A Grandfather's Legacy
King of Sports Has Long History
Greats and Near-Greats Made Alva Symbol of Good Baseball
1943 -- written by E. M. Barker, Courier
Vol. XLIV, Section C, pg. 2, pg. 3 & pg. 6, 1943
50th Anniversary Edition, "Alva-Reveiw Courier"
In spite of the fact that baseball has played an important role in the early history of Alva, it has had little publicity and only a few records remain of the teams and the games they played in the days of the sod houses and covered wagons.
It is true that prior to the coming of statehood there were several saloons and they were the main support of our ball clubs of the gay nineties, but we find that the men who played on the teams and were connected with baseball are from some of our most sturdy stock; and in tracing their subsequent life history we invariably find they were men of sterling character who not only contributed a lot to the great national pastime but played an important part in the building of the town, both in a civic and material way.
They were men of strong principle and sterling character who for the lack of publicity in those times never received the credit they so richly deserved.
Now in one of the most critical periods of our country when we find this great nation endorsing baseball as one of its greatest builders and sustainers of public morale, we think it is high time someone brought to public accounting their deeds of the diamond that contributed much to this great nation.
Crowell Early Manager
Yesterday we talked to the man who managed the first baseball team in Alva. Now in his eighty-second year with his eyes growing dim and his step less steady, he still retains that old twinkle in his eye when he recalls incidents of the old "Alva Giants," the team which he managed. He not only contributed a lot to baseball but gave freely his time and money to other sports that have kept Alva in the spotlight all these long years.
Furthermore he is and was a great civic booster and a man that has played a major part in the upbuilding of the town. It is none other than George W. Cowell, retired Alva lumberman, now living on West Flynn street (1943 - the redbrick two-story house on the SW corner of 8th & Flynn).
"Why it was almost within a stones throw of here we played our first ball game. It was in 1894 and the diamond was located on the grounds where the Washington school stands today," he said as he told of amusing incidents that took place during the ball game.
Alva and Medicine Lodge were the teams that played and the game was won by Alva.
Early Players Named
One of the Axline boys from Attica, Kansas, pitched for Alva and Fred Ellis later to pitch for the Alva Giants was on the mound for the Kansans.
Tom Hess, father of the late Jay Hess and Frank Hess, was one of the players. Bill Fallis, cashier of the Old Exchange National bank, was another. Fallis was considered one of the best players of his time and could have easily played major league ball. Rob Cameron, brother of George Cameron, now living on East Flynn street, and a man who managed several early day Alva baseball clubs, was another member of that team.
Billy Gardner, who ran a grocery store on the south side of the square, played that day. Gardner's feats of the diamond are legendary with Alva's old time baseball fans. He was destined to play an important part in baseball history in years to follows.
Dalls Baker, uncle of Claude Baker, present Alva councilman, was one of th outfielders that day. He was one of the greatest hitters of his time.
Jack and Charley Lamb, two pioneer real estate men from near old Augusta, just this side of Carmen, were two more players.
The next year, 1896, Alva's first real team was organized with Geo. Crowell as manager.
Fred Ellis of Medicine Lodge, Doug Packard, uncle of the famed Gene Packard of big league fame, and Bill Poling were the pitchers.
Loren Packard, father of Ray Packard; Jim Kelly, Alva Newspaperman; Ben McMullen of Medicine Lodge; Dave Morris, Jack Lamb, Charley Lamb, Dallas Baker and Bill Gardner made up the rest of the team.
The name Giants striking typified this team. Jim Kelly was considered a midget on the team and he was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 160 pounds.
The team only lost one game in two years and that game was later avenged. It was with the old Enid team then made famous by the great Franz brothers, who later played major league ball. Fortunes were made and lost on bets as that team made a trip up in Kansas in 1895, meeting and defeating the best Kansas could offer. Teams like Ark City, Anthony, Harper and Caldwell were played on that trip.
The journey was made in a covered wagon, pulled by a big, powerful team of mules.
