In response to a number of baseball teams being cut from the major leagues, a new league formed in 1902 involving North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Manitoba, Iowa and Ontario.
The Northern League’s opening day was on May 22, 1902, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Crookston toppled Fargo, Winnipeg shut out Cavalier, and Devils Lake dominated Grand Forks.
The league’s early years were a bit rocky, and it folded in 1908, but was brought back in 1913. The Fargo-Moorhead Graingrowers won pennants in 1915, ‘16 and ‘17, but the league once again folded due to World War I.
At the height of the depression, baseball was one of America’s favorite obsessions, and in 1933, the Northern League was once again revived, with some reporters dubbing it the “Polar League.” The Fargo-Moorhead team, the Twins, served as a minor league team for the Cleveland Indians. After winning the pennant in 1934, the team had a dry spell, but in 1953 and ‘54, they made up for it, big time. In fact, it was on this date in 1953 that the Twins set a league record by finishing 13 games ahead of runner-up Duluth.
For the first time, members of the same club won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. The MVP was Frank Gravino, who hit 52 home runs. Early in the season, a sportswriter in Superior, Wisconsin, had questioned the Twins’ ability to contend for the league title, but he ate his words on June 19th, when the touring Twins hammered Superior 18-1. The legendary Gravino enjoyed one of his most productive days; he hit for the cycle, including his 22nd and 23rd home runs, driving in nine runs during a 23-hit onslaught.
Rookie of the Year went to a 19-year-old who most people had thought would go into football, not baseball. His name was Roger Maras – which, at the time, he spelled m-a-r-a-s. KVOX sportscaster Rod Lucier later said, “When Roger joined the Twins he was a kid … and Frank Gravino was the big hero, but I think we knew … that Roger had a career as a professional player.”
Gravino later lamented that his performance had not earned him a spot in the major leagues. But picking up on Roger Maris’s feat of 61 homers in ‘61, Gravino talked about his big years in Fargo as hitting 53 in ‘53 and 54 in ‘54.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm