Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
The baseball exploits in large Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal are well chronicled. What is not as widely known is that baseball prospered and flourished in smaller Canadian locales as well. One of these more obscure nines played in 1920, in the Canadian province of Ontario.
The town of London, situated near Lake Erie, first entertained professional baseball in 1877 in the loose conglomerate known as the League Alliance, considered to be the first Minor League. In games against Alliance foes, the Tecumseh Club -- named for the great Indian warrior -- finished 14-4 to win the Minor League’s first pennant. In 1888, a team known as the Tecumsehs finished exactly at .500 in the International League, in sixth, with a 53-53 record. The following year, the club remained in sixth, before sliding to last in an abbreviated 1890 season, cut short when the league folded in early July.
Almost 10 years later, another London team called the Cockneys joined the Canadian League. In 1899, during its first campaign, the club finished first with a 64-28, .696 record. After one more London pennant the following season, the league disbanded. Eight years later, another Cockney team played a brief, 40-game season in the Class D International League, finishing third of four teams.
In 1911, a team from London was one of six new teams in a revitalized Canadian League. In five years in the league, which was upgraded to Class C in 1912, followed by Class B in 1914, the Tecumsehs’ high points occurred in 1913 and 1914, when they missed flags by a combined 2.5 games. After the 1915 campaign, the league folded.
Four years later, a new Class B league was formed. Officially named the Michigan-Ontario League, it was popularly called the Mint League. Another London Tecumseh team was a charter member. The club’s undistinguished seventh place finish in 1919 gave no clue to the turnaround that would occur the very next season.
The Tecumsehs hired former Minor League third baseman Henry (Buzz) Wetzel as manager. He had led Saginaw to a 77-32 record and the league championship in 1919, but then resigned because of a salary dispute. Wetzel, whose home was in Columbus, Ohio, managed from 1913-28, including seven years in the Mint League. His teams won five championships and only once did a Wetzel-managed club finish below third. That was in the Three-I League in 1926, when he took over a losing team in midseason and finished seventh. He won three straight Mint League pennants, 1919-20-21. Despite his record, he never managed above Class B. In his final season, 1928, his Erie Sailors won the second half in the Central League, but lost the playoff to Fort Wayne.
The 1920 season didn’t start smoothly for the Tecumsehs. They trained in Delaware, Ohio, and it rained almost every day. In spite of this, Wetzel claimed his club would be ready by opening day. They were 10-6 on June 1, then played .500 ball for the next two weeks. Then, London took off. In the next two months, they won 49 and lost only 7, including a 13-game winning streak in July. They finished with an 86-32, .729 record, 14.5 games in front of second place Hamilton. The team feasted on the bottom dwellers of the league, going 30-6 against Battle Creek and Saginaw. Trouncing the latter must have been gratifying to Wetzel. They also did well against second place Hamilton with 12 wins in 16 games. London didn’t lead the league in any team batting category, but they had a superb pitching staff.
The Tecumsehs’ two biggest sticks were wielded by outfielder E.H. Kennedy (.349) and third baseman Clarke (Pinky) Pittinger (.315). Pittinger, who led the league in runs scored (100), was a utility infielder for the Red Sox and Cubs from 1921-1929, batting .263. Kennedy was sold to San Francisco at the end of the season, but never reached the majors.
Two of the more interesting careers belonged to outfielder Ernie (Crazy Snake) Calbert (.311-8-54) and first baseman Emil Huhn (.275). A 33-year-old, 5-foot-10, 190-pound right-handed hitter, Calbert was one of the premier sluggers of the last days of the dead ball era. His career stretched from 1910-1928 and, starting in 1911, he led his league in home runs six times. Ten homers were enough to lead the Kitty League in 1911. In 1915, he led the Ohio State League in homers (13) and stolen bases (36). In 1917, before going into the service in World War I, Calbert hit 43 home runs for Muskogee, batting .297 and leading the Western Association in RBIs (109), runs (101), hits (177), total bases (343), and was third in stolen bases (32). During the 1917 season, Calbert and Wetzel crossed paths for the first time as Wetzel was Muskogee’s manager. In August, Wetzel’s brother died and he went home to Columbus for the last few weeks of the season. Calbert filled in for him with the Reds remaining in second place. In 1922, he managed the Hamilton Tigers, winning the Mint League by one game over Wetzel and his former London team. He hit .357 and led the league in homers (28), RBIs (110), hits (174) and total bases (308). In his early days, Calbert also pitched, and in 1911 had a no-hitter in the Kitty League that he lost 1-0. He played one game for Kansas City in the Federal League in 1913, going 0-for-3.
Huhn, then 23, had played first base for the Newark Peppers of the Federal League in 1915, batting .227. When the Federal League folded after that season, Huhn was a backup catcher for Cincinnati in 1916-17, batting .234. After the 1917 campaign, he continued his baseball career in the Minors, eventually linking up with London in 1920. Following his stay with the Tecumsehs, his career came to an abrupt end in September, 1925, when, after a brief stint as manager for Augusta in the South Atlantic League, Huhn was killed in an auto accident which also injured several players.
The big three of the pitching staff were George (Lefty) Carmen (26-2, 1.30), Oscar DeLotelle (18-6, 1.55) and Jack Harper (17-2, 1.73). Carmen led the league in wins and percentage (.929) and was third in ERA. On Aug. 23, he got married in the morning, then won his 25th game of the season in the afternoon. On June 17, DeLotelle pitched a complete 20-inning, 5-4, win over Hamilton. Harper, a 26-year-old right-hander, who had pitched briefly with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1915 (0-0, 3.12), was acquired on loan from Akron (International) in June. At the end of the season, Wetzel said it was Harper’s arrival that was the turning point for the Tecumsehs, giving them three outstanding starters.
Along with Pittinger, the Red Sox also purchased pitcher-outfielder Ernie Neitzke at the end of the year. Neitzke was 8-3, 1.17 on the mound and .260-7-37 in 75 games at the plate. He had an unusually high number of triples, 13 in 242 AB. In 1921, for Boston, he was 0-0 in 7 IP and batted .240-0-2 in 10 games.
Following its great 1920 season, London remained in the Michigan-Ontario league through 1925, winning two more pennants, in 1921 and 1925. After the latter flag, London was without pro baseball until 1930, when the Tecumsehs joined the short-lived Class C Ontario League. Here, the team won both halves of the race, compiling a 37-17 record before the league ceased operations on July 23. Ten years later, the city joined the Class D PONY League for a two-year stint. Much later, in 1989, London fielded a team in the Eastern League from 1989-93, winning a championship in 1990.
In all, nearly 75 Canadian cities and towns have participated in professional baseball from 1883 to the present. Of these, only one -- the 1920 London Tecumsehs -- has won games at a .729 clip, ensuring its place among baseball’s best.
|1920 Michigan-Ontario League Standings|
|1920 London Tecumsehs batting statistics|
|1920 London Tecumsehs pitching statistics|