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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 19 2012

Eriksmoen: Six baseball Hall of Fame inductees played for teams in North Dakota

Six men who have been inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., played for teams in North Dakota.

Satchel Paige was elected in 1971, Happy Chandler in 1982, Ray Dandridge in 1987, Willie Stargell in 1988, Hilton Smith in 2001 and Willard Brown in 2006. I did not include Hall of Famers Willie Foster, who pitched one game for the Jamestown Red Sox in 1933, and Buck O’Neill, who played in only one game for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in 2006.

Paige was considered one of the greatest pitchers in the game of baseball. He spent parts of three years in North Dakota. In 1933, Neil Churchill, owner and manager of the Bismarck semi-pro team, was chasing the Jamestown team for the state championship. In August, Churchill signed Paige, who went 7-0 in nine games, enabling Bismarck to claim the championship.

Paige returned to Bismarck for the 1935 season, pitching in 48 games with a 30-2 record. The first National Semipro Tournament was that year. Bismarck, with Paige as their ace hurler, won the championship. In May 1950, Paige returned to North Dakota to play in the first five games for the Minot Mallards of the ManDak League. He pitched in three games, tossing three shutout innings in each game.

After Bismarck, Paige played primarily for the Kansas City Monarchs until he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He pitched his first major league game on July 9, two days after his 42nd birthday, becoming the oldest rookie in the history of major league baseball. At the age of 59, he returned to the major leagues, pitching three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics. In 1971, he was the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame from the Negro Leagues. Paige died on June 8, 1982.

Chandler, who was born July 14, 1898, in Corydon, Ky., earned money for college by playing semi-pro baseball during the summers. In 1920, he played for the Grafton, N.D., team, competing against all-black teams. In the 1930s and ’40s, Chandler was governor and a U.S. senator from Kentucky. On Nov. 25, 1944, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis died, and baseball owners appointed Chandler as the new commissioner.

In 1946, Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson to a professional contract. Owners expected Chandler to overturn Rickey’s action, but Chandler allowed Robinson’s contract to stand. Grafton honored Chandler by naming its baseball grounds Chandler Stadium. In 1982, the Veteran’s Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame. Chandler died June 15, 1991.

In 1955, 41-year old Dandridge was a third baseman for the Bismarck Barons of the ManDak League. He hit .360 and agreed to be the non-playing manager in 1956. Before joining Bismarck, Dandridge spent 10 years playing third base for Newark and New York teams in the Negro Leagues, where he had a lifetime .355 batting average. Dandridge was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1987 and died on Feb. 12, 1994.

In 1960, 20-year-old Stargell was promoted to the Grand Forks Chiefs of the Northern League after his rookie season with Roswell, N.M., in the Pittsburgh Pirate organization. He played centerfield for the Chiefs, batting .260 with 11 home runs. Toward the end of the 1962 season, Stargell was brought up by the Pirates and stayed with them for the next 20 years. During his major league career, Stargell hit 475 home runs. In 1988, he was the 17th player to receive a unanimous vote by the writers’ committee for induction into the Hall of Fame. Stargell died on April 9, 2001.

In 1932, 20-year old Smith compiled a record of 31-0 with the Monroe Monarchs. He returned to Monroe in 1933, but made a few appearances with the Bismarck team at the end of the season. Smith pitched for Monroe in 1934 and began the 1935 season with the Monarchs. In late July, the Monarchs came to Bismarck for a game, and Neil Churchill, the owner and manager of the capital city team, convinced Smith to remain with his team. Smith compiled a 6-1 record as Bismarck went on to win the National Semipro Championship. Smith became the main hurler in 1936, and set a record in the championship, winning five games; four were shutouts.

From 1937 to 1948, Smith pitched with the Kansas City Monarchs, winning nearly three times as many games as he lost. In 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers tried to convince Smith to sign a contract with them, but he turned them down. Smith died on Nov. 18, 1983 and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2001.

Brown began playing professional baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1935. Twenty-two years later, at the age of 42, he became an outfielder with the Minot Mallards of the ManDak League, batting .307 with nine home runs in only 150 at bats.

Brown played most seasons with Kansas City of the Negro Leagues. In 1947, he became the fourth African-American to play in the major leagues when he signed with the St. Louis Browns. Although he played in only 21 games, Brown became the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League. Brown died on Aug. 4, 1996 and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee in 2006.

“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.