As the Arizona Diamondbacks fly some 8,000 miles to commemorate the 1913-14 World Tour by playing the Los Angles Douglas Dodgers on Major League Baseball’s opening day March 22 at the cricket grounds in Sydney, Australia, another Arizona team will be getting ready to do the same thing three weeks later – but on a baseball diamond located much closer to home.
The Bisbee Black Sox vintage base ball club will be the host team for an event that will honor the barnstorming major league teams and other teams that visited Bisbee – including the 1913-14 ‘round-the world tour by the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox – during the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League championship tournament scheduled for April 12 and 13 at Warren Ballpark in Bisbee. And like the Diamondbacks, they will play on a field used by the World Tourists during the 1913-14 trip, a 104-year-old field that, amazingly enough, also doubled as a cricket pitch for English-speaking immigrants living in Bisbee during the first decades of the 20th century.
“One of the best kept secrets in baseball is that John McGraw’s New York Giants and Charlie Comiskey’s White Sox stopped here in Bisbee Nov. 7, 1913, to play an exhibition game during their trip by passenger train across the U.S. to the west coast, prior to their heading across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, Australia, and other places around the globe,” said Judy Anderson, chair of the Friends of Warren Ballpark, a non-profit group tasked with raising funds to renovate and maintain Bisbee’s historic 104-year-old multi-sport facility.
“We had six future inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the field that day,” Anderson said.
Also playing for the Giants that day was Jim Thorpe, the legendary Native American athlete who has been called the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Thorpe, gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon events during the 1912 Olympics, blasted a home run for the Giants during their 9-1 trouncing of the White Sox at Warren Ballpark.
Eight teams will be taking the field during the two-day event at Warren Ballpark. Seven teams in the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League will vie for the title during the double elimination tournament. Also taking part will be the Colorado All-Stars, a traveling team from the Colorado Vintage Base Ball Association.
The game that will be played at Warren Ballpark predates the version played in 1913 by the Giants and White Sox, Anderson said. “Our league plays by rules that were in effect when Abraham Lincoln was first running for president. The fielders have the option to wear a small glove similar to a modern gardening glove, but most play bare-handed.” There are other twists to the game as well, Anderson explained. “A ball caught on the first bounce is an out. Pitching is underhanded and the ball is a “lemon-peel” design, slightly larger and a little softer than a modern ball. There are other differences to the modern rules that we explain to the cranks (the 19th century term for fans) prior to the start of the tournament.”
The differences from modern rules are part of what makes the game so fun to watch, said Anderson The old-school uniforms, heavy wood bats and archaic terminology also com help to give the game its unique flavor.
Playing on a field that dates back to 1909 adds to the thrill of playing and watching vintage baseball.
“This is the Real Field of Dreams,” says ballpark historian and author of “Warren Ballpark” (Arcadia Press, 2013) Mike Anderson. “The World Tour stopped to play a game here. Six major league teams – the Cubs, Giants, White Sox, Athletics, Indians and Pirates –played here on numerous occasions, from 1913 to 1947. Three of the Black Sox players banned for fixing the 1919 World Series played here during the 1920s in an outlaw league. This ballpark has been used for high school, semi-pro, minor league and major league baseball, for high school football, adult soccer, rugby and cricket over the past 104 years. And now it’s a venue for vintage base ball.”
The vintage tournament will also include something not offered in Sydney, said tournament organizer Judy Anderson.
“Saturday’s games will be followed by The Post–Game Blues, a concert at Warren Ballpark featuring a couple of real cool cats – James “Mudcat” Grant, one of the best pitchers in major league baseball during the 1960s who had a second successful career as a blues musician after retiring from the game and Russell “Cat Daddy” Gillespie and his Twelve-Barz Blue Band..
Grant and Gillespie met during last year’s vintage tournament when Mudcat sat in with Cat Daddy and his group for two memorable performances at Bisbee’s Copper Queen Hotel, Anderson said. Opening for the two Cats is the Cholla High School Blues Standard, young musicians who were the opening act at the Tucson Blues Festival last year.
“Baseball fans have a choice,” says ballpark historian Mike Anderson. “They can fly 8,000 miles down under to watch the D-Backs play the Dodgers on a cricket field where the Giants and White Sox played a century ago, or they can drive down to Bisbee and watch vintage teams play on a historic baseball diamond/cricket field where those same two teams played during the World Tour. Ours is by far the less expensive alternative and includes a blues concert.”
(Note) Photos from previous tournaments including photos of Mudcat Grant’s appearance at last year’s tournament are available.