BY SARAH LANGSDON
America’s favorite pastime of baseball has had a long history in Ogden, from little league games to recreational leagues (where businesses would battle it out on the diamond) to minor league ball. 1953 marks a significant year in baseball in Ogden. During that time, Ogden was the minor league team for the Cincinnati Reds. The ball games were played at John Affleck park, which was out by Thirty-fourth Street and Lincoln. The land was donated in 1938 by Gomer Nicholas, a local grocer. He wanted the park named after his uncle, John Affleck, who came to Ogden in 1866. Affleck, although blind, still worked and contributed to much of the beauty of Ogden. The Reds moved from Reddy Kilowatt Park to Affleck in 1940. Interestingly, the first regular baseball game played under electric lights in Ogden was in 1939. In 1953, the league commemorated the 70th anniversary of night baseball with the first game played in 1883 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Many players like Bobby Adams, Dale Long, and George Schmees had come through Ogden and gone on to play in the major leagues. During the 1953 season, the team brought in Earle Brucker to serve as manager. Brucker was the former pitching coach for the Redlegs. He set about building a team capable of winning the Pioneer League pennant. One of Brucker’s first recruits was a slugging, fancy-fielding shortstop, Chico Terry. Terry was originally from Cuba and was the first black baseball player in Ogden. He was a popular player in Ogden and had a batting average of .300 for the season. Although he was said to have major league prospects, he never was called up and ended up playing two more seasons for Ogden before moving to the Mexican league.
Another player that joined the roster in 1953 was 17-year-old Frank Robinson from Oakland. Robinson was signed by Bobby Mattick and became the hard- hitting third baseman. He was batting well over .300, and scouts said he would make it to the majors in two or three years. Gordon Jones, scout for the New York Yankees, said this about Robinson; “Frank Robinson is one of the finest prospects to come out of the Pacific Coast since the days when Joe DiMaggio was playing for the San Francisco Seals. He can really handle that stick and is a long ball hitter, the type major league clubs are looking for” (Ogden Standard Examiner, August 27, 1953). Robinson only played one season for the Ogden Reds and was picked up by the majors, where he went on to have an illustrious career in baseball and was even inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
With a roster of remarkable ball players, the Ogden Reds fought hard to win games throughout the 1953 season. By August 1953, Ogden had been in first place in the race for the pennant since May. During a double-header with their biggest rival, the Salt Lake Bees, the Reds knocked them out of the race for the pennant by winning and being 14 games ahead, with only 13 games left in the season. The Reds officially won the Pioneer League on August 31, 1953, when they beat Pocatello 13-9. This was the first championship for the Ogden team since the league was organized in 1939. The team also set a new record in the number of games won during a season at 82. The previous record was 81, set by the Boise Yankees in 1941. The merchants of Ogden and fans honored the players in a pre-game ceremony on September 6th. Each player was presented with luggage, a fancy sweater, and slacks. Even the bat boys received gifts. The 1953 season was one for the history books.