Minor League history: Copper Country Soo League
The Copper Country Soo League was a minor league that was situated in the area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, an area that is better known for its hockey history than for its baseball history. The league contained teams from mining towns along the Soo Line Railroad.
The league was first recognized by the the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, in 1905, the year that many sources say that the league was founded. But this indicates that the league already existed as an independent league. Anyhow, the league was given a class D classification. In 1904 there was a Copper Country League with two of the 1905 members of the Copper Country Soo League: Lake Linden Lakers and the Calumet Aristocrats. The other two teams were the Dollar Bay Franchise and the Portage Lake franchise; both teams did not return in 1905. It is very likely that this Copper Country League was the predecessor of the Copper Country Soo League. Another possibility is that the Copper Country League simply changed its name into Copper Country Soo League after the 1904 season.
The newspaper article from the Minneapolis Journal (May 22, 1905) is “proof” that the league was new. One thing is for sure, the Sault Ste. Marie Soos played independent ball in 1904 and joined the CCSL in the following year.
The newspaper clipping below, from the Rock Island Argus (dated March 7, 1906), sheds some new light on the pre 1905 Copper Country (Soo) League. The article states that the Copper Country League will merge with the Northern League into the Northern Copper Country League. This indicates that the names Copper Country League and Copper Country Soo League were used next to each other and that both leagues are the same. This also means that the league was an independent league before it was recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
The four teams that played in the league all came from Michigan: Calumet Aristocrats (they played in the city of Laurium), Lake Linden Lakers, Hancock Infants and the Sault Ste. Marie Soos, not to be mixed up with the city with the same name from Ontario on the other side of the Canadian border.
Halfway the season, the league tried a merger with the Northern League to give the declining attendance a boost, but it proved to be unsuccessful, so both leagues went back to their own schedule and finished the season.
In 1906 both leagues tried to merge again and this attempt proved to be successful. The new league was named the Northern-Copper Country League. This league finished the 1906 and 1907 season but folded on September 2nd 1907.
During the first attempt of a merger in 1905, the Sault Ste Marie Soos did not participate in the new league. As it became clear that the merger did not work, the Soos stepped in the CCSL again but eventually folded prematurely on August 22nd due to poor attendance.
After the failed merger in 1905, the Copper Country Soo League decided to start games at 6:30 PM because the league depended on miners coming from their shifts. The miners came out of the mines at 6:00 PM, so the games could start half an hour later. Most of the games ended around 8:30 at twilight. This new approached proved to be a success, only Sault Ste. Marie did not reap the fruits of it and folded.
A quote from the Duluth News Tribune says: “An innovation…will be introduced by managers of the clubs comprising the Copper Country Soo League. Owing to the peculiar conditions which exist in some of the cities, it has been decided to play some of the games after supper as an experiment as it is believed the attendance will be larger.” This approach appeared to be fruitful.
This league was one of the first minor leagues that scheduled a play off/ championship series. The Lake Linden Lakers finished second in the regular season and faced first place Camulet Aristocrats in the championship series, in which they beat the Aristocrats 4-0.
Only a few players from the Copper Country Soo League worked their way up the the Major Leagues. Owen Bush played for the Sault Ste. Marie Soos in 1905. He broke into the Majors in 1908 with the Detroit Tigers. He played with the Tigers for fourteen years before he was traded to the Washington Senators in 1921.
Fred Luderus also played for the Sault Ste. Marie Soos. There are no stats available from that period. He broke into the Bigs in 1909 with the Chicago Cubs, who traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in the course of the 1910 season. He would develop into the star first baseman of the Phillies.
Not a Major Leaguer, but still a rather famous person in Detroit and Michigan sports history, was Jerome Utley. Utley entered the University of Michigan as an engineering student, after graduating from high school. After getting his degree in 1903, he moved to the Upper Peninsula where he played for the Calumet baseball team. In 1904 he became head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. He used the experience in 1905 when he managed the Hancock Infants of the Copper Country Soo League. One season later he would play for the Houghton Giants, member of the merger North-Copper Country League. Eventually he played on for a couple of years but then focused on a career as engineer.
This article about the minor league history is the most satisfying by far. I was puzzled by the fact that one source claimed that the CCSL was recognized in 1905 by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues and that most sources said that the league was founded in 1905. But all of a sudden, thanks to a long search, I bumped into this one newspaper clipping that put the pieces of the puzzle together.
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A big thanks goes out to our featured BBBA writer Chris Kabout.