KNIGHT IN SHINING WHITE ARMOR

So, there he was, a stranger in some distant land, on his way back from the local Dairy Queen with a copy of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy tucked under one arm; all the while, munching on a cherry sundae parfait. He donned a faded pair of Levi’s, plain open-collared shirt, tennies, no socks, and a single-stranded leather anklet while a few curly locks protruded from under his ball cap. Odd, how he must have appeared in this small prairie town which seemed to have gone back in time.

   Dauphin had never won a pennant and only managed two winning seasons during their nine years while competing in the MSBL, Manitobaʼs premier baseball league. In 1962, the Redbirds finished the regular season at 12-8 but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs and finished dead last between 1964 and 1966 with 7-14, 5-17, and 7-17 records respectively. During the early 1950s, Dauphin GM Andy Newton and Roy Taylor of College of the Sequoias in California were opposing managers in the Manitoba--Saskatchewan League. Time to ask his former colleague for help. Taylor referred the request to Fresno State manager Pete Biden who responded by sending three future professionals during the next two seasons including a couple of AAA pitchers; however, no winning season resulted.

   The 1967 Redbirds included California pitchers Ray Strable and Gayland Henard. Henard would go 4-4 for Dauphin and later toss two seasons for the Idaho Falls Angles of the Pioneer League. Strable logged a 6-4 record with a record-setting 124 strikeouts, however, Dauphin could only muster a losing 10-14 record with no trip to the post-season. Strable would advance as high as Triple-A Portland of the Pacific Coast League after getting drafted three times, twice before pitching for Dauphin. The following year, Biden sent left-handed pitcher Larry Dierks to Dauphin where he won six of ten games while striking out 94 batters in just 64 innings pitched, but the best Dauphin could muster, was a 10-10 season with a first-round exit from the playoffs. Dierks would later pitch for the Bellingham Bells at the United Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas and log five seasons in the minors including part of the 1972 season at the AAA level with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League.

   A year later, Biden sent lefty Dick Mailman and shortstop Bob Garcia. Garcia led the MSBL in doubles with 13 and finished second in the league batting race with his .418 average. After returning to Fresno, he signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins organization and hit .245 for the Orlando Twins of the “A” Florida State League and .280 a year later at Orlando before ending his pro career with a .204 average for the Lynchburg Twins of the “A” Carolina League. The 1969 Redbird team placed four hitters in the leagueʼs top ten. What the ’69 Birds needed was pitching as Mailman went win-less in a Redbird uniform, going 0-3 despite signing a pro contract two years later as a 7th-round draft pick. Although the Redbirds finally logged a winning season at 10-9, there would be no postseason.

   The nucleus of the Dauphin Redbirds remained the same throughout the mid to late 1960s with MSBL All-Stars Johnny Lesychen, Don Smith, Gary Keating, and Jerry Shumanski. It didn’t matter who Dauphin brought in to handle the pitching chores. The results were the same -- a losing or mediocre season. The winds kept blowing in from the Southwest, but not Southern California. Enter Davie Van Roth ... an outsider from ... Northern California.


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Not only was it a rough first week off the field, but Van Roth lost a tough 2-1 decision to Legendary pitcher Glennis Scott and his Red Sox at Hamiota. He described the event as the worst and most biased umpiring he had ever seen. Mailman also lost a one-run game to Brandon when Cloverleaf outfielder “Hack” Wilson stole home while the Redbird pitcher was rubbing up the baseball with his back turned in the bottom of the ninth. It appeared as though Dauphin was headed for another dismal season when Van Roth got a message from Yuba College teammate Dennis Gallagher who had accepted a scholarship from Southern Californiaʼs Chapman College. Gallagher had hit .341 at Yuba, third best on the team, and was playing summer baseball for the Halstead Cowboys of the Kansas Victory League. One of Halsteadʼs starting pitchers had suffered an injury and Van Roth was offered a spot on the roster. Two years later, after hitting .345 at Chapman, Gallagher signed a contract with the Kansas City Royals organization after being drafted in the 26th round of Major-League Baseball's 1972 June Draft. He hit .229 for the Billings Mustangs of the Rookie Pioneer League before batting .251 with five home runs in 167 at-bats for the independent Tri-City Triplets of the lower-A Northwest League a year later.

