The Bismarck (N.D.) Park Board is debating whether to rename Bismarck Municipal Ballpark, the city’s home to baseball since 1921, after the legendary Satchel Paige. The story behind the request is a fascinating chapter in baseball.
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, had quite the storied career: the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history, an MLB All-Star in his forties and the first Negro Leagues pitcher to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame, elected in 1971.
Paige certainly did things his own way, frequently clashing with owners and front-office staff over things like money, schedules and behavior. Larry Tye’s Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend is an excellent accounting of his life, which includes accounts of his many clashes over money.
One such clash came in 1933, when Paige, then with the Crawfords, felt Gus Greenlee was underpaying him; he walked away from the Negro Leagues to play for an integrated semi-pro team in Bismarck, N.D., for $400 and and the use of a late-model car. The team was organized by local car dealer Neil Churchill (hence the car); it’s sometimes referred to as the Bismarck Churchills, but that name was not used during the team’s existence. That stint lasted only a month, and afterwards Paige returned to the Crawfords to finish out the season.
In 1935, the same situation arose: Greenlee refused to raise Paige’s pay past $250 a month, so Paige returned to Bismarck under the same pay rate as before. Paige had one of the best years of his career — he went 29–2 with 321 strikeouts and issued only 16 walks — on an integrated team that included Negro Leagues stars like “Double Duty” Radcliffe. The Bismarck team was invited by Hap Dumont to play in the inaugural National Baseball Congress at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, and the Paige-led Bismarck team won the crown and the $7,000 purse. (Most, but not all of the team is shown in the photo above.)
Bismarck wasn’t the only North Dakota town to bring in Negro Leagues talent; so did Jamestown, where a ballpark from the era, Jack Brown Stadium, still stands. The National Baseball Congress is still going on strong, while Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is home to the Wichita Wingnuts (independent; American Association).
The Bismarck Park Board is considering whether to rename Muncipal Ballpark in honor of Paige. The board is formulating a long-term plan for the facility and looking at other improvements; the request will be considered as part of those improvements, though a naming-rights deal might be part of that future as well.
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