Every week on The Show Before The Show, the official podcast of Minor League Baseball, MiLB.com’s Josh Jackson explores little known teams from the game’s colorful history in his segment “Ghosts of the Minors.” Periodically, we’ll explore these teams more in-depth on MiLB.com. Be sure to subscribe, rate, review and
Every week on The Show Before The Show, the official podcast of Minor League Baseball, <a href="https://twitter.com/joshjacksonmilb" target="blank" >MiLB.com’s Josh Jackson explores little known teams from the game’s colorful history in his segment “Ghosts of the Minors.” Periodically, we’ll explore these teams more in-depth on MiLB.com. Be sure to subscribe, rate, review and tune in to The Show Before The Show with Sam Dykstra, Tyler Maun, Benjamin Hill and Josh Jackson every week through your favorite podcasting platforms._
This Major League Baseball season, like many others, has brought us cats on the field – multiple ones, in fact. One short-lived Minor League that didn’t even last a full season featured felines that took the field daily.
Malachi Kittridge was coming to the end of his baseball career when he arrived for the inaugural campaign of the Midwestern circuit known as the Northern Association in 1910. Already 40 by that summer, Kittridge had made his Major League debut two decades earlier as a 20-year-old for the Chicago Colts (player-managed by Cap Anson) of the National League. Over the next 16 years, the catcher played in a half-dozen destinations in both the NL and AL and even served as a player-manager with the 1904 Washington Senators, a role he reprised in the Minors.
Kittridge’s club in the Northern Association was named the Elgin Kittens in honor of its player-manager. The brand-new league featured eight teams, but in a fitting indication of the times for Minor League loops, one moved and four disbanded midseason. The latter factors spelled the end for the circuit, but not before Kittridge made his mark.
Even before the campaign, expectations were high. “The predictions from Elgin,” declared the Muscatine Journal on May 10, 1910, “are to the effect that a large pole has been erected on which to tack the bunting at the end of the season.” Fresh off winning New York State League titles as manager of the Scranton Mines and Wilkes-Barre Barons in 1908 and 1909 -- though photos of the clubs are scarce because Kittridge believed cameras to be “a hoodoo” -- the skipper led Elgin’s team to a hot start after opening the season at Clinton.
Against the other seven delightfully monikered squads in the league (along with the Clinton Teddies, the Kittens squared off with the Decatur Commodores, Freeport Pretzels, Kankakee Kays, Jacksonville Jacks, Muscatine Pearl Finders and Joliet Jolly-ites who moved in June to become the Sterling Infants), Kittridge and his club were a force. By mid-July, they had racked up 37 wins against 20 losses, a half-game better than the Pearl Finders in the league’s ignominiously incomplete final standings.
Mid-July, however, was when the Kittens’ bunting-tacking dreams came to an end. Following Joliet’s move to Sterling, Freeport and Clinton folded on June 28 according to Baseball-Reference. By July 11, Elgin and Kankakee could hold out no longer and made the decision to disband as well. The league was through. On July 13, with rumors that Sterling’s franchise too was on its last legs, The Joliet (IL) News stated, “unfulfilled promises and general dissatisfaction are said to be the causes for the disruption.”
Not all was lost, however. The Northern Association produced several eventual Major Leaguers, including one Hall of Famer in then-19-year-old Casey Stengel. The future legendary Yankees manager suited up for Kankakee and batted .251 in 59 games – one of three Minor League teams that employed him that year.
Elgin returned to the Minor League landscape five years later via the Elgin Watch Makers, charter members of the Bi-State League. Like their predecessors in town, the Watch Makers and their circuit lasted just one season.
As his previous years suggest, Kittridge didn’t call it a career after the fall of the Kittens. Hired by the Detroit Tigers as a scout after the Northern Association’s dissolution, Kittridge found his way back into the Minors by the end of the summer of 1910, purchasing an ownership stake in a Southern Michigan League team known as the Saginaw Wa-was.
The following spring, the Saginaw club was known as the Krazy Kats and managed by none other than Malachi Kittridge.
For more Ghosts of the Minors, <a href="https://www.milb.com/fans/podcast" target="blank" >check out past episodes of The Show Before The Show podcast._
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.