Welcome to the silent edition of Ghosts of the Minors, adapted from the segment from The Show Before the Show Podcast that asks you to identify a historical Minor League team hidden among two phonies. Here, we skip the quiz element and speed headlong into the past for a quick
Welcome to the silent edition of Ghosts of the Minors, adapted from the segment from The Show Before the Show Podcast that asks you to identify a historical Minor League team hidden among two phonies. Here, we skip the quiz element and speed headlong into the past for a quick romp through the true story of the real Minors team.
In Michigan, there's the Upper Peninsula, and then there's the upper peninsula of the Upper Peninsula: the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Jutting at an arched angle into Lake Superior north of the Ottawa National Forest, this remote locale may seem an unlikely spot for professional baseball, but at the beginning of the 20th century the game was spreading to and taking hold everywhere you could find 18 Americans and a patch of grass.
That included Calumet Township, Mich., which had a population of no fewer than 25,000 in 1900 compared to about 6,000 in 2020. The boom times of yore had much to do with mining; it wasn't for the size of its law enforcement community that mineral-rich Calumet was nicknamed Copper Town, U.S.A.
If there's one thing to be said about miners, it's that they love a local Miner League Baseball team. For these miners, that meant the Calumet Aristocrats, upper crust of the Upper Peninsula!
Although a ballclub called the Calumet Aristocrats competed in a professional or semiprofessional circuit in the seasons leading up to 1905, it was that year and the next that these Aristocrats really got their money’s worth. In '05, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues -- the entity that would be known familiarly as Minor League Baseball for the next century and then some -- welcomed the Copper Country Soo League into the fold.
The Aristocrats were not only charter members of the officially recognized circuit, but they looked down their noses at all the other teams, posting a 61-36 record to claim first place. Calumet, under the management of one Charles Fichtel, sunk the Lake Linden Lakers, were daddy to the Hancock Infants and shushed the Sault Ste. Marie Soos (who were disbanded in late August). Revolution was afoot in the playoffs, though, as the Lakers expunged the Aristocrats, four games to none.
During its inaugural campaign as an officially recognized Minor League, the Copper Country Soo League worked toward a merger with the Northern League, which had clubs in such towns as Duluth, Minn., Grand Forks, N.D. and way up past the Canadian border in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That deal didn't take during the summer, but by spring of 1906 the two loops had been knotted together to form the Northern-Copper Country League.
Merger or no, the smart money was still on the Aristocrats. In assessing the their gains in that '06 campaign, it’s impossible to discount the contributions of Paul Grimes. No silver-spooned, grape-gobbling layabout, Grimes was an Aristocrat with true grit. He belittled the Houghton Giants with a no-hitter on Aug. 5, and the Winnipeg Tribune declared later that month that his labors had been “of the highest calibre for the last two seasons.” Grimes finished the campaign in a four-way tie for the NCCL lead in victories, with 18, and the Aristocrats again finished on top of the heap -- 61-37.
By any reckoning, only a tremendous class shake up could have permanently deposed the Calumet Aristocrats from their lofty standing. That's exactly what happened in 1907, when the NCCL was D-classed from Class C to Class D, and the previously loaded Aristocrats turned out filthy and stinking but not rich, posting a poor 34-65 record to end up in fourth place in the now four-team league.
Other teams of varying degrees of organization and professionalism played as the Calumet Aristocrats in the years and decades that followed, but so far as the annals of Minor League Baseball are concerned, that dismal '07 showing was the last hurrah for the nobility of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
In that final season, the spoils of the NCCL went to Rollie Zeider and the Winnipeg Maroons. But that's an apparition for a different edition of Ghosts of the Minors.
Josh Jackson is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @JoshJacksonMiLB.