Bitter off-diamond battles:
A chronology of 1911 W.C.B.L. tribulations
By Rich Necker
Just prior to a pre-season meeting in Moose Jaw, league president C. J. Eckstrom openly lobbied for a 4-team league, one which excluded Brandon and Winnipeg (Calgary Herald, April 22, 1911).
At the aforementioned meeting, during which Brandon and Winnipeg had been accepted, the $1, 500 per month per team salary limit was retained in spite of the Winnipeg delegation aggressively advocating an increase to $1, 700 per month (Moose Jaw Evening Times, April 24, 1911). Had the league adopted a four team circuit, the average travel mileage per team would have been 4,763 miles. With the two Manitoba clubs as members, the average mileage per team increased to 5,966 (Calgary Herald, April 24, 1911).
Winnipeg’s population had swelled in the early 20th century as it became Canada’s third largest city. The Manitoba capital boasted a population of 136,035 inhabitants following the 1911 census (source - The Canada Year Book 1913) a figure which far exceeded the levels in Calgary (43,704), Edmonton (24,900), Brandon (13,839), Moose Jaw (13,823) and Saskatoon (12,004). As visiting teams to Winnipeg were to share in the gate receipts to offset the extended travel, much was expected of the Winnipeg club in promoting the league and their team. As it transpired, fan turnout at Winnipeg home games was highly disappointing and the verbal venom wasn’t long in coming. Edmonton team president Frank Gray was quoted (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, June 2, 1911) calling the Winnipeg management “four-flushers”. Gray went on to add that “Winnipeg put-on haughty airs about their supporting big league baseball and all that sort of stuff and, then, after we have travelled 800 miles to play them, they greet us with 400 people”. In reference to an upcoming return visit to Edmonton by the Maroons, Gray went on to vent his anger in almost a scorched-earth policy by declaring “I hope it rains pitch forks when they come to Edmonton. It would tickle me to death to turn over thirty dollars a day to them for a rain guarantee”.
Later in the same month, (Calgary Herald, June 29, 1911) Gray responded to rumours that Winnipeg and Brandon intended to drop out of the league by declaring that “it would be better for the league if they did”.
The June 26, 1911 edition of the Moose Jaw Evening Times reported that players’ salaries of the Winnipeg Maroons were in arrears.
In what was perceived by Winnipeg players as detrimental to team chemistry, Maroons’ president Blackburn instructed field manager Eddie Taylor to release third baseman Roy Glockner, pitcher “Chief” Ray and first baseman White in order to fall more in line with the league salary limit (Calgary Morning Albertan, July 1, 1911)
President Eckstrom announced that the release of mid-season official statistics would be delayed because the official scorer in Brandon had failed to turn in a required game sheet (Calgary Herald, July 7, 1911). In the same press release, Eckstrom went on a verbal tirade in stating that he was not surprised at the state of affairs in Winnipeg. He maintained that the city of Winnipeg was “the poor thing of the league” and it was a huge joke to think that they would try to enter the Minnesota league when they were unable to put up a class of ball that really counted in the twilight bush league. He went on to say that “Winnipeg was always a sore spot in the league and there was no surprise that they were again causing trouble”.
Hard feelings were not vented solely against the Manitoba teams. Moose Jaw and Calgary battled closely during the first two months of the campaign before the Robin Hoods pulled away to win the pennant by a very comfortable margin. In early July, as the two squads were still very close in the standings and adverse weather conditions had put a crimp in the completion of their scheduled series in Moose Jaw, the Robin Hoods suggested an early afternoon doubleheader to make up the games that had been rained out, a proposal that was quickly vetoed by the Bronchos’ brain trust. The following is a small part of an article appearing in the July 8, 1911 edition of the Calgary Herald which quotes a long-winded tirade that had been printed earlier in the Moose Jaw newspaper:
“Matt Stanley, the Calgary manager, insists on leaving on the 5:15 train today so that he can play a scheduled game in Winnipeg on Thursday. The management of the home team feels that they would like to see the two games played as it is the fans’ last chance to see Calgary here this season so they have decided to play a doubleheader in the afternoon today starting the first game at one o’clock with five minutes intermission. Mr Stanley is apparently more anxious about strengthening his position than about gate receipts. He would pass up a possible trimming and a scheduled game in Moose Jaw with a good game and gate rather than miss a scheduled game with an easy team like the Maroons and the indifferent gate money that Winnipeg fans offered their losing team”.
In what wasn’t the only prematurely ended game of the campaign wherein darkness, rain or cold weather was not a factor, the Calgary at Brandon game of July 12, 1911 had to be called at the end of 6 innings, with Calgary ahead by a single run 4 - 3, in order to allow the visiting Bronchos to catch the train to Saskatoon (Calgary Herald, July 13, 1911).
The August 1, 1911 edition of the Edmonton Daily Journal was highly critical of the Winnipeg organization to the following extent:
“Winnipeg has been the sore spot in the circuit all season and they are always kicking about something. Before the league started this year, they took no steps to form a team until the eleventh hour and seeing now that they have not as good a team as the western cities, they set a horrible howl about the salary limit, a bad schedule, etc. A short while ago, Winnipeg put up a cry that the other clubs could not exist unless they got the big percentage which they drew at every visit to Maroonville and, until their real attendances were exposed , they were continually harping about it. Even Saskatoon, with a tail-end team, draws a much better crowd than the big eastern city and, should Winnipeg drop out, it will certainly be good riddance”.
A report emanating from the Edmonton Journal which appeared in the August 1, 1911 edition of the Calgary Herald maintains that the financially strapped Brandon Angels are not anxious to make a westerly road trip next week and would simply prefer to remain in Manitoba and play out the remainder of the season in games with Winnipeg.
