In early January, 1936, Turk Massey, popular sports editor of the Union City daily newspaper, resigned to take a job with the California State Athletic Commission. He was replaced by Union City native Richard Cox. Cox had been a reporter for the paper for two years and his column, "Sports on Parade", would become a fixture in the paper for several years. Much of his "beat" previously was covering the local wrestling matches promoted by Red Young. As it turned out, Richard learned a good deal about the "good guy-bad guy" philosophy of wrestling and managed to apply it, intentionally or not, to his baseball writings as the 1936 season proceeded.
Following the leagues announced intentions, in November, 1935, Mayfield was named as the seventh team in the circuit's upcoming season. At a meeting in Union City in January, representatives from Corinth, Mississippi, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, attended and also applied for membership, but no decision was made. In other business the directors voted to abolish the split season and replace it with the Shaughnessy playoff system, whereby the top four finishing teams played off for the championship at the season's end. Ben Howard of Union City was elected vice president of the league. The player limit was retained at 14 players, and while the number of eligible class men remained at three, the definition of "class man" was refined to include experience higher than class D. This revision allowed the teams to retain most of their players from the prior year. Salary limits were held at $1000 per month, and the visiting teams would receive a guarantee of $40 per game against an option on 30% of the gate. The price of adult admission remained a quarter. Union City representatives at the meeting included H. P. Deevers, Cecil Moss, Joe White, Clarence Guill, Ben Howard, and Charles Dismukes.
Also in January, Branch Rickey, vice president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals contacted Ben Howard about holding a Cardinal farm system baseball school in Union City starting in late April. This was largely the result of the favorable experience of the Cardinal-Greyhound game of 1935. It was expected the school would draw as many as 250 young men looking for the opportunity to sign a Cardinal contract. Howard quickly agreed to host the school and announced it to the city. He also asked through the newspaper for individual citizens to allow the young men to stay in local homes. It was believed each man would need three to four days lodging to complete the school and the Cardinals expected the men to pay their own expenses and provide their own equipment. Room for 115 was quickly volunteered.
The Louisville Colonels notified the city they would not be returning to Union City for spring training in 1936. The rainy spring of the year before caused them to turn to Palatka, Florida, just south of Jacksonville. Their newly signed manager was Burleigh Grimes, a former major leaguer.
The Cardinal school became the big event of the spring for the town. It also soon developed into an agreement to align the Union City team with the Cardinal farm system, and the Cincinnati Reds organization was so informed. The Reds invited Paducah to join their organization. Once the deal was cut between Paducah and the parent team, Larry McPhail, a Cincinnati official, made some inflammatory comments about the extreme the Reds would go to insure the now called Paducah Indians beat the Greyhounds. This would have profound results on the 1936 playoffs.
The Cardinal's put the Union City officials in touch with Heinie Mueller and recommended him for the manager position. Clarence F. Mueller was soon named to the job by Clarence Guill, secretary of the Union City club. Mueller, a native of St. Louis, had played for the Cardinals, New York Giants, Boston Braves, and the St. Louis Browns. As a pinch hitter, he once batted twice in the same inning, driving in five runs with a homer and a triple. Then in the second game of the doubleheader, he got three more RBI's on a pinch hit double.
Mueller was a colorful character about whom numerous stories were circulated to encourage the colorful character reputation. It was said he once built a bird house in his cellar over the winter season. He was quite proud of its size, until a friend asked how he was going to get it out of the cellar. He had to dismantle it to move it outside. Another story involved the first time he met Branch Rickey. Rickey was interested in Mueller because he was said to be very fast on the bases. When Rickey mentioned to Mueller that he heard he was quite fast, Mueller responded, "you know that guy Jack Smith who plays for you?'
"Yes," said Rickey.
"Well, I'm faster than him."
"Judas Priest!" said Rickey.
"I don't know about him." said Mueller. "I never seen him play."
Cecil Moss was elected president of the Union City club. Morgan Sedberry was encouraged to stay on as business manager. Some of the 1935 players were sent contracts, but this was hampered by the agreement with St. Louis that stated much of the team would come from men signed as a result of the baseball school. Joe Gee and Shorty Hayes signed with Paducah. When Buster Wray signed with the Greyhounds, the Bethel College star said he would guarantee he would beat Paducah and Hayes, every time they met.
