In this, our fifth and final article about North Dakota baseball players who established, broke or tied major league records, we will continue to look at the players, their records, and when and for whom they played baseball in North Dakota.
Willard Brown, on Aug. 13, 1947, became the first African American baseball player to hit a home run in the American League. In his first major league game on July 20, he also made major league history when he teamed with Hank Thompson on the field to become the first two Black players to play together in a major league baseball game.
Prior to joining the St. Louis Browns, Brown “was one of the most feared hitters in the Negro Leagues.” Brown “couldn’t take the racial abuse he was forced to endure” and he left the Browns after only appearing in 21 major league games. Brown then mainly played for teams in the Caribbean before agreeing, in 1957, to play for the Minot Mallards in the ManDak League. While there, he hit .307 with nine home runs in 150 trips to the plate.
Mike Busch, on Aug. 30, 1995, became “the first replacement player to be promoted to a regular major league roster” when he agreed to figuratively cross the picket line while the regular major league players were on strike. Because of the imposition of a salary cap by major league team owners, the MLB Players Association called a strike ending the season in August 1994.
Since the strike was still in effect at the start of the 1995 season, owners contracted with minor league ballplayers and former major league players to serve as replacement players for the 1995 season. Busch was the first replacement player to agree to play baseball in the major leagues under the owner’s agreement. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 and 1996. In 1999, Busch played for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Independent Northern League.
Matt Maysey is one of only 90 players with a major league career batting average of 1.000. He pitched for the Montreal Expos in 1992 and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1993. Maysey’s stepson is Connor Wong, a catcher who came over to the Boston Red Sox from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade. In 1996, Maysey played for the Dakota Rattlers, a professional baseball team in the Prairie League that operated out of Bismarck.
John Michaelson is the only MLB player born in Finland. He pitched in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1921 and, the next year, he became one of the main pitchers for the Valley City Hi-Liners in the North Dakota League.
Tom Oliver holds the modern MLB record for going the most at-bats in his major league career without ever hitting a home run. Oliver was a starting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1930 to 1933, playing in 514 games and having 1,931 official trips to the plate. Because he was more of a “slap hitter,” he never hit for power.
Some sources say he played for the Minot Magicians in the North Dakota League in 1923, but other sources dispute that, saying the player’s name was really Harry Oliver. Nevertheless, the major league Tom Oliver did participate in North Dakota baseball. Oliver was the manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League in 1956.
Rich Reese, along with Ron Northey and Willie McCovey, are the only players to hit three pinch-hit, grand slam home runs in their major league careers. Reese played for the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers from 1964 to 1973. In 1963, he played for the Bismarck Pards of the Northern League.
Bert Shepard is the only person to play in the major leagues with only one leg. Prior to World War II, Shepard was a minor league pitcher, with two legs, but during the war, he was a pilot whose plane was shot down over Germany. One of the bullets that brought down the plane went through Shepard’s right leg, shattering the bone. After he was captured by the Germans, the lower part of the leg was amputated. One of his fellow prisoners in the German prison camp where he was sent was a Canadian doctor who outfitted Shepard with a prosthesis that worked remarkably well, considering it was made from scrap, spare parts.
After his release from prison, Shepard returned to playing baseball and, after a tryout with the Washington Senators, he signed a major league contract. On Aug. 4, 1945, he pitched five innings, giving up only three hits and one run. Despite his good pitching performance, this was the only game Shepard pitched in the major leagues. In 1947, he was a pitcher for the Williston Oilers of the ManDak League and, in 1954, he returned to Williston as a player/manager.
Sonny Siebert, in 1973, joined a select group of pitchers who have hit two home runs in a major league game. He also joined an elite group when, on June 10, 1966, he pitched a no-hitter. Siebert played in the major leagues from 1964 to 1975 with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics. He began his professional baseball career in 1959 with the Minot Mallards of the Northern League.
Larry Stahl is the only MLB player to ruin a pitcher’s perfect game by drawing a walk after the pitcher had retired the first 26 batters. On Sept. 2, 1972, Milt Pappas, the pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, had quickly retired the first 26 San Diego Padres players he faced. Then, Stahl worked the count to two balls and two strikes, and the next two pitches were borderline, which the umpire called “balls.” After drawing a walk, the next batter was retired, and Pappas ended up with a no-hitter, but not a “perfect game.”
Stahl was in the major leagues from 1964 to 1973, playing for the Oakland Athletics, New York Mets, Padres and Cincinnati Reds. He began his professional baseball career in 1962, playing for the Minot Mallards of the Northern League.
Willie Stargell is the only MLB player to win the trifecta of most valuable player (MVP) awards in one year. He was selected MVP for the 1979 season in the National League, MVP in the Championship Series and MVP in the World Series. Stargell hit the most home runs during the 1970s and, on Aug. 1, 1970, he joined Lou Boudreau and Joe Adcock as the only MLB players to collect five extra-base hits in one game.
Stargell spent his entire major league career (1962 to 1982) with the Pittsburgh Pirates and, after his retirement in 1982, the Pirates retired his uniform (No. 8). In 1988, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Stargell began his professional baseball career in 1960, playing for the Grand Forks Chiefs of the Northern League.
If you know of other North Dakota baseball players who broke or tied MLB records, please let me know.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.