Top 100 Teams
Mississippi Valley League
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|1933 Davenport Blue Sox|
Behind the efforts of two outfielders--one who starred in the majors and one never set foot there--the 1933 Davenport club dominated the Mississippi Valley League. Ironically, this championship would also serve as the circuit’s swan song.
The city of Davenport, located on the eastern edge of Iowa, entered the world of pro baseball in 1888, fielding teams in two different leagues. Its entry in the Central Interstate League won the pennant (40-18) in a brief season which ended with the league’s disbandment in late July. In August, a team known as the Onion Weeders replaced Minneapolis in the Western Association, going 4-21. In 1889, Davenport was back in the Central Association. After compiling a 57-45 record, the team dropped out of the league on September 11.
In the first part of the 20th century, the Iowa city played two separate stints in the Class B Three-I League. During the first, which lasted from 1901-1906, the River Rats finished in the first division exactly once, topping out with a third place finish in 1903. After a three-year hiatus, a team called the Prodigals rejoined the loop. This incarnation of the club saw more success, winning a title as the Blue Sox in 1914 and a first half title the following year. After a last place finish in 1916, Davenport left the league, not to return for thirty years.
In the meantime, the Blue Sox joined the Mississippi Valley League, a Class D operation, in 1929. In the first two years, the team finished third before flopping to seventh in 1931. The Sox rebounded strongly the next year, winning the second half title before bowing to Rock Island, four games to two in the playoffs. The next year, the Blue Sox would ratchet their effort even higher.
In the 1933 Mississippi Valley League, now a Class B circuit, the Blue Sox won the first half of the pennant race with a 40-17, .702 record. In the second half, the club was even more dominant, winning 42-of-57 games, 10 better than runner-up Peoria. In the post-season playoffs, Davenport dusted Rock Island, four games to one. Later, in a matchup with the Western League champion St. Joseph club, the Blue Sox tasted defeat, going down four games to two. During the regular season, the team dominated the statistical chart, finishing with the best average (.298), as well as most runs (887), hits (1,213), doubles (242), and home runs (83). In addition, the team was a popular draw, playing to a league record 113,398 fans.
Davenport was managed by 33-year-old first baseman Cletus Dixon, who carried the unusual nickname of “Dirty Neck.” Dixon, a graduate of the University of Chicago, spent his entire 15-year baseball career in the Mississippi Valley and Western Leagues. He began with Cedar Rapids in 1922 and two years later started managing at Waterloo. As a player, Dixon was not a slugging first baseman. In 13 years as a regular, he hit only nine home runs, five in one season, but led the Mississippi Valley League in stolen bases twice. In his seven years piloting Waterloo, he won two pennants and finished under .500 only once. Dixon started 1931as manager at Oklahoma City (Western), but was let go and signed to manage Davenport during the second half of the season. He was remarkably successful with the Blue Sox. In his five full seasons there he finished first four times (1932, 1933, 1935 and 1936). In 1934, Davenport finished first in the second half, second overall, then won the playoff. They lost the playoffs in 1932 and 1935. Dixon was the league’s Manager of the Year in 1933 and 1936.
During the off-seasons, he was continuing his education and in the early months of 1936 was nearing completion of work on his PhD in Chemistry at the U. of Chicago. Because of the heavy demands on his time required for his academic work, Dixon asked the Davenport owner if the Blue Sox could train in Chicago so that he could handle both baseball and college duties and the owner agreed. Obviously, the arrangement didn’t hurt the Blue Sox. That was Dixon’s last year in baseball, the pennant providing a perfect exit.
The Blue Sox hitters were led by a pint-size career minor leaguer, who never once got the opportunity to play in the majors. Outfielder Como Cotelle, who stood just 5’5”, won the batting title with a league record .407, while scoring 106 runs and stealing 31 bases. During his 21 years in baseball, he had a career .323 average, hitting over .300 in 17 seasons, seven of them in the American Association and International League. In all, he toiled in 14 different leagues while collecting 2,730 hits. He retired in 1946 after batting .374 at the age of 41 for El Paso of the Mexican National League.
