Digital Exhibits

Batter Up! Baseball in Brown County

 

Welcome to the Brown County Historical Society’s digital exhibit on the history of baseball in Brown County.

Click the tabs at the left side of each section to learn more about each topic and view additional historic photographs and baseball artifacts.

In celebration of the 150 years of baseball in Brown County, the Brown County Historical Society presents Batter Up! Baseball in Brown County. Batter Up! is a history of the hold baseball has had on the people of Brown County since 1871, when the first known game of baseball was played. Brown County’s love for baseball was well established by 1900, and its passion grew until the 1950s when amateur baseball in Minnesota peaked. After 1960, Minnesota found a new interest in the Minnesota Twins, but in Brown County, the amateur baseball tradition has continued since that first game in 1871.

Although it is known as America’s pastime, the game has spread around the world. Brown County has played its own part in that story as well. The county’s men, women, and children have all enjoyed baseball as both fans and athletes. Baseball players from different countries and backgrounds made their way to Brown County to square off against (or join) local teams, and local players have done the same.

Origins of Baseball

Modern baseball grew out of the informal game of “base ball” (here used as two words to distinguish from modern baseball), which was one of the many types of bat-and-ball games played in Europe. Base ball was was brought to North America by colonists, who spread the game throughout New England and Canada in the 1700s.

Base ball was very popular as a recreational activity for men, women, and children of all economic classes and races, even among enslaved African Americans during the 18th century.

A Little Pretty Pocket Book, John Newbery, First American edition. Worcester, Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, 1787, from Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

This is a reprint of John Newbery’s book, first printed in England in 1744, showing various children’s activities, including base-ball.

The New York Knickerbocker Club is widely recognized as creating the modern game of baseball. The rules used by the Knickerbocker Club for their games were recorded by Alexander Cartwright in 1845. The first official baseball game known to be played by the Knickerbocker Club was on June 19, 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey, against the New York Nine. Many variants of base ball existed prior to the Knickerbocker Club rules but their rules combined elements from other variants and became widely popular over the next decade.

Just prior to the Civil War, African Americans also adopted the New York Knickerbocker rules and organized all black clubs or joined integrated ones.

The Civil War helped spread baseball throughout the country. While few new baseball clubs organized during the war, soldiers introduced the game to their comrades, who took a liking to it and brought the game home with them.

Although it has been considered “America’s pastime” baseball was also enjoyed by athletes and fans in many other countries for well over a century. After its evolution in the United States, baseball spread throughout the world. Some of the earliest games of baseball outside the United States were played in Canada and Mexico. The game was then introduced to Cuba, Australia, Japan, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico (prior to American annexation in 1898) in the 1800s, as well as several other countries.

Union Prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina. Otto Boetticher. Lithograph. New York: Sarony, Major & Knapp, 1863. Library of Congress, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-02608

Union Captain Otto Boetticher is thought to have drawn this scene while imprisoned at the Confederate prison in Salisbury, North Carolina that shows Union soldiers playing baseball.

Golden Gate Team 1885

Rear: Frank Pullen, Martin Montgomery, William Wering, George Cutting
Center: Jack Reed, Bert Brown, Mel Dresser
Front: Abner Cutting, Charles Wering, Charlie Cutting

The earliest recorded game of baseball in Brown County occurred on July 15, 1871. The New Ulm Plaindealer, the county’s first English paper, recorded the results of the game between the Iberia Shoo Flys and the Golden Gate Gophers.

The teams were supposed to have played in a Fourth of July game eleven days prior, however no record of that game has been found. Baseball may have been played in Brown County before 1871, but no earlier records of games or teams have been found. Soldiers stationed at Fort Ridgely in Nicollet County may have played baseball during the Civil War. At that time, most of the soldiers stationed at Fort Ridgely transferred there from Fort Snelling, where soldiers are known to have played baseball.

In 1871, both Iberia and Golden Gate were actively being settled, mostly by young farmers from eastern states. Each town quickly formed a baseball team and on July 15, they played the first recorded game of baseball in Brown County.

Over the next few decades, the railroads expanding westward bypassed both towns. Without further growth spurred by railroads, Golden Gate slowly vanished. Iberia remains an unincorporated community with several households.

Iberia Shoo Flys vs. Golden Gate Gophers, July 15, 1871

Red Rock Club, c1875 of Cottonwood County with an unidentified Brown County team.

Before long, the other towns in Brown County formed teams. In June 1873, the New Ulm Germania Base Ball Club played a game against Sleepy Eye’s Wide Awake Base Ball Club. Baseball also spread west across the county along with an influx of settlers. As towns sprung up along newly constructed rail lines, teams were quickly formed. Rural townships even formed their own teams.

In addition to Iberia’s Shoo Flys and Golden Gate’s Gophers, Brown County’s baseball teams featured distinctive names and many represented villages or communities that have since disappeared. Examples of these include the Albin Zulus and Quail Trap Farmers, the Center Muffers (of Home Township), the Lone Tree Lake Slouches, the McCleary Blackheads (named for their black caps), and in Springfield (then called Burns) were the Burns Clippers and the Willows.

Some of the early baseball teams were likely organized for only one game, or a season. While regular games appear to have been played by teams in the rural and smaller towns, it was not until the 1890s that organized baseball teams appeared in New Ulm and Sleepy Eye.

Comfrey Vs Springfield, 1905. This game was played at the first ballfield in Comfrey in the northeast part of town.

Resources

For more information on the origins of Baseball, see these resources.

Brown County Historical Society Archives

Kittle, Jeffrey, “Evolution or Revolution? A Rule-By-Rule Analysis of the 1845Knickerbocker Rules,” April 2013.

