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The Blue Sox: Professional Baseball In Covington, KY
An Accidental Fast Forwarding Of A Microfilm Machine Leads To A Career Defining Discovery
110 years ago, a team of almosts, could-have-beens, and not-quites, led by a former World Series hurler and school teacher from Goshen, OH, donned the grey, white, and blue flannel uniforms of the Covington Blue Sox.
And even though they donned those uniforms for only two months, their legacy is still felt today. And they have become an important part of my adult life.
And it was all because of a lucky turn of the microfilm machine.
25 years ago, while researching family history at the library in Covington, Kentucky, I stumbled across this blurb in The Kentucky Post :
When I say I stumbled across it, I mean I went too far in fast forwarding the microfilm machine when I was looking for possible references to my great-grandfather playing amateur baseball in Covington in May of 1913. As I saw my mistake in stopping in June, this headline jumped out at me:
ROOT, BOYS, ROOT
Federal League Park?
I had no idea at the time that I had taken my first steps into what would become an obsession. The Covington Blue Sox of the Federal League had entered into my brain, forever to occupy space there, becoming a life long love affair.
I took a dime out of my pocket and made a copy of the newspaper, stuffing it in a folder.
Blue Sox…Blue Sox, I kept saying the words over and over in my head as I slowly rewound the film, scouring for any mention of the team. I don’t remember how long I was in the library that evening in 1998, but I walked out with $5 in dimes worth of newspaper copies. When I got home, I helped put the kids to bed, made a cup of instant coffee, and dumped the folder on the kitchen table, beginning my detective work.
As a huge baseball fan, I had heard of the Federal League. I knew it existed and knew it was a flash in the pan, lasting only a few seasons. I knew some of the teams and some of the players.
What I did not know was that it started as a minor league in 1913 and my hometown was the lucky recipient of a franchise.
How did little old Covington, long in the shadow of Cincinnati, get a baseball team?
It begins with what they did not get. In the spring of 1913, Covington and Newport businessmen looked to bring two minor league clubs to their respective cities. NKY had long been a baseball hotbed, and the city leaders and officials thought baseball clubs could not only draw attention to their fine cities, but could bring in the money.
Lots of baseball money.
The NKY officials looked to bring two Blue Grass League (a minor league outfit made up of teams from across Kentucky) clubs to the area. The problem was, as it had long been for NKY river cities, the Cincinnati Reds had territorial rights to the area thanks to the “Five Mile Clause” citing no team could operate within five miles of a league team.
The Blue Grass League sued baseball, and in response, baseball expelled the entire league.
Not long after, the outlaw Federal League, not handcuffed by the National Agreement of baseball regulations, came calling for Covington.
On April 5, 1913 Covington got their club.
The Blue Sox were born.
The town went baseball mad. They hired Sam Leever, who pitched in the first ever World Series with Pittsburgh and had a second career as a school teacher. They signed cast-offs from other minor league teams and assembled a decent roster that represented Covington fairly well.
But the Blue Sox honeymoon ended as quickly as it began.
A flood, attendance issues, lack of star power, and other factors caused the team to transfer to Kansas City in June, where they were renamed the Packers. The following year, Kansas City would play Chicago in the 1914 Federal League opener. The first game ever played in Wrigley Field.
As for my discovery, days turned into months, and months turned into years. I had no idea what to do with the information I had collected, piecing together a team that many never knew existed. After starting a book and stopping a book, I decided to do what I did best.
14 years after I found the Blue Sox on an old microfilm machine, I made an hour film on a team that lasted two months, with only a handful of photos at my disposal.
And it set the tone for the rest of my career.
The film won a Blue Chip Award, helped spawn a collection of merchandise by a local shop, and helped inspire a new restaurant just a block away from the old Federal Park, Smoke Justis, so named for Blue Sox pitcher Walter “Smoke” Justis.
All because I went too fast…fast forwarding.