A small group of businessmen gathered together in a hotel in the Schuylkill County mining town of Tower City on the evening of February 6, 1906. They gathered to discuss forming a baseball league to include a team from each of the local mining communities. The agreement they reached initiated the Williams Valley Baseball League, a semi-professional league with four teams from a distant corner of Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. Little did they know, but they had just initiated the most fascinating, controversial summer of baseball in the region’s history.
Baseball had long held a special place in the hearts of those living in the mining communities of the narrow Williams Valley. Since the summer of 1866, ballplayers dueled on the region’s diamonds. Workers spent long days deep below ground in the area’s valuable coal mines; they savored the long summer days when they could emerge from work and play a game of ball in the sunshine of a warm evening.
Forty years after the first ball club was established, baseball became an essential part of cultural life in the thriving coal towns of Lykens, Williamstown, Tower City, and Orwin. The 1906 season united local fans’ passion for “America’s past-time” propped up with remarkable amounts of money from local businessmen looking to boost their town’s baseball team. Pride in each community’s team reached a boiling point and often their fervor boiled over.
In these communities, a virulent case of baseball fever set in that summer. Obsession with the sport became widespread. “The baseball craze has taken possession of our people and holds them spellbound,” wrote a correspondent for the Pottsville Republican. “All other sports, all other subjects are relegated to the background and baseball reigns supreme. Men, women and children are enthusiastic over the games from Reiner City to Lykens and the one topic of conversation is the great national sport.”
Baseball represented more than just an escape from the realities of life in this far flung outpost of the Coal Region; it became a proxy for larger rivalries between each of the valley’s major towns. Battles over organized labor and economic supremacy in previous years played out on the ballfields of the Williams Valley League. The highly competitive season of 1906 reopened old wounds and pitted neighbors against each other that occasionally turned violent.
Seeking the pennant, Lykens and Williamstown were willing to invest thousands of dollars to acquire players. “A number of the players are drawing good salaries,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer, “[They] are well taken care of by the rooters in the way of cash gifts for good plays and victories.”
Players with professional experience came from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Williamsport, and various locations across Pennsylvania to play in the Williams Valley League. A budding group of amateurs benefited from the exposure the 1906 season brought them.
A 22-year-old coal miner from Llewellyn, Pennsylvania named Jake Daubert signed a contract with the Lykens team for the summer of 1906. He signed as a pitcher, but after throwing out his arm, thrived covering first base for the Lykens team. From his position on the right side of the infield, he went on to national stardom and captured a controversial World Series victory in 1919.
Two young students arrived in June 1906 to play for the league’s less-funded Tower City and Orwin clubs. Their origins set them apart from the rest of the players in the Williams Valley League. Titus Whitecrow and Joe Twin were students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School where they played athletics alongside a budding young athlete named Jim Thorpe. Their summer playing semi-pro baseball gave Twin and Whitecrow the opportunity to practice their game while also earning a modest income.
The summer of 1906 marked an incredible year in the history of Williams Valley. The epic duel between Williamstown and Lykens for the coveted league pennant led their supporters to attempt dirty tricks, occasionally violent, and brought citizens to the ballparks in droves. As the season drew to a climax, more than 3,000 spectators arrived for games between the two towns. Life came to a standstill. The Pottsville correspondent described the scene during a game between Lykens and Williamstown in June 1906 that featured several out of town pro players:
The news [of the players’ arrival] was soon circulated through the mines, the workshops, and wherever baseball enthusiasts could be found, and everybody seemed anxious for an early quit on Friday to attend the battle of the giants. Girls at the mills got leave of absence, the colliery closed early in the afternoon, the clerks were all eager to witness the contest and business was practically suspended on account of the baseball game at Williamstown
The Williams Valley Railroad ran a special train at reduced rates and all their coaches were filled to overflowing. The trolley line was overtaxed, and the telephones were kept busy until the game was ended.
By the time it was over in September, the furious summer of baseball left a mark on the valley’s sporting community and ensured that such heights would never be reached again.
Over the coming months, Wynning History will thoroughly examine the 1906 season in the Williams Valley League. Who were the players? What were the stakes? Why did this season grow to receive statewide and, eventually national, attention? What was it like to live in the buzzing towns of Williams Valley in the first decade of the 20th century?
We hope you’ll stay tuned.
Featured Image: The baseball field at Lykens, Pennsylvania during a game in the early 20th century. (Lykens and Wiconisco Historical Society)