By Bill Swank
As the Boston Red Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, how many old-timers remember the Abilene Red Sox?
Abilene has had two professional teams: the 1909 Red Sox and the 1910 Reds. Both teams finished third in the old Central Kansas League. The Sox had a 37-30 record in ‘09 and the Reds won 44 and lost 34 in 1910. The star of the team was affable player/manager Affie Wilson who, in death, would become famous beyond his wildest dreams.
1909 was also a good year for the local high school team. AHS was loaded with future pro prospects. The most famous member of the team would become president of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a boy, Ike dreamed of being “a real Major League baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner.”
The high school season began March 26 with a 4-3 squeaker over neighboring Herrington. Bud Huffman struck out 14 batsmen “with his wonderful steam and Japanese puzzles.” Centerfielder Dwight Eisenhower slugged three of Abilene’s five hits. Herb Sommers “was the ‘kandy kid’ behind home plate, pegging out four men at second.”
A week later, Sommers scored in the first inning on “Swede” (Ed) Eisenhower’s “Texas leaguer” against St. John’s Military Academy. AHS pushed across three runs in the top of the tenth to beat the Johnnies, 4-1.
Abilene improved to 3-0 against Salina when Dwight Eisenhower led off the ninth with a base hit and was driven home with the winning run by his older brother, Ed Eisenhower. Little Ike contributed two hits in the 4-3 victory.
The locals “had an easy walk away with the Junction City aggregation circling the diamond for twelve runs to Junction’s three. McDonell (sic), (Bruce) Hurd, Ed Eisenhower, (Paul) Jolley and (Earl) Merrifield were high moguls with the big stick.”
In a rematch, although St. John’s Academy hurler Rose surrendered only a single hit, the Abilene “Invincibles” were again triumphant by the score of 3-2.
It was another tight ball game when AHS defeated Dickinson County, 5-4. “Eisenhower” got one of his team’s seven hits, but was it Dwight or Ed Eisenhower?
Abilene dropped their first game of the season, 4-1, to the Kansas University freshmen team at Lawrence. Ike blamed himself for the loss, because he misplayed a ball in centerfield.
Six McDonnell was on the mound that day and recalled the situation differently. “Well, he really didn’t, but he really worried about that.” McDonnell told Eisenhower, “It’s my fault just as much as it was yours, ‘cause I never saw a man hit a ball harder in my life, and it’s O.K. with me.”
McDonnell and the team bounced back the following week to again beat archrival Salina, 4-3.
In what turned out to be the last game of the year, Junction City avenged an earlier loss. The Reflector complained about “the Junction City bunch who run (sic) in a league player which practically won the game for them.”
Dwight Eisenhower “pasted a cracker-jack of a three bagger” in the top of the ninth inning and scored on brother Ed’s base knock. “Swede” tied the game, 3-3, on a passed ball.
But in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on first, the ringer, Hall by name, “stepped to the pan biffing the ball for a three bagger.” Final score: Junk City 4, Abilene 3.
Torrential rains wiped out the remainder of the season. AHS finished the year with a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and bragging rights. “As a matter of fact the Abilene high school team is one of the best high school teams in the state.” (Daily Reflector, May 29, 1909)
Box scores did not appear in any of the newspaper articles (Daily Reflector, Daily Chronicle) and the line scores typically reveal more errors than base hits. It is estimated AHS had approximately 260 plate appearances and probably more based on the number of errors by the opposition.
Abilene only managed 40 hits during the entire season which would calculate to an embarrassingly low .154 team batting average. According to the Daily Reflector, the (unnamed) leading batter on the team had a .241 average.
That had to be Dwight Eisenhower. Seven hits divided by 29 at bats equals a .241 BA. No other combination of numbers average out to .241. We also know that Six McDonnell had five hits; Ed Eisenhower and Earl Merrifield each had four; Paul Jolley had two. Five other players recorded one each. The players responsible for the other 12 hits are unknown.
According to former Abilene High School football coach, Orin Snider, Six McDonnell, Earl Briney and Bud Huffman, played pro baseball. He forgot to mention Herb Sommers.
McDonnell, Huffman and Sommers all played Class D baseball in Kansas. Briney did not make the high school team until 1910 and no record can be found of him playing professionally.
It is possible that Dwight Eisenhower also played pro ball in Kansas. As the best hitter on his high school baseball team, clearly he was capable, but that’s another story. Careless sportswriters would confuse Ike with Affie Wilson years later and that is quite a story.