On their return they were challenged by a team near Hardtner. As adoring maidens in big hoop skirts and enormous bussels sat on the side lines, the old Alva Giants flushed with such comely pulchritude pounded the ball far and wide as the Kansas pitcher tried in vain to get them out. Finally the game had to be called as all the baseballs were lost out in the tall grass. Not a Giant had been retired.
Old timers will tell you and convince you that this was the greatest team to ever represent Alva. Some of the players went to the major leagues and others went on to play with other great teams of those times.
Alva was recognized as the greatest team in both Oklahoma and Kansas in those two years.
The players drew big salaries and were financed in the main by the saloons, although Mr. Crowell was abliged at times to dig deep down in his pocket and make up deficits incurred by baseball's many unexpected incidentals.
Jack and Charley Lamb are still living and are oil men in the city of Tulsa (1943). Just three weeks ago Mr. Crowell received a nice letter from Charley with some warm greetings and sentiments of old times that caused the old gentleman's eyes to water. Mr. Crowell's players never forgot him.
Claude Baker thinks Charley was one of the best first baseman to ever don a mit.
Fred Ellis is a lawyer at Anadarko and two years ago caused an article (1941) to be printed in the Daily Oklahoman carrying an account of the old ball Club.
On September 17, 1907, the St. Louis Browns were playing the Cleveland American Indians. On the Cleveland team at that time was the great Napoleon Lajoie said by many to be on the greatest second baseman of all times. It was the second game of the doubleheader and not a man had been retired.
On the mound for the Browns was a young Texas League recruit pitching his first major league baseball game. The crowd was astounded at his speed as he weaved his long willowy frame to and fro on the pitcher's mound, coolly chopping down the most seasoned veterans of the game.
The ninth inning came up with St. Louis leading 2 to 1. The second batter to face the young St. Louis pitcher missed a fast inside pitch just belt high. The catcher called for another in the same spot. The rookie, with victory in his grasp, grew a wee bit careless and the ball sailed over the plate just a trifle higher and right in the batter's groove. A two basehit resulted and the batter later scored the tieing run. The game went on into the twelfth inning and was called on account of darkness.
McGill Sports Pioneer
In 1900 Bill was a big gangling awkward farmer boy living on a farm southwest of town, where his father had made the run. He opined he would like a college career and enrolled at Northwestern. Then followed a long period of time when Bill McGill and the great Dan Quinlan did most of the pitching for Alva and played both with the college and town teams, which clubs alternated at being the best as the occasion demanded.
George Cameron managed the town team and Prof. Frank Bowden usually took charge of the college team, although Frank Crowell, now deceased, and son of George Crowell, occasionally took a hand at managing the club.
And a pitcher by the name of Merle Smith, who later went to the majors, also helped out with the pitching in those days.
Dan Quinlan, who died long ago, was the brother of Charley Quinlan, who passed away but a short period ago at his home west of Greensburg. Charley was the father of Kermit and Kenneth Quinlan, who played many games with Alva in recent years.
Dan Quinlan is better remembered in those days as a pitcher for Alva than McGill. Bill left Alva in 1903 and attended Friends University for three seasons and then went to Washburn from whence he went on to the Kansas State league and later to the Texas league from whence he went to the majors.
Dan Quinlan used a fast ball and a very tantalizing slow ball to effect a fine change of pace. He was considered a very heady pitcher and it was very few games he ever lost for Alva. He continued on almost to 1910 and was occasionally aided by Bill McGill when the latter returned from the leagues at the end of the season.
Few can recall when Dan ever lost a game for Alva and many thought their money was safe when he was in the box.
While Dan was making history for Alva, Bill (McGill) was burning up the minors and reached his zenith in the Texas league in the years of 1906-07. In 1906 he pitched 44 games, winning 33 of them, and in 1907 won 15 out of 20 games pitched. Sixteen of his 48 Texas league wins were by the shutout route. In 1907 he led the league in batting.
And it was in 1907 that he played a very important role in the freak records of the old Texas league. Pitching for the Austin Senators against the Dallas Giants he participated in the game that defested Dallas 44 to 0 and Art Griggs, an old college rival, was on the mound for Dallas.
