Flashback Friday: MWL Genesis

The 1964 season was the third year for the Foxes in the Midwest League. (The Heath Baseball Museum)

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | January 13, 2012 6:41 AM ET

Here is a shorter Flashback for you this week. It is a brief lesson about the History of the Midwest League. The article first appeared in the 1998 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers program and was written by Lendell Fullerton of The Heath Baseball Museum.

The Midwest League, known as the Illinois State League during the first two years of existences (1947-1948), entered professional baseball officially on January 5, 1947 when the league's organizers concurred in Mt. Vernon, Illinois to complete the leagues formulation process. Six Southern Illinois cities: Belleville, Centralia, Mattoon, Murphysboro, Mt. Vernon, and West Frankfort posted salary payments as required by the National Association and assumed membership in the new league. The Belleville Stags, Centralia Cubs, Mattoon White Sox, Murphysboro Sportsmen, Mt. Vernon Braves, and the West Frankfort Cardinals entered the inaugural season with high hopes of claiming the league's first pennant.

The Illinois State League encountered several adversities during the infant stages of the inaugural season. Tony Stango, the owner of the Murphysboro Sportsmen, returned his franchise to the Illinois State League on April 18, 1947, giving the league five members. The Sportsmen never played an official Illinois State League game. Several questions bounded about the league as to whether the league should suspend play. Four of the clubs Centralia, Mattoon, Mt. Vernon, and West Frankfort had invested in new ballparks and they could not afford to cancel the 1947 season. Howard Millard, the president of the Illinois State League informed "Dutch" Hoffman, his Vice President, to seek and enter into any negotiation with any city that possessed a baseball park. Within days Hoffman secured financial support and the use of the new baseball park in Marion, Illinois.

Mattoon was organized under the guidance of Charles E. Heath, the founder of the Midwest League. Heath, a former resident of St. Louis, Missouri, structured the Midwest League around Mattoon during the league's formulation period in 1946. He purchased the Mattoon franchise at the first official meeting of the Midwest League on January 5, 1947 at Mt. Vernon, Illinois and then donated the franchise to the city of Mattoon. Heath drafted the original plans for the Mattoon Ball Park in 1947 and served as the general manager of the Mattoon franchise during the Illinois State League era.

The Midwest League's existence of 52 years seems quite remarkable. Fan interest in the Midwest League has increased dramatically over the last decade. The last season of the Class D years (1962) in the Midwest produced just 583,000 paying customers at ten ballparks. The Midwest League, one of the strongest Minor Leagues in all of professional baseball, registered more than three million paying customers during the 1997 season. The league that nearly failed several times during the Class D years is now the most prominent Class A league in professional baseball.


It is stated: The story & photos are courtesy of The Heath Baseball Museum (Kell, IL), dedicated to preserving minor league baseball history, mainly the Midwest League. Traveling exhibits are sent to Midwest museums as well as this year's All-Star Game in Clinton, IA. Lendell Fullerton is the curator.

Search for The Heath Baseball Museum in Kell, Illinois. Let me know if you find it.

There was also a list of Midwest League Presidents provided with the article:

Howard V. Millard: 1947-1948 C.C. "Dutch" Hoffman: 1949-1962 Walter C. Wagner: 1963-1964 Jim Grenwald: 1965 Jim Doster: 1966-1973 Bill Walters: 1974-1985 Ed Larson: 1986 George Spelius: 1987-

George Spelius is still the MWL President.

For a full-sized picture of that Foxes photo up top, a picture of Charles E. Heath, and a very random team photo of the 1980 Wisconsin Rapids Twins, head over to Rattler Radio.

Head over to this link MWL Guide to learn a bit more about the roots of the Midwest League. You will see that the Midwest League did not start going by that name until 1956 when the teams were located in: Clinton and Dubuque (Iowa); Decatur, Mattoon, and Paris (IL); and Kokomo, Lafayette, and Michigan City (IN).

According to MWL Guide, the only team from the Cretaceous/Illinois State League Era that is still around is Mattoon. That would be by way of: Keokuk, Dubuque, Wisconsin Rapids, Kenosha, and Fort Wayne.

Appleton Professional Baseball did not join the Midwest League until 1962. The Foxes joined the MWL - along with Burlington and Cedar Rapids - after the Three-I League folded at the end of the 1961 season.

Yes. Appleton Professional Baseball will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in the MWL this season.

There may be more about this anniversary during the season.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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