In this, our fourth 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.
Mudcat Grant, in 1965, became the first African American pitcher to win 20 games in a season in the American League. With a 21-7 record for the pennant-winning Minnesota Twins, he also became the first Black pitcher to win an American League game in the World Series and the first to lead the American League in wins.
Grant pitched in the major leagues from 1958 to 1971 with the Cleveland Indians, Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates. Grant began his professional baseball career by pitching for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the Northern League in 1954.
Bruno Haas, on June 23, 1915, established a modern-day, major league record when he walked 16 batters in his very first major league game. Connie Mack, the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, named Haas as his starting pitcher in a game against the New York Yankees. Haas had graduated from college the year before and had no professional baseball experience prior to that game.
I believe it is likely that Mack thought that Haas was nervous and that eventually, he would settle down and his control would improve. Mack would have known that taking a new pitcher out of a game prematurely could destroy the pitcher’s confidence. After that game, Haas played in 10 more games for Philadelphia, four as a pitcher, three as an outfielder and three more as a pinch hitter.
For the next 18 years, Haas was an excellent hitting outfielder in the minor leagues, and he also played football in the NFL. In late 1932, he got together with a number of businessmen from the Upper Midwest and Canada and reestablished the Northern League. Haas was a player/manager with the Grand Fork Chiefs in 1942 and with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in 1946.
Travis Hafner, in 2006, tied Don Mattingly in being the only MLB players to hit six grand slam home runs in a single season. A “grand slam” is hitting a home run with runners on each base. Hafner was a power-hitting first baseman and designated hitter who played in the major leagues from 2002 to 2013 with the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.
Hafner was born in Jamestown, attended school in Sykeston and played legion baseball for Carrington. The 213 home runs he hit are the most of any baseball player born in North Dakota.
Jimmy Hart, on Aug. 5, 1901, became the first American League player to be thrown out of a game for punching an umpire. The first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles was thrown out of the game and was escorted out of the ballpark by police. Hart was then suspended for several games by American League President Ban Johnson.
He later returned to the Orioles team, but only played a few more games before quitting the team, because the Orioles management refused to pay his $25 fine. That ended Hart’s career in the major leagues.
Hart began his professional baseball career in 1897 playing for the Wahpeton-Breckinridge Methodists of the Red River Valley League. It appears that he had trouble controlling his temper against umpires even at that time. At the conclusion of a game against Fargo, Hart “rushed up to umpire Lyons and knocked him down, bruising him badly.” According to an account printed in the Grand Forks Herald, “The attack was entirely uncalled for.”
Rick Helling, in 1998, became the first person born in North Dakota to win 20 major league games in a season, when he posted a 20-7 record for the Texas Rangers. He, along with Darin Erstad, are also the only athletes born in the state to have been drafted in the first round of the Major League Amateur Draft.
In 2001, Helling set a major league single-season record by giving up 66 doubles. He played in the major leagues from 1994 to 2006 with the Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers. Helling was born in Devils Lake and attended school in Lakota and Shanley High in Fargo. He played high school baseball at Shanley.
Chuck Hiller, in 1962, became the first National League player to hit a grand slam in the World Series. Hiller was a second baseman who played major league baseball from 1961 to 1968 with the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates. He began his professional baseball career in 1958 with the Minot Mallards of the Northern League.
Ken Hunt is the only MLB player to be the stepfather of a television star while actively playing in the big leagues. Hunt’s stepson was Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, one of the central characters on the television series "The Munsters." In fact, Hunt even appeared in one of the episodes of that show.
Hunt and Roger Maris played together on the pennant-winning 1960 New York Yankee team, becoming the first two North Dakotans to be major league teammates. Hunt was a major league outfielder from 1959 to 1964, playing for the Yankees, California Angels and Washington Senators. He was born in Grand Forks and played baseball for the city’s American Legion team.
Bill Lefebvre entered the record books by hitting a home run on his first at-bat in the major leagues, on June 10, 1938. This is not a rarity in that 127 other players have accomplished the same thing. What makes it rare is the position Lefebvre played. He was a pitcher, and very few major league pitchers have hit home runs on their first at bat. Like Hoyt Wilhelm, another pitcher, it was the only major league home run they ever hit.
Lefebvre played for the Red Sox in 1938 and 1939, and for the Washington Senators from 1943 to 1944. He played for the Minot Mallards in the ManDak League in 1950.
Danny Litwhiler, in 1942, became the very first everyday position player to not commit an error during the entire season. During that year he played in the outfield in 151 games for the Philadelphia Phillies where he made 308 putouts and nine assists. That season, he also “became the first player to stitch together the fingers of his glove."
Litwhiler played from 1940 to 1951 with the Phillies, Boston Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. In 1952, he became a player-manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins of the Northern League.
Roger Maris, in 1961, broke the single-season home run record, set by Babe Ruth in 1927, when Maris hit his 61 home runs. Maris is also the only two-time Most Valuable Player recipient (1960 & 1961) who is eligible to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame not to be enshrined.
Maris played in the major leagues from 1957 to 1968 where he played for the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Athletics, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. He was born in Hibbing, Minn., but moved to Grand Forks and then to Fargo as a youth. He played Legion ball for Fargo while in high school and for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the Northern League in 1953.
We will conclude this series next week. 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 email@example.com.