Minor League history: Cotton States League

In the course of history, there have been five editions of the Cotton States League.

The first version of the league saw the light in 1902 and lasted twelve years with the exception of 1909 when the league was inactive.
The second one was founded in 1922 and lasted through 1932.  Four years later a third edition was established, which folded after the 1941 season. In 1947 the last edition was founded. That league would fold in 1955.

The Cotton States League came and went as a result of external and international events.
In 1905 the league ceased activities in July because of a yellow fever outbreak. Due to the Great Depression the league merged with other leagues in an attempt to survive. World War II’s travelling restrictions caused the end of the league after the 1941 season.

1902 – 1913

The first edition of the Cotton States League played its first games in 1902 and contained four teams. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues gave a class D rating to the league.The league contained teams from the states of Louisiana, Missippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida. After the 1908 the league shut down but returned in 1910 with three of the original teams and three new franchises.

In the second season the league would expand to six teams and would keep that number of teams until 1905 when the league expanded to six teams.

Baton Rouge
The 1903 Cotton States League champion: Baton Rouge (photo: courtesy of Stephen Milman)

saloonPeople in Baton Rouge were so baseball crazed that a local saloon advertised with cold beer and baseball reports that would be posted every day (photo: courtesy of East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library).

In 1905, the first problems arose as the Natchez franchise moved to Mobile AL on June 26 to avoid the yellow fever epidemic. On July 8, the owners of the Hattiesburg Tar Heels gave the franchise to the league due to financial difficulties. First the league kept the team in the race but after a meeting on July 16, it was decided to pull back the team together with the Pine Bluff Lumbermen to keep an even number of teams in the league. Fifteen day later, the league would cease activities because of an yellow fever epidemic.
When the league returned in 1906, there were six team participating, a number that would stay that way until the league folded in 1913.

The Baton Rouge Cajuns got into financial problems in 1905, Several fund raising games were played during which businesses closed early, so people could flock the ballpark. Eventually local entrepreneurs donated money to keep the team alive. But the fundraising attempts appeared to be useless in the long run as the team folded after the 1906 season.

In those first years, the league was rather stable as no teams moved during the season (after the 1905 season) until 1912. In that year the league was dealt blow after blow when the New Orleans franchise moved to Yazoo city early in the season on May 9. Then the Hattiesburg Timberjacks moved to Columbus, where they became the Joy Riders on June 5.  On August 3, the Meridian Metropolitans and the Yazoo City (former New Orleans) franchise disbanded. Ten days later, league leading Vicksburg disbanded, so in the end only three teams remained. In 1913 the league would give it another try, things appeared to go well but eventually the league’s season was shortened and ended on August 15.

Cities represented:

Baton Rouge, LA: Baton Rouge Cajuns 1902, 1905-1906; Baton Rouge Red Sticks 1903-1904
Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale Swamp Angels 1913
Columbus, MS: Columbus (MS) Discoverers 1907-1908; Columbus Joy Riders 1912-1913
Greenville, MS: Greenville Cotton Pickers 1902, 1904-1905; Greenville Grays 1903;
Greenwood, MS: Greenwood Scouts 1910-1912
Gulfport, MS & Biloxi, MS: Gulfport Crabs 1906-1907; Gulfport-Biloxi Sand Crabs 1908
Hattiesburg, MS: Hattiesburg Tar Heels 1905; Hattiesburg Timberjacks 1910, 1912; Hattiesburg Woodpeckers 1911
Jackson, MS: Jackson Blind Tigers 1905; Jackson Senators 1906-1908, 1912; Jackson Tigers 1910; Jackson Drummers1911; Jackson Lawmakers 1913
Meridian, MS: Meridian White Ribbons 1905, 1907-1908, 1910-1911; Meridian Ribboners 1906; Meridian Metropolitans 1912-1913
Mobile, AL: Mobile Sea Gulls 1905-1907
Monroe, LA: Monroe Hill Citys 1903-1904; Monroe Municipals 1908
Natchez, MS: Natchez Indians 1902-1905
New Orleans, LA: New Orleans Little Pels 1912
Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Snappers 1913
Pine Bluff, AR: Pine Bluff Lumbermen 1903-1904
Selma, AL: Selma Centralites 1913
Vicksburg, MS: Vicksburg Hill Climbers 1902, 1904-1908, 1910-1912; Vicksburg Hill Billies 1903
Yazoo City, MS: Yazoo City Zoos 1910-1912

