Although there were no Major League baseball franchises west of Missouri prior to 1958, many teams in the early 20th century held their spring trainings in Texas and California. Since the teams traveled by train, and since baseball was not yet a big money industry, the pro teams would often conclude spring training with exhibition games in towns along their homeward routes. The March 21, 1909 Tombstone Epitaph noted that Tucson, Globe, Bisbee and Phoenix “can’t understand how it is that Yuma could get a game with the White Sox and they cannot.” In fact, Yuma officials had established contact with the Chicago club a couple of years earlier when the team made brief stops in Yuma heading home from Mexico City in 1907 and San Francisco in 1908. When Newt Parks—a local ballplayer, plumber, and Commercial Club member—contacted White Sox owner Charles Comiskey on December 10, 1908, he received an affirmative reply stating that the White Sox would play in Yuma on March 30 in exchange for a $300 guarantee.
On March 30, 1909 Yuma was the site of the very first game played by a Major League team in Arizona—then a territory—but this milestone was not even noted at the time. The big excitement for Yumans in 1909 was the completion of the Laguna Dam after four years of construction. This meant that “diverted” water from the Colorado River could now be used to irrigate thousands of acres of farmland. A three day celebration was scheduled, and excursions by train arrived from Phoenix, the Imperial Valley, and Los Angeles. In addition to the White Sox game, other events included a parade depicting Yuma’s history and progress; free picture shows and band concerts; a public barbecue at John Gandolfo’s ranch; and a dedication ceremony at the Laguna Dam itself. The Arizona Gazette estimated that 3,000 visitors flocked to the Laguna Dam, and that “the addresses were omitted owing to the magnitude of the crowd.”
The ballgame was played at Yuma’s Athletic Park where aviator Robert Fowler would famously land his airplane a couple of years later. The Chicago Tribune called it the “largest baseball park in the world, because there is no fence around it.” Other sources indicate that a crowd of around a thousand spectators, including several mounted on horses, attended the game which was won by the White Sox 9 to 1 over the local team. Yuma’s Arizona Sentinel proudly reported that Newt Parks’ brother Charlie scored Yuma’s lone run, and that the home team also pulled off a double play in the 6th inning. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s newspaper offered a less flattering account. Noting that the Yuma pitcher surrendered four walks and five runs in the first inning, the Chicago sportswriter described the subsequent strategy taken by Frank “Piano Mover” Smith of the White Sox, who served as umpire of the game: “[Smith] gave him a strike on anything that passed within eight feet of either side or above the plate. This was done advisedly, as we wanted to catch the 10 o’clock train for Tucson and we did not care to play all night.” The White Sox pitcher who threw a complete game for the visitors was Jim “Death Valley” Scott. The position players for the Chicago team that faced Yuma are not well known today—none of the infamous “Black Sox” of the 1919 team had yet joined the squad—but pitcher “Big” Ed Walsh would later be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The White Sox were back in Yuma to play an exhibition game the following year, but in 1911 and 1912 the nomadic Chicagoans were absent due to their latest spring training move to Texas. However, from 1913-1915, when the team trained in Paso Robles, California, Yuma was again able to host exhibition games versus the White Sox. For the next several years the Chicago squad held spring training in Texas before finally returning to California (Pasadena) in 1933. During the 1930s Major League exhibition games became an annual tradition at Yuma High School’s Doan Field, and the White Sox were again the most frequent of these visiting ballclubs (1935-1939, 1942). By this time Charles Comiskey had died, but the team, now owned by his son and daughter-in-law, maintained its friendly association with Yuma.
Prior to 1950 when it first became home for its own minor league and spring training teams, Yuma hosted an impressive array of barnstorming or visiting teams, including the Boston Bloomer Girls, the Tokyo Giants, the Kansas City Monarchs, the House of David team, and numerous major and minor league clubs. Today the White Sox are the most fondly remembered of these visiting teams by virtue of their repeated stops in Yuma during the early years of the rise of a baseball town.
Learn more when Jim presents “Baseball in Yuma: The Ups and Downs of a Baseball Town” at Yuma County Libraries!
Thursday, December 8th ● 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Foothills Library, 13226 E South Frontage Road Yuma, AZ
Tuesday, January 17th ● 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Heritage Library, 350 Third Avenue Yuma, AZ
Tuesday, February 21st ● TIME TBA
Wellton Library, 28790 San Jose Avenue Wellton, AZ