Friday 3 April 2020

Guelph is now baseball mad: The Maple Leafs were Inter-County champions of 1921

"Guelph is now baseball mad," said the opening line in the Mercury's article of 25 August 1921. Only the day before, thousands of Guelphites had converged on Exhibition Park to witness the sudden-death game for the Inter-County League championship, played between the Guelph Maple Leafs and the Galt Terriers. The two teams were tied in the best-of-three tournament, each having won a closely-fought contest in the previous week. Given that the Guelph team had won the previous two seasons' pennants, a victory would mean not just bragging rights for the year but a historic three-peat such as the Royal City had not witnessed in decades. Guelphites and baseball nuts from miles around made their way to the Park to take in the tilt for themselves.

Both the Maple Leafs and Terriers had finished the regular season with 9 wins and 3 losses, far ahead of Brantford and Kitchener with 2 wins and 8 losses each. However, the smart money remained with the Maple Leafs since they had won 3 out of 4 contests with the Terriers during regular play. Given this advantage, the first game of the series had been held in Guelph's Exhibition Park on 13 August.

This game was played before an (enthusiastically) estimated 4,000 fans, crowded into the grandstands and circling the field. Tension mounted as the 3:15 start time came and went, as the visitors launched a "childish" dispute over who was to umpire the game. Just as Lee of Brantford and Murray of Toronto were set to officiate, the Terriers' staff "waltzed" (not literally, one assumes) out onto the field to demand that Hett of Toronto work in place of Lee. After half and hour, Galt won the debate and Hett donned his pads and assumed his place behind home plate.

It was the only thing Galt won that day. The Terriers' pitcher, Fred Graham, had a rough first inning, hitting three batters with wild pitches and finally allowing three runs to score. The rest of the fixture was rather more even, with both sides scoring an additional run each, producing a result of 4 to 1 for the Maple Leafs.

The pattern was somewhat reversed in the succeeding game played in Galt on the following weekend. On this occasion, the Galt management tried to have Guelph's catcher, "Patty" Patterson, disqualified for a violation of the League's residence rule. This protest was denied but the team proceeded to win the match itself (Mercury, 22 August 1921). A close-fought affair led to Guelph starting the ninth inning down 2 runs to 4. With two men out and two on base, Ralph Pequegnat pinch-hit a triple to the far right field. Luckily for the Manchester City squad, the ball took a big bounce off the fence right to the fielder, who relayed it home just in time to prevent the tying run from scoring.

All agreed that it had been a fine game with an exciting finish for the roughly 3,500 in attendance. A coin was tossed to determine home field for the tie-breaker on the following Wednesday, with the Royal City coming out on top.

With the game set to start at 5pm, fans began flooding into Exhibition Park by 3 o'clock. The grandstand was jammed an hour in advance, and people began to crowd around the outfield. Motorists parked their cars in a ring around the outfield, two or three deep, starting at noontime so as to have special "box seats" to take in the game. More and more vehicles arrived, bringing more and more spectators (Mercury, 25 August):

The grounds were fairly black with motor cars, and in addition to the immense circle of autos around the diamond, hundreds of others were parked in the vicinity of the race track, while as many more weren’t even brought into the park, but were lined outside the fence, and along Exhibition and Kathleen streets.
Somewhere around 500 cars were parked on or around the grounds. Estimates of the crowd size varied from 3,000 to 6,000, with the Mercury preferring the latter figure. In any event, it was a record gathering.

("Galt at Guelph, Inter-County Final, Aug 24, '21." Image from a real-photo postcard taken from the top of the Exhibition Park grandstand. Note the new Victory School in the background. Fans were held back with help from a rope and local police. From the author's collection.)

The game was a close-fought contest. The twirlers Freddy "Whet" Whetstone for Guelph and Leeds for Galt both threw good games, though the Terriers' fielding seemed a little shaky.

