Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In 1902, a new baseball league was formed in America’s heartland consisting of teams from the midwest’s largest cities. Designed to be a top-ranked minor league, the American Association soon lived up to its billing, taking its place at the top of the minor league structure. In its very first year, the new league showcased a fine team from Indiana’s capital.
The city of Indianapolis, located in the center of Indiana, fielded its first professional team, called the Blues, in the International League in 1877. In 1878, the Blues, with their star battery, pitcher Edward “The Only” Noland and catcher Frank “Silver” Flint, moved into the National League to replace Louisville. The undistinguished club finished fifth out of six teams with a 24-36 record, with a league-worst .236 batting average. The Blues disbanded after the season and owner W.T. Pettit left town without having paid all of the players’ salaries.
Five years later, a club called the Hoosiers joined the major league American Association, when the second-year organization expanded to 12 teams. It was not a successful stay, as the team finished in 11th place, 29-78, 46 games out of first. After this one-year experiment, another Hoosiers squad joined the National League in 1887. Here, the results were pretty much the same as the team finished on the bottom of the eight-team circuit, more than 40 games out of first. The subsequent two years saw slight improvement as the club finished in seventh both in 1888 and 1889. Following the latter season, a 59-75 campaign, the Hoosiers left the National League for good.
After dropping out of the National League, the city was without professional baseball for two years, then the Indianapolis Hoosiers joined the newly organized Western League for the 1892 season. However, that circuit folded on July 15. A new, stronger Western League was organized by Ban Johnson in 1894 with Indianapolis as a member. Indianapolis has fielded a minor league team every year since then, making the city second only to Rochester in terms of continuous operation. Managed by William Watkins, Indianapolis won league championships in 1895 and 1897, and captured another title in 1899 with Bob Allen as pilot. The 1897 Hoosiers finished 98-37, compiling the most wins for any minor league team to date.
In 1900, Johnson renamed his organization the American League, with St. Paul moving to Chicago, but it didn’t achieve major league status until 1901 when Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Buffalo were replaced by Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. In 1901, Indianapolis was forced to play in the Western Association, formerly called the Interstate League, comprised of cities in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. The caliber of play was not what the fans were used to and attendance dropped to about 400 a game. On July 11, the franchise was sold and transferred to Matthews, IN, a town of about 2,500 with big ambitions.
On November 29, 1901, a new era of baseball dawned for Indianapolis with the formation of the American Association. The other members of the league were Columbus, Toledo, Louisville, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul. This league was to become the most geographically stable circuit in minor league history. From 1902 through 1952 there was only one, temporary, change in cities. In 1914-15, Charles Somers moved his Toledo franchise to Cleveland, where he also owned the Indians, to give that city continuous baseball in order to prevent invasion by the outlaw Federal League. Toledo was back in 1916 and the league’s alignment remained the same until June 23, 1952 when Toledo moved to Charleston, WV.
The Indianapolis franchise was awarded to William H. (Billy) Watkins, who first came to the city as an infielder with the major league American Association team in 1884. He was appointed manager late in the season at the age of 26. In 1885 he was named manager of the Detroit Wolverines of the National League and brought the team from sixth to second in 1886. In 1887 he led Detroit to the pennant, followed by a victory over the American Association champion St. Louis Browns in the World’s Series. Detroit won the 15-game series, 10 games to five. The series opened with two games in St. Louis and one in Detroit, then the teams traveled in their own railroad parlor cars, playing each game in a different city. On one day, they played a morning game in Baltimore and an afternoon game in Washington. Late in 1888, Watkins left Detroit to take over as manager of the American Association Kansas City team, remaining there through 1889. He managed St. Louis in 1893 and Sioux City (Western League) in 1894 before returning to Indianapolis in 1895. Watkins left to manage Pittsburgh in 1899 then came back to Indianapolis for the American League’s inaugural 1900 season.
In 1902 Watkins assembled a capable team featuring several players who had been with him in earlier seasons including second baseman and team captain Billy Fox, catcher Mike Heydon, outfielder George Hogriever and pitchers Win Kellum and Jack Sutthoff. The Indians opened the season on April 23 against Milwaukee. There was a parade from the downtown Grand Hotel to Washington Park where a crowd of 4,000 saw the Indians win 5-4. The club was in the first division through June and climbed to second place on July 1. For the next two months the Indians fought to overtake first place Louisville and finally tied the Colonels on September 6. The two teams were neck and neck down to the closing day of the season, September 22. Louisville had a double-header with Minneapolis on that date, Indianapolis was scheduled for two games against St. Paul. Louisville had protested a game it lost to Indianapolis on August 25 and no decision had been rendered. Watkins insisted that a postponed game between the Indians and Saints also should be played on the final day and he prevailed. Indianapolis won three games from St. Paul and Louisville took two from Minneapolis, making any successful protest moot. Indianapolis had won by two games. After the 1903 season, in which the Indians finished fourth, Watkins resigned as Indianapolis president-manager to take over the reins at Minneapolis. Two years later, he was persuaded to return to the Indians. However, after one month of the 1906 season, in which Indianapolis went 3-15, Watkins stepped down as field manager to concentrate on the front office. He remained as team president until May 23, 1912 when he resigned, ending his long association with Indianapolis baseball. He produced one more pennant winner, the 1908 team that featured future major leaguers Rube Marquard and Donie Bush.
