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Baseball team was full of future stars

The best baseball team in 1935 may have been in Bismarck and not in the major leagues. The team featured two men who are now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and had five pitchers who later became All-Star hurlers.

The best baseball team in 1935 may have been in Bismarck and not in the major leagues.

The team featured two men who are now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and had five pitchers who later became All-Star hurlers. The ace of the staff was Satchel Paige, argued by many to be the best pitcher of all time.

Semi-pro teams in North Dakota used three categories of players that were not welcome in the major leagues: African-Americans, those banned from professional baseball and those who had serious substance abuse problems.

Major League Baseball owners had a "gentleman's agreement" not to employ blacks on their teams, but this was not the case in North Dakota. As early as 1899, Walter Ball was the star pitcher in Grand Forks.

A number of ballplayers were also banned from professional baseball for acts detrimental to the game, most notably throwing or conspiring to throw the outcome of a game. Several found employment with semi-pro teams.


The most notorious banned player in North Dakota was Swede Risberg, the shortstop on the 1919 Chicago White Sox team who played for Jamestown in the 1920s.

By the 1930s, major league owners no longer tolerated players who couldn't function on the field because of alcohol problems. Most semi-pro managers, however, believed it was better to have outstanding players who could function80 percent of the time than to have mediocre players at100 percent.

The man who put together the outstanding Bismarck team of 1935 was Neil O. Churchill. He had been a good semi-pro player and, while in Wisconsin, caught future hall of fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Churchill traveled to Bismarck after World War I and became the star player. He became the manager in 1926.

In 1933, when Churchill assumed ownership of the Bismarck baseball team - they were called the Grays before his ownership and then became the Churchills - he went to work building a strong team. With the help of Abe Saperstein, owner and coach of the Harlem Globetrotters, Churchill contacted some of the best black ballplayers available.

To start the season, he signed Roosevelt Davis, an outstanding pitcher with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Later, he signed Red Haley, a hard-hitting shortstop from the Memphis Red Sox, and Quincy Trouppe, a promising young catcher with the Chicago American Giants. He also signed second baseman Harold Massman from the All-Nations team and outfielder Bill Morlan from Jefferson City, Iowa.

Not only could Churchill pay them top dollar - between $100 and $200 a month - but the players stayed rent-free at his hotel. He often threw in an automobile from his dealership as a bonus.

Churchill retained a couple of white ballplayers on his team, notably second baseman Mike Goetz and third baseman Bob McCarney. After his playing days were over, McCarney stayed in Bismarck and became Churchill's rival in the auto dealership business.

Churchill's biggest nemesis in 1933 was the Jamestown Red Sox. With the season winding down, the bragging rights for best team in the state would be determined at the end of the season. Churchill persuaded Satchel Paige to play for his team. He pitched in nine games, winning seven and losing none.


Paige had a verbal agreement with Churchill to return in 1934. Anticipating a fantastic year, Churchill renovated the ball park by adding 3,000 seats in the grandstand, building a bleacher section for children and enlarging parking facilities. The park's dimensions were larger than every major league stadium, except for Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics.

When the 1934 season was about to begin, Churchill received three serious setbacks. Paige did not return as promised and the New Rockford team outbid Bismarck for Roosevelt Davis. Churchill had also negotiated for fastball pitcher Sug Cornelius of the Chicago American Giants. The Giants, still smarting from losing Quincy Trouppe to Churchill a year earlier, had Cornelius thrown in jail for breaking his contract to prevent him from joining the Bismarck team.

But Churchill signed standout pitchers Barney Morris and Lefty Vincent from the Negro Leagues. From the All-Nations team Churchill signed Walter "Beef" Ringhofer at first base, Joe "Dago" Desiderato at third and Mike Canizzo in the outfield. He also retained Quincy Trouppe, Red Haley, Harold Massmann, Bill Morlan, Bob McCarney and Mike Goetz.

Once again, the stiffest competition came from Jamestown, which featured Barney Brown, "Steel Arm" Davis, Bill Perkins, "Double-Duty" Radcliffe and third baseman Dan Oberholzer. Oberholzer was the only white member of that quintet.

Bismarck finished the season with a 61-18 record. Churchill believed they could have done better if he had not let some players slip through his fingers. He was not about to let that happen in 1935.

Next week, we will examine Bismarck's 1935 team.

"Did You Know That" is a Sunday column that focuses on interesting people, places and events that had an impact on North Dakota, or even the country. It is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net

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