In the late winter and early spring of 1903 Frank Bassett, a young baseball player and salesman, was instrumental in organizing eight small towns into a baseball league. The towns were Hopkinsville, Henderson, Owensboro, and Paducah in Kentucky, Clarksville and Jackson in Tennessee, Cairo, Illinois, and Vincennes, Indiana. The league was named the K.I.T.I. taking the first letter of each state represented. Quickly the fans gave it the name Kitty. The first games were played in the summer of 1903.
Frank Bassett went to Vanderbilt University later and received a Doctor of Medicine degree. He remained involved in the Kitty League until a dispute with team owners in the late 1930ís. He died in 1951. The league operated that first time from 1903 through 1906. It was reorganized in 1910 and operated until the intervention of WWI in 1916. Starting up again in 1922, it operated for three seasons until it folded again after the 1924 season. It rose again in 1935 and entertained fans until mid-summer of 1942, when WWII added the league to its toll. After WWII the league was reorganized yet again, and it operated through the season of 1955, fifty-two proud years of history.
In those 52 years there were many towns and their citizens entertained by the league games. In Kentucky the list includes Hopkinsville, Mayfield, Henderson, Owensboro, Madisonville, Fulton, Paducah, Bowling Green, Princeton, and Central City. The Kitty existed in the Tennessee towns of Union City, Milan, Trenton, Dyersburg, Paris, Jackson, Springfield, Clarksville, and Lexington. Cairo, McLeanboro, and Harrisburg represented Illinois. Indiana teams were from Vincennes, Princeton, and Evansville. Portageville, Missouri was also a member. Each of these cities is marked on the map of minor league cities hanging in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The league always operated as a class D league, the lowest classification at the time in the professional baseball system. It existed as a rookie league, a place for a young player to try to prove he had the mettle to make it in professional baseball. If the team had an agreement with a higher classification minor league team, or perhaps even as a farm team of a major league team, it was certain any exceptionally successful player would not be around long before the parent club would "move him up". If the team owning the playerís contract saw the opportunity to make a dollar by selling the player to another team the player could "pack his bag". Sometimes the player got some of the selling price, sometimes not.
Financial crises among the teams were common and occurred on a regular basis- sometimes as frequently as payday rolled around. Break even was the goal of every team and every owner. The amounts of money these teams dealt with seem unbelievably small and insignificant by today's standards, but keep in mind the times when considering the dollar values. A payroll of $1000 a month for a team of 15 players in 1914, or $2500 for the same number in 1947, would be almost $32,000 a month in today's economy. A $30 season ticket in 1950 would cost more than $300 today. A debt of $2500 at the end of the season in 1951 would be a debt of more than $25,000 today.
W. Irving Thompson of Henderson, Kentucky was the first league president in 1903, and again in 1904. Charles Brown, Paducah was president in 1905 followed by G. C. Gosnell of Vincennes in 1906. When the league reorganized in 1910 Gosnell was president again for two years. Dr. Bassett took over in 1912 and held it through its various periods of operation until 1938. J. E. Hannepin of Fulton was president in 1938, and Ben Howard of Union City held the office for the seasons of 1939-40. After the 1940 season the league elected Shelby Peace, also of Hopkinsville, and he held the position until the league folded for the last time in 1955.
This research centers on the Union City teams and the league between the years of 1935-1955. The facts presented come largely from the files of the Union City Messenger currently stored in the Obion County Library, first hand recollections of citizens, former players, and the memory of the writer, who as a young boy spent his early years worshiping the men playing the game at Turner Field.