Charles Somers

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Charles W. Somers. 1905.

Charles W. Somers

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Biographical Information[edit]

Charles Somers was the founding owner of the Cleveland franchise in the American League and the Toledo Mud Hens in the early twentieth century. He was also Vice-President of the American League from 1901 to 1906, and bankrolled a number of its first franchises, playing a key role in its establishment as a successful rival to the National League.

Charles Somers was the son of a rich coal dealer and made his fortune in the same business at a very young age. It is estimated that he was a millionaire at the age of 31. He was also a fan of the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, and after the franchise was dissolved following a disastrous season in 1899, he was contacted by Ban Johnson, the president of the minor league Western League to step into the void. He bought the Western League's Grand Rapids franchise in partnership with John Kilfoyl and moved it to Cleveland, OH as the league changed its name to the American League for the 1900 season. In 1901, as Ban Johnson declared the American League to be a Major League rival to the National League, Somers helped make the claim a reality.

Digging into his deep pockets, Charles Somers lent money to Connie Mack and Ben Shibe to establish a team in Philadelphia, PA and loaned money to Charles Comiskey so that he could expand the ballpark in which the Chicago White Sox were playing. Finally, he stepped in as owner of the new Boston Americans franchise when no local owner could be found, relinquishing his interest in Cleveland's team to Kilfoyl. He made Boston into a powerhouse by luring away star third baseman Jimmy Collins from the National League's Boston Beaneaters and pitcher Cy Young from the St. Louis Cardinals. This commitment to the circuit's success made Somers a key person, and he was rewarded with the league's vice-presidency. In 1902, he was able to sell his interest in the Boston franchise to Henry Killilea, and went back to running his hometown team.

After acquiring star second baseman Napoleon Lajoie from Philadelphia, the Cleveland team became one of the stronger ones in the American League. Lajoie was such a prominent figure that the team was known as the Cleveland Naps in those years. The team boasted other prominent figures such as pitcher Addie Joss and outfielder Elmer Flick, but somehow never managed to win the pennant. The franchise was the first to establish a farm system, when Somers acquired minor league teams in Waterbury, CT, Toledo, OH, Ironton, OH, New Orleans, LA and Portland, OR. The move did not pay immediate dividends, but would eventually lead to the acquisition of pitchers Stan Coveleski, Jim Bagby and Vean Gregg, all key members of Cleveland's first World Championship team in 1920.

In 1910, Somers bought out his partner Kilfoyl and began interfering more and more in the daily running of the team. He started hiring and firing managers at will, trading away manager George Stovall in 1912, and then Lajoie himself after a terrible 1914 season which saw the team finish in last place. Somers' business interests were taking a downturn at that point, with a fall in coal prices, and combined with the upward pressure on salaries caused by the competition of the new Federal League, he found himself in a very precarious financial position. After desperate moves like selling star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson to the Chicago White Sox in 1915 failed to right the ship, his creditors forced him to sell the team, now known as the Cleveland Indians, early in 1916 to James Dunn. Somers would remain out of baseball for the rest of his life, although he would in time rebuild his fortune, dying a multimillionaire in his summer home in 1938. He is buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Fred Schuld: "Charles W. Somers", in David Jones, ed. Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 393-394.

Further Reading[edit]