Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Big Leagues in Montgomery, Schenk Retirement

Going over game notes and newspaper accounts of the past, its apparent Montgomery has hosted major league teams often in history even if such games are absent in recent memory.

It was the excitement of seeing the Big League teams that came to the Capitol City that brought baseball to central Alabama and wove the game firmly into the fabric of our area during the early years of the 20th century.

For Biscuits news, skip to the bottom of post!

Beginning in 1900, the City of Montgomery was not represented by professional baseball in any way. It was a time of classic stars on the diamond, an era when the gentleman's game of the previous century was becoming the working-mans past time and the fans cheered some of the toughest competitors in history.

It is also the age of train travel, Montgomery had state of the art public transportation and a luxurious new train station with a fresh coat of paint. Built in 1898, Union Station was the visible evidence to be seen at the start of a civic push by area leaders to bring Montgomery into the 2Oth century and attract new business and tourism.
Looks about the same even now!

A campaign to showcase Montgomery as a "progressive Southern destination" was launched. The fruits of the organized efforts included a flight school founded by the famous Wright Brothers, managed by airship pioneer Roy Knabenshue. The creation of a College for Women was also part of the push for development of higher progress in Montgomery, later it would be known as Huntingdon College.

The Wright Bros Flight School helped attract entrepreneurs

FNB Bldg
Theaters were built, including an auditorium and new City Hall. The 12 story First National Bank building was the tallest structure in the state, across the street the New Exchange hotel was seven stories. Together the pair gave Montgomery a very modern feel to visitors just off the train.

Another part of the Progressive Montgomery project included sending emissaries of the Chamber of Commerce and other important business leaders to travel to extoll the virtues of  Montgomery. The effort was coordinated to tie into a marketing program railways were using to promote train travel to New Orleans.
Montgomery street view

Attracting popular people and events viewed as current and modern were highlighted. Montgomery was trying to be in vogue, and in many ways it was working. Baseball wouldn't be far behind...


The bar scene in Montgomery was lively back then!
Major league teams had begun to train in Florida and while taking the train north the station in Montgomery was already a stopover for them.

Major League teams barnstorming in smaller towns like Dothan, Selma or Enterprise were a short train ride to Montgomery where the players were able to take the night life in at one of the many restaurants and casinos the Heart of Dixie offered.

Quickly the city got to work getting a team and putting those traveling major league teams onto the field, not to mention charging admissions and selling popcorn! By the start of the 1903 season, Montgomery had gained entry into the highly competitive Southern Association.
The Sporting News announced the Southern League news!

MARCH 26th 1903


Nixey Callahan

Chicago White Sox manager Nixey Callahan announces that he expects his team to win every single exhibition game during the spring. “The boys are now in fair shape to show their true form. We want to return home with a full string of scalps.”
Mgm mgr and 1B

The White Sox promptly lost to the newly minted Montgomery Black Sox, 10-9 in 10 innings.

Montgomery’s manager and first baseman, Lew Whistler, went 4-for-5 and belted two home runs to lead his team to victory.

A former bigleaguer himself, Whistler would lead the league with 18 homers this year as he managed the first team in Montgomery since the 1800's.


MARCH 29th 1903

Just three days after the Black Sox turned away the Chicago White Sox in extra innings, Montgomery was playing host to the Boston Nationals, known as the BeanEaters and later as the Braves.
1903 Boston Beaneater/Braves
The Boston Beaneaters pitcher Wiley Piatt’s finger is so sore that a hotel physician cuts into it to drain the blood to avoid blood poisoning. Piatt is scratched from his scheduled start against Montgomery.

Piatt is one of only seven pitchers Boston uses that season and goes 9-14 with a 3.18 ERA. The 1903 season proves to be his last in the big leagues, capping off a six-year career in which he posts a record of 86-79 with an ERA of 3.61.
SP Wiley Piatt

He is also the only man in the 20th century to earn losses while tossing two complete games on the same day in MLB.

A record that will surely never be topped, getting beat twice on the same day without a relief pitcher in either game is a tough task just to equal in todays era of bullpen specialists!

So far I have yet to find the box score from this game, so no telling how the teams fared. Hopefully I can come up with it before the 101st anniversary of the game, which is the day the Rays visit Riverwalk stadium.

The following year the Beaneaters return to play exhibitions in Montgomery on back-to-back days as they prepare for the 1904 season. Also still trying to locate the box score from these contests - the Advertiser had a fire that destroyed old records, so its tough to come up with some of the numbers from this era.

Your 1904 Montgomery Senators

1905 - The Yankees hold spring training at Montgomery, including exhibition games. The New York team was yet to be known as yankees, at the time they were going by the Highlanders name. Willie "hit em where they aint" Keeler, Hal Chase, Jack Chesbro and manager Clark Griffith were premier players of the age.
Shortstop for the Highlanders in 1905, Kid Elberfeld would appear on the Montgomery roster later in his career, appearing in 78 games for us in 1912.

Frank Delahanty is shown on this Highlanders/Yankees team photo, he played with Montgomery in just the previous year and would be sold to New York by Birmingham in August of 1905, in time to make the Sporting Life end of the season coverage!


Other games range from exhibitions and baseball camps, to well as several teams who set up their full spring training either in Montgomery or nearby cities, including:

The RedSox were here in 1939...
Bill Cutler with Joe Cronin at Cramton Bowl

In 1941 its the reigning World Champions, the Cincinnati Reds who play an exhibition game at Cramton Bowl.
1941 Cinci Reds came to town

The spring of 1948 saw Montgomery facing Dem Bums, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and took on the Rebels as they worked their way north ahead of Opening Day. Ralph Branca pitched all nine innings.

The very next year, 1949, Montgomery plays host to the Philadelphia Phillies, losing 2-1 in a rain shortened six inning game. No photo available!

The Dodgers return in '54, holding a baseball camp for military teams in the morning and playing their exhibition game in the afternoon.
Dodgers Walter Alston takes questions from GI's before an exhibition game in Mgm

So if you read a press release that says the Rays vs Biscuits game is the first time a big league team has played in Montgomery, don't be fooled. Lots of big league teams play games here!



I got a letter from Biscuits reliever Neil Schenk last week in which he states that he will likely retire from baseball and pursue a career in clinical pharmacy after the Rays gave him his release last month.

He says he is applying to schools so he can continue his education in that direction. "... I am in the rare position of being totally content with moving on to my next career" and expressed his gratitude to the fans for their support over his three seasons in Montgomery.

Schenk, the 23rd round pick in 2008 out of the U of Memphis, appeared in 110 Biscuits games the past three years. Schenk won five games and lost five games for Montgomery during that time, and while he got knocked around abit in 2013 he was a fan favorite out of the bullpen. A good guy who was a solid lefty out of the bullpen, he will be missed by Skitz faithful.

We all wish him the best of luck in his future ventures!


Bubba-36109 said...

Enjoyed your article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bubba!