Willoughby: Aspen baseball’s disruptive year: 1890 | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Aspen baseball’s disruptive year: 1890

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
An Aspen baseball team of the early 1900s.
Willoughby collection |

Colorado Rockies’ baseball fans turn to a midsection of The Aspen Times to see how their team is doing. During the 1890s, readers found scores and standings on the front page.

With no basketball or hockey playoffs to vie with America’s favorite pastime, baseball captured all the passion fans felt for sports. Major boxing matches would attract more interest, but they were few and far between.

In the summer of 1890, the Times posted results for three leagues of eight teams each: the Western Association, the National League and the Players’ League. The Western Association included Denver, ranked as America’s 26th largest city with a population of 100,000. Kansas City, Minneapolis and Sioux City — each of similar size — competed in that league.

In a controversial move that year, players formed their own major league, the Players’ League. They felt the National League’s owners did not treat them fairly. So every city that had a National League team except Cincinnati also had a Players’ League team. Most star players jumped to the Players’ League and became part owners of their teams.

The local scene reflected national uncertainties. In 1889, Aspen had been in the State League with Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Leadville and Denver. Denver withdrew in the beginning of the year and the league began to fall apart. Aspen scheduled four games with each of the remaining teams. A team would travel by train to another town and play a series of games over several days.

For these quasi-professional games, the teams shared the gate. But high travel expenses limited Aspen’s participation after the first series. The team decided they could continue only if they raised additional money through local subscriptions. They did not need much; about $3,500 in today’s dollars.

During the 1890 season rumors flew. They held that Denver’s Western League team was going to move and that Sioux City would take over the franchise. These prospects led to debate over whether the State League could be revived to take the Western League’s place. Efforts arose to reform a league that would include Aspen, Denver, Glenwood Springs, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs and Leadville.

In the absence of the State League, the Aspen team played against local teams. Aspen had a town league, but that year it was not organized. Teams formed and reformed with different sponsors to play against Aspen’s semi-professional team. Fans continued to enjoy games at Athletic Park, in Aspen’s West End near today’s Aspen Meadows.

Fans seemed satisfied with local baseball, yet the summer nearly ended with catastrophe. “Little Reddy,” Aspen’s mascot, was a young boy who tended bats and water during the games. While he rode Aspen’s street railway, the boy jumped off. A buggy was passing in the opposite direction and Reddy landed face first in one of its revolving wheels. Remarkably, he recovered.

The Players’ League folded after just one season. Denver remained in the Western League. Aspen held high hopes for the creation of a new State League throughout the 1891 or 1892 seasons. In 1893 plans to revive that league added Cheyenne, Wyoming, to the list, slotted Aspen to play 36 home games and envisioned $140,000 income overall. Although the Aspen team continued to play rivals such as Leadville, the State League of paid players never revived.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

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