The Rosetown Baseball Riot
Posted October 5, 2019
A long time ago, the 1950’s and 1960’s specifically, there were a few large baseball tournaments in western Canada that drew crowds and teams from across the prairies. It was perhaps the heyday of the baseball tournaments on the prairies. There were four tournaments that were at the epicentre of how fantastic and big these tournaments were.
Lloydminster hosted a two-day tournament in June that was dubbed “the west’s greatest sporting event” and had a total prize money of $4,600 (about $50,000 in 2019 according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator). The winner of the tournament would take away $2,000 (about $22,000 in 2019). Camrose hosted one of the older tournaments on the prairies, routinely brining in teams from the United Staes dating back to the 1920’s. In the 1950’s the tournament would also see large prize money with the tournament winners pocketing $2,000 back then. The tournament was so popular and big for the city, that in the 1970’s baseball fans could still see references of the tournaments in the local newspaper.
1950 Lloydminster tournament poster (Western Canada Baseball)
Not to be outdone, Lacombe started their own large tournament in the 1950’s after the President of the Lacombe Lions Club attended the Lloydminster tournament in 1949 and felt that his hometown could do it better. The tournament would run for thirty years and would become the largest payout for a western Canadian baseball tournament. It was even reported that in the 1970's Pat Gillik, then with the Houston Astros, would venture to Lacombe to watch the tournament. I talked to a gentleman from Lacombe and he mentioned how big the tournament was when he was a kid. One of the biggest draws the tournament had was a team from Amber Valley, Alberta whose familes settled in the area around Athabasca in the early 1900's from Oklahoma.
Undated photo of the Amber Valley baseball team (Photo: Glenbow Museum Archives)
I am sure all of the tournaments have some great stories to capture their history. High calibre teams would travel from tournament to tournament during the summer collecting substantial payouts and in some cases, negotiating guaranteed money to attend. It was rumoured that the Spectre baseball team collected a total of $17,000 in prize money during the 1950 tournament season. That comes out to be about $186,000 in 2019.
In Rosetown, Saskatchewan the annual Rosetown Legion Baseball Tournament was the baseball event of the summer. The tournament was another big money tournament and in 1952 was attended (like other tournaments on the prairies) by the Florida Cubans. There are two attendance figures that I’ve seen pop up in stories about the Rosetown tournament. One indicated an attendance of 8,000 people to watch the Indian Head Rockets defeat the North Battleford Beavers in the 1950 championship game and the second had crowds of approximately 10,000 fans in the early 1950’s. So the tournament was big. Lot’s of money and lots of hard nosed baseball players.
A 1952 photo from North Battleford during a Beavers game (Photo: Western Canada Baseball)
Which leads us to one of the wildest baseball stories I have heard. In the August 1, 1952 edition of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, sports writer Dallas Beck highlighted the 1952 Rosetown Legion Baseball Tournament with an article titled “Baseball Bat, Rocks, Knife, Shotgun, Rifle: Eyewitness Account of Fracas at Rosetown Ball Tournament”. It is a wild story about the tournament semi-final between the North Battleford Beaves and the Florida Cubans. The Cubans won 13-12 in 11 innings, but that was hardly the story of the game. You can read it below or find it online within the Google News archives here;
Baseball Bat, Rocks, Knife, Shotgun, Rifle
Eye-Witness Account of Fracas at Rosetown Ball Tournament
By Dallas Beck, Sports Writer
Friday August 1, 1952
ROSETOWN. - Interpretations of Wednesday’s Rosetown Legion Baseball Tournament fiasco were a dime a doze here Thursday. But unless the National Baseball Congress - of which the Legion tourney is an affiliate and to which it will no double make a report - does, or can, take action against Curtis Tate of the North Battleford Beavers, the whole affair will probably go into the annals as no more than a wild-and-woolly memoir of the 1952 tournament.
Tate, the Negro third-baseman of the North Battleford club, already had quite a reputation for some un-baseball-like antics at previous Rosetown money shows, but his part in Wednesday’s riot will outlive them all.
It was he who beaned a Cuban All-Star opponent with a baseball bat and then made a hurried and desperate exit out of the ball park, through a surrounding hedge of willows, across 200 yards of summer fallow and eventually into the house of a North Rosetown grain-buyer.
The victim of the “rhubarb,” which actually started from a clash of two other players during a close play at second base, was Cuban Leopolda Reyes. He was still in Rosetown hospital Thursday afternoon, his condition termed as “fairly good”. He was admitted semi-conscious and treated for a “head injury” at 8.15 o’clock Wednesday evening.
