In January 1935, a group headed by Dr. Bassett, decided to reform the Kitty League. The league had been closed down since the end of the 1924 season. There had been previous attempts to start up again, but in the depression years there was little money to be invested in or spent on any thing as frivolous as professional baseball. Baseball was played, and the local folks came out to watch the games, but organized, professional ball meant games everyday during the season, and a commitment of resources and support. Most people were to busy trying to keep heads above the financial waters to be concerned. For games to be played every day also meant the playing field must have lights so the games could be played at night. While there was little money available to spend on ball games, certainly the fans could not be expected to take off work to attend daytime games.
Most small towns had what was known as Sunday Leagues. At first these were called Sunday school leagues because they were made-up of members of the various church’s Sunday school classes. Many times the chance to play baseball was the incentive to join the class, and in some cases Sunday school was held in the afternoons, after the game. Soon the players on some teams were being paid to play. At that point the leagues became known simply as Sunday leagues. Sometimes the "Sunday leagues" played on days other than Sunday. A town might have more than one team, or they would have one team from the community play neighboring communities. The towns were proud of their teams, normally made up of local talent, and supported wholeheartedly. In Northwest Tennessee one of the local teams was made up of the Daniel brothers. They were a nightmare for the scorekeeper for a Daniel filled each of the nine positions. The sons of Tom "Uncle Dan" Daniel, they played for a number of years in the Union City and Weakley county areas in the twenties and early thirties. The team consisted of a normal lineup of Newt pitching and Pete catching. Raymond covered first base, second by Alvis, shortstop, twin Arvin, third base Dan, and the outfield by Wylie, Carnell, and Charlie. Pete and Wylie were also good pitchers and the lineup shifted when they pitched.
In 1934 the semi-pro Union City All Stars played 41 games. In that same year there were at least two other organized teams, the Union City Ramblers and the Union City Cardinals. The All Stars as their name indicated were made up of the best players in the area, as well as, some from outside Union City. They were under contract and normally had a job in addition to playing baseball. This type arrangement made it difficult to determine when a player became a professional. The All Stars became the nucleus for the 1935 Union City entry into the Kitty League.
Representatives were invited to attend an organizational meeting at the Lathan Hotel in Hopkinsville on January 29, 1935. The meeting was called by Dr. Frank Bassett, who at that time was the County Court Clerk of Christian County, Kentucky, and the league president when the league last played. In Union City the ball park was owned by the city and the American Legion post had supervision of it. For this reason it fell to the Legion to attend the meeting and look into the matter.
Union City did not send a representative to the meeting because initially there was not a great deal of interest by the town in pursuing professional baseball. Union City's census figures for 1930 were 5865. By 1935 the city fathers thought the population was closer to 7,000. Although city fathers normally estimate the population to be higher than official counts tend to support, in either case Union City was small to be thinking about joining a professional baseball league. Interest was sparked that spring by the Louisville Colonels baseball club when they came to Union City for a month of spring training.
On March 20, a meeting was held in Union City, sponsored by the American Legion, to discuss the possibilities of joining a league. The Louisville Colonels' business manager, Captain Bill Neal spoke to the group. He chilled the crowd when he told them it might take as much as $9,000 to field a team for a four month season. However the fear among those present was not of Union City being unable to support a team at these prices, but concern over other teams failing to come up with the financial support. The All Stars had taken in $7000 the previous year in their 41 games. A large portion, $2800, coming in two games played against the Memphis Chicks and the Louisville Colonels. The American Legion appointed a committee to look into the possibilities.
The Colonels housed 44 players and team officials in the Davy Crockett Hotel for thirty days in March and April 1935. Every civic club in the area, including a group in Fulton, sponsored a party or supper of some type for the team. It became apparent baseball had a monetary impact on the business community. For the Colonels exhibition games against Memphis, Toledo, and Indianapolis, Western Union installed special telegraph lines to the ballpark so the sports writers’ back home could receive a play by play description of the game. They also received a great deal of information about Union City and the wonderful playing facility located there.
