Minor League history: Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League (1946-1955)

In today’s chapter of Minor League history we pay attention to the sixth and final run of the KITTY League. The game returned after WWII but like many minor leagues it did not survive the advance of television and folded in 1955. Just like the previous editions, the 1946-1955 KITTY League was a Class D league.

After minor league baseball was shut down for three years during WWII, it revived in 1946. Everywhere in the United States, new and old minor leagues popped up like mushrooms. The Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League was no different. One Vice-President of the league, Shelby Peace of Hopkinsville took the league helm in 1941 and continued where he had left in 1942 until its last season in 1955.

Cities represented:

Cairo, IL: Cairo Egyptians 1946-1948; Cairo Dodgers 1949-1950
Central City, KY: Central City Reds 1954
Clarksville, TN: Clarksville Owls 1946; Clarksville Colts 1947; Clarksville Cats 1948-1949
Fulton, KY: Fulton Chicks 1946-1948; Fulton Railroaders 1949-1951; Fulton Lookouts 1952-1955
Hopkinsville, KY: Hopkinsville Hoppers 1946-1954
Jackson, TN: Jackson Generals 1950-1954
Madisonville, KY: Madisonville Miners 1946-1955
Mayfield, KY: Mayfield Clothiers 1946-1955
Owensboro, KY: Owensboro Oilers 1946-1955
Paducah, KY: Paducah Chiefs 1951-1955
Union City, TN: Union City Greyhounds 1946-1952; Union City Dodgers 1953-1955

Of the ten seasons, the Owensboro Oilers finished in the top half of the standings eight times. Nevertheless, the club managed to win only one KITTY League championship. In 1946, the Oilers finished on top of the standings with a twelve game lead over the Hopkinsville Hoppers. In the semi-finals, the Oilers beat the Mayfield Clothiers 3-1 and in the championship series, named the Shaughnessy playoff finals, the Oilers needed seven games to beat the Fulton Chicks.

For eight years the Kentucky-Ilinois-Tennessee League was rather stable as no teams left the league during the season. But those problems arose for the first time in 1954 when the Jackson Generals withdrew with a 1-44 record. The team was replaced by the Central City Reds, who did not fare much better with a 13-44 record. The Reds would only last that half season.

Where the league started with eight teams and remained an eight-team league throughout most of its final run, the league shrunk to six teams in its final season. Halfway the season, the Madisonville Miners withdrew leaving the league with only five clubs. The Paducah Chiefs finished on top of the league’s standings with a 1.5 game lead over the Mayfield Clothiers. But as no team wanted to play in the playoffs, the Chiefs were declared champions by default.

Two seasons in a row, the Shaughnessy postseason finals had to be canceled due to bad weather. In 1949, the Madisonville Miners led the finals of the Shaughnessy playoffs 2 games to 1 over the Cairo Dodgers before the series was canceled due to bad weather. One year later, Mayfield held a one-game edge in the Shaughnessy playoff finals over Fulton when the series was canceled for the second straight season due to bad weather.

The 1951 KITTY League champions: the Fulton Railroaders

As the future for the KITTY League looked gloomy already in 1955, Miller Field, home of the Owensboro Oilers since 1937, was demolished after the season. James C. Ellis, who purchased the property, claimed the land it was built on was way too valuable to house a ballpark.

In 1953, Red Schoendienst, who had a very short stint in the 1942 KITTY League, was voted into the league’s hall of fame by its Writers and Broadcasters Association. t was a choice based more on his accomplishments during his major league career than what he did during his six games in the Class D circuit as he played for the Union City Greyhounds. Schoendienst would have a 19-year MLB career with a lifetime .289 batting average. Next, to his playing days, Schoendienst managed the St. Louis Cardinals, the club he broke into the Majors with, from 1965 through 1976, in 1980 and in 1990. In 1989, Schoendienst was voted into the Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee.

Another player that had an extensive MLB career and played in the KITTY League was Bob Buhl. His first steps in professional baseball were in the KITTY League in 1947. He played with the Madisonville Miners and posted a 19-10 record with an ERA of 3.00. Buhl broke into the Majors in 1953 with the Milwaukee Braves. He won the 1957 World Series with the Braves and had two All-Star Game appearances in 1960 (from 1959 through 1962, two All-Star Games were played every season. The reason behind this was to raise money for the MLB Players Pension Fund).

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Brooks Stadium

Of all the ballparks that once hosted Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League baseball, only Brooks Stadium, former home of the Paducah Chiefs, is still standing. Likely it doesn’t quite look like it did during the final run of the KITTY League. Currently, it is the home of the modern-day Paducah Chiefs, which plays in the Ohio Valley League, a collegiate wooden bat association.

Most KITTY League teams signed PDCs with MLB clubs. Only two clubs were affiliated for one season: the Cairo Egyptians (Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 as the team was named after the parent club) and the Fulton Chicks (Washington Senators in 1948). The Clarksville Owls, that played only one season, did not have an affiliation with an MLB club at all. After Fulton became home of the Railroaders, the club was affiliated to the Washington Senators from 1949 through 1955, even though the club renamed itself Lookouts in 1952 and kept that name until the final season of the league.

A photo of Mickey Stubblefield with Mayfield Clothiers manager Red Barrett. This is from the website MickeyStubblefield.comAlso, the KITTY League had a color barrier that had to be broken. It happened five years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In1952, Mickey Stubblefield debuted with the Mayfield Clothiers. The Sporting News made note of Stubblefield’s arrival in the issue of July 9: “Mickey Stubblefield, the first Negro to play in the Kitty League, pitched Mayfield to a 5 to 4 victory over Paducah in his debut, June 26.” Stubblefield, like many other African Americans, played in the Negro Leagues before breaking into white baseball. In 1948 he joined the famous Kansas City Monarchs. The previous year he joined an all-black barnstorming team, named the Omaha Rockets. Still, Stubblefield was not a stranger to KITTY League baseball as he served as Mayfield’s batboy when he was eleven years old.

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