ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Brainerd lakes area baseball players made the big leagues

Three of the most prominent baseball players from the Brainerd lakes area that went on to play professional baseball from the region’s past included Leslie Ambrose Bush aka “Bullet Joe,” Charles Albert Bender aka “Chief Bender” and Herbert Jude Score.

Team photo with Leslie Ambrose Bush and Charles Albert Bender on the World Series championship Philadelphia Phillies team in 1913.
Leslie Ambrose Bush and Charles Albert Bender were on the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies team in 1913.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society
We are part of The Trust Project.

BRAINERD — For fans of America’s pastime, Leslie Ambrose Bush, Charles Albert Bender and Herbert Jude Score go down in history as among the greats who have played the game.

The three are the most prominent baseball players from the Brainerd lakes area who went on to play the sport professionally, according to the Crow Wing County Historical Society.

“I wrote about them quite a bit,” said Mike Bialka, former Brainerd Dispatch sports editor. Bialka knows the sport well. He played baseball in high school in Brainerd and later at St. Cloud State University.

“Score’s only tie here was that he was here one year as a high school kid in the summer. He was from New York originally,” Bialka said. “ … He pitched for what was then called the Brainerd Braves. They were kind of like a semi-pro team at that time playing with a bunch of other guys from Brainerd, Nisswa, Pierz, Little Falls, but he went on to play in the major leagues as well.”

Mike Bialka
Mike Bialka

ADVERTISEMENT

Bender

Bender was probably the Brainerd lakes area’s most prominent baseball player, according to Bialka, and he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953.

Bender’s father was of German descent and his mother was part Ojibwe. Bender was born in Crow Wing County on May 5, 1884, as a member of the Ojibwe tribe and died on May 22, 1954.

“He was sent away like a lot of Native Americans at that time to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, and he graduated from there,” Bialka said. “Eventually, his family farmed land on the White Earth Reservation near Bemidji.”

According to PhiladelphiaAthletics.org, Bender attended the Lincoln Institution, a school for Indians and whites in Philadelphia, from ages 8 to 12, and then returned briefly to Minnesota. From 1898-1901, he was a student at the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, playing baseball for the legendary Glen “Pop” Warner. “A natural athlete, Bender also participated in football, basketball and track,” the Philadelphia Athletics reported.

Charles Albert Bender (Baseball Hall of Fame) card
Charles Albert Bender is shown on a card noting his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

Bender pitched 16 years in the major leagues from 1903-25 for the Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox. He was a member of three World Series championship teams.

“Unique things about him is he was the first Minnesotan inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Bialka said about Bender, who retired with a career record of 212-127. "He is credited as being one of the inventors of the ‘nickel curve,’ the precursor to today’s ‘slider.’”

Bender was nicknamed “Chief,” a common nickname for baseball players of Native American descent, according to biographer Tom Swift, who wrote “Chief Bender’s Burden,” about the “silent struggle of a baseball star.”

Charles Bender in uniform as part of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team.
Charles Bender played professional baseball as part of the Philadelphia Athletics team from 1903–14.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

“That was, you know, the moniker that they put on them, which was very discriminatory and offensive, and I'm sure he, you know, suffered through his share of racism, that kind of thing, back then … being in the early 1900s,” Bialka said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Charles Bender in uniform as part of the Chicago White Sox in 1925.
Charles Bender is shown in uniform as part of the Chicago White Sox in 1925.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historial Society

Swift wrote about Bender, “After he threw one of the most dominating games of the early years of the American League, Bender was depicted wielding a tomahawk and wearing a headdress as though he was a happy warrior.”

Bender became a manager, coach and scout. He was a coach with the Athletics until his death. The organization noted he was also an excellent marksman and was ranked among the top 10 trap shooters in the country, was an angler, a billiards player and golfer as well as an accomplished painter and later store owner.

Bush

Bush was born in Brainerd on Nov. 27, 1892, and later earned the nickname “Bullet Joe.” He died Nov. 1, 1974.