The city was rightfully proud of the playing facility. The ballpark was finished in 1934. It boasted a roofed and newly painted grandstand, stone outfield fences and dugouts, and a grass infield. The playing field was among the largest in the country and at one time was ranked as the fifth largest playing field in the world. In the 1930’s center field literally went out of sight, more than 500 feet at its deepest point. The park had an electric scoreboard in right field that was initially controlled by flipping switches from the rear. This procedure required the operator to stand on the fence and move back and forth on each ball, strike, and out. Later changes allowed it to be electrically controlled from the grandstand, but there continued a need for someone sitting at the scoreboard to hang the innings results at the end of each half inning. A project was underway to light the field for night ball games. The bleachers along each foul line were portable, so they could be rearranged to accommodate the local high school football team when the football field was laid out across the outfield in the fall. At the time the field had no official name. There was support for naming it Veteran’s Memorial Park, but there was not a concensus.
During the Colonels spring training they hosted a tryout camp for ball players in the area interested in joining the professional ranks. Among the locals trying out were Bob Ross of Fulton, Jiggs Latimer, a Union City player attending Bethel College, Union City All-Stars players, Red Armstrong, Bob Owens, Murill McNeil, and Preacher Roberts. McNeil was ultimately signed and sent to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the East Dixie League. Armstrong later made the starting lineup for the Union City team.
Two separate leagues were being considered for the area. The Kitty League group was considering Paducah, Hopkinsville, Owensboro, Bowling Green, Union City, Jackson, and Springfield. Another group was trying to organize Blytheville, Osceola, Tupelo, Corinth, Union City, Jackson, Lexington, Dyersburg, and Covington. The decisions were made when J. J. McCloskey of the National Professional Baseball Association started negotiating the league's formation and threw his support to the revitilization of the Kitty. Dr. Bassett’s former associations in professional baseball certainly colored the outcome.
The teams selected to play in the reorganized Kitty League were Union City, Jackson, and Lexington in Tennessee. Paducah and Hopkinsville were the representatives from Kentucky. Cairo was the final team to be offered entry. Cairo's team was to be sponsored by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and had made great plans for starting the season. Then a problem developed regarding the use of a ball field and Cairo withdrew from consideration.
Ultimately the final team selected was Portageville, Missouri. Portageville won out over Somersville and Paris, Tennessee and Corinth, Mississippi, largely due to the absence of a professional team on the west-side of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis and the influence of the NPBA. Dr. Bassett was elected president of the league. The Union City representatives during the organizational meetings were R. E. Rankin, C. L. Dismukes, J. M. Sedberry, C. G. Guill and H. P. Deevers.
The plan for the 1935 Kitty League was that it began with six teams. The goal was to expand to eight teams in 1936. The league would again be class D. No club would be allowed to have a payroll of less than $500 per month, and they could not exceed $1000 per month, including the salary of the manager. Teams could carry 14 players on the team, but no more than 3 could be "class" players. A "class" player was defined as a player who had previously played more than ten games of professional baseball. President Bassett said these rules would be enforced rigorously.
The league was organized to encourage young players, and the limit of three class players was an increased over the initial proposal of one. The season would run from May 22 through Labor Day. Each team was expected to pursue the goal of having lights installed as soon as possible. Admission would be $.25 for adults and the visiting team would receive 30% of the gate. The home team was allowed to retain any money received for reserved seating. Games would be played seven days a week with the Saturday and Sunday games taking place in the afternoons.
When the Louisville team packed to return home, the Union City team began practice for the upcoming season. Rip Fanning of Lexington had already been hired by the American Legion to manage the All Stars semi-pro team. The All Stars evolved into the city's first professional entry in the league. Fanning was a veteran of many seasons of semi-pro ball and immediately began forming his team.
A local sports writer, Turk Massey, decided in a league of all stars one team could not carry the name All Stars. He said he intended to call the new team the Union City Nite Riders until another name was proposed and adopted. Several people took issue with the name because according to them "Night Riders" was an unsavory part of the local history the town should be trying to forget, not promote. Massey responded to the letter writers that since they had not suggested another name he would continue to call the team the Nite Riders. Any unfavorable historical connotations to the name was long behind us by now. In fact, he said, had the writers been with the team on the ride back from Somersville from an exhibition game the previous night, they might have thought the name entirely appropriate. And since most of the traveling would take place at night, this also made it appropriate. As for names, and never one to be deterred by the facts, Massey said, the Brooklyn Dodgers got their name from the fact that so many citizens of greater New York crossed the line to Brooklyn to dodge process servers. The facts are the Dodgers name came from the Brooklyn citizen's reputation for dodging the numerous streetcar lines, and was the last of several nicknames given to the Brooklyn team before being relocated to Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Massey continued to call the team the Nite Riders.