Turner Field was being spruced up once again. New sod was added to the infield, tiles were buried under the infield to improve drainage, and the dressing rooms were enlarged with more showers. It is hard to describe the pride the city and its citizens had in this ball park. It was written about in a reverence rarely given to an athletic site. Certainly it was recognized as an economic power in the surrounding area considering the money the crowds brought to the town, and the prestige of the major league team visits.
Another league meeting in Union City in March was attended by team reps and most of the new managers. Rip Fanning was hired by hometown Lexington. Lester Sweetland was selected by Mayfield, Ben Tincup by Paducah, Ralph McRight by Hopkinsville, and Will Bickham in Jackson. At the March meeting they voted to go back to the split season arrangement. Cape Girardeau was given the eighth spot in the league when the franchise was awarded to William Sullivan of that city. Shortly thereafter Sullivan dropped out because of health problems. Although Cape Girardeau was offered the opportunity to keep the franchise, another owner could not be found. It was assumed the vacancy would be filled by Corinth since they were the other team to show early interest. However when the league met again in emergency session there were two other interested towns, Owensboro and latecomer, Fulton. Initially the vote was split along geographic lines, with the Kentucky teams for Owensboro. Jackson and Lexington supported Corinth, and Union City and Portageville, were for neither because of the travel distance. When Fulton entered the running, they quickly picked up the votes of Union City, Mayfield, Paducah, and Portageville, and became the eighth league city.
As the start up date for opening day rolled closer, the Cardinals school had been a great success. Some 250 tryouts and contracted players spent a month in Union City. At one time there were so many, the team housed 100 on cots set up in the Hassell building on West Washington Ave. Branch Rickey made two visits to the city, and a number of players were signed and optioned to minor league cities around the country.
There were limited spaces inside the gates of Turner Field for autos so individual families could watch the game, or for players and officials to park their cars. There was a drive-thru gate for this purpose, and one of the volunteers was available to take the car owners money and get a ticket from the ticketbox. On one occasion when Branch Rickey attended a game, and his car driven by his secretary, pulled to the gate, a young student, Gene McAdoo, stopped the car and asked for the entrance money. The indignant secretary asked, "don't you know who this is? He's Branch Rickey."
"Don't matter to me," said Gene. "If you're getting in this gate, I got to have the money."
Rickey later told young McAdoo, he was absolutely right to insist on collecting from anyone who tried to come through the gate. After all, making money was Rickey's job. Gene never forgot Rickey’s advice. Rickey was also so impressed with the potential of young, sixteen year old Walter Ward of Gibbs that he carried him back to St. Louis to work in the offices of the Cardinals for the summer. One of Walter's main jobs was pitching batting practice to the major league team everyday.
The Greyhounds opening roster included, Bobby Richards, Tommy Thompson, Dutch Summers, Frankie Mahon, Bob Keely, Bill Shewey, Ollie Vanek, Huron Bishop, John Swank, John Pavlige, John Bryce, Charles Pikey, Buster Wray, Ralph Voorhees, Archie Williams, Bud Schluter, and Carl Dumler. Bryce was a seventeen year old pitcher from Long Beach California. Dumler had the best won-loss percentage in the league the previous year, but was out for several weeks early in the ‘36 season due to having his tonsils removed.
The team won the opener at Hopkinsville by a 6-5 score. They beat Mayfield 15-2 in the home opener in front of 1000 fans. Mayfield had six former Greyhounds playing for them. Bubba Mason, Kinky Lancaster, Charlie Alexander, Bill Mesnard, Lefty Smith and Jo Jo Fields all played for the Hounds in 1935 at one time or another.
The Fulton Eagles found a colorful manager in Norman "Kid" Elberfield. Kid was 61 years old and a veteran of forty years in baseball. The Fulton team lured him from his home in Chattanooga with a salary and a commission from the players he was able to sell at the end of the year. When he played in a game in 1936, he became the oldest player to ever play in a professional baseball game. The event made national news. This year set the ground work for a natural rivalry between the towns of Fulton and Union City. Only ten miles apart, each team was insured a strong following when they played. At one game in Union City the crowd of 1400 was estimated to be evenly divided between the towns. The sportswriters of each town made sure the rivalry stayed intense, and at times the reporting became pointed and personal.
