Timeline of Baseball in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Base Ball / Baseball Timeline
1859 First amateur baseball club, the Pioneer Base Ball and Cricket Club, is organized in Grand Rapids.
1867 Kent Base Ball Club is organized in Grand Rapids.
1882 First professional team is organized in Grand Rapids. It has no league affiliation. Baseball Park opens in September, with 1,000 seats, at southeast corner of Jefferson and Franklin. It is dismantled in 1885.
1883 First professional league team in Grand Rapids, plays in the Northwestern League at Baseball Park. Dick Pierre (Grand Haven) plays in majors.
1885 Walt Walker (Ionia) plays in majors.
1889 Fountain Park, with 1,200 seats under wooden grandstand, opens at northeast corner of Fountain and Grand, dismantled in 1894. Alger Park opens at south shore of Reeds Lake, 2,000 seats, dismantled in 1899. Bud Fowler (John W. Jackson), an African American player, is on the roster of the Greenville team in the Michigan League.
1891 Grand Rapids native Thomas F. (“Grandpa”) Letcher plays six games with Milwaukee.
1892 Recreation Park opens, dismantled in 1899. Material used to build Reeds Lake Park.
1894 George “Deacon” Ellis organizes the Rustlers in the Western League. Recreation Park opens at South Division, south of railroad tracks, 2,200 seats, dismantled 1899. John Houseman (Holland) plays in majors in 1894 and in 1897.
1895 African American team, Adrian Page Fence Giants begin playing. On 14 April they beat the local entry in Central League, the Gold Bugs, 8-7 in bottom of the ninth in an exhibition game. The Gold Bugs win the next day 18-13.
1896 Grand Rapids Yellow Jackets (Western .League) are beaten twice by Adrian Page Fence Giants. The 12th of the 15 games in a “world series” between the Adrian Page Fence Giants and the Cuban Giants is played in Grand Rapids.
1897 Future Hall-of-Famer, Rube Waddell, pitches for Grand Rapids. Another future Hall-of-Fame inductee, Sam “Wahoo” Crawford, plays centerfield on the same team.
1898 Frank Kitson (Hopkins) plays in majors until 1907.
1898 Grand Rapids-born Frank J. Quinn plays 12 games for Chicago Nationals. Charlie Hemphill (Greenville) plays in majors until 1911. Emil Frisk (Kalkaska) plays in majors until 1905
1900 Reeds Lake Park built from material moved from Recreation Park, takes the place of Alger Park. Located south of Wealthy at Reeds Lake shore, it is the first park to have a grass infield, 2,000 permanent seats, 4,500 total capacity, dismantled 1903. Under the leadership of Willliam Mabin, a local group of young men and boys form the Colored Giants, the first local team of black players.
1901 Grand Rapids Lambs play in the Western Association
1902 Monte (Henry Monte) Beville, who had played in Grand Rapids and will spend his life after baseball in Grand Rapids, plays (1902-3) with the New York Americans (Yankees). Wish Egan (Evert) plays in majors until 1906. He has a subsequent long career as a scout with the Detroit Tigers. Jack Lundblom (Manistee) plays in majors. Ike Butler (Montcalm County) plays in majors.
1903 Detroit and Washington play an American League game in Reeds Lake Park, May 24, Detroit wins 5-4.
1904 Ramona Baseball Park is built on the site the former Reeds Lake Park, 2,500 seats, dismantled 1938. Jess Elster, who comes to be known as “Grand Rapids’ Mr. Baseball,” moves to town and begins playing with the Grand Rapids Colored Athletics. Loyalty Park opens southeast of Hall and Ionia, 2,500 seats. First park to have a press box on the roof of the grandstand and an adjacent field for automobile parking, dismantled 1909.
1906 Grand Rapids Central League team, known as the “Ganzeloids” wins pennant (first for the city). Jess Elster is elected captain of the Colored Athletics and leads the team, excepted for a few years during the 1930s, until his death in 1950. Frank Oberlin (Montcalm County) plays in majors until 1910. Frank Hemphill (Greenville) plays in majors until 1909
1907 First successful Indoor Baseball League is organized in Grand Rapids. Red Killifer (Van Buren County) plays in majors until 1916. Neal Ball (Grand Haven) plays in majors until 1911.
1909 Wib Smith (Evert) plays in majors. Bill Killifer (Van Buren County) plays in majors until 1921
1910 Grand Rapids born Cy (Frederick Joseph) Alberts pitches for the St. Louis Nationals. Cadillac wins Michigan State League pennant. Ed Hendricks (Zeeland) plays in majors
1911 Manistee wins Michigan State League pennant.
1912 Island Park opens, located west of Market south of US 131, at Williams, 3,500 seats, dismantled 1939. Manistee wins Michigan State League pennant. Bundy Brief (Remus) plays in majors until 1915.
