Organized minor league baseball has been around for about 100 years. The very first Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate was the Wichita Falls Spudders during the 1922 baseball season. Wichita Falls was a member of the Class A Texas League, and had an affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates for two seasons before their agreement with the Cubs.
In doing some research on the Spudders, I found a fascinating story from that first season as a Cubs affiliate in the summer of 1922. A fire broke out in the grand stand…during a game. It happened on June 3, 1922 as the Spudders were hosting Shreveport.
Story below reprinted from the June 3, 1922 extra edition of the Wichita Daily Times.
Fire supposed to have started from a cigarette igniting a seat cushion Saturday afternoon destroyed the baseball park grandstand and enclosure, including a number of automobiles estimated at 50 or 60.
The loss is figured at in excess of $125,000 (nearly $2 million in 2020 dollars). The fire broke out in part of the stand just to the right of the entrance and spread with such rapidity that spectators escaped none too promptly. No one was seriously injured as far as could be ascertained at 5 o’clock.
The location of the starting place of the fire practically blocked the main entrance to the stand, preventing egress by that route, and there was some delay in opening the entrances at each end. In the meantime, the wire had been broken through in a number of places and emergency exits forced.
There was no panic, but the crowd used all possible speed in breaking out of the stand. The fire started at 4:30 and by 5:00 p.m. the grand stand, the “knot hole” stand and probably three score automobiles were charred ruins.
A group of fans to the right of the entrance gave the first alarm, standing up and laughingly calling for water. Even those who saw a wisp of smoke issuing from the scene of the disturbance did not think it any more than a cushion on fire and displayed more interest in the condition of First Baseman (Lloyd) Smith, of the Gassers, who had wrenched his knee sliding into home base for the second Shreveport tally.
Water was not forthcoming immediately, and the fire soon had more than a fair start. With a little confusion, but mostly with cool-headedness, the crowd started filing out the end exits, which are kept closed during the games. Efforts to break them open being ineffectual at first, the wire in front of the boxes was broken in a number of places, men and women alike scrambling to safety by that route.
The fence just back of the grandstand soon ignited, and the cars parked immediately adjacent thereto were soon doomed. Some owners succeeded in saving machines not so close to the fence, but for the most part the machines were destroyed. The number of cars burned is estimated at 80 to 120. Spectators were able to count 80 through the smoke from the west side, but there may have been others hidden by the smoke. A number of valuable cars were included among those lost.
It appeared after the grandstand was destroyed that the club house would be saved. Herbert Gray, box office employee, fell down in escaping from the box office, and was burned about the back. It was reported that Charles Eubank, local oil operator, was also injured.
Many Wichitans who knew that loved ones were at the game rushed to the scene when the location of the fire was known, and engaged in anxious inquiry until the safety of their relatives was ascertained.
Shreveport had scored two runs and had men on first and third with one out, when the excitement started. (Steve) Mokan was warming up to relieve (Rip) Wheeler at the time.
The Spudders and Gassers resumed action the following day as the club provided new seating for fans.