The Northern Independent League, formerly known as the Northern New York League, was expected to go from four to six teams in 1906 by expanding into two Canadian cities, Montreal and Ottawa.1 But when Montreal’s application was “turned down with a thud,” the league made a curious decision.2 It admitted Ottawa and began the season as a five-team loop.3
The Ottawa Baseball Association, the group of baseball enthusiasts behind Ottawa’s application, was led by two prominent local businessmen, Henry Sims and John Cain.4 To ensure their bid’s success, they had hastily agreed to pay the traveling expenses to and from Ottawa for the league’s four other teams – three in Vermont (Burlington, Rutland, and Montpelier-Barre) and one in New York (Plattsburgh).5 It was a commitment they would soon regret.
The Northern Independent League was more than merely independent – it was an “outlaw” circuit that operated outside of the purview of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.6 Since it did not honor the player contracts signed by other professional leagues, it had become a safe haven for contract jumpers or those who had otherwise run afoul of the recently formed National Commission.7
The league relied heavily on players with college baseball experience, including many current collegians who played under assumed names to avoid losing their amateur status.8 As a result, the league was a magnet for top talent, and the caliber of play was comparable to the highest level of the minor leagues.9
The Ottawa owners were eager to field a competitive team, and so they lured manager Arthur W. Daley from Montpelier-Barre, the defending champions, to put together a winner in Canada’s capital.10 Daley used his extensive network of contacts to assemble a talented roster, including three players from his recent pennant-winning team: outfielder Frank “Shag” Shaughnessy, spitballer Vedder Sitton,11 and former Georgetown University infielder Johnny Dorman.12
Shaughnessy had played one game with the Washington Senators in April 1905 before suiting up for Montpelier-Barre later that season. During his summer in Vermont, he had met a young woman from Ottawa named Katherine Quinn, who was attending school in nearby Ogdensburg, New York.13 After finishing his law degree at Notre Dame, the 23-year-old slugger followed either manager Daley or Miss Quinn – or a combination of the two – to Ottawa in June 1906.14 Regardless, Frank and Katherine continued their courtship; two years later they were married in Ottawa.15
In addition to Shaughnessy, Daley’s roster also featured at least five future big leaguers.16 They included Notre Dame catcher Red Murray – at least until mid-June, when he jumped directly to the St. Louis Cardinals to begin a successful 11-year run in the National League.17 The team’s regular center fielder, Ray Demmitt, played in Ottawa under the name “C.R. Ray.”18 Demmitt went on to enjoy a seven-year career in the American League beginning in 1909.
The most famous member of the Ottawas, Arthur “Doc” Hillebrand, never appeared in the big leagues, although he had more than enough talent to make it.19 The 29-year-old Hillebrand had been a baseball and football star at Princeton, and he was still one of the most popular sporting figures in the United States.20 Since he was in a long-running contract dispute with the Washington Senators,21 the Northern Independent League was one of the few baseball options available to him. Hillebrand anchored the Ottawa pitching staff and frequently patrolled right field when he wasn’t on the hill.22
Ottawa kicked off its season with a resounding 6-0 defeat of the defending champions at home on June 25, with Hillebrand tossing a six-hit shutout.23 But the power-hitting outfielder from Illinois was the one who caught the fans’ attention with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate and an outfield assist. “The tenant of the left garden, Mister Shaughnessy by name, has won the hearts of the fans,” wrote the Ottawa Citizen.24
According to newspaper accounts, the team attracted crowds to the Varsity Oval of at least 2,000 for four of its first five home games.25 A season-high 3,200 fans were reported to be in attendance on Dominion Day (July 2) to see Plattsburgh,26 whose infield featured future Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, former Cleveland Nap Billy Lush, and 34-year-old Lewis “Snake” Wiltse.
Ottawa came into its July 12 game against Rutland in fourth place with a 5-5 record. Hillebrand (2-2) got the start for Ottawa, while second-place Rutland countered with former Holy Cross star Edward Hogarty.27
Hillebrand struggled on the mound in the early going. Converted outfielder Pep Deininger, who briefly pitched for the Boston Americans in 1902, opened the scoring in the top of the first with an RBI triple.28 He scored on a sacrifice by Jack Bagley, giving Rutland a quick 2-0 lead.
In the home half of the first, Shaughnessy came to the plate with two out and a pair of runners on. He launched the first pitch from Hogarty over the center-field fence and onto the street for a three-run home run, putting Ottawa ahead, 3-2.29 The mammoth blast gave Shaughnessy three home runs in the young season,30 and the rousing ovation from the crowd lasted for several minutes.