Art died about four years agos (1939) while managing the Tulsa Texas league club. He was known to Alvans as he once led his Wichita Western league club against the Alva Orphans of 1927 where Wichita won 8 to 6 at the Alva fair grounds.
Two Games for Majors
Bill's (McGill) major league career was brief. He pitched only two games, the Cleveland game and a game against the famous old New York Highlanders which he won 7 to 5. It was late in September and Bill returned to Alva to go into the furniture business and found little time thereafter to devote to organized baseball. He did take a short fling in the old Western Association with Guthrie and also pitched a few more games for Alva.
During his brief major league career one whacky sportswriter dubbed Bill "The pitcher with the millian dollar arm and the ten cent head." But the allegation was decidedly unfair as Bill was considered one of the smartest pitchers of his time.
But Bill denies being smart. "I didn't have an ounce of brains. I can see it now. If I had been smart I wouldn't have spent seven of my best years pitching college ball for nothing when I could have been drawing down big money in the majors," he grimaced and said "daw gawn-it!" Bill began college pitching at 21 and was near 30 when he reached the majors.
It would be impossible to name all the players that played while Bill (McGill) and Dan (Quinlan) was pitching for Alva but happily we can name a few of them. There was George Brannon, Jess Clifton, Lynn White, Earl Rumsey, brother of Art Rumsey , now living on College Avenue, Ottie Wilhite, Bert Musseller, brother of Mrs. John Doolin, Rollie Clifton, brother of Jess and Ross Frazier. All these boys attended the college with the exception of Dan Quinlan.
2 State Champs
The team while it dominated baseball in the period of 1900-08, possibly reached its zenith in 1906 when it vanquished everything Oklahoma and Kansas could produce outside of organized ball under the managership of George Cameron.
Turbulent times followed this period of good baseball. A league was organized with such teams as Waynoka, Kiowa, Carmen and Medicine Lodge, all hotbeds of the national pastime seething with red hot fans who would bet you $50.00 or $100.00 on one wave of the bat or a flash of the arm and think nothing of it.
"In those hectic days it was unusual for a game to go over five or six innings, as they usually broke up in a fight," said George Cameron, who managed most of Alva's ball clubs.
Waynoka went out and assembled one of the most powerful teams in this section and when the season broke up, the railroad town was so far out in front it wasn't even interesting. Many pioneer Waynokans today (1943) recall with pride that powerful ball club. George Kandler was the main pitcher and Jess Clifton, now living at Enid, was hired at a big salary to do the catching. Al Chase, well known Capron banker and former Western league player, was their first baseman. George Tissue, now living at Waynoka, was another player and can tell you a lot about those good old days.
Following that period Roy Day, a big strapping rawboned youth, began to move into the picture. Roy is now employed by Kavanaugh and Shea and fans claim today that he still retains some of his wallop that made him one of the most feared hitters of his time. He did the catching.
Editor Enters Scene
The team then was managed both by George Cameron and Lynn White, the editor of the old Alva Review which gave the Review-Courier part of its name. Lynn was a great ball player and fans today said when he had anything to do with the club or came to bat in a clutch you could lay your money on him. His boy, Kidder, played with the team and later had a trial with the White Sox, although he was ever the player his father was. Roy Shelley, well known to the Alvans of the present day, played on the team. Buck Miner was another star player and Harold Wright, nephew of Mrs. Louis Miller, now living in Alva, was a whale of a ball player.
Clem Nix, Jack Love and Jesse Cott were other men who played on the team with Bob Strong, former county assessor, taking a fling once in awhile. The mascot was Fritz Schafer, kid brother then of John and Harry. Ralph Crowell, son of George Crowell, was a star pitcher in the era.
It would be impossible to name all the players of that time, but Alva in those days had a great ball club and still dominated baseball in this section most of the time, with Helena moving into the picture occasionally and spoiling things.
And along with the ball playing of the early days there were many old time fans that were repeatedly projected into the picture by those who recount the deeds of the ball club.
Coal Oil Johnny
Old timers here when interviewed regarding early day baseball will almost invariably begin thusly; "Well, you remember old Coal Oil Johnny Bowen." This celebrated personage disposed of they go from there.
