HERB SCORE and Gordon Coleman, a pair of magical baseball names in the major leagues in the '50's and '60's, were also impressive performers for the Brainerd Braves (1951-53) at the tender ages of 17 and 18.
They are part of a rich baseball history in Brainerd, which had a chance to become a part of the professional baseball picture with a Northern league franchise secured in 1933.
But with attendance averaging less than 35 persons per game, which some fans still blame on the depression, Brainerd folded after half a season and the franchise and the team moved on to Brandon, Man. Can., where it didn't do much better and was returned to Brainerd, then sold to Wausau. Wis. for the 1934 season.
Owner Ray Mergens conducted a Booster Day game Thursday, June 22, 1933 to try to get Brainerd interested in supporting its Northern league team, but the turnout was disappointing and the month's pay roll couldn't be met. That brought on this article in The Brainerd Daily Dispatch of Saturday, June 24: "Brainerd today paid the price of non-attendance with the departure of the Muskies tonight for Crookstan where they'll meet Danny Boone's fighting Pirates Sunday on their way to their new bailiwick in Brandon, Manitoba."
The ball park (the present Bane Park site of Little and Pony league fields) fell to pieces and was moved to the Fill Grounds near the Franklin junior high school to become a softball park some years later Baseball was at a low ebb for many years until the Brainerd Merchants won the Lake Region conference crown in 1946 and 1947 in competition with Nisswa, Pine River, Backus, Hackensack and Menahga. In 1946, Brainerd won 14 straight; then lost 3-1 to Blackduck in a regional clash. The following season, it was defeated 7-1 by Bagley in regional play and Backus came on to gain a state tourney berth by toppling Blackduck 3-2 and Bagley, 2-1.
With amateur baseball slumping here, an enterprising group which called itself the Brainerd Baseball Assn. organized to try to pump new life into the sport. Ole Halvorson was its president and his board included Ed Imgrund, vice president; John Stensrud, secretary; Everett Cripe, treasurer; and its directors numbered Mary Nutting, manager; John Thompson, Ray Madison, John Bollig, Sr., Don Ryan, Louis Hansen and Mel Esser.
Memorial Park, valued at $35,000 when dedicated JuIy 30, 1948, was constructed after a community fund drive, Lights, valued at $17,000, were put up and some soon blew down under a high wind, bringing about additional expenses. With $5,000 still owed to builders of the grandstand a number of years later, the park and its lights were sold to the Brainerd Recreation board for that sum to pay off the creditors.
The grandstand was built to hold 900 fans. Bleachers, borrowed from the fair board which owned the land, ran along both the first and third base-lines. The eight 90-foot towers each contained 144 bulbs of 1,500 watts apiece.
Brainerd's Night Owls beat Crosby-Ironton 8-3 July 30, 1948 in the dedication game with Whitey Skoog and Kermit Aase sharing the hurling assignment and the mayor tossing out the first ball.
STATE CHAMPION was this Brainerd amateur baseball team of 1894. which later saw two of those players advance to the major leagues. Pictured here are (front row)--Frary, catcher; Phyle, right field-pitcher; Howe, pitcher-right field; C. McCarthy, first base; (Middle)--Burgum, shortstop; Manager W. P. Buckley; Hill, third base; (back) W. McCarthy, center field; Blandy, left field; Warner, second base. Phyle, who went to the N. Y. Giants, and Howe, to the Chicago Cubs, were the players who made the big time.
The Class B Great Central Amateur Baseball league was launched in 1949, but Brainerd turned its interest toward fielding a strong semi-pro club in 1951 and that brought Score and Coleman out of Florida and Maryland prep ranks to spark the 1951 and 1952 clubs.
Score, a southpaw with a high kick and a blazing fast ball, was signed after the 1951 season by veteran Cleveland scout Cy Slapnicka, who had sent him here in the first place under the impression that Brainerd not being involved with any league scouts from other clubs would have little chance to look him over.
Such was not exactly the case as the Chicago White Sox reportedly pushed Cleveland all the way in the bidding war, right up to $60,000 for his contract in 1952, the signing taking place before Score had yet completed high school at Lake Worth, Fla.