Ottawa’s lead was short-lived. With runners on the corners and nobody out in the top of the second, Hugh Devlin laid down a bunt that was fumbled by Hillebrand for an error, and another former Boston American, Art McGovern, came home from third with the tying run.
Ottawa blew the game wide open by batting around in the fourth. Shaughnessy led off with a triple, much to the delight of the roughly 1,000 fans in attendance. After Hillebrand was hit by a pitch, Frank Sanger singled to right field to score Shaughnessy. Three batters later, Earl Durkee came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. Durkee reached on an error by shortstop Dave Shean, which allowed Hillebrand and Sanger to score. It was one of three errors the Fordham product made in the game.31 A sacrifice by Johnny Dorman brought in another run, extending Ottawa’s lead to 7-3.
Ottawa tacked on two more runs in the sixth. One of those runs scored when Shaughnessy trotted home from third on Hogarty’s wild pitch.
Rutland added a single run in the ninth on a triple by former Boston Beaneater Pat Carney and Deininger’s sacrifice, but Ottawa held on for a 9-4 victory, moving the squad into a three-way tie for second place.
Like most teams in the league, Ottawa had done a better job recruiting players than managing its financial affairs.32 Ottawa’s revenues weren’t covering its hefty expenses, and the team appealed to the league for assistance on July 18. The league decided that visiting teams would pay their own travel expenses on their final trip to Canada.33 They also decided to abolish the team salary cap of $400 per week, since the rule had largely been ignored by the spendthrift owners.34 The only dissenting vote was from Plattsburgh.35 The next day Plattsburgh folded because of financial difficulties, and the league was back to four teams.36
Collins soon began fielding offers for his services, including a whopping $275 per month overture from Ottawa, which was significantly more than the $40 weekly salary he had been paid by Plattsburgh.37 It wasn’t enough to entice the 19-year-old sensation to play north of the border.38 Rutland succeeded in signing both Collins and Wiltse, which greatly improved its infield.39
On July 24 Ottawa gained further concessions from the league on travel costs in return for transferring a home game to each of the remaining teams.40 After Ottawa reeled off a six-game winning streak August 4-9 and pulled to within a half-game of first-place Burlington, it appeared that things were looking up for the team.
And then the season quickly unraveled. Ottawa lost seven consecutive games, culminating with a frustrating 11-inning loss to Montpelier-Barre on August 18.41 That same afternoon, Rutland forfeited its game in Burlington.42 The Rutland players, who were owed back wages, refused to play until they were paid. Ownership responded by fining them for insubordination and disbanding the team.43
The next domino to fall was in Ottawa, where the team had accumulated a deficit of nearly $6,000.44 It officially threw in the towel on August 20,45 and the outlaw league collapsed, never to return.46
After its final game, Ottawa was in second place with an 18-16 record, 6½ games behind Burlington. Shaughnessy finished with a .297 batting average and an impressive .484 slugging percentage.47 As was typical in the Deadball Era, Shaughnessy’s modest home-run total (five in 128 at-bats) was enough for the Ottawa Citizen to dub him the “home run king of the Northern League.”48
Fortunately for local baseball fans, the Shaughnessy family eventually settled in Ottawa, and Shag spearheaded the effort to bring professional baseball back to the city in 1912.49 The expansion Ottawa Senators played in the Canadian League from 1912 to 1915, winning the league championship in all four seasons.50 During the last three of those seasons, the ever-popular Shaughnessy served as the team’s dynamic player-manager.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, and the 1906 Ottawa City Directory. The daily Northern Independent League standings were taken from the Burlington Free Press.
Frank Shaugnessy photo is courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 The league had been known as the Northern New York League between 1900 and 1905. In 1906 only one of the five teams (Plattsburgh) was based in New York. The league is not to be confused with the Northern League that operated from 1902 to 1905 with teams in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Manitoba. “Montreal to Go in the Northern,” Ottawa Citizen, February 26, 1906: 8.
2 “A 5-Team League; Ottawa Admitted and Montreal Rejected – One Meant Business, Other Didn’t,” Burlington Free Press, March 10, 1906: 3. The Montreal bid, which was led by baseball promoter Joe Page, had several flaws. Page was willing to have Montreal play only two games per week, and the league wanted teams to play four (two home and two away). Page was also unable to commit to staying in the league for the entire 1906 season. Additionally, Montreal already had a professional baseball team in the Class A Eastern League.
3 It was not the first time the league had operated with five teams. It did so in 1901 and 1904 as well.
4 “Ball Players Hold Meeting; Locals to Make Big Effort for Northern League Honors,” Ottawa Citizen, March 2, 1906: 8. Sims was the owner of Henry J. Sims & Co., which sold hats and fur products in its Sparks Street shop. Cain was president of the Cain Brick Co. in Ottawa East. The two men played a key role in bringing professional baseball back to Ottawa for the first time since the Rochester Patriots of the Class A Eastern League were relocated to Ottawa in July 1898. The team, dubbed the Ottawa Wanderers, did not return for the 1899 season.