On April 21, 1935, Dr. W, M. Turner, the mayor of Union City died following an extended illness. He was named mayor in 1932 following the death of J. A. Prieto, and he was elected to a six-year term in 1934. Born in Crockett county at Bells in 1872, he studied dentistry at University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt. He came to Union City about 1899, and was one of the city's most enterprising citizens. He was a member of most civic clubs, past member of the board of education, and the board of aldermen. He had been instrumental in involving the city in the development of the local city owned ball park. He was so highly regarded that the entire city closed between the hours of 4 and 5 PM on April 23, 1935 for his funeral. Mr. Massey was the first to suggest the ball park be dedicated to Dr. Turner's memory. This idea was quickly endorsed by others and the Union City ball park was renamed Turner Memorial Park. It became commonly referred to as Turner Field.
The nickname question was settled by a contest conducted by the Legion. The winning name was selected by a committee that decided on Greyhounds. The name was submitted by Claude Botts. He won a season pass for his prize. New uniforms were ordered. They would be white with red trim, red stockings and caps. The figure of a greyhound was on the front of the blouse. A loose working agreement was established with the Cincinnatti Reds.
The team continued to workout at Turner Field all through April and May, awaiting opening day. Players came from the surrounding area, as well as, those sent this way by other baseball teams or men in the business. Among the players making Rip Fanning's team were Jack Mentz, Buster Wray, Newt Daniel, Red Armstrong, John Price, Lilburn Odom, Archie Williams, Charles Koenig, Billie Greek, Shorty Hayes, and Jo Jo Fields. The other teams and their managers were the Paducah Redbirds, with George Griffin; the Hopkinsville Hoppers, with John Henry Suther, a former Alabama football star; the Lexington Yanks, with John Antonelli, a nineteen year old Memphian; the Jackson Generals, with Tony Leidl; and the Portageville Pirates, with Pat Patterson.
Union City Greyhounds traveled to Portageville for the opener. They traveled by car to Dyersburg and then to Cottonwood Point to cross the Mississippi River by ferry. The starting lineup was Crittenden, 1b, Armstrong, 2b, Mason, ss, Batts, rf, Price, cf, Clark, 3b, Greek, lf, Fanning, c, and Long, p. Long was relieved by Hayes and Sample. Union City lost by a 3-2 score. The winning pitcher was Dwight Gibbs a Union Citian, who had tried out for the Greyhounds, but was released. The Union City team lost again the next day, before finally posting their first professional victory on May 25, 1935. The team was two and four when the first home game was played on May 29.
Since the lights were not yet installed at Turner Field, the home opener was an afternoon affair starting at 3:30. A parade headed by city and league officials, the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, the Young Businessmen's Club, and other civic organizations wound its way through the downtown business section of Union City before ending at Turner Field. The queue was two miles long and every business was represented. At the park Mayor W. M. Miles tossed out the first ball to Carl Timm, president of the YBC. J. C. Burdick was the batter and Claude Botts the umpire. Union City's Greyhounds went on to win the opener against Jackson's Generals by a score of 2-0, behind the three hit pitching of hometowner, Newt Daniel.
Bubba Mason pitched a no-run, no-hit game against Jackson on May 31, and Buster Wray won the second game of a double header making Union City 5-4 in second place behind Lexington's 6-3 record. After 20 games each team was required to be at the 14 player limit. Union City's class men were Crittenden, Odom, and Fanning, causing them to release Mason. He went immediately to Jackson and beat the Hounds the next night.
If the Greyhounds were not enough baseball for the fans in 1935, an independent semi-pro team from Union City took the nickname Nite Riders, and began play. Formerly the Union City Cardinals, they boasted a pitcher/manager, Will Austin "Doc" Nailling, who pitched with either hand. He often amused the crowd by pitching double headers, the first game right handed, the second, left-handed.
Lights were installed in Turner Field and the first night baseball game was played in Union City on June 21, 1935. Newt Daniel beat Paducah 4-3. In a tight race the first half of the season ended on July 10, with Lexington declared the winner with a record of 25 wins and 18 loses. Hopkinsville was in second and Union City third, two and one-half games back. They were followed by Jackson, Portageville, and Paducah. Only six and one-half games separated first to last.