   Van Roth said he’d be in Kansas within a few days and twice, tried to tell General Manager Newton that he was leaving the team; but just could not pull the trigger, each time getting beaten to the punch. Ah, Davie me boy. Help yourself to a soda. Glad youʼre with us. He just could not force himself to walk out on the jolly olʼ Irishman and the rest of the team, even if some of these Ruby Flyers were happy-go-lucky drunks and the team was headed for last place. He decided to stick it out for the rest of the summer and play ball for the Redbirds. Whereʼs this decision gonna lead to?

   Strange, how a single decision can drastically alter the course of one’s life; like opting on a whim and traveling to Canada to play summer baseball, or deciding after considerable thought, not to play baseball in Kansas. Van Roth didn’t fit in with these Redbirds, but then again, he didn’t fit in anywhere. He was an outsider and always seemed to be on the outskirts of society looking in. Maybe he should have taken that trip to the land of Oz. It might have been better for his baseball career had he left for Kansas and pitched for Halstead. Perhaps Van Roth could have made a difference; if so, he might have got a chance to pitch in the Kansas State tournament against the Liberal Bee Jays, winners of the premier Kansas Jayhawk League where ballplayers are watched on a regular basis by professional scouts. Liberal, home of Dorothy who traveled over that rainbow, regularly competed in Wichita’s National Baseball Congress’ World Series of semi-pro baseball. They won it all in 1968, were runners-up in ’69, and finished third in 1970. The Bee Jays, along with the Goldpanners of Alaska, rank among America’s top semi-pro baseball teams of all-time. Liberal has won five National baseball titles, and has sent 135 players and three managers to the major leagues.

   The Halstead Cowboys finished third in the 1968 Kansas State championship tournament behind powerhouses Liberal and Cessna. In 1969, Cessna won the Victory League title while Halstead slipped to last place with a 5-9 record. The 1970 Cowboys finished with an 8-4 record, tied with the Wichita Sunflower Packers and Hutchinson Broncs for top spot; thus qualifying for the Kansas NBC State Championship Tournament. There, they ran into the Liberal BeeJays with future major league stars Steve Rogers, Ron Guidry, Phil Garner, Dave Hilton, and manager Bob Cerv, former New York Yankee outfielder. Halstead finished second in the state tournament falling 11-3 to the BeeJays in the finals as future Yankee Ron Guidry struck out fifteen. Halstead’s second baseman and former Yuba College shortstop Dennis Gallagher, was named to the Kansas All-State team and later competed in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita. Although it was a tough first week, Van Roth noted in his journals that he didnʼt care. All that mattered was that he was getting paid to play the game of baseball, about the same as those getting paid in the lower minor leagues.

   The 1970 Dauphin Redbirds got off to a slow start and found themselves with a 2-4 record after Mailmanʼs tough loss at Brandon. It seemed as though these Ruby Warblers were about to turn it around shortly before the halfway mark of the schedule when Mailman announced that he was quitting the team and returning to California which would have left the pitching burden resting on the shoulders of Van Roth. The Birds had won three in a row and found themselves with a 5-4 record and in third place trailing the 10-1 Hamiota Red Sox and 6-4 Souris Cardinals when Mailman got into an auto accident.

“Mailman rear-ended a moose. He was partying in Brandon when his girlfriend gave him the heave-ho after an argument. He was drunk and tried to drive back to Dauphin in the middle of the night. There was a patch of fog at the bottom of a hill inside Riding Mountain National Park and in that fog was a full-grown moose. I don’t think Dickie ever saw that moose. There were no skid marks and they found the dead Bullwinkle about twenty yards into the woods. I saw his Dodge Dart with its shattered front windshield the next day after they towed it back to Dauphin. The hood, roof, and trunk were caved-in and covered in moose shit. I think that moose may have crapped all over Mailman too. He was ready to quit and go home but had to stick around while his car was being repaired which took about a month. By then, the regular season was over." (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer. July 1970)

