The southwestern mining city of Bisbee, Arizona, is an unlikely spot for baseball history. But here in the neighborhood of Warren, visitors can find the historic Warren Ballpark, one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country. Sadly, this Field of Dreams may be best known today for hosting one of the most nightmarish incidents in American history.
Warren Ballpark bills itself as the “oldest multi-sport park in the United States.” Baseball came to Bisbee in 1899, courtesy of the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company (which would later merge with the massive Phelps Dodge Corporation). The company formed a team known as the Copper Kings to play locally. By 1909, a permanent stadium was erected in the Warren Mining District. This area was named for George Warren, a prospector and raging alcoholic who bet his mining stake that he could outrun a horse. As it turned out, horses were fast, and Warren died penniless, but not before lending his name to the neighborhood and ballpark for eternity.
The ballpark opened on June 27, 1909, as the El Paso Browns took on the Bisbee Beautiful. Notably, this makes the ballpark one year older than Rickwood Field, often claimed to be America’s oldest professional ballpark. Therefore, some in Bisbee claim that Warren Ballpark is America’s oldest baseball stadium in continuous use, however, as much of the grandstand was rebuilt in the 1930s, the debate still rages.
Nonetheless, the venerable park was host to all manner of professional and semi-professional baseball and football teams, including the Bisbee Bees and Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings, as well as barnstorming teams packed with major league superstars. Today, the park hosts Bisbee’s high school baseball and football teams, including the second-longest rivalry in football, as the Bisbee Pumas square off regularly against the Douglas Bulldogs, their fiercest rival. And each year, the ballpark hosts the Copper Classic, a Base Ball tournament where teams of men and women compete using vintage uniforms and rulesets.
Unfortunately, the stadium was also the site of one of the grimmest acts in the history of the American labor movement. The Phelps Dodge Corporation had a history of anti-union practice, but by 1917, the International Workers of the World had gained a foothold. Calling for an end to discrimination against foreign workers and minorities, and better pay and working conditions, more than 1800 miners struck on June 27. Calling the striking workers anarchists and communists, on July 17, the town sheriff, vigilantes, and mostly white miners still loyal to the company struck back, kidnapping over 1200 men, mostly nonwhite and foreign-born, and marching them to Warren Ballpark under armed guard. Workers who did not quit the strike were then forced into train cars, deported, and abandoned in New Mexico, told never to return. More than 300 people, including dozens of Phelps Dodge executives, were charged with a crime, but none were convicted. The injustice led to a rise in labor unrest across the country for years to come, but too late for Bisbee, where the labor movement was crushed forever.