Leslie Ambrose Bush headshot
Leslie Ambrose Bush was nicknamed "Bullet Joe" Bush. He was a member of three World Series championship teams during his career.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

“He is nearly as distinguished as Bender but is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Bialka said of Bush, who retired with a career record of 195-183. “His dad was, I think, a conductor for the railroad back when he was growing up.”

Bush pitched 17 years in the major leagues from 1912-28 with the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants.

“He was a member of three World Series championship teams. He and Bender were teammates on the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies in 1913,” Bialka said. “Bush is credited with developing the ‘forkball’ or what is known today as the ‘split-finger fastball.’”

Leslie Ambrose Bush throwing a baseball in uniform
Leslie Ambrose Bush is credited with developing the "forkball" or what is known today as the "split-finger fastball.”
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

A Saturday Evening Post series of articles on Bush, in 1929 and 1930, was noted by the Society for American Baseball Research in its history on Bush. In the series, Bush described his “invention” this way: “Probably one of the most bewildering balls ever pitched was my own invention — the fork ball, which I discovered in 1920 when I was essaying a comeback with the Boston Red Sox after I had hurt my arm several years before and was forced to stop throwing curve balls.”

The society’s Bush biography also tells a story of The Society for American Baseball Research quoted from Brainerd historian Carl A. Zapffe in a 1974 article in the Crow Wing County Review.

ADVERTISEMENT

Zapffe described Brainerd as a “baseball-conscious town,” erecting a ball park in the very center of the village before many of the city streets were formed.

“He had a pirouette style of delivery called the ‘Joe Bush twist-around’ pitch that Babe Ruth considered quite effective,” the society reported. “Ruth encouraged other young Yankees pitchers to mimic the style.”

SCORE

As for Score, the Native New Yorker, his time in the lakes area was short. He was born June 7, 1933, and died Nov. 11, 2008.

Herb Score in uniform as a professional baseball player
Herb Score, a native New Yorker, pitched for what was then called the Brainerd Braves when he was a teen.
Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

He signed with Cleveland in 1952 and went on to pitch five years for Cleveland and three for the Chicago White Sox. Score was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1955, a two-time American League All-Star and twice led the American League in strikeouts.

His career was derailed in 1957 when he was hit in the right eye by a line drive, suffering a broken nose and broken facial bones. He retired as a player in May of 1962 with a 55-46 career record.
“In those days, major league teams would try to ‘hide’ promising young prospects in obscure places before signing them,” Bialka said. “Score was only 17, between his junior and senior seasons in high school, when he pitched for Brainerd.”

MORE ABOUT BRAINERD HISTORY BY FRANK LEE:
A Michigan resident with ties to the Brainerd lakes area kept his earlier promise to donate $2,500 to construct a roof over a locomotive engine at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds because his relatives were employees of Northern Pacific Railway.

Score was a flame-throwing left-hander with a high leg kick who compiled a 12-4 record in 22 games for Brainerd, according to Bialka, and an “excellent pitcher.”

He signed with Cleveland in 1952 and went on to pitch five years for Cleveland and three for the Chicago White Sox. Score was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1955, a two-time American League All-Star and twice led the American League in strikeouts.

His career was derailed in 1957 when he was hit in the right eye by a line drive, suffering a broken nose and broken facial bones. He retired as a player in May of 1962 with a 55-46 career record.

Score became a TV broadcaster and eventually a radio broadcaster of Cleveland games; he remained in that position until his retirement following the 1997 season.

Bialka interviewed Score before a 1987 game between the Twins and Cleveland Indians and in 1998 when Score threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Brainerd Mighty Gulls’ first home game in the Northwoods League at Mills Field, where Score played when it was known as Memorial Park.

“Score told me that was the only time he had returned to Brainerd since he was here in 1951,” Bialka said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Related Topics: BRAINERD HISTORYBASEBALL
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
What to read next
This week's Fine Arts Student of the Week is Brainerd High School is sophomore Bella Volkl.
The new offices also will provide staff with improved work spaces to facilitate internal and external collaboration and communication, while providing the company with further room for growth, the company reported.
The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office responded to the crash, reported at 8:46 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in Morrill Township, east of Buckman.
The meeting will be Dec. 8.