President Eckstrom (Calgary Morning Albertan, August 2, 1911) stated that Winnipeg did not pay the last draft sent them by the league for umpire expenses and other incidentals.
Following a meeting of the directors of the Brandon Angels’ baseball club and, with the support of the Winnipeg club, telegrams were sent to the other four clubs in the circuit asking for their agreement and support in closing the season August 5th (Calgary Morning Herald, August 4, 1911).
An ultimatum dispatched by wire on August 4 to president Eckstrom by business manager Frank Bell of the Winnipeg Maroons (Calgary Morning Albertan, August 5, 1911) is quoted verbatim:
“Having received no word from you in answer to telegram of 30th July that Moose Jaw, Calgary and Edmonton are within the salary limit, we presume that from contracts on file in your office they are all exceeding the limit. Neither has any word been received that any effort has been made by you to make the teams cut down, although you have stated frequently since the commencement of the season that you would enforce this clause and that it had been registered with the National board. It was also enacted that each team should only carry twelve men including the manager. This is being disregarded and no effort being made to stop it and, as the league is being run in a go-as-you-please manner with no apparent change from last year and no better prospects for the future, we have decided to recall our team from Moose Jaw without any intention of surrendering our territorial rights or losing our deposits, as we have been and are now prepared to finish the season in accordance with the rules and regulations now in force. We intend to deal with our players ourselves in whatever way we see fit. Brandon has intimated withdrawing”.
Signed, Maroon Baseball Club
The Calgary Morning Albertan (August 7, 1911 edition) ran a column in which it appeared that Winnipeg had softened its position somewhat. It read as follows:
The Maroon team has decided to continue in the league for a few weeks at least and will play its scheduled game in Calgary. President Eckstrom, in reply to the charges that Calgary, Moose Jaw and Edmonton are beyond the salary limit, claims that according to contracts filed with him, all these teams are within the limit. The Winnipeg club is still unconvinced and affirm their intention of investigating the matter still further.
A copy of the text within a wire sent by league president C. J. Eckstom to F. N. Bell, business manager of the Winnipeg Maroons which appeared in the August 9, 1911 Calgary Herald illustrates just how badly things had gotten out of hand in the bitter season-long feud between the two parties. The Winnipegers had long maintained that Eckstrom was unwilling or unable to act against other W.C.B.L. clubs who the Maroons perceived to be exceeding the monthly salary limit of $1, 500. Here is what president Eckstrom said in the telegram in tearing a strip off the Maroon executive:
“What is the reason you are playing the four flush game, sending telegrams collect signed Maroon baseball club? Why don’t you act like a man and sign your telegrams “officially”? What is the use of your continually talking salary limit when your president Blackburn at the Brandon meeting was mover of motion to have salary placed at $1, 800 for the balance of season? Get down to business, declare yourself and sign telegram officially so I may know what to depend on. I am tired of these telegrams signed by a nom de plume which leaves the sender a chance to dodge responsibility”.
Winnipeg field manager Eddie Taylor, interviewed by a Calgary reporter (Calgary Morning Albertan, August 9, 1911) in regard to the Maroon business management threat to call the team back to Winnipeg from its current road trip, offered these words: “Aw, t’was all a bluff. We never got any word from them to come back to Winnipeg”.
The Winnipeg scribes were not exactly supportive of the Maroons’ organization throughout the season. In an article from the August 22, 1911 edition of the Calgary Herald, an item from the Winnipeg Free Press appears, the sub-headline being: “Winnipeg fans are dead, management rotten and mysterious gloom over everything”. The essence of the printed comments suggest mismanagement of the club led to fan indifference and that the best possible remedy would be for the Maroons to get off the baseball map for a year.
The Edmonton Daily Bulletin printed a column picked up from a Winnipeg paper and published it in their August 22, 1911 edition. The column stated that “after deliberating all day, the Winnipeg and Brandon baseball clubs decided at a late hour tonight (August 21) to disband their teams. Reporting from a Winnipeg perspective, the writer said the move was not sanctioned by president Eckstom. The article said that Eckstrom had failed to reply to a wire sent him by the Winnipeg baseball club in the afternoon to the effect that they were waiting for orders as to what to do when the Brandon club had not put in an appearance. “Acting upon this” the column went on to mention “ and the fact that the president has also failed to produce the affidavits as to the salary limits as promised, the local club mutually agreed with the Brandon club to disband”.
The next day, (Edmonton Daily Bulletin, August 23, 1911), a follow-up story, again originating from Winnipeg, emphasized that the two Manitoba teams had made efforts to get the consent of W.C.B.L. president Eckstrom to drop out of the league but that the president had turned a deaf ear to their appeal. Although the primary concern of both departed teams had obviously been to prevent a further financial drain, the smokescreen of the salary limit continued to pop its head in terms of justifying the abandonment. Hence, the article went on to say that “ both Winnipeg and Brandon stand to lose their franchises but, if it can be proven, which should not be a difficult task, that several of the other clubs were over the salary limit, the National Commission should have something to say if the case is taken to that august body”. Within the concluding part of the same article was a statement that the Winnipeg players had all been paid in full prior to their release.
The Brandon Angels’ players, however, were not quite as fortunate. A brief paragraph (Moose Jaw Evening Times, August 24, 1911) mentions that the Brandon players left that city after having arrived at a financial settlement with the directors. Of the $1, 600 owing in back salaries, the players received, in cash, fifty per cent of what was due to them plus a note payable in November 1911 for the balance.
Hoping to have the franchises of Winnipeg and Brandon revoked, Eckstrom went ahead with his promise/threat to appeal to the National Commission relative to the action of the eastern teams, as the Manitoba clubs were often referred to (Calgary Herald, August 24, 1911).