Library of Congress Baseball Americana exhibit, https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/baseball-americana/about-this-exhibition/#explore-the-exhibit

Peterson, Todd, Early Black Baseball in Minnesota, (Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010).

Thornley, Stew. Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2006).

Baseball Becomes America’s Pastime

Early baseball games required little equipment, which allowed more people to play without any investment. Gloves were not worn until the 1870s, and many players continued playing without gloves until the 1890s. Catchers and batters did not wear padding or helmets, and few teams could afford formal uniforms.

Those games were also played differently to modern baseball. Among the many rule changes that occurred before 1900, were the introduction of strikes and balls, catching a fly ball on one bounce for an out, and the shift from underhand pitching to overhand throwing.

As a summer sport, baseball tended to become linked to town Fourth of July celebrations. Local teams helped give communities an identity and people took pride in their team. Larger communities of course usually had multiple teams, although that was not always determined by size. By 1950, Sleepy Eye had three teams, while Leavenworth had four.

Chest protect and mask used by Adolph Sperl, 1933. Donated by Randy Krzmarzick. Catcher’s mitt and baseball from the BCHS collections.

“The Fats and The Leans”, Sunday, July 9, 1899.

The New Ulm’s business and professional men played a baseball game at the Brown County fairgrounds. The “Leans” won the game 27 to 20.

Rear (The “Fats”): Charles Vogtel, Philip Liesch, William Julius, Dr. O. C. Strickler, C. A. Hagberg (umpire), Charles Forster, Henry Behnke, Frank H. Behnke, Louis J. Buenger, and Albin Carlson.
Front (“The Leans”): Louis G. Vogel, P. R. McHale, Albert Olson, Einar Hoidale, John H. Siegel, Henry N. Somsen, Joseph Koehler, Henry Kaschau, and Ferdinand Crone.

Stark Ball Team 1935, copy of photo owned by Mrs. Val Groebner

The Stark Baseball team played games in the Groebner pasture until the 1950s. The team then moved to a dedicated baseball field across from the Stark Creamery. The Groebner pasture continued to be used as the Mulligan team’s ball field.

In the smaller towns and rural areas of Brown County, baseball teams tended to remain less organized and played more informal games for a longer period in the 1800s. Rural teams also introduced gloves and obtained uniforms later than city teams and did not join the larger organized leagues until the 1930s. Although they certainly played regular games against other local teams before then.

Before ballparks were built, Brown County’s baseball teams played in private pastures and cornfields. Because baseball could be played on almost any open field, the rural pastures of Brown County served as ballfields for many games.

Several junior teams in the county played in the Junior Pasture League  Each game day, often on Sundays, the game’s host farmer would clear the pasture or field and set up for the game before the area fans and teams arrived. Newspapers often failed to report on these pasture games. As the county’s small towns developed in the early 20th Century, most established permanent baseball fields, however some of the township and rural teams continued to play on pasture fields.

Before every game, we’d have to take scoop shovels and clean up the mess. Then, we’d line the field with barn lime. The infield was dirt, ’cause we wore it down. We didn’t have to clip the field, the cows did that. They mowed it and fertilized it at the same time.

Cliff Wellman, a player for Lake Shore

Lake Shore Team, c1938.

Front: Walter Wellman, Bill Buckley, Elmer Wellmann (manager), Jim Wellman, Eldor Wellman.
Rear: Halvor Wellman, Art Magelee, George Mosenden, Clifford Wellman, Arlo Berentson, Maynard Mosenden, Neill Amonson.

New Ulm Athletic Association Baseball Team, 1911. The photograph was taken at New Ulm’s North German Park ballfield, roughly where Johnson Park is today.

Baseball teams in larger towns and cities tended be more varied. Teams formed out of a common interest, such as the New Ulm Athletic Club team in the 1910s, neighborhood, age, marriage status (games bachelors vs  married men were common), or profession.

Springfield Maroons, 1911.

Springfield Maroons uniform, worn by Claus Johnson. Donated by Mrs. Evelyn Johnson Jensen.

Business sponsorships or entire company teams were also a common sight on the ballfield.

Schell’s Deer Brand Team.

First Nine of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Chromolithograph. Cincinnati: Tuchfarber, Walkley & Moellmann, 1869. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-pga-04207

The first professional baseball team organized in 1869 as the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Over the next decade, other cities across the country began forming professional teams, and before long, they organized the first major leagues.

In Brown County, the early teams were probably entirely unpaid, but during the early 20th century, some of the county’s teams became semiprofessional and started paying a number of their players. Shown below is New Ulm’s first salaried team in 1921. Springfield is also known to have had a salaried team by at least 1928, the Ochs Brix team.

Local baseball also became linked with gambling, drinking, and fighting. At one time, Sleepy Eye’s and Springfield’s ball fields were located inside their horse race tracks, which only encouraged betting on the games. Springfield’s race track and ball field combination was brief as Riverside Park was built in 1907. The park was renamed Baldy Altermatt Park in 1959, after Walter “Baldy” Altermatt, who grew up in Springfield and played in the minor leagues from 1910 to 1924.

The sense of local pride, sometimes spurred by gambling, led to the hiring of skilled players who often traveled or moved to play for a team. Many of Minnesota’s local baseball teams were semiprofessional. They usually featured a small number of paid “imported” players, usually the pitcher and catcher, while the rest of the team was made up of community members. Player’s salaries were paid through a variety of means, including donations, admissions, concessions, and business sponsorships.

New Ulm’s First Salaried Team, September 11, 1921.

