Convicts served 1890-'92 sentence in Two-Eyed League

By Don Hazen

Your parents probably hadn't arrived on the scene and, for many, your grandparents were probably young or not around, either. Along the banks of the DesPlaines River there stood a steel town that really liked its baseball.

Turn the clock back -- make sure it's a windup -- to 1890-'92, when Joliet had a team in the Illinois-Iowa League. Author Raymond Schmidt, in his 1994 book Two-Eyed League: The Illinois-Iowa of 1890-'92, researched the circuit, where the Joliet Convicts cavorted.

The book gives long-ago background to Joliet's reputation as a great baseball community, one that will have its very own team, the Joliet Jackhammers, to follow this summer.

The Two-Eye League was born Feb. 25, 1890, with Sanger Steel and H.J. Webber representing Joliet in a meeting that also included Monmouth, Aurora, Elgin and Dubuque.

The league was basic baseball.

Little money, with backing provided by citizens who paid $50 a share.

The local park was at the south end of Mississippi Avenue, between Fourth Avenue and Hickory Creek on the East Side of Town. By April of 1890, the Convicts were in a league that also included Aurora, Ottawa, Sterling and Monmouth, along with Iowa teams.

Games that first year usually started at 3:30 p.m., depending on train connections in the various cities.

Joliet didn't start out well, losing seven of its first eight games.

The Joliet News, a predecessor of The Herald News, offered this assessment: "The trouble apparently is in the lack of practice in field and possibly one or two weak spots on the team.

The Joliet team was put to work without proper seasoning and the success that was fondly anticipated has not materialized."

The Convicts, dressed in their grey uniforms with blue stockings and trim, didn't get a whole lot better as the season progressed.

They finished with a 47-59 record, 18 1/2 games behind champion Ottumwa.

They did a lot better in 1891, finishing 62-48 and eight games behind champion Quincy.

Other teams that year were in Rockford, Ottawa, Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids.

But in 1892, the end came.

The first Sunday pro baseball game ever played in Joliet was on Aug. 14, 1892, but the very next day the team folded.

The Joliet Daily News, another Herald News predecessor, said "The Joliet base ball [two words] is no more."

"For the last time, for many moons at least, has the dulcet voice of the umpire floated over the Joliet diamond. ... Interest in baseball in Joliet is practically dead."

"It can truthfully be said no better club ever existed on a minor league than that which opened the season here."

"Joliet has had all it wants of baseball [one word]."

Joliet finished with a 23-24 second-half record in 1892. The league, which disbanded after that season, eventually evolved into the Three-Eye (Illinois-Iowa-Indiana) League, which became a part of minor league baseball lore.

(Joliet) Herald-News, 19 May 2002