Red Deer tries professional baseball

Red Deer experienced some very exciting times one hundred years ago in 1912. The community was in the midst of one of the strongest booms in its history. The population of the Town soared from a mere 300 in 1901 to nearly 3,000. Many confidently predicted that Red Deer would be a city of 20,000 or 30,000 before another decade passed.

With the wonderful surge of growth and prosperity, along with the heady sense of optimism about the future, the community decided to take a plunge into professional sports.

A proposal was made to have Red Deer join the Western Canada Baseball League. Lethbridge had pulled out of the W.C.B.L. on the eve of the 1912 season. In a panic, the League asked Red Deer to take Lethbridge’s place.

Red Deer quickly accepted. However, there were many challenges to the venture. As a Calgary newspaper reported, “gathering players on short notice in the late spring is not only a hard job, but an expensive one.”

Several players were recruited from Moose Jaw, which had won the pennant in 1911. While many bragged about the new team, the local paper reported that one of the star players, “had not touched a drop of the sparkling fluid for seven months” and was “on the wagon to stay”.

The League’s schedule was a heavy one. Games were to be played almost every day. Twenty-eight games were scheduled to be played in Red Deer by mid-July.

The new team, dubbed the ‘Deers’ arrived in town on May 7th and left immediately for the season opener in Edmonton. It was not a great start. The field manager got sick and one of the players badly cut his hand. The Deers lost by a score of 10 to 3.

The first home game in Red Deer on May 13th went much better. An elaborate parade accompanied the team to the ballpark. A half day holiday was declared so more people could attend the game. A crowd of more than 900 watched Red Deer get revenge by defeating Edmonton 9 to 5.

The rest of May proved to be much more difficult. The weather was cold and wet. Several players fell ill with colds and flu. Red Deer lost one very contentious game in Calgary when officials waited until the home team was ahead by one point and then called the game due to darkness.

Gradually, however, things improved for the Deers. At the end of the season’s first half, Red Deer was declared the pennant winner with a record of 31 wins, 22 losses.

Calgary got a bad case of sour grapes. They pointed out that Red Deer had played three more games than the other teams. However, the league officials ruled that the awarding of the pennant award stood.

As the second-half series commenced, severe problems emerged. Poor weather cut attendance drastically. Illness continued to dog the team. Worse, money was quickly running out.

Finally, matters came to a head and the Club became insolvent. As they had not been paid for two weeks, the players went out on strike, one of the first labour stoppages in Red Deer’s history. The manager quit in disgust.

An emergency meeting was held in the Mayor’s office. The community raised enough money to finish the season. The team’s spirit, however, had vanished. By September, Red Deer was bottom of the league.

The Deers still made the playoffs because of their first-half series pennant. The team began to rally. Large crowds turned out again. Nevertheless, Calgary edged out Red Deer in the finals, four games to two, and became the 1912 League champions.

For a while, there was talk of entering the 1913 season. However, the first year’s losses were too great to allow this to be a credible proposal. Thus, Red Deer’s pioneer venture into professional sports collapsed into final failure.