Canton team won national semi-pro title.

The Hoover Sweepers were the best team in semi-pro baseball a century ago.

Representing Canton in the National Baseball Federation's Class AAA, the Hoover team was bats and balls above a handful of other Midwest teams that competed in the end-of-the-season championship classic. They would beat Massillon in the first round of the tournament, then go on to defeat a team from Akron, and finally emerge victorious over the Pittsburgh squad in the final championship series.

Other teams that competed in the N.B.F. championship playoffs -- considered to be just a rung below professional baseball on the ladder of skill levels -- were from Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati in Ohio; Detroit; and Johnstown, Pa.

"The final series is booked for September 27 and 28," said an article in The Evening Repository on July 8, 1919, which looked ahead to the national series in September. "Canton, if successful in its previous games, will be called upon to tackle the other surviving candidate for the national championship."

Met the test

In both foresight in 1919 and now in hindsight, the Sweepers -- the factory they were named after was in North Canton but they represented the city to the south -- were expected to emerge victorious over Massillon. And, even when matched up against the team from Akron they had an historical edge, according to the Repository. The Canton team almost always was the best of the pair of city squads in its heyday during the years just before the 1920s.

"Canton has participated in three previous N.B.F. series and has always been able to eliminate Akron," the newspaper said in an article published on Sept. 12, 1919, the day before the Canton-Akron series began. "Back in 1916 the Bergers of Canton defeated the Goodyears rather easily and in 1917 the Standard Parts club handed the Goodyears another lacing. Last fall the Central Steels, winners in the Canton shop circuit, eliminated the General Tires, who now have a chance to establish a precedent by eliminating Canton. But, the chance does not appear to be a very big one."

Admittedly, it was boastful hometown sports reporting. But ultimately, the prediction was accurate.

Canton beat Akron 5-2 in the first game on Saturday Sept. 12, 1919. Although Akron beat the Sweepers 4-2 in the second game at League Park, Hoover defeated the General Tire team in the rubber match, 10-1.

Canton vs. Pittsburgh

Even against Pittsburgh, Canton was expected to excel with a team that stretched the term "semi-pro" to its athletic limit.

"Featuring a lineup studded with experienced ex-professional players, including (Capt. Peg) Evans, first baseman Frank Gygli, center fielder Harry Storch, and catcher Pete Hildebrand, the Sweepers expected to do well in the best-of-three final series," said a summary of the Sweeper's championship effort written by local historian Jim Holl and passed on to the Repository recently by Doug Wechter.

Another one of the Sweepers' best players spurned a chance to rise to the professional leagues in 1919 -- waiting to join a Detroit team in the spring of 1920 -- so he could pursue a championship with the Hoover squad.

"Jack Kolp, North Canton boy who has been playing with the Hoover Sweepers this season, became a big leaguer Saturday night when he signed a contract with the Detroit Americans," reported the Repository on Sept. 14, 1919.

Detroit scout Billy Doyle came to Canton and saw Kolp in action -- as an infielder that day, although other games he also played for the team as a pitcher.

"Kolp played short and fielded his position well," the Repository said. "He was asked to report to the Tigers at once, but obtained permission to remain with the Hoovers the rest of this season."

Playing as champions

The victory against Akron set up the championship series pitting the Hoover Sweepers against Pittsburgh's American Bridge Company team. "Ambridge," as the team was called, proved to be a worthy opponent when the series opened on Sept. 27, 1919.

"Hoovers Lose First Game Of N.B.F. Series To Ambridge 2-1," a headline on the sports page of the Repository reported the next day. "Error On Top Of 2 Hits Proves Costly; Kolp To Twirl Game Her Today."

The accompanying story told baseball fans that Hoover players had their "backs against the well known wall," but they would be at home for the second game on Sunday afternoon game at League Park."

"The Hoover Sweepers, representing Canton, will have to win the remaining two games of their series with the Ambridge club, of Pittsburgh, in order to carry away the 1919 championship of the National Baseball Federation."

Victory was achieved in that second game against Ambridge by a 12-3 score.

"Hard Clouting," was the difference, the newspaper said, adding in a headline, "Homer Is Winning Punch."

Winning the series

The third and deciding game between Canton and Pittsburgh was played the following Saturday, Oct. 4, and the team was transporting its fans to Pennsylvania to lend support.

"They have engaged a special train for the occasion, to carry both team and rooters," the Repository reported during the week before the game. "Accommodations have been reserved for 125."

The newspaper said that "it is certain that the Hoovers will have to bat against Lefty Hughes, who last Saturday in the first battle of the series held them to two hits and won his game."

That deciding contest in Pittsburgh was long and exciting.

"By battling tooth and nail for 14 innings ... the Hoover Sweepers ... won the championship of the National Baseball Federation, the highest honor outside of organized ball," an article in the Repository said on Sunday Oct. 5, 1919.

Holl's history recalls the manner in which the Sweepers satisfied their supporters with a win.

"When Dummy Boyle raced home with the winning run on Pete Schisler's single in the 14th inning, a celebration erupted," wrote "The Hoover Sweepers had just claimed the National Baseball Federation (semi-pro) championship with an exciting 6-5 win, defeating American Bridge Company’s team on its home grounds. ... Captain 'Peg' Evans raised the trophy high as the team celebrated the hard-won victory on that glorious October afternoon."