North Dakota baseball players who set or broke MLB records
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen begins his look at the North Dakota sluggers and pitchers and coaches who stood out in the major leagues.
I believe that most older North Dakota baseball fans know that Roger Maris, a New York Yankee outfielder who had played baseball at both the amateur and professional level in Fargo, broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. However, Maris is in company with a number of other North Dakota baseball players who established or broke major league records.
Some of these records go all the way back to the turn of the century with the birth of the American League.
The very first games of the newly established American League were to begin on April 24, 1901, with all eight teams scheduled to be in action on that day. Clark Griffith, the manager of the Chicago White Stockings, chose Roy Patterson to be his starting pitcher in the home opener against the Cleveland Blues (now the Indians, and in the future, the Guardians). Over 100,000 fans jammed the park to watch Patterson go the distance in an 8-2 victory.
Earlier games were scheduled in Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore, but they were all rained out.
Patterson became Chicago’s workhorse, starting 35 games and pitching six more in relief that season. He pitched in over 300 innings and Patterson and Griffith were both 20 game winners for the pennant-winning Chicago team. Since the World Series between the American and National league teams did not begin until 1903, Patterson’s season ended on the last day of the regular season.
Patterson remained the workhorse for Chicago for the next seven years, and eventually his arm became injury-prone due to the overwork. In 1908, he signed to play for the Minneapolis Millers, in the minor leagues, where he became the team’s best pitcher.
During midseason in 1915, Patterson agreed to play for the Fargo Grain Growers of the Northern League, managed by his good friend, Bob Unglaub. Three years earlier, the two had been teammates on the Millers ball club. With Patterson as the main pitcher, Fargo won the Northern League pennant, and he then played for other minor league teams before retiring in 1920.
Patterson was persuaded in 1921 to be a player-manager of the newly formed Wahpeton-Breckenridge Twins of the Dakota League. Despite the fact that he was 44 years old and had been out of organized baseball for a year, Patterson agreed, and became the team’s skipper and pitcher for the two years the Twins played professional baseball.
The first World Series between the American and National League pennant winners was held in 1903, and it was between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Pilgrims (now the Red Sox). The series winner would be determined by the first team to win five games (best of nine games), while all future series would be the best of seven games.
The Pirates had two pitchers, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever, who each won 25 games during the season, as their two aces. Boston won the series, five games to three, but the loss of the series by the Pirates was no fault of Phillippe’s. In the series he pitched five complete games, 44 innings, with five decisions, all series records. Phillippe won three games, a series record tied with 13 other pitchers, and lost two games.
Charles “Deacon” Phillippe is one of seven major league ballplayers, that I am aware of, who lived in Dakota Territory. When he was 3 years old, in 1875, his family moved from Kentucky to a farm in southern Dakota Territory. He built a reputation as an outstanding pitcher while playing baseball for local baseball teams in South Dakota and, in 1897, signed a professional contract to play for the Minneapolis Millers. On June 23, of that year, Phillippe was sent to play for the Fargo Divorcees of the Red River Valley League.
Over the next three weeks, Phillippe played in nine games, seven of them as a pitcher and two as an outfielder. In the games that he pitched, he won three and lost four, and had an outstanding earned run average of 1.35. On July 16, the owner of the Millers sent a telegraph summoning Phillippe to return to the Millers where he became the best pitcher on the team. In 1899, his contract was purchased by the Louisville Colonels of the National League, and a month later, he pitched a no-hitter against the New York Giants.
In 1900, the Colonels were dropped from the league and Phillippe’s contract was transferred to the Pirates, where he became the ace of the staff. In 1903, the Pirates won the National League pennant with a record of 91-49. On Oct. 1, the Pirates played the first game against the Pilgrims, and Phillippe outdueled Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young. The Pirates lost Game 2, but Phillippe returned to pitch complete game victories in Games 3 and 4. While Phillippe rested in Games 5 and 6, the Pirates lost both games. An exhausted Phillippe returned to pitch in Games 7 and 8, but he was too tired to be at his best, and he lost both games.
In the 44 innings of World Series play that Phillippe pitched, he only walked three batters, which is also a series record for anyone who worked at least 30 innings. Many baseball historians consider him to be “the best control pitcher of all time.” During his career, Phillippe walked only 363 batters in 2,607 innings — the lowest walk ratio for any MLB hurler who pitched at least 1,000 innings.
Prior to the 1907 season, Bob Unglaub had played in only 58 games in his two seasons in the MLB with the Boston Pilgrims and the New York Highlanders (now Yankees). He was slated to become Boston’s regular first baseman before the start of the 1907 season by his manager, Chick Stahl.
During spring training, Stahl died by suicide and was replaced as manager by Cy Young. After six games, Young quit as manager and he was replaced by George Huff, the baseball coach at the University of Illinois. Huff lasted only eight games and was replaced by Unglaub, who was only 25 years old at the time.
Unglaub was known for his leadership ability and intelligence. “Because he failed to put up a winning record,” Unglaub lasted 29 games before he was replaced by Deacon McGuire, a utility catcher on the team.
Unglaub was traded to the Washington Senators midway through the 1909 season, where his manager was Joe Cantillon. In 1912, Cantillon persuaded Unglaub to join the Minneapolis Millers, a team he had recently purchased. In 1914, Cantillon and his brother founded the Fargo Grain Growers of the Northern League and convinced Unglaub to be a player/manager of the team.
In 1915, the Grain Growers won the league championship with a record of 74-49. Unglaub had been able to get four former MLB players to join his team, and he was the best player for the Grain Growers, batting .327. In 1914, he hit .332.
The 1916 season was divided in half. The Grain Growers struggled in the first half but won the second half with a 38-18 record. Believing he could hold his team together for another great season in 1917, Unglaub returned to his regular offseason employment as head machinist for the Pennsylvania Railway Co. in Baltimore. While working on a locomotive in the Baltimore shop on Nov. 29, 1916, he was killed when the heavy vehicle accidently moved, crushing him in the process.
Unglaub’s record as the youngest major league manager remained until 1942 when 24 year old Lou Boudreau was named manager of the Cleveland Indians.
We will continue this series next week. If you know of North Dakota baseball players who established or broke major league records, please email me at email@example.com.
“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.