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Early Professional Baseball in Erie, Pennsylvania: Part 6

Barry J. Gray

Sunday May 2nd, 2021

The Erie Baseball War, 1908

The O&P started in 1905 as an independent league, but that season was so chaotic that President Charlie Morton (the same man who had managed the Erie Blackbirds in 1893-94) got it recognized as an official minor league by organized baseball. It had eight teams in 1906 in eastern Ohio and western PA. At their winter meeting in Cleveland in January 1907, the league owners wanted to expand to ten teams, including Erie, plus either Sandusky or Zanesville, OH. However, Baumeister asked for $2,500 to pay the Interstate League for Erie's release, and the representatives for the existing teams expected the other two candidates to pay the sum as their admission to the league. The delegations from the Ohio towns "decided not to pay Erie one cent for its release," according to the Times of January 30, offering instead to each ante up $500 for admission. This counter offer was voted down, leaving the league with eight teams.

Less than a month later, Erie thought they had secured their place in the O&P, after the owners of the Youngstown, OH team handed it to their manager, Marty Hogan, to run. Hogan immediately tried to move the team to Zanesville. This would allow Erie and Sandusky, who had come to terms over the Erie team's price, to be added as the ninth and tenth teams. But at the last minute, the Youngstown owners telephoned the other owners at the league meeting to rescind the sale of the team, keeping it in Youngstown. The owners again decided to remain an eight-team league in 1907.

In the words of the Times on February 21, "Although they came seeking nice juicy watermelons, they were not given even a dish of boarding house prunes. Instead, they were handed lemons, and the sourest in stock."

While the Erie Fisherman remained in the Interstate League for the 1907 season, things were not going so well for the O&P. After the season ended with the league $32,000 in the red, the four larger, eastern cities in the league wanted to jettison the smaller western towns and form a new league along with Erie and at least one other city. But as it was four against four, the owners were deadlocked.

In December, Morton announced that he had arranged for a seven member national commission of arbitrators to settle the dispute. The proposal put to them was to form a six-team league composed of Akron, Canton, and Youngstown, OH, with Erie, New Castle and Sharon, PA, which was later expanded to include eight teams. The owners of the four teams that were to be left out of the new league vowed to fight to maintain the existing O&P at their January meeting. At that meeting, the eastern teams said they would rather not play than continue in the existing O&P, and offered to pay off the western ones to gain their release. The commission wrestled with the question for several hours, but could offer no solution, suggesting only that Morton somehow decide, something he was unwilling to do.

Meanwhile it was assumed that the Interstate League had dissolved, but at the review before the national commission, delegates from Bradford, Franklin and Oil City stated that it was not dead yet, so the commission ruled that Erie must remain in the Interstate, unless it could pay off the other teams to gain their release. Baumeister, the owner, vowed that he would do so, as long as the price was not exorbitant.

A few days later, the clouds seemed to part when the commission suggested that the western O&P towns could form a new league with several other small towns in western Ohio, freeing the eastern cities to go their own way. The eastern clubs were assured that they could add a team in Erie if they paid the western teams $1,000. Both sides began planning for the new season. The owners of the Fishermen assumed they would soon be absorbed into the new O&P. However, when they offered the owners of the few remaining teams in the Interstate League $2,500 to gain their freedom, the other teams rejected it, insisting that they would play the 1908 season with a team in Erie.

It wasn't clear what the other owners were up to. A knowledgeable source claimed that President George Rinderknecht of the Interstate League, a part owner of the Bradford team, was holding Erie hostage, in hopes of driving Baumeister out and taking over his franchise so he could then enter it in the O&P himself. As the Times put it, "Those who have investigated the situation thoroughly cannot help feeling that there is a snake in the grass somewhere." To forestall any funny business, the O&P asked the commission to grant it territorial rights in Erie, without success.

If Rinderknecht thought he had outsmarted Baumeister and Dan Koster, the Erie owner and manager, he was seriously mistaken. Just a few days later, they along with the sports editor of the Times, revealed an ingenious plan, suggested by an anonymous "ex-newspaper man," to place a team in Girard, ten miles west of Erie, and easily accessible by trolley, but far enough away to avoid infringing on the Interstate's rights to Erie.

The secretary of the national commission notified President Charles Morton of the O&P that the league was granted territorial rights in Girard. At the O&P League meeting on March 5, the new team in Girard was accepted into the O&P, which expanded to eight teams. According to Morton, "I never saw a town so enthusiastic for good ball in my life. The people of Erie are up in arms against the Interstate and they all want to come into the O. and P. The best businessmen of the town are the ones who are supporting Baumeister and Koster in their new deal."

While the Inter-State League eventually managed to stop the move, the owners simply transferred the team to Butler, PA. However the national board told Rinderknecht the Inter-State team must play in Erie in order to make good its claim to the territory. But public sentiment in the city was so against the Inter-State by this time that no ballpark owner in Erie would allow the team to play there.