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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published December 27 2010

Eriksmoen: What happened to North Dakota ballplayer after ban?

A few key players for the 1919 Chicago White Sox baseball team intentionally lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

They did this to receive payments from professional gamblers because the White Sox were the heavy favorite to win the series. Shortstop Swede Risberg, who was involved in the fix, later became a big attraction when he played for independent teams in the Upper Midwest, including in North Dakota.

In September 1920, when it was confirmed that players for the White Sox were involved in the fix, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the major league baseball commissioner, banned those players for life from playing baseball for organized baseball teams.

Not only did that involve ringleader Chick Gandil, his chief lieutenant Risberg, along with participants Ed Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Happy Felsch, Fred McMullin and Joe Jackson, but also included Buck Weaver, who knew about the conspiracy but failed to report it. For his role in the conspiracy, Risberg took home $15,000.

After he was banned, Risberg tried to organize a group of players to go on a “three-state barnstorming tour.” When Landis heard of this plan, he said anyone who played with the outlawed White Sox players or against them would be banned from organized baseball for life.

Risberg then tried to schedule weekly exhibition games in Chicago but was turned down by the Chicago City Council. To supplement his income, Risberg bought and operated a dairy farm near Blue Earth in southern Minnesota.

In 1922, Risberg, Williams, Felsch, Weaver and some pick-up players put together a barnstorming team that toured Illinois, Wisconsin and northern Minnesota. After three months and with lower-than-anticipated attendance, the team disbanded. It has been reported that during that year, Risberg also played some games in Chicago under the name Jack Maples.

In 1923, Risberg signed on to play with a semi-pro team in Rochester, Minn., and was used primarily as a pitcher. Risberg pitched in 26 of the 31 games and compiled a win-loss record of 20-5.

In 1924, Risberg’s Rochester team was invited to play in the Minnesota-Iowa League, where they would be playing a 61-game schedule. Risberg pitched in 34 of the games, compiling a 23-8 record. Rochester won the championship but was unable to participate in the end-of-the-season tournament because Risberg and two other players, who had played professional baseball at a level higher than Class D, were declared ineligible. At the end of the season, the team was in debt and folded.

In 1925, Risberg joined Felsch to play for a team in Scobey, Mont., where Risberg played every position except catcher. In a season of over 60 games, Scobey won eight games for every loss. One of those losses was to Grand Forks. When the season ended, Risberg also played for teams in Osage, Kan.; Huron, S.D.; and Rochester, Minn. In 1926, Risberg’s season was split, playing half his games for Rochester and half for Watertown, S.D.

In 1927, Risberg started the season with Watertown. When he learned that the Regina Balmorals, managed by Felsch, would be playing a team from Lignite, N.D., he joined the North Dakota team. Lignite hosted a powerful baseball team in the mid-1920s that was owned and managed by Lee Dellage, a farmer and carpenter from the area. Shortly after the series with Regina, Risberg returned to Watertown.

During the 1928 season, Risberg appeared to be a hired gun, playing for whatever teams could offer him the most money. Risberg started out the 1929 season playing for Havre, Mont., then Watertown, and then Virden before agreeing to join the Jamestown, N.D., team on Aug. 11.

Jamestown already had a powerful team led by Freddie Sims, an African-American all-star. During the 14 games that Risberg played for Jamestown that season, they won 10. The only North Dakota team to defeat Jamestown during that run was from Hatton.

The stock-market crash of 1929 hit Risberg hard. He lost his farm in Blue Earth and a hotel and car agency he owned in Rochester. Hoping to begin anew, he moved his wife and young son to Jamestown and established a miniature golf course.

The Jamestown team had high expectations in 1930. Not only were Sims and Risberg returning for a full season, but they also added Eddie Deal, an outstanding catcher for the House of David. Jamestown finished the season 31-16. The highlight of the season for Risberg occurred on July 11 when he pitched a no-hitter against a team from LaMoure, N.D.

Fans in Jamestown loved the quality of baseball that their team provided, and Risberg planned to return for the next season. However, two events during the off-season caused him to change his mind. On Nov. 18, Risberg was held up at gunpoint at the golf course he operated. Then, during the state independent basketball tournament, Risberg was traveling to Minot to attend the tournament with his good friend Pierce Scott. Scott was killed when his car hit a truck, and Risberg was seriously injured. In 1931 and 1932, Risberg played for the Sioux Falls Canaries, an independent team in South Dakota.

In 1933, Risberg moved his family to Weed, in northern California, where he “played some ball” and purchased a tavern. He developed osteornmyelitis (the same condition that afflicted Mickey Mantle) in his knee, supposedly caused by a wound he suffered when spiked by Ty Cobb during a major league game. When his leg became infected, it was amputated.

After working for four years for the International Paper Company in Red Bluff, Calif., Charles “Swede” Risberg died on his 81st birthday (Oct. 13, 1975). It was ironic that his death occurred during the midst of the World Series won by the Cincinnati Reds, the same team that won the 1919 series.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments

or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.