On inquiry we learned that Coal Oil Johnny Bowen was the manager of the lone oil company in town the old Pierce Oil Company. And he was the A-1 fan from the time Alva started in baseball up until about 1910 when he left here to go to Woodward.
If there was a bet, if there was a fight or an argument or any excitement of any kind, Coal Oil Johnny was right in the middle of it. In fact old timers can see him vividly in the picture of any event of stirring action.
A blustery two fisted man and willing to back his words with his fists he was ready at all times for an argument and it was mainly his continual harangue that kept baseball alive and made it so colorful. He was a great sports booster and a liberal contributor. He moved from here to Woodward where he died recently.
Then there is the story about the old Alva Giants when Doug Packard southpaw pitcher along in 1895 threw a baseball across the square from where Snyder's cigar store now stands. That was in the days of the board sidewalk when kids would look through the cracks on Saturday morning for coins carelessly left there by the saloon crowd the night before.
The ball cleared the street and hit on top of the old beegle cafe on the south side. The cafe was owned by the father of Andy and Bert Beegle esteemed Alva druggists. The surprising thing about it, Doug only bet $2.50 on the throw when he just as well could have be $1,000 and got it called.
After about 1912 followed a period when baseball was not quite so hot in Alva although from time to time, some good games were played.
This was in the days of Denny Dennison, Ralph Surface, Cal Stewart and Bonnie Stewart, Butch Bennett, Faye Bennett, Buck Strome, Claire Sprague, Shorty Rapp, Jim Mapes, Dennis Devlin and Herm Wiebener, destined to become the receiver for the famous Orphan team.
Jim Mapes, who recently moved from Alva to Oregon, was the pitcher with a wide sweeping curve that gave Alva a lot of wins. Mapes also pitched a lot for Freedom when the town up the Cimarron moved into the picture.
Clifford Avid Fan
In those days and up until about 1927 Bill Clifford came into the supplant Johnny Bowen as the A-1 fan of his time. Bill had a florid imagination and a wonderful gift of gab. It is said that Earl Brunsteter and Bill Brand paid the celebrated traveling man $75 per month to talk baseball while he was in their place of business.
Like Coal Oil Johnny, he dramatized every situation and today he can talk your arm off, if you as much as mention baseball. he now lives in Wichita (1943).
Some very notable ball players came out of the wild scramble of this era, directly before and following the war. Ralph "Swede" Surface went up to Cleveland and in the American league. Cal Stewart had a brief stay with Brooklyn while Bonnie after a brilliant career in the minors had a stay with the Boston Red Sox. At that time he was styled a "second Ty Cobb" by John McGraw, famous Giant manager. But Bonnie was too carefree in those days to take baseball seriously and it was his playboy tactics that put him back in the minors.
Dennis Devlin, Oren Dale, Leo Langley and Ernest Paden were hot shots of those days, who made the grade in big time.
Bennett Fame Lives
Butch Bennett went out to play some great semi-pro ball with teams in central Oklahoma, Clinton and Hobart, and was believed to be one of the greatest centerfielders ever to play for Alva. He died a few years ago in California.
Following this era the old Alva Orphans moved into the picture. In 1924-25-26 they were one of the top teams in this section. In 1925 they were regarded as the best semi-pro team in Oklahoma. Many of their players are still among us today.
Carl Smithson, Leo Markwell, Jack Kubricht, Bert Hunter, Tip O'Neil, Walt Hutchinson, Buck Strome and Bob Frei, Hardtner cattleman, were some of the pitchers.
Most of the big games are hinged around Smithson and Markwell, two boys with dazzling speed. Herm Wiebener did all the catching in 1924-25 but was aided in later years by Ray Hardgrove, Omaha Western leaguer and now a meat salesman in Alva for the Dodd Packing Co.
In 1925 Alva won the championship of the old Northwest league, then almost a class D circuit. No pitcher in that league received less than $150.00 per month and many other players drew big salaries.
The playing personnel of the team was made up mostly of stutdents attending Northwestern.