Pitching here for $300 per month and wrestling beer barrels for a local distributor until a more relaxing job for a pitcher could be found, he posted a 12-4 record for the Braves, who were 28-9 overall while playing the best opposition they could find.
Score is best remembered for the number of times he got out of no-out, bases-loaded jam with three strikeouts, along with the no-hitter he hurled against Foley and the one-hitter he tossed against the Fargo-Moorhead Merchants. The latter game was won 2-0 on a homer with a mate aboard in the last of the ninth by Ed Gumlia of C-I, who had a high of eight roundtrippers for the season.
Gumlia was one of a distinguished coterie of area ball-players brought in to round out the strong clubs. Others include outfielder Whitey Skoog, third basemen Duke Girtz (C-I) and Dick Cook (Nisswa), pitcher Wayne Stewart (Staples) and catcher Bill Arendt (Little Falls).
The outsiders included catcher Hank Miles and Coleman, both of Pickville, Md. where Miles was a coach and Coleman his football and baseball slar. Both served as counselors at Camp Lincoln on Lake Hubert and Coleman returned for a second season in 1962 before also signing with Slapnicka and the Indians.
Coleman hit .344 in. 29 games for Brainerd in 1951, clubbing nine doubles and three homers among 45 hits and driving across 23 runs. Score was 12-4, gaining credit for a 5-3 win over Duluth in 10 innings June 17 and following that up with a 6-5 conquest of Willmar, 13-4 win over the St. Paul Kronicks, 4-3 over Pierz, 13-5 over Cold Spring, 10-9 over Elk River, 10-0 over Pierz, 7-1 over N. Y. Mills, 5-2 over Winthrop, 8-0 over Foley, 12-2 over International Falls, 11-7 over Staples and 2-0 over Fargo-Moorhead.
The following season, Coleman again led the club in hitting with a .419 mark for 27 games, including eight doubles, a triple and 10 homers in his 49 hits. He drove in 35 runs, just two more than June, who stroked nine doubles, three triples and six homers while hitting .333.
Score was a quick success with Cleveland, becoming the only pitcher in the majors since 1900 to average more than nine strikeouts per nine-inning game for a full season in 1955 and he did it again in 1956.
He fanned 262 in 249 innings in 56 and 245 in 228 'frames in '55 when he broke the all-time record for rookie hurlers.
Later a line drive off the bat of the Yankee's Gil McDougald struck him in the eye and the injury cut short what promised to be a brilliant major league career. In recent years, he has been a broadcaster traveling with the Cleveland Indians.
Coleman also moved up the ladder rapidly, going from Mobile (.353, 30 homers) of the Class AA Southern Assn. and Seattle (.324) in the Pacific Coast league to stardom in the major leagues with Cleveland and Cincinnati, playing first base and hitting a home run for the latter in the 1961 World Series against the Yankees.
He smashed 54 home run playing regularly for the Reds in 1961 and 1962. Putting on weight shortened Coleman's career. Writer Earl Lawson pointed out "If there's anything the big Red first baseman likes better than a base hit, it's a good meal. The club's brass thinks he eats too many of them. They warned him he was going to eat his way out of the major leagues if he didn't curb his appetite."
In discussing Coleman's batting and fielding styles, Lawson commented: "It has been said that when Gordy Coleman swings a bat, he looks as if he's falling off the limb of a tree. Around first base, he's as graceful as a teenager trying out her first pair of high heels. The way he worries about his hitting, you'd think he had just received greetings' from his draft board."
While they may not have reached the top of the ladder as did Score and Cole man, Brainerd fans will remember such other stalwarts, of the three clubs as shortstop John Leach of Nebraska, Negro out-fielder Mitch June of Birmingham, Ala. catcher Sam Zivkovich of Duluth, pitcher Pete Delios of Wisconsin, first base-man Dick Connolly of Philadelphia, third baseman Ted Winkles of Arkansbs, shortstop Ralph Burn of Florida, second baseman Bob Gallivan of St. Paul, pitcher Bob Johnson of Minneapolis (now the Wisconsin university hockey coach), pitcher Bill Plunkar of Indiana, Negro righthander Willie Harris of Chicago and a trio of Brainerd standouts -- infielders Billy Selisker and Jim Gardner, and pitcher Joe Perrault.
