When some of the movers and shakers in Leadville decided to field a baseball team back in 1882, they adopted the philosophy that you get what you pay for. Leadville paid for the best past and future baseball players it could obtain, all veterans of the major leagues or current players on professional teams back east.
This philosophy paid off. At the end of the season, the Blues were the champions of Colorado with a record of 34 wins, 8 losses, one tie, and a winning percentage of .809.
According to Jay Sanford, a baseball historian who lives in Denver, the theory behind fielding a winning baseball team had to do with improving Leadville’s reputation, especially back east, and directing Eastern investors’ attention toward the city’s mines, which had taken a downturn. There’s no proof that this was accomplished, but the Blues‘ reputation extended well beyond Colorado once that first season was over.
When the Lake County Sports Hall of Fame was established in 2005, the 1882 Blues team was in the first group to be honored.
Baseball season started in July, but the team got in some early practice by playing local “picked teams.” These were teams made up of players who just showed up to play but weren’t formally members of a team. The Blues were good enough that sometimes Dave Foutz, the pitcher, would go and play for the picked team in order to provide some competition.
Foutz was probably the best known of all the Blues players. He came to Leadville with his older brother, John, in 1878 to mine silver, but quickly began devoting all his time to playing baseball. Foutz was a member of the state champion Leadville Blues in 1882, but moved on in 1883 to the Bay City, Michigan, minor league team. Foutz was said to be a regular in Bay City saloons. Although he wasn’t much of a drinker, he used his skills as a poker player to supplement his ballplayer’s salary. In 1884 he joined the majors, becoming a member of the St. Louis Browns, winners of the American League pennant in 1885 and 1886.
In 1887, in a game against the Cleveland Blues, Foutz suffered an injury to his thumb on his pitching hand when he was struck by a ball. His pitching was never the same. Fortunately, he had also honed his skills as an outfielder and first baseman. He was sold to the Brooklyn Grays in 1887.
By 1894, Foutz’s health had began to deteriorate. In 1897, at the age of 40, he died from pneumonia and an acute attack of asthma. Always a well-liked and respected player, Foutz received many tributes from the baseball world.
There were 11 children in the Baltimore-based Foutz family, including John and Dave, the two oldest. John Foutz also played for the Leadville Blues, primarily as a catcher, and captained the team to the championship of the Colorado State League in 1889.
John Foutz was the owner of the Leadville Hardware Company and eventually was elected mayor of Leadville. A May 1892 account of President Benjamin Harrison’s visit to Leadville notes that Mayor John Foutz was part of the contingent greeting the president.
Some 21 years after Dave Foutz was born, his parents welcomed his brother Frank Foutz. Frank also turned to baseball as a career, spending a season with the Baltimore Orioles before going back to the minors. He played a total of 10 years.
The success of the Leadville Blues often made other teams jealous and snide comments were not uncommon.
On July 14, 1882, the Daily Herald of Silver Cliff said “It is doubtful a more conceited nine ever existed than the Blues of Leadville.”
The Aspen Daily Chronicle on July 31, 1889, said it was quoting an unnamed Leadvillian who reportedly said of the Blues, “They loaf around town all night and half of them are too decidedly boozy to even put up a half presentable game on the following day. When the Blues win a game, their admirers draw them into the saloons and put their heads under the beer barrels. The majority are high-priced players whose expenses were paid from the east but who don’t seem to care in the least for the city they represent so long as they get their pay.”
The article went on to contrast the Blues with Aspen’s team, saying the Aspen boys go to their rooms and to their beds immediately after supper is concluded.
The Blues continued to represent Leadville as a team, playing in the Colorado State League, Western League and Western Association between 1885 and 1898.
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum has opened “Miner Leaguers: Mining and the Great American Pastime,” an exhibit that explores the relationship between mining and baseball. The exhibit features vintage equipment and uniforms, historic photos, and text in English and Spanish. It includes a video on West Virginia coal town teams. Both the Leadville Blues and their best-known member, Dave Foutz, are part of the exhibit. “Miner Leaguers” will be on display through December 2021.