According to my research, there were two events that played a big part in facilitating the movement of North Dakota baseball players to the major leagues and bringing former major leaguers to play baseball in North Dakota. The first event was the emergence of the Minneapolis Millers baseball team as a major conduit between the major leagues and baseball players from the Upper Midwest during the early years of the 20th century.
Last week, I focused on three major league record holders during the first decade of the 20th century who also played baseball in North Dakota. All three — Roy Patterson, Deacon Phillippe and Bob Unglaub — had also been star baseball players for the Millers.
The second event was the lifting of the ban in 1946 that prohibited African Americans from playing for MLB teams or any of their affiliated minor league teams. To my knowledge, there was never any formal prohibition of Black people from playing baseball in North Dakota, and since a ban was in place for organized professional teams, many of the best Black players were recruited to play for teams in this state.
Soon after the color barrier was lifted, a number of these players were signed to major league contracts. Two of the best were Satchel Paige and Quincy Trouppe, both of whom had played for multiple years on North Dakota teams.
More age-related records than any other MLB player
At the age of 42, Leroy “Satchel” Paige became the oldest MLB player to make his debut, when he first appeared in a baseball game in 1948. Seventeen years later, at the age of 59, he became the oldest player to appear in an official major league game. He was also the oldest hurler to pitch in the World Series, pitch in an All-Star game, lead his team in wins, pitch a shutout, pitch a complete game, and strike out another major league player in a regular season game. In addition, Paige was the first African American to pitch in the American League.
In 1933, Neil Churchill, a Bismarck car dealer, purchased and managed the Bismarck Grays, a semiprofessional baseball team. At that time, the best team in North Dakota was the Jamestown Red Sox, which had a number of very good Black players on their team. With the season winding down, and desperate to win the state title, Churchill hired Paige, who many believed was the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues.
Paige pitched in nine games for Bismarck, of which he won seven with no losses, helping his team win the North Dakota title. This was Paige's first experience playing for an integrated team in the United States.
Paige and Churchill had an agreement that the pitcher would return to Bismarck in 1934, but instead, Paige played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Colored House of David. Churchill convinced Paige to pitch for his team in 1935, and he responded with a 29-3 record, striking out 321 batters in 301 innings, and walking only 16.
Because Bismarck was considered one of the best semipro teams in America, they were invited to participate in the first National Baseball Congress in Wichita, Kan. Bismarck won all seven games that they played, and Paige was the starting and winning pitcher in four of those games. During the tournament, he struck out 60 batters, “a record that likely will never be broken.”
From 1936 to early 1948, Paige pitched for teams in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as teams in the Negro Leagues, and for independent barnstorming teams. On his 42nd birthday in 1948, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck summoned Paige for a tryout. Two days later, on July 9, he pitched his first game.
During the last three months of the season, Paige appeared in 21 games and posted a 6-1 win-loss record. At the close of the season, the Indians and the Red Sox were tied for first place and, in the playoff game, the Indians won, clinching the American League pennant. I believe it is safe to say that the Indians would not have won the pennant if Paige had not been a part of the team.
Paige remained with the Indians in 1949, but at the end of the season, Veeck was forced to sell the team in order to pay for his divorce settlement, and Paige was released by the new owner. In 1950, Paige returned to his barnstorming days, earning $800 per game. One of the teams he played for was the Minot Mallards of the Mandak League. He pitched three scoreless innings in each of his three games with the Mallards. Midway through 1951, Veeck purchased an 80% interest in the St. Louis Browns and he signed Paige to another major league contract in July.
In 1952, Paige became a part of the starting rotation for the Browns, and he was so effective that he was named to the All-Star team, "making him the first black pitcher on an American League All-Star team." Paige was the best pitcher for the Browns that season, going 12-10 with a 3.07 earned run average on a team that went 64-80. He set two other records that season, becoming the oldest pitcher to pitch a shutout and the oldest hurler to pitch a complete game.
In 1953, Paige was once again named to the All-Star team, becoming the oldest player to appear in the summer classic. At the end of the season, Veeck had to sell his team, and Paige was released.
In 1954 and 1955, Paige returned to barnstorming until Veeck purchased the Miami Marlins of the International League. Veeck signed Paige who remained a starting pitcher for the Marlins for three seasons, all the while believing he could still pitch at the major league level.
In 1965, he was contacted by Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics, to start a game against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 25. He pitched three innings of one-hit ball, striking out a batter, before hanging up his major league glove for the final time.
The oldest 'position player' to debut in the majors
When Quincy Trouppe first crouched behind home plate on April 30, 1952, in a game for the Cleveland Indians, he became, at the age of 39, “the oldest man to play a position, other than pitcher, in his major league debut.” Later that season, Trouppe entered the record books for a second time when he was behind the plate when Sam Jones entered the game as a relief pitcher, forming “the first black battery (pitcher and catcher) in American League history.”
Trouppe was a young, all-star catcher in the Negro Leagues when he was recruited by Churchill to play for his Bismarck team in 1933. Trouppe could hit for average and with power, but his most valuable assets were his catching skills. He consistently called a good game, knew the strengths of his pitchers and weaknesses of the batters, and had a “rocket arm,” enabling him to frequently throw out speedy base-stealers.
The Bismarck Tribune called him “the Babe Ruth of colored baseball.” In 1933, “it was Trouppe who encouraged Paige” to join Churchill’s baseball team. Trouppe remained in Bismarck until 1937, when he decided to retire from baseball and concentrate on becoming a boxer.
During the summer of 1935, Trouppe returned to his home in St. Louis where he had some success as a heavyweight boxer, winning several local championship bouts and the Golden Gloves tournament. In 1937, he became a good friend of Archie Moore, later World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Moore was impressed with Trouppe’s skills as a boxer, but he saw one thing that would limit his success. Moore told him, “Quincy, I don’t think you could ever be a fighter. You’re just too nice. You’re not the mean type. You have the punch. You move faster than the average heavyweight, and you’ve got a real sharp left jab. But you are not mean.”
In 1938, Trouppe returned to baseball playing in the Negro and Mexican leagues from 1938 to 1952. In 1952, he was signed by the Indians, and after playing in only six games, Trouppe was released, and soon after became a baseball scout and owner of a restaurant.
We will continue the story about North Dakota baseball players who set MLB records next week.
“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.