Legends: Dizzy Trout wowed local ball fans
SOUTH RANGE — Of all the barnstorming sports teams that made it to the Copper Country, the 1947 group of major league baseball players was probably the favorite of local fans.
Put together by Detroit players George Kell and Virgil Trucks, the team played a pair of exhibition games in South Range in 1947 and 1949.
But it was the antics of pitcher Dizzy Trout that left the crowd of more than 2,000 fans buzzing after the early October afternoon.
The late Merv Klemett of Hancock served as the bat boy for the big leaguers. He said it was a big day for everyone.
“I remember the kids were let out of school early so they could go to the game,” Klemett recalled in an interview in 2005. “We didn’t get to see big league …. players in person …. very often up here.”
Also on the roster for the barnstormers were Mike Tresh and Cass Michaels of the White Sox; Elmer Valo of the Athletics; and Don Lund and Roy Cullenbine of the Tigers.
Opposing the big leaguers was a team comprised mainly of the South Range team of the Northern Wisconsin-Michigan League.
South Range had won a few league titles the previous decade.
The roster included pitchers Ikka Hahka, Zeke Hornick and Rusty Hiltunen — all consistent winners for Range.
The Range team also had solid hitters like Wes Kangas, Tony Pleshe and Mike Bukovich.
Trout had a successful career in the majors, winning 20 games three times, and serving as the Tigers No. 2 man behind Hall-of-Famer Hal Newhouser.
The game was played on a raw day (it snowed a little the night before) and was low-scoring. The Tigers grabbed a 4-2 decision behind the hurling of Trout, Art Houtteman and Bob Kuvava of the Chicago White Sox.
Trout stole the show late in the game when he bet $5 with local businessman, Waino Komula, he would hit a homer in his next plate appearance.
When he connected for a long ball in the seventh inning, he ran backwards around the bases before running over to the stands to Komula to collect the bet.
“Everyone got a kick out of that,” Klemett recalled. “He (Trout) was a real character.”
Virtually the same team returned in 1949 and won again. Few details were available on that game.
Kell, who would organize his own team for a later trip to Hancock, said that big league players had no qualms about playing exhibition games after the regular season.
“I think my top salary was around $12,000 a year,” said Kell, who was a career .311 hitter and who made it into the Hall of Fame.
As for Trout, he compiled a 170-161 lifetime record with an earned run average of 3.34.
His son, Steve, later pitched in the majors with the Chicago Cubs.