February 8, 2023

A Tribute to Billy Sullivan

December 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

On October 14, 1906, despite being big underdogs, the Chicago White Sox won the World Series with a victory over the cross-town Chicago Cubs. With excitement still running high, many members of the World Champion White Sox traveled to a small Wisconsin town named Edgerton, to play against their local team.

Billy Sullivan, the catcher for the White Sox, was born on a farm in the township of Oakland, Wisconsin on September 13,1899. He played baseball and attended high school in Fort Atkinson, which is just a couple of miles from the family farm. In 1895, at the age of 20 while learning the butter business, he joined the nearby Edgerton, WI baseball team and inherited the nickname “The Catchingest Irishman.”

After Billy moved out of the area where he spent his growing up years, to pursue his baseball career, and later attending his apple and walnut orchards in the state of Oregon, he never forgot his roots. He returned for baseball games, honors and visits.

The 11:05 train arrived from Chicago at the Edgerton train station with the World Champions aboard. Billy was returning home; a large crowd, which included a band, welcomed him and the team. In behalf of the mayor, a short address to the champions was delivered.

At the park, in a town that currently has a population just over 4,000, it was estimated that 2,000 fans eagerly awaited the start of the game. When another train from Madison, WI arrived with 300 more fans, they tore down a wire fence to gain admittance.

Billy and his pitcher Frank Owen suited up for the Edgerton team, joining Cal Broughton, a former major league player during the nineteenth century. As Billy took the field a couple men followed, they presented him with a gift of silver and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from his admiring fans of Edgerton. The joyful catcher bowed in thanks to the cheering crowd. The line-up was as follows, according to Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter newspaper:

Edgerton POS White Sox
Sullivan C Roth
Owen P Altrock
Broughton 1B Donahue
Pace 2B Dunden
Perrin SS Tannehill
Warner 3B Rohe
Whittet LF Green
Newman CF O’Neil
Robinson RF Hohn

The game was won in favor of the White Sox by the score of 13 to 2.

On October 6, 1908 the Chicago White Sox were defeated on the last day of the season in Chicago by the Detroit Tigers, by the score of 7 to 0. This game ended one of the all-time great AL pennant races, with the winner advancing to the World Series to face the Chicago Cubs. Members of the Cubs were in attendance rooting for a re-match of the 1906 World Series, but left disappointed.

On Wednesday October 21, 1908 Sullivan and the White Sox arrived in Billy’s hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. They were there to face the Fort Atkinson Eagles for a game of baseball at Jones Park

The headlines on the front page of the Jefferson County Union newspaper read, “White Sox Win Game From Fort Atkinson Eagles” Followed by: “Crowd the largest that ever attended a ball game in this city. Factories Shut Down, Business Houses Shut up and Masons and Carpenters Quit Work to see the Game. Score 16 to 1.”

The first time Sullivan stepped to the plate he was presented with two enormous bouquets. He was evidently more than pleased, in front of the large group of home fans, as well as those from neighboring towns.

The Eagles were not all home players and lacked familiarity with each other. Sullivan claimed they went after the Eagles harder than any other team they played since the league season closed.

In a game that lasted two hours, Hahn led the White Sox offense with three hits, including a home run. The White Sox had a total of seventeen hits. Pitching for Chicago, White struck out four, Smith two and Altrock one, together they gave up a total of six hits.

For the Eagles, Knight struck out six, and S. Smith had two of the Eagles six hits. Knight was listed as a member of the winning team of the New York State League.  His catcher Schultz was from Watertown, WI.

The newspaper noted, “A little fun is relished everywhere and pitcher Altrock furnished all that was needed for the crowd. He is a comical genius.”

The White sox left Fort Atkinson the following morning on the 7:35 train for Green Bay for a scheduled game that same day.

