Southwestern Illinois Inter-City Baseball League
The Southwestern Illinois Inter-City Baseball League, otherwise known as the I-C, was a semi-pro and amateur farm league throughout the Metro-East area of Southwestern Illinois, including teams from Clinton, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair Counties over its lifetime. The league ran from 1931 until the mid-1970s.1 Throughout its tenure, the league fostered the talents of numerous players who moved up into the Minor and Major Leagues. Additionally, the success of the I-C aligned with the interest of Metro-East communities as well as broader economic and social trends.
The creation of the Missouri-Illinois League in April of 1903 precipitated the I-C, the Mo-Il league was commonly referred to as the “Trolley League,” as “most clubs [were] in nearly every instance backed by the city railway companies in their respective cities.”2 The newly minted professional Trolley League organizers, led by Tom Cahill (the league president), drafted a constitution and a schedule, and agreed to salary limits.3 In its opening season, the league contained six teams, one each from East. St. Louis, Belleville, Alton, St. Charles, and two teams from St. Louis. By its third season, the league was touted as “semi-professional” and “…a kindgergarten [sic] for the development of minor-league baseball talent. Nearly every minor league in the West has recruited from this league for the coming season.”4 By 1909 the Trolley League had grown in popularity and size, running a season with ten teams sponsored by local towns and neighborhoods, such as Gillespie Blues, Mount Olive, Staunton, Hyde Park, and The Mound Citys. While the other four teams were sponsored by local businesses or clubs as indicated by their team names such as the Funsten Brothers, Repples, Stan Rep, H.P. Parts, and the Partridge Club.5 Moreover, by the late 1920s, interest in forming more teams in the Illinois Metro-East region had risen.
While local interest in cheap outdoor sporting events continued to rise throughout the early ‘20s, after the financial collapse of 1929 occurred leading to the Great Depression, larger national professional Class-A and B baseball leagues thinned in the wake of the massive economic and social upheaval. Spurred by the desire for recreational space, residents throughout the Illinois Metro-East aggressively expanded outdoor parks, playgrounds, and sponsored low-cost community activities.
For example, it was not financially viable for municipal governments in the Alton and Wood River areas to build parks due to decreases in tax revenue during the depression. Instead, parks were established from donations and the efforts of local clubs like the Kiwanis, businesses, Shurtleff College, and through the collective efforts of local neighborhood initiatives.6 As part of this broader push for an expansion of local parks and their services, increasing numbers of recreational leagues emerged throughout 1929 into 1932.7
One such league, The Southwestern Inter-City Baseball League (I-C) was established in 1931 part of the recreational revitalization following economic decline. What set the I-C apart from other local leagues such as the “American Diamond Ball league,” “National Diamond Ball League,” and the “Twilight League,” was its “professional” rather than “recreational” status as a Class-D minor league organization.8 While teams in the I-C were professional, meaning their players were paid and had local-team contracts, they were not sponsored by or affiliated with major league teams, nor were they considered direct “feeder” teams for the majors. The leagues at this level had their own localized hierarchies and determined their own rules and bylaws. And in line with the community-oriented approach towards recreation, even the league’s name was determined by the community through a public competition. The winner of the naming contest would win a season pass to the entirety of the first season.9 On March 19, 1931, a month before the official start of the league, Collinsville resident Charles F. Chiado was announced as the winner by league president Vernon Lucas. Chiado’s suggestion of “Southwestern Illinois Inter-City Baseball League” was the winning name. Teams were to follow the league bylaws but were able to contract individual players and establish their own admissions fees for games. Furthermore, while the bylaws did not explicitly exclude people of color from participation, the league was segregated, and participating towns like Alton had separate “negro” baseball teams or leagues, celebrated during the expansion of the playground system in the early 30s.10 The I-C organization consisted of a Board of Arbitration with elected officials who served five-year terms.11 It also had four executive officers, a President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and an elected statistician.12
