4D. THE COVINGTON BLUE SOX (1913)
and Baseball In Northern Kentucky & Cincinnati
In Northern Kentucky
The Cincinnati area, including the city across from it on the other side of the Ohio River, Covington, KY, has been a bedrock of baseball. People from Covington could use the Roebling Suspension Bridge (see The Beginnings) via a street car to easily cross the river to watch the Cincinnati Red Stockings, beginning as a club in 1866 and becoming the first professional baseball team in 1869. After the Red Stockings disbanded for the 1871 season, some teams were created nearby including the Covington Stars. There was also another team in Ludlow. In 1875, Cincinnati reestablished the Redlegs and played teams in Covington and Ludlow, attracting large crowds. However, the following year in 1876, the Reds were admitted to the National Association (NA) and were subject to the "five mile rule." This prohibited pro teams from playing in Covington and Ludlow, even if they were in different states. It caused the KY teams to disband. However, another pro-baseball team was formed for a brief time in the 1880's called the Kentons.
Covington Blue Sox
Due to the "five mile rule" and other restrictions, a number of cities decided to form a new pro-baseball Federal League. Covington decided to join this league with a team called the Blue Sox. The Go! Go! Blue Sox! audio was a song madein honor of this team. There is also a documentary that is primarily about the Covington Blue Sox, but briefly mentions the Covington Stars. William Riedlin, the owner of Bavarian Brewing Co., was a Director and major stockholder in this team. His brewery was a sponsor of the Blue Sox with a stadium billboard for Bavarian Beer. (See the picture below.) The season started with a sellout crowd home game on May 6th amid much enthusiasm.
A Covington Blue Sox Video
By Cam Miller
The Blue Sox played at Federal Field, a/k/a Riverbreeze Park, located off south of Second Street between Scott and Madison streets. The ballpark had a capacity of 6,000, but the outfield depths were quite short, from 194 feet in right to 267 feet in center.
A former lager cellar & tunnel, built in the 1880s, remains.
As the season entered the summer, attendance declined, especially during the weekdays. With a population of 55,000 at that time, Covington simply wasn't large enough to support a professional baseball team. The Blue Sox moved to Kansas City during its first year at the end of June, and were renamed the Packers. The Federal League was short lived dissolving in 1915. Nevertheless, this effort by such a small city to have a professional baseball team shows its passion for baseball.
Below is a team photo of the Covington Blue Sox taken in the beginning of their 1913 season. It was reproduced in color as one of the Roebling Murals on the flood wall in Covington, in rather accurate detail, shown below the photo. However, the names of the players were not indicated on the mural but are shown in the photo. One of the most interesting players from this team was Walter "Smoke" Justis (even though his name was misspelled in the photo as Justus), standing fifth from the right. Justis only pitched two games in the majors in 1905 with the Detroit Tigers and had an 8.10 ERA. However, in 1908 he pitched four no-hitters for the Lancaster Lanks, which remains a minor league record. He also pitched a shutout to win the home opener for the Covington Blue Sox. In his recognition, there is a Bourbon bar and restaurant in Covington, KY named Smoke Justis.
Despite the recent recognition of Justis, the most accomplished player on the Covington Blue Sox was their manager, Sam Leever, who was from Goshen, Ohio. He had played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1898 until 1910. Leever pitched in 379 innings over 51 games in 1899, and was on the Pirates first World Series Team in 1909. Over his career with the Pirates, Leever's win-loss record was 194-100, he had a 2.47 ERA, 241 complete games, 847 strikeouts and allowed only 29 home runs. He has not been admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but is eligible via the Classic Baseball Era in 2025.
The background photo of this page is of the Federal Ball Park in Covington, KY in 1913.