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Column: Worthington and Lismore had brushes with Hall of Fame

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared April 8, 2006.

WORTHINGTON - April 8. The Twins are at Cleveland today. It will be half-a-year before we know whether they have nailed the 2006 World Series. No matter. The new season is underway.

I was asked if I was disappointed John Donaldson is not named to the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. Sure. I am disappointed. I was ready to help Lismore buy a plaque:

“John Donaldson, baseball Hall of Famer, pitched for the Lismore Gophers, 1926. He made his home at Lismore.”

Donaldson seemed to have it all:

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Pitched three shutouts in a row. Pitched 86 shutouts lifetime. ERA of 1.37. One perfect game, one 30-strikeout game. He seemed like a Hall of Fame shoo-in, one of 10 black players inducted from the years before the Negro Leagues were organized.

It was not to be.

No one ever will know why, of course. I heard speculation of an irony. John Donaldson could never play in the major leagues because he was black. But did he miss getting into the Hall of Fame because he is not black enough? His mother was Irish.

Nobles County, Lismore, Worthington have had at least three of these “brushes” with Baseball’s Hall of Fame. We’ve told the story of the night Ted Williams came to town. The Splendid Splinter rode down the highway to Worthington shooting jackrabbits from a car window. He also insulted Worthington in a radio interview.

Fans booed him that night. He showed them - Williams hit a pitch out of the fairgrounds ballpark all the way to Smith Avenue.

There was another memorable night with a Hall of Famer. Not as dramatic, but quite a story.

This was the next June. 1939. Branch Rickey came to town. Branch Rickey has one major league record - 13 bases stolen by the opposition in a single game he was catching. This is not why Rickey is in the Hall of Fame.

Worthington’s team in those years was the Cardinals. The Worthington Cardinals were part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system. Branch Rickey, the Cards general manager, “invented” the major league farm system.

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No one had thought of it before.

Rickey organized 29 “Worthingtons” to develop players and to feed the Cards at St. Louis with new stars. Worthington was not happy with this arrangement. The ’39 Worthington Cardinals were not doing well. Part of the reason was - as soon as a player showed promise - Branch Rickey sent him orders to report to St. Louis, or to one of the Cards’ bigger cities.

J.H. (Had) See sent a telegram to Rickey in the name of the Worthington Civic and Commerce Association. “You done us wrong.” Rickey arrived in a surprise visit to mend fences.

In 1933, the roof blew off the grandstand at the Nobles County fairgrounds, which also was the baseball park. Branch Rickey climbed that grandstand to the highest seat, where the old roof would have begun, and he sat with the wooden wall at his back. Joe McDermott, manager of the Worthington club, sat with him. Joe Mathes, the Cards’ chief scout, also was there.

Rickey was not angry with Worthington. He understood the complaint. But, he said, this is how baseball is going to be from now on.

There was a good crowd in the stands that night and the locals beat Lincoln, Neb., 7-5, while the Big Chief watched from his perch on high. They called him down to greet the fans. Rickey gave a cheery wave. Afterward, there was a short reception with a couple of dozen local Cardinal supporters.

Branch Rickey - they called him The Mahatma - introduced the baseball farm system. He also introduced helmets to major league baseball. He is not honored chiefly for these things, however.

August 28, 1945. Branch Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson. Rickey broke baseball’s color line.

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“We’ve got no army,” Branch told Jackie before newsreel cameras. “There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. I’m afraid many fans will be hostile. We can win only if we can convince the world that I’m doing this because you’re a great ballplayer, a fine gentleman.”

Worthington could be proud. Branch Rickey had been GM for the local boys.

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