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Early Professional Baseball in Erie, Pennsylvania: Part 8

Barry J. Gray

Sunday May 9th, 2021

Central League, 1912

The 1912 Central League season began with twelve teams, but they were told in January that only the eight teams with the best attendance would return for the 1913 campaign. At the time no other league in the country had as many teams. Both major leagues comprised only eight teams apiece at the time.

The schedule for the season employed a new twist to try and keep fans' interest in late season games, when teams with no prospect of winning would often see attendance drop. Clearly, if fans lost interest in watching an eighth-place team, they wouldn't go to see a twelfth-place one. So, for the first half of the season, the six eastern clubs would play each other twelve times, while the six western teams did the same. In the second half, each team would play the six teams in the other "section" twelve times. It was hoped that this would also reduce travel expenses. The smaller towns in the league opposed the plan, but it was adopted at the league meeting on February 22.

This innovative plan, proposed by league president Frank Carson, essentially created two seasons, with winners in the intra-sectional and inter-sectional halves. In some ways it presaged the formation of regional divisions in the major leagues almost 60 years later, when expansion to 12 teams in each league presented owners with a similar problem of how to maintain fan enthusiasm through a long season.

Meanwhile, Erie was beset by ownership problems. The owners of the O&P League team, Roth and Mertens, could not continue. They were willing to unload the team on very favorable terms, and rent out Perry Field for the season for only $800. On January 22, 1912 the Times announced on page one a subscription campaign to raise $10,000 to buy the club, pay the league's entry fee and cover expenses. The money to pay the league, a $2,000 deposit that would be refunded if the team finished the season, had to be raised in five days. On the 24th, a season ticket drive was announced, with the backing of the chamber of commerce. For $20, subscribers received one share of stock in the team along with their tickets. The league admission fee was soon raised, and wired to the league before the deadline.

A banquet was held at the Erie Shrine Club on February 1 to generate enthusiasm and sell tickets. The guest of honor was Central League president Dr. Frank R. Carson, who complimented Erie organizers on their plan. Captains were assigned to fan out across the city to sell subscriptions. The remaining tickets were soon sold.

Gilbert was hired to pilot the team, which was incorporated under the name "Erie Exhibition Company." He headed off for the National League meeting in New York with club president Thomas J. O'Connor to see what players the big league teams had on offer. On March 9, O'Connor was elected vice president of the Central, responsible for the eastern half of the league.

Erie finished the season with a record of 75-53, only two games behind Fort Wayne, and virtually tied with Youngstown for second place. While all 12 teams completed the season, reports suggested that no more than four of them broke even. Erie reportedly had the highest attendance in the league, about 60,000.

After the season the league proposed reducing the circuit to six teams and dropping Erie and the other eastern teams, who would be dumped into a reconstituted Interstate League at the Class C level. Many of the team owners were not happy with president Carson, who had imposed several restrictions before the season, and wanted to replace him with Louis Heilbroner. The western owners complained that a twelve-team league was too expensive, and wanted to limit travel to save money. O'Connor protested at the league meeting November 1, but to no avail.

Central League Erie PA
1912 Erie Sailors