Nebraska Minor League Baseball
Baseball Before 1900

Professional baseball in Nebraska prior to 1900 was one of starts and stops as teams/leagues and various owners tried their hand at having a professional baseball team in Omaha and in Lincoln.

1869 In the Beginning
The first professional team to play in Omaha was the Cincinatti Reds during their famous first year of 1869. They stopped and defeated a local team during their western road trip of that year. The score was 65-1 in the seventh inning when the game was called. The Omaha catcher disappeared and the team could not field a team for the eight inning.

1979 League Attempt
In 1879, the Northwestern League was formed. It is claimed that this was the first minor league west of the atlantic seaboard. Teams included Davenport, Rockford Illinois, Omaha and Dubuque. Each team had a color assigned to them with Davenport being the Brown Stockings. The Omaha team had green stockings, Rockford was white and Dubuque was red. William Paxton was the leading force for bringing the team to Omaha and John Cowin was the president. The Omaha Mashers was not competitive. Pitcher James "Grasshopper" Whitney was the leading pitcher for Omaha. He broke into the majors with the Red Caps in 1881 and played for 10 years in the majors. Omaha had an 8-12 record in a 36 game season when the team folded. The league folded before the season ended.(TTYWL)

In 1885 a league called the Western League was formed. Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Omaha (Omahogs) and Toledo were in the league. Omaha acquired a franchise when St. Paul could not raise enough money. The Omaha team did not last for long and when they quit on June 6th the team moved to Keokuk. The league folded shortly after the move.

1886 A Complete Season:
In 1886, Ted Sullivan revived the Northwestern League. The Lincoln Tree Planters were last in the league. Perry Werden played first base for the Tree Planers in 1886 and hit .317. Perry played for the St Louis Maroons in 1884 and for the Washington Nationals in 1888. After two years in the American Association he signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1892 and 1893. He finished his major league career in 1897 with the Louisville Colonels.

The Lincoln Tree Planters. This is one of the few years during this era where I have player data and a review of the season.

Western League 1886 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Denver Mountain Lions5426--
St. Joseph Reds50304
Leadville Blues394115
Topeka Capitals354519
Leavenworth Soldiers314923
Lincoln Tree Planters314923

The gossip in Frank Bandle's cigar store was centered on Omaha's reentry into the Western League. In 1887 Omaha reentered organized baseball and Nebraska had three teams in the Western League. Hastings had trouble making payroll and the Omaha paper listed their attendance as under 100 for many of their games. The owners took to fining their players when they lost in order to avoid having to pay them their salary. The league was not very stable as four teams did not complete the year. On August 8th, Lincoln walloped Wichita 46-7 with a 50 hit performance. Omaha and Hastings finished tied for last place and Lincoln was in second. Leavenworth, St. Joseph, Wichita and Emporia did not complete the season. Future major league player and Hall of Fame member Jake Beckley was at first base for Lincoln in 1887. The Hannibal Missouri native played for Leavenworth in 1886 but moved to Lincoln along with Park Swarzel when the Soldiers disbanded. Jake made his major league debut with Pittsburg in 1888 and played in the majors throught the 1907 season. Orator Shaffer batted .460 for Lincoln, Rowe hit 14 homers and Herr stroked 13 dingers. While Hastings Nebraska boasted that they had an all professional team as early as 1885 on February 1, 1887 they were admitted into the Western League. M. L. Elsemore was president of the club and H. B. Knowlton was secretary. Fred Corey of the Athletics was hired as the manager at a salary of $500. per month. He was succeeded by U. S. Rohrer. Pitchers for Hastings included Wehrle and Nicholson. Wehrle went on to play in the PCL and Nicholson played with Chicago.

Western League 1887 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Topeka Golden Giants8324--
Lincoln Tree Planters623415 1/2
Denver Mountaineers514923 1/2
Kansas City Cowboys495331 1/2
Omaha Omahogs366544

In 1888 Omaha moved to the Western Association. Lincoln stayed in the Western League. The Western League did not last the year. The league folded on June 6th. Omaha wound up in fourth place in the Western Association. "Through the Years with the Western League" treats the Western Association as the "real" Western League during this era while "The Western League" takes a more literal view, treating the league that folded as the real Western League for 1888. Joseph Garneau Jr., owner of a large cracker factory at 12th and Jackson, was credited with luring Frank Selee to be the manager of the team. Frank is in the hall of fame and was the manager who created the Tinker to Evers to Chance infield combination in Chicago. Sunday baseball was also an issue as the Presbyterian Ministers Association of Omaha objected to Sunday ball. On May 8th, Edward Parmalee filed a preliminary injunction against Sunday ball. A local court ruled against Parmalee and Sunday baseball was allowed in Omaha.

Western League 1888 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Denver Mountaineers186--
Leavenworth Soldiers77N/A
Lincoln Tree Planters211N/A

Western Association/League 1888 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Des Moines7839--
Kansas City7442-
St. Paul7246-
Sioux City3050-

1889 was a good year for Omaha as the franchise brought back the first pennant in Omaha history. Denver and St. Joseph returned to the league and all 8 teams made it through the season. Des Moines had financial difficulties and attendance problems throughout the year and finished their home schedule in Missouri Valley Iowa. Jesse Burkett played in the outfield for Lincoln in 1889. The was picked up by the New York Giants in 1890. He played in the majors for 16 years and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946. Kid Nichols had 36 wins for Omaha in 1889. This was Selee's last year in Omaha. He moved to be manager of Boston in 1891.

