Manitoba Baseball in the Thirties
Baseball, like all sports and recreational activities, was impacted by the depression. The Manitoba Amateur Baseball Association that had organized provincial championships in the twenties ceased to exist. Travel costs were too high, and leagues were much more localized. Tournament money was less and tournaments and leagues were organized along connecting railway lines. Baseball struggled through the early years of the thirties but by the end of the decade, it had returned to prominence in all areas of the province. At the end of the decade, baseball was tossed another curve by world events with the outbreak of World War II.
Some Major Highlights 1930–39
Ballparks in Winnipeg
The thirties saw the development of excellent facilities in Winnipeg. Wesley Park located behind United College was home to the Winnipeg Amateur Senior Baseball League. In 1932, it went through a major upgrade with a new grandstand, bleachers, outfield fence, a sound system and a state of the art lighting system being built. The park could hold 5000-6000 fans. The first night game was played in May of 1932—only one year after the first night game ever played at any level of baseball.
Osborne Stadium once located where the Great West Life building now stands was opened in 1932 as well. It was also a lighted facility. The prime tenant was football but it could also seat 4000-5000 for baseball and was the host facility for many tournaments and for touring teams.
Sherburn Park in the west end was refurbished with dressing rooms and padded grandstand seats. The park became home to the Winnipeg Maroons when they returned to the northern league in 1933.
Winnipeg now had three first class baseball parks, two of them lighted, capable of hosting any level of baseball. Winnipeg facilities rivalled any in baseball outside the Major Leagues.
Community fields were upgraded at Norwood, St. Boniface, CUAC and Kern Park (Transcona). Other playing sights such as Giants Field (Elmwood), Morse Place, Seymour’s Farm (West End) and Melrose Park (St. James) could and did host top level junior and senior ball.
Barnstorming Teams Visit Manitoba
A large number of professional touring teams visited Winnipeg and Manitoba during the thirties. Teams like the House of David, Gilkerson’s Colored Giants, Cuban Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Paul Northern Pacifics and the Nebraska Indians all made annual visits to Manitoba ball fields. They played local teams, all-star teams and sometimes each other if it could be arranged.
They drew large crowds wherever they played. In 1930 the highly rated Toronto Oslers were defeated in a three-game series by Virden. The Virden team featured “Happy” Felsch of the infamous Chicago Black Sox, H. Wagner (either Honus or Hans Wagner of Major League Fame) and “Curly” McKay in their line-up.
In 1932 the St. Paul Northern Pacifics played each team from the Winnipeg Amateur Senior League. The locals lost 3 low scoring games (3–1, 3–0, 6–4) with the last place Norwood Kiwanis winning their game. That same year the League All-Stars whipped the Nebraska Indians, the Seaboard Collegians and the Virginia Iron Range teams, winning 8 games and losing only 1 one-run game. Players like Tommy Found, Sam McCallum, Dunc Irvine and Hughie Sutherland among others could hold their own against anyone.
Only the top touring teams like the Kansas City Monarchs with “Cool Papa” Bell and Willy Wells could handle the Winnipeg All Stars in 1932.
The epic game in 1935 between the Kansas City Monarchs and Bismarck was probably the highlight of the tours in the 30s. It was a pitching duel between Satchell Paige of the Monarchs and Chet Brewer of Bismarck. Paige in the prime of his career struck out 17 and Brewer struck out 13 in the 0–0 tie. Manitoba Hall of Famer “Snake” Siddle umpired the game.
The Return of Professional Baseball
In 1933 the Winnipeg Maroons and the Brandon Greys entered the Class D Northern League. Brandon and Winnipeg battled all year for the title with Brandon winning. Sadly Brandon folded after the year end but Winnipeg under the leadership of ex-major leaguer Bruno Haas played in the league until the early 40s. The Maroons played out of Sherburn Park and took advantage of some of the local talent. Hugh Gustafson joined the team in 1936 after helping the Elmwood Cubs to a junior championship in 1935. He became a fixture at first base for the Maroons. On May 18, 1938, Gustafson hit three consecutive home runs and drove in 5 runs to lead the Maroons to a victory over the Superior Blues. Gustafson would play for the Maroons until 1939 and then he would move up to the AA level. His professional career was interrupted by military service.
On May 25, 1937 the Winnipeg Maroons swept a double header from the Wausau Lumberjacks. In game 1 Lefty Metcalfe of High Bluff, Manitoba was the winning pitcher in a 3–1 game. He gave up only five hits and had two hits and two RBIs as a batter. In game 2 Bobby Hanrahan who pitched Harvey’s Boys to the junior championship in 1936 was the winning pitcher. He pitched six innings, gave up seven hits and picked up the victory in an 8–2 win. Metcalfe is in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. Hanrahan would go on to the higher levels of pro ball but his career was also interrupted by the war. He would return after the war to play for Elmwood and Selkirk in the Winnipeg Senior League. Other local players would play for the Maroons in the forties.