The line up as follows:

White Sox POS Fort Atkinson
Hahn RF Fulton
White-Smith-Altrock P Knight
Donahue-Altrock 1B S. Smith
Atz SS Place
Fiene-White CF Hughes-Zahn
Sullivan C Schultz
Smith 2B Fellenx
Purtell 3B Perring
Altrock LF Statz

On May 23, 1913, while Billy was coaching for the White Sox, they made a return trip. This time their stage was Watertown, Wisconsin. Pitching for the White Sox on that day was Frank Lange. Frank was also well known in the area, being a nearby Columbus, WI native who pitched briefly for Watertown prior to his major league career.

Hundreds of posters advertising the event were put up in Watertown and the surrounding counties. With interest running so high, six to seven thousand fans were expected to witness the event. Most of the factories and businesses closed down for the afternoon game.

The battery of Lange and Sullivan was overpowering for the Watertown team. Lange was eager to put on a show for his fans, and that he did. He struck out the first five batters he faced, and eleven out of fifteen through the five innings he pitched. Smith pitched the next three innings for the visitors, striking out four more Watertown batters and holding the team scoreless going into the ninth inning.

In the ninth inning White Sox manager James Callahan, who today is also known as Nixey, took the mound. The former major league pitcher pitched his last big league game with the White Sox in 1903. Ruesch of Watertown led off the inning with a double and Schumann followed with the game’s only home run. The hometown fans went wild, as the Watertown Goslings avoided the shutout. The final score of the game was 13 to 2 in favor of the Chicago White Sox.

The line up as follows, according to the Watertown Daily Times newspaper:

Watertown POS White Sox
G. Richards P Lange
Woelffer P Smith
P Callahan
Hornickle C Sullivan/Kuhn
Kronitz 1B Fournier
W. Richards 2B Roth
Schumann SS Berger
Ruedig 3B Bodie
Powers LF Schaller
Hahn/Weihert CF Zieder
Heye RF Mattick
Ruesch PH
Demin SS-3B

In 1953, Sullivan was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. The following year on June 29, 1954 with a ceremony at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame preceding a Braves vs. Cubs matchup. Busloads of fans left the Black Hawk Hotel in Fort Atkinson to attend the game, but mostly to witness the ceremony and support the man they admired.

One night prior to the induction ceremony in Milwaukee, Sullivan was honored at a banquet in Fort Atkinson at the municipal building, with 450 attending a dinner, program and music by Milwaukee’s Blatz Quartet. Lloyd Larson, sports editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel, served as the master of ceremonies.

Vice President of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey, spoke and stated, “I don’t care what they claim in Fort Atkinson or that town in Oregon, but you’re still the number one guy in Chicago as far as we of the White Sox are concerned.”

Manger of the Milwaukee Braves, “Jolly Cholly” Grimm, was scheduled to speak, but canceled due to illness. Former teammates and players attending were, Ray Schalk, Lou Fiene, Joe Benz, Patsy Gharrity and Milwaukee native George McBride.

Sullivan took the microphone, talked about his career, and showed his gratitude. He told about playing for Fort Atkinson, and playing the positions of shortstop and pitcher, prior to the day that he filled in for an injured catcher. That was the position he held from that day forward. He joked about the 1906 White Sox being called “The Hitless Wonders,” stating, “We were good hitters, but they weren’t pitching where we were swinging.” Billy was deeply touched by the ceremony and honors given to him, and he was close to tears on many occasions throughout the evening.

Billy Sullivan gave the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson a ball that he once caught that was dropped 555 feet off the Washington Monument, along with a catcher’s mitt and the plaque he received from the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. Today his gifts are still proudly displayed, and may be viewed at the museum.

Just blocks away from the museum at Jones Park where Billy once played, is a monument in Billy’s honor. An open house to view the newly erected monument was held on October 14, 2006 at the park exactly 100 years to the day that the White Sox won the World Series with a victory over the Cubs.

The monument was the third in a series of memorials, honoring the Deadball Era’s players and teams by David Stalker. Contributing to the monument along with David was Archie Monuments, The Fort Atkinson Generals Baseball Team, The Lastusky Family and the Hoard Museum.

Billy Sullivan never forgot his hometown, and his hometown will never forget him.

(Editor’s Note: The above was first published in 2009, but more details have been added.)

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