Warren Ballpark was named after Bisbee’s most renown drunk.
George Warren was a man who bet the equivalent of $20 million today that he could beat a horse in a foot race. The results didn’t end in his favor.
The field is named after him because he was a figure in the mining industry and was referred to as the “Father of the Mining Camp.” Even though he is known today as the town’s biggest alcoholic, he was iconic.
The park was built over 100 years ago, 1909, and is older than Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and any other major league field in America. Today, it’s home to the Bisbee Pumas, Bisbee’s high school team.
To get to Warren Ballpark, one must drive through Old Bisbee. Just by looking at it, it doesn’t look like it would be anything special. The field is fenced off and from the outside it looks like it could be a penitentiary, but the “Warren Ballpark 1909” baseball bats statue makes it clear that it is not.
Its past is filled with stories of union busting, gambling and games.
“There’s something majestic about it when you walk in. I can’t explain it. It’s a feeling that I get every time I walk in,” said Bisbee’s baseball coach Mike Frosco, 72, who played for the high school from 1958-1961.
In the 43 years he’s been the head coach, he makes sure all his players understand what the field means to Bisbee. He said that players from the past still come by to watch games and keep up with the team.
Despite the field being used for high school games in the 21st century, not much has changed including the restrooms.
“Tombstone [high school football] cheerleaders came and asked where the restroom is, and I said, ‘It’s under the stands and be strong, girls,’” said Mike Anderson, a historian and founding member of Friends of Warren Park.
The women’s bathroom has a single wooden, white stall and one sink. The flooring is corroded and the piping is an ugly sight under the sink. The men’s public bathroom has one urinal and stall but doesn’t even have a sink. There’s a plunger under the urinal that adds to the bathroom’s unsanitary feel.
Anderson said the bathrooms were considered “state of the art” in the mid 1930s, when they were built after more than 20 years of the park’s existence, and are still there to this day.
The ballpark’s grandstands are the same size as they were in 1909 but were rebuilt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.
In the early 1900s, Bisbee was a mix of nationalities. The Irish, the English, the Scottish, Serbians and Croatians all immigrated there.
“You could walk down the streets in Bisbee and you could hear any dialect, any accent from Europe at that time. Just an incredible melting pot,” said Anderson.
There were cricket, soccer and rugby leagues during the winter and football and baseball leagues in the spring, summer and fall.
“The Irishmen would not play with the Englishmen, of course,” Anderson said because of the Irish Rebellion. He added that the Knights of Columbus, the Irishmen’s rugby team, played with “pure hate.”
In between 1910-1920 was Bisbee’s population peak, which was 20,000 according to Anderson, because of the need for manual labor. It was a mining town for copper and job opportunity was extremely prevalent.
“Copper companies ran this state. They owned the governor, they owned the legislature, they owned the Arizona Daily Star,” said Anderson.
A high population and established economy made it an ideal city for owners to have their teams come play. This started barnstorming, which was when owners had their team head west and cities around the United States would bid on teams coming to play there.
Bisbee was the perfect spot for teams to play because mining towns had an abundant amount of sports fans.
After four years of existence, the first major league game was played at Warren Ballpark between the then New York Giants and Chicago White Sox on Nov. 7, 1913.
In the offseason, professional ball players had no source of income. The money that owners, managers, coaches and players made was from ticket sales and from whatever was sold at the stadium, which was mostly beer.
The 1918 National League champion Chicago Cubs came to play at Warren Ballpark a year later and then their minor league affiliate played there in the 20s and 30s.
Outlaw baseball, for players who were blackballed from professional baseball, followed that.
Players like Chick Handel, Buck Weaver and Lefty Williams were hired by the copper companies to play outlaw baseball, which involved high-stakes sports betting.
During this time, high rollers would come to the field and approach players and offer them money to throw the game.
“Gambling was huge in ballparks. Low wages, management that didn’t give a damn about their players, and gambling. Put all of those together and you got a great, great recipe for bad shit,” said Anderson.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball in the 20s, got wind of the league and was appalled.
He approached the copper companies and ordered a stop to the outlaw league. Landis soon came to realize he had no say in this part of the country.
Copper companies ruled.
Landis finally came to an agreement with the copper companies and established the Arizona-Texas league in 1928, which lasted for 30 years.
What may be the most significant event to take place at Warren Park has nothing to do with sports but everything to do with workers’ rights and corrupt management.
In 1917, in the midst of World War I, mining was a huge industry for the war effort. The military needed copper, brass, wire and other supplies.
Due to the high demand, the profits and the shifts were increasing but the wages remained the same.
The miners were a part of a union, Industrial Workers of the World, so they proceeded to go on strike and refused to work.
The demand for the mine’s products was still high so management and everybody against the strike formed a posse of 2,000 people who went door to door and took every striker from his home in the middle of the night on July 12, 1917.
“No search warrant, no injunction, no restraining order, no kind of court order whatsoever. No legal process,” said Anderson.
The strikers were marched to the field at gunpoint. Hundreds of men with rifles made sure the strikers didn’t make a run for it and a machine gunner kept watch across the street at what is now City Hall. Another machine gun was in the back of the sheriff’s car.
Out of the 1,500 strikers, 1,182 refused to go back to work. Those men were forced to get on cattle cars on the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad that ran behind the stadium.
“They said, ‘Ok you sons of bitches, get in those side doors Pullmans [cattle cars],’” said Anderson.
Those men were taken to the army post in Columbus, New Mexico, but the army refused to take them, so the train left them in Hermanas, New Mexico, according to the University of Arizona’s Web Exhibit on The Bisbee Deportation of 1917.
“How it could have happened in a civilized country I’ll never know,” said Fred Watson, one of the men deported that day, who was interviewed 60 years later as part of the project.
According to the same exhibit, the posse shipped off 226 men with children and 355 who registered to serve their country in the army.
The deportation cemented Warren Ballpark into Bisbee’s history and it continues to play a big part in the town’s culture. The aesthetics have gone through minimal changes, but the park will continue to make an impact on every spectator and athlete who experiences the oldest professional ballpark in the country.
“This ballpark looks exactly as it did in 1947 when the last minor league game was played here,” said Anderson. “A lot of fascinating stories on this field.”
Jake Cavanah is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at email@example.com.