Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
During the first half of the 20th century, many small towns in the state of Kansas placed teams in professional baseball. One of these towns featured a team in 1921 that put up astonishing numbers. This team, located in Independence, achieved its greatness behind a hard-hitting shortstop who later achieved major league prominence of his own.
The town of Independence, located in the southeastern quadrant of Kansas, first fielded a pro baseball team in 1906 in the Class D Kansas State League. Here the club, called the Coyotes, won the second-half title, finishing with the best overall record of 69-48. The Coyotes were given the overall championship, when all the games in the first half were stricken from the record.
Independence was the hometown of Harry Sinclair, who built the nation’s largest independent oil company, Sinclair Oil & Refining Co. He moved the company to Tulsa before World War I, but the pipeline division was always based in Independence. Sinclair later became the owner of the Newark Peppers in the 1915 Federal League. Later, he became involved in the famous “Teapot Dome” scandal, which nearly brought down President Warren Harding in 1922.
In 1907, following the disbandment of the Kansas State League, the team jumped to the Class D Oklahoma-Arkansas-Kansas League. In their first year in the circuit, the Champs finished third with a 68-63 record. The next year, with the league dropping “Arkansas” from the title, the Jewelers (as the team was now known) once again finished in the show position with a record of 66-58.
Three years later, a team from Independence joined one of the many manifestations of the Western Association. However, the team’s existence in the league was short-lived. On June 14, 1911, with a 15-22 record, the Packers folded up shop along with the Coffeyville team. Five days later, when Ft. Smith and Tulsa decided to do the same, the entire league opted to disband.
In 1921, a team from Independence joined a new Class D league calling itself the Southwestern League. The team, called the Producers, didn’t take long to live up to their name as they pounded the competition during their very first year.
In the first half of a split-season format, the Producers finished with a 47-18, .723 record, four games ahead of Pittsburg, which had the same amount of wins but eight more losses. In the second half, Independence finished with a 56-20, .737 record, 4 ˝ games in front of Muskogee. Overall, the club won 103 while dropping only 38--good for a .730 winning percentage. The only other clubs finishing over .500 were the aforementioned Pittsburg and Muskogee nines. The Producer’s fine season was offset by the dismal performance of the Parsons club, which moved to Cushing in late July. This team finished with a woeful 34-110 record, including a rock-bottom 10-66 in the second half. The Producers led the league in many statistics, including average (.303), runs (904), hits (1,398) and home runs (66).
The Producers were managed by veteran minor league catcher Ted Waring, who had piloted Enid in the Western Association in 1920. The 35-year-old Waring played infrequently in 1920-21. He had the Producers in first place on May 25 when, in a game at Miami, he suffered a broken leg when a runner slid into him at the plate. It is not clear how much managing Waring did the rest of the season. At the end of the first half, with Independence winning nine of its last ten games, The Sporting News said that “he handled his club part of the time from the bench and some of the time from a hospital bed.” However, the August 11 Sporting News stated that veteran outfielder Ned Pettigrew “has been acting manager of the Independence while Ted Waring has been laid up with a broken leg.” The same edition also reported that Pettigrew had been suspended from Organized Baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, “but there was no explanation of the reason.” A week later, the newspaper reported that “as mysteriously as Pettigrew…was suspended, so was he reinstated by Landis.” The speculation was that the “suspension was said to be in connection with gambling on games played by the Independence team.” Pettigrew went to Chicago to see Landis and obviously cleared himself with the Commissioner.
Pettigrew had played two games for Buffalo in the ill-fated Federal League in 1914. In 1922 he managed Bartlesville and in 1923-24 piloted Cushing in the Oklahoma State League. It was there that he
discovered a young left-hander named Carl Hubbell. When Pettigrew took over the reins of the Oklahoma City (Western League) club in 1925, he brought Hubbell with him. Later that year Detroit purchased
Hubbell. He went back to the minors in 1926, returning to the majors to start his Hall-of-Fame career with the Giants in 1928.