Best record of the three teams was compiled in 1934 with the rangy June, who delighted local fans by running out from under his cap on extra base hits, batting over .400 and bringing him also the attention of Cleveland's alert Mr. Slapnicka, who signed him and saw him move on through Fargo to Class A Reading (Pa.) of the Cleveland chain.
The 1953 team won 34 of 36 games played, with both of the losses by single runs in extra innings -- 7-6 at Fergus Falls in 12 frames and here by a 4-3 score to Little Falls in 10.
Since the demise of the strong semi-pro teams here, Brainerd has concentrated on building its own baseball program, starting in 1955 with a four-team Little League. It has done well, capturing the State. Pony league championship both in 1968 and 1969 in tourneys staged at Brainerd and at St. Paul; and grabbing off more than its share of Great Central league championships (particularly of late).
In addition Jerry (Chick) Lyscio, a righthander who pitched Brainerd's American Legion team into the 1961 state tourney and the Legion and the high school nine to the state meets in 1963, saw service with the Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals until a shoulder injury cut him down a year ago while competing in the Class AA Eastern league.
Brainerd high school started baseball under present Coach Kermit Aase in 1947 and has been a state tourney participant just two seasons (1963 and 1965), Lyselo hurling both ends of the Region Six, tourney in the same day (14 in- nings) to get Brainerd past Wheaton (4-0 on a four-hitter) and Melrose (2-1).
Lyscio stopped Staples 4-0 on a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts in the district title game and his pair of regional wins (27 whiffs) brought his record to 12-1 for the year, including seven shutouts and three one-hitters.
In the state tourney, two unearned runs gave Austin a 2-0 win in the opener and, after walloping Fairmont behind Mike Engeihart, Brainerd lost 3-0 to Anoka in the fifth place tussle.
In the 1961 Legion tourney, Brainerd lost out to Montevideo and in 1963, it fell 4-1 to Minneapolis Grain Exchange despite a homerun and another strong hurling effort by Lyscio. Big win of the '63 campaign came in the District Six title clash at Wadena with Lyscic out pitching lefty Tom Burgmeier (now with Kansas City) 2-0 on a one-hitter with 12 whiffs.
In 1964, Brainerd again won the district title with Fred Larson tossing a 9-0 no-hit win over Little Falls in the title clash; but Larson, after beating Detroit Lakes 5-1 on a four-hitter, was unable to match Lyscio's iron-man stint in trying to pitch the second game against Benson, which came up with six runs on one hit and a flock of walks in the third inning to win 7-0 as both teams ended with three hits.
In 1965, the Warriors had a bit more pitching depth and a pair of homerun hitters in third baseman Ken Dagel and shortstop Joe Dwyer, but it took a two-run homer by Bruce McComas and a solo shot by Dale Thomsen in the 10th inning to bring an 8-7 district title win over Menahga. Dwyer's seventh homer of the season beat Melrose 1-0 in the regional opener as Alan Jensen hurled a three-hitter and Tom Cummins got credit for a 10-6 title win over Battle Lake behind a 14-hit barrage.
St. Paul Humboldt knocked off the Warriors 3-2 in their state tourney opener on a pinch hit single in the sixth, Brainerd managing only two hits off Chet Koury and Humboldt only four off Jensen. The Brainerd Legion team knocked off St. Cloud behind Bruce McComas in the District Six tourney, but lost to Deer Creek 4-3 in the state meet at Winona.
Brainerd first made the regional field under Aase in 1952 after claiming the Central Six loop title 7-6 over St. Cloud Tech, beating Little Falls 5-1in the district but losing 2-1 to Melrose in the regional finals despite great pitching from Jerry Hill and Joe Perrault.
The Warriors were back in the region in 1953 and 1954 again beating Little Falls 10-5 in the district finals and again losing to Meirose in the region, this time in 10 innings, 4-3, in 1953; and riding the fine pitching of Bob Thompson to another 1-0 loss to Melrose in the regional. Thompson was 7-0 on the season into that game and blanked Little Falls 7-0 for the Central Six title. In the district finals, he outpitched lefty Dick Stigman of Sebeka (and Minnesota Twins' fame), 6-1 with three-hit bat support from brother Jerry Thompson.
