In this episode of Minor League history we pay attention to the fourth and fifth run of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League (KITTY League). After the previous edition folded in 1916, President Dr. Frank H. Bassett made another attempt to revive the league in 1922.
In 1922 and 1923 the league contained eight teams but in the final year of the fourth run the number of teams shrunk to six.
Cities represented 1922 – 1924:
Cairo, IL: Cairo Egyptians 1922-1924
Dyersburg, TN: Dyersburg Forked Deers 1923-1924
Fulton, KY: Fulton Railroaders 1922-1924
Hopkinsville, KY: Hopkinsville Hoppers 1922-1923
Jackson, TN: Jackson Blue Jays 1924
Madisonville, KY: Madisonville Miners 1922
Mayfield, KY: Mayfield Pantsmakers 1922-1924
Milan, TN & Trenton, TN: Milan-Trenton Twins 1923
Paducah, KY: Paducah Indians 1922-1923
Paris, TN: Paris Travelers 1922; Paris Parisians 1923-1924
Springfield, IL: Springfield Blanketmakers 1923
Trenton, TN: Trenton Reds 1922
The 1922 season was one with scandals. The Madison Miners were disqualified from the second half title due to the use of an ineligible player, the Cairo Egyptians who finished as runner-up in the second half were also disqualified due to salary limit violations. The second half title was awarded to the Paris Travelers who fell to the Mayfield Pantsmakers in the championship series (4-2).
Jim Turner of the Paris Travelers was tied with Ed Holley for winning percentage (.786). Holley though had far more wins (22-6) than Turner (11-3).
A colorful person was William “Buster” Brown. In a game in 1922, between his Hopkinsville Hoppers and the Paris Travelers, he belted a ball for what appeared to be a home run. But the home plate umpire ruled the ball foul. Brown clearly disagreed as he walked past the umpire after the game and spit his tobacco in his hand and rubbed it into the face of the home plate umpire.
The Springfield Blanketmakers had a disastrous 1923 season. With a 14-36 record, the club did not draw many fans and disbanded on July 9. The team was adopted by Milan but would also play several games in Trenton, TN.
George Block was linked to the KITTY League in three separate decades. In 1910 he played as a catcher for his hometown Paducah. In 1924 he was the player-manager of the Dyersburg Forked Deers before he was traded to the Jackson Blue Jays. Block guided the Blue Jays to a first place but in the end, the gas was out of the tank and the team finished in second place. In 1937, Block would guide the Paducah Indians.
Many of the monikers could be linked to the region or the towns the clubs were located. For example Mayfield. The Pantsmakers moniker (and later Clothiers) refers to the clothing manufacturing industry. Fulton in Kentucky was connected to the Illinois Central Railroad, which explains the team’s moniker.
The 1924 season was dominated by the Dyersburg Forked Deers and the Paris Parisians. Both teams made it to the championships series in which Dyersburg swept Paris 4-0.
After the 1924 season, the league would fold and it would take eleven years for the league to return.
When the league returned in 1935, Frank H. Bassett was the president once again. The league would have its longest run so far (eight years) until the war effort and financial troubles would make the league fold once more. But Bassett would make the end of this run as he was pushed aside in a league meeting in 1937. In the winter meeting of that year, Bassett was replaced by Ed Hannephin, who was replaced after one season by Ben F. Howard. But also Howard’s reign was short-lived. In 1941 he was replaced by Vice-President Shelby Peace, who would be at the helm of the league until its final year, 1955.
Cities represented 1935 – 1942:
Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green Barons 1939-1942
Fulton, KY: Fulton Eagles 1936-1938; Fulton Tigers 1939-1942
Hopkinsville, KY: Hopkinsville Hoppers 1935-1942
Jackson, TN: Jackson Generals 1935-1942
Lexington, TN: Lexington Giants 1935-1938
Mayfield, KY: Mayfield Clothiers 1936-1938; Mayfield Browns 1939-1941
Owensboro, KY: Owensboro Pirates 1936; Owensboro Oilers 1937-1942
Paducah, KY: Paducah Red Birds 1935; Paducah Indians 1936-1941
Portageville, MO: Portageville Pirates 1935-1936
Union City, TN: Union City Greyhounds 1935-1942
While it was a common practice that sports journalists made up the monikers of the teams in the early 1900s, the teams came up with their own names or solicited them from their fans by the time the league returned in 1935. There were many unique and colorful ones such as the Clothiers, Egyptians, Hoppers, Miners, and Oilers.
The 1935 season ended with no formal champion. The Jackson General were disqualified on September 1 as were the Union City Greyhounds on September 3, due to violations of veteran player limit. The second half title was awarded to the Portageville Pirates. The Lexington Giants then refused to play Portageville, as the Giants thought the Pirates were not the true second half champion. The subsequent discovery of extensive violations caused the league to name no formal champion.
Next to the colorful names, there were a lot of colorful players.Art “Whitey” Grangard was an outfielder with the Hopkinsville Hoppers in 1937. One day he and some teammates decided to replicate a feat achieved by former 1903 Hoppers catcher “Gabby” Street, who caught a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument.
Grangard decided to do the next best thing: catch a ball dropped from the top of the Jefferson Davis Monument located outside Hopkinsville (which looked pretty much the same as the one in Washington). After seven failed attempts, he finally caught the eighth and ninth balls dropped.
In those days, baseball teams were rarely owned by one person. In general, the clubs were owned by a group of businessmen or fans. Most of the time they thought their communities would be better places with a professional baseball team.
Once, Louisville sportswriter Harry Bolser described the Kitty League as a kind of freak show. In his opinion, it was “the screwiest league in organized baseball.” It seemed like there was a freak play or never-before-seen incident occurred in almost every game.
A player’s arm was stuck between the wooden planks of the outfield fence in pursuit of a fly ball. A ball was lost in the outfield because the grass was too high. An infield fly ball disappeared in the darkness and a dead owl dropped to the ground instead.
The 1936 season also ended with a controversy as the Union City Greyhounds took on the Paducah Indians in the championship series. The Greyhounds won the first game but the Indians refused to play the rest of the series, resulting in the Greyhounds being declared champions.
After the 1937 championship series was played (Mayfield beat Fulton 4-1), the 1938 series was canceled due to inclement weather and lack of interest. After Hopkinsville forfeited the final two games, the Jackson Generals were named playoff winners.
Eventually, like all other minor leagues, the Kitty League ceased activities when the US was dragged into World War II and only Major League Baseball continued to play. The 1942 season did start as scheduled but the league folded late June as a result of the war effort and many players were drafted for the armed forces.