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Claremont’s 1938 championship team was led by Clayton Feser (right) and Bill Prunty, who hit a towering home run into the black of night.
Claremont’s 1938 championship team was led by Clayton Feser (right) and Bill Prunty, who hit a towering home run into the black of night.

The Stars of Summer

Jun 20, 2017

 

In 2009 Madison slugger Kevin Leighton hit his 500th home run for the Canova Gang. He broke the state record 169 homers before.

Leighton was just one of many memorable South Dakota baseball players — many of whom we’ve written about in South Dakota Magazine.

Like Leighton, Bill Prunty played amateur baseball for many years. But he’s best remembered for a single blast, known for years as the Home Run in the Dark. In a 1938 state championship game, Claremont and Aberdeen were tied 4-4 in the 10th inning. Umpire Tommy Collins announced that if there were no runs at the end of the 10th, the game would be replayed the next day. That was bad news for Claremont because their pitcher, Clayton Feser, had already beaten Watertown that day and all 10 innings against Aberdeen. It would have been impossible for him to pitch again in the morning.

Aberdeen didn’t score in the top of the 10th. Claremont had two outs in the bottom of the inning when Prunty came to the plate. He worked the count to 3-2, even though he could barely see the ball. The sports editor of the Aberdeen American News later wrote a poem about his next swing:

 

            A sharp, clear crack and out through space

            The leather pellet flew,

            A blot against the darkening sky,

            A speck against the blue.

            Above the fence in deep right field,

            In rapid, whirling flight,

            The ball sailed on, the speck grew dim

            And soon was out of sight.

 

No one needed to see where it landed — the resounding crack from the bat was enough. The ball was found in the morning and is now exhibited at the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in Lake Norden.

Red Loecker’s baseball career is most notable because no one expected it to happen. After being hit with sniper fire in Vietnam, he was told he might never walk again. But he was determined to get on his feet and play baseball back home in Yankton. He not only returned to the ball field, but won batting titles in 1969, 1970 and 1976, and was the state tourney MVP in 1969.

Women are also part of our state’s baseball history. Amanda Clement of Hudson was the first umpire inducted to the South Dakota Hall of Fame and the second female. Born in 1888, she grew up next to the Hudson ballpark and often played ball with her brother, Henry, and other kids in town. Because she was a girl, the boys often made her call the balls and strikes. She umpired her first real game at age 16 when Renville played Hawarden; it was the first game on record in which a girl earned money for umpiring.

Clement’s services were in high demand. She knew the game, plus coaches learned that they could sell more tickets with a pretty, young umpire behind the plate. She worked about 50 games each summer in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Her earnings paid her way through college. The Boston Post reported that she had turned down 60 proposals for marriage while umpiring, dubbing her the “heartless arbitrator.” Clement also broke a world record when she threw a baseball 279 feet.

Those are just three of our many heroes of summer. Every town has different memories and different stars. For a state with long winters and short baseball seasons, we have more than our share.

Comments

08:15 am - Tue, June 27 2017
Ed said:
Bill was on the RR in Carthage SD and was manager of the baseball team many years and if he needed a pitch hitter to move someone to second base, he would be that hitter and his elbow quit often got in the way of a pitch and he would head to first base and then put in a pinch runner. Won more than one that way.
01:47 pm - Wed, July 5 2017
Marge Martin said:

What is the story on Ray Waltz who now lives in Rapid City SD.

He was told he would be in the Hall Of Fame, But still is not...


Why is he not???
04:37 pm - Wed, July 5 2017
Lowell Mielke said:
After seeing your article on "Stars of Summer," thought I should mention that famous baseball players from S.D. should include Charles L. (Deacon) Phillippi, who pitched professionally from 1899 thru 1911. He was the winner of the very first World Series game in 1903 for the Pirates. He and his family moved from Virginia to the Athol, Spink County area about 1885. He began his professional baseball career when he joined a semi-pro team in Mankato, Minnesota and was eventually drafted by the Louisville Cyclones and then the Pittsburg Pirates. He died in 1952 in Pennsylvania, but his parents, Andrew J. and Margaret Jane Phillippe are buried in the Athol Cemetery in Spink County.

Lowell Mielke
07:20 am - Tue, July 11 2017
Good article for this sports-minded historian. For more information about Amanda Clement, read "Umpire in a Skirt" by Marilyn Kratz, published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press.

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