One will find nary a trace of a Milton High School state baseball championship among the records and annals of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Yet in the spring of 1910, a group of eleven diamond boys from Milton High School staked a claim to a “state championship” with an exciting 4-3 extra-innings win over a powerhouse Mukwonago team during a hastily-arranged meeting in Mukwonago.
The win capped an exciting end-of-season barnstorming trip executed by J. Fred Whitford, the school’s principal and baseball coach. According to the Golden Arrow, the Milton High School 1911 yearbook, the team finished the regular season tied with Palmyra for the Du Lac League championship and Whitford “arranged a treat for the boys.” Whitford gave his team a true Big League experience with a trip to Chicago’s Comiskey Park to practice and watch the White Sox take on the Boston Red Sox.
To help pay for the trip, the team barnstormed its way towards Chicago, playing a series of games in Walworth and Williams Bay. When the team returned home a challenge awaited the Milton nine from the Mukwonago High School team, which had not been beaten in three seasons.
After the regular season ended, the Mukwonago team had apparently proclaimed itself “state champions” and issued a challenge in local newspapers to area teams to play a game for the “state championship.” No team accepted the challenge until Whitford’s glove men returned from Chicago and then defeated Palmyra 22-1 in a game that gave the team the undisputed DuLac League championship for the second of what would be three consecutive titles. Whitford agreed to take his team to play in Mukwonago on Tuesday, June 21.
A 4-3, 13-inning win by Milton concluded a whirlwind couple of weeks for the high school team, whose players occupied classrooms in the old school located where Milton East Elementary School currently sits. The “state championship” is by no means acknowledged by the WIAA, which didn’t officially begin recognizing state baseball champions until 1948.
But the unique tale is recounted in 1910 newspaper clippings, the Golden Arrow yearbooks and reports from a 50th anniversary celebration of the fete during a 1960 reunion of the seven living members of the team.
Of note, but not mentioned in any of the accounts, is the fact that Milton Junction’s Willis Cole was a member of the White Sox during the spring of 1910. Cole was recognized as being Milton’s only Major League baseball player when he was inducted into the Milton-Area Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. No doubt Whitford and Cole knew one another and were likely teammates on the early Milton Junction Crescents baseball teams during the first decade of the 1900s.
The team’s roster consisted of 11 players and a student manager with some of Milton’s most recognizable surnames. Team members included George Crandall, Glenn Whittet, George Yates, Jesse Saunders, Joe Garrigus, Leman Millar, Harlow Clarke, Will Traynor, Claude Gifford, John Ganziger, Don Borden and manager Charles Burdick.
Whitford recounted the Chicago trip during the 1960 reunion.
“The boys did so well that season I arranged a trip to Chicago with the opportunity to go on the Comiskey field and practice in the morning against the White Sox,” Whitford recalled at the reunion. “We had box seats there in the afternoon when the Sox defeated the Boston Red Sox in a 13-inning game.
“Our funds were not voluminous and it’s pretty costly to pay expenses of a dozen athletes on such a trip so we played two games en route.”
The Golden Arrow also recounted the barnstorming train ride toward Chicago.
“The boys started Monday, June 6 and won the last of a series of three games and the series from the Walworth County champions by a score of 4-3,” the Golden Arrow reads. “In the evening they witnessed an exciting and realistic sham battle at Keyes Park, Lake Geneva between companies of the Northwestern Military Academy Regiment. The booming of bombs and cannons, whizzing of rockets, and rattle of rifle volleys will long be remembered by the boys. The next day they took a steamer for Williams Bay where they lost a hard-fought game to a strong league team of that place. While here they were shown through the Yerkes Observatory and looked through the largest telescope in the world. The following day found them in Chicago where they witnessed the Chicago-Boston American League game as the guests of Pres. Charles A. Comiskey of the White Sox. In the morning they donned their uniforms at the invitation of the ‘Old Roman’ and practiced with the big leaguers – Millar and Crandall striking out seven of them.”
The Golden Arrow continued:
“Upon their return from Chicago the team found a challenge awaiting them from the Mukwonago nine that had not been defeated in three years; they had just won from South Division of Milwaukee 22 to 0 and no other team had accepted their sweeping challenge through the State press. Milton went to Mukwonago June 21 and won the game which was advertised as a State Championship by a score of 4-3 in thirteen innings.”
Details of that championship game were not reported in the Golden Arrow or from accounts of the reunion. The June 25 edition of the Milton Telephone included a front-page story about the game that also did not include a great amount of game detail. What can be gleaned is that Milton scored three times in the first inning and held a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth when Mukwonago tied the game. Milton won the game with a run in the top of the 13th inning. Milton had five hits and committed three errors. Mukwonago had six hits and four errors.
Below a headline that said “Milton H.S. Team State Champs!” the Milton Telephone opened its report this way:
“In a warmly-contested game at Mukwonago Tuesday they won fairly and without protest against a team widely conceded to be the best in the state, beating all comers on a general challenge until Milton carried off the honors by a score of 4 to 3.”
The story had few details of the game except to say “Borden made the winning run in the 13th session” and that “Clarke and Crandall divided honors on the mound and Whittet wore the mask.”
Eight team members and Whitford attended the 1960 reunion and posed for the accompanying photo. Several members of the team had distinguished professional careers outside of baseball.
John Fredrick Whitford was born in Berlin, New York, in 1878 and attended Alfred University before transferring to Milton College from which he graduated in 1903. He was principal at Milton High School from 1907 to 1913. From 1923 to 1930 he was professor of education and psychology at Milton College and later served as director of public relations at the school. He died in Milton in 1965.
George Herbert Crandall, one of the team’s star pitchers, graduated from Milton College in 1914. He served as an officer in the artillery in World War I. Crandall taught math and physics at Milton College and was the school’s first full-time coach and athletic director from 1921 to 1926 and 1931 to 1942 He is credited with instituting and creating conference affiliations for the area’s small colleges. Crandall was a member of the High Nuclear Energy Staff of the Physics Department of the University of Wisconsin until the age of 88. Crandall died in 1992 at age 97.
Donald Albert Borden graduated from Beloit College and served in France during World War I. Borden served as Milton Fire Chief for several years. He was a tobacco buyer and later a clerk in the post office. He also taught radio at Truax Field in Madison. Borden died in 1945 at age 53.
William Traynor died at a young age while playing the game he loved. Two years after the state title run, Traynor was playing for the Newville town team in a game against Afton played at the Charley Bluff diamond in June, 1912. Traynor was at bat in the eighth inning when he was struck in the chest by a pitched ball, collapsed and died.
“A large number of persons were witnessing the game and all known means of resuscitation were tried but were unavailing,” The July 7, 1911 edition of the Milton Telephone reported. “Dr. Coon was called and said the boy probably died within a few moments after the blow.”