Back: “Doc” Hamann, “Pat” Schueller, Roy Borchert, Bill Pfeiffer, Otto Deppe, and Jerry Standeart.
Front: Joe Guendner, Denny Oates, Johnny Shea, Otto Fesenmaier (bat boy), Jesse Becker, and Bill Born.

As professional baseball emerged, so did professional barnstorming teams – teams that traveled across the country to play baseball for money. Some barnstorming teams traveled in large enough groups to form two teams, which played for the public’s entertainment. Other barnstorming groups challenged local baseball teams to exhibition matches, sometimes even mixing players for a friendly game.

One of the barnstorming teams that played in Brown County was the All Nations team. The team consisted of athletes from various countries, Native Americans, and blacks, whites, and Hawaiian Americans.

All Nations Photo New Ulm Review, June 24, 1914. Seated in the center is John Wesley Donaldson, who is considered one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Donaldson played baseball from 1907-1941 and played for numerous teams in Minnesota during the 1920s.

The large number of baseball teams in Brown County led to the formation of a variety of local leagues. The inter-town teams often played one another, either as part of a league, independent arrangements, or in exhibition games (non-league play). Two of the early leagues were the Tri-County League and the Twilight League.

In 1914, New Ulm organized the Twilight League, composed of six New Ulm teams: the Barbers, Eagles, Professionals, Builders, Post Office, and Collegians. The teams played their games on weekday evenings.

Barbers vs Post Office Employees, New Ulm, June 22, 1914.

Rear left to right: William Richter, Joseph Karl, Emil Hempel, John Moriarty, Andrew J. Tauer, Louis Fiemeyer, John Hofmeister, Robery Fiemeyer, Philip Liesch (postmaster), Otto R. Schneider, Doc. Fiene, and Henry Neuwirth.
Middle row: Alfred Nagel, Wenzel Penkert, Arnold Stamm, Fred W. Peuser, Edward G. Vogel, Eddie Berg, John Wiedl, Edward Macho, Henry Vedder, and Jake Vetter.
Front row: Herbert Baltrusch, Eugene Koehler, William Arndt, George Arndt, Leslie Peuser, John Arndt, Joseph Koehler, and Art Heinen.

In the mid-20th century, Brown County participated in a number of baseball leagues. These leagues frequently changed teams, and names, so tracking them is quite difficult, but some of the most regular leagues were the Tomahawk, the Bi-County, the Sweatshirt, and the Brown County Leagues.

Stately Baseball Uniform. The Stately team was sponsored by the Madsen and Dahl Allis-Chalmers Dealers of Comfrey. Donated by Henry Carnell

Stately Farm Bureau Picnic, 1936.

On tractor: Bud Monson, Fred Peterson, Cliff Peterson, Kenneth Carnell, Bernard Schotzko, Art Lilla.
On ground: Harry Carnell, Pete Peterson, Don Carnell, George Carnell.

Frank Forstner, undated. Forstner helped found two of Brown County’s baseball leagues and pitched for Stark in 1936. He received $3 for a winning game and $2 for a losing game.

1934 New Ulm Ramblers

New Ulm Ramblers uniform worn by William Ring, 1930. Donated by Roger Ring.

Resources

For more information on the development of Baseball in the late 1800s and early 1900s, see these resources.

Brown County Historical Society Archives

Peterson, Armand and Tom Tomashek, Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball, (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN), 59.

White, Frank M. They Played For The Love Of The Game, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2016), 58.

1940-1960: The Pinnacle of Minnesota Amateur Baseball

The years 1940-1960 are considered the height of amateur and semiprofessional baseball in Minnesota.

In 1940, Brown County had a very active baseball season. New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, and Springfield had teams competing in the Western Minnesota League, while most of the County fielded teams in the Brown County League. By 1945, several teams had dropped out of both leagues, however baseball experienced a surge of popularity after World War II.

Interest in Minnesota local baseball continued to grow until 1950, when there were about 950 baseball teams competing in over 100 leagues. However, the surge didn’t last, and within a decade, the popularity of local baseball had been eclipsed by other forms of entertainment – including Major League Baseball.

Elden Anderson in his Comfrey team uniform.

Anderson was pitcher for the Comfrey team and helped the team win seven league championships. The Comfrey team made it to the Class B state tournament in 1949 with Anderson as pitcher, but lost against Little Falls. Leavenworth also made it to the Class B tournament in 1949.

The Minnesota Baseball Association was originally named the Association of Minnesota Amateur Baseball Leagues. It formed as a way to organize the various baseball leagues in the state. The Association was later renamed the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Assocation. Although called “amateur,” the organization’s membership included semiprofessional leagues and teams. When the association was again renamed in 1952, it eliminated Amateur from the name, and became the Minnesota Baseball Association.

One of Minnesota’s foremost amateur and semiprofessional leagues was the Western Minnesota (or Minny) League. The league was formed in 1939 and covered part of southwestern Minnesota, including teams from Fairfax, Olivia, New Ulm, Redwood Falls, Sleepy Eye, Springfield, St. James, and Winthrop. At its initial forming, the league began as an amateur league, but the skill of the players made it rival the Class AA leagues around the state. League classifications determined how many non-local players were allowed on a team and established player salary caps. The Western Minny was ranked as Class A until 1947, when it moved up to AA.

Leslie “Les” Munns, while pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers 1934-1935, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown N. Y.

Some Western Minny players were recruited from around the country, including former Major League players like Les Munns. Munns also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1936, and was recruited by the Springfield Tigers in 1944 and 1949.