Eight teams participated in the league’s second year, playing a 21 game season that lasted from April to September, mimicking the organization of the Missouri-Illinois league.13 The 1932 teams were “Edwardsville, managed by Burl (Doc) Bryant; Glen Carbon Crossing, piloted by Ed Roubinek; Maryville. led by Wesley Gronemeyer: Troy, headed by John Sesock; Collinsville Lecce’s Red Birds, directed by Bob Ittig; Red and Whites, handled by W.M Malinosay; sponsored by Viviano and Brother, Collinsville, managed by “Muddy” Steines, and a second Collinsville team directed by Jim Caveletti.”14 In the league’s third year, the St. Louis Cardinals, coached by Charlie Barret, signed three players from the Southwestern League to play “Farm-Duty” on two of its Illinois Minor League teams. The Cardinals contracted Al Krupski, a pitcher from Maryville, and Ed Bailey, an Outfielder from Collinsville, to the Cardinals’ Springfield, Illinois farm team, while contracting Wesley Gronemeyer, a catcher from Maryville, to play in Springfield, Missouri.15 By 1935, league president Vernon Lucas touted the success of the I-C, which he claimed “graduated” more players to “organized ball” from the three leagues he managed in the area, the Southwestern Illinois Inter-City League, the Sunday Morning League, and 2C League.16 Lucas then listed several players who had been called up, “[a]mong them, Al Krupski, with Martinsville of the bistate League; Walter Schuerbaum, center fielder of the Nebraska State League; William Werner and George Rough, Huntsville of the Arkansas State League, Krupski, Semanism and Schuerbaum are young Marysvillians.”17
Not only were community members invested in players’ success and potential to move up in the farm system, but interactions with players were frequent as games were community affairs. Mayors would toss out the first ball of the first home game of the season typically starting on Easter Sunday and exposition, and even “midseason classic” games had as many as 500 spectators.18 Specialty games frequently included raffles with prizes like St. Louis Cardinals tickets and even a refrigerator. The league frequently promoted itself with specially advertised games, hosting special guests and professional ballplayers.19 Special guests were a frequent appearance at events such as the 1936 Edwardsville “Gala,” which boasted of St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman James “Ripper” Collins as the guest of honor.20 “Novelty” or exhibition games continued to be fashionable and drew sizeable crowds. One such example of the types of specialty games hosted by league teams was the May 1949 “Attraction” between the I-C Collinsville Indians and the traveling Zulu Cannibals, an all African American nationally traveling baseball team. The game was advertised on posters highlighting it as a “Strange Attraction Outdrawing Every Other Novelty Baseball Club in America,” advertising admissions at 60¢ per adult, and 35¢ for students, a sharp increase from the typical average 25¢ admission fee.21
To complete the season, the I-C ended each season with a playoff “series.” Beginning in 1936, the I-C used the O’Shaughnessy system for determining the championship.22 The Shaughnessy system playoff ended with the best two out of three games in a three-game series.23 The league also frequently held community contests for local baseball fans to participate in to celebrate the postseason events. One contest was an “Inter-City League Allstar Team Contest” in which fans would create their own “All-Star” team lineups the winter before and submit them to the local paper or banks for collection. At the end of the season, the three most accurate All-Star lineups were announced by Vernon Lucas at the last regular game of the season.24 The top three contestants would win prizes, “[f]irst prize to the fan whose selection is most nearly correct with be $3; second prize $2, and third prize, a baseball autographed by each member of the allstar team.”25 These activities contributed to the success of the league in its earlier years and were a sign of the important place the teams held in the community.
By 1938 the league had doubled in size from its original six teams to twelve. The rapid expansion of the league led to a discussion in January of 1939 about dividing the league into “North” and “South divisions” and the creation of a “World Series” playoff with each division’s winners.26 After the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration of war, however, baseball teams, both national and local, were thrown into disarray. At all levels of play, teams and leagues developed “war plans” before the start of the 1942 season.27 Even before the formal declaration of war, however, representatives Enos Campbell and Cooper White of Onized, the Owens Glass Co. team, appealed to the I-C to raise the player limit on each team from the typical 15 to 18 because of the difficulties in maintaining a full team while the plant operated on shift work to meet the escalating demands of a warring Europe.28 It is unclear whether the league adopted the 18 player maximum, but it is unlikely as Onized started the 1942 season with 15 players. In July, the league felt the increasing pressures of the war when two teams withdrew in the middle of the 1942 season, the East Alton Business Men and Jerseyville. The Business Men couldn’t man a full team since most team members worked defense shifts, and the bulk of the Jerseyville team was called into military service. In an effort to stabilize the remainder of the seasons schedule, the St. Mary’s Athletic Association of Madison picked up the remaining games on the East Alton Business Men’s schedule.29 While the league was mildly impacted, the continuation of the league during the war is significant as most national and minor leagues were forced to disband because of players serving in the military post-1942.
Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the area experienced dramatic growth in recreational sports clubs, culminating in the widespread creation of Little Leagues and the genesis of a substantial softball league in Edwardsville, whose launch included attendance by Mayor William C. Straube and “other local dignitaries.”30 The softball league’s board also contained politically and socially active members, including Edwardsville Auditor Sam Vadalabene, who would also be elected to the House of Representatives six years later, serving from 1967 to 1971. Vadalabene was also the organizer for the recreational softball league.31 Around the same time, with the rise in community sports, the I-C league divided into Red and Blue divisions by 1960.32
In 1962, the Southwestern Illinois Inter-City Baseball league was labeled by the Alton Evening Telegraph as the oldest consecutively running semi-professional league in the Metro-East, successively running for 32 years at that point. In 1962, the league consisted of 12 teams: the Troy Red Birds, Collinsville Boosters, Pocahontas Braves, McAteer Glass, Moose Lodge No. 4 of East St. Louis, Sacred Hearts, Mercer Funeral Home of Granite City, Maryville Red Sox, Carpenter, and featured a new Wood River Township team, the Merchants, named for the variety of merchants who sponsored the team in the Roxana and Wood River area.33 Like many other teams in the league such as Collinsville, the Wood River Merchants played on the baseball field of their local high school at Roxanna.34 Despite or perhaps because of the rapid growth of alternative sporting events and leagues in the area, Edwardsville was unable to form the minimum nine-man team in 1964, resulting in the dissolution of its franchise spot. Edwardsville players still interested in playing, however, were still welcome to join other teams.35 Despite the loss of Edwardsville, the league was still able to maintain eight teams and played 21 games in the 1964 season, supporting a 13 man umpire crew.36 Additionally, the I-C’s All-Star game continued to be a staple feature throughout the 1960s. As a significant communal event, it included special prizes and outreach by the St. Louis Cardinals, who donated a “major league fielder’s glove and a dozen baseballs autographed by Cardinal players [to] be given away at the game.”37 Games continued and were used as community fundraisers throughout the ‘60s, a two-game exposition raising $200 played at Collinsville High School in 1968, but beginning in 1970 league standings were increasingly harder to find in the newspapers.38 Commentary about its professional stature and contract obligations were completely absent throughout the early ’70s, likely because it was no longer a contractually-based league, as the 1968 league contained ten teams, many of which were crewed by “several high school boys instead of the usual postgraduates.”39
After 1974 news of the league and its standings no longer appeared in local newspapers, signaling its end sometime after the ’74 season, by 1978 the Southwestern Inter-City League was listed as an “amateur league of the past,” marking its dissolution as a professional entity.40 Throughout the late ‘70s, new recreational leagues continued to emerge throughout the Metro-East, absorbing teams from the I-C. In 1978 the Metro East Night Baseball league was formed and based out of Trenton, Breese, and Highland–Pierron. The league actively sought out “established organizations with excellent management” to join.41 In March 1980, the Breese Journal reported that the “Music Room of East Alton, (10 year member of the Intercity League) was unanimously voted into the League, Music room was also voted into the Mon Clair League last Saturday.”42 The movement by Music Room out of the inter-city league and into two other leagues marks an increasing trend among teams to bleed into each other and consolidate without any opposition, signaling the increasingly recreational nature of such leagues. In addition to the Metro East Night Baseball League, others continued to emerge such as the Clinton County League, St. Clair Baseball league, and the Mon Clair Baseball League, which were all playing each other in the 1970s and 1980s. Like the Music Room, many of the former I-C teams joined the 3M league or other multi-county leagues.43
The emergence of the Metro East Night League and Clinton County league also signaled a trend of competitive adult baseball becoming increasingly popular in more rural areas, which could only support a couple of sports teams. At the same time, more densely populated cities such as Alton and Edwardsville tended to diversity their sporting events, including new adult teams for touch football and fast pitched softball. In larger towns, the sporting pages increasingly turned to youth sports and national standings rather than adult-centric local sporting events.