The Maple Leafs scored one run in the opening frame, with the Terriers responding with one of their own in the top of the fifth. The Manchester City fans, a thousand or more having made the trip from Galt, cheered wildly. Yet, Cockman's Maple Leafs answered McFadyen's Terriers straight away with another run in the bottom of the inning. At this point, the Mercury informs us, the Galt fielders seemed to lose heart and were increasingly outplayed thereafter.

Guelph touched up Leeds for two runs in the eight inning, taking a 4 to 2 lead. This prompted the Manchester City's manager McFadyen to pull Leeds and put Graham on in his place, a move that met with the catcher's disapproval and was said to "smash the morale" of the Galt team. Nevertheless, the Terriers' responded with a run in the top of ninth but were then shut down by "Whet's" pitching. After Oliver was thrown out easily at first base, the game was over and the crowd erupted with joy: "Three times Inter-County champions. All hail the Maple Leafs."

In fact, the game may have been over before it started. The day before, Guelph pitcher Freddy "Whet" Whetstone had placed a horseshoe under the Maple Leafs' bats piled up in the park, thus ensuring good luck. On their way to Guelph on game day, the special bus hired by the Terriers had broken down, delaying their arrival and causing their manager "Mac" McFadyen to wonder if their appearance was not ill-omened.

Whether is was due to fortune or the quality of their play, the Maple Leafs had covered themselves and their hometown in glory. The three-time championship was most welcome and for a number of reasons.

For one thing, it brought back distant memories of Guelph's former baseball dominance. Baseball was introduced into Guelph in 1861 when the Maple Leafs were formed and named after a club in Hamilton (Johnson 1977, pp. 328–331). The team steadily improved and won the Canadian Championship in 1869, which they defended successfully in the next two seasons, making for their first three-peat. Their high-water mark was reached in 1874 when the team won the American championship in semi-professional competition, thus making them world champions.

("George Sleeman with the Guelph Maple Leaf baseball team," 1874. Sleeman (lower right, front row) was then the owner and prime mover of the team. Courtesy of the Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.2071.)

By that time, baseball was becoming more broadly organized and Guelph was later unable to compete with richer clubs for players who could win at such a high level. The Maple Leafs did win the Canadian semi-professional championship in 1894 but could not repeat the success and popularity of their glory days.

Yet, the conclusion of the Great War marked a new beginning. A number of local boys had acquired significant baseball experience in the previous years, among them several returned soldiers who played during their military service (see below). When these men took up places in local factory teams, they proved to be quite competitive in intra-city and regional competition.

When the Inter-County League was organized in 1919, its championship was won by the local Partridge Rubber Company team (Mercury, 25 August 1921). In 1920, the championship went to the local Spring and Axle Company team. It was decided that the team should then be named the Maple Leafs, to recall the glory days of yore:

Early in 1921 it was decided that instead of having the Guelph team run by an industrial concern, it would be a timely move to revive the name of the once famous Maple Leaf club, of Guelph, champions of the world.
Of course, this change also helped to broaden the appeal of the team beyond the factory it happened to represent at a given time. All residents of the Royal City could identify with, support, and pay to attend the games of the Guelph Maple Leafs Baseball Club. Biographies of the players in the Mercury emphasized that almost all were local boys, long-time or born-and-bred.

Both elements were combined in the person of Jimmy Cockman, the team's manager. Born in Guelph in 1873, Cockman played with the Maple Leafs of the newly formed Inter-County league in the mid-1890s and then gone on to an illustrious career in a variety of American and Toronto teams. He had retired and returned to Guelph in 1912 but returned to the game to manage the Maple Leafs during the 1921 campaign.

With their victory, the Maple Leafs had earned a berth in the Ontario League championship, where they finished a highly creditable second place. The team remained competitive for the next decade, although the Terriers won most of the League championships. In any event, it remained a famous victory and restored baseball as a key pastime and entertainment in the Royal City for many years to come.