Champions 1902 -1913

1902 Natchez Indians
1903 Baton Rouge Red Sticks
1904 Pine Bluff Lumbermen
1905 Greenville Cotton Pickers
1906 Mobile Seagulls
1907 Mobile Seagulls
1908 Jackson Senators

1910 Greenwood Scouts
1911 Vicksburg Hill Billies
1912 Greenwoud Scouts (named champion after first place Vicksburg disbanded,
even though the Jackson Senators had a 6.5 game lead over the Scouts)
1913 Jackson Lawmakers

1922 – 1932

After a void of eight years a new Cotton States League emerged. This time it would contain clubs from the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi. The league evolved from the Mississippi State League as the four team league added two more teams and the name Cotton States League was restored. Until 1929 the league was rather stable as no teams moved or disbanded during the season. Except in 1923, the complete league folded on July 24. In 1922, the league introduced play offs in which the first place Greenwood Indians and the second place Meridian Mets faced each other. The Mets would be no match for the Indians as they were swept 4-0. In the next three years no play offs were scheduled, but in 1926 there would have been play offs if there would not have been irregularities during the second half of the season because of which the play offs were cancelled. From 1927 until 1932 play offs were played but not in 1932 as the league folded on July 13.

The Hattiesburg franchise (1923-1929)
Bill Dickey

Perhaps the most famous player that played in the Cotton State League was Bill Dickey. The future Hall of Fame catcher of the New York Yankees played in the CSL in 1927 for the Jackson Red Sox (oh, the irony…). That year the Red Sox finished on top of the standings and beat the Monroe Drillers 4-1 in the championship series.

In 1928-1929 the Laurel team changed their name from Lumberjacks into Cardinals as they became one of the first farm teams in Minor League baseball. They were also called the Junior Cardinals.

As a class D league, the Cotton States League was surrounded by leagues with a higher classification. Therefore those leagues got the better players. During the Great Depression, the Cotton League struggled to stay afloat. Of the surrounding leagues, the Southern League and the Texas League promised to help the struggling Cotton States League. Also the St. Louis Cardinals (Branch Rickey), the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Browns promised to help. Eventually the more prosperous minor leagues used the Cotton State League as their own development league in 1932.

But despite the help from outside, the league could not finish the season and disbanded on July 13. In an attempt to survive the Great Depression, the Cotton States League merged with the East Texas League and the Texas Association to form the Dixie League in 1933.

Cities represented

Alexandria, LA: Alexandria Reds 1925-1930
Baton Rouge, LA: Baton Rouge Essos 1929; Baton Rouge Highlanders 1930; Baton Rouge Standards 1931; Baton Rouge Senators 1932
Brookhaven, MS: Brookhaven Truckers 1924-1925
Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale Cubs 1922-1923
DeQuincy, LA: DeQuincy Railroaders 1932
El Dorado, AR: El Dorado Lions 1929-1932
Greenville, MS: Greenville Bucks 1922; Greenville Swamp Angels 1923
Greenwood, MS: Greenwood Indians 1922-1923
Gulfport, MS: Gulfport Tarpons 1926-1928
Hattiesburg, MS: Hattiesburg Hubmen 1923-1924; Hattiesburg Hubbers 1925; Hattiesburg Pinetoppers 1926-1929
Jackson, MS: Jackson Senators 1922-1931; Jackson Mississippians 1932
Lake Charles, LA: Lake Charles Newporters 1929-1930
Laurel, MS: Laurel Lumberjacks 1923-1927; Laurel Cardinals 1928-1929
Meridian, MS: Meridian Mets 1922-1923, 1925-1929
Monroe, LA: Monroe Drillers 1924-1930; Monroe Twins 1931-1932
Opelousas, LA: Opelousas Orphans 1932
Pine Bluff, AR: Pine Bluff Judges 1930-1932
Port Arthur, TX: Port Arthur Refiners 1932
Vicksburg, MS: Vicksburg Hill Billies 1922-1932

