HALL OF FAMER
WESTERN CANADA BASEBALL BRANDON GREYS MANITOBA BASEBALL
Artie "Duke" O'Dea
JERRY MACKAY---Along with Ian Lowe, Jerry MacKay would be considered as Brandon's two greatest ballplayers, as far as home-grown Manitobans are concerned. MacKay, from Kenton, Manitoba moved to Brandon in 1947 and a year later hit .231 for the Greys of the Manitoba Senior League at age eighteen. In 1949, the speedy outfielder hit .261 for Brandon of the MSL before splitting the 1950 season in the tougher ManDak League by batting just .177 in a Greys' uniform and .264 for Minot. MacKay returned to Brandon the next season and hit .229 in 1951.
Nineteen-fifty-two proved to be Jerry MacKay's breakout season. At age 21, he signed a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs organization and was sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he led his Canaries and the level-C Northern League in hitting with his .347 batting average. Eighteen-year-old Henry Aaron of the Eau Claire Bears finished 3rd in the batting race at .336. The following season, MacKay led his Canaries in batting average (.335), slugging percentage (.506), and home runs (10). His 14 triples were tops in the Northern League, one better than Fargo-Moorhead's and future Yankee Roger Maris. MacKay's best season as a professional came in 1955 when he suited up with the El Paso Texans and led the hitter-friendly West Texas-New Mexico League with his .371 average. His career-best 17 home runs and .563 slugging percentage were both 2nd best for the Texans.
MacKay split the 1956 season with the AA Birmingham Barons and the level-B Winston-Salem Twins where he combined to hit .228. During his five years in the minor leagues, he averaged .317 while playing for seven different teams. MacKay returned to Brandon in 1957 where he concluded his professional career as a player by hitting .264 for the Greys during their return and final season in the ManDak League. He spent the rest of his playing career (1962-1968) in a Brandon Cloverleaf uniform of the newly formed Manitoba Senior Baseball League where he hit .333, .215, .349, .308, .294, .255, and .400 (in 20 at-bats) respectively.
MacKay turned to coaching as a player/manager and guided his Brandon Cloverleafs to two Manitoba Senior Baseball League championships in 1966 and '67 before becoming Canada's first National Team coach. He and Hamiota's Gladwyn Scott traveled throughout Canada putting together Team Canada for the upcoming 1967 Pan-American games where the Canadians finished with a 1-7 record. Half of the team was from Manitoba. Four years later, under MacKay's guidance, Team Canada finished 4-5 at the 1971 Amateur World Series and 4-4 that same year at the '71 Pan-American games. A year later, his Canadian Nationals won eight games while losing seven at the 1972 Amateur World Series, the only time that a Canadian National baseball team has ever finished with a winning record.
A HISTORY OF BRANDON BASEBALL
Only Winnipeg with her Maroons and their seven Northern League titles and her Goldeyes with four more, out-rival the city of Brandon, Manitoba as far as western Canadian baseball history and reputation is concerned, especially during the middle of the 20th century. Baseball has been noted in the Queen City as early as 1860, however, the game wasn't much of a spectator sport until the construction of Kinsmen Park; (later Kinsmen Memorial Stadium and now a parking lot for Brandon University’s gymnasium) built just north of 18th Street and west of Victoria Avenue in. The monstrous, enclosed grand ol' ballpark with her tall, dark green fences was reminiscent of top-notch ball fields that were built throughout North America during the first half of the 20th century in the likeness of Boston's Fenway Park.
The Brandon Angles competed in the town’s local City League during the early 1900s before hiring professionals and entering the four-team class-D Northern League where they dethroned the Winnipeg Maroons in 1908. Other NL teams included the Duluth, Minnesota White Sox and Fargo, North Dakota Browns. Brandon playing-manager Artie O’Dea, from Halton County, Ontario hit .339 (league's 2nd best) a year earlier for the Lethbridge Miners of the level-D Western Canada Baseball League. He became known as "The Duke of Brandon", and had previously played for the 1899 San Jose Brewers of the class-E California League. It was rumored that the shady O’Dea also managed the Northern League’s financial affairs including those of the White Sox and Browns. On August 1st, O’Dea disappeared, along with all the money. The Northern League folded and the Brandon Angels with their league-leading 50-31 record were declared champions.
