Saturday, August 25, 2012

Let's Play Some Hobos!

The situation: You are a professional minor league baseball team and your league has ties to nationally organized baseball. You just finished your shortened season in a respectable second place. You are waiting for your league to transfer a team from one town to another, so you and the other clubs can continue playing.

So what do you do with your off-day? Well, its also 1897, so you play a game against some hobos, of course!

On August 2, 1897, the Grand Forks Senators and the other Red River Valley League teams were anxiously awaiting the transfer of the bankrupt Wahpeton-Breckenridge team to Crookston. The newly constituted league was scheduled to kick off with a game between Grand Forks and Crookston, a rivalry that promised to be exciting for both towns. While the Senators waited for the details to fall into place, they wanted to stay sharp, so they scheduled a game for Monday afternoon. Their opponent? Local hobos, or more specifically, migrant workers who were in the valley to assist with the harvest season. As strange as it may sound, Grand Forks took on a team with players claiming nicknames such as "Shorty Swatts", "Pie-faced Charley", and "Bowlegged Pete", among others.

Though the Herald took a shot at the work ethic of the region's migrant workers, the paper didn't have much to brag about in its account of the game. That is because, amazingly, the Senators lost the five-inning contest 3-2. How the Grand Forks club managed to lose the game is hard to conceive, but the hobos apparently had a fair amount of baseball talent. Pitcher "Milwaukee Mike" earned praise for having "as many graceful curves as a ballet dancer", and the game account also lauded the team's fielding and base-running abilities. Furthermore, without a box score, it is unclear whether the full squad of Senators joined in the challenge of playing against the "weary willies". Only pitcher Hoar and Joe Marshall are mentioned by name as participating in the game for Grand Forks. Hoar started on the mound for the Senators, and was later replaced by Marshall, who notably did not pitch in any other game for Grand Forks during the season. And to be fair to the hobos, minor league baseball players in the era were often equally nomadic and of questionable character. Also, it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that some minor leaguers both played baseball and performed farm labor as means of income. In any event, the anonymous group of vagrants notched the win over the Senators in what the Herald reported simply as "a unique game of ball."

Grand Forks Herald August 3, 1897 p.4 "Hobos at Ball"

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