   Dauphin won 11 of their next 15 games to finish in second place at 16-8. Hamiota, after a great start, slipped to third place as they were overtaken by both the surging Redbirds and the Souris Cardinals who went on to win the pennant. Van Roth, who sandwiched a win between losses to Hamiota and Souris to begin the season, reeled off seven straight victories to end the regular season. The Redbirds had not won a pennant of any kind in fourteen years even though all six of their imported players from Southern California since 1966 had returned to sign professional contracts ... but then again, except Garcia, none of these California imports could play All-Star shortstop when not on the mound ... nor possess the unflagging doggedness of Davie Van Roth.


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So, there he was, standing on a corner, on his way back from the local Dairy Queen with a copy of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy tucked under one arm, all the while, munching on a cherry sundae parfait while he waited as traffic went by. He considered Russell’s History a crutch and often leaned on that large tome; leaned on that book like a monk clutching his bible. It would be his fourth reading. Odd, how he must have appeared in this small mid-western prairie-town which seemed to have gone back in time; unusual-looking while wearing his back-home California attire: faded Levis with a hole in one knee, plain open-collared shirt with sleeves rolled up, untucked, and Converse tennies ... no socks. He wore a single-stranded leather anklet while a few curly locks protruded from under his Yuba College ball cap. The first time they met, he simply nodded with a faint smile. The next time, they spoke:

You’re one of the American import ballplayers, aren’t you? she asked.

So, what gave me away?

Well, you certainly don’t look Canadian, eh. What part of the states are you from?

Just outside a small town called Marysville; about forty miles north of Sacramento, California.

And, what’s that you’re reading?

Bertrand Russell, a British mathematician and philosopher.

Ah, never heard of him. You know ... my father’s a member of the baseball team’s board of directors.

Oh?


   Jude had just completed her second year at Brandon University where she was majoring in French with ambitions of becoming a high school French teacher. She was home for the summer and had a job as “town greeter” at a tourist booth located on the southern edge of town. Van Roth hadn’t been on a date in nearly two years, however, he invited the girl with the high cheekbones to come see their next ballgame, which she did, and was escorted by her father.
The headlines in the next day’s sporting page of the Brandon Sun read:

                                                                    VAN ROTH DOES IT ALL

                                   Blasts game-winner with two-out, bases-loaded drive off left-field wall

                                              Strikes out twenty in marathon, record-setting 1-0 victory

   She would never see him lose ... and, just like that ... he became the lady’s shining knight in white armor with the Moody Blues’ hit record “Knight’s in White Satin” becoming their theme song. She stared at people with thoughts they couldn’t understand. What the truth was, she couldn’t say anymore, even though they warned her with words they couldn’t defend. Letters were sent that should never have been written. That winter, “Hey Jude” quit college and flew to Cali where they would wed just before Christmas at St. Joseph’s Church in Marysville, California. The consummation of vows would have to wait until after the wedding bells rang, for the virgin “Saint Jude” was a devout Catholic. Her mother was head of the Catholic Women’s League back in Dauphin. An existential and a Catholic? Did she marry the man, or did she marry the ballplayer?

   Van Roth’s 20 K’s against the NoDaks of North Dakota were second-most in league history. Jim Huff of the Virden Oilers had struck out 21 a year earlier and the pitcher from Cal Berkeley would sign a pro contract a year later. It was an unprecedented second time that Van Roth had struck out 20 batters in just a little over two months as he had previously struck out twenty against Lassen College in a Golden Valley Conference game. Dauphin finished the regular season at 16-8, their best record since joining the MSBL in 1961. The pitching staff allowed 85 total runs, a league record for fewest runs allowed in a twenty-four-game schedule. Van Roth received the circuitʼs Top Pitcher Award with his 8-2 record and was the starter in the league’s annual All-Star game. His twenty strikeouts in a game and .800 winning percentage were all-time Redbird records while his eight victories and fewest runs allowed per nine innings were the league’s best.