The Brandon Greys were formed in 1921 and become one of Western Canada’s most successful semi-pro teams. In 1948, the Greys won the pennant and league championship in the newly formed Manitoba Senior League with a record of 25-8. Other league members included the Winnipeg Rios (15-15), Elmwood Giants (12-17), and Winnipeg Vets (7-19). Brandon finished the year at 58-17 overall, including a seventeen-game winning streak and a championship at the prestigious Indian Head Baseball Tournament with a victory over Sceptre, Saskatchewan in the finals. The 32-team tournament was considered among the best in the west. The core of Brandon's 1948 team was Cuban-born imports from the professional Negro Leagues and playing/manager Ian Lowe.
Lowe, from Bradwardine, Manitoba, began playing senior baseball in Moosomin and Neilburg, Saskatchewan at age twenty-one in 1938, before joining the Saskatoon Lions a year later in 1939. He returned to Saskatoon for the 1940 and '41 seasons. At age 25, Lowe began a four-year stint with VMD (Victoria Machinery Depot) of the Victoria Senior Amateur Baseball League where he won batting titles in 1942 and 1943. He ran away with the batting crown in 1943 with a .443 average and led the league in home runs with eight. Lowe turned pro in 1946 with the Victoria Athletics of the level-B Western International League. After hitting just .223 in 29 games, he left the A's to join the Calgary Purity 99s of the Alberta Foothills League where he was the runner-up in the batting race with a .425 mark.
Brandon opened the 1950 ManDak season by crushing the visiting Minot Mallards 12-1 before 3,000 fans at Kinsmen Park. The Greys went on to win the league's first pennant with a record of 32-16, seven full games ahead of the Winnipeg Buffaloes. The "Buffs" won the playoffs and the ManDak championship in five games when Leon Day, then with Winnipeg, outdueled Brandon's Manuel Godinez 1-0 in 17 innings. Winnipeg manager and future MLB Hall of Famer Willie Wells got tossed from the game in the 10th inning. Brandon's Ian Lowe (3b, .298), Ramon Rodriguez (c, .269), Raphael Cabrera (ss, .374, 2nd in league), and pitchers Dirk Gibbons (8-4) and Art Hunt were named to the league's All-Star team. Hunt led the ManDak in winning % with a perfect 9-0 record.
A year later, Brandon won their 2nd ManDak pennant with their 37-26 record and crushed the Winnipeg Buffaloes in four straight game to capture their first and only ManDak championship. Ian Lowe led the Greys in hitting with his .298 average followed by Joe Mitchell at .296. Eighteen-year-old Cuban pitchers Pedro Naranjo and Armando Suarez topped the Greys' pitching staff with 4-1 and 7-5 records respectively.
MLB Hall of Famer Leon Day pitched briefly for the 1954 Greys. He went 0-2 with a .314 batting average at age 37. Day had previously spent 10 years in the professional Negro Leagues (1934-'49), mostly with the Newark Eagles. He combined to win 33 games while losing 16. His best season was 1946 when he went 9-2 for the Eagles including a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Stars. Midway through the 1951 season, Day signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the AAA International League where he went 1-1 with a 1.58 ERA and struck out 20 batters in 40 innings pitched. A year later, he dropped down to the level-A Eastern League and went 13-9 with a .314 batting average for the Scranton Miners. He hit .229 with a 5-5 pitching record and 4.84 ERA for the Edmonton Eskimos of the level-A Western International League in 1953 before ending his baseball career with Brandon a year later. Manitoba's Mort Wright and Morley MacFarlane also pitched for the 1954 Greys. Wright won three of seven games while MacFarlane was 1-0 and a year later signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers organization. He went 2-4 for the last place 25-40 independent Statesboro Pilots of the level-D Georgia State League.
The 1973 Manitoba Provincial Team or Team Manitoba is regarded as the Provinces' greatest team of all-time and seen here as featured on the front cover of the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame calendar. Brandon Cloverleaf players represented are: Bob Thompson, rf (standing, 6th from left), Roy McLachlan, 3b (standing, 4th from right), Dennis Wiebe, 1b (kneeling, 2nd from left), Brian Hodgson, p (kneeling, 4th from right), Rick McFadyen, c (kneeling, 3rd from right), Bob Wilson, cf (kneeling, 2nd from right), and Irv Powers, mgr (standing, far left). Also pictured is former Brandon Greys' player Don Sumner, mgr/statistician (standing, far right). Other players included Grant Everard (p), Ron Ramsey (p), Lorne Lilly (p), Cliff Seafoot (c), Gary Keating (of), John Morrison (cf), Doug Armour (inf), Dave Rottman (P), and Rob Medoff (p).