In early July the Portageville franchise was sold to Bill Ling of Owensboro. The entire team would move to Owensboro for the second half of the season.
Union City was in first or second place for most of the first half, but a losing streak of several games caused them to finish second to the Paducah Indians. Fulton was in third, followed in order by Lexington, Hopkinsville, Jackson, Portageville, and Mayfield. The Paducah Sun-Democrat newspaper ask and received permission from president Bassett to stage a game pitting the Paducah team against a team made up of all stars from the other seven teams. It would start a tradition lasting as long as the Kitty was in operation. In the continuation of another tradition, Heinie Mueller was fired by the Union City directors. His record was 35-23 for the first half.
The Union City representatives to the all star game were Tommy Thompson, Bobby Richards, and John Swank. Swank, a left handed pitcher set a record earlier when he struck out 17 batters in a game. Kid Elberfield was the manager and his team defeated Paducah 8-2 before 2000 fans.
Union City's new manager for the second half of the season was Freddie Hofmann. He played 378 games for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox from 1919-1928. With the full backing of the directors he brought in some new talent. Elam Vangilder was here to pitch and win one game. He pitched for the St. Louis Browns and Detroit Tigers from 1919-1929, compiling an overall record of 99-102. He was in Union City for one game, and was supposed to return after a visit to his home in Cape Girardeau. He did not appear in the lineup again. Another addition was Rip Schroeder, a former House of David pitcher, and Larry Irvin, a pitcher and outfielder. Both of these players were strong additions to the team. The Fulton newspaper reported Union City must be over the salary cap!
The second half was a close race between Union City, Jackson, and Lexington. A meeting was held to make plans for the playoffs and all three teams plus first half winner Paducah was invited. The plan was for a best of seven series immediately following the regular season. Paducah manager, Ben Tincup protested the idea of playing any of the games at night, and said he would not participate if the games were held thusly. If Lexington won this would not be a problem because Lexington still did not have a lighted field. In the final days of the season with Union City leading Lexington by three games and only needing one win to clinch the title, the Greyhounds went to Lexington for a Friday afternoon game. All the businesses in Lexington closed for the game which Lexington won 5-2. Union City finally clinched first place by defeating Paducah with only one game left in the season.
Paducah protested the Greyhounds eligibility based on Schroeder and Irvin joining the team to late to take part in the playoffs. When that protest was overruled, they protested the playing of night games. While this may sound like a ridiculous thing to be concerned about, at the time night games were unusual, and playoffs were traditionally played as day games. It was decades before television forced the World Series into the night time contests. Nevertheless, Judge W. D. Branham of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues ruled this was a decision for the home team and the league to make.
Since the 1935 playoffs had not been played because of the confusion over the second half winner, this would be the first real play off in the Kitty League. At home Union City beat Paducah 6-2 in the first game. True to his word Ben Tincup did not accompany the team. On the night of the second game, the Greyhounds took the field and the umpire ordered the first pitch. Since no Paducah Indians were present and ready to play, the game was called a forfeit, and went into the books as a 9-0 victory for Union City. The Paducah players chose not to play if the manager would not be there. The NAPBL put all the Paducah players on the ineligible list and said fines would probably be levied against them. Union City was declared the league champ for 1936.
The Union City reporter said the problem stemmed from the early preseason statements by McPhail of the Reds organization. The report was there was so much pressure on Tincup, he could not afford to lose to Union City on the field. It was pointed out that the Greyhounds beat Paducah 13 of 18 meetings during the regular season. The Fulton paper said Paducah not playing was bad for the Kitty League, especially since there were problems the year before in the playoffs. They also said Union City was probably guilty of breaking the rules. The league ruled no violations.
The Greyhounds ended a very successful season at the gate and on the field. The team boasted some of the best hitting anywhere. Final averages showed Thompson .371; Irvin, .369; Hofmann, .355; Shewey, .343; Goldsmith, .331; Richards, .313; Vanek, .305; and Williams, .305.
To give some insight into the effect these professional players had on the youth of Union City, one must look no further than one example. Young Charles was much a fan of outfielder Bill Shewey. The outfielder also thought highly of young Charles and gave him balls, bats and a glove to practice his own skills. Soon all the other young boys had given Charles a new nickname. He is Shewey Tisher to this day.