2015 - A couple of weeks before one Thanksgiving, Jim and I had a great time at the Women of Ft. Lowell event watching the Bisbee Black Sox play the Tucson Saguaros in an old time baseball event. Following this event, he asked Randi Bellassai of the The Arizona Experience here in Tucson, to write some history. Following is a history of Warren Ballpark, Bisbee Arizona.
Bisbee, Arizona boasts an exciting piece of baseball history. It is home to the Warren Ballpark, considered the oldest continuously used professional baseball venue in the country. The field was built in 1909, five years before Wrigley Field in Chicago!
Major League Enjoyment at Warren Ballpark, Bisbee Arizona
Many baseball legends have hit the ball in Warren. Designed for miners and their families, the field quickly became a popular stop for traveling teams. On November 7, 1913, the big leagues hit the Warren Ballpark when the New York Giants played the Chicago White Sox in a post-season game as the two teams made their way around the world by steamship (including the Lusitania, from England back to the states) and passenger train. The celebrated tour received continuous press coverage throughout 1913-1914.
During the Bisbee game, Jim Thorpe, still legendary for his strength, speed, and endurance, literally hit the ball out of the park for a memorable home run. Hal Chase, of the Giants, the Yankees, and the Cincinnati Reds, played that day, too. He would return to the Warren Ballpark in a different context. Axed from the major leagues in 1920 for fixing games in the “Black Sox” scandal, Chase later became a player-manager for the Douglas Blues. In fact, several players banned from the majors played “outlaw baseball” in Warren for Frontier and Copper Leagues throughout the 1920s.
The Warren Ballpark is also the home of a darker piece of history. In 1917, it held nearly 1,200 striking miners during one of the ugliest labor struggles the country has ever seen. The park acted as a holding pen for the union workers, who were herded into cattle cars and transported 200 miles without food or water to Hermanas, New Mexico, and told never to return to Bisbee. This was known as the Bisbee Deportation.
However, the games never slowed during that lively era. Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, part of the Orange League and later the Cactus League, stood on the diamond regularly between the 1910s and the 1950s. Sometimes these teams would face each other in exhibition games. Often, the barnstorming team would play a local team, as did the Cubs on April 5, 1919. Numerous local leagues played, too.
In 1936, the ballpark received a much-needed facelift when the Works Project Association replaced its decaying wooden bleachers with a concrete grandstand. Though the improvements brought a resurgence of baseball, by 1955, the park’s main use was for high school games. For several decades the Warren Ballpark quietly deteriorated.
The Road to Renovation
In 2003, the minor leagues returned to the Warren Ballpark with the formation of the Copper Kings. Though the 2003 season was cut short, the league sparked interest in the historic field. The Friends of Warren Ballpark was formed in 2008 to preserve the Warren Ballpark and Bisbee’s baseball heritage.
Mike Anderson, a founding member of the Friends of Warren Ballpark, describes the field’s special place in history: “Warren Ballpark, like the rest of Bisbee, is a window into time. It is one of the best remaining examples of the ballparks that provided the primary focal point of community entertainment for thousands of towns and cities, large and small, across the United States during the first half of the 20th century. It was the place where residents of the Warren Mining District gathered to watch baseball, football, soccer, rugby, cricket, rodeo, professional wrestling and blockbuster silent movies.”
In 2010 the group began a new tradition for the old ball field—a vintage baseball event! The Copper City Classic Vintage Baseball Tournament is bringing the glory days back in grand style. The event draws “vintage baseball” teams from as far away as Illinois. Fans, or “cranks” can watch teams play in colorful vintage uniforms and enjoy a slice of the past at this fun, unique hat tip to the national pastime.
The Annual Copper City Classic celebrates the centennial of the Warren Ballpark exhibition game between the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox. Six future Hall of Fame inductees played on the Warren Ballpark that day. The tour was a huge media event throughout 1913 and 1914. Vintage teams from Chicago and the Big Apple will step onto the Warren Ballpark to play against a host of other vintage teams in a two-day extravaganza.
Now the small field is seeing big plans. The Copper City Classic is becoming a national event, and the Warren Ballpark was recently featured on a Japanese TV program on vintage baseball along with Fenway, Wrigley, and Safeco Field in Seattle! The Copper Kings returned in 2008 and 2011 to play in the Pacific Southwest Baseball League. The site is under consideration for designation as a part of a state historic district, and the facilities are being refurbished piece by piece. Renovation plans for bathrooms and the grandstand are in the works.
“The amazing thing about this ballpark is that it is still the focal point, 103 years after its opening, of outdoor community entertainment and events in Bisbee. And, if we can keep it in good shape, it will continue be a gathering place for Bisbee residents for decades, and hopefully centuries, to come,” says Anderson.
To learn more about the Warren Ballpark’s national baseball heritage, historic players, local leagues, and how you can help preserve this invaluable piece of American history, visit the Friends of Warren Ballpark.
This article guest written by The Arizona Experience. Explore Arizona with interactive maps, oral histories, timelines, videos, images, and articles. Plan the perfect vacation with the interactive Recreation and Cultural Sites Map and find lesson plans and dynamic classroom resources at the Teachers Center.