Endnotes [ + ]
|1.||arrow_upward||The exact date when it was absorbed by another league or dissolved unknown.|
|2.||arrow_upward||When the I-C was created the Missouri-Illinois League was commonly referred to as the “Old Trolley League” by newspapers. Additionally, many later Illinois papers no longer refer to the league as the Missouri-Illinois League but instead refer to it as the Illinois-Missouri League. All three names were used interchangeably in sources. The St. Joseph Herald (St. Joseph, Missouri), “Trolley Car League” Jan 28 1894, (accessed April 3, 2020).|
|3.||arrow_upward||The constitution was likely copied from other minor league constitutions, as the St. Louis Globe Democrat wrote, “The constitution recommended was adopted without change. It being the customary one with the minor leagues,” The entirety of the first season schedule is listed by the, St. Louis Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, Missouri), “Trolley League Organized: Officers Selected and a Constitution, By-Laws and Schedule Adopted” January 25 1903, (accessed April 3, 2020); St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Rising Players in Trolley League” June 10 1906, (accessed April 3, 2020).|
|4.||arrow_upward||Alton Evening Telegraph, “Trolley League’s Talent in Demand” Feb 3 1906, (accessed April 3, 2020).|
|5.||arrow_upward||All of the teams with the exception of Staunton had players listed on the All-Star roster for the 1909 season, see the, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Trolley league,” Aug 27 1909, (accessed April 10, 2020). For a full schedule of the 1909 baseball season of the Trolley League, see the, St. Louis Globe Democrat, “Official Schedule Trolley League For 1909,” April 04 1909, (accessed 5-29-2020), also in the same edition of the St. Louis Globe Democrat is information about which teams owned their own fields and which teams would be “leant” a field for the season, since teams sponsored by industry rather than towns did not have access to municipal fields, see, “Trolley League Opens April 18,” April 04 1909, (accessed 5-29-2020). Staunton and Mount Olive were teams housed in Illinois, while Gillespie, Mound City, Hyde Park were all Missouri teams. It is unclear whether Partridge referred to Partridge, Illinois just outside of Peoria, Illinois.|
|6.||arrow_upward||Activities listed in 1932 from the previous year included a variety of community activities to make use of the newly created spaces: such as Easter egg hunts, plays, contests, multiple baseball leagues, Horseshoe league, encouraged picnicking, tennis courts, gymnasiums and municipal golf courses. Alton Evening Telegraph, “1,964 Enroll in Year for Playgrounds: Total attendance during 1931, was 48,831 Says Report, Movement Expands,” Apr 1 1932, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|7.||arrow_upward||With the creation of parks, youth leagues appear to have increased first, followed by the emergence of the I-C which held its first game in 1931. The youth teams in Alton were divided into two leagues – by geographic location to prevent transportation issues between a Telegraph League which consisted of Upper Alton District “teams from Clara Barton, Milton, and Horace Mann,” while the other League would be comprised of “McKinley, Kiwanis Watertower, Washington and St. Patrick’s will be in the other,” the recreational organizers stated that this was to prevent “a large part of cross-town transportation” since games would be played five days a week. For more on the start of youth league playground loops see, The Edwardville Intelligencer, “Baseball Loop of Playground Teams Planned: Boys 14 to 17 years to Take Part in Schedule,” Jun 21 1930, (accessed March 28, 2020); the year prior to the I-C a smaller league circuit developed, called the “Southwestern Illinois Baseball League,” planning for the league which had begun in 1929 was conducted by “the following officers and club representatives: Simon Kellermann jr., Edwardsville, President: Clarence H. Hale, East Alton, First Vice President: Willard C. Moser, Staunton Second Vice President: George W. Hartung, Edwardsville, Secrectary: John F. Schneeberger, Belleville, Treasurer; J.W. Kelly, East Alton; Fred G. Dietiker, Staunton; L.P. Owsley, Alton; Dennis Hentz, Edwardsville; William Klotz, Belleville: Ed Brzostowski, East St. Louis.” Alton Evening Telegraph, “Southwestern Illinois Baseball League to Open Season May 5,” Mar 23 1929, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|8.||arrow_upward||A list of recreational leagues was found in the Alton Evening Telegraph, “Standing of Recreational Leagues,” Jul 3 1929; For more on the start of the “Twilight League” see, Alton Evening Telegraph, “Twilight Baseball league to Open Season Monday,” May 18 1929, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|9.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Collinsville Boy Wins Prize in Naming League,” Mar 19 1931, (accessed March 26 2020).|