At the league’s peak, attendance averaged over 1,000 people, with 1,800 in New Ulm. Extremely popular games could draw 3,000 spectators even in Sleepy Eye and Springfield. The 1945 semifinal games between New Ulm and Springfield attracted nearly 4,000 spectators, and the final games between New Ulm and Sleepy Eye attracted over 7,000. The Western Minny teams were very competitive and they paid significant salaries to their players. Brown County’s teams attracted a number of professional ball players, including a few who had played in the major leagues. Reportedly, New Ulm and Springfield paid their best pitchers $50 (over $600 in 2020) per game in 1946. By the 1950s, salaries had increased to $1,000 per month for pitchers and $300-$400 for other positions. Players were also usually promised jobs within the community to supplement their baseball pay.

17 teams in that period, charter members were New Ulm, Gibbon, Fairfax, Olivia, Franklin, Winthrop, and Bird Island. Some of the 17 teams only played one season, only in 3 years did the league membership not change. Class A from the start according to John Schneider, but only played a 12-game season prior to 1947 when it went AA. Most games played was 35 in 1951-1952 season. Class A was 15-mile radius. Semipros got members from Cuba as well. Most players were college age for cheaper salaries. Communities were willing to support financially teams for a time because the teams were so popular. The ball games were the main attraction for their communities. In the 1950s, expenses ballooned due to higher salaries and operating costs.

1941 New Ulm State Class A Champions Autographed Ball. Donated by Jerry Gulden.

1953 State Tournament Ball. Donated by Jerry Gulden.

The first Minnesota Amateur Baseball state tournament was held in 1924, with the St. Paul Armours facing the Stillwater team. The tournament has been held every year since then. Brown County has hosted the tournament eight times and shared hosting twice, including in 2020.

1944 State Tournament crowd at Johnson Baseball Park, New Ulm. The ball field at Johnson Park was built in 1939, as one of the first ball fields in Minnesota with electric lights that allowed games to be played at night. Over 10,600 people attended the tournament in 1944. Springfield won the 1944 Class A tournament against Monticello. Although the 1944 final day attendance set a tournament record, that record was surpassed in 1947 when 7,715 people attended the final day of the tournament in Mankato. That record was again exceed in 1953 when 7,728 people attended the final day of the tournament in New Ulm, with a total attendance of 31,000.

The three Brown County teams who played in the Western Minnesota League were the New Ulm Brewers, the Sleepy Eye Indians, and the Springfield Tigers.

New Ulm entered the Western Minnesota League in 1939 with the newly formed New Ulm Brewers. The New Ulm Baseball Association organized in the same year. The Brewers came out of a merger of two teams, the Hawks and the Westerns. The Brewers won the state Class A Championship in 1941 and 1943, and was runner up in the Class AA Championship in 1947.

The Brewers’ lineup was made up of a frequently rotating pitcher – usually recruited from non-local talent, and a number of local players including Jack Aufderheide, Gus Bauermeister, Dick Eichten, Don Eichten, Otis Loose, the Manderfeld brothers Ray, Stan, and Ted, Hank Nicklasson, Dick Spelbrink (who played in the Minor Leagues), Ron Spelbrink,  Harold “Bugga” Stelljes, and Stan Wilfahrt.

New Ulm Brewers Uniform used by Ron Spelbrink in the 1940s. Donated by Doris Spelbrink.

Burt Tracy and Bill Knapton in their Sleepy Eye Indians uniforms.

In 1945, the Sleepy Eye Indians made it to the state tournament, however their star pitcher Harold “Chief” Wonson was declared ineligible to play in the tournament. Wonson had played for the Minneapolis Millers in 1943, a minor league team, which was against league rules. Playing without Wonson, the Indians lost after their second game in the tournament.

Although the Sleepy Eye Indians never won a state tournament championship, they had a number of skilled players, including Jack Berdan, Bill Groebner, Val Groebner, Bill Horne, Clete Huiras, Emil Martinka, Moe Moran, Carl Sperl, Harold “Bugga” Stelljes who left the Brewers in 1943, Burt Tracy, and Harold “Chief Wonson.

Springfield played in the Western Minnesota League as the Springfield Tigers. The Tigers won the League Championship in 1944 and 1946.

Some of the Tigers’ greatest players were Bassie Wagner, Eddie Albertson, Art “Spider” Marben, Al Gisvold, Warren Potter, Bud Potter, Rollie Boettger, Hy Vandenberg, Less Munns, Claire Strommen, Jack Hellendrung, and Pat Divison.

1944 Springfield Tigers, State Tournament Champions.

Rear: Charles Johnson, George Kober, Renny Erickson, Roy Bradley, Oliver, Les Munns, Unidentified, Gus Bauermeister, Gerald Schumacher, Ken Pankonin.
Front: Unidentified, Eugene Sturm, Jack Dolan, Bassie Wagner, Eddie Albertson, Don Harrington, Ed Krueger.

Immediately after World War II, Brown County experienced a baseball boom, as did the rest of the United States. Attendance numbers soared while more and more teams were formed. In 1950, Leavenworth and Mulligan Townships had five teams. However, the boom did not last long. By the 1950s, the boom ended and many of the new leagues and teams proved short-lived.

In 1950, the Western Minnesota League turned semiprofessional and teams began paying all their players. Prior to 1950, teams were primarily made of local players. Only pitchers tended to be brought in from other areas. With the shift to semipro teams began scouting for out-of-town players from across the country and even in Latin America. This led to increased team expenses, and the teams used fundraisers to raise enough money to break even. The New Ulm Brewers salary expenses in 1951 were nearly $19,000 (equivalent to $200,000 in 2020 according to the US Inflation Calculator, https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/). Ticket prices slightly increased as well.