While the book "Through the Years with the Western League claimed that the league Omaha participated in was the Western League, other sources state that it was properly named the Western Association. A 2002 SABR Minor League Newsletter reported on the research of Bob Hole which indicated that the proper name of the league is the Western Association. Thanks to Oldjudge for pointing this out.

Western Association 1889 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
St. Paul7547-
Sioux City6061-
St. Joseph4266-
Des Moines4177-

In 1890 Lincoln replaced Des Moines during the season. Omaha wound up in sixth place.

Western League 1890 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Kansas City7839--
Sioux City5664-
St. Paul3884-

At this point many of the minor leagues were folding as the country was going through a severe recession. The league limped to a finish in 1890 but only four teams could make muster in 1891 and Omaha did not finish the season. Joe Kelley was in the garden for Omaha in 1891, the 19 year old was picked up by Selee and the Boston Beaneaters. He played in the majors for 17 seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971. Omaha was disbanded on July 12th and resurrected by the league on July 25th. On September 13th Omaha folded again leaving three teams in the league.

Western League 1891 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Sioux City6555--
Kansas City6358-

The league folded during the 1892 season. It opened with Kansas City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Toledo, Indianapolis, Omaha and Fort Wayne. The league folded on July 11th. Robert James Gilks was a regular in the garden for Omaha in 1892 before the league folded. James started his career in 1885 in Chattanooga, played for Cleveland from 1887-1890, then Rochester and Ocanto before coming to Omaha. After the league folded he moved to Mobile for the rest of the season. He played in organized ball through the 1909 season. Joseph Kelley was also on the Omaha roster. He had played in Boston in 1891, and spennt part of 1892 in the major leagues before coming to Omaha. He returned to the majors in 1893 and was elected to the Hall of Fame 1971.

Nebraska State League of 1892
The NSL of 1892 featured 6 teams. A unique feature of the league was that it was an integrated league with African Americans playing for at least three of the teams.

In 1889, a touring baseball team of African Americans called the Lafayettes was formed in Nebraska. In 1890, William Pope formed the Lincoln Giants. He raided the best of the Lafayette players and the Lafayette team folded. In 1892, when the NSL was being formed there was a movement to make the Lincoln Giants one of the teams. Those who were against allowing blacks in the league successfully kept the Giants from being one of the teams. As the Lincoln Giants folded some of their players were picked up by NSL teams.

T Bud Fowler played for Kearney. He was with the Keokuks in 1885 and Topeka in 1886. He was captain of the Kearney team. He went on to play for the Paige Fence Giants in 1894. (strong> William Castone also played for Kearney in 1892.

John Patterson , John Reeves and Frank Maupin played for Plattsmouth. In addition to the three African American players, A.S. Kennedy from Cedar Bluffs Kansas, William Myers from Carroll Iowa and F. Long from Chicago played for Plattsmouth.

George Taylor was with Beatrice. The efficiency of the Jim Crow laws across the country prevented talented black players from playing in higher leagues. In the NSL Ulysses Rohrer from Hastings tried to keep black players from being in the NSL. He was manager and shortstop for Hastings and was league secretary. He lobbied to keep Hastings out of the league if African Americans were allowed to play.
Team records in July. Beatrice 27-10, Grand Island 25-15, Kearney 18-21, Hastings 17-20, Fremont 11-18, Plattsmouth 11-24. Lincoln transferred to Kearney on May 13th. Fremont dropped out on June 20th. Beatrice disbanded on July 5th. Plattsmouth disbanded on July 9th.

Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island tried to keep going with a three team league. Grand Island disbanded on July 9th and the other two teams folded on July 13th.

An attempt to resurrect the league in 1893 failed.

In 1894 the league was resurrected. It was known as the Western Association and both Lincoln and Omaha were in the league. Pa Rourke began his managing career with Omaha.
Western Association 1894 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Rock Island7251--
St. Joseph5766-
Des Moines5075-

Denver and Springfield did not complete the 1895 season and were replaced by Burlington and Dubuque for the last part of the season. Lincoln was the only team from Nebraska in the league but they were league champions. Omaha started the year, moved to Denver, then folded. Dubuque and Burlington started the year in the Iowa League but when it folded moved to the Western.

Western Association 1895 Standings
TeamWinsLossesGames Back
Des Moines7155-
St. Joseph4579-

The 1898 season saw Omaha as part of the Western League. This was the league with Kansas City, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Columbus, Detroit and Minneapolis. The Omaha Bee called the team the "Babes" but other references list them as the Omaha Omahogs. Their manager was named Fleming. The team started poorly and remained in the cellar for the year. Omaha was hosting the Transmississippi Exposition in 1898 and the use of the fair grounds for the Exposition required the team to hold their games in an inconvenient location. In late May the team tried to upgrade their talent adding Preston, Pickering and Burnett to the outfield. Lyons held down first base, Roat was at short, Hollingsworth was on second, Eustace on third, McCauley was the catcher and Underwood, Hagerman and Daub were listed as pitchers. The paper also indicated that Smiling Pete Daniels was with the team for a while after being released by St. Louis but I never found him listed in a box score. On Sunday July 10th the Omaha Bee reported that there was a rumor the franchise was being moved to St. Josephs and on July 12th the paper listed St. Joe's in the list of standings for the league.

Nebraska Minor League Baseball Home