The 1973 Manitoba Provincial Team was made up of a group of All-Stars from the MSBL's East Division along with the addition of Binscarth Oriole pitcher Garth Neville. The East All-Stars had qualified for Canada's National tournament held in Edmundston, New Brunswick after shutting out MSBL Top Pitcher Award-winner Les Lisowski and his Western MSBL All-Stars 7-0 in a Provincial qualifying tournament. Team Manitoba then shut out perennial powerhouse Alberta 3-0 to open the National tournament. After finishing the B-side of the round-robin pool with a 4-1 record, the Tobans topped Saskatchewan 4-2 in the semi-finals which set up the final against National Team ace-pitcher George Brice and his British Columbia provincials. A fluke play cost Manitoba three runs in the first inning and B.C. jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. Brandon's Bobby Thompson reduced the gap to 6-2 with a two-run homer and Cloverleaf center fielder Bob Wilson added a grand slam cut the lead to 8-6 in the fourth but it was too late. B.C won her third of six National titles in the decade with a 10-8 victory. Brandon's Roy McLachlan led the tournament in home runs with four while Dauphin Redbird pitcher Dave Rottman was named National Tournament MVP. Team Manitoba finished the tournament at 5-2 while scoring a total of 44 runs and allowing 22, their best showing ever in National competition.
Jay-Dell Mah's Western Canada Baseball
The Brandon Sun
The Mandak League by Barry Swanton
Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame
Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball
The 1949 Brandon Greys is considered as the greatest team in Brandon baseball history. The '49 Greys won the Manitoba Senior League pennant with a record of 28-4 before capturing the league championship by defeating the Elmwood Giants four games to three in the best of seven championship series. Greys' pitcher Frank Watkins, from Ireland, won the final game 2-1 with a complete-game, fifteen-inning masterpiece. He also drove in the winning run. It was the Greys' second consecutive MSL title in as many years and their third Provincial title in four years. They finished the year at 87-18-3 overall, which included the playoffs, exhibition games, and tournament play. Brandon won six of the nine tournaments that were entered including the Indian Head tournament for the 2nd year in a row. Other notable victories included a doubleheader sweep against the Minot Mallards and wins over the barnstorming Ligon's All-Stars, St. Louis Black Cardinals, San Francisco Sea Lions, and the Brooklyn Cuban Giants.
Ian Lowe led the 1949 Greys in hitting with his .336 average however Brandon's star on offense would have to be outfielder Raphael Cabrera. Cabrera hit .316 and led the Greys in home runs (13), runs scored (129), and RBI's (89). Shortstop Coney "Island" Williams hit .304 for Brandon in 1948, .327 for the '49 Greys, and a year later, .429 for the Estevan Maple Leafs of the Southern Saskatchewan League. Dirk "Bubblegum" Gibbons led the MSL in wins with his 19-5 record and strikeouts with 229. He tossed two one-hitters and an eighteen-strikeout performance. Gibbons pitched briefly in the professional negro leagues in 1941 for the Philadelphia Stars and New York Black Yankees. He was a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1948 before joining the Greys in 1949. Winslow Means hurled a pair of eighteen-strikeout games and went 18-4 including a one-hitter and a seven-inning perfect game during the Indian Head tournament. Frank Watkins finished at 17-4 while pitcher-first baseman Armando Vasquez led the Grey's pitching staff in winning % (.923) with his 12-1 record.
After several years competing in the lesser South Central Baseball League (1955-1960) with the main competition coming from Hamiota and Virden, the Brandon Cloverleafs entered the inaugural season of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. Other charter members included the Dauphin Redbirds, Virden Oilers, Hamiota Red Sox, Riverside Blues, Binscarth Buffaloes, and St. Lazare Athletics. During the leagues' 40-year history (1961-2001), the Brandon Cloverleafs have won eight pennants and nine league championships including back-back-back titles twice ('69-'71 and '1994-'96), barely edging Hamiota (ten pennants and six championships) as the MSBL's most successful team of all-time. The Riverside Canucks have won five pennants and nine championships. The MSBL has mostly been noted as a hitter's league. While some teams such as the Dauphin Redbirds, Binscarth Orioles and McCauley Blazers have won a few pennants and championships with their pitching, the Cloverleafs' main weapon has been her offense.
