Since the Civil War, baseball has been a metaphor for explaining history, Fred Krebs said here Tuesday evening. He supported his contention by saying that baseball brought people together and led them to become more involved in their communities.
Krebs, an instructor at Johnson County Community College, spoke at the Allen County Historical Society summer meeting.
Professional teams date to the second half of the 19th century and by the early 1900s minor league teams began to spring up in many towns, including Iola. In 1904, the Iola Gas Bags finished third in the Missouri Valley League with an 80-44 record.
From 1904 to 1961, baseball at the minor league level was so pervasive in Kansas that the state ranked in the top 10 nationally with 46 towns having teams, behind such populous states as Texas, Florida, California and North Carolina, always a hotbed for minor league baseball.
Most of the Kansas teams were lowest-level class D franchises, which seldom produced players of sufficient skills to ascend to the major leagues. The most notable exception was Mickey Mantle, who played for Independence in 1949 when it was a member of the KOM League along with Iola. By 1951, Mantle was a fixture in center field for the New York Yankees. Also, Floyd Temple, long a coach at the University of Kansas, managed the Iola team for two years.
Class D rosters were a mixture of young players with dreams of becoming major leaguers, locals with a love for the game and older professional players in the twilight of their careers.
The community outcome was that many of the young players became infatuated with the towns where they played to the point they would either stay when it became obvious they didn’t have a future in professional baseball or would return later. A local example was Jim Yates, who pitched for the Iola club and then spent years in the Iola school system, retiring as principal of Lincoln Elementary School.
Krebs submitted that baseball embodied the principals of democracy, fair play and respect for others, and transcended such things as race, ethnicity and religion.
Community building also came from baseball, Krebs said, from local involvement of fans gathering at ball parks, which often were built and maintained by service clubs and other organizations.
With the demise of minor league teams — only a handful are active today — town-team baseball and barnstorming teams filled the void, as well as more organized leagues for youngsters. Softball was a spin-off, and gave females more opportunities. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League made its debut in 1943, when it appeared the war effort would shut down the major leagues. The women’s league was active until 1954.
KREBS SAID researching baseball “is kind of like herding cats. Every time I talk, someone in the audience tells me something I didn’t know.”
Iola’s first professional team was the Gas Bags, which became the Gas Lighters in 1903 and again were the Gas Bags in 1904, when Amos Morgan won 32 games on the mound. An opponent of the Iola teams those years was Nevada, Mo., nicknamed the Lunatics because of the presence there of a state hospital.
The Iola Grays finished second in the Kansas State League in 1906, winning 62 games and losing 50, and then were champions of the Oklahoma Kansas League in 1908.
“There wasn’t much (professionally) in Iola for the next 40 years,” Krebs recalled, until the class D Cubs became a franchise in the KOM League in 1946. The team was the Cubs because it was affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. Two years later Cleveland became the parent club and Iola became the Indians, which it stayed until the KOM League disbanded after the 1952 season.
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