Minor League history: Michigan Ontario League

The Michigan Ontario League was a Class B league that started in 1919 and lasted for six and a part of a seventh season. The end of the league came halfway 1926 when it merged with the Central League to form the Michigan State League.

The Michigan Ontario League or Mint League (MIchigan-oNTario) as it was called as well, was a rather stable league for the age it played in. During its six years of existence, none team folded or disbanded during the season.

Cities represented:

Battle Creek, MI: Battle Creek Custers 1919-1920
Bay City, MI: Bay City Wolves 1919-1926
Brantford, ON: Brantford Red Sox 1919-1921; Brantford Brants 1922
Flint, MI: Flint Halligans 1919-1920; Flint Vehicles 1921-1926
Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids Billbobs 1923; Grand Rapids Homoners 1924
Hamilton, ON: Hamilton Tigers 1919-1923; Hamilton Clippers 1924-1925
Kalamazoo, MI: Kalamazoo Celery Pickers 1923; Kalamazoo Kazoos 1924
Kitchener, ON: Kitchener Beavers 1919-1921; Kitchener Terriers 1922; Kitchener Colts 1925
London, ON: London Tecumsehs 1919-1924; London Indians 1925
Muskegon, MI: Muskegon Anglers 1923-1924
Port Huron, MI: Port Huron Saints 1921; Port Huron Saints 1926
Port Huron, MI & Sarnia, ON: Port Huron-Sarnia Saints 1922
Saginaw, MI: Saginaw Aces 1919-1926

During its first two seasons, the Mint League did not use a playoff system, so the team that ended at the top of the standings was declared champion. In 1921, a championship series was played for the first time. The London Tecumsehs beat the Bay City Wolves to win its second championship in a row.

The Tecumsehs played at Tecumseh Park, now called Labatt Park. The 1920 Tecumsehs

Labatt Park, previously known as Tecumeh Park

(86 wins and 32 losses) were placed 52nd on a list of the Top 100 Minor League Baseball Teams of all-time and were only narrowly defeated 5-4 by a Ty Cobb-led Detroit Tigers before 3000 people in a September 15th, 1920 exhibition game at Tecumseh Park. The Tecumsehs would be in first place in the Michigan-Ontario League in both the standings and in attendance, when 100, 686 people watched the Tecumsehs play over the course of the season. After repeating as Mint League champions in 1921, the Tecumehs played vs the Central League champions, the Ludington Mariners, who were beaten by the Tecumehs 4-3 in a best of seven series.

Schermafbeelding 2019-02-17 om 11.15.26In 1922, the league did not have any changes in the participants but since many players were sold during that season, most teams reorganized as can be read in the attached article of the New York Times.

Even though the city had one of the shortest runs in the Mint League and wasn’t quite successful, Port Huron baseball came from a long way as baseball set foot there around 1900. The first team that played in the Michigan State League was a combined team of Port Huron (MI) and Sarnia (ON) as both towns are located next to each other even though one is the US and one in Canada. That combi team played its first game in 1921 and lasted two seasons. The Saints, as the team was called, played its home games at

Watkins Field

Watkins Field, named after Bill Watkins, who left a lasting impression in the baseball world and who was a financial backer of the Port Huron Saints and served as club president in 1921-1922. Only in the final season of the Michigan Ontario League, Port Huron would field another Saints team that finished on top of the standings of the league that has shrunk to only four teams, before it merged with the Central League into the Michigan State League. By that time, Ontario didn’t have any representative anymore.

The very first champion of the Michigan Ontario League, the Saginaw Aces, were managed by former MLB player Bobby Byrne. Byrne, born in St. Louis and breaking into the Majors with his hometown Cardinals in 1907, never was quite happy with the life as a Major Leaguer. He once stated: “If I had it to do over again I do not think I ever would become a professional ballplayer, in spite of the fact that I love the game and love to play it.  I think a young fellow would do better to devote himself to some other line than to take the chances of success in the national game, for even when he wins he loses.”
After he was acquired from waivers by the Chicago White Sox and won the World Series with the team, the Sox released him one day after winning their World Series Championship. He went on operating a bowling alley in St. Louis before he returned to baseball as manager of the Saginaw Aces for two seasons in 1921 and 1922 In 1922 he guided the team to the championship series where it fell to the Hamilton Tigers 5-3.

Perhaps the most famous player that has ever played in the Mint League was Kiki Cuyler. The future Hall of Famer made his first steps in professional baseball in 1920 with the Bay City Wolves. Late in the 1921 season, Cuyler was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates and debuted on September 29. Apparently, Cuyler had some trouble adapting to the Major League level as he was sent down to the minors a few times before he had his breakout season in 1924.

Another Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer, made his first steps in professional baseball in the Michigan Ontario League. In 1924 he played for the London Tecumsehs and even though he only hit .292, the Detroit Tigers signed him and let him debut in the Bigs shortly thereafter. Gehringer played with the Tigers his entire career. He was nicknamed the Mechanical Man because of his constant approach of the game. He was one of the best fielding second basemen in all of Major League Baseball. His uniform number (2) is one of the six that has been retired by the Detroit Tigers.

Next, to London that won two Mint League championships, two other cities accomplished the same feat. Hamilton (Tigers in 1922 and Clippers in 1925) and Bay City (both the Wolves in 1923 and 1924).

In 1922, Martin H. “Marty” Becker, “a player with a long and glorious career in the minors” (Springfield (MA) Republican), signed on to play third base and manage the Kalamazoo team during that season. To cap the season, Becker organized an exhibition game in September against the National League Chicago Cubs. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, around 2,500 fans packed Stationery Park to watch the Kalamazoo team take on the Cubs. Although Chicago beat the Kazoos 2-0, it was a hard fought battle and an exciting game. “All in all,” said the Kalamazoo Gazette, “the day was a big success.” The following spring, the Kalamazoo team joined the Michigan-Ontario League, where they remained through the 1924 season, not with great success.

The Mint League saw a steep decline in teams after the 1925 season. The league started with only four teams in 1926, Port Huron, Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint). Apparently, the small league didn’t draw that well as it merged with the Central League into the Michigan State League. But that league wasn’t meant to live long as it folded after the 1926 season.

 

 

 

 

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