November 7: Play Ball!
North Dakota has a long history with baseball. It was a cheap and easily-organized form of entertainment for people living on isolated farms and ranches, giving them the chance to gather for a social event. Those early games tended to be a matter of local pride, with neighboring towns competing. When the railroad arrived, teams began traveling. One of the biggest rivalries was between Grand Forks and Fargo.
Today, baseball season runs from April through October, so November may seem an odd time for a baseball story, but in those early days, it was not unusual for teams to play in what we today would consider too early or too late for baseball. On this date in 1887, it was noted that November was the baseball month. More games were scheduled for November than any other month of the year, perhaps because it came after the growing season.
Interestingly enough, North Dakota was on the cutting edge of integrating baseball. Major league baseball was not integrated until Jackie Robinson began playing for the Dodgers in 1947. North Dakota was ahead of that by more than a decade. Many of the railroad workers in the state were African American. They were big and strong, and they could play baseball. Racial prejudice had no place when it came to the pride a town felt for their winning baseball team. A minority member on the team didn’t matter as long as he could help the team win.
The Bismarck team was noted for loading up with star pitchers from the Negro Leagues. The great Satchell Paige pitched for Bismarck. Baseball historian Kyle McNary said that Minnesotans considered themselves more tolerant and liberal, but North Dakotans didn’t care what people thought. They were not motivated by social justice. They just wanted winning baseball. Black players in the region felt they were treated as well as white major league players.When Chet Brewer pitched for Crookston, he was given a house and a car.
One hero of North Dakota baseball is Ted Radcliffe. He was called “Double Duty” because he played for Bismarck both as a pitcher and as a catcher. When the retired Radcliffe appeared on a TV talk show in 1976, he chose to wear a Bismarck uniform. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 103.
Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher
- Bismarck Historical Society. “It Happened in Bismarck.” http://www.bismarckhistory.org/ithappenedinbismarck/#:~:text=It%20Happened%20in%20Bismarck%20This%20project%20features%20a,each%20year%2C%20but%20are%20a%20work%20in%20progress. Accessed 10/10/23.
- North Dakota State University. “North Dakota Baseball Amateur History Added to Collection. https://library.ndsu.edu/ndsuarchives/recent-news/north-dakota-baseball-amateur-history-added-collection Accessed 10/10/2023.
- Chicago Baseball Museum. “North Dakota baseball way ahead of its time with 1930s integrated teams.” https://chicagobaseballmuseum.org/north-dakota-baseball-way-ahead-time-1930s-integrated-teams-including-duty/ Accessed 10/10/2023.