1922 – 1932 champions

1922 Greenwood Indians
1923 Greenville Swamp Angels (on top of standings as league folded on July 24)
1924 Hattiesburg Hubmen
1925 Meridian Mets
1926 Hattiesburg Pinetoppers
1927 Jackson Red Sox
1928 Vicksburg Hil Billies
1929 El Dorado Lions
1930 Pine Bluff Judges
1931 Jackson Senators
1932 Baton Rouge Senators (on top of standings as league folded on July 13)

1936 – 1941

The Cotton State League returned in 1936 for the fourth time. This time the league got a class C classification. The league was well used as farm league by the MLB clubs. The Helena Seaporters were a Cubs affiliate in 1938 and one of the Reds in the following year. The Pine Bluff Judges were the Cardinals affiliate from 1936 through 1938 and of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939. The Jackson Senators to conclude with, were the affliate of the Detroit Tigers in 1936 and of the Yankees in 1937 and 1938. That other minor leagues used lower leagues as their farm system was proved by the Memphis Chicks (short for Chicasaws), who used the Greenville Bucks as their farm team in 1936.

Greenwood Giants
The 1936 Greenwood Giants finished on top of the standings, but were eliminated in the play offs.

In 1936 there was a vote for the Cotton League’s Corps of Stars, a kind of  all star team. Two players were in the midst of a fight for the batting title as Curt Sutherlin and Tom Robello, both hit .364. Sutherlin’s average was only .0003 better than Robello’s. But both players didn’t get elected into the Corps of Stars.

From 1939 through 1941, the Monroe White Sox threepeated finishing on top of the league but managed to win the championship just once. In 1940, the club finished on top with an eight game lead over the El Dorado Lions. In the play offs the White Sox beat fourth place Greenville 3-1 and faced the runner up El Dorado in the championship series, in which they beat them 4-1.

During the six years that the fourth edition of the Cotton State League lasted, only one team moved during a season. The Clarksdale Ginners moved to Marshal on July 10, 1941. But the league would finish the season in that year before it folded again, this time due to the traveling restrictions that were inducted during the US war effort in World War II.

Cities represented

Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale Ginners 1936, 1941; Clarksdale Red Sox 1937-1940
Cleveland, MS: Cleveland A’s 1936
El Dorado, AR: El Dorado Lions 1936-1940; El Dorado Oilers 1941
Greenville, MS: Greenville Bucks 1936-1938,; Greenville Buckshots 1939-1941
Greenwood, MS: Greenwood Chiefs 1936; Greenwood Giants 1937; Greenwood Dodgers 1938; Greenwood Crackers 1939; Greenwood Choctaws 1940
Helena, AR: Helena Seaporters 1936-1941
Hot Springs, AR: Hot Springs Bathers 1938-1941
Jackson, MS: Jackson Senators 1936
Marshall, TX: Marshall Tigers 1941
Monroe, LA: Monroe Twins 1937; Monroe White Sox 1938-1941
Pine Bluff, AR: Pine Bluff Judges 1936-1940
Texarkana, TX: Texarkana Twins 1941
Vicksburg, MS: Vicksburg Hill Billies 1937, 1941

1936 – 1941 champions

1936 El Dorado Lions
1937 El Dorado Lions
1938 Monroe White Sox
1939 Greenville Bucks
1940 Monroe White Sox
1941 Hot Springs Bathers

1947 – 1955

The fifth and final run of the Cotton States League started in 1947. It was a time of new hope after the war and Minor League Baseball prospered.
The league had a class C grade once again as it started with six teams. The next year the league expanded to eight teams and would contain eight teams until 1954, when the league shrunk to six again in the time that Minor League Baseball started to struggle.