   The Hamiota Red Sox started the 1970 season by winning ten of their first eleven games and looked as if they were going to run away with their sixth pennant and fourth MSBL championship in the league's first 10 years; but then both the Redbirds and Souris Cardinals got hot, eventually overtaking the HamSox towards the end of the season. The Cardinals were led by a trio of American pitchers -- six-foot-three-inch, 210 pound Bill Carpenter or "Carp" as they called him, from Athens, Pennsylvania, and a pair of North Dakota State Bison pitchers. Carpenter had spent seven seasons as a professional, advancing as high as AAA when he pitched for the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. His best season as a pro was at age 22 when he posted a 19-4 record with a stellar 1.59 ERA for the class-C Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League. Dick Marsden and Bernie Graner had just completed part of their record-setting careers at NDS. Marsden's career 1.44 ERA and Graner's career 2.38 ERA rank one-two on the school’s all-time career ERA list that still stand today. Graner's 10 K's/9 innings ranks third-best all time.

   Brandon Sun Sports editor Bill Davidson almost got one right when he predicted Hamiota would beat Dauphin in six games and the Souris Cardinals would accomplish the same versus the 10-14 Brandon Cloverleafs in the first round of the playoffs. Dauphin was on the verge of elimination after Hamiota won the first three games including a 4-3 win over Van Roth, even though the Redbird pitcher struck out fourteen Red Sox batters. Van Roth had now pitched 254 innings on the year and had won 25 games. He was also wincing in pain after every pitch, but that didnʼt matter. He was gunning for another unprecedented record -- four titles in two years -- a Golden Valley Conference championship and a Mexican-American League shared title in 1969, a Golden Valley Conference Southern Division title, and now a Manitoba Senior Baseball League championship, but would he get the opportunity?

   Dauphin staved off elimination when Bob Neufeld picked up a 7-5 win and Van Roth battled the Red Sox to a 10-inning, 4-4 tie. Neufeld picked up another win in relief before Mailman won 3-2, setting the stage between the league's two most winningest pitchers -- Hamiota's Ron Ramsay and Dauphin's Davie Van Roth. No contest. Ramsay was gone in the second inning and reliever Porky Smith didn't fare much better as the Redbirds led 7-2 after six innings and coasted to victory. Surprisingly, Brandon advanced to the league finals by defeating Souris in a tough seven-game series. The ten-day layoff, while the host Manitoba provincial team finished 1-3 in the Canadian National Championships, could not have been more convenient for the Brandon Cloverleafs as Redbird pitchers Van Roth and Mailman returned to California and registered for college. Bob Neufeld, the "goofy neufie," and Gary Keating both picked up mound victories in the MSBL finals knotting the series at two apiece; however, the Redbirds had to forfeit when Neufeld and starters Johnny Morrison, Ron Low, and Bob Buchy all left for professional hockey camps. The championship was handed to Brandon on a silver platter, almost as if the league planned it that way. The aging Cliff Seafoot, catcher for the last place 7-17 Riverside Canucks with his .354 average, fifth-best in the MSBL, was surprising named league MVP.

   Van Roth struck out 82 batters in 67 innings during the regular season, 15 during tournament play, and another 30 in the playoffs, a league record for playoff strikeouts. The 127 total K’s topped Ray Strable’s single-season mark and stands today as an all-time Redbird record. Strable, from College of the Sequoias and Fresno State, led the MSBL in strikeouts before spending three seasons in the minor leagues advancing as far as AAA. During those three seasons, Strable compiled a career 21-13 record with a sparkling 2.99 ERA.

   Surprising, Dick Mailman, with his two-year 4-7 Redbird record, returned to California and signed a professional contract with the Minnesota Twins. He was assigned to the Auburn Twins of the lower class-A New York-Pennsylvania League where he won seven out of ten games with a 3.13 ERA. He struck out 84 in 92 innings pitched, well above his average while pitching in the MSBL. In 1972, his last year in professional baseball, Mailman went 8-10 with a 3.28 ERA for the Lynchburg Twins of the class-A Carolina League. Perhaps, MSBL hitters were a tad better than what one might have thought. Canadian hockey/baseball players begin striking low-lying objects with a stick as early as age two.