|10.||arrow_upward||Many of these parks and “playground” collectives and the organizations that surrounded them were segregated. Alton had an outdoor “Playground Baseball League,” presumably used by white residents and a separate “Negro Indoor Baseball League” for black residents, see the Alton Evening Telegraph, “1,964 Enroll in Year for Playgrounds: Total attendance during 1931, was 48,831 Says Report, Movement Expands,” Apr 1 1932. (accessed April 17, 2020); No information has yet been located that identifies when the league became integrated.|
|11.||arrow_upward||This league organization is based on a 1964 newspaper article which describes the organization, members of the board in ’64 were William Morris, Mike Semanisin, James Delbert Hackeney and Charles Brisky. The Board was presided over by Vernon Lucas, the league president. See, The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Southwestern Inter-City League Has Eight Teams, Edwardsville Out,” March 19 1964, (accessed Mar 26, 2020).|
|12.||arrow_upward||In 1960 the Board of Arbitration still had only three members, so between 60-64 the league changed the number of Arbitration officials. The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Diamond Action Starts April 24,” April 5 1960, (accessed Mar 27, 2020).|
|13.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Eight Clubs Entered in Inter-City League,” Mar 7 1932, (accessed Mar 27, 2020).|
|15.||arrow_upward||Daily Republican-Register (Mount Carmel, Illinois) Sept 26 1933, (accessed March 27, 2020).|
|16.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “The Maryville News: Wins Contest” Jul 13 1935, (accessed April 3, 2020).|
|18.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Easter to Open Season,” Apr 7 1936, (accessed March 26, 2020); on the number of spectators at Midseason Classics see the 1964 season, Alton Evening Telegraph, “What they Did Then” (accessed March 27, 2020).|
|19.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Easter to Open Season,” Apr 7 1936, (accessed March 26, 2020).|
|21.||arrow_upward||“Poster Advertising ‘African Zulu Cannibals’ vs. Collinsville Indians,” Madison Historical, accessed April 18, 2020; The price of 25 cents is an approximation of prices at fields for a variety of sporting events in Edwardsville and Alton, some of the St. Louis fields in the Trolley League for instance charged 25¢ for sporting events starting in 1918 according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the Mayor signed an Bill authorizing the fee at “Municipal Sports Finals” to help pay for the creation of new fields, referred to as “playgrounds,” see St. Louis Post Dispatch, “New Law Permits Admission Charge at Park Contests,” March 30 1918, (accessed May 29. 2020).|
|22.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Easter to Open Season,” Apr 7 1936, (accessed March 26, 2020).|
|23.||arrow_upward||Alton Evening Telegraph, “Crown Supply 5-3 Victor in First Playoff Game,” Aug 26 1946, (accessed April 16, 2020).|
|24.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “League Fans Will Select All Stars,” Nov 25 1933, (accessed March 27, 2020).|
|26.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “From the Sidelines,” Jan 17 1939, (accessed March 27, 2020).|
|27.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “I-C Baseball,” June 16 1960, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|28.||arrow_upward||Alton Evening Telegraph, “Ask League to Raise Player Roster to 18,” Mar 20 1941, (accessed April 3, 2020); For more on the discussion and the Jay Travis controversy of 1939 see, Alton Evening Telegraph, “Southwestern Loop Visits Alton Tonight, Finds Another ‘Mess,‘” Mar 26 1941, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|29.||arrow_upward||Alton Evening Telegraph, “What They Did Then – July 19 1942,” Jul 19 1967 (accessed March 27, 2020).|
|30.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “City Recreation Softball Activity,” June 16 1960, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|32.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “I-C Baseball,” June 16 1960, (accessed April 17, 2020).|
|33.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “The Sports Scene,” Jul 3, 1958, (accessed March 27, 2020); The clipping additionally lists the 1958 team members.|
|34.||arrow_upward||Alton Evening Telegraph, “Wood River Enters Inter-City League,” Apr 20 1962, (accessed March 26, 2020); That first season the Wood River Merchants consisted of the following players: Bill Watkins, Grady Watkins, LaDone Honey, Tom Twente, Marvin Nichols, Bob Nichols, Dave and Lanny Yates, Grover Thomas, Tom Yopp, Charles Young, Roland Shire, Don Masterdon, and Gary Shillinger.|
|35.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Southwestern Inter-City League Has Eight Teams; Edwardsville Out,” Mar 17 1964, (accessed March 26, 2020).|
|37.||arrow_upward||The Edwardsville Intelligencer, “Southwestern League Allstar Game Set Sunday,” Jul 3 1964, (accessed March 26, 2020).|
|38.||arrow_upward||Information about the exposition game fundraising is from, The Village of Maryville, “The History of Maryville 1900-1993,” (accessed April 18, 2020).|
|40.||arrow_upward||The Breese Journal, “Trenton and Breese to Play in Metro East Baseball League,” Mar 20 1980, (accessed March 26, 2020).|