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America's Pastime

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Sagle Baseball Team, image courtesy Bonner Co. Historical Society Sagle Baseball Team, image courtesy Bonner Co. Historical Society

Over 100 years of baseball history is embedded in this area

The email came just as I was transitioning from the school yearbook to this issue of the River Journal and it knocked me loose from my moorings for most of a day.

“This may be somewhat of a long shot, but I’m wondering if you can help me?” it began. Gary, based in Glasgow, Scotland, is a writer interested in baseball players during war time—World War II to be specific. He had come across a story of the death in 1948 in the Clark Fork River of a 26-year-old catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, Bobby Lenn. Other information made him wonder whether a couple of other Lenn boys who played in the minor leagues might be Bobby’s brothers. As Bobby’s boat had capsized in the river near Heron, Gary wondered if I could help.

Don’t tell my kids, but when I’ve told them all these years that I know everything, I’ve been lying. One of my better skills, however, is knowing how to uncover information and, as an amateur genealogist, I had some good ideas for how to learn about people back in the 1940s. And with the Internet, I could learn much of it quickly.

By day’s end I was able to report to Gary that the Lenn family, who moved to the Noxon area in the ‘40s, included four brothers: Bobby, Wayne, Edwin and Kaye. Bobby, Wayne and Edwin all did, indeed, play minor league baseball and Kaye, the youngest, played football for the Montana Grizzlies. Kaye graduated Noxon High School around 1945. All four boys served their country in World War II: Bobby, Edwin and Kaye in the army, and Wayne in the Army Air Corps. Their father, Oscar Dean, himself an army veteran of World War I, was a telegraph agent for the railroad and, prior to moving to Noxon, the family had lived in Polk Co., Florida. There were two sisters, as well, Shirley and Marian.

Oscar, it seems, stayed in Montana; he’d moved here for his health and he lived another 20 some years after arrival. He died in 1964 and, I’m told, is buried in the Heron Cemetery, along with his son. Wayne and Edwin left the area to settle in Wake Co., North Carolina, before moving on in the mid-fifties to Culpeper, Virginia, where they were joined by Kaye. The three spent the remainder of their lives in Culpeper, living as bachelor farmers and building a rather fantastic boat, the Lord Culpeper, that they sailed to Florida, and then to the Caribbean. Edwin died just last month, but Kaye and Wayne are still there in Culpeper, and we had a nice conversation on the telephone, though Kaye, it must be admitted, was a little surprised that someone would be calling today about what happened all those years ago.

Shirley also passed a few years back, but Marian is still living in Los Angeles with her daughter, who’s an attorney.

“Wow!” was Gary’s response. “The mystery for me now is how they all got into pro baseball, as they seem to have grown up in Heron?”

Well, they didn’t grow up in Heron. The older boys grew up in Florida and graduated high school there, and that’s where they became involved in baseball. But their involvement in the minor leagues would hardly be surprising even if they had grown up in this little corner of the woods, because what Gary didn’t know was that baseball in this area was big. Really big. Every little town had a team, and baseball games were one of the major social activities for the people living here. The sport was truly America’s pastime, especially in the first half of the century.

Baseball, for those who didn’t know, was (and is) divided at the professional level into majors and minors. The top tier is the majors, of course, and the minors are divided into several leagues under that, starting with Triple A and going down. They called ‘em the farm leagues, because that’s where the top tier “farmed” for players, though I think the fact that most of these boys were farmers—at least, prior to the war—probably suggested the name.

This area had dozens of baseball teams, some from communities like Morton (out on the Dufort Road), that don’t even exist anymore. They weren’t all a part of the minors, but a skilled player certainly had the chance to move toward that top tier, potentially achieving the dream of reaching the major leagues. Leon Cadore did it. A graduate of Sandpoint High School, he was a pitcher in the minor leagues from 1915 to 1924, and shares a record for the most innings pitched in a minor league game—26—in the 1920 game between the Brooklyn Robins and fellow record holder Joe Oeschger’s Boston  Braves. Sportswriter Hugh Bradley described him thusly:  “Leon Cadore, a foxy fellow on Brooklyn, used to wear a piece of sandpaper on the side of his pants. Or so his opponents claimed.”

That baseball dream, by the way, wasn’t to make big money, because in those days, baseball players weren’t well paid. Even the legendary Babe Ruth, it must be remembered, still had to work in the coal mines during the off season.

Major league ball, however, didn’t make it any further west than St. Louis prior to World War II. On the West Coast (the west “half” would be more accurate), the minor leagues were the top tier; and we had our own minor league team right here in the little town of Sagle.

It was the Sagle ball team for years, though it time it would become known as the Sagle Yankees. Dwight Sheffler, who now coaches his grandson’s Little League baseball team, says his father and grandfather both played on the team, as did he and his brother Dwayne. “Baseball was everything,” he said of this sport that reigned supreme from the time Idaho first became a state through, at least, the late 1960s. “It defined a community. There was baseball in the summer, and the Grange Hall in the fall, winter and spring.”

From Noxon to Clark Fork to Sagle, Sandpoint to Colburn to Bonners Ferry, towns fielded teams and boys and young men played; older men coached and cheered while women cooked and supported their men. In the ‘30s, radios became ubiquitous and when not playing themselves, fans gathered to hear broadcasts and made stars out of players like Bob Feller, Joe Dimaggio, Lefty Grove, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and, of course, the Babe himself.

Baseball had the benefit that it could be played anywhere, at any time, and with just about any materials: any stick could become a bat, anything small enough with just a little bit of heft could become a ball. Just two people could play a game, though it became a lot more fun when you could rope in a few friends.

“Official” games were community events, a time for socializing with the neighbors and catching up with what was going on in their lives. Most brought food, and stayed to eat after the game was over.

It was a game of proximity—you played, or supported, the team closest to where you lived. Kids didn’t “choose” a favorite team, they were born into one, and their team identified who they were.

“Baseball was what we did once we got our chores done,” explained Dwight. The community turned out for games, whether to play or to watch, and for picnics after. Through the off season, there were dinners and dances at the Grange Hall. “It was not your choice to belong,” he said, “it was your obligation. It was part of being able to say you were from Sagle.” Or Hope, or Colburn, or Kootenai.

At a recent practice with his grandson on the field in Sagle, he reminisced about growing up in the house next door to it (it doesn’t exist anymore), and reflected that there wasn’t one single inch of that field he hadn’t stepped on. But, he added, “communities changed and different things took the place of baseball.” Television was the new ubiquity, and families found entertainment right in their own living room. Travel became easier and, eventually, little boys (and girls) became more interested in electronic toys than in going out to toss a ball around with Dad or Grandpa. Community teams disbanded and, some might say, something was lost that never should have been.

But not completely. Although not at the same level, kids still play ball and dads (and moms) still coach. Fans gather to watch. Little League has baseball games going on now at fields all over the county, and Sandpoint City Rec softball is getting ready to start.

Stop by a game and experience America’s Pastime firsthand or, if you’re an old baseball fan, visit and remember what it was like.

Oh, and during that seventh-inning stretch, if you find yourself mumbling along unsure of the words, here’s a reminder for you: Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don’t care if I never get back ‘cause it’s root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game.”

If you’d like to learn more about baseball players in wartime, visit Gary’s website at BaseballinWartime.com. The Sagle Community Hall has a collection of Sagle Baseball memorabilia. And Ann Ferguson at the Bonner County Historical Society and Museum (her grandpa Jimmy is pictured in the Sagle team on the cover) has a wealth of information on Leon Cadore.

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Landon Otis

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Heron, baseball, history, Lenn

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