The Burlington Fire

The recent fire at West Michigan’s ballyard set me to searching for coverage of the only comparable event in Midwest League history, the fire at Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, on June 8, 1971. The best treatment I could locate was in the Des Moines Register on June 10.

The caption under Larry Neibergall’s front page photo read:

Firemen play streams of water on the burning grandstand at Burlington’s Community Field early Wednesday in a futile effort to save the stadium. Loss in the fire, which swept through the wooden structure, was estimated at $75,000. John Cox, general manager of the Burlington Bees professional team which plays its home games at the field, said he was working in the office at the stadium late Tuesday and though he heard a noise outside. He went to investigate and found a section of the grandstand in flames. Cox escaped moments before the grandstand collapsed.

There was more detail on page 2-8:

Burlington Damage Set At $75,000

A fire Tuesday night which practically destroyed Community Field, home of Burlington’s Midwest League baseball team, caused an estimated $75,000 damage, authorities revealed Wednesday.

The Bees’ office said workmen were tearing down the charred remains of the grandstand in preparation for this weekend’s action. The park’s new lighting system, with the exception of one pole, remained intact.

Bee General Manager John Cox was working in the team’s offices at the park when the fire broke out. Cox said he heard what sounded like footsteps outside his office at about 11:30 pm.

Cox investigated, but found no one. A short time later, he investigated again and discovered the first-base stands ablaze.

The fire destroyed one dugout, a concession stand, the press box, the team’s offices, a ticket booth and most of the wooden grandstands.

A car parked outside the grandstand belonging to Bee player Tommy Sandt was destroyed by the blaze, but three other autos and a camper were moved in time after their windows were broken. The Bees’ home uniforms were at the cleaners and escaped the fire.

The ball park, constructed in the 1940s, is owned by the American Legion, which leases it to the city. The city, in turn, leases the facility to the Burlington Baseball Association, which operates the Bees.

The Bees, who were playing at Appleton, Wis., Tuesday night, are scheduled to return home Sunday night for a game with Quincy, Ill. A high school doubleheader between Assumption of Davenport and Burlington was played at the stadium just hours before the fire.

The Burlington High School Invitation baseball tournament will go on as scheduled Saturday at the stadium, which will have temporary bleachers.

Burlington’s current facility dates from the 1973 season.

Found the newspaper coverage via NewspaperArchive.com.

Revision History:

Ballparks Then and Now by Eric Enders: a short review

While Eric Enders is a serious researcher, this is not a seriously-researched book, and therefore a disappointment. Excellent pictures. Each major league city gets a short essay, of frustratingly variable quality.


This short review was also published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

“Father of Army Baseball”

Yeah, sure. After all, General Doubleday invented the game. Not. The following quotation is from the 2009 Army Black Knights Baseball Media Guide; the same words are in the 2010 guide and may be in other editions.

Doubleday Field had its birth in 1909 when games were first contested on its present site. Thirty years later, upon the centennial celebration of baseball, the playing field was named in honor of Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, popularly known as the “Father of Army Baseball.”

The stadium itself was dedicated in 1997 in honor of the family of Rupert H. Johnson (USMA ’21), whose generosity helped enable the Doubleday Society to give the then-87-year-old facility a grand new look.

Johnson Field

Discovered this while trying to find information about Johnson, whose name generally makes a token unexplicated appearance whenever West Point’s ballyard, Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field, is mentioned (I consider the Doubleday part pretty obvious, albeit discouraging). I learned that R.H. Johnson also graduated from Hardin-Simmons University (then Simmons College; link’s an odd news story with Johnson as the partial subject) in Abilene, they say in ’22, and was the instigator behind Franklin Templeton Investments, which remains the family business.

The 11/29/1940 Dallas Evening News (my thanks to GenealogyBank) tells me that his military career began during WWI, as an enlisted Artillery man, before his West Point stint. At the USMA he was quite active in sports, including baseball; he captained Army’s basketball team. Johnson subsequently served for a few years as a ROTC instructor in the NYC area before resigning his commission to enter the banking business on Wall Street. In 1929 he founded R.H. Johnson & Company, and in 1947 began Franklin Investments.

Perhaps-interesting trivia: Johnson’s great-grandfather was former US president Andrew Johnson….


I was originally looking up something about Doubleday. I’m reading John Thorn’s delightful Baseball in the Garden of Eden, which set me to wondering about Theosophy. This is not one of Wikipedia’s better efforts, I must say, but it does mention Doubleday.

Photo courtesy of West Point Public Affairs via Flickr.

