Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the early 1920s, a team representing a small town in a long defunct league finished with a winning record the likes of which have never been equaled. However, to accomplish this goal, the team needed help from a team that went belly-up three weeks before the end of the season.
The town of Enid, located in north-central Oklahoma, joined the ranks of pro baseball in 1904. Here, a team called the Evangelists won a first half title in the Class D Southwestern League, finishing with a combined 46-37 record in their sole year in the league. Four years later, Enid joined the Class C Western Association, a league which featured teams in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. In their first season, the Railroaders finished dead last with a record of 38-99. The team then enjoyed a complete turnaround in 1909, winning the pennant with an 82-44 mark. After a second place finish the following year, the team dropped out of the league.
For 1922, the Western Association advanced from Class D to Class C. With the addition of Joplin, the league now met the minimum population requirement for C ball. Joplin had been in the Class A Western League, but that franchise was transferred to Denver. Joplin then replaced Chickasha, OK. In January, the group of businessmen who had operated the Enid club for the 1920-21 seasons, decided they would no longer back the team.
On February 18, The Sporting News reported that “Dud Branom has finally secured possession of the Enid franchise, the deal being completed when Branom, who was the property of the Kansas City Blues (American Association), secured his release on condition that he become financially interested in the Enid club. He will act as field captain and business manager, playing his old position of first base.” Edgar Dudley (Dud) Branom, 23, broke into pro ball with Enid in 1920, batting .321-4-74 in 129 games. He finished the season with Kansas City and played for the Blues and Tulsa (Western) in 1921. After a stellar season with the Harvesters, batting .391-14-110, third in the league, he went back up to Kansas City, where he hit .400 in eight games. Following the 1922 season, Branom sold the Enid club to George Muehlebach, owner of the Blues. Branom took over first base for Kansas City in 1923, sending the veteran slugger Bunny Brief to the outfield. Branom hit .348-9-76 for the Blues, another of the Top 100 teams. He was one of a handful of players with two Top 100 teams in different leagues in successive years. Branom starred for Kansas City for four years and after hitting .351-10-116 in 1926 was purchased by the Philadelphia Athletics. After batting .234-0-13 games for the A’s, he was sent to Portland (PCL) and then returned to the American Association in 1928 for a five-year stay with Louisville, averaging 120 RBI a season. In his 15-year minor league career, Branom batted .317 with 2,503 hits and 1,459 RBI.
On March 19, 1922, The Sporting News reported that infielder Tom Downey had been hired to manage the Harvesters and would arrive from California in time for the start of spring training April 2. Throughout the year, when reporting on strategy or team decisions, The Sporting News always referred to Downey and Branom in tandem, indicating they worked well together. Downey, 35, was a native of Dungeness, WA, who grew up in San Francisco. He broke into pro ball with Salem (Oregon State) in 1904 and played six years for Kansas City (1908, 1910-14). He never reached the majors. After playing for Spokane (Pacific International) in 1920, Downey managed Denver in the independent Midwest League in 1921. In 1922, he hit .252 in 118 games, playing both second and third base. He remained at Enid in 1923 when the Harvesters finished third in both halves. Downey resided in San Diego most of his life and in 1938 began a 26-year scouting career, covering Southern California. He worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers for ten years, then was with the Pirates, Indians, Red Sox, Angels and Cubs before he retired in 1964. Downey’s scouting philosophy always was “out of quantity comes quality” and he signed many future major leaguers, notably Hall-of-Fame outfielder Duke Snider, Dick Williams and Rocky Bridges.
Enid got off to a great start in 1922, winning its first 12 games. The winning streak ended May 9 when Glen Harle of Fort Smith pitched a 3-0 no-hitter against the Harvesters. Harle had a perfect game until the eighth inning. Enid had a spectacular 31-7, .816 record on June 3, but was just one game ahead of Joplin. The Miners took over first place a few days later and finished the first half three games ahead of Enid, 53-14, .791 to 49-16, .754. The Harvesters dominated the second half, finishing 14 games ahead of Henryetta as Joplin dropped to third place. On August 16, the Pawhuska club folded, 2-½ weeks before the end of the season on Labor Day. The league ruled that Pawhuska’s remaining games be considered forfeits and wins credited to the opposing clubs, and Enid had six games left with the Osages. Thus, the official league standings show Enid with 55-11, .833. However, the standings carried by The Sporting News listed only the games actually played, giving Enid a 49-11, .817 record and 99-27, .786 overall on the field. In the championship playoff, Joplin upended Enid 4 games to 1. Joplin then defeated Southwestern League champion Sapulpa, 4 games to 3 in an inter-league series. Enid finished second to Joplin in team batting by one point, .299 to .298, but led in runs (788) and home runs (100), 39 more homers than runner-up Henryetta. The Harvesters led in fielding .966 to Springfield’s .961.
Enid’s leading hitter was left fielder Frank Reiger, called “The Babe Ruth of the Western Association.” Reiger batted .392, second in the Western Association, four points behind Springfield first baseman Leo Cotter, and led in home runs by a wide margin. The official statistics show him with 31 in 120 games, although The Sporting News reported that Reiger “hit his 31st and 32nd (home runs) in the final home game of the season.” The next two in the home run column hit 32 combined and only six players in the eight-team league hit more than ten. One item in The Sporting News refers to Reiger “measuring his aim over the Harvesters’ short left field wall.” Reiger, a 27-year-old right-handed hitter, was born in Garber, OK, and attended Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). He served in the Army for two years in World War I and didn’t start playing pro ball until 1921 with Enid. In his rookie year he hit .312 with 48 doubles and 34 home runs, leading the league in runs (123). (The league’s statistics did not carry RBI figures until 1924.) In 1924 he batted .328-32-133 for Bartlesville in the same league and finished the season with Little Rock (Southern). Although he hit .405-1-11 in 10 games for the Travelers, he was down a notch to Augusta in the Class B South Atlantic League in 1925. He was hitting .350-23-95 when tragedy struck on September 5. As reported in the Columbia State, “Returning from Charlotte, where they had met that club in a three-game series, Emil Huhn, manager and first baseman of the Augusta team and Frank Reiger, Augusta outfielder, met almost instant death when the car in which they were traveling left the highway on a curve 15 miles north of Camden at about 10 o’clock Saturday (September 5) night. Both men were front seat occupants of a heavy touring car being driven by Huhn. A short distance south of Clyburn station, the highway makes an abrupt curve and crosses the Southern railway. It was at this point that the machine swerved, overturned and settled in a deep ditch on the right hand side of the road.” Five other players who were in the car were injured. By an odd coincidence, Huhn had been a member of another Top 100 team, the 1920 London Tecumsehs. In his brief five-year career, Reiger had a .339 batting average and a .606 slugging percentage. 41% of his 857 hits were for extra bases, 177 doubles, 35 triples and 141 home runs.
The Harvesters had two other .300 hitters, outfielder Chuck Cochrane (.316) and catcher Ben Diamond (.301), both of whom came with Downey from Denver.
One other Enid position player reached the majors, shortstop Johnny Mann, who hit .333 (2-for-6) in six games for the Chicago White Sox in 1928. Mann, 24, from Fontanet, IN, broke in with Evansville (Three-I) in 1920. He came to Enid in mid-season of 1922 from Oklahoma City (Western) in a trade for shortstop Wayne Windle. He played three years in the South Atlantic League with Asheville and Macon (1924-26) then move up to Wichita Falls (Texas) in 1927. That season brought tragedy to his family. On July 13, 1927, Johnny’s brother, Raymond (Pete) Mann, an infielder for Macon, was killed instantly by a pitched ball. After leaving the White Sox, Johnny played for Providence, Jersey City, Spartanburg, New Haven and Springfield (MA) before winding up back in Macon in mid-season of 1930. He was batting .350 when he suffered a broken arm in a game at Columbia, August 27. Mann was covering third base when a runner crashed into him. In 1931, Mann played for another Top 100 team, Hartford in the Eastern League. He retired from baseball after the Eastern League folded in the middle of the 1932 season. In the fall of 1933, Mann was returning home from a hunting trip when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. After nine months in a hospital, one of his legs was amputated.
The ace of the Harvesters pitching staff was Don Songer, a slender (six feet, 165 pounds) 23-year-old lefthander from Walnut, KS. Songer won 31 and lost 4, leading the Western Association in wins, strikeouts (176) and innings pitched (336). He held opponents to a .184 average. No ERAs were published, but he was charged with only 74 runs total, an average of 1.98 per nine innings. Songer belonged to Kansas City where he started his pro career in 1920. He pitched for Augusta (South Atlantic) in 1921 (12-18, 3.82). He had two good years with Oklahoma City (Western) in 1923 (18-9) and 1924 (22-15), then was purchased by Pittsburgh. He was 0-0, 7.00 in 4 games in 1924 and 0-1, 2.25 in 8 games in 1925 for the Pirates, then was optioned back to Oklahoma City. He was with Pittsburgh all of 1926 (7-8, 3.14) and the Pirates and Giants in 1927 (3-5, 3.60). After pitching for Toronto in 1928 and Fort Worth and Tulsa in 1929, he retired from the game.
One other Enid pitcher appeared briefly in the majors. He was George Abrams, a 23-year-old, 5’9”, 165-pound right-hander from Seattle, WA. Abrams went 18-5 for the Harvesters and was purchased by Cincinnati. He was 0-0, 9.64 in three games for the Reds in 1923, his only big league experience.
In 1924, Enid, one of the Western Association’s smaller cities, transferred to the Southwestern League, which dropped from Class C to Class D in a reorganization of minor league baseball in the region. It was a matter of economics. It cost less to operate in Class D. In 1926, Enid, now nicknamed the Boosters, won the first half, but dropped to fourth in the second half and lost the playoff to Salina. The Southwestern League went out of business after the 1926 season and Enid was out of Organized Baseball for 23 years. However, in the 1930s and early 1940s, Enid was a hotbed of semi-pro ball with teams sponsored by oil companies. The Enid Eason Oilers and the Enid Champlin Refiners were among the top teams in the country, featuring many former Texas and Western League players, and won several National Baseball Congress championships. Enid returned to organized baseball in the Class C Western Association in 1950, replacing Fort Smith. The franchise was owned by the New York Giants and finished fourth. In 1951, the Giants transferred their operation to Muskogee and the Enid Buffaloes came in seventh as an independent club. That was Enid’s last year in professional baseball. The Western Association reduced to six teams in 1952 and disbanded after the 1954 season.
The 1922 Harvesters, although picking up several forfeit wins, nevertheless set two related marks that have never been bested. Over the course of the season, the team lost only 27 games - no other 100-game winner has lost fewer. More importantly, of all the full season teams to play pro ball in the 20th century, Enid’s .794 percentage ranks supreme - insuring the team’s inclusion in the upper echelons of baseball’s elite.
|1922 Western Association Standings|
|1922 Enid Harvesters batting statistics|
|1922 Enid Harvesters pitching statistics|