The Grand Forks Baseball Team
In the year 1900, the Grand Forks baseball team became North Dakota champions. They won this great honor by earning the best record in the state, winning 23 games and losing just three, and also by defeating the best teams in the region.
The Grand Forks ballclub had an excellent manager named E.H. Kent who chose the best available players for his roster. One of Manager Kent’s decisions was to add pitcher Walter Ball to his lineup. Ball, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, had a terrific fastball, good control, and knew “all the curves.”
Walter Ball got a job as a porter with the Great Northern Railroad and moved to Grand Forks to be eligible for the team. It must be noted that Walter Ball was an African-American, and he was available to play for Grand Forks because he was blocked from playing minor and major league baseball by the color line. Organized baseball had instituted the color line in 1887, thus Walter Ball could only play on amateur, semi-professional, or all-black teams.
With Walter Ball as a mainstay on the mound after June 16th, Grand Forks rolled through the opposition. They defeated the second-best team, Cooperstown, by a score of 16 to 11. They beat Wheatland, 27-0, with Walter Ball pitching the shutout. Ball “had speed to burn,” wrote the Grand Forks Herald , “and control that was almost perfect” as his team “outclassed” Wheatland “at every stage of the game.” In the best of all rivalries, the one with Fargo, Grand Forks triumphed, winning all three games.
It was on this date, in 1900, that the Grand Forks Baseball Association posted a notice asking for all bills to be presented to their secretary for payment so that they could close the books on one of the city’s grandest baseball seasons, ever.
As for Walter Ball, regrettably, Grand Forks drew the color line on him in 1901, and Ball moved away, eventually going to Chicago, where he became one of the elite pitchers for Rube Foster’s great teams of the Pre-Negro Leagues era. He died in 1946, largely forgotten by history, but remembered in Grand Forks for one shining-bright season.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
“Notice,” Grand Forks Herald , September 1, 1900, p. 6.
“Wheatland Shut Out,” Grand Forks Herald , August 8, 1900, p. 8.
“Morning Game, Fargo,” Grand Forks Herald , July 5, 1900, p. 5.
“Fargo’s Challenge,” Grand Forks Herald , August 15, 1900, p. 8.
“Aftermath of the Fargo Game at Crookston,” Grand Forks Herald , August 25, 1900, p. 5.
“North Dakota Clubs,” and “Notes of the Game,” Grand Forks Herald , August 29, 1900, p. 8.
“The ball game between Cooperstown and Grand Forks,” Grand Forks Herald , June 13, 1900, p. 5.
Jim Karn, “Drawing the Color Line on Walter Ball, 1890-1908,” in Steven R. Hoffbeck, general editor, Swinging for the Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005), p. 33-54.