5 Plattsburgh, the nearest of the four other Northern Independent League cities, was an easy 140-mile drive from Ottawa in 2021. The journey was significantly more arduous in 1906. “A 5-Team League; Ottawa Admitted and Montreal Rejected – One Meant Business, Other Didn’t.”
6 David McDonald, “Baseball in Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, April 15, 2005: B-1.
7 A three-man National Commission was formed to oversee the sport as part of the 1903 peace agreement between the National and American Leagues. John T. Pregler and Tom Loftus: “The American League’s Forgotten Founding Father,” Baseball Research Journal, Spring 2020. https://sabr.org/journal/article/tom-loftus-the-american-leagues-forgotten-founding-father/, accessed October 14, 2021; Joe Santry and Cindy Thomson, “Ban Johnson,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ban-johnson/, accessed October 14, 2021; Dan Busby, “Kenesaw Mountain Landis,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/kenesaw-landis/, accessed October 14, 2021.
8 “The Northern League,” Sporting Life, June 23, 1906: 18.
9 A significant number of former and future big leaguers could be found on every Northern Independent League team. The league was heavily scouted, and many players made their major-league debut shortly after appearing in the circuit. For instance, Ed Reulbach played for Montpelier-Barre in 1904 under the assumed name of “Sheldon.” He became a star pitcher with the Chicago Cubs the next season. Eddie Collins is another example − he made his big-league debut in 1906 just a couple of months after playing for Plattsburgh and Rutland. Rick Huhn, Eddie Collins: A Baseball Biography (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2008), 30; Cappy Gagnon, “Ed Reulbach,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ed-reulbach/, accessed October 14, 2021; “Northern League Notes,” Burlington Free Press, August 6, 1904: 3; Paul Mittermeyer, “Eddie Collins,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/eddie-collins/, accessed October 14, 2021.
10 “Baseball,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1906: 8.
11 Sitton pitched for Ottawa in exhibition games, but he did not play in the regular season. A newspaper article on July 7, 1906, reported that Daley had released him “as his arm would not get into shape.” The writer lamented that it “looks like another spit ball artist gone wrong.” “Northern League Notes,” Burlington Free Press, July 7, 1906: 2.
12 “Ottawa’s New Team,” Ottawa Citizen, May 26, 1906: 8; “Old Montpelier Players,” Rutland Daily Herald, October 2, 1905: 3.
13 Katherine “Kitty” Quinn was the daughter of Michael Quinn, proprietor of the Revere House, which was a hotel on Sussex Drive in Ottawa. Charlie Bevis, “Frank ‘Shag’ Shaughnessy,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/frank-shag-shaughnessy/, accessed October 14, 2021.
16 The future major leaguers included Ray Demmitt (aka “C.R. Ray”), Red Murray (aka “J.J. Murray”), Vedder Sitton (aka “C.V. Sitton,” aka “Sid Sitton,” aka “Sid Smith”), Doc Martell (aka “Leon Martell”), and Jim Ball (aka “J.C. Ball”). There may have been more future big leaguers with the team, but it was unclear if all players using assumed names had been identified as of October 2021. Shaughnessy returned to the big leagues in 1908, hitting .310 in 29 at-bats for the Philadelphia Athletics.
17 “Baseball,” Ottawa Citizen, June 14, 1906: 8.
18 Demmitt’s legal name was Charles Raymond (i.e. “C.R.”) Demmitt. “Baseball”; McDonald; “Charles Raymond ‘Ray’ Demmitt,” Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/28833873/charles-raymond-demmitt, accessed October 14, 2021.
19 Sporting Life reported in 1905 that there were “competent judges who say that the great Princeton hurler [“Doc” Hillebrand] is the best pitcher in the country today.” Paul W. Eaton, “From the Capital,” Sporting Life, August 19, 1905: 25.
20 Terry Bohn, “Homer Hillebrand,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/homer-hillebrand/, accessed October 14, 2021; “Art ‘Doc’ Hillebrand,” National Football Foundation, https://footballfoundation.org/hof_search.aspx?hof=2095, accessed October 14, 2021.
21 Doc Hillebrand signed with the Washington Senators in October 1903 before having a change of heart. It appeared that he may have preferred to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who appealed to the National Commission in 1905 for the right to sign him, arguing that he was no longer Washington property. In August 1905 the National Commission ruled that Hillebrand still belonged to Washington. The Senators continued to retain Hillebrand on their reserve list until they sold his rights to the Boston Americans (temporarily) in 1907 and the New York Highlanders in 1908. Hillebrand refused to play for the Senators, Americans, or Highlanders. “The Award of Hillebrand,” Sporting Life, September 2, 1905: 2; “American League Notes,” Sporting Life, August 19, 1905: 10; Paul W. Eaton, “From the Capital,” Sporting Life, August 19, 1905: 25; “Hillebrand’s Case,” Sporting Life, July 6, 1907: 2; “‘Doc’ Hillebrand,” Sporting Life, April 18, 1908: 15.
22 The Ottawa newspapers spelled his last name as “Hildebrand” or “Hildebrandt.” The author compiled a game log for “Doc” Hillebrand using the box scores published in various newspapers. “Game Log Ottawa 1906 (Northern Independent League),” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dPJUHQEZun5IrHmFIsNE2R8cTsNst-T2kVflU9Bt-0I, accessed October 14, 2021.
23 “Ottawa Takes the First,” Ottawa Citizen, June 26, 1906: 8.
24 “Ottawa Takes the First.”
25 The author compiled a log of all regular-season games for Ottawa. Attendance figures for home games (all unofficial) were taken from the box scores published in various newspapers. “Game Log Ottawa 1906 (Northern Independent League),” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dPJUHQEZun5IrHmFIsNE2R8cTsNst-T2kVflU9Bt-0I, accessed October 14, 2021.
26 Dominion Day was observed as a statutory holiday on July 2, 1906, because July 1 fell on a Sunday. The celebration of the anniversary of Canadian Confederation was officially renamed Canada Day on October 27, 1982. There were rumors that Ottawa was padding its 1906 attendance figures. “Northern League Notes,” Burlington Free Press, July 26, 1906: 3; “Ottawa 8, Plattsburgh 1; Big Crowd Saw Senators Win,” Ottawa Citizen, July 3, 1906: 8.
27 “Edward J. Hogarty; Lawyer, 58, Star Pitcher for Holy Cross Baseball Team, 1904-06,” New York Times, September 1, 1942: 19.
28 “Ottawa Went After Rutland,” Ottawa Evening Journal, July 13, 1906: 2.
29 “Ottawa Went After Rutland.”
30 The author compiled a game log for Frank Shaughnessy using the box scores published in various newspapers. “Game Log Ottawa 1906 (Northern Independent League),” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dPJUHQEZun5IrHmFIsNE2R8cTsNst-T2kVflU9Bt-0I, accessed October 14, 2021.
31 Dave Shean and Eddie Collins were soon to be double-play partners in Rutland. Roughly two months later, they both made their major-league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics.
32 The only team in the Northern Independent League that claimed to make money during the 1906 season was Montpelier-Barre. J.B. Taylor, “Premature Close,” Sporting Life, September 15, 1906: 11.
33 “Plattsburgh Will Stick,” Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 1906: 8.
34 “Plattsburgh Will Stick.”
35 Huhn, 30.
36 “Plattsburgh Quits and Ottawa Comes,” Burlington Free Press, July 20, 1906: 3.
37 “Northern League Notes,” Burlington Free Press, July 26, 1906: 3; Huhn, 29.
38 Although Collins had just completed his junior year at Columbia, he played under his real name in the Northern Independent League. As a result, he was eventually stripped of his senior year of college eligibility.
39 “Victorious Wiggs,” Burlington Free Press, July 23, 1906: 3; “Rutland Takes Game,” Montpelier Daily Journal, July 26, 1906: 4.
40 “No. League Accepts Ottawa’s Proposition,” Burlington Free Press, July 25, 1906: 3.
41 “Monte-Barre in Eleventh; Visitors Pulled Down a Lead,” Ottawa Citizen, August 20, 1906: 8.
42 “Rutland Forfeited,” Ottawa Evening Journal, August 20, 1906: 2.
43 “Base Ball Peters Out,” Barre Daily Times, August 20, 1906: 1; Taylor.
45 “Baseball Club Is Disbanded,” Ottawa Citizen, August 21, 1906: 8.
47 “Game Log Ottawa 1906 (Northern Independent League).”
48 “Frank Shaughnessy Home from Scouting Trip through South,” Ottawa Citizen, January 23, 1912: 8.
50 The Ottawa Senators professional baseball team is not to be confused with the professional hockey team of the same name. The Canadian League was established as a six-team Class D circuit in 1911. The league expanded to eight teams and became Class C with the addition of the Ottawa and Peterborough clubs in 1912. By 1914 it had progressed to Class B, the third-highest minor-league classification at the time.
If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.