Missouri’s first state semi-pro baseball tournament was held in Jefferson City in 1936. The National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress, based in Wichita, Kansas, had held national tournaments for a few years and was looking for participation from Missouri.
Only eight teams, from the expected 20-plus invitations, had signed up by July 8. So Columbia, the original host side, canceled due to “lack of interest.” The congress office sent its PR man, Harry “HAP” Peebles, to the capital to review the incident.
Peebles set up his temporary office at the sports desk of the Jefferson City News Tribune’s 4-year-old downtown building. He sent out 100 invitations to semi-pro ball clubs across the country, giving 10 more teams.
The 11-day ball party was held at Whiteway Park, later the local driveway and now an open field in the 700-block on Heisinger Road.
“Not in the last 15 years has the city been as excited about the baseball prospects as it is at present,” the Jefferson City Post Tribune reported. Central Missouri baseball fans will be treated to the flashy baseball badge ever played on the Capital City diamond. … The popular American sport regained interest in Jefferson City. ”
The double elimination tournament decided which team would represent the state at the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress in Wichita. In 11 days, 29 games were played by teams from Bonnots Mill, Chamois, Hermann, Iberia, Jefferson City, Kansas City, Mokane, Poplar Bluff, Salem, Sedalia, Springfield, Tipton and Windsor.
Former Brooklyn Dodger Zach Wheat, who lived in Polo, Missouri at the time, opened the tournament and threw the ball to Mayor Means Ray. Wheat played with the Dodgers for 17 years with a stroke average of .324, and later he was manager.
Young people under the age of 15 were admitted with a membership card to the “Knothole gang” and given their own seat. Beer was not sold in the park, but some brought their own bucket.
The first game was played by Capital City Utilities versus Poplar Bluff All-Stars. Other local teams included the Jefferson City Tweedie Shoemen and Jefferson City Bulldogs. The tournament was integrated, including the Tipton Tigers and the ultimate winners, the Kansas City Blackhawks.
Cardinal Scout Gordon “Mae” Maguire was at the tournament for several days and told the local newspaper that he may have found some probable young prospects for the big ones.
Ends August. 11. In 1936, the tournament was not a financial success, despite reports of up to 1,000 spectators some evenings. Nevertheless, the state tournament reappeared in Jefferson City for the second year.
Two teams from the 1936 Missouri Tournament advanced to the national tournament – the first-place team, the Kansas City Blackhawks, and the local team, which beat the Blackhawks in the second round 14-2, Jefferson City Utilities, who took second place in the tournament. Then the Blackhawks won the championship game, 17-0, over the Salem Red Sox, who had beaten the Utilities in the third round 10-9.
Utilities won their opening game 6-5 over Poplar Bluff Stars, but fell to other home teams, Tweedie Shoemen, 9-8 in the fourth round. An encore match between Utilities and Mokane Athletics followed the championship game and gave the local team the national invitation.
Every man in the Utilities series, with the exception of first baseman Adolph Adrian and shortstop Philbert Newton, had hits in their last game, which they won 10-2. Newton went twice, and Adrian made the base on a mistake. Robert “Nooky” Lee, Edgar Ray Maxey and Oscar “Lefty” Ross each had their hits. And the musty Ross struck out 15 strokes.
In the national tournament, Utilities’ itinerary included throwers Nick Duncan and Ross; catchers Roy Lee and Ed Holtzhauser; infielders Adrian, Fenton Slaughter, Newton and Francis Stokes; outfielders Maxey, Herb Lee, Cave Barrow and Eddie Mueller; and utility man Norb Schulte. They beat the team from Howard, South Dakota, in the first round of the national tournament, which started in August. 15 in Wichita and featured teams from 27 state tournaments.
In the win over Poplar Bluff, Carl Miles threw a wild, left-wing side curve, second baseman Payne Muir gave superior defensive play; Midfielder Lee made some spectacular catches, and first baseman Cave Barrow was “the club’s leading stickman.”
In Mokane again, Frank Triplett bent around the bases of his homer inside the park; he picked them up and left them so fast that one of his shoes fell off when he got around the third base, the Post Tribune reported.
Even manager LaVerne Thompson made an impression. “It was great to see Utility Leader Thompson chase Salem boss Claude Smith to congratulate him on his Sox victory,” the newspaper said. “A good handshake and a pat on the back goes a long way.”
Michelle Brooks is a former reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune. Harry Peebles is her grandfather.