawks moniker as well but adapted it to the parent club the team had an agreement with. When the Cincinnati Reds were the parent club, the club was named Red Hawks. When the White Sox moved in as the parent club, the team was called White Hawks. Even though six veterans of the 1924 championship team would return the following season, the Hawks finished in the second half of the league in 1925.

1925 Mississippi Valley League schedule -

Here is a link to the February 18, 1925 edition of the Waterloo Evening Courier with a lot of reading material of the Mississippi Valley League. 

One team was named after a (former) major leaguer. The Marshalltown Ansons was named after Cap Anson, who was born in Marshalltown. The Ansons were never as successful as their Hall of Fame namesake. The best finish was in 1922 when the team finished in second place, 18.5 games out of first place with a 73-55 record. In the other seasons until their last in 1928, the team never finished higher than fourth place.

Of all the teams that participated in the Mississippi Valley League, the Rock Island Islanders were the only team that stayed in the league for the full stretch. The Islanders saw the light in 1892 and with a few hiatuses, the team continued to play until 1937. In that forty-five year stretch, the club played in the Illionois-Iowa League (1892), Eastern Iowa League (1895), Western Association (1894, 1899), Central Association (1914), Three-I-League (1901–1911, 1916-17, 1920-21), Mississippi Valley League (1922-1922) and the Western League (1934-1937). The team played at Douglas Park, a ballpark that had to be shared with the Rock Island Independents (back then a member of the NFL) from 1922 through 1925. The ballpark still stands nowadays but it has undergone many renovations and changes.

Douglas Park (photo: courtesy of Digital Ballparks)

After the 1932 season, many teams were in financial trouble and folded. From the eight teams that played in the 1932 season, only three remained: the Rock Island Islanders, the Davenport Blue Sox, and the Keokuk Indians.  As a result, the league had to look for teams. They were found in Peoria (Tractors), Springfield (Senators) and Quincy (Indians).

Like many minor leagues in the day, the Great Depression led to the demise of the league. the 1933 season would be the last.

Notable alumni of the Mississippi Valley League:

Nick Etten, 1933 Davenport Blue Sox 1945 MLB All-Star; 1944 AL home run leader; 1945 AL RBI leader
Hersh Martin, 1933 Springfield Senators; 1938 MLB All-Star
Claude Passeau, 1932 Moline Plowboys; 4 x MLB All-Star
Hal Trosky, 1932 Burlington Bees; 1936 AL RBI Leader
Ray Starr, 1927 Marshalltown Ansons; 1942 MLB All-Star
Como Cotelle, 1926, Rock Island Islanders, 1933 Davenport Blue Sox; .407, (1933)



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