The Guelph Mercury (25 August 1921) published a photo of the championship team, which was also printed as a real-photo postcard:

Original caption:
Standing left-to-right—V. King, trainer; J.H. Runstadtler, outfielder; J. O'Connor, left field; F. Murphy, pitcher; F. O'Connor, first base; F. Whetstone, pitcher; J.N. Jones, second base; "Sandy" Little, centre field; Jimmy Cockman, coach.
Middle row—H. Pequegnat, catcher; "Tim" Elliott, outfielder; R. Stewart Clark, Business Manager; A.J. Hewer, President; Mort Johnston, Treasurer; Harry Nunan, right field; Tom Patterson, catcher.
Front row—P.M. Clark, short stop; "Bob" Fennix, mascot; Ralph Lindsay, third base.
Note the Victory School in the background again.

The Mercury (25 August 1921) provides the following biographies of the champion Guelph Maple Leafs:

Secured experienced coach.
During the first season in O.B.A.A. company the locals battled away under a heavy handicap owing to the fact that they were unable to secure a capable coach, but towards the latter part of last year this trouble was remedied when Jimmy Cockman, the well known Guelph boy who had a distinguished career as a ball player in the various professional leagues for seventeen years, came to their rescue and volunteered his services as official coach. Not long after Jimmy took over his duties, the local lads showed marked improvement in their playing, and it is no doubt due to his valuable assistance, that the “home brews” are today rated in a class with the best amateur clubs in Ontario.

17 years in “Pro” company.
Jimmy Cockman, as the majority of Guelphites are aware, received his early baseball schooling with the world’s famous Guelph Maple Leaf team. After making a name for himself with the Maple Leafs he journeyed to the Virginia League, where he played with the Roanoke team in 1896. The following year saw him performing with the Indianapolis club in the Western League, while in 1898–99 he accepted a handsome offer to play for Reading in the Atlantic League. In 1900 Jimmy drifted over with the Wheeling club in the Inter-State League and in 1901 he went back to the Western League as a member of the Minneapolis team. As Captain of the Milwaukee nine in 1902–03 he had one of the most successful seasons in his baseball career, and piloted his club to the top position in the Western League in the latter year. 1904 saw Jimmy with Newark in the International League, and after completing a four year contract with this club, played with Toronto in 1908. Jimmy, although owned by Newark, finished the 1908 season with the New York Yankees. In 1909 he went to St. Paul in the American Association, while in 1910–11 he shifted back to the Western League, playing with Lincoln. Jimmy closed a long and successful professional baseball career in 1912, when after managing the Grand Island team in the Nebraska State League, he returned to Guelph and retired from the grand old game.

Who the players are.
J. Sanders Little—centre fielder; ago 26, born in Guelph; playing manager for three years; broke into baseball in local city and church leagues, later going to Toronto, where he performed with St. Mary’s Judeans, Belwoods and St. Pats teams in Stanley Park league. While in the army “Sandy” was with the W.O.R. nine.

Fred J. O’Connor—Better known as “Big Dan” first baseman on the Inter-County team three years; age 26, born in Guelph. All old time sports in Guelph will agree that “Big Dan” handles himself around the initial sack after much the same style as his dad, Daniel O’Connor, who held down first base on the original Maple Leafs. Fred, before breaking into Inter-County company was for several years with various local city and church league teams.

John N. Jones—Second baseman, age 22, has also been with the Inter-County team three years. Joner started his career with that snappy local junior team, the Strathconas, with which he played for six years, while in 1918 he was a member of White’s team, City League champs. He is one of the most promising young ball players in the city, and has played a good steady game with the Leafs all year. “Joner” as his many other team mates, is a native of the Royal City.

Harry A. Nunan—Right fielder, age 21 years. Although still quite young, “Nunie” has been at the game a long time, making his debut with the St. Aloysius team in this city in 1914. The two following years he played in the Inter-Catholic League, and in 1917–18, was with the Strathconas, Western Ontario junior champions. He has also been with the Inter-County nine for the past three seasons. Harry was born in Guelph.