However, the increased costs were somewhat offset by the popularity of the semipro players, who included and ex-minor and major league players, and by paying college players lower salaries. By 1953, the Western Minny imposed a salary cap of $4,000 per month for the entire team in order to reduce the expenditures of teams, and to cut back on competitive bidding for prospective players.

Many of the out-of-town players who had been recruited for local teams tended to play for a team for one season before moving on to a new town and a new team; however, a number of Brown County players made their homes here and stayed.

Cover of 30th Annual Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament Souvenir Booklet

Western Minnesota League Officers, 1955. These were the last Western Minny League Officers to serve before the league folded. Pictured: Matt Roberts (Sleepy Eye), Bassie Wagner (Springfield), Phil Von Fischer (Springfield), Roy Gebhard (New Ulm).

Coinciding with the Western Minny’s move to semiprofessional in 1950, the popularity of minor league, semiprofessional, and townball began declining across the country and attendance plummeted. A number of causes led to the decline, including television and other forms of indoor entertainment for fans and increasing team expenses, but little increased income. Eight class AA leagues existed in Minnesota in 1950, but by 1954, only the Southern and Western Minnesota Leagues remained, and the last Class AA tournament was held in 1953 (though revived for a short time in 1983-1985). The Western Minnesota League ended in 1956, and the Southern Minnesota League continued until the 1960s.

Resources

For more information on the Minnesota baseball in the mid-1900s, see these resources.

Brown County Historical Society Archives

Lenterz, Pamela Kay, “Semi-Professional Baseball: The Western Minnesota League,” (College of Saint Benedict Symposium, May 1, 1990).

Minnesota Baseball Association “State Tournament Archives”, Minnesota Baseball Association, http://mnbaseball.org/.

Peterson, Armand and Tom Tomashek, Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

Thornley, Stew, Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2006).

After the Boom

1950 Hanska team, Jr. Tomahawk League Champions.

Front: O. Sletta, A. Amundson, C. Olson, D. Larson (bat boy), D. Blomquist, H. Strom, A. Wellman.
Rear: Algot Blomquist (manager), A. Chambard, D. Larson, W. Wellman, E. Ouren, G. Grothem, R. Blomquist, D. Sperstad. Also on the team were K. Chambard and L. Ringnell.

Although the semiprofessional AA leagues folded across Minnesota, amateur teams continued playing townball. While the attendance at games was never as high as in the 1940s and 1950s, baseball continued in Class A and B amateur leagues. The class system was revised again in 1986 to include a C league, and the continues to be used as of 2020. In 1957, New Ulm joined the Minnesota River League, a class A league while the rest of the teams that were in the Western Minnesota League moved to class B leagues.

Searles baseball, 1957. Pictured: Gene Forstner (manager), Laverne Kuck, Ken Kuck, Bobby Grossmann.

The Helget family of Stark Township formed a team in 1973. Dale Helget, who played professional baseball in leagues in the eastern U. S., was home in 1973 and formed the team with his brothers and cousins. The Helget team won the Tomhahawk West League championship and the Region II playoffs that year. The team consisted only of Helget family members for years before a non-Helget player, Myron Seidl joined the team.

The Helget Stark team of 1977.

One of the amateur, C Class, leagues that Brown County teams competed in was the Tomahawk League. The Tomahawk League was organized under varying names at different periods. The league continues in the present day as the Tomahawk East League, covering roughly the same area.

As of 2020, the Tomahawk East League includes twelve teams, eight of which are Brown County teams. They are the: Courtland Cubs, Essig Bluejays, Fairfax Cardinals, Gibbon Reds, Hanska Lakers, Lamberton Long Sox, Leavenworth Orioles, New Ulm Brewers, Searles Grizzlies, Sleepy Eye Indians, Springfield Tigers, and Stark Longhorns.

1958 Tomahawk League Schedule

2001 Tomahawk East Baseball League calendar.

Resources

For more information on Minnesota baseball see these resources.

Brown County Historical Society Archives

Minnesota Baseball Association “State Tournament Archives”, Minnesota Baseball Association, http://mnbaseball.org/.

Peterson, Armand and Tom Tomashek, Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

Thornley, Stew, Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2006).

Base Ball: A Game For All

Baseball of course, is not just a game for adults. Both boys and girls have played baseball since its development. Even women played baseball occasionally. School baseball teams were as much a source of pride for Brown County’s communities as their league teams.

In the 1925, the American Legion established a youth baseball league that 15 states, including Minnesota, joined for the 1926 season. The American Legion also had many men’s baseball teams that already existed. Later the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) also joined the league. New Ulm’s American Legion sported a team in the league by 1933, and won the state championship in 1934.

By 2018, more than 350 teams competed in Minnesota’s Legion/VFW League. In 2020, each of Brown County’s American Legion and VFW Posts support local teams.

In addition to the long-standing Legion youth baseball, many of Brown County’s towns have junior baseball teams as well.

Springfield’s First Baseball team, undated.

Girls Baseball, 10/10/19. District of Columbia, United States, Washington D.C, 1919. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-npcc-00416.

After the Civil War, over one hundred women’s baseball teams, and several leagues, formed in the United States as baseball grew in popularity. However, as organized men’s baseball continued to develop and professionalize, it tried to push women and black players out of the game.

Women baseball players often faced criticism from people in their communities and the nation at large who believed it was inappropriate for women to play an active sport like baseball. Many also felt women should not appear in public in baseball uniforms (although women’s uniforms were typically feminine). Women also faced criticism from men who thought baseball should be a man’s sport, not one for women or even boys. For these reasons, women who played baseball usually did so out of the public eye.