1913 Bill-Eds (aka Black Sox) win Central League pennant, leading in the standing from the last week in May through the end of the season. Grand Rapids resident Wally “Lefty” (Walter Clement) Pipp begins 15 year career with Detroit Tigers; played most of his career with New York Yankees. A first baseman, Pipp played in three World Series and led the American League in home runs in 1916 and 1917. Grand Rapids born John Leonard (Doc) Lavan begins 12 year major league career with St. Louis Browns. Grand Rapids native Alfred Frederick Joseph (Al) Platte plays seven games with Detroit Tigers. Manistee wins Michigan State League pennant. Rex De Vogt (Clare) plays in majors. Bull Wagner (Muskegon) plays in majors.
1914 Muskegon wins Michigan State League pennant. Ed Hemingway (Montcalm County) plays in majors until 1918.
1916 House of David Team (aka The Bearded Giants) plays one of its first road games in Grand Rapids.
1917 Bill-Berts (aka Black Sox) wins Central League pennant. Grand Rapids Colored Athletics (black semi-professionals) have the best record of independent semi-pro teams in the state. Walter Carl (Lefty) Anderson pitches for Philadelphia Athletics; also in 1919, interrupted brief career for Army service in France during WWI. Injury sustained while in service ended his career. Grand Rapids resident Walter Guy Morrison begins two year major league pitching career. Ira Flagstead (Montague) plays in majors until 1930.
1918 Albert E. (“Opie”) DeVormer begins major league career catching for the Chicago White Sox; 1921-22 & 1927 with New York Yankees, spends 1923 with Boston Red Sox.
1918-19 No professional baseball played in Grand Rapids due to WWI.
1919 John Henry Wisner begins major league pitching career, 131 innings over four seasons.
1920 The Colored Athletics are included in the annual Reach Baseball Guide. Grand Rapids wins Central League pennant, league consists of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Ludington and Muskegon. Danny Claire (Ludington) plays in majors.
1921 Ludington wins Central League pennant. Hod Fenner (Martin) plays in majors.
1922 Billbobs win Central League pennant.
1923 Jess Elster leases Ramona Park for Colored Athletics’ home games.
1924 John Dobb (Muskegon) plays in majors.
1926 Grand Rapids Body Co. wins Indoor Baseball World Championship by beating the Chicago Postls—who had a record of 270-1 over previous seven seasons—twice in three-game series.
1928 Fox Jewelry Colored Giants are organized, first local black team of professional players.
1933 Pere Marquette Colored Giants organized by Clarence Foster.
1934 The Dixie Gas Colored Giants play a schedule of 109 games, winning 84.
1937 Baseball interest is at an all time high in Grand Rapids. Forty local baseball teams play in eight leagues and 56 fast-pitch softball teams play in nine leagues. Bigelow Field built, 3871 S. Division, burns in 1952.
1938 Jenison born Benjamin Jenison “Benny” McCoy receives a $45,000 signing bonus, and begins 4-year major league career with Philadelphia Athletics.
1939 June 12, St. Louis Cardinals play against Dutch Kraft Paints as part of baseball centennial celebration. Cardinals win 6-1.
1940-41 Dodger-Colts, a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, managed by Burleigh Grimes, play at Bigelow Field. Playing in the Michigan State League, they are the first professional league team in Grand Rapids since 1922.
1941 Louis Bernard “Lou” Stringer begins six-year major league career with Chicago Cubs.
1943 Moline native Frank (Stubby) Overmire begins 10-year major league career with Detroit Tigers.
1944-54 Grand Rapids Chicks, of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, move from Milwaukee to Grand Rapids. Team plays at South High School Football Field and later, briefly, at Bigelow Field.
1947 Grand Rapids Chicks and other AAGPBL teams hold spring training in Cuba. Grand Rapids Chicks win AAGPBL pennant. Ted Rasberry forms the Grand Rapids Black Sox
1948 Grand Rapids Jets begin playing in Central League.
1953 Grand Rapids Chicks win AAGPBL pennant
1954 Jim Command, born in Grand Rapids plays third base for St. Louis (1954-55).
1959 Donald Johnson “Don” Eaddy plays 25 games at third base for Chicago Cubs.
1965 Mitchell Jack “Mickey” Stanley begins 15 year career with Detroit Tigers.
1971 Richard Alan “Rick” Miller begins 15 years major league career with Boston Red Sox. Robert Walter “Rob” Ellis plays with Milwaukee Brewers; also in 1974-75.
1994 West Michigan Whitecaps begin play in the Midwest League and open Old Kent Park (Fifth Third Park) in Comstock Park. They win championships in 1996 as an affiliate of the Oakland A’s, and 1998, 2004, 2006 & 2007 as an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
Note: This timeline is a work in progress. Additional information about outstanding amateur teams organized and managed by Robert Sullivan, and 10 year record of West Michigan Whitecaps will be added.
Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA