Submitted by: Matthew A. Werner
Ames Field in Michigan City, Indiana, was once the summer home of a minor league baseball team. And its arrival got an assist from a Missouri man.
Born in Farmington, Missouri, Al Shinn signed a major league baseball contract at age 17. He was a member of the Hannibal Citizens minor league baseball team in 1955 and fell for a girl he met on a train whose family had a cottage near Lake Michigan. Shinn convinced the New York Giants to field a minor league team in Michigan City, the Citizens folded when they couldn’t secure a working agreement with a Major League Baseball team, and at age 21, Shinn became the White Cap’s first manager.
The Michigan City Professional Baseball Club, Inc. issued stock at $2 per share to raise money to form the team. Just two miles from the Lake Michigan shore, the team was aptly named the White Caps. It competed in the Midwest League against the Decatur Commodores, Paris Lakers, Clinton Pirates, Kokomo Dodgers, Dubuque Packers, Lafayette Red Sox, and Matoon Phillies.
The team uniform featured black letters and numbers with red trim and black and red piping around the sleeves and collar. For home games, players wore white jerseys with “White Caps” in script letters across the chest; on the road, they wore gray jerseys with “MICHIGAN CITY” in block letters on the front.
The team drew 48,765 fans in its first season despite a lackluster record (55 – 71). In 1957, the White Caps turned the ship around and went 68 – 57 with future major leaguers Many Mota, Bobby Bolin, John Orsino, and Matty Alou in the lineup.
The team’s finest season occurred in 1958. Following a pair of exhibition games including one versus inmates inside the Indiana State Prison walls, future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal pitched opening day at Ames Field. Marichal dazzled spectators and opposing players all season. He pitched 245 innings, struck out 246 batters, and walked 50. He led the league with 21 wins and a 1.87 ERA. Future major leaguer Jose Tartabull also played on the team. The White Caps went 69 – 55 and played in the Midwest League championship series at the end of the season. In deciding game five, the Waterloo Hawks defeated the White Caps, 4 – 3.
“Members of the Michigan City White Caps scattered in a hurry at the conclusion of the Midwest Baseball League season Tuesday night,” wrote sportswriter Bill Redfield, “but they’ll be remembered for many years for their efforts in the 1958 season.” Players dispersed as far as Minnesota, Massachusetts, Florida, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. Several Latin American players went on to play winter baseball while stateside boys attended college, worked as lumberjacks, state highway workers, and retail store clerks. The following season, the White Caps went 51 – 74 and finished last in league play. Ticket sales lagged for the third year in a row (28,775). In 1960, the Giants moved its Midwest League team to Quincy, Illinois. After four years of existence, the White Caps were no more.
Want your very own White Caps tee? You can purchase one here!
Read more stories like this! Sign up for the Dig the Dunes weekly e-newsletter, today! (right here).