In late 1932, “a group of former professional baseball players, led by one-time major league player Bruno Haas, met with businessmen and decided to establish the Northern League.”
Because of the Great Depression, the number of minor leagues had dwindled from 25 in 1929 to 16 in 1931. Many professional baseball players were now out of work, and a large number of youngsters, aspiring to play the game professionally, had less of an opportunity to find a team.
Haas, the leader of the group that founded the Northern League, began his professional baseball career as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1915, but because he had trouble controlling his fastball, he became an outfielder. Besides his 16-year career as a professional baseball player, Haas also played professional football and hockey.
In 1932, at the age of 41, he was still playing professional baseball. I believe that since he knew his career as a player was coming to a close, he wanted to own and manage his own team, and the best way to ensure that this would happen was to be on the ground floor of the establishment of a new league.
After spending his first season of professional baseball with the Athletics as a pitcher and an outfielder, Haas spent three seasons in the minor leagues as an outfielder and one year in the military, during World War I, before playing for the St. Paul Saints of the American Association (AA). Haas played for the Saints from 1920-1930 and “became an institution in left field, known for his catches while crashing into the outfield wall, diving grabs and other daredevil acts.” It has been written that, “Haas probably was the most popular player who ever wore a Saints uniform.”
Haas was happy to be joining a club that was an established winner, since the Saints had won the AA championship in 1919, with a 94-60 record. Haas was a natural fit in the 1920 Saints lineup, batting .307 in 130 games, hitting 11 home runs, which was the second highest amount of home runs on the team, and stealing many bases. He even pitched in one game, which he won, and the Saints again won the AA championship, with an incredible 115-49 record.
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In 1921, Haas improved his batting average to .324, but the Saints fell to sixth place in the AA, with an 80-87 record. When the baseball season was over, Haas joined the Akron Pros of the American Professional Football Association (APFA), the first organized professional football league in the U.S. It was formed in 1920, and in 1922, the name of the APFA was changed to the National Football League.
In 1921, Akron’s coach and star player was the legendary Fritz Pollard Sr., and during the first two games of the season, Pollard had Haas playing in the backfield. Because the team had a surplus of promising young backs, one of which was Marshall Jones, born in Fargo and raised in Lisbon, N.D., Haas was traded to the Cleveland Tigers, where he became the starting tailback. The coach and a key player for the Tigers was Jim Thorpe, considered by many sports analysts to be the greatest American athlete of all time.
In 1922, Haas started the season with the Dayton Triangles, but after getting into only one game, he retired.
Haas had a standout baseball season with the Saints in 1922, and was considered “the top-hitting regular” on the team. His season consisted of eight home runs, 14 triples, 105 runs scored plus 90 more driven in, 24 bases stolen and a .331 batting average. The 1922 Saints have been ranked as one of the top 100 minor league baseball teams of all time, and they finished the season with a record of 107-60.
In 1923, Haas had his best season, leading the team in hitting with a .336 average, 15 triples and 14 home runs. He also scored 112 runs, drove in 111 more and stole 22 bases. The Saints had an excellent record of 111-57, but still finished the season in second place.
In 1924, the Saints again won the AA championship, but Haas’ average slipped to .297, yet he still drove in 100 runs. He also returned to pitching and appeared to have gained control of his fastball, walking only four batters in eight innings. In 1925, Haas’ average was .317, and then in 1926 it was .329, a year in which he led the AA in doubles, with 51.
In 1926, Alvin Warren created the American Hockey Association and served as president of the St. Paul Saints professional hockey team. Haas kept himself in shape during the winter months with ice skating, and because of his skating ability and quick reflexes as an outfielder, he became a backup goalie on the team.
With the Saints, Haas batted .334 in 1927, .328 in 1928, .297 in 1929 and .374 in 1930. In his 11 seasons with the Saints, Haas’ overall batting average was .317, with over 1,000 runs scored and over 1,000 runs batted in. He stole over 240 bases and hit 328 doubles, 87 triples and 90 home runs.
Since the AA was a top league in the minors, it is perplexing to me that no major league team ever purchased his contract. Not only was he an outstanding hitter and base-stealer, but also an excellent outfielder with a very strong throwing arm.
In December 1930, Haas was traded to the Toledo Mud Hens, a rival team to the Saints in the AA. Toledo’s manager was Casey Stengel, and there may have been some differences between him and Haas because partway into the 1931 season, Haas ended up playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, another AA team. His batting average for the two ball clubs was .289, his lowest average since 1917.
Haas started the 1932 season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and after batting .306 in 84 games, he was sent to finish out the season with the Des Moines Demons, where his average dipped to .220 in 26 games. Haas was now 41-years-old and his hope of ever returning to the major leagues as a player had disappeared.
In December 1932, Haas met with businessmen from Winnipeg, Grand Forks and Fargo; Superior and Eau Claire, Wis.; and Crookston, Brainerd, and Little Falls, Minn., to form the eight-team Northern League (NL). Before the season began, the Little Falls team dropped out. Haas decided to not only own the Winnipeg team, but to also be a player/manager on the team.
In 1933, Haas’ first year as manager of the Winnipeg Maroons, the team finished with a 67-44 record, winning the NL championship. He played in 49 games, hitting .241, and Haas pitched in 13 of those games, going 3-0. In 1934, the Maroons were a contending team during much of the season, “but suffered when Haas was ejected from almost every game the final week of the year.”
He “fired himself as manager,” and Wes Griffin, his replacement, guided the Maroons to a NL title in 1935. After the Maroons had a mediocre finish in 1936, Haas returned to manage the team in 1937 and 1938. The Maroons had lackluster seasons, finishing 49-70 in 1937 and 37-76 in 1938, and Haas sold the team.
In 1942, Haas returned to the NL to manage the Grand Forks Chiefs to a record of 31-84. The NL suspended play during the years of 1943, 1944 and 1945 because of World War II, and in 1946, Haas returned to the NL to manage the Fargo-Moorhead Twins. He guided the Twins to a second-place finish with a 63-41 record, and during that season, he made his last appearance as a pitcher.
Haas entered the game in the top of the ninth inning as a relief pitcher in a tied game, allowing two singles in a row to start the inning, and then walking the next batter to load the bases. The following batter hit the ball on the ground to Haas, who fired it home to force out the runner at third. The catcher then threw the ball to the first baseman for the second out. When the runner who had been on second base tried to score, the second baseman threw the ball to the catcher, who tagged out the runner, ending the inning with a triple-play. The Twins then won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and the 55-year-old pitcher was credited with the victory.
In 1947, Haas guided the Twins to a 70-49 third-place finish, and during the 1948 season, with the Twins struggling, Haas was fired before the season concluded. In 1949, Haas managed the Wausau Lumberjacks, in the Wisconsin State League, finishing with a 33-88 record, and he then retired from participation in professional baseball.
In 1950, Haas became a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics, and he died on June 5, 1952.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.