Brainerd got into the regionals one other time, that in 1961, compiling an 8-1 record during the regular slate and sharing the Central Six crown with Little Falls. Dale Brown stopped Verndale 5-4 and Lyscio beat Staples 3-2 to set up the district title clash with Pequot Lakes and a 20-0 Brainerd win. A string of 11 straight wins came to an end, 3-2 at the hands of Fergus Falls in the regional.
As a freshman in 1960, Lyscio pitched Brainerd to the Central Six loop crown with a 7-4 win over St. Cloud Tech in a playoff of divisional winners, Brainerd copping the North half with an 8-1 record, but Pine River pulled a big upset of the Warriors, 5-3 in the district, Little Falls going on to take that title, 3-1 over C-I.
Brainerd's Great Central league entries, also known as the Braves, have claimed loop championships in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1963, 1964, 1969 and 1970 and entered the state meet in 1964, 1965 and the past two campaigns. In 1969, manager Duane Lindberg's club won three straight games to reach the semifinals at Jordan before being hammered by eventual champion Arlington and its strongarmed former pro hurler Jim StoIl. Last year, Brainerd won regional honors at Pierz; then lost its opener to Lake Henry at St. Cloud. In 1964, with Mickey Gerbich and Gene Steiger its battery, Brainerd won 9-0 over Blue Earth, then lost to McGrath-Tamarack and Caledonia in the state event at Brownton.
But present day clubs haven't been able to match the record of the 1894 team which won the state championship and later sent two of its players to the big leagues. They were Phyle and Howe, who joined the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, respectively. Both played right field and pitched here in 1894. Manager of that team was W. P. Buckley.
In 1912, Brainerd became Central Minnesota champion in reguIar league competition with teams from St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Little Falls, Crosby-Ironton and Staples. The team played between 30 and 35 games each season and imported a good percentage of its players, such as Ed Rogers of Walker, Frank Larson and Fred Cook of St. Paul.
There was plenty of good local talent available, however, Jim Alderman and Harold Kallan were exceptional pitchers; George (Swede) Erickson was a topflight second baseman; and Bullet Joe Bush and his brother Charlie were standouts on the 1911 team.
Brainerd teams of that era were attired in black suits with a big white B on the shirt front. John Mahium made the purchase of these suits, Erickson, later a city councilman here, recalled prior to his death a few years ago.
With the Northern Pacific railway sponsoring the sport, special trains hauled from 300 to 500 fans, to games with other teams in the area, all of them heavily dotted with outside players. Second baseman Jimmy Williams, later with the Chicago White Sox; pitchers Ed Bowman, Eddie Lawson, Fred Cook, Indian Roy, Joe Graves and Harris Borg, the latter three Indians; and catchers Bill Kallan and Red Frank, infielders Ira Roderick, Tom Templeton, Billy Benda and Ted StaIman, catcher Ed Hall and outfielders Louie Imgrund and Harold Kallan were 'other stars of the day.
Les Peterson was manager, Ed Whiting business manager and John Vanni secretary for the N. P. sponsored club, which played its games at the present Mill Grounds. In 1930, the N. P. sponsored a trip to Montana by special pullman for the team over the Labor Day weekend. Brainerd won from Mandan and Bismarck, N. D. and Shelby, Mont., but lost 4-3 to Laurel, Mont. on this excursion.
Around the turn of the century, Brainerd teams played on Third Street, later the site of the city garage. In 1903, it was at the old tourist camp along the Mississippi. The Mill Grounds, area of the present City Softball league park, was the 1907 site. Then it was Roosevelt Field, known then as the Koering Grounds, in 1910 and later on the Softball Fill Grounds before Bane Park was built in 1932 and Memorial Park in 1948.
The chance to secure the Northern league franchise wiped out a City league in its play at Bane Park in 1933. Mary Nutting was manager and president of the team, with Bill Turcotte, Clyde Parker, Don and Clem Ryan leading stockholders. Ground was donated by Ed Bane for construction of the park in south Brainerd.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).