In July Rip Fanning bowed out as manager of the Greyhounds, and his replacement was Russ Young. Young was a former Kitty League player, and was in the American Association when called to manage Union City.
The Greyhounds had their ups and downs through the first portion of the second half of the 1935 season, but the real focus was on a game to be played on August 2. The world champion St. Louis Cardinals had scheduled an exhibition game against the Greyhounds. It was common in those days that a major league team having a day off would do this.
It not only gave the team practice and exposed the hinterlands to the teams, but it helped pay the bills. The tickets and all sales were under the control of the Cardinals. The game was a sellout as far as reserved seats was concerned. The only question was how many more people could be crowded into the park. Ultimately 7500 fans saw the Cardinals defeat the Greyhounds 4-2.
The game was played in a carnival atmosphere. Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin, future hall of famers, took over the public address announcing and gave a play by play of the game, giving special attention to the calls by the umpires. Other members of the team were Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Paul Dean, and Leo Durocher. Dizzy Dean was a pinch hitter for the catcher, O'Farrel, and struck out to Daniel to end the game. It was the largest West Tennessee crowd to ever view a sporting event outside Memphis. The Cardinals cut of the gate was said to be three times larger than a game in Cincinnati a week earlier. The seeds for this game were planted then the Louisville Colonels games were sent out to the nation in the spring. For the Cardinals game there were over 3000 words sent throughout the United States by telegraph. Many of these words described the city, the hospitality of the people, and the beauty of the playing facility.
By mid-August the Kitty League was learning how difficult it was to find good players to participate in organized ball. Many players turned down offers to play, or left the team because they could make more money playing semi-pro ball and working on the side. New names appeared on the Union City roster. Gee, Duetch, Starnes, Dumler, West, Tate, and Hales all played with the team. Meanwhile popular Jo Jo Fields left the team to start the school year as a teacher and coach at Kenton High School.
As the season ground to an end the race for first place was tight. Union City was only one game back of first place Jackson at the beginning of a five game series. Unfortunately the greyhounds lost all five games and finished six games behind Jackson. At the same time Union City and Portageville filed a protest with the league regarding the number of class men on the Jackson team. President Bassett in a league meeting in Union City upheld the protest and declared the Jackson team ineligible to win the second half of the season. Whereas this would have put Union City in first place, Jackson filed the same protest against Union City. An examination of the records showed the three class men on the team to be manager Young, Lilburn Odom, and Fred West. It also showed that Dick Tate had played ball in 1929 without disclosing this information to the club officials. This had the effect of making Portageville the winner of the second half and the team to enter playoffs with Lexington for the league championship. Lexington however refused to play Portageville in the playoffs, hereby making Portageville the Kitty League champion for 1935.
From all accounts, and inspite of the lurid ending, the season had been a successful one. It was remarkable that small towns were able to compete for support with the larger ones. The population of the league members was estimated as Paducah, 40,000; Jackson, 26,000; Hopkinsville, 18,000; Union City, 8,000; Portageville and Lexington, 1500. The league immediately made plans to go to eight teams in 1936.
The Greyhounds played several exhibition games after the season was concluded, with the likes of the traveling House of David team, and one with the Louisville Colonels.
The year was climaxed with a game between the Pittsburg Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field on September 27, 1935. Both teams evidently took note of the money made by the Cardinals in August. This was an opportunity for the fans in the area to see more major league stars such as Sunny Jim Bottomley, brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner, league leading hitter Arky Vaughn, Babe Herman, and the all time great third baseman, Pie Traynor. Sponsors thought the crowd might eclipse the Cardinals game, but rain came and only 2000 fans braved the cool fall weather.
The Pirate pitcher for the game was Big Jim Weaver a native of Obion county. Weaver was born around South Fulton in 1903. He was six feet six inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, thus the nickname. He played in the majors from 1928-1939 for the Washington Senators, New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburg Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds. He appeared in 189 games and pitched 893 innings. His lifetime record was 57-36. His best years were back-to-back 14-8 records with Pittsburg in '35 and '36. He died in Lakeland, Florida in 1983. Also in that game the Pittsburg first baseman was Earl Browne. He would become a Kitty League manager for Owensboro in the 1950's.