The Portage District and the Tiger Hills League had very strong teams in the thirties. One of the highlights from the thirties was the Portage Tournament. In 1932 the annual tournament was held on June 23 and featured teams from Gladstone, Oakville, Brandon, Portage, Warren, Glenboro, Wellwood, McCreary, Treherne and Holland.
The semi-finals saw Oakville beat Treherne 8–1 and Brandon drop Portage 6–5. Oakville would defeat Brandon 9–6 to win the championship. Many top players were imported for the tournament. Nels Avery (pitcher) and Joe McDonald (catcher), both from Norwood, played for Treherne as did Jack Hind of the Elks (Winnipeg). Brandon featured Tommy Found (pitcher) from Norwood and Curly McKay from Kenton. Future Hall of Famers Lefty Metcalfe and Cliff Cory played for Oakville. Jack Mutcheson also played for Oakville and was Metcalfe’s personal catcher.
Tournament ball took precedent in baseballs early years especially in rural Manitoba. As far back as the 1890s, Virden paid good money to bring in players to supplement the locals and to insure a competitive semi-pro team for tournament play. Such top players as Jersey Crew, Bert Orr, “Pompeii”, Williams and “Happy” Felsch were brought in.
In another tournament in 1930 Felsch was playing 1st base for Virden’s semi-pro team. “From that position he was directing his pointed and abrasive remarks at Harry Cory, who was calling them behind the plate. Harry “Hank” Cory, the father of three accomplished ball playing brothers from Wawanesa, was a highly respected umpire who handled games with a firm, impartial hand. When he called a pitch, the batter and everyone else knew what it was. Flesch, whose banishment from organized baseball hadn’t improved his temperment, continued his derogatory remarks about Mr. Cory’s umpiring.
Finally, in the 5th inning, Hank Cory had enough. Calling time he walked casually down to first base where Felsch stood waiting. When about six feet from him Umpire Cory took off his mask and looking Felsch straight in the eye he said, “Mr. Felsch, I have listened to your remarks long enough. I call them as I see them. I am an honest man, that is why I am here. You are not an honest man, that is why you are here.” He gave Felsch a long, hard look, turned and went back to his umpiring. Felsch never opened his mouth the rest of the game. Mr Cory was a big man. He understood the importance of honesty in baseball” (From: Baseball in Manitoba by Hal G. Duncan)
Winnipeg Amateur Senior League (Wesley League) Folds
1933 was the final season for the Winnipeg Amateur Baseball League. The league folded after a great 20-year run. It was only fitting that the Arenas would win the final championship of the league (Sheppard Trophy) by defeating the defending champion Tigers. The Arenas appeared in 14 finals in the 20-year existence of the league winning eight championships.
From the Winnipeg Free Press, October 4, 1933: “Arena bats played a delightful farewell tune as Doxey Tigers parted with their senior amateur baseball championship Saturday at Wesley Park. Tom Casey’s men swamped the reigning monarchs of Winnipeg’s latest forgotten amateur sport by a 13–2 score.”
A newspaper reporter griped that there were as “many players on the field as there were people in the stands”. A far cry from the 5000–6000 fans that would go to games in the early 20s. The era of the Wesley League had truly ended.
The league had begun the decade in great shape. Four solid teams supported by service clubs brought on great competition as anyone could win. The Arenas and Tigers were most often the finalists but both the Elks and Norwood had fine teams that could not be taken lightly.
One of the problems was that few new players were able to come into the league. They opted to play Intermediate or they switched to Diamond ball (fastball). As a result, the whole league got old at the same time. This would happen again and again to Senior baseball in Winnipeg.
Other factors that played a role in the demise of the league were the depression, the return of professional baseball, and the growth in popularity of men’s and women’s fastball.
The impact of the depression cannot be underestimated. The cost of running baseball teams at any level was a relatively expensive proposition. Many clubs and players looked to less expensive recreational activities.
The fastball (diamond ball) explosion that started in the late twenties continued in the thirties. Women’s fastball and men’s diamond ball teams were commandeering a large amount of diamond space at Sheburn, Wesley and Osborne fields.
A good example of the impact of diamond ball on baseball programs was happening in Elmwood. Elmwood was still a baseball hotbed but key organizers like Charlie Krupp and Scotty Oliver had turned to diamond ball. Krupp organized and coached the Elmwood Nighthawks who would dominate the Osborne Senior League in the early thirties. They also played many games on the traditional baseball field off Thames Avenue which is now Giants Koskie Field.
Baseball people like “Bunny” Warren, Jack Hind, “Casey” Jones, Gordon Caslake and others would show up on various diamond ball rosters as players and coaches.
The return of the professional Maroons to the Northern League in 1933 compounded the difficulty. They used Sherburn Park as their home field. Despite the fact they were in a Class D League, the lowest level of minor professional baseball, they were covered extensively by the papers and well supported by the public.
