During the early 20th century, the steel mills sponsored many sports teams. This picture shows a baseball team from Illinois Steel South Works (later US Steel) in 1906. At one time, there was a baseball field on South Works property. Managers sometimes competed against each other by getting “ringers” to play on their teams, while the teams provided opportunities for employees to spend time away from the hardships of working in the steel mills.
Many residents recalled in oral histories the excellent sports scene in Southeast Chicago, which included a number of semi-pro teams. Augie Ruf, Jr., a former sports editor for the local Daily Calumet newspaper, boasted, “I want to say that in Southeast Chicago we had more athletes than at any other place in the world. There were major league baseball players. There were major league football players, conference players. There were innumerable college and high school players. A lot of them would have been college or high school players, but they never went to school in those days [20s and 30s]…The old semi-pro teams [from the neighborhoods] every so often would play major teams and knock them off. They were that much better.” Bob Bork, born in 1906, confirmed that local semi-pro teams would occasionally play city professional teams. He recalled that the Chicago White Sox, known as the “Black Sox” after the 1919 baseball game-fixing scandal came out and played a local semi-pro team at Trumbull Park in South Deering.
Ed Kucic, born in 1908 near Calumet Park as the child of Slovenian immigrants, recalled, “I was offered a contract with the Boston Red Sox when I was a pup for $75 a month to play minor league baseball. $75 a month. Like I told you, playing semi pro ball in Chicago, I was getting $5 a game. Pitchers would get, say $25 or $35, depending on whether they won or lost. They used to charge, I think it was, a quarter to get in to see us. We had a closed-in ballpark at 106th St and Buffalo Avenue which we, the ballplayers, built ourselves. Because none of us were working in the early 1930s.” Some said that certain athletes chose to remain in semi-pro leagues that travelled the small town circuit rather than go pro, because professional leagues paid very little in the early days and they could make more money that way. Bob Bork noted that, “between the players and the fans [in the semi-pro leagues] they used to get together and make up a purse. Sometimes they would play for $500 a game.”