Beginning in the late 1920s, softball became the substitute for women’s baseball. Softball, or kitten ball developed in the 1880s and 1890s by men as an alternative to baseball. Those who felt women should not play baseball encouraged them to play softball instead, claiming it was a less “competitive” sport. Though, in Minnesota, women’s softball did not become widespread until the 1960s and 1970s.

Within Brown County, girls and women have played baseball recreationally, including schoolteachers and nuns, but none are known to have played on the organized men’s teams. Shown below is a game of baseball that was played at the St. Mary’s School picnic in 1912.

Aside from playing recreationally at home, women also played more formal baseball at school – typically in college or in leagues. Several Minnesota colleges organized women’s teams in the early 1900s, including the University of Minnesota, and Carleton College. Women’s baseball leagues also existed in Minnesota. At least one base ball club existed in 1872, Thief River Falls had a women’s team in 1893, Milroy in southwestern Minnesota fielded a women’s team in the early 1900s, and a women’s league was located in Duluth from about 1919-1922.

Game of baseball at St. Mary’s School Picnic, June 17, 1912

Several all-female barnstorming teams existed as early as 1875. Various “bloomer girl” teams visited Brown County and played exhibition games in the early 1900s. Most, but not all, early professional women’s teams played games as entertainment, as opposed to athletic competitions. However, other professional women’s teams emerged in the 1870s and 1880s with women athletes and some women played for professional men’s teams beginning in the 1890s.

Few women were allowed to play in men’s organized baseball leagues. Those who have played on professional men’s teams include Lizzie Arlington, the first woman to play in minor league baseball in 1898 for the Reading Coal Heavers, and Toni Stone, born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1921, who played for years in the Negro Leagues. Starting in the 1990s, more and more women have joined men’s baseball leagues.

Advertisement from the New Ulm Review, May 24, 1916 for an appearance by the United States Bloomer Girl Baseball Team.

The article above is one of numerous visits by a professional women’s baseball team to Brown County. Bloomer girl teams are known to have played in New Ulm and Sleepy Eye.

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League 1943-1954

After the United States entered World War II, baseball continued, however many of the major and minor league players enlisted or were drafted. Amongst fears that baseball would stop during the war, Philip Wrigley started the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1943 as a professional all-women’s league with four teams in its first season. The league was a blend of baseball and softball rules, though it began to look more like baseball after a few seasons.

When the 1943 season of the AAGPBL was moderately successful, an expansion team came to Minnesota as the Minneapolis Millerettes. The Millerettes only played during the 1944 season and were located at Nicollet Park, the ballfield of the Minneapolis Millers. The Millerettes were plagued by low attendance and little support in Minneapolis, possibly because the Millers continued playing during the war. The Millerettes record was also poor for their one year, although they had a higher win rate that year than the Millers. At its height, the league included 10 teams.

In 1955, after the league ended, Bill Allington of the Rockford Peaches (the team featured in the 1992 film A League of Their Own) formed the All-American Girls Baseball Team – that barnstormed around the country 1955-1958. The team played in Sleepy Eye in 1958, exchanging players with Sleepy Eye’s Indians, including Walt Dziedzic and Howard Nathe, for an exhibition game.

In 1988, the American Women’s Baseball Association was founded in Chicago, the first women’s baseball league after the AAGPBL ended in 1954. Since then, numerous other women’s baseball leagues have formed.

Minneapolis Millerettes at Pre-Season Training photograph, 1944 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, BA PHT 004 All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

Keokuk, Iowa Professional Baseball Team, 1885. Pictured standing in the center is Bud Fowler.

Quite probably the first professional African American baseball player was Bud Fowler, born John Jackson, who played for several organized ball clubs, including one in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1884. Fowler and about 70 other black players played for professional baseball clubs nation-wide, despite widespread racism preventing black athletes from playing alongside whites. In 1867, the National Association of Base Ball Players formalized that racism by banning clubs with black players. The National League of Professional Base Ball Players did the same during its formation in 1876. The “color line” was fully drawn in baseball by 1887 when all organized leagues either banned or limited the number of black players allowed on a team.

Edward David Ritton, photographer. African American baseball team. Danbury, Connecticut, ca. 1880. William A. Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ppmsca-11502

Minnesota had several integrated baseball clubs that allowed African American players during the late 1800s; however, these clubs were rare. More common were all-black teams, which mostly formed in Minneapolis and St. Paul where the vast majority of the state’s African Americans lived. These included the St. Paul Colored Gophers and the Minneapolis Keystones, who were two of the best teams in the country. Several all-black leagues were organized in the 1920s but the Minnesota teams were left out of them. These leagues became known as the Colored or Negro Leagues.

Black players were also being forced out of Minnesota’s amateur leagues in the 1920s. The Association of Minnesota Amateur Baseball Leagues recommended its member leagues to ban African American players in 1927. As a result of the recommendation, even amateur baseball in Minnesota became segregated until 1947. During those years, the Negro Leagues or barnstorming teams became the only ways black athletes could play organized baseball. Like nearly all blacks in America, black athletes were regularly confronted with racism and discrimination. Spectators often shouted racial insults at black players during games.

Article from the New Ulm Review, July 18, 1917.

Image of Bobby Marshall and Joe Davis playing for the Hennepin Clothing Company in 1913.

New Ulm was one of many communities in Minnesota that hired traveling black athletes to play baseball. As shown in the article above from the New Ulm Review, in 1917, the New Ulm baseball team hired Joe Davis and Lee Davis as pitcher and catcher for the last part of the 1917 season. Joe and Lee Davis played professional ball for a number of teams in the 1910s-1920s.

Lee Davis is described as “colored” in the New Ulm Review, but may have actually been Leland “Lee” C. Davis, a Dakota-Winnebago.

