Each year, when Iowa winter reaches a point of being almost unbearable, seven lovely words pierce the cold, gray dreariness: “Pitchers and catchers report for spring training.”
Baseball fans got an abbreviated spring training this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Major League Baseball suspended operations March 12 and delayed Opening Day of the regular season, which was set for March 26, to at least April 9.
But Iowans still have high interest in the 2020 season, since it includes a real, counts-for-the-standings game at a field built adjacent to the “Field of Dreams” movie site. The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to play Aug. 13 in Dyersville.
“Field of Dreams,” of course, is the 1989 movie about an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who follows the commands of a ghostly voice to build a baseball field in his cornfield so ghost players from yesteryear could play again.
This got us to thinking: What if the players who shimmered into being among the cornstalks and trotted onto the field were all Iowans? Here’s the best one through nine lineup (plus a designated hitter) an all-Iowa team could produce.
Birthplace: Van Meter
Position: Starting pitcher • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1936-1941, 1945-1956 • W-L: 266-162 • ERA: 3.25 • SO: 2,581
Hall of Fame: 1962
Robert “Bob” Feller rocketed to baseball superstardom almost as fast as one of his vaunted fastballs. He debuted in the big leagues at age 17, barely removed from playing ball on a Dallas County team with fellow star athlete Nile Kinnick of Adel, who would win the Heisman Trophy for the University of Iowa.
Feller pitched three no-hitters in his career, all of which was played for the Cleveland Indians, including one on opening day in 1940 — the only opening day no-hitter ever thrown. He pitched his best overall season in 1946, winning 26 games against 15 losses with 36 complete games and 10 shutouts. He struck out 348 batters in 371.1 innings pitched.
From the archives: Iowa native Bob Feller throws baseball’s only Opening Day no-hitter
Feller was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the armed forces after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.
He volunteered for the Navy, where he became a gun captain aboard the U.S.S. Alabama. He and his shipmates fought in the Pacific Theater in battles to capture the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Feller also participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which crippled Japanese aircraft carrier abilities.
Feller often said the most important thing he ever did was enlist in the Navy.
Birthplace: Story City
Position: Catcher • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1911-1913, 1915-1926 • BA: .289 • H: 1,245 • HR: 17 • RBI: 538
Henry Levai “Hank” Severeid’s older and younger brothers both played minor league baseball, but the middle child of Norwegian immigrants made the majors. He worked his way up by playing with club and minor league teams across Iowa.
Severeid cracked the majors at age 20 with the Cincinnati Reds. He caught on for good with the St. Louis Browns, where he played the majority of his career. He was known as a tough catcher who hated the pitchout and preferred to throw out runners from behind the plate with a traditional throw.
A 1962 Des Moines Register profile described him as “working like Hercules” and noted his ability to coach pitchers through mediocre days toward winning results. When he turned 30 in 1921, he started a string of five consecutive seasons hitting .300 or more.
Severeid also played for the Washington Senators and New York Yankees. His career ended after an RBI double against the St. Louis Cardinals for the Yankees in the 1926 World Series. He was lifted for a pinch hitter, and the Yankees lost the series.
Severeid wouldn’t play in the majors again, but would play pro ball until his late 40s and managed minor league teams. He also scouted for several big league clubs.
Position: First base • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1871-1897 • BA: .334 • H: 3,435 • HR: 97 • RBI: 2,075
Hall of Fame: 1939
Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson was born in an Iowa log cabin and became baseball’s first superstar. He played the majority of his 27-year career for the Chicago White Stockings, a franchise known today as the Cubs.
His 3,435 career hits still rank seventh all-time entering the 2020 season. He was a four-time batting champion, the first to collect 3,000 hits in a career.
His prodigious run production inspired the Chicago Tribune to create the runs batted in statistic. Anson retired with 2,075 RBI, tied for fourth all-time with Albert Pujols entering 2020.
Anson’s racist refusal to play barnstorming games against teams with black players bolstered the growing segregation movement within baseball that led to a ban on players of color that wouldn’t be crossed until Jackie Robinson’s historic 1947 season.
Birthplace: Sioux City
Position: Second base • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1964-1972 • BA: .236 • H: 856 • HR: 56 • RBI: 331
Robert Frank “Bobby” Knopp’s graceful play at second base earned him the nickname “Nureyev” after Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev, the premier male Russian ballet star during his career.
Knopp played nine seasons in the majors with the California Angels, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. A below-average batsman, he hit a career-high .269 in 1965. Knopp led the American League in triples with 11 in 1966, hitting a career-high 17 home runs the same season.
