Manitoba’s many baseball pros

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2021 (522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Minor-league affiliated pro baseball is changing dramatically this season. More than 40 communities have lost their teams due to restructuring by Major League Baseball organizations and opportunities to turn pro for young players coming out of high school and college have diminished. The minor league season began this week with teams in AAA, AA, A+ and A divisions.

A major change that affected Winnipeg saw the Goldeyes long-time rival, the St. Paul Saints, leave independent ball after 28 seasons. The Saints have become the across-the-Mississippi-River AAA farm team of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Twins.

For many seasons, the minors had leagues classified from AAA down to D. At the lower levels, teams were located in communities with populations as small as 1,000 people.

Winnipeg Free Press photo archives Corey Koskie of Anola, Man., is probably the best-known Manitoban to play baseball in the major leagues. Pictured here at spring training with the Minnesota Twins in 1999, Koskie played 989 games with the Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers before a concussion forced him to retire.

Here in Manitoba, it wasn’t much different as almost every community fielded a baseball team of some sort. Small places such as Belmont, Chatfield, Eden, Lyleton, McConnell, Siglunes and Snowflake fielded teams that have been honoured by the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. If a team wasn’t in a league, tournament ball on the weekend was an option.

For a province with a long hockey season and shorter baseball season, Manitoba has produced a lengthy list of players who took their gloves and spikes to professional baseball in the United States.

Anola’s Corey Koskie, who won a provincial junior championship with the Elmwood Giants, is the best-known. Koskie reached the majors in 1998 and played 989 games with the Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers before a concussion forced him to retire. Koskie was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

While many honoured members of the Manitoba Baseball HOF have pro experience on their resume, talented pitchers seemed to have the best shot at affiliated ball.

Our greatest pitcher, Russ Ford, was born in Brandon nearly 140 years ago on April 25, 1883. The right-hander was the first Manitoba-born player to make the majors and the first Canadian to win 20 games in a season.

Ford accomplished this feat in 1910 by winning 26 games for the New York Highlanders, later the Yankees. He pitched in the big leagues for seven seasons and finished with a won-loss record of 99-71 and an ERA of 2.59. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Manitoba shrine in 2004. When he was inducted into the provincial Sports Hall two years earlier, this columnist had the honour of accepting for him.  

Orville Minish from Swan River pitched for the Northern League Winnipeg Maroons between 1939 and 1942. First-ballot Manitoba Baseball HOF inductee Murray Richardson pitched in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in the late 1940s. Chris Riddell from Warren threw for Muskogee and Michigan City in the late 1950s. Claude Lambert from St. Laurent pitched in the Houston Astros system from 1965 to 1967. Souris-product Cam Walker pitched between 1982 and 1987 reaching as high as the AA Texas League with El Paso. Mark Fisher with Lakeland in the Detroit Tigers system and Morley MacFarlane in the Georgia State League had short stints in the pros.
Hugh Gustafson was an all-star first baseman for the Maroons in the 1930s and Elmwood’s Jack Warwick played in Fulton, Ken., in 1948.

Canadian mixed curling champion Ernie Boushy won the batting title in the Class D Appalachian League in 1953 and played two more seasons in the Philadelphia and Kansas City systems. Weldon Ridley from Morden played in the Sooner State League in 1953. From Westman, Gerry MacKay played from 1952 to 1956 including AA with Birmingham and Ian Lowe played B ball with Victoria in 1946.

Before he caught for the Goldeyes in the independent Northern League, Troy Fortin from Lundar spent six years in the Minnesota Twins system, reaching as high as AA with New Britain of the Eastern League.

Not a baseball HOFer, Gene Walker was a Manitoba high school curling champion who pitched in the Baltimore system in 1958 and 1959. Retired Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair pitched for Modesto and Lewiston in 1967 before moving down many levels to the Press Club League.

Catcher Chris Shaw, who came through the Winnipeg South minor program, was drafted three different times by major league teams. After his college career, he played in the  Baltimore organization from 2015 to 2018.

T. Kent Morgan

T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport

Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: sportsmemories@canstarnews.com

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