Early Professional Baseball in Erie, Pennsylvania: Part 9

Barry J. Gray

Monday May 10th, 2021

Relegated to Interstate League, "Invaded" by Canadian League, 1913-1916

At a meeting in Akron on November 7, the Interstate League was reconstituted yet again, this time as an eight-team Class B circuit. In July the league dropped four of the teams, paid off their players, and laid out a new schedule for the remaining four clubs. The league only managed to complete another week before disbanding on July 21. Erie, with Gilbert again managing, was running away even before the league contracted, then won its final five games, finishing 10-1/2 games ahead of second place Akron. On June 29 Erie defeated Wheeling 2-1 in 16 innings, with Carl Sterzer going the distance for the Sailors.

That fall, Louis Bierbauer, Jr., son of the great Lou Bierbauer, was quoted as saying that Erie should join the Canadian League, an eight-team league based in Ontario. Bierbauer Jr., who had played for the Sailors in 1911, was at the time a member of the London, Ontario Tecumsehs. A month later the league applied to acquire the rights to the Erie market for the following season, stating plans to relocate the team in Guelph. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of minor league baseball, awarded the Erie territory to the Guelph team. The league, with the addition of Erie and Toronto, was elevated to Class B.

George O'Neil, owner of the London franchise, had bought the rights to the Guelph team with the intention of moving it to Erie. O'Connor and the other shareholders in the Erie Exhibition Company would have preferred to have had a team in the New York State League, which represented larger cities in closer proximity to Erie than the Canadian, but were unable to raise the money needed to pay off the team's debts and purchase a NYL team. O'Neil agreed to pay off the debts and so purchase the local company.

Erie fielded a Canadian League team in 1914, the only U.S. city ever to be a part of the league. While still informally referred to as the Sailors, they were nicknamed the Yankees, although they were in no way affiliated with the American League team in New York. Under player-manager George "Heinie" Smith, who had played in the major leagues around the turn of the century, they finished third, well behind Ottawa and London, with a record of 64-57. The league claimed to have lost money, in part due to Canada's entrance into World War One, and once again it contracted by dropping Erie from the circuit. The league would only last one more season before disbanding in 1915.

"Heinie" Smith
Ed H
Ed Hovlik

The Sailors briefly rejoined an expanded eight-team Central League in 1915, now led by Heilbroner, who had put the league on a better financial footing. They finished in fifth place under manager Larry Quinlan, with a record of 64-58. On June 3, Ed Hovlik pitched a one hitter against Dayton to win, 3-2.

The franchise was sold to Fred Moran, who returned it to yet another version of the Interstate League, which had been demoted to Class D, for the 1916 season. The league began the season with eight teams, but had to drop two of them in mid-July. At that point Erie was in sixth place. The league began a second season, and Erie posted a losing record before disbanding on August 9, after taking in only $16 at the gate that day. The league collapsed on September 4 as well, with Ridgway declared the winner. Jimmie Savage, who had played the previous two years for Pittsburgh in the failed Federal League, managed the Sailors to an overall record of 26-37.

Fred Moran
Jimmie Savage

The next day's Times decried the lack of support provided to the team by local fans, and stated that the players, who were owed nearly a month's pay, had all lost their jobs. "Before Erie will ever have organized baseball in the future, it will be necessary to pay the back salaries of these players. Thus it can be seen that the curtain has been rung down on professional baseball for this city for several years at least," the paper declared.

These words proved prophetic. Moran announced the following winter that he was through with baseball. Professional baseball would not return to Erie for another 12 years, when it placed a team in the reconstituted Central League that played at the recently completed Athletic Field at West 24th Street and Brown Avenue, later renamed Ainsworth Field.


Early Erie Professional Baseball Teams

Years                          Name                          League                                    Class

1877                           Eries                           League Alliance/Intl. Assn.   --

1885                           Olympics                     Inter-State League                --

1890-1891*               Drummers/Eries       New York & PA League         --

1893*-1894               Blackbirds                  Eastern League                      Class A?

1905, 06*, 07, 08       Fishermen                  Interstate League                  Class D

1908, 09, 10, 11         Sailors                        Ohio-Pennsylvania League   Class C

1912                           Sailors                        Central League                      Class B

1913*                         Sailors                        Interstate League                  Class B

1914                           Yankees                      Canadian League                   Class B

1915                           Sailors                        Central League                      Class B

1916                           Sailors                        Interstate League                  Class D

1928-30, 1932           Sailors                        Central League                      Class B


*League champion.




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Carney, John G. Saga of Erie Sports. Erie: Carney, 1957.

Erie Daily Times, 1888-2000.

Erie Morning Dispatch, 1884-1897.

Helander, Brock. "The League Alliance," Society for American Baseball Research,

Holl, Jim. "Ohio-Pennsylvania League of 1905," SABR Minor Leagues Research Committee, April 29, 2009.

Palmer, Pete and Gary Gillette, eds. ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. New York: Sterling, 2005.

Richmond Palladium, March 9, 1912.

Richter, Francis C., ed. The Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide. Philadelphia: A. J. Reach, 1883-.

Spalding's Base Ball Guide. New York: A. G. Spalding, 1877-

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Ward, Geoffrey C. Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Wheeling Register, May 8, 1883.

All player images courtesy of Sports Reference LLC.

Team images from Reach Guides.