Wrigley Field by Stuart Shea: a review

Lots of good stuff here, and Shea writes well with a sense of ironic humor. But the organization–essentially, this is 336 pages of short articles–is pretty annoying. Each of the little articles has a title, many of which are distracting cultural references.

This is a book mainly about the northside ballpark, and about the team executives who’ve been responsible for maintaining it. Although many ballgames are described, and seasons are summarized, the Cubs (and the ChiFeds who first resided here) are not the book’s subject. This is not a shortcoming, but is occasionally disconcerting.

The author gets a little preachy at the end, discussing the gentrification of the neighborhood and the political battles about the ballyard’s historic landmark status. I share his opinions, but he might have been wise to tone things down.


This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

Cradle of the Game by Mark Cryan: a short review

Well-executed but nonetheless fairly typical tourist-oriented ballpark guide. A few of the ballyards are not currently involved in anything resembling an organized league.

This book is more ballpark oriented than most similar guides; the teams which inhabit the yards are mentioned, but not usually featured. Also tells local attractions, hotel suggestions, and a survey of economical eats for each town.

The last few chapters are a little skimpy. It may be that there was less material to share, but it feels like the author was pushing the deadline and rushed through them.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

Cooley Stadium!

The Lansing State Journal reports this morning that Lansing-based Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the nation’s largest, has purchased naming rights for what has heretofore been Oldsmobile Park. Maybe they’ll replace all the chrome decorations with dark wood panelling….

Seriously, though, this makes sense. Cooley’s got a stake not just in Lansing, but in the immediate neighborhood; perhaps they’ll find some synergies and certainly the school cares about the vicinity. And if Cooley Law wants to use the ball team to advertise, why is that worse than an insurance company or a hospital? Or a car manufacturer, for that matter?

Thomas Cooley was a member of the Michigan Supreme Court for a couple decades, immediately after the Civil War; after his court tenure, he was appointed the first chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. I encountered his name occasionally in another life while studying nineteenth century business practices, and nearly everyone says he personally gave the Michigan Supreme Court its dignity–our state was, after all, quite young during his term.

Knowing my political opinions, I’m reasonably certain I’d not have liked the man had I been his contemporary, but he’s an important figure in Michigan history.


My preferred name for Lansing’s ballyard would be The REO Diamond. But it’s not gonna happen.

Revision History:

The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip by Josh Pahigian: a short review

An adequate book, I’d say. All full-season official minor league ballparks are covered as of 2007 (which means that the new-in-2007 parks are mentioned, but not really described). (And yes, I know my review disagrees with zhejw about the coverage).

The Fodor book is better, though the coverage is less complete. Some of the older, similar, books are far better.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

MOV League, August, 1949

From TSN, 8/17/1949, page 35:

Paducah (Mississippi-Ohio Valley) fans hurled stones and beer cans at the Centralia Cubs following the second game of the August 3 double-header in which Catcher Tommy Gatts was ejected for allegedly striking Manager Eddie Kearse of Paducah as he scored the winning run in the sixth inning. . . . Everett Joyner, West Frankfort outfielder, highlighted the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League All-Stars’ 9 to 2 victory over Centralia, August 6, with a single, double, and home run in five trips. . . . Belleville will withdraw from the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League at the close of the season. Cathedral High School of Belleville has purchased the Stags’ park for $20,000, while Jackson, Tenn., is reported in line for the vacated franchise. . . .

That’s the second mention of Paducah fans getting rowdy I tripped across this evening. Probably worth a followup.

And an All-Star game long before the first ASG the league acknowledges. One of these days I need to track those down; I think I’ve got dates for all of them, but no results.

But what really caught my eye, here, was the Belleville ballpark information. Cathedral High is long-gone, now, but a little investigation shows that it was located roughly where St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is–Fifth and Lincoln. And this certainly looks like the remnant of a minor league ballpark.

Jackson, Tennessee? Hmmmm.


Punctuation as in the original, though I’ve fixed the spelling of Paducah. Got this from Paper of Record, of course.

Revision History:

Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks by Bob Wood: a short review

Bob Wood sets out to visit all the current major league ballparks in the summer of 1985. He succeeds, and has other adventures along the way. And he reminisces quite a bit about his childhood as he travels. The author and I grew up in the same neighborhood, and that neighborhood is an important part of his story.

It’s an OK book, in general, as much about the trip and his life as it is about the ballparks.

Note that these are mostly out-of-commission ballparks, at this point. I’ve seen about half of these yards, and generally agree with his assessments of them.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History: