Bismarck’s 1935 semi-pro baseball team
Watching baseball has always been exciting, especially during the Depression when there was little entertainment and even less money to spend on it.
Bismarck was home to a semi-pro team as early as the teens, which was what brought Neil Churchill to town after World War I. . He became a star player, the team’s manager in 1926 and team owner in 1933.
Called the Grays, the team was soon renamed the Churchills. Churchill, also owner of an auto dealership, put together a winning team by recruiting some of the best black baseball players in the country. He renovated the ball park, adding seating and enlarging the parking area.
In 1935, Churchill had signed pitchers Satchel Paige, Barney Morris and Hilton Smith and pitcher-catcher Ted “Double Duty” Radciffe. He was able to pay his players well, $100-$200 a month and free lodging at the Prince Hotel, which he also owned. Churchill sometimes included cars as sign-on incentives.
Other 1935 players included catcher Quincy Trouppe; infielders Red Haley and Joe Desiderato; and outfielders Bob McCarney and Art Hancock. Churchill later recruited Vernon “Moose” Johnson and Charlie Bates, two heavy hitters from the Western League; Axel “Al” Leary, a shortstop from Montana; and a Valley City player, Art Hanson.
The Churchills represented Bismarck well in the 1935 National Semi-pro Championship tournament in Wichita, Kansas. The team played its first game on August 15 against the Monroe Monarchs from Louisiana.
With Paige pitching, Bismarck won 6-4. The team found its stride in the next three games, beating the Wichita Waterworks 8-4, the United Fuel team of Denver 4-1 and game four 7-1.
Facing the best offensive team in the tournament, the Halliburton Cementers from Oklahoma, in game five, Paige held them back. Bismarck won 3-1 and went on to win game six 15-6.
The Halliburton team thought it was ready for Bismarck in game seven and, even though Bismarck’s “Moose” Johnson didn’t play, the team still won 5-2. With Paige pitching, Bismarck won the tournament title.
Many of the players returned to the Bismarck team the next year, except Paige. Even without him, Bismarck won its first five games in the 1936 Wichita tournament, losing to Halliburton in game six.
The black members of the 1935 team ended up as all stars in the “Negro” leagues, and Paige and Trouppe eventually landed in the majors. Two of the players made it into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Churchill returned to his auto dealership after the 1936 Wichita tournament and was elected Bismarck mayor in 1939.
by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.