By Bob Rives
William H. Hemp is no longer a household name.
Even the colorful nickname, Ducky, he got while playing baseball here, is lost in time.
But in 1887, the 18-year-old from St. Louis was a star and the first player to bat for a Wichita professional baseball team. Later that same year he was the first ex-Wichita player to reach the Major Leagues.
Now 131 years later, Wichita seems on the cusp of a new baseball era. Mayor Jeff Longwell has announced that the New Orleans Baby Cakes Triple-A club will move here in 2020 to play in a new ball park that will replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
It’s unknown when baseball was first played in Wichita, but Kansas’ first formally organized team took shape in Leavenworth. Banker A. A. Hyde in 1867 signed that team’s incorporation papers before moving to Wichita, where he made a fortune making and selling Mentholatum.
In 1874, The Wichita Beacon took notice of the game: “The baseball mania has reached us. What with the Indian scare, the drought, the clinch bugs and the grasshoppers we are badly afflicted, but as a supplement to this grand drama of misery, our callow youths have inaugurated the ‘National Game’ in the midst of us.”
Here’s a look at other local baseball highlights, on and off the field:
1887 Wichita’s first professional team, the Braves, wins the Kansas State League championship. Later that summer the Leadville, Colo., franchise moves here and the Braves move to the stronger Western League. Wichita beats powerful Lincoln in the first game but gives up 50 hits and 50 runs in the second. The team finishes last and folds at the end of the season.
1896 Professional baseball returns with a team called the Eagles playing in the State League. Its first exhibition game is against the Kansas City Blues – now the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
1905 Association Park is built in the 1000 block of South Main, the end of the street car line. Much of the cost is raised by raffling a new car. Later, lumber from demolishing the stadium is used to build houses still in the area. Local businessmen bring the Pittsburg franchise here to play in the Western Association as the Jobbers.
1907 This year’s version of the Jobbers was recognized as one of the 100 best minor league teams of all time. The Legislature bans Sunday baseball. It’s overruled by the Supreme Court.
1909 Wichita leaves the Western Association and moves up to the Western League, at the time the second highest rated minor league. It stays in the league for most of 33 seasons.
1910 Frank Isbell arrives. A veteran of the Chicago White Sox and Cubs who still holds the World Series record for doubles in a game, Isbell buys an interest in the team. He was associated with it for about two decades.
1911 Island Park is built on Ackerman Island in the Arkansas River near Second and Seneca as home to the city’s professional team. Isbell moves the team to Pueblo partway through the season but returns the next year.
1922 The Colored Western League is formed as a black counterpart to the Western League. Wichita’s team, the Monrovians, win the league’s only pennant. After the league folds, the team continues to play at 13th and Mosley Streets, later beating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan 10-8 in a charity game.
1931 Arky Vaughan becomes the first player from a Wichita minor league team elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1933 Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Marquard becomes Wichita manager. The team moves to Muskogee, Okla., is evicted from that ballpark and plays the rest of the year on the road. Island Park stadium burns, apparently the result of a discarded cigarette. The island itself is removed by the WPA.
1934 Lawrence Stadium is built.
1950 After an 18-year absence, professional baseball returns via the Wichita Indians, who play in the Class A Western League.
1956 The Toledo franchise of the Triple-A American Association moves to Wichita and plays as the Braves. The team leaves after the 1958 season because of falling attendance.
1970 Professional baseball returns with the Aeros, an expansion team in the American Association.
1976 Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is remodeled. Bruce Sutter pitches for the Aeros. He is later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the best relief pitchers in history.
1984 The Aeros move to Buffalo.
1987 Wichita takes Beaumont’s place in the class AA Texas League with a team known as the Pilots, later to become the Wranglers. Second baseman for that team is Roberto Alomar, later elected to the Hall of Fame.
1995 Johnny Damon hits .343 for the Wranglers and is Texas League Player of the Year.
2001 Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is remodeled extensively.
2006 Alex Gordon hits .325 for the Wrangles and is Texas League Player of the Year.
2007 The Kansas City Royals move the Wranglers to northwest Arkansas.
2008 A Chicago businessman forms the Wichita Wingnuts to compete in the American Association. Although one of the oldest minor leagues, the American it is not part of the National Association of Baseball Leagues or so-called “organized baseball.”
2009 A group of Wichita businessmen buy the Wingnuts.
2014 The Wingnuts win the American Association championship.
2018 The Wingnuts announce that 2018 will be the team’s final season at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The team will be paid $2.2 million by New Orleans for giving up its franchise here.
Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org