North Dakota baseball players who made their mark in the major leagues
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen continues his look at the state's record-setting sluggers and pitchers with the story of Jerry Adair, Hugh Alexander, Gene Alley, Larry Bettencourt, Horace Clarke, Chris Coste, Dizzy Dean and Darin Erstad.
In this, our third article about North Dakota baseball players who established, broke or tied major league records, we will look at the players, their records, and when and for whom they played baseball in North Dakota.
Jerry Adair: From July 22, 1964, through May 6, 1965, Adair set major league records for the most consecutive errorless games by a second baseman (89) and consecutive chances handled without an error (458). As a second baseman, he set the record for single-season fielding percentage (.994) in 1964. Adair’s major league career extended from 1958 to 1970 as he played for the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals. He began his professional baseball career in 1957, playing for the Williston Oilers in the ManDak League.
Hugh Alexander: At the age of 21, Alexander became the youngest full-time scout in major league baseball history. He has also been acclaimed as one of the best big-league scouts, signing many players who became major big-league stars. Among the players that he signed were Steve Garvey, Frank Howard, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Don Sutton, Allie Reynolds and Dale Mitchell. At the age of 18, Alexander began his professional baseball career in 1936 as an outfielder with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the Northern League where he hit 28 home runs and batted .348. The next year, playing for Springfield in the Mid-Atlantic League, he hit 29 homers in 79 games and again hit .348. He was then brought up to the Cleveland Indians and got into 11 games before the season ended. During the off-season, Alexander took a job in the Oklahoma oil fields and, in an accident, his left hand was severed. Unable to play baseball, the Indians signed him as a scout.
Gene Alley: As second baseman, Alley teamed up with shortstop Bill Mazeroski in 1966 to establish a single season major league baseball record by executing 161 double plays. Alley spent his entire major league baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1963 to 1973) and began his professional career in 1960 with the Grand Forks Chiefs.
Larry Bettencourt: In 1928, Bettencourt signed a contract to play baseball for the St. Louis Browns. He was given a bonus of $6,000, which, at the time, was “the largest bonus ever paid a rookie just out of school.” Bettencourt played third base and in the outfield for the Browns in 1928 and again from 1931 to 1933. He also played football for the Green Bay Packers in 1933. In an effort to get back to the major leagues, Bettencourt played baseball for a number of minor league teams and ended up with the Grand Forks Chiefs of the Northern League in 1941.
Horace Clarke: Joe Mauer and Horace Clarke are the only two hitters to break up three no-hit bids in the ninth inning. Clarke played second base for the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres from 1963 to 1974. Before becoming a major league player, Clarke played for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the Northern League in 1960.
Chris Coste: On Aug. 26, 2008, Chris Coste tied a major league record for a replacement player that had stood for 63 years when he went 4 for 4 without starting the game. Playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, he entered the game against the New York Mets as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and remained in the game as a catcher. He delivered a game winning walk-off single in the 13 th inning of that game. When the Phillies won the World Series that year, Coste became the first player that originated from Division III college baseball’s Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to win the series. He played baseball for Concordia College.
When Coste joined the Houston Astros in July 2009, he became a teammate of Darin Erstad. This marked the first time two major league baseball players, born in North Dakota, played on the same team. The first team to have two baseball players from North Dakota was the 1960 New York Yankees that had Roger Maris and Ken Hunt on their team. Coste played major league baseball from 2006 to 2009 for the Phillies and the Astros. From 1996 to 1999 he was a catcher for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Independent Northern League. On July 15, 2020, he became manager of the RedHawks.
Dizzy Dean: Dean was the last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a single season. During the mid-1930s, Dean was the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff and, was possibly the best pitcher in the major leagues. His best season was 1934 when he had a 30-7 record and he was a major reason that the Cardinals won the World Series. Dean suffered a fracture to one of his big toes in the 1937 All-Star game and, when he altered his pitching delivery to avoid pain to the toe, he injured his pitching arm.
Dean was no longer an effective major league pitcher and was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the conclusion of the 1937 season. In 1941, after pitching one inning, and surrendering three runs, he was released as a player and hired as one of the Cubs’ coaches. This appeared to be more ceremonial than functional as he often spent time in the broadcasting booth during games and would also travel to various towns to pitch a few innings in a game. One of those games was in Fargo on Aug. 17. His fee was travel expenses plus 40% of the gate. On that date, he pitched three innings of one-hit ball, in an official game, for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League.
Darin Erstad: Erstad is the only player in major league baseball to have won Gold Gloves (best fielder) as an outfielder and as an infielder. In 2000, Erstad became one of only five batters to have hit both a leadoff and walk-off home runs in the same game, joining Billy Hamilton, Vic Power, Reed Johnson, and Ian Kinsler in that accomplishment. That same year, Erstad was a major reason his team, the Los Angeles Angels, won the World Series. He became just the second player from North Dakota to be on a World Series winning roster. Roger Maris was the first while playing for the 1961 New York Yankees and the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals. Erstad played in the major leagues from 1996 to 2009 as a member of the Angels, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros.
When Erstad was drafted by the Angels in 1990, he became the first North Dakotan selected in the first round of the Major League Amateur Draft. He was joined by Rick Helling who was drafted in the first round by the Texas Rangers in 1992. Erstad, from Jamestown, played baseball with that city’s American Legion team. He then attended the University of Nebraska where he established a number of baseball and football records.
We will continue this series next week. If you know of other North Dakota baseball players who broke or tied a major league baseball record, please let me know.
“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.