“Hoggy” Hogriever holds the minor league record for most career stolen bases, 948 in 2,618 games, 125 more than his nearest competitor, Tom Brannon. Hogriever played from 1889-1912. He stole 93 bases for Sioux City (Western) in 1894 and 72 for Indianapolis in 1897. In 1911, when he was 42 years old and managing Appleton (Wisconsin-Illinois) he stole 30 bases in 118 games. Hoggy played for Indianapolis teams in all four leagues from 1896-1904. He had a career .291 average. In the majors, Hogriever played for Cincinnati in 1894 and Milwaukee in 1901, batting .254 with 48 stolen bases in 123 games.
The Indians’ first baseman was 29-year-old George Kihm who batted .296 in 134 games. Kihm was a deaf mute, so in the accepted parlance of the day was called “Dummy.” Today, that would be considered insensitive, although dictionary synonyms for mute include the word dumb. Kihm played minor league ball for 17 years with a career .293 average. Hogriever and Kihm went on to star for two other Top 100 teams - Kihm for Columbus in 1905 and Hogriever for Des Moines in 1906.
The team’s leading hitter for average was 29-year-old third baseman Charlie Babb (.298), who went up to the New York Giants the following year and played for Brooklyn in 1904-05 with a .243 major league average in 347 games.
Indianapolis had a trio of 20-game winners led by 26-year-old right-hander Win Kellum (25-10). Kellum had pitched for Indianapolis in 1896-97 and 1899-1900. On June 16, 1900, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox that temporarily put Indianapolis in first place in the American League. Kellum pitched for the Boston Americans in 1901, then came back to Indianapolis in 1902. After an identical 25-10 season for the Indians in 1903, Kellum moved up to Cincinnati in 1904. He went 15-10 for the Reds, his best major league year. He was with the Cardinals in 1905, returning again to Indianapolis in 1906-07. Jack Sutthoff (24-13) was a holdover from the 1901 team. In the majors the 29-year-old right-hander had pitched briefly for Washington in 1898, St. Louis in 1899 and Cincinnati in 1901. He went back to the Reds and Phillies in 1904 and the Phils in 1905. Right-hander Tom Williams (24-12) had pitched for Cleveland briefly in 1892-93. He remained with Indianapolis in 1903-04.
The veteran of the staff was 32-year-old Frank Killen (16-6) who won 164 games in a ten-year major league career (1891-1900). While pitching for Pittsburgh he twice led the National League in wins, 36-14 in 1893 and 30-18 in 1896. In the latter year he also topped the league in complete games (44), shutouts (5) and innings pitched (432). Killen’s battery mate and manager in Pittsburgh was Connie Mack. In his history of the Pirates, Fred Lieb wrote that “Killen was a real pitching jewel, a left-hander with sinews of steel and the heart of a lion. His 36 victories of that (1893) season have never been equaled by a left-hander.” In June 1895, his leg was badly spiked while he was covering the plate and he was hospitalized for almost two months, but he bounced back with a great season in 1896. After he left baseball, Killen operated a hotel and tavern in his native Pittsburgh.
During subsequent years, the Indians won a smattering of flags, coming home with the bunting in 1908, 1917, 1928 and 1948. The latter pennant won Indianapolis another place on the Top 100 list. In the 1950s and 1960s, the team had more success, winning four flags before the American Association disbanded after the 1962 season. Following short stints in the International and Pacific Coast Leagues, thus becoming the only city to have been represented in all three AAA leagues, Indianapolis once again participated in the birth of the American Association when it was reborn in 1969. After participating over a dozen times in the playoffs over the next 25 years, Indianapolis and the Association parted ways in 1997 when the league died for the second time. The city is now part of the International League, where they won the championship in 2000, going on to win the AAA World Series over Memphis.
Over the space of 95 years, the American Association reigned supreme over the minor league world in the midsection of the country. Getting this league off to a good start was a strong team from Indianapolis - a team well worthy of inclusion on the list of great minor league clubs.
|1902 American Association Standings|
|1902 Indianapolis Indians batting statistics|
|John Grim (Columbus)||1B||15||58||7||20||0||1||0||0||.345|
|Ralph Miller (St. Paul)||P||14||44||2||8||0||1||0||1||.182|
|1902 Indianapolis Indians pitching statistics|
|Ralph Miller (St. Paul)||7||4||.636||14||13||9||0||107||116||39||38|