It would seem implausible now, but the Chicago Cubs were slated to play an exhibition game in Hannibal in 1909.
The Cubs are coming! The Cubs are coming!
That might have been the rally cry for baseball enthusiasts in Hannibal and beyond during the spring of 1909.
The Chicago Cubs, winners of the 1908 World Series, agreed to play an exhibition game at League Park in Hannibal on April 21, 1909, taking on as their opponents the Hannibal Cannibals.
Confirmation for the scheduled event came from team president, Charles W. Murphy, via telegram to Mr. C.A. Cruikshank, president of the Hannibal Baseball Association.
“You may begin to advertise the game and boom it all you see fit, and I trust that we will have a large crowd,” the telegram stated.
The start of baseball season was significant in Hannibal for two reasons:
Hannibal was a new member of the Central Association, an American minor league baseball league; and
“Rip” Hagerman, a pitcher for the pennant-winning Cubs, had been released by the Cubs and was scheduled to play the 1909 season for Hannibal. With Hagerman on the pitching staff, “the Hannibal coterie of flingers will certainly be one to be feared by other teams around the circuit,” the Quincy Daily Whig reported.
Anticipation for the exhibition game and the start of the baseball season were at a high pitch in Hannibal, Quincy and beyond.
The games were scheduled to be played on League Field.
The most likely location of League Field was on a 4.75 acre tract of land once bordered to the north by Gordon Street, and to the west and east by McCall and Lemon streets. The lot was just to the north of the MK&T Railroad roundhouse. (On this land, located in Clayton and Griffiths Additions, in 2017 is located the Hannibal sewage treatment plant. The landscape was further altered by the construction of Warren Barrett Road.)
The 1913 Marion County Atlas shows that at that time, the land was owned by J.J. Cruikshank, lumber baron. His son, C.A. Cruikshank, was president of the Hannibal Baseball Association.
Talk of establishing a ball field for Hannibal had begun in early December 1907. Bert Hough, described by the Quincy Daily Herald on Feb. 26, 1908 as “the hustling baseball manager,” had made a strong yet unsuccessful bid for a berth for Hannibal in the Central Division during the 1908 baseball season. While working on this proposition, Hough secured what he considered to be a suitable site for the ball field, located just 10 blocks from Hannibal’s main business district.
Once the announcement arrived that Hannibal had been accepted into the league for 1909, work began in earnest to ready the ball field, and to construct supporting structures.
A grandstand was built prior to the start of the season — large enough to seat 1,600 people.
Sinclair Mainland agreed to extend the electric street car line to include a stop at the intersection of Lyon and Glasscock streets, and to provide extra runs to accommodate baseball fans.
Special rail excursions were set up between Hannibal and Quincy to facilitate the fans.
The Hannibal Baseball Association consisted of C.A. Cruikshank, president; J.J. Bowles, vice president; J.J. Brown, treasurer; and Thomas O’Donnell secretary. Board members were C.A. Cruikshank, J.J. Brown Jr., J.J. Bowles, Thomas O’Donnell, J.P. Richards, J.W. Youle and Berryman Henwood.
It was estimated at the time that the association invested $4,000 in getting the field ready for baseball.
Threat to baseball
Before the exhibition game could take place, and before the baseball season officially began, a complication arose.
A family living on McComb street, consisting of Frank Walters, his step daughter Emma Bledsoe Coffman, and her son Walter Harvey Coffman, didn’t share the community’s enthusiasm regarding the onset of baseball in their neighborhood.
Together, they would change the course of Hannibal’s baseball history.
A March 1909 suit filed by Walters in the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas effectively stopped the Hannibal Cannibals — of the Central Division — from playing baseball on the field prepared for the purpose, named League Park.
The Walters family lived just to the north of the old MK&T Railroad roundhouse, where French-born Mr. Walters was a long-standing car inspector. While fans of the game showed excitement over Hannibal’s new status as a member of the Central Division, the Walters family held a contrary opinion, calling the baseball games played in their neighborhood a nuisance.
They didn’t like the crowds assembling on the street in front of their house; they didn’t like people trespassing on their property; and they didn’t like baseballs flying over the ballpark’s fence and threatening their personal safety and property.
The 1909 baseball season proceeded as planned, but the following November, Judge David H. Eby, ruled in favor of the Walters family, and against the Hannibal Baseball Association.
In deciding the case in November 1909, he didn’t specifically rule that the Hannibal Cannibals couldn’t play ball on the field, but did recognize the complaints as stated by Walters.
The Hannibal Baseball Association was, “restrained from playing or practicing any game in which balls are batted or thrown onto the property of the complainants. Moreover no player or spectator of the games is allowed to enter on the property of the complainants without the consent of the persons on whose land the trespass is made. And finally the association is not allowed to encourage crowds of persons to loiter and congregate on the street in front of the complainants’ property.”
In summary, according to a November 13, 1909 story in the Quincy Daily Herald, “while baseball may still be played in the park, the park shall be used in such a manner as not to inconvenience or be a nuisance to the complainants.”
And that, in all practicality, was an impossibility.
Cubs vs Hannibal
Much excitement preceded the planned April 21, 1909 match between the Cubs and the Hannibal Cannibals, but when the time came for the exhibition game, weather was the victor. Rain and wet field conditions forced the game to be canceled. Perhaps the next time that the Cubs won the World Series, the team could make good on its promise to play ball in Hannibal.
But history tells that story. It would be 111 years — until 2016 — when the Cubs would once again earn World Champion status.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Courier-Post.