Friday, November 5, 2010

1935 Semi-Pro National Champions: The Bismarck Churchills

Two weeks ago I wrote a post looking at the impact that Satchel Paige played in baseball history in North Dakota (Satchel Paige: A part of North Dakota baseball history).  That was just the first piece in a series of stories that I will tell about the history of baseball in North Dakota.  I made reference to the national title run that Paige's team went on during the 1935 season.  Below you will find the account of that event.
In 1935 an integrated baseball club from Bismarck, ND made a run at the semi-pro national tournament in Wichita, Kansas.  The Bismarck Churchills capture the attention of fans in North Dakota and fans across the country.  The run wasn't easy but the team was able to overcome many obstacles in their way including harsh segregation in the country.

The team is now know as the Bismarck Churchills because they were owned by a man named Neil Churchill.  The team didn't have an official name at the time but newspapers often referred to them in a variety of names.  Those names included the Churchills, the Bismarcks, and the Giants.

Churchill was the owner of a car dealership in Bismarck and this is where he made his money to own the baseball club.  His main goals for the team were to win and to put fans in the seats.  He brought in the best players that he could, no matter what their race.

Satchel Paige had returned to Bismarck because Churchill was willing to pay him $400 a month plus a used car.  The team added many other negro league players in an attempt to field the best team possible.  The true face of the team was Paige and his dominant pitching.

In the mid-1930's a man by the name of Hap Dumont decided to create a national tournament for semi-pro teams across the country.  Times were tough in the country but Dumont felt that a profit could be made by showcasing America's pastime.  He needed a team and a player that would draw fans to the event.  His solution was Satchel Paige and his Bismarck team.

Dumont offered the team $1,000 just to take part in the tournament.  There was also a $7,000 prize for the team that took home the championship.  In the midst of the Great Depression this was enough money for Churchill and his team to pack up and make the trip to Kansas.

The team from Bismarck had seven games in the tournament.  Here is how they fared:

Game 1
Bismarck won 6 to 4
Paige 17 Ks

Game 2
Bismarck won 8-4
Paige 7 Ks (out of 8 batters faced in relief)

Game 3
Bismarck 4
Wichita Water 1
Paige 2 RBI

Game 4
Bismarck 7
Shelby, NC 1

Game 5
Bismarck 2
Halliburton Cementers 1
Paige 16 Ks

Game 6
Bismarck 15
Omaha V-8's 6

Game 7: National Championship Game
Bismarck 5 
Halliburton Cementers 2

The Churchills eased their way through the tournament and Paige was a vital part in many of the games.  Out of the teams seven wins during the tournament Paige pitched in five of them.  His statistics were astronomical:
Games started: 4
Pitching appearances: 5
Record: 4-0
Strikeouts: 60
His win and strikeout totals still stand as records for that tournament.  He was also named as the Most Valuable Player in the tournament.

Quite the wild ride from the bunch from B-town and quite a story of their national championship.

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