But to get back to the Wednesday evening affair itself. This reporter talked to Mrs. W.H. Craddock, among others, and the account of her part in the fast paced proceedings was the best. She is the wife of the elevator agent in whose house the fleeing Tate sought refuge.
Mrs. Craddock was busy washing at back step of her house Wednesday evening when she noticed a ball player moving cautiously, but walking, across a ploughed field which is adjacent to the Craddock backyard.
She tried not to pay any attention to the stranger approaching her until he was upon her with mutterings of “you gotta hide me…they’re after me…you gotta hide me!”
The confused housewife by now found herself being half pushed and half following the unknown man into her kitchen, and upon reaching the kitchen she was more startled than ever when the obviously scared-to-death strander grabbed a king-size butcher knife that was lying on the cupboard.
At this instance Mrs. Craddock, not knowing quite what to think, hurried to a bedroom of the house and shooed her small daughter and a playmate out of the front door, telling them to dash to a nearby elevator where her husband was working and tell him to get over to the house - but fast.
In the meantime, the stranger, who of course was Tate, had barricaded himself in a bedroom at the front of the one-storey dwelling, being careful enough to cover the window with a bed sheet.
A matter of a few minutes later when her husband appeared on the scene at the front of the house armed with a shotgun, more startling events took place. Up rushed another ballplayer, a highly enraged one, armed with two rocks he had taken from the back yard on his way around the house. He was screaming “Where is he? Where is he?…I keel seem!”
The reassuring part of the bewildering incident, at least for the Craddock family, took place almost at the same moment when two Royal Canadian Mounted Police constables rounded the corner of the house on the heels of the rock-eating Cuban By this time, a 14-year-old Craddock son had instinctively grabbed a nearby rifle, but by no means, like his father, made any threatening gestures to either the Cuban, whose name incidentally was Cisnero, or Tate, who was still lying low inside the house.
The R.C.M.P. soon had things cooled down and took both Tate and Cisnero to Rosetown headquarters in their car. But even yesterday afternoon, almost 24 hours later, Mrs. Craddock, who later found the knife hidden in the bed-clothes, was not quite sure how it all came about.
She, at the time, had been too busy making preparations to leave on family vacation, to be worrying about the ball tournament which was in progress a quarter of a mile away.
What did happen before the excitement around the Craddock home?
Well, there were many stories circulation around the tournament grounds Thursday afternoon with the event moving into the semi-finals, but we took the word of a prominent Rosetown sports figure - George Shaw.
His version coincided with that of the R.C.M.P. and many other reports of the incident.
It was a flare-up at second base between North Battleford catcher Louis Green and Cuban shortstop Diaz that eventually led to the clubbing of Reyes, the Cuban player. On a force-out play at second, with Diaz moving over to cover, Green went in hard - reportedly all elbows, spikes and knees. (We’re not condemning this however, for baseball, played sincerely, can be a rough game).
At any rate, Green and Diaz came up with fists flying, where-upon members of both teams, umpires and Legion officials poured onto the playing field. One incident led to another and Tate who had been “on deck” in the batters’ circle, made his appearance wielding a bat in antagonistic fashion. At this, the Cuban players made a dash for their dugout, at first appearing as if they were going to call the whole thing off, but then quickly returning brandishing bats of their own.
They took after Tate, with Reyes being the nearest in pursuit, also with bat in hand. The chase led past third base and to a two-feet-high fence surrounding the diamond. Reyes at this point either tripped over the fence or was hauled down by another Beaver player. (It was impossible to decide in the confusion). Tate turned to him, hit him on the head with his bat, then fled in even more haste across the big parking lot which runs adjacent to the field.
Cisnero took up the chase this time, was momentarily cooled down by two Mounted Police officers, but headed off again in search of Tate. One man, an anonymous, husky Rosetown district farmer, had previously got a hold of Tate to slow him down, but the desperate Beaver had slipped away.
From here on, Mrs. Craddock’s story completes the tale.
When the R.C.M.P. finally rounded up Tate and Cisnero at the farm house, they took them both to headquarters and held Tate, merely as a means of protecting him. There were no charges or arrests.
Tate soon left with his team for Moose Jaw where they were scheduled for games Thursday. The Cuban was also released and Thursday afternoon appeared as the winning pitcher against the Saskatoon Giants.
Although there were no North Battleford spokesmen available at Rosetown Thursday, we talked with the managers of the Cuban club, Ysrael Duarry and Gilbert Yzquierdo.
Their comment was this: “We are sorry such a thing has happened. We came to Canada this summer for one purpose only - to play baseball.”