Independence’s best-known player was 20-year-old rookie shortstop Glenn Wright, who was on option from Kansas City (American Association). Wright batted a solid .316 and led the league in homers (22) and triples (13). After two years with Kansas City, he was purchased by Pittsburgh and starred for the Pirates for the next five years. In 1924, he set a major league record for assists (601) in a season, a mark which stood for 56 years until it was broken by Ozzie Smith. In 1925 he hit .308-18-21 for the World Series champion Pirates, was named the major league’s All-Star shortstop by The Sporting News and completed an unassisted triple play. In 1927, Wright drove in 103 runs batting cleanup for Pittsburgh’s pennant winners. (During 1926-27, Glenn’s understudy was Joe Cronin and the two became close friends. A quarter-century later, Cronin hired Wright as a manager, coach, then scout for the Boston Red Sox.) Following the 1928 season, Wright was traded to Brooklyn. He missed the 1929 season because of a career-threatening arm injury, suffered, ironically, while playing handball. Glenn bounced back in 1930 with a .321-11-126 year for the Dodgers, but a 1931 leg injury led to the end of his major league career in 1933, except for a few games with the 1935 White Sox.
William (Red ) Lowrance, 26, led the league in runs (135) and stolen bases (98). At the end of the season, unofficial figures showed Lowrance with 101 stolen bases, but when the final official statistics were published, he had lost three somewhere. In any event, Lowrance led the minors in 1921.
Other Producers who enjoyed fine seasons included F.J. Frankenhoff who finished third in the batting race at .345 and Pettigrew who hit .317 with 14 home runs.
The Producers’ star pitcher was Jewel (Happy) Campbell (28-6) who paced the circuit in wins, percentage (.824) and strikeouts (213). In addition, he tossed a 4-0 no-hitter against Miami on May 12. In his next start, May 15 against Muskogee, he pitched a one-hitter. Campbell wasn’t always “happy” or a winner. During a September 16 game, Muskogee pitcher Andy Rush knocked out Campbell, who had been taunting him, according to the Tulsa World. Ad Holtzhauser (14-3), with exactly half as many decisions, tied for the best winning percentage. Holtzhauser, who later pitched for several years in the American Association, was frequently accused of doctoring the baseball, according to The Sporting News, but apparently nothing was ever proven.
The Independence Producers stayed another three years in the Southwestern League, finishing no higher than fourth. Midway through their fourth season in the league, the team disbanded on July 5, again folding with Coffeyville as they did 14 years before. Quick to rebound, the Producers joined the Class C Western Association for one year in 1925 and finished last. Another stint in the Association from 1928-32
produced a title in 1930. During that banner season, on April 28, 1930, the first official night game in minor league history was played at Independence, the Producers losing to Muskogee, 13-3. The game was played under temporary portable lights provided by black baseball’s Kansas City Monarchs.
Following a 15-year absence from pro ball, a new team from Independence joined the Class D Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League for a five-year stay (1947-50, 1952). During their years in the loop, the team won playoff championships in 1948 and 1949 as a farm team of the Yankees. In the latter season, a young Mickey Mantle led them to the title. Following the 1952 season, after a cellar-dwelling finish as an affiliate of the lowly Browns, Independence dropped out of baseball for good.
Led by future major leaguer Glenn Wright, the 1921 Independence Producers crafted a fancy record in the team’s first year of existence. Of the many dozen minor league teams to win 100 games, only four have done the deed with fewer losses than the Producers--a credible argument for this team’s inclusion in the list of the 100 greatest minor league clubs.
|1921 Southwestern League Standings|
|1921 Independence Producers batting statistics|
|Butch Weiss (Musk.-Cu.)||OF||105||393||38||88||16||2||1||4||.223|
|Ted Willis (Miami)||OF||94||353||57||102||19||6||3||14||.289|
|Bill Schindler (Miami)||C||68||222||21||51||4||2||0||3||.230|
|George McFarland (Pitt.)||OF,1B||64||220||33||66||10||3||4||8||.300|
|Cliff Boyd (Parsons)||P||38||107||10||22||3||1||0||0||.206|
|Joe Victor (B'ville)||C,OF,P||26||67||12||24||1||1||1||3||.358|
|1921 Independence Producers pitching statistics|
|Cliff Boyd (Parsons)||15||13||.536||35||288||207||115||161|
|Joe Victor (B'ville-C'ville)||12||11||.522||29||211||188||47||114|