Cooperstown is linked with two young, flame-throwing pitchers for the 1939 Cleveland Indians. One was born there and the other was enshrined there. All right, they are two different cities with the same name — the first in North Dakota and the second is in New York.
Floyd Stromme was from North Dakota and Bob Feller is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. Floyd Stromme put Cooperstown on the North Dakota baseball map while still in his young teens when, at the age of 14, he pitched in and won all six games of the tournament to capture the state American Legion baseball championship.
In the early 1930s, Cooperstown was the king of American Legion baseball in North Dakota, mainly because of pitching performances of Stromme. In 1939, he made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians, but after becoming the player in a Cleveland "cover-up," as judged by baseball commissioner Judge Landis, his major league career was over.
Floyd Marvin "Rock" Stromme was born Aug. 1, 1916, in Cooperstown, to John and Belle (Olson) Stromme. It was clear at an early age that Floyd was a gifted athlete. In football, he was named second team all-state as a running back, but it was in baseball that he clearly excelled.
In 1931, baseball coach Oswald Tufte persuaded Stromme to join his American Legion team, which was made up primarily of young teenagers. At first, Stromme was used as an infielder, but because of his strong throwing arm, Tufte decided to convert him into a pitcher. The team was so financially strapped it did not have money to buy baseballs. It had only four bats, of which most were cracked, and "the uniforms were little more than rags."
Tufte spent much of the season working with Stromme on his pitching. During the regular season, Cooperstown won only two games, but the coach and players believed they could make a good showing during the state tournament. However, with only one established pitcher, the odds were against them.
In the district tournament, Cooperstown beat Mayville, Litchville and Fargo, and Stromme pitched 24 of the 27 innings. In the state tournament, Cooperstown beat Park River, Bottineau and Enderlin to claim the state title.
In 1932, most of the players returned, and one of the new players was also a pitcher, Richard Johnson. Although Stromme was one year older, they had many similarities. Both came from large families, both lost their mothers at an early age and both became star pitchers at major universities, Stromme at Northwestern and Johnson at Oregon State University. Johnson became an active bomber pilot during World War II, a noted test pilot and was the second pilot to break the sound barrier.
During the regular season in 1932, Cooperstown lost only one game, and they cruised through the tournament winning all six games. Against Fargo, Stromme pitched a no-hitter. Cooperstown was again the dominant team during the 1933 season, but lost to Fargo in the regional tournament.
Stromme graduated from high school in 1934 and enrolled at Northwestern University, where he was ineligible to play as a freshman, but was one of the primary pitchers in his second season. After the season was over, he signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians sent Stromme to play for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League in 1936, where he had a win-loss record of 2-4 in 11 games. He returned to the Twins in 1937 and established himself as the ace of the staff, going 19-6 with a league-leading earned run average of 2.10.
Stromme fell in love with a young Fargo waitress, Deloris Heldman, and they got married in 1937. In 1938, Stromme was promoted to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, and he won nine games and lost 10. In 1939, he was considered such a promising young player that he was invited to spend spring training with the Cleveland Indians.
During that spring, Stromme left "a favorable impression" with Oscar Vitt, the manager of the Indians, and he was one of the last players to be sent back to the minor leagues. He returned to the Pelicans, and after posting an 11-7 record, he was promoted to the Indians on June 30.
On July 5, Stromme made his major league debut, pitching a hitless inning against the Chicago White Sox. Three days later, he got tagged for three runs in two innings of relief and was tagged with the loss. After that performance, Vitt lost confidence in Stromme and he had to wait until Aug. 14 to made his third appearance. He appeared in only two more games before the end of the season.
Stromme had high hopes he would be invited back to the Indians in 1940, but instead, he was optioned to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League. Buffalo, affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, was pitching heavy with prospects such as Fred Hutchinson and Sal Maglie, as well as Lynn Nelson, from Sheldon, N.D. "Stromme filed a protest and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis found Cleveland guilty of "covering up" Stromme, and in mid-July Landis made him a free agent."
The Indians were angry with Stromme and labeled him a troublemaker. Although Stromme had some impressive years in the minor leagues, he was never invited back to the major leagues. After posting a 16-13 record with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1945, he was essentially finished in organized baseball.
Stromme played for a number of semi-pro teams in the San Francisco-Oakland area during the late 1940s and supplemented his income by driving a vegetable truck. He then moved to Oregon where he worked as a logger and, after suffering an accident, Stromme was employed at a Georgia Pacific lumber mill.
In 1978, he retired to Wenatchee, Wash., where he died on Feb. 7, 1993. In 2005, Stromme was inducted into the North Dakota American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.