North Battleford Beavers 3B Curtis Tate (Photo: Western Canada Baseball)
There was also an interview with Emile Francis, who was a North Battleford Beavers player in 1952 and involved in the brawl in Rosetown during the tournament. I found it online at http://www.attheplate.com/ and there was no credit as to where this interview took place or who conducted it. The only information that was attached was that it occurred in the year 2001. Here is Emile Francis recounting that game in 1952;
" ... They wanted to guarantee we'd come there because if we came and played they'd get good crowds. So they guaranteed us a thousand dollars to even come ... well, we won three games and now we had to play Sceptre, 16 innings, to get to the finals. So we're playing the Cubans and in those days there would be a two-day tournament and they'd have ten-thousand people. People would come from all over the province.
The Cubans and the blacks, they didn't like one another. And we're into about the 7th inning and the score is nothing-nothing. I had a guy by the name of Louis Green, a catcher, and he's on first base and the ball it was hit to the short stop who tossed it to second base to go for the double play. Louie Green went in and, instead of sliding in, he went into second base and hit him with an elbow and took him out on the play.
With that a little fight started at second base. I was on third base at the time. In the on deck circle was a guy by the name of Curtis Tate, our third baseman. When he saw this little scuffle start at second base he started coming out from the batters' circle -- our dugout was on the third base side -- carrying his bat.
When the Cubans saw him coming with that bat, they left the second base area and they all headed for their dugout which was on the first base side. It was like they evaporated. By that time I'm at second base and Jackie McLeod was at the pitchers' mound and he was carrying a bat. All of a sudden I see all these Cubans, who ran to their dugout, and grabbed bats. So I turned to McLeod and tried to grab his bat but he wouldn't give it to me.
They came running right past McLeod and me and they're heading for Tate who now is in front of our dugout. The closest Cuban to him, I'll never forget his name, was Leopoldo Reyes, shortstop. Well when he came close to Tate, Tate took a full swing at him and hit him right in the head. He went down like he got shot. After hitting him, Tate took off. He ran down the third base line then he cut across -- they had all these portable bleachers -- and he ran through there and everybody is wrestling and grabbing one another.
I saw Tate go down the third base side and two Cubans take off so I took off because I'm chasing them you know. But, they left me in the dust.
Tate, ran all through the parking lot and he ran out to the highway which was about a mile away, a gravel highway. I'm going through the bush, and all of a sudden here's two Cubans. They still had bats in their hands so I'm wrestling with the Cubans and a friend of mine, who sees it all, he was running, tracking us all down so I told him, grab these guys. I've got to take off.
So Tate runs. There was an elevator, a farmer's house and he ran right into the house and the wife was making dinner ... her husband and son were out working in the elevator. Tate ran in the house and the first thing he grabbed was a knife. Well, she ran out of the house to the elevator ... and the husband grabbed a gun and came running back. Here was Tate in there with a ball uniform on. He explained what had happened and said if these guys catch him they're going to kill him. Up come the two Cubans and up come the Mounties.
About an hour later we had to go back and finish the ball game. They put Tate in jail. We finished the game and we won and went back and had to get him out of jail. We were traveling in four cars, five guys to a car, somebody cut the tires on all the cars, but mine.
There was a guy by the name of Bill Cameron, who worked for CFQC in Saskatoon, a real good sportscaster. So, we're driving to Moose Jaw, about midnight and he's talking "Who does that Francis think he is, running around here causing riots, hitting guys over the head with baseball bats, they should take that team and deport them."
Now we play in Moose Jaw the next afternoon, a split doubleheader. In the first game Tate went 5 for 5, his eyes were like saucers, scared to death. There were no faxes in those days, so I get in my car, drive down to the CNR Telegraph. I sent Bill Cameron a telegraph "If you're going to run Curtis Tate out of the country, better run him out real fast, he just went five for five."
So now we have to play that night. We're all in the dugout and a little guy comes up on a bicycle in his little uniform, CNR Telegraph. "Mr. Francis, Mr. Francis". I put my hand up. "I have a telegram for you." I opened it up. It's from Bill Cameron, "Of the five hits that Curtis Tate got, how many are in the hospital?"
I mean…wow! Imagine this scenario in 2019. The bat swinging incident and the subsequent man hunt through town is unfathomable. Even imagining a senior men’s baseball tournament with a $2,000 winning prize or 8,000 - 10,000 people packing the ball field to watch senior men’s baseball in a small town is difficult to wrap your head around in this day and age. Just a crazy baseball story for a time when small prairie town baseball was a widely popular event and was a part of those communities culture.