Friday, October 22, 2010

Satchel Paige: A part of North Dakota baseball history

(This is part one of a series that I will be writing about the history of baseball in North Dakota.)

During a tremulous time in United States history the states of North Dakota and Minnesota shared a common attribute.  They were two of the first states in the US to allow integrated baseball teams to play together.  This integration was started as far back as the early 1900's. Jackie Robinson wouldn't break the color barrier in the major leagues for another half of a decade.

In the 1930's a famous player from the Negro Leagues was invited to play for a semi-pro team in Bismarck, North Dakota.  Satchel Paige was the player and he would help that team win a National Championship in 1935.  (The National Championship run is something that I will save for another post in this series.)

Satchel Paige is the middle player in the back row.
There have been many legends that were spread about what Paige did during his time in North Dakota.  Many of them spread by Paige himself.  Some even claim that he started 29 games in one month for the team.  To understand his place in North Dakota baseball history, it is important to start at the beginning.

A rich owner, Neil O. Churchill, had taken over the Bismarck baseball team.  He was interested in two things, winning games and putting fans in the seats.  Sounds like a familiar philosophy to the New York Yankees.  He felt that the best way to be successful was to bring in the best players that were available.  At this time the best players that could be found for semi-pro ball were playing in the Negro Leagues.

In 1933 Churchill would bring Satchel Paige to North Dakota to be part of a series of games with Bismarck's biggest rival, Jamestown.  The first game of the series would be played on August 13, 1933 in Bismarck.  That game would draw the biggest crowd in North Dakota history for a baseball game.  The record would be broken again in the coming weeks.  All because of the appearances of Paige.  

For Paige the day also brought a first.  The game would be the first time that he played on an integrated team.  Integration had been part of baseball in North Dakota for some time so it was nothing new to the hometown crowd.  But for Paige it was a momentous occasion.
Game 1: Jamestown @ Bismarck
Paige would pitch a tremendous game.  His line for the game 9 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, and a remarkable 18 K.  Bismarck was equally matched in the pitching category by Barney Brown.  His line for the game was 8+ IP, 3 ER, 5 H, and 13 K.  A walk-off hit in the bottom of the 9th would be the difference in this tremendous game. Final score: Bismarck 3 - Jamestown 2
Game 2: Bismarck @ Jamestown
Game 2 in the series would be even more of a pitchers duel than the first.  Bismarck would get out to an early lead but Jamestown came back to tie the score.  After that there was nothing but zeros put on the board by Paige and Brown.  The game would be called due to darkness after 12 innings.  Paige's line was 12 IP, 1 ER, 18 K.  Final score:  Bismarck 1 - Jamestown 1 (12 Innings)

At this point the owners and teams decided to have a state championship series in Bismarck.  This three game series would decided who was number one between these two North Dakota powerhouses.
State Championship Series Game 1
A high scoring affair that would end in another tie.  Paige was not able to pitch because the team was saving him for a better match-up in the pivotal game 2.  Series tied 0-0-1
State Championship Series Game 2
Jamestown had brought in their own ace from the Negro Leagues, Willie Foster.  Paige would once again outpitch his counterpart.  Paige would compile 15 strikeouts in nine innings of work, but more importantly he would have a walk-off hit in the 9th inning.  Bismarck leads series 1-0-1
State Championship Series Game 3
Jamestown had used up all of the pitching in the first two games so the third game didn't have the heroics of the previous games.  Bismarck would win easily.  Paige had helped Bismarck to win the State Championship Series.  Bismarck wins series 2-0-1

Satchel Paige's legend was beginning to grow in North Dakota.  There is more to the tale but that part of the legend is for another day.


yukonbob7 said...

Thats some great info on Paige

NoDak Twins Fan said...

Stay tuned for some other great stories about Paige and other parts of North Dakota baseball history.