Long before the days of free agency and bonuses, Cotelle also proved himself to be a sharp businessman. In the spring of 1933, Como, like millions of Americans, was unemployed. He’d been with Hartford in 1932, but the Eastern League folded before the season ended. Twelve leagues that started 1932 were gone by 1933. Cotelle tried out with Davenport and was offered a contract just before opening day. The club secretary made out the document and Como was told to take it to the office of team president Paul Lagomarcino, where a notary public was to witness the signature. Instead, he just stuck the contract in his pocket and left. The secretary thought the official had received the contract and he, in turn, thought it had been included with others sent to the league office. At the end of the season, Cotelle announced that he had signed with Indianapolis for 1934 for a $500 bonus. (That may not sound like much today, but then it would buy a new Ford or pay a year’s rent on a six-room apartment in a good neighborhood in Cotelle’s hometown of Chicago.)
Then all hell broke loose. Lagomarcino, anticipating some revenue from the sale of his batting champion, screamed that neither Cotelle nor Indianapolis had any right to do this. However, neither the league nor the National Association was able to find any contract for Cotelle in 1933 and the club was unable to produce a copy. Not did only this make the player a free agent, it subjected Davenport to a stiff fine for having played a man without filing a contract. When Cotelle told the whole story, the club was absolved of any wrongdoing and he was permitted to collect his bonus. Cotelle hit .300 for Indianapolis in 1934 and .320 in 1935.
| Nick Etten|
of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Cotelle was joined in the Blue Sox outfield by 20-year-old Nick Etten (.357). Etten would go on to a solid major league career spent with the Athletics, Phillies and the Yankees. During World War II, he won a home run crown (22) for the Yankees in 1944, followed by an RBI title (111) the next year. Etten finished his major league career in 1947 with a career average of .277.
The third outfielder, Ermal (Ed) Hall, a 24-year-old left-hander, was another player bumped down the ladder by the scarcity of jobs. A four-year Western League player, Hall had .337 for Omaha in 1932 before joining the Blue Sox for the last month of the season. In 1933, he batted .328, hit a league record 28 homers and led the league in RBI (151), total bases (282) and slugging (.600).
Cotelle, Etten and Hall were aided by shortstop George Meyer (.291) who scored a league leading 130 runs. Meyer played for the White Sox in 1938, batting .296 in 24 games.
Pitching chores were handled by Al Piechota (19-4) and Bob Lengquist (10-2). Although finishing with a mediocre 4.55 ERA, Piechota finished with the most wins while Lengquist had the best percentage (.833). Piechota pitched two years for the Braves (1940-41), going 2-5.
Following the 1933 season, the Mississippi Valley League went belly-up, sending the Blue Sox to the Western League for a four-year stretch. Following World War II, Davenport linked up with the Three-I once more, staying a total of nine years (1946-52, 1957-58). Here, the team won a regular season flag in 1946, a playoff championship in 1949 and a second half title in 1958. After a one-year gap, Davenport joined the Midwest League, taking the name Quad Cities in 1961. Now called Quad City, the team won titles in 1968, 1971, 1979 and 1990, remaining an integral part of the league to this day.
The 1933 Davenport Blue Sox ushered the Mississippi Valley League out in grand style, as their .719 winning percentage was the best in league annals. In addition, in looking at the bigger picture, their 32 losses were the fewest of any team in the top 100, save one.
|1933 Mississippi Valley League Standings|
|1933 Davenport Blue Sox batting statistics|
|Howard Goetschel (Keo.)||3B,OF,SS||47||191||46||52||39||10||5||7||25||48||10||.272|
|Orie Arntzen (Peo.-Keo.)||P||15||25||3||4||2||1||0||0||3||9||0||.160|
|1933 Davenport Blue Sox pitching statistics|
|Orie Arntzen (Peo.-Keo.)||2||6||.250||15||67||79||49||39||6.18|