Minor League history: Mandak League

The Mandak League (Man-Dak League) or Manitoba Dakota League was a refuge for former Negro League players that got too old to be picked up by MLB clubs. The league’s teams were located in the Canadian province of Manitoba and the US state of North Dakota.

The Mandak League was founded in 1950 as a five-team league and lasted eight seasons before folding. Next to former Negro League players, Latinos found their way to the league as well. But the league was also home to local white players. Even though the league did not have a class AA, A, B, C or D label and the teams were not affiliated to any Major League club, it still can be considered a minor league as several minor league stars and former Major Leaguers played in the league. 

Cities represented:

Bismarck: Bismarck Barons (1955–1957)
Brandon: Brandon Greys (1950–1954; 1957)
Carman: Carman Cardinals (1950–1954)
Dickinson: Dickinson Packers (1955–1956)
Elmwood: Elmwood Giants (1950–1951)
Minot: Minot Mallards (1950–1957)
Williston: Williston Oilers (1954–1957)
Winnipeg: Winnipeg Buffaloes (1950–1951), Winnipeg Giants (1952), Winnipeg Royals (1953)

Even though there were a lot of Afro-American players in the Mandak League, there were still all-white teams. The roster of the 1955 Williston Oilers, for example, did not contain a single Afro-American or Latino. On the other hand, there also was an all-black team, the Winnipeg Buffaloes.

1955 Williston Oilers
Williston Oilers
Winnipeg Buffaloes
Winnipeg Buffaloes. The white guy in the front of the photo was the bat boy. 

The Mandak League It was the outlet for former Negro Leaguers to continue playing and entertaining fans, occupying fields with ex-major leaguers, minor league stars and some of the best Manitoba, North Dakota, and Minnesota born players. It featured such greats as Willie Wells, Leon Day, Ray Dandridge and Satchel Paige, who pitched briefly for the Minot Mallards in 1950.

1950 Minot Mallards
The 1950 Minot Mallards. Even though Satchel Paige played briefly for the team in that year, he is not on the team photo. 
Schermafbeelding 2019-01-05 om 21.06.10.png
Joe Taylor’s contract with the Winnipeg Buffaloes

Most of the former Major League players only had a cup of tea in the Bigs. Some even still had to make it to the Majors. Joe Taylor for example, played with the 1950 Winnipeg Buffaloes before he was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954. From 1954 through 1959 he played with four MLB clubs (A’s, Cincinnati Redlegs, Cardinals and the Orioles) and in 81 games in which he batted a modest .249. Besides the Mandak League and the Majors, Taylor played in the Negro Leagues and in the Venezuelan Winter League.

The Minot Mallards signed Satchel Paige. He pitched three scoreless innings in his first game. In his next appearance, Paige would pitch three no-hit innings and in his third outing he would strike out seven and give up one hit. Unfortunately for the Mallards, this would be his last game with the club as he moved to the Negro League’s Philadelphia Stars. Even without Paige, the Mallards managed to win three championships in the eight years the Mandak League existed. After the league folded, the Mallards would go completely professional and joined the Class C Northern League.

Because the Mandak League did not operate under the watchful eye of the NABPL, it could do things its fellow affiliated minor leagues couldn’t, like signing Afro-Americans for example. With the Negro National League folding after the 1948 season, the Negro American League continued to play but eventually with many clubs folding and players leaving, the league deteriorated to a minor league level. Many of those players who left the Negro Leagues, found a place in the Mandak League.

Back in the 1950s, money was an issue already as Jim Adelson, Mallards’ radio and TV play-by-play announcer, stated in his book Two Rolls…No Coffee:
“In my second year doing the radio broadcasts of the Mallards games, the radio station decided that it was too expensive for me to travel with the team. So I had telephones installed in the press boxes at Brandon, Carman and Winnipeg. I hired a guy in each city to do the play-by-play of the game to my assistant in the studio at Minot who would listen and type the game in condensed version. As the game progressed, I would color it up and broadcast it over the local radio station. One evening after about three innings we lost our telephone connection and I soon caught up with my assistant. As he was frantically trying to re-establish the telephone connection, I decided to make up a fight. Since Duke Bowman was easy-going and slow to anger, I thought it would be kind of startling to get Duke involved. So I went on to describe a fictitious fight between Duke Bowman and the Winnipeg pitcher with both benches clearing. I managed to keep things going until we got re-connected and back to the game. So a day or so later Duke Bowman and the Mallards were back in Minot and Duke was at a local watering hole on Main Street when a guy came up to him and remarked to Duke that he looked pretty good considering the big fight he had in Winnipeg. I had some explaining to do when Duke caught up to me the next day at the ballpark. Note by Bill Guenthner- On June 17, 1952 which was Adelson’s first year in Minot, the Minot Daily News reported the following: Fists flared between Manager Ted Radcliffe [known as Double-Duty Radcliffe] of Winnipeg and third baseman Duke Bowman of Minot in the sixth inning of a game here. A Winnipeg base runner attempted to steal third base and was hit in his back by a throw from Mallard second baseman John Kennedy. The runner then collided with Bowman and there was some grappling and grumbling before they untangled. Then according to Bowman, Radcliffe, coaching at third base, told Bowman that he would hit him if Duke would remove his glasses. Bowman said he removed his glasses and was grazed on the ear by Radcliffe. Duke then punched Radcliffe in the nose as both teams rushed into the melee and fans dashed from the third base seats. Both were ejected from the game and fined by the league.”

The Mandak League paid higher salaries than other leagues. Because of that, it was capable to attract so many good players from the Negro Leagues and from Negro League baseball. Ron Teasley recalled that when he was at a Negro League reunion with Andy Porter and several other former Negro League players, that they were paid more money in Canada than elsewhere.

Next to playing the regular schedules of the Mandak League, the clubs still had room to play several exhibition games. Many of the barnstorming Negro League teams like the Brooklyn Cuban Giants, the Memphis Red Sox, and the Minneapolis Clowns played games vs the Mandak League teams.

Of all the ballparks used in the Mandak League, Minot Municipal Ballpark is still standing (photo: courtesy of digitalballparks.com)

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