Players of Early 20's
Bill Cox, E. M. Barker and Melvin Shutt appeared at first base, Art Criswell and Howard Ballard played second. Roscoe Dotter and Doc Siebert played short with Frank Hess, Art Criswell, Lee Throckmorton appearing at third.
Toad Hamburg, the famed Lamont Shiek who broke many an Alva maiden's heart, also played on the infield for Alva in those days.
The two Bennett brothers, John McGlothlin and Chris Salwaechter were the big four in the outfield although Cal Stewart played quite a while with the boys as did Swede Surface.
E. M. Barker managed the team, although Charley Reed, Doc Seibert and Butch Bennett once held the reins when it was under organization.
Red Becker, Texas league pitcher; Ken Penner, White Sox pitcher; Johnny Biggers, West Coast Pitcher; Lefty Peters, West Coast Pitcher, Lefty Bolton, American Association pitcher; Webb Ray, former Philadelphia Athletic pitcher; Lefty Cooper of the Kansas City Monarchs got exactly nowhere against this great ball club in those three seasons.
Went On From Here
Ralph Winegarner, Cleveland third baseman; Ira Smith, St. Louis Cardinal pitcher; Ross Faudree, Des Moines Western league star; and Fuzzy Huft, the Babe Ruth of the minors, were at one time members of the old Alva Orphan team.
Many thought the Alva Orphans of 1925 could have swept through many of Wichita's semi-pro tourneys undefeated. They easily defeated the Wichita Advertisers in 1925, the year they won the Denver Post Tourney, then recognized as the national semi-pro affair.
In 1925 they defeated the state champion Southard team which boasted in Le Roy Timkin, the submarine ace of independent baseball in the United States.
In the guise of Northwestern baseball suits they defeated the famous Chilocco Indians with Rip Ripley, the greatest pitcher in its history on the mound. Art Criswell, present Garfield county superintendent (1943), pitched for Alva an used what is known as a pop bottle hopper. The score was 1 to 0.
That year Chilocco defeated Oklahoma University and every majojr college team in the south.
There are merchants in business in Alva today who gave generously to baseball and did much for the game.
Notable among them were Kavanaugh & Shea, Geo. W. Crowell, W. W. Starr, Jett's, Amon Davis, Doc Rice, and Joe Edwards.
The late George Bell, former Alva mayor, and George Nickel, pioneer Alva banker, also donated liberally. George Stewart, brother of Charley Stewart, transfer man, was one of Alva's better players in the early days.
Andy Circle, father of Bud Circle, was also prominent in sports.
Johnson A Scrapper
Allen Doughty, veteran Alva newspaper man, recalls in the early days when the Alva Giants were on the ramp in 1895, he belonged to the town kid team and the late Gen. Hugh Johnson was one of the main players.
One time they played Kiowa and the game broke up in a fight with Hugh Johnson leading the fist parade.
A fight in those days marked the fighter with honor and old timers say you would be surprised at the honorable men in Alva today if you would just give the people the lowdown.
In writing this article it is very probable that many of baseball's leading characters were left entirely out of the picture, but you must remember in those days few players had their press agents and their deeds were forgotten as soon as they came off the diamond.
Antics of this team with their fabulous chicken wire backstop and calf muzzle mask were actually publicized in some of America's foremost publications.
Minister Ranked High
Froghollow's ace pitcher, Reverend Walter Meyer, then (1925) pastor of the Lutheran church, once turned down a $20,000 per annum contract with the St. Louis Browns for the minstry.
Witout him Alva's great 1924-25 record would not have been possible. He saved the team on two or three occasions when they needed saving as bad as some of the sinners who came within the sound of his voice. A big strapping six footer, he had a wicked fast ball and a sharp breaking curve. He once beat the Orphans in a twilight game while pitching for Froghollow.
Ott Wiebener, Joh Wiebener, Linwood Paul, Chris Schaefer, Skeet Wiersig, Carl Meyer, Joh Quinn and Oscar Kletke were some of the old Froghoolow palyers. Today they are all substantial farmers and business men in theis community.
Last week Reverend Meyer celebrated his 25th year in the ministry and 25th wedding anniversary in a big celebration provided in his honor at Independence, Kansas, where he is preaching.