Thanks to the boom in Minor League baseball, a team like the Pine Bluff Cardinals welcomed 83,425 fans, wich was a lot in those days. But in the fifties, MLB games were broadcasted on the radio and on TV. Other options for entertainment reared up as well, so Minor League Baseball started to lose fans.

With Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, many minor leagues integrated as well. But the club owners of the Cotton States League were too stubborn to do the same. This alienated a lot of African-American baseball fans from the league.

Only one team attempted to sign two African-American players: the Hot Springs Bathers.
At the time they signed the players, in 1953, the Bathers were dead last in the league, so the signing of the Tugerson brothers (Jim and Leander) was an act of self-interest for sure. First, most of the other teams in the league did not really care about the attempt of the Bathers to integrate the league, but the Mississippi based teams wanted to expel the Bathers from the circuit. That sentiment got stronger among the league’s directors, so the the Bathers offered to use the Tugerson brothers only in Arkansas and Louisiana, but that offer was rejected. The league president, Al Haraway mentioned the signing of the Tugerson brothers by Hot Springs, an act of treason. Mississippi’s attorney general, J. P. Coleman, insisted that racially integrated competition violated the state public policy, basing his edict upon his interpretation of the Mississippi constitution, which emphasized segregation. So on April 6, the owners voted to expel the Bathers. The NAPBL ruled against the league’s decision and the Bathers were reinstated.

As a peace offering to the league, the Bathers sent the Tugersons to class D Knoxville TN and they promised the league not to call them up. But later that year, the Bathers played poorly, which had an immediate impact on the attendance figures. The Bathers decided to call up the Tugerson brothers. League president Haraway, ordered the umpires to forfeit the games if one of the players would appear in a game. And so it happened on May 20 as there was a capacity crowd of 1,500 in Hot Springs.

The NAPBL came to the aid of the Bathers and the Tugerons as the Association declared the forfeit illegal and ordered the game to be rescheduled. But the help came too late as the Bathers sent the two brothers back to Knoxville.

Later Jim Turgeron tried to sue the Cotton State League in federal court for violating his constitutional rights, as well as for breach of contract. But his case was unsuccessful as his civil right case was dismissed because it was against a private institution instead of a government entity.

Eventually the Bathers broke the color barrier in the Cotton League one year later as they signed Uvoyd Reynolds out of high school. The light hitting Reynolds sparked the interest in the Bathers a bit, but the stubbornness  of the league cost them the support of the African-American baseball fans which led to the folding of the league after the 1955 season.


Cities represented

Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale Planters 1947-1951
El Dorado, AR: El Dorado Oilers 1947-1955
Greenville, MS: Greenville Bucks 1947-1952, 1955; 1953; Greenville Tigers 1954
Greenwood, MS: Greenwood Dodgers 1947-1952;
Helena, AR: Helena Seaporters 1947-1949
Hot Springs, AR: Hot Springs Bathers 1947-1955
Jackson, MS: Jackson Senators 1953
Meridian, MS: Meridian Millers 1952-1955
Monroe, LA: Monroe Sports 1950-1955
Natchez, MS: Natchez Indians 1948-1953
Pine Bluff, AR: Pine Bluff Judges 1950-1955; Pine Bluff Cardinals 1948-1949
Vicksburg, MS: Vicksburg Hill Billies 1955

1947 – 1955 champions

1947 Greenwood Dodgers
1948 Hot Springs Bathers
1949 Natchez Indians
1950 Hot Springs Bathers
1951 Natchez Indians
1952 Meridian Millers
1953 Meridian Millers
1954 El Dorado Oilers
1955 Monroe Sports

 

 

 

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