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Murray Journal

The time Murray took on the Chicago White Sox

Jul 31, 2018 03:12PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray’s pro baseball teams played where the current Murray Park softball field sits. (Photo courtesy: Murray Museum)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Love for baseball has always been strong in Murray; one only needs to look around town at the many baseball parks that serve as a testament to that affection. Much of that love goes way back to when Murray sported a professional baseball team and took on the major league’s Chicago White Sox.

At the turn of the 20th century, baseball was quickly establishing itself as America’s pastime. A baseball league was already going strong in Murray, revolving around teams from each of the smelters. Highland Boy, Germania, and Woodhull teams found a perfect spot to play behind a brickyard—today’s Murray Park. These industry teams whetted Murray’s appetite for even more competitive ball games.

When the idea to create a semipro league for Utah was floated, Phillip Bentz, superintendent of Murray’s railroad station, leaped at the chance to create a ball club for Murray. Murray City’s enthusiasm to host a professional ball team impressed sports writers. “The Salt Lake Telegram” in 1908 gushed, “…the local boosters returned from Murray and announced that the smelter city had come through in a manner that would do credit to a big-league city.”

 The Murray Nine, as they were called, was a founding member of the Utah State Baseball League, which included teams from Ogden and Salt Lake City. Also incorporated into that league were teams based at Fort Douglas and, most noteworthy, the Salt Lake Occidentals. The Occidentals were a barnstorming team formed in Los Angeles; but what made them truly notable was that they were an all African-American team who billed themselves as the “colored world champions.” With the addition of this team, the Utah State Baseball League was before its time in being racially integrated. In fact, whenever the Occidentals played, games would typically sell out, and they took the inaugural league title.

However, 1910 was Murray’s year. First, Phillip Bentz was elected mayor of Murray and held team meetings at city hall. One of those team meetings was held to discuss an offer from Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to play an exhibition game. The White Sox held spring training in California, and Comiskey thought that since the train would be traveling through Utah on the way back to Chicago, he could give his team a workout. Bentz pitched his club as a worthy opponent for Comiskey’s Sox, and the game was set for March 30.

Bentz had a dilemma though: spring run-off had ruined his diamond, and Salt Lake’s Walker Field was flooded. So the Murray Nine had to play on Fort Douglas’s field. The other big dilemma the Murray Nine faced was a pitcher by the name of Cy Young. Murray had no answer for one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, and the White Sox trounced Murray 8 – 0. No Murray baserunner made it past second base. Still, sportswriters praised Murray’s determination, the “Salt Lake Herald” reported, “Their effort was mighty but that they died here and there mostly at the plate and at first.”

The White Sox game must have sharpened Murray’s skills; they took the league championship, beating the Occidentals in the 1910 championship series. In 1914, the Union Association minor league invited Murray, along with Ogden and Salt Lake to join. The bigger league meant more talented players, and Murray drafted former Cincinnati Reds Cliff Blankenship and future Red, Ike Caveney. Also playing was future New York Giants scout Mickey Shader. The team’s name changed to the Murray Infants, and its initial 1914 season started out great. Halfway through the season, however, the entire league was struggling. By July, it was the end of the ballgame for the Infants; Murray’s professional baseball days were over.

From that momentous start, Murray continued to invest in baseball. During the New Deal era, the Works Progress Administration installed stone bleachers that still grace Murray Park’s softball diamond. Directly west of the softball diamond sits the Ken Price Field that hosted the 13-Year-Old Babe Ruth League World Series, and according to some, is a field worthy of another Murray Nine.