Knopp coached for 21 seasons in the majors for the White Sox, Angels and Toronto Blue Jays. He also coached infield for a parochial school in Arizona.
Birthplace: Des Moines; Hometown: Indianola
Position: Third base • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1999-2011 • BA: .264 • H: 1,186 • HR: 167 • RBI: 616
William Casey Blake was part of an Indianola baseball dynasty. Father Joe Blake pitched in the New York Yankees’ farm system. Brothers Joe Blake Jr., Ben Blake and Pete Blake all had successful careers, but Casey was the one who made the majors.
He played 13 seasons, mostly with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers. Blake’s best overall season came in 2004, when he hit .271 with 28 home runs and 88 RBI.
Beyond his bat and steady fielding at third and first base, Blake was known for being a positive force in the clubhouse.
The Wall Street Journal described Blake as “one of baseball’s least selfish players, quietly hell-bent on smashing conflict, extinguishing outsized egos and making the Dodgers’ once deeply divided clubhouse a better place.”
Birthplace: Sioux City
Position: Shortstop • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1915-1930 • BA: .279 • H: 2,004 • HR: 32 • RBI: 591
Hall of Fame: 1971
Dave Bancroft was a quick-handed shortstop with “uncanny intuition in the field,” wrote Trey Strecker for the Society of American Baseball Research. He possessed great range in the middle of the diamond and was especially adapt and scooping grounders off bad hops and cutting off outfield throws to strand runners between bases.
Bancroft succeeded fellow Hall of Famer Honus Wagner as the premier shortstop in the National League. He was captain of three pennant winners for the New York Giants. He also played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins.
His best season came in 1921 for the Giants. He hit .318 with 15 homers and 67 RBI. Fleet-footed on the bases, Bancroft scored 121 runs that season and earned 15 triples. His keen eye led him to draw 827 career walks against 487 strikeouts.
He earned the nickname “Beauty” for his habit of shouting “Beauty!” whenever he saw a good-looking pitch.
Position: Left field • Bats: Left • Throws: Right
Career: 1894-1911, 1913-1915 • BA: .312 BA • H: 2,678 • HR: 67 • RBI: 1,015
Hall of Fame: 1946
Fred Clifford Clarke was born on a farm near Winterset, grew up in Kansas and returned to Des Moines to be a newspaper carrier for the Des Moines Leader, a sister paper of the modern Register. Clarke’s boss at the Register was Ed Barrow, who would go on to be the general manager for the New York Yankees during one of the team’s most dominant periods from 1920 to 1945.
Barrow was general manager for the Des Moines Mascots and he recruited Clarke to play second base and backup catcher. Clarke fell in love with the game and quickly worked his way up to the majors, where he became a heavy-hitting outfielder for the Louisville Colonels and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Clarke came into his own as the starting left fielder of the Colonels and developed a reputation as an excellent hitter, a fast, aggressive base runner, a daring defender, and a fearless competitor who never backed down from a fight,” wrote Angelo Louisa, for SABR.
Clarke hit .300 or more in 11 seasons and hit for 35 consecutive games in 1895. He finished the 1897 season with a .390 average.
Clarke played off the field as hard as on, drinking and womanizing, until Barney Dreyfuss, one of Louisville’s owners, warned Clarke the carousing would shorten his career. Clarke settled down and dedicated himself to his trade. The result led Dreyfuss to appoint him player-manager at age 24.
Clarke won 1,602 games as a manager. He led the Pirates to four National League pennants and the 1909 World Series crown.
Position: Center Field • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1871-1879 • BA: .346 • H: 869 • HR: 11 • RBI: 449
Calvin Alexander “Cal” McVey’s athletic interest was bare-knuckle boxing, but when his family moved from their Lee County farm to Indianapolis, McVey picked up baseball and it became his passion and, uncharacteristically for his era, a career.
McVey was one of the first 10 professional baseball players on the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional team. He made $700 — about $13,200 in 2020 money — to be a regular outfielder for the Red Stockings.
The Red Stockings won 82 games in a row over two seasons and McVey played a role in the most controversial win of that streak.
McVey fouled off a pitch against the Troy Haymakers. Troy’s catcher said he caught on the first bounce, which would have been an out under the rules at that time. However, an argument ensued and the Haymakers left the field. The umpires awarded the game to the Red Stockings.
McVey went on to play in the National Association of Baseball Players, the precursor to the modern National League, as a member of the Boston Red Stockings and then in the National League proper as part of the Chicago White Stockings alongside fellow Iowa native Cap Anson.
McVey was a powerfully built hitter who hit above .300 in all but one of his nine seasons. He retired from baseball at 29 and moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a real estate agent and farmer.
