BY BRENT PETERSON
It is the dream of the major leaguers as well as the little leaguers to play in the championship game and win the pennant. It doesn’t happen that often, the St. Croix Base Ball Club won the championship in 1868 and there were some league winners and the Stillwater High School team also won a state championship. One of the biggest championships won in Stillwater for baseball occurred on October 14, 1917 when the Stillwater club defeated New Richmond and claimed the Interstate League Championship.
That year the two teams seemed almost equal in every way. When one team would win, so would the other. They both split games between each other during the regular season and by all accounts the other teams in the league knew it would be Stillwater and New Richmond fighting for the Silver Cup.
The season started off great for the Stillwater club winning its first two games – the second game 3 – 0 against New Richmond which drew a record breaking crowd at the New Richmond field of an estimated 1,500 fans. Also during the game one of the Stillwater players, Rudy Lehrer, was hit at the base of the head with a pitch in which the papers said it made a “terrific crack” and that it “could be heard all over the ball grounds.”
Lehrer quickly recovered and the Stillwater club continued at the top of the Interstate League all season.
The championship series was the best two out of three. In the first two games, both very close, each team won one game. Now to determine whom the champion it would come down to one game played at Interstate Park in Stillwater.
According to the Stillwater Messenger the final game of the series “was a remarkable ball game, an exciting game, one that kept everybody on their toes all the time.” The story continued by saying that the players were “playing for blood, and it was by far the most exciting and best game played on the local grounds this year.”
The Stillwater Gazette also seemed to enjoy the game. The Gazette reporter, S.C. Cloney wrote: “It was the most thrilling exhibition of base ball ever pulled off in Stillwater, and when Big Ed Kehoe [of Stillwater] tripled in the eighth the crowd went nearly insane.”
There was, however, seven innings of baseball to be played before Big Ed Kehoe would slice out his triple. Up until that point things did not look very good for the home team.
New Richmond took a two to nothing lead in the top of the second inning with three singles and an error. Stillwater came back with one unearned run in the third and then tied the game with three hits in the fifth.
In New Richmond’s half of the sixth they scored four runs on three hits, including a two-run homerun and by sloppy fielding of Stillwater. It seemed next to impossible that Stillwater could come back with enough to win the game.
Then came the eighth inning. Stillwater’s second baseman popped out to lead things off, then Gerner the catcher singled over second base, hitting a ball pitched over his head. Klein, Stillwater’s right fielder, forced him out. Bemis, Stillwater’s center fielder, singled to right-center. Harper, the shortstop, sent a “liner” to left center, which scored Klein. The runners moved up on the throw to the plate. This brings up Big Ed Kehoe with the tying runs on base. Kehoe sent the ball to right center. The ball rolled to the fence. Kehoe reached third, and the throw went past the third baseman. Kehoe got up quickly and scored on the play giving Stillwater an 8 to 7 lead.
New Richmond went down in the ninth one-two-three and the Interstate League title and the silver cup, which was donated to the league by the Luger Furniture Company of St. Paul, belonged to Stillwater.
Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.