Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mike's Memories: Town Ball

After the First World War, Manitoba became a preferred destination for barnstorming  ball teams from the United States. All professionals, these American teams would roll through towns and villages throughout the province playing local amateur and semi-pro squads and often, the barnstormers got themselves whupped.

From:  Home Run

My earliest memories were going to baseball games on hot summer evenings. My home town of Humboldt, Minnesota had first rate baseball teams in the 1920s and 1930s. The entire town would follow the town ball team.

The early teams featured the Diamond brothers: Levi, Herb, and Ikey. Lomas Matthews was another legendary track star and baseball player who hailed from Humboldt. Happy Chandler, later to become the baseball commissioner and Senator from Kentucky played one summer for Humboldt.

Another early legendary player from the Humboldt team was Cal Farley who, like most of the other ball players on the 1910 team, was also interested in track and wrestling and went on to form Cal Farley's Boys Ranch in Texas. The U.S. Government honored him by printing a U.S. stamp named for him. The 1920 team also shows many of the players.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Humboldt had an excellent travelling team.

My Dad played first base and my Uncle Burton Turner was a pitcher. Burton's father, Ernest Turner, was a legendary pitcher. Many of the stories of early Humboldt baseball are well documented on this web site.

Who was the greatest player in Kittson County History? Some might say Ernie Turner, Happy Chandler, the Diamond boys, or Clarence Beck. [Note from Trish:  And don't forget Eli Gooselaw...] We don't have videos and it is impossible to compare players across generations. My candidate for player of the Millennium for the County is Humboldt's own native son, Scott Matthew.

Scott was one of the fiercest competitors to play Kittson County baseball. He was a legendary player at several positions. My Dad thought that one of the best players ever to play for Humboldt was the legendary pitcher, Scotty Matthew.

Scott grew up in Humboldt and later lived in Kennedy. Scott Matthew played on a county team into his late 50's. The Crookston paper noted that Scott and his son, Daryl  played for the Lake Bronson Lakers' team  of the mid 1970s. Daryl Matthew, a fraternity brother of mine from the University of North Dakota, was an outstanding pitcher. Daryl was the pitcher and Scotty the catcher. Ron Matthew, also a Delta Tau Delta brother, was shortstop for the Lakers. The Crookston team beat the Lakers in the playoff 7-3. At age 56, Scott legged in an infield hit. The Reporter notes that: "Scott Matthew, who was involved in the Lakers' 6th inning flurry which had Campbell (Crookston's pitcher) in trouble. Ron Matthew led Lake Bronson to a 1 to 0 shutout against Greenbush. Double plays were carried out by Ron's brothers, Daryle and Jon. Ron's oldest brother, Jon, stole home for the only run of the game. The Matthew baseball abilities run in the genetic code."

If Scott was a force in his mid to late 50s, he was even more dominant in earlier years. In 1956, Hallock won the Northwest Border League playoff by beating Tolstoi, Manitoba behind Scott's 4 hit game. Johnny Younggren won the semi-final game against Lancaster, 11 - 8. Scott had a number of no-hitters, one-hitters and shutouts in the summer of 1956. Scott pitched several no-hit games in the 1950s. No-hitters were pitched against Plummer, Red Lake Falls, and Fosston!

Scott Matthew played on numerous teams and there was a large group of fans who followed every game. This was in the decade before television took hold. Minnesota did not have a major league franchise until 1961 when the Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities. Prior to the Twins and television, Kittson County baseball was a major source of entertainment.

Baseball games were held at the St. Vincent and Hallock Fairs as well as the traditional double-header at the Polish Picnic. The Kittson County All Stars frequently played teams from larger towns. The Kittson County All Stars shut out Grand Forks in a game held in Lancaster. On July 28, 1951, for example, Kittson County beat the Manitoba All Stars before a Press Day Crowd of 1,500.

In the early 1950s, touring black baseball all-star teams played Scott Matthew and his fellow All Stars. In an undated clipping, the headline is "Scott Matthew Shuts Out Warroad Team." Scott Matthew, well known hurler from around these parts, has been throwing some of the best ball of his life. Not too long ago during the Kittson County Fair, Scotty threw a beautiful game for the Kittson All Stars as they defeated the House of David's colored baseball team.

Scott's Hallock Indian team split a double header with the strong team from St. James of Winnipeg. The Minneapolis Tribune had a story on Kittson County baseball in the early 1950s. The article was entitled: "Hallock? Why, It's a 'Hot' State Baseball town." The story told about how my Dad's team composed of Humboldt, Emerson and Pembina players finally beat Scott's team. Scott Matthew played baseball long after he was married and began his family. In the early 1950s, he was a depot agent who played baseball professionally for a number of teams."

The Minneapolis Tribune story also mentions Dennis Matthews' cousin, Jerry Diamond, who played third base. The grandstand seated several thousand and the baseball games drew big crowds seldom less than 750. In 1952, Hallock beat Red Lake Falls for the championship. Charlie Matthew, Earl Clow, and Bill Carlson were stars on that team along with Pitcher Earl Coleman.

Hallock baseball was promoted by Jerry Diamond who sold advertising. In an appreciation game against Humboldt, Jerry arranged for a huge advertisement in the Enterprise. The large letters read: Falls Mando vs. Humboldt (Top Semi-Pro Team in N.W. Minnesota). My dad was a member of the Humboldt town team that played that day. The advertisement stated: Sunday, Sept. 7, 3 p.m. MANDOS VS. HUMBOLDT: The game was broadcast by a Crookston radio station. The Dutch Room Grill offered awards of $100 for a triple play, $25 for a player with perfect batting, $20 for any pitcher with 15 strikeouts and another $20 if any player hit 2 homers.

Scott continued his winning ways into the late 1950s. Scott Matthew and Darrell Bowman were the pitcher and catcher in a loss to Warroad at the end of the season. Kennedy's team that year was hampered because several of their regular players had pressing farm work and the harvest to attend to. Baseball was important, but not as important as getting the crop harvested.

Beginning in the late 1950s, baseball began to fade in importance. Scott Matthew, however, continued to excel. The 1957 team another solid team for Hallock. Hallock again represented the district in the regional meet at Warroad. Ronnie Curtis, Scott Matthew, Harley Younggren, Harris Johnson, Charlie Cederholm, Johnny Younggren, Neil Bengston, Richard Nelson, Jerry Diamond, and Robert Holmgren.

Scott played on the Kittson County All Star team which beat Grafton in a no-hitter in 1957. Scott pitched 8 innings of no-hit baseball and was relieved by Earl Coleman from Hallock who kept it a perfect game. The Kittson County All Stars played the Crookston All Stars at Lancaster. The undated newspaper report notes that "Scott Matthew of Humboldt, who pitched professionally this year over a wide area in Manitoba, Dakota, and Minnesota, will be available as an All Star Pitcher."

The Kittson County lineup against Crookston consisted of : catcher, Elliott Hunter (Orleans), pitcher, Scott Matthew (Humboldt); 1st base, Clarence Beck (Lancaster); 2nd base, Norby Solnes (Dominion City, Manitoba); 3rd base, Archie Sele (Bronson); left field, Willard Sele (Bronson); center field, Boyd Nyflot (Bronson); and Charles Matthew, Humboldt, and Bob Bouvette (shared duties at right field).

- Michael Rustad, first published as guest editorial in Kittson County Enterprise (March 3, 2004)