Position: Right field • Bats: Right • Throws: Right
Career: 1921-1936 • BA: 311 • H: 1,934 • HR: 116 HR • RBI: 993
Edmund John Miller’s older brother hung the nickname “Bing” on him, plucking the name from a character named George Washington Bings in a comic strip in that ran in the Vinton Eagle where they grew up.
Miller’s father Norman played some minor league baseball and the three boys, Eugene, Bing and Ralph all excelled. Both Bing and Ralph made it to the majors in 1921. Ralph Miller, five years Bing’s junior, pitched one inning of relief for the Washington Senators. He never cracked the majors again, but older brother Bing played 16 seasons, mostly for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.
Miller was a reliable outfielder who also played first base and hit for high average. His best season as a pro came in 1922 when he hit .335 with 21 home runs and 90 RBI.
In the fifth game of the 1929 World Series, with President Herbert Hoover, a fellow Iowa native, and the First Lady in attendance, Miller smacked a double off the Shibe Park scoreboard to knock in the game-winning run, giving Miller’s Athletics a 4-1 series victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Position: Designated hitter • Bats: Left • Throws: Right
Career: 1933-1941, 1944, 1946 • BA: .302 • H: 1,561 • HR: 228 • RBI: 1,012
Harold Arthur “Hal” Trosky hit more big league home runs than any other player born in the Hawkeye State. A first basement, he spent much of career in the shadows of three of baseball’s all-time greatest power-hitting first basemen: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg.
Cleveland Indians scout Cy Slapnicka, a Cedar Rapids native, convinced Trosky to sign with the Cleveland Indians with an assist from another Iowa baseball star, Bing Miller.
He broke into the big leagues with the Indians in September 1933. In a game against the Yankees, Babe Ruth smacked a hard line drive that pulled Trosky’s glove off and carried the mitt halfway into right field, according to an account told years later to the Cedar Rapids Tribune.
With second base open, Trosky was forced to hold Ruth on at first, with the fearsome Lou Gehrig coming to bat. Gehrig was known for his hard-hit line drives and Trosky was worried for his own skin.
Ruth turned to the rookie and said, “Don’t worry about me, kid. I ain’t going no place. Just drop back a little and play it safe. If he hit one at you up here, it would take your head off.”
Ruth stayed put and Trosky kept his head. A power hitter himself, Trosky made his share of infielders and pitchers quiver in his 11 seasons with Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox. Between 1934 and 1939, Trosky knocked in 100 or more runs each season, including leading both leagues with 162 RBI in 1936.
Videos: The Register’s ‘Field of Dreams’ documentary and more
Videos highlighting Iowa’s Field of Dreams and the “Field of Dreams” movie that is thought of as the state’s most successful movie.
‘Field of Dreams’: Magical movie, disputed diamond
‘Field of Dreams’ documentary, part 1: Is this heaven?
‘Field of Dreams’ documentary, part 2: Making the film
‘Field of Dreams’ documentary, part 3: Magical movie
‘Field of Dreams’ documentary, part 4: Disputed Diamond
Kevin Costner defines ‘Field of Dreams’ as uniquely American
Author W.P. Kinsella in his own words
Kevin Costner wonders: ‘Have I left a mark on Iowa?’
Bob Costas: ‘Field of Dreams’ movie ‘stays with you’
Timothy Busfield reveals Field of Dreams favorites
Behind the scenes footage from filming of ‘Field of Dreams’
James Earl Jones reflects on ‘Field of Dreams’
Check out this ‘Field of Dreams’ movie memorabilia
How did we do?
The best part of being a baseball fan is the arguments. Which Iowa-born players would you sub into the lineup and why? Send your ideas to email@example.com.
Iowans in Major League Baseball
Entering the 2020 season, 221 Iowans have played in the majors. Cap Anson of Marshalltown and Cal McVey of Montrose were the first players in what would become the modern majors in 1871. Cedar Rapids natives Mitch Keller and A.J. Puk both made their big league debuts in 2019. Veteran MLB pitchers Dan Jennings, a West Des Moines Valley product, and Jeremy Hellickson, who played at Des Moines Hoover, retired this offseason.
Seven Iowans have earned enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: pitchers Red Faber, Bob Feller and Dazzy Vance; position players Cap Anson, Dave Bancroft and Fred Clarke; and executive J.L. Wilkinson.
Special thanks to historian John Liepa for access to his collection of images and guidance in assembling this list.
Register Storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. He wrote his first story for the Register in 1993 at age 17. He has stacked paragraphs ever since. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsmanone or Facebook at @danielpfinney.
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