Desegregation of baseball came in the mid-1940s when Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals minor league team for one season before moving up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Other levels of baseball also saw the breakdown of the color barrier. In 1947, Gread “Lefty” McKinnis of the Rochester Queens and Charles Moore with the Backus team were the first African Americans to play in the Minnesota State Tournament since 1927. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, other semiprofessional and professional leagues signed black players; however, they rarely played with the same team for multiple seasons.

Although desegregation allowed black athletes to join the minor and major leagues for the first time since the 1880s, it also caused the end of the Negro Leagues and many of the all-black teams. Unfortunately, for the many black athletes who had played on those teams, integration came slowly and disproportionately as most professional baseball teams recruited few black players.

In the late 1800s, the Native Americans who remained in Minnesota on reservations also began playing baseball. Unlike African Americans, Native Americans were allowed to play for white teams, although they undoubtedly faced discrimination while doing so. Among the Dakota at the Lower Sioux Reservation, baseball was quite popular and the Dakota fielded an amateur team that occasionally played against Brown County teams. The Pipestone Indian Training School had both boys’ and girls’ baseball teams in 1894. The boys’ team played fairly successfully for two decades. Among the Ojibwe of northern Minnesota, baseball also replaced the traditional sport of lacrosse in popularity. Several Native American teams played in organized leagues, such as the Inger Indians who made it to the State Tournament in 1953.

Baseball in Latin America is nearly as old as baseball itself. Various baseball leagues formed in many countries in North and South America during the 1800s and early 1900s.  The athletes on these Latin American teams played well enough to gain the attention of teams in the United State.

Numerous professional and semiprofessional teams signed Latino players, like the Springfield Tigers in 1954. The Tigers hired Pedro “Preston” Gómez for a short time in the 1950s. Gómez was born in Cuba and played for the Washington Senators in 1944 at the age of 21. Gómez then played in minor league baseball and with semiprofessional leagues, including the Springfield Tigers. Gómez gave up playing in 1955 and became a manager and coach for a number of teams, including two teams in Mexican Leagues, and several major league teams.

Preston Gomez 1961 Union Oil Spokane Indians baseball card. In 1961, Gomez manage the Spokane Indians, one of the Minor League affiliate teams for the Los Angeles Dodgers after they moved from Brooklyn.

Despite being able to play in the Major Leagues, Latino players were discriminated against. Team managers questioned their heritage, making sure they were not of African descent, and paid them significantly less than their white teammates. They also encountered racist attitudes from opposing players and fans.

Because the Latin American leagues did not ban African Americans, a number of black players from the United States played in those leagues, usually in Mexico and Cuba. There were also many black players who moved from Latin America to play baseball in the United States. These Afro-Latinos played in the Negro Leagues, and may have encompassed as many as 15% of Negro League players.

José Méndez playing for the Cuban Stars in 1909.

José Méndez was one of the star players of the All Nations barnstorming team that visited Brown County in 1914. Méndez was born in Cuba and emerged as a strong pitcher in the Cuban League, playing for the Almedares Club. Méndez also played in the United States in the Negro Leagues.

Resources

For more information on baseball as a game played by everyone see these resources.

“History of American Legion Baseball,” The American Legion https://www.legion.org/baseball/history, Accessed July 23, 2020.

Johnson, Michael Simon, and Daisy Rosario, “Latino Players Blurred MLB’s Color Line Before Robinson’s Debut” https://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2015/07/11/latino-baseball-history, wbur.org, accessed July 24, 2020.

Loew, Patty, “The Lake Superior Chippewa and Their Newspapers in the “Unprogressive Era,” quoted in Thornley, Stew, Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 2006) 153.

Peterson, Armand and Tom Tomashek, Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

Shattuck, Debra A. “Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers,” University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2017.

“Springfield American Legion Baseball Team Headed to State Tourney,” Springfield Advance Press, July 31, 2018.

White, Frank M. They Played For The Love Of The Game, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2016).

White, Frank M. They Played For The Love Of The Game: Adding to the Legacy of Minnesota Black Baseball,  Ramsey County History Newsletter, Vol. 44, No. 4, Spring 2010.

Windom Reporter, August 30, 1894, pg. 2, col. 4.; Laliberte, David J., “Natives, Neighbors, & The National Game: Baseball At The Pipestone Indian Training School.

Brown County and the Major Leagues

Professional baseball began in the United States in 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were established as an all-professional team. Two years later, the National Association of Major League Base Ball Players was created, beginning major league baseball. Not including a portion of the 1884 season of the Union Association League, Minnesota’s entrance into Major League Baseball came when the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, becoming the Minnesota Twins. However, Brown County’s relationship with major league baseball began earlier. Several Brown County natives played for Major League teams prior to 1961.

The individuals featured below are the Brown County-born players who made it to the Major Leagues with varying levels of success.

Doc Hamann

Elmer “Doc” Hamann, of the New Ulm Laundry team. Hamann also played for New Ulm’s first salaried team in 1921. Hamann attended St. Thomas College in Minneapolis before being recruited to play for the Cleveland Indians in 1922. Hamann played one game on September 21 against the Boston Red Sox. Hamann performed poorly in his only performance, giving up six runs as pitcher before being pulled

Lefty Bertrand

Left-handed pitcher Roman “Lefty” Bertrand was born in Cobden in 1909. Bertrand played in the minor leagues from 1933 to 1936. Bertrand was recruited to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1936 and played one game with them on April 15. Betrand pitched for two innings, allowing two runs – one a home run, across eleven batters. After his single game with the Phillies, Bertrand returned to the minors and finished the season with the Phillies’ minor league affiliate, the Hazelton Mountaineers.