During the mid 1960s, Brandon's Tommy Town won MSBL batting titles with his .436 average in 1963 and .426 average in 1966. Cloverleaf catcher/pitcher Rick McFadyen hit .418 in 1975 to win a batting title and led the MSBL in RBI's a year later. He also hit two home runs including a grand slam for Team Manitoba during the 1977 Canadian Nationals. Mark Rissener won an MSBL batting title by hitting an even .500 in 1983 as did Kary Kirkup with his .397 average in 1995 and Jamie Hodgson won a league batting crown when he hit .507 in 1999. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, pitcher/right fielder Bob Thompson and center fielder Bob Wilson have anchored the heart of Brandon's hitting attack. Wilson has topped the .300 mark seven times: .367 in 1961, .462 (20 at-bats) in '63, .304 in '65, .308 in '66, .333 in 1970, .317 in '72, .347 in '74, and .304 in 1975.
Team Canada, 1975
1948 BRANDON GREYS
NORTHERN LEAGUE--MANITOBA SENIOR LEAGUE--MANDAK LEAGUE
MANITOBA SENIOR BASEBALL LEAGUE
Bobby Thompson began his MSBL career as a teenager with the St.Lazare Athletics in 1962. A year later, his 19 Rbi's led the MSBL and his .388 batting average was the league's 4th best. He spent the 1964 season as a pitcher with the Virden Oilers where he went 5-5 and led the league by striking out 128 batters in 102 innings pitched. Thompson hit .269 with a 3-2 pitching record while back in St. Lazare a year later, before suiting up with the Brandon Cloverleafs in 1966. His .889 winning percentage (8-1) was the league's best while leading Brandon to their first of nine MSBL championships. Thompson hit .303 with a 9-5 mound record in 1968 and hit .303 in '69. He went 7-2 with a .298 batting average in 1972 before a shoulder injury all but ended his pitching career. He slipped to .209 with a 1-3 mound record in 1973, however, rebounded by hitting .383 a year later. Thompson hit .342 in 1975 and .369 a year later. His ten home runs in a 20-game schedule led the MSBL in 1977 and remains a Cloverleaf all-time record.
Thompson seemed to pick up the tempo during the post-season including Provincial and National competition. He was a member of Canada's National team that went to Cali, Columbia in 1971. A year later, he homered against Saskatchewan in the semi-finals of the 1972 Nationals, hit a 2-run shot against B.C. in 1973, a grand slam against B.C. in the 1974 Nationals, and homered against Ontario in 1975. While playing for Team Canada during the 1975 Continental Cup held in Saskatoon, Thompson hit a home run against Nicaragua.
Attendance began to dwindle once Major League Baseball began to rob the professional negro leagues of their best young players -- stars such as Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Larry Doby, and Willy Mays were among the first to abandon ship. The Negro National League along with the infamous Homestead Grays folded in 1948. Other teams and leagues soon followed suit, leaving hundreds of black and Latino ballplayers without a job. North Dakota and the Canadian prairies provided not only jobs playing baseball, but also, to some extent, a safe haven. The Manitoba-Dakota or ManDak League was formed in 1950 which included the Brandon Greys, Winnipeg Buffaloes, Elmwood (Winnipeg) Giants, Carmen Cardinals, and the Minot, North Dakota Mallards. The league lasted eight years (1950-1957). Approximately twenty-five percent of the players were aging and second-tier African-Americans who had experience playing sixty to eighty games each year in the negro leagues; some with top-notch teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, Philadelphia Stars, and the New York Black Giants, to name just a few. The rest of the ManDak was made up of former major-leaguers, minor-leaguers, college prospects, and a few local players from North Dakota, Manitoba, and Minnesota who were good enough to make the team. The ManDak was strictly professional with a minimum salary of $300/month and a maximum of $900/month, about twice that paid by organized baseball at that time. It was rumored that Brandon's payroll exceeded $6,000/month in 1954, which might have led to their demise. Some so-called baseball experts considered the caliber of play in the ManDak laying just below that of level-A competition or between double and triple-A of today's standards. Three ManDak players, Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, and Leon Day were later inducted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. The great Satchel Paige pitched briefly for the 1950 Minot Mallards.