Ralph J. Pequegnat—Catcher, age 20; “Peggy” as his is more familiarly known to the baseball enthusiasts of Guelph is rated as the best catcher for his age playing in senior amateur company in the Province. “Peggy” caught for the Strathconas from 1914 to 1918, when he signed on with the Inter-County. He was also born in Guelph.

James P. O’Connor—Left fielder, age 20; “Jimmy” broke in with the Leafs in 1919. Although only 17 years of age at that time it was to be seen that he had the making of a real ball player, and today he is classed as one of the niftiest outfielders in the league. Jimmy had no previous experience, but just broke in as a natural player. He is a wicked hitter, and is considered one of the most valuable men on the local line up. Jim has lived in Guelph all his life.

Fred. C. Whetstone—Pitcher, age 25; as a twirler Fred has made a remarkable showing this year, and it is largely due to his steady work on the mound that the Leafs have forged their way to the top in the last two years. “Whet” joined the Leafs last year. Before signing on with the Inter-County team he had previously played with Taylor-Forbes, St. John’s and the Malleables in the City League. He was born in Guelph.

Fred M. Murphy—Pitcher, age 22; Fred is also one of the old timers on the Inter-County line up. He has been a regular moundsman for three years, and although suffering from a sore arm for the greater part of this season, has commenced to show his old time form of late. “Murf” formerly hurled for St. John’s in the Inter-Catholic League, and while overseas pitched for the 3rd D.A.C. team, runners up for the Third Division championship in 1918. Also born in Guelph.

Ralph W. Lindsay—Third baseman, age 23; although only two years with the Inter-County team, Ralph, with his lightning speed has developed into a real nifty third sacker. He plays his position like a veteran, and his snappy work on the field this year has featured many a game in which the locals figure. In 1919 Ralph played with the G.W.V.A. team in the City League, and while in France was on the 9th Brigade nine, runners up for the Divisional championship in 1918. He is another member of the Leafs born in Guelph.

Thomas Patterson—Catcher, age 28. Since joining the Leafs this year “Patty,” by his good natured disposition, and happy-go-lucky manner, has made himself one of the most popular players on the local line-up. As a receiver “Patty” is there a thousand ways, as was shown in the important series with Galt just finished, in which he distinguished himself in every performance. He is an old timer at the game, and while overseas had the distinction of being picked on the all-star Canadian team which trimmed the Yanks in London, England, and Bonn, Germany. “Patty” also played with the 18th and 25th Battalions and the 2nd Division Machine Gun teams in France.

Percival M. Clark—Shortstop; age 28. “Clarkie” came to the Royal City from Toronto three years ago, and while in the Queen City played on the St. Andrew’s Crescents and West Enders teams. He has been with the Leafs three seasons, and besides playing shortstop performs as relief pitcher. “Clarkie” is also a returned man and while overseas was a member of the 4th D.A.C. team. He is a native of Toronto.

T. Arnold Elliott—Centre fielder, age 35. Although the daddy of ‘em all, “Tim” can still show the majority of amateur players in these parts the finer points on how to play the outer garden. He is lightning fast on his feet, and a sure catch. “Tim’s” baseball career dates back to the old city league in the days of the Park Nine and Alerts. He was with White’s championship team in 1918, captained the Veterans nine in 1919; managed the Carpet Mills team in 1920, and is managing the Arenas, city league leaders this year. “Tim” was born in Guelph.

J. Herman Runstadtler—Left fielder, age 26. “Runny” came to Guelph from Walkerton to enlist with an artillery unit, and since his return from overseas has made his permanent residence here. He has played for three years on the Inter-County team, and in 1919 held the distinction of being the best hitter on the club, winning a gold watch donated by Mr. Pequegnat. Before coming to Guelph “Runny” played around Walkerton and Owen Sound.

George Stapleton—Catcher, one of the most valuable all round players on the team is George Stapleton. George is Johnny on the spot no matter what position he is assigned to. He is a Guelph boy, and has played in the various local city and church leagues for several years.

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