HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL IN DAVENPORT
While the River Bandits name was introduced to the market in 1992, professional baseball in the Quad Cities is entering its third century. During the strong and rich history of Quad Cities baseball, over 200 players have passed through Davenport on their way to Major League Baseball.
The first year of professional baseball in Davenport, Iowa, was 1879 when the Davenport Brown Stockings finished 5-15. Following the season, professional baseball did not return to Davenport until 1888. That year, W.H. Lucas led Davenport to the Central Interstate League title with a record of 40-18. Davenport looked ready to repeat during the 1889 season, cruising to a 57-45 record. However, the team disbanded a few days before the conclusion of the season due to financial constraints, thus giving the league title to Springfield. Davenport was without professional baseball in 1890, but the Hawkeyes returned in 1891. The Davenport Hawkeyes struggled to a 23-38 in the Illinois -Iowa League, going through three different managers during the season. That was the last season of baseball in the 19th century for Davenport.
Davenport baseball returned in 1901 to join the Illinois-Iowa-Indiana League, commonly referred to as the Three I (I-I-I) League. The team struggled through the first six years, compiling only one winning season (1903). After a 45-74 record in 1906, the team once again disbanded, this time for two seasons. The Davenport Prodigals returned in 1909, led by the dominant duo of Parkins, 19-8, and Smith, 20-11, the Prodigals finished with a 77-59 record, good for third place.
Following a subpar year in 1910, Dan O'Leary took over as manager of the Prodigals and would stay with the team for six years, the longest managerial tenure in the history of Davenport baseball. O'Leary compiled a 426-378 record, including the league championship in 1914. The Blue Sox, as they were then called, narrowly edged out Peoria in a season-long battle to bring the 1914 championship to Davenport. Pitching was the backbone of the 1914 champions, led by Lakaff (1.80 ERA) and Middleton (1.24 ERA).
Shortstop Ray Chapman was the Prodigals iron-man in 1911. The future major leaguer finished the season with a .293 average and 50 stolen bases while playing every inning of every game. However, a beanball from New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays in 1920 would end not only his career, but the shortstop's life as well. Chapman remains the only player in major league history to be killed during a game.
Davenport attempted to repeat in 1915 and the Blue Sox won the first half of the season. The team slowed in the second half, finishing eight games behind Moline to set up the first ever Riverboat Series. The series proved to be a tight battle between the two bitter rivals. Moline took Game One in dramatic fashion by scoring two runs in the bottom of the 8th to win 3-1. Moline scored three late runs in Game Two to win 4-2, thus taking a 2-0 lead in the series. Davenport came back strong in Game Three, crushing Moline 12-5. Game Four was a pitcher's duel as Moline's Eller won his second game of the series 2-0. Facing elimination, Davenport sent 19-game winner Gould to the mound to prolong the season. Gould responded by pitching a complete-game shutout, winning 1-0 and forcing a Game Six. Davenport would score two early runs in Game Six, but the Blue Sox could not hold on. Moline fought back and won 3-2 to take the first Riverboat Series, 4-2.
Davenport never recovered from the devastating loss to their cross-river rivals, finishing 20 games under .500 in 1916. The team disbanded following the season and Davenport was without professional baseball until 1929.
Ed Reichle served as manager for Davenport in 1929 and 1930, leading his team to respectable 69-57 and 64-61 records. Reichle's team struggled in 1931 and he was eventually replaced by Cletus Dixon. The team finished with a 53-73 record, but change was on the horizon.
The 1932 Davenport Blue Sox won the second-half crown with an astounding 45-24 record. They faced Rock Island in the Mississippi Valley League Championship Series for yet another Riverboat Series. The two teams alternated wins over the first five games before Rock Island won the series in commanding style by taking Game Six, 12-2.
The Blue Sox entered the 1933 season looking for revenge. Davenport dominated the regular season, finishing with an incredible 82-32 record. The .719 winning percentage is still a Davenport professional baseball record. The team also set what was then an all-time high attendance figure by welcoming 113,398 fans in the gates, a record that stood until 1949. The Blue Sox avenged the loss of the previous season to Rock Island by defeating their rivals 4-1 in the championship series.
Following the 1933 season, Davenport transferred into the Western League. The change in leagues did not bother the Blue Sox, as they won the second half title and advanced to the Western League finals by defeating Des Moines 3-1 in the Divisional Playoffs. The Blue Sox faced St. Joseph's in the Western League Championship Series. Davenport won Games Five and Six to tie the series at three games apiece, but St. Joseph's starting pitcher Drefs fired a no-hitter in Game Seven to lead St. Joseph to the championship.
Davenport cruised through the 1935 season, winning the league by 12 games. When playoff time rolled around, however, Sioux City swept Davenport 3-0 in the Divisional Series.
In 1936, Cletus Dixon led the Blue Sox to a 74-52 record and the Western League Championship. Dixon left Davenport following the 1936 season with a .619 winning percentage, the best percentage of any Davenport manager with over one-year experience.
The Blue Sox spent one more season in the Western League, finishing 57-59, before disbanding once again. This layoff would last nine years until 1946 when the Davenport would return to the I-I-I League.
Back to the I-I-I
The Davenport Cubs brought baseball back to the Quad Cities in 1946 and finished tied for the best overall record with a 76-44 mark. However, the Cubs were defeated by eventual champion Evansville in the Divisional Playoffs, 3-1.
Davenport saw down years in 1947 and 1948 as the team struggled to records well below .500. Davenport, then called the Pirates, rebounded with a 67-59 record in 1949. The Pirates finished fourth in the regular season, but the team peaked during the post-season en route to the I-I-I League title. Davenport faced a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series against Waterloo in the Divisional Playoffs, but on the brink of elimination the Pirates came back to win three hard-fought games to advance to the League Championship against Evansville. Riding the high of a three-game winning streak, the Pirates swept Evansville, 3-0, to win the championship. The Pirates also drew 133,505 fans to the ballpark, a record that would stand until 1981.
Victories and attendance would both drop in the next three years, which led to the team disbanding again following the 1952 season. Davenport would return to the I-I-I League in 1957 for two mediocre seasons.
While the team struggled to a 56-74 record in 1951, the Davenport Tigers had a young pitcher named Jim Bunning. Bunning would post modest numbers for the Tigers, going 8-10 with a 2.88 ERA. The right-hander would go on to become one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in major league history. Bunning pitched 17 big league seasons, compiling a 224-184 career record with a 3.27 ERA. Bunning was a seven-time All-Star, led the league in strikeouts three times, won 20 games in 1957 and won 19 games in a season four separate times. Bunning finished his career with 2,855 strikeouts, good for second on the all-time list at the time he retired. Bunning, who in his post-baseball days went on to become a Senator for the state of Kentucky, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. He remains the only Quad Cities baseball player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The 1952 squad also produced a future Major League All-Star in Harvey Kuenn. Kuenn finished second in the I-I-I League with a .340 batting average that year, and went on to hit .303 during his major league career. He was an eight-time All-Star that led his league in hits four times and doubles three times.