All the above factors (depression, Maroons, diamond ball) probably resulted in the demise of the Wesley Baseball League after 1933. The Elks, the Tigers and the legendary Arenas were gone after 1933. Norwood was able to resurface in the Intermediate League in 1934 and by 1935 a new senior league was in operation. The old Wesley League players turned to diamond ball or found their way on to one of the new teams.
1930 – McConnell wins the Western Manitoba Championship (2nd time in 3 years).
1930 – Fisher Branch Vics wins the Interlake Championship defeating Argyle. They would repeat as champions in 1931 beating Arborg in the finals.
1931 – May 8, Northwestern League reorganizes with teams from Cardale, Marney, Newdale and McConnell. Lisgar League forms with teams from Darlingford, Winkler, Plum Coulee and Morden.
1932 – June 28, Ninga defeats Boissevain 10–5 in opening games of the Peace Garden Baseball League. Croll defeats Fairfax 12–7 led by the Code and Duncan brothers. Glenboro remains undefeated in the Tiger Hills League with a 3–2 victory over Treherne. Anderson out duelled Metcalfe for the pitching victory.
1932 – “Cool Papa” Bell and Willy Wells play for the Kansas City Monarchs against the Winnipeg All Stars. All Stars win one of three games.
1932 – July 9, Norwood pitcher Howie “Spike” Tibbetts strikes out 19 batters against the Elks in Winnipeg Amateur Senior game. This ties the record held by Chick Chafe of Transcona and King Stevenson of Colombus Club.
1935 – Winnipeg Intermediate League becomes the Greater Winnipeg Senior Baseball League and St. Boniface Native Sons win the first championship.
1936 – New ballpark built in Norwood.
1936 – June/July, Dacotah Baseball Club play in tournaments in Holland, Marquette, Elie, Treherne, Gladstone, St. Charles, Austin, St. Eustache, Portage, Oakville, St. Francois Xavier, and Fannystelle, never finishing lower than second. They were led by pitchers Percy Qually, Tommy and Elmer Peters and Manager A.O. Qually.
1937 – New grounds open at Church and Arlington. Home of the CUAC Blues whose president was Slaw Rebchuk.
1937 – June 22, Nineteen year old Jack Fargey of La Riviere pitches an 8 strikeout no hitter in a victory over Hannah, North Dakota in the Pembina Valley Baseball League.
1938 – May 7, The Greater Winnipeg Senior League opens on 4 fronts and draws 6000 fans to 4 community ball parks. The crowds have returned to Senior Baseball in Winnipeg.
1938–1939 – The Transcona Baseball Club led by long serving veterans Ole Olien, Mide Blacquiere and Jerry Blackquiere win two straight Greater Winnipeg Senior League Championships. Pitching ace, and Hall of Famer, Albert Lamoureux was 17–4 and undefeated in the playoffs in 1938.
Greater Winnipeg Juvenile League Champions
|1932||No Results (twelve team league)|
|1933||Tecumseh Baseball Club||Excelsiors Baseball Club|
|1934||Harvey’s Boys||Capitols Baseball Club|
|1936||Morse Place Athletics||St. Vital Saints|
|1937||West End Cardinals||Coronations|
|1938||St. James Canadians||Winnipeg Corona Cardinals|
|1939||Winnipeg Corona Cardinals*||Selkirk|
Greater Winnipeg Junior League Champions (Drewry Cup)
|1931||No results (4 team league)|
|1932||Doxey Tigers||Arenas Baseball Club|
|1933||No results (6 team league)|
|1934||St. Alphonsus||St. Boniface Canucks|
|1935||Elmwood Cubs||Sherburn Cubs|
|1936||Harvey’s Boys||Transcona Regents|
|1937||Morse Place Athletics||Elmwood Cubs|
|1938||Winnipeg Corona Cardinals||St James Canadians|
|1939||IOGT Templars||Earl Grey|
Winnipeg Amateur Senior League Champions (Shepperd Cup)
|1930||Arenas Baseball||Club Doxey Tigers|
|1931||Doxey Tigers||Norwood Kiwanis|
|1933||Arenas Baseball Club||Doxey Tigers|
Greater Winnipeg Senior Baseball League Champions
|1935||St Boniface Native Sons||Norwood|
|1936||St Boniface Native Sons||Norwood|
|1937||St Boniface Native Sons||Transcona Railroaders|
|1938||Transcona Railroaders||St Boniface Native Sons|
Greater Winnipeg Intermediate League Champions
|1930||Transcona Baseball Club|
|1931||Transcona Baseball Club||St Boniface Native Sons|
|1932||St Boniface Native Sons||CUAC|
|1933||St Boniface Native Sons||CUAC|
|1934||St Boniface Native Sons||Norwood|
|1935||League goes Senior|