Part one of our Locals Versus the Pros series debuted in March, when we remembered the infamous “Knife Game” of 1920, when the Chicago Cubs visited Rivals Park, and a fan stabbed Cubs third baseman Buck Herzog after the game. Here in part two, we look at June 14, 1910, when the Chicago White Sox made the journey to J-Town.
Well over a century before the Slammers existed, professional baseball was a normalcy in Joliet, with several teams in the late 19th and early 20th centuries calling it home. As a bonus, both the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox played a handful of exhibition games around the area against the various local clubs.
The Chicago White Sox rode the rails south to Dellwood Park, home of the Joliet Jolly-Ites. The Jolly-Ites were a member of the obscure Northern Association, a Class-D League (the equivalent of an MLB Rookie League today), in its inaugural season. A mysterious fate would befall both the team and the league.
As one might imagine, the whole town was abuzz on the morning of June 14. Most city offices and businesses in Joliet closed early to attend the big game at Dellwood, a state-of-the-art park not even 5 years old at the time. Mayor John Cronin, many city officials and thousands of spectators crammed the Lockport ballyard, not surprisingly drawing the Jolly-Ites’ biggest crowd of the season. The Joliet club was skippered by Henry “Hunkey” Hines, a career minor league player, save for a two-game stint he had in the majors with the Brooklyn Grooms (later known as the Dodgers) in 1895. Hines himself was forced to start in right field for this game against the Sox when injuries gave his team too short of a bench.
The White Sox got off to a hot start in the top of the first inning, as costly errors by the local club gifted four unearned runs to the big leaguers. The hometown “Ites” were shaking off what the Joliet Evening Herald described as “stage fright,” and the Sox capitalized. The big knock came via a two-run single by rookie first baseman Chick Gandil, who years later would become known as the player-ringleader for his role in conspiring to throw the infamous 1919 World Series.
The home club fought hard after the ragged first frame, not allowing any White Sox hits from the second through the seventh innings. Joliet pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth, keeping the game very much in the balance as the Sox clung to a 4-1 lead heading to the top of the eighth.
The South Siders’ bats roared to life in their half of the eighth-however, scoring three runs on three hits. One of the runs was plated on a controversial homer by shortstop Lena Blackburne, when the gapper he launched bounded through a hole in the outfield fence. Instead of what should have been a ground-rule double, he was awarded the solo inside the park round-tripper, much to the dismay of the overflow throng.
Refusing to go away quietly, the Jolly-Ites staged a comeback in the bottom of the ninth but were only able to muster two runs, and the game ended with the White Sox victorious, 7-3.
Despite the loss, the game was much closer than the final score indicated. The home club rallied defensively after the error-laden first inning to compile several dazzling defensive plays and managed to out-hit the Sox on the day, eight to seven. The huge crowd, who applauded loudly for the local boys, appreciated the effort.
The small sense of celebration was not meant to last.
One week after the rousing ballgame versus the Sox, the Jolly-Ites moved to Sterling and were renamed, perhaps ironically, the Infants. Then, less than a month after that pilgrimage, the entire Northern Association suddenly vanished like an Old West ghost town.
The league officially was disbanded July 19, having not even completed one full season. All nine teams were forced to look for new homes, including the Kankakee Kays, who featured a certain young outfielder on their roster named Casey Stengel. The future hall-of-famer was one of just two players from the Northern Association, along with Fritz Maisel, to reach the major leagues.
Yet a month before the league’s termination, the Jolly-Ites and their hometown fans had a chance to gain some renown when they hosted the White Sox, unknowing that theirs and the Northern Association’s futures were doomed. But the city’s attention and all the associated fanfare were present and accounted for when the Pale Hosers appeared at Dellwood that June afternoon, 108 years ago.
Although their existence was ill-fated, the Joliet club benefited from some fortunate scheduling for this game, all things considered. Not only was it played in the nick of time before they moved out of town, but Joliet’s regularly scheduled game on June 14 vs. Clinton, Iowa, was bumped (with Clinton’s approval) to a doubleheader the following day. Had Clinton not agreed to such a move, this game with the Sox may never have happened. Furthermore, it was sandwiched in the middle of a White Sox homestand at South Side Park on their only off day (Comiskey Park still was a couple of weeks away from opening.) The White Sox eventually would run out of steam and struggle to a sixth place (68-85) record in the American League in 1910.
Like Rivals Park would have a decade later, Dellwood Park enjoyed its major league moment, too.