Les Rock

Lester “Les Rock” Schwarzrock, of Springfield. Les grew up in Springfield and played for both the town team and the Ochs Brix team. Les entered the minor leagues in 1932, playing for the Norfolk Elks as first baseman. Four years later, Les played two games for the Chicago White Sox, on September 11 and 23, 1936. After his brief appearance with the White Sox, Les returned to the minor leagues and played until 1940.

Fred Bruckbauer

Fred Bruckbauer, born in New Ulm, lived in Sleepy Eye for much of his life. Bruckbauer played baseball for St. Mary’s High School in Sleepy Eye, the Sleepy Eye Indians, and the New Ulm Brewers, before going to the University of Minnesota and playing for the Gophers. In 1959, Bruckbauer was recruited by the Washington Senators and played on their minor league affiliate teams. In 1961, Bruckbauer joined the Twins for their first season. He pitched one game on April 25, but unfortunately his pitching performance was poor due to injury he received in 1960. Bruckbauer continued to play for Twins minor league affiliate teams in 1961 and 1962 before ending his baseball career.

Brad Gulden

Brad Gulden with the 1980 Nashville Sounds.

Brad Gulden was born in New Ulm in 1956, however, Gulden and his family moved to Chaska while he was a child. Gulden joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975, being drafted from high school, and played with their minor league teams until appearing as the Dodgers’ catcher in three games in 1978. Gulden also played for the New York Yankees,  Seattle Mariners, Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants from 1979-1986.

Bob Hegman

Bob Hegman was born in Springfield in 1958, but moved to Sauk Rapids, MN as a child. Hegman played baseball for St. Cloud State University and was drafted in 1980 by the Kansas City Royals. Hegman played for various minor league teams in various positions from 1980-1984.

Hegman got his chance to play for the Royals in one game on August 8, 1985, but made no plays. Hegman was not given another chance to play in the Major League, but played for the Omaha Royals for the rest of 1985 and 1986. Hegman took a position with the Kansas City Front Office, in 1986, then became a scout for the Minnesota Twins in 2003.

Terry Steinbach

Terry Steinbach, catcher for the Oakland Athletics

 

Perhaps Brown County’s most successful Major League Baseball player, Terry Steinbach played baseball for New Ulm High School, the New Ulm Legion team in 1978, and the New Ulm Kaiserhoff team in 1980. Steinbach was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1980 out of high school but chose not to sign with them, instead going to the University of Minnesota and playing for the Golden Gophers. The Oakland Athletics drafted Steinbach in 1983, and he began his long career in Major League Baseball on September 12, 1986. After 11 seasons with the Athletics, including winning the World Series in 1989, Steinbach signed with the Minnesota Twins in December 1996. Steinbach played for the Twins three seasons, ending in 1999.

Steinbach’s older brothers Tim and Tom are also skilled ballplayers and are included in the New Ulm Baseball Hall of Fame with Terry.

Dana Kiecker

Dana Kiecker, born in Sleepy Eye in 1961,  was another major league player born in Brown County that didn’t stay for long. Kiecker attended school at Winthrop before going to St. Cloud State University for college. The Boston Red Sox recruited Kiecker in 1983. Kiecker made his major league debut in 1990 and pitched in 50 games between 1990 and 1991. Kiecker was released from the Red Sox after receiving arm injuries in 1991.

Brian Raabe

Brian Raabe, born in 1967 in New Ulm, attended New Ulm High School and the University of Minnesota. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1990. Raabe played in the minor leagues for almost six seasons before beginning with the Twins in September 1995, playing both second and third base. He was released by the Twins after the 1996 season and signed with the Seattle Mariners for two games in 1997. The Mariners traded Raabe to the Colorado Rockies in September and he appeared for two games as third baseman.

After the 1997 season ended, Raabe’s contract was purchased by the Seibu Lions of the Japan Pacific League for the 1998 season. The Japan Pacific League formed half of the Nippon Professional Baseball League – Japan’s equivalent to American Major League Baseball. With the Seibu Lions, Raabe played in more games than his entire American Major League career. The Lions won the Pacific League pennant in 1998, but lost to the Yokohama BayStars in the Japan Championship Series.

Raabe’s last appearance in professional baseball was in the American Minor League in 1999 with the Columbus Clippers.

Jamie Hoffmann

Jamie Hoffman playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, photo by Gus Ruelas, from Mankato Free Press

Jamie Hoffmann, was born in New Ulm in 1984. Hoffmann was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, after graduating from New Ulm High School. He played on number of minor league teams until joining the Dodgers in May 2009 for several games. After the season, Hoffmann was drafted by the Washington Nationals, before being traded to the Yankees. Just before the 2010 season began, Hoffmann was returned to the Dodgers, but played the season in the minor leagues with the Albuquerque Isotopes. In 2011, Hoffmann started for the Dodgers twice in April, once at left field, and once in right field, but then spent the rest of the season with the Isotopes.

Hoffmann’s games in April 2011 were his last in American Major League Baseball (MLB), despite being claimed by the Colorado Rockies in 2011, and signing with both the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets in 2012. However, he played in the off-season MLB affiliate leagues in the 2009 Dominican Professional Baseball League and in 2010 and 2011 with the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League.

Resources

For more information on the Brown County’s major league players, or American Major League Baseball, see these resources.

Brown County Historical Society Archives

Baseball Reference, Sports Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/.

Schaper, Herb, Minnesota Baseball Greats, http://www.newulmsportscentral.com/hof_web_site/index.html.

Society for American Baseball Research, Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/.