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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published July 17 2012

Eriksmoen: 121 years ago, ND baseball teams set a record that won't be broken

On July 18, 1891, two North Dakota pitchers for baseball teams in the Red River Valley League established a record that will never be broken.

On that date, William Gibbs, a pitcher for the Grand Forks Black Stockings, and George Raymer, a hurler for the Fargo Red Stockings, each pitched a record 25 scoreless innings in the game. With the score deadlocked 0-0, the umpire called a halt to the game so that the players could catch the last train home.

What makes it even more remarkable was that this game was the second contest of a doubleheader.

The RRVL had been in existence for several years and was made up of semi-pro teams. In 1887, it became a minor league of professional players, but folded after only one year as an organized league. It reorganized in 1891 as a professional league with teams from Fargo and Grand Forks.

Cornelius “Con” Walker was the owner/manager of the Fargo team. His counterpart in Grand Forks was Tom Hill. Both owners retained the nucleus of their 1890 teams, which they supplemented with key imports. Walker brought back Jim Banning, who played with Fargo in 1887, and then spent parts of the 1888 and 1889 seasons with the Washington Senators. Hill added “Willie” Gibbs, “a fireballing import from Minneapolis.”

The season was scheduled to begin on June 16 with Fargo hosting Grand Forks for a four-game series. The game was postponed when the Grand Forks players missed the train to Fargo. The Red Stockings won on the 17th, Grand Forks on the 18th. On the next day, they played a doubleheader to make up for the missed game on the 16th.

What happened on June 19 portended little of what would occur one month later. In the double-header, the teams combined to score 39 runs, with Fargo winning 10-6 in the first game and Grand Forks taking game two by a score of 12-11.

Excitement was high when the season began, but interest started to wane as time passed. Grand Forks had difficulty attracting fans even though Hill had an excellent team. The situation was less dire in Fargo because Walker was foreman of the Fargo Argus printing company and could inexpensively flood the city with flyers about upcoming home games.

He could also promote the games in the Argus newspaper at the start of the season. This changed when the paper’s majority owner, James J. Hill, fired Walker’s employer, Alanson Edwards, the editor/publisher of the Argus.

Because of poor fan support in Grand Forks, Hill moved the July 17 and 18 four-game series from Grand Forks to the military encampment in Devils Lake. Little did the players realize they would be playing 52 innings during those two days. Each team carried only 11 players.

Before the series, Grand Forks had won six of the 11 games between the two teams. Grand Forks won the first game on the 17th and Fargo won the second. Grand Forks also won the opener on the 18, and both teams used their ace pitchers, Gibbs and Raymer, in the second game.

What I would expect is that the exhausted players would be sloppy in the second game on the 18th, which didn’t happen. The two teams turned 11 double plays, and the 18 players on the field committed 11 errors out of 224 chances for a .951 fielding average. But it was the pitching that was remarkable. Gibbs only walked six batters and Raymer allowed only four walks. Gibbs gave up 16 hits and Raymer 10. Gibbs struck out Fargo 20 batters and Raymer whiffed 17 Grand Forks batters.

What the two pitchers achieved should be in all the record books, but I have not been able to find a source that lists their accomplishment. How can I be certain that Gibbs and Raymer hold the record for the most shutout innings in a game?

Here’s what is known. Records show that the longest professional scoreless game was the 1891 meeting between Fargo and Grand Forks. Records also show that the longest shutout by a pitcher occurred in 1909 when Cack Henley of the San Francisco Seals outdueled Jimmy Wiggs of the Oakland Oaks for a 1-0 victory in 24 innings. This means the 1891 pitching heroics of Gibbs and Raymer has to be a record.

How can I be certain that this record will never be broken? Starting pitchers are no longer expected to last the entire nine innings. Because of the fear that a pitcher could permanently injure his arm, managers are usually quick to relieve when they show fatigue or are having difficulty. Many managers use the “rule of 100.” When a pitcher reaches 100 pitches, he is automatically taken out before the start of the next inning. The average number of innings for a starting pitcher is 5.98.

Some other interesting facts about the 25-inning game between Fargo and Grand Forks:

E The umpire for the game was Con Walker, Fargo’s manager.

E Walker turned over the reins of managing to his captain, probably Jim Banning.

E The 18 players who started the game were still there at the conclusion. The only roster change occurred when the Fargo first baseman committed an error, and the captain had him and the right fielder change positions.

Grand Forks only played one more game that season. Manager Hill then disbanded his team. In order to pay his debts and the remaining salary to his players, he tore down his ballpark and sold the lumber.

The Red River Valley League did not return to professional status until 1897.

“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.