The Rosetown Baseball Riot -- Dave Shury (Battlefords Telegraph, Sept 16, 1983)
(There's an obvious typo in relation to the year of the "riot", should be 1952)
Of all the escapades of the North Battleford Beavers Baseball team over the years, the one most frequently mentioned, happened during the Legion Tournament at Rosetown in 1953. Everyone that was there, and many who weren't, recall it differently. (Left: In a picture from a weekly magazine article, Curtis Tate holds a copy of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix report on the riot. The headline -- "Baseball Bat, Rocks, Knife, Shotgun, Rifle".)
Last February I attended a meeting of the selection committee of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in Toronto and one of my fellow committee members, Fergie Olver, sports director of station CFTO-TV and one of the crew on the Blue Jay's Baseball telecast, recalled this incident. At that time Fergie was growing up in Moose Jaw where he later went on to play for the Regals for the South Saskatchewan Baseball League.
Les Dean of North Battleford who was present during the fracas has lent me a write-up by Dallis Beck, sports writer for the Star Phoenix which appeared on Friday, August 1,1953. The sports page ran a headline which stretched from one side of the page to the other, "Baseball Bat, Rocks, Knife, Shotgun, Rifle", and in slightly smaller letters ran a second headline, "EyeWitnesses' Account of Fracas at Rosetown Baseball Tournament" . . .
"Tate, the Negro third-baseman of the North Battleford Club, already had quite a reputation for some un-baseball-like antics at previous Rosetown money shows, but his part in Wednesday's riot will outlive them all."
"It was he who beaned a Cuban All-Star opponent with a baseball bat and then made a hurried and desperate exit out of the ball park through a surrounding hedge of willows, across 200 yards of summer fallow and eventually into the house of a North Rosetown grain-buyer."
"The victim of the 'rhubarb' which actually started from a clash of two other players during a close play at second base, was Cuban Leopoldo Reyes. He was still in Rosetown Hospital Thursday afternoon, his condition termed as 'fairly good' . . .
"This reporter talked to Mrs. W.H. Craddock, among others, and the account of her part in the fast paced proceedings was the best. She is the wife of the elevator agent in whose house the fleeing Tate sought refuge."
"Mrs. Craddock was busy washing at the back step of her house Wednesday evening when she noticed a ball player moving cautiously, but walking, across a ploughed field which is adjacent to the Craddock back yard."
"She tried not to pay any attention to the stranger approaching her until he was upon her with mutterings of 'you gotta hide me ….. they're after me …. You gotta hide me!"
"The confused housewife by now found herself being half pushed and half following this unknown man into her kitchen, and upon reaching the kitchen she was more startled than ever when the obviously scared-to-death stranger grabbed a king-size butcher knife." . . .
"At this instance Mrs. Craddock, not knowing quite what to think, hurried to a bedroom of the house and shooed her small daughter and a playmate out of the front door, telling them dash to the nearby elevator where her husband was working and tell him to get over to the house -- but fast."
"In the meantime, the stranger, who of course was Tate, had barricaded himself in a bedroom at the front of the one-storey dwelling, being careful enough to cover the window with bed sheet."
"A matter of a few minutes later when her husband appeared on the scene at the front the house armed with a shotgun, more startling events took place. Up rushed another ball player, a highly enraged one, armed with two rocks he had taken from the back yard on his way around the house. He was screaming, 'Where is he? Where is he? … I keel heem!"
"The reassuring part of the bewildering incident, at least for the Craddock family took place almost at the same moment when two Royal Canadian Mounted Police constables rounded the corner of the house on the heels of the rock-bearing Cuban. By this time, a 14-year old Craddock son had instinctiveIy grabbed a nearby rifle, but by no means, like his father, made any threatening gestures to either the Cuban, whose name incidentally was Cisnero, or Tate, who was still lying low." . . .
"The R.C.M.P. soon had things cooled down and took both Tate and Cisnero to Rosetown headquarters in their car. But even yesterday afternoon, almost 24 hours later, Mrs. Craddock, who later found the knife hidden in bed-clothes, was not quite sure how it all came about."
"She, at the time, had been too busy making preparations to leave on the family vacation, to be worrying about the ball tournament which was in progress a quarter of a mile away."
"What did happen before the excitement around the Craddock home?"
"Well, there many stories circulating around the tournament grounds Thursday afternoon with the event moving into the semi-finals, but we took the word of a prominent Rosetown sports figure -- George Shaw."
"His version coincided with that of the R.C.M.P. and many other reports of the incident."
"It was a flare-up at second base between North Battleford catcher Louis Green and Cuban shortstop Diaz, that eventually lead to the clubbing of Reyes, the Cuban player. On a force-out play at second, with Diaz moving over to cover, Green went in hard -- reportedly all elbows, spikes and knees." . . .
"At any rate, Green and Diaz came up with fists flying, where upon members of both teams, umpires and Legion officials poured onto the playing field. One incident led to another and Tate who had been 'on deck' in the batters' circle made his appearance wielding a bat in antagonistic fashion. At this, the Cuban players made, a dash for their dugout at first appearing as if they were going to call the whole thing off, but then quickly returning brandishing bats of their own."
"They took after Tate with Reyes being the nearest in pursuit, also with bat in hand. The chase led past third base and to a two-feet-high fence surrounding the diamond. Reyes at this point either tripped over the fence or was hauled down by another Beaver player. (It was impossible to decide in the confusion). Tate turned on him, hit him on the head with his bat, then fled in even more haste across the big parking lot which runs adjacent to the field."
"Cisnero took up the chase this time, was momentarily cooled down by two Mounted Police officers, but headed off again in search of Tate. One man, an anonymous, husky Rosetown district farmer, had previously got a hold on Tate to slow him down, but the desperate Beaver had slipped away."
"From here on, Mrs. Craddock's story compIetes the tale."
"When the R.C.M.P. finally rounded up Tate and Cisnero at the farm house, they took them both to headquarters and held Tate, merely as a means of protecting him. There were no charges and no arrests."
The Cuban managers commented, "We're sorry such a thing has happened. We came to Canada this summer for one purpose only and that l was to play baseball."
Emile Francis (in an interview in 2001) recalled the infamous affair :
" ... They wanted to guarantee we'd come there because if we came and played they'd get good crowds. So they guaranteed us a thousand dollars to even come ... well, we won three games and now we had to play Sceptre, 16 innings, to get to the finals. So we're playing the Cubans and in those days there would be a two-day tournament and they'd have ten-thousand people. People would come from all over the province.
The Cubans and the blacks, they didn't like one another. And we're into about the 7th inning and the score is nothing-nothing. I had a guy by the name of Louis Green, a catcher, and he's on first base and the ball it was hit to the short stop who tossed it to second base to go for the double play. Louie Green went in and, instead of sliding in, he went into second base and hit him with an elbow and took him out on the play.
With that a little fight started at second base. I was on third base at the time. In the on deck circle was a guy by the name of Curtis Tate, our third baseman. When he saw this little scuffle start at second base he started coming out from the batters' circle -- our dugout was on the third base side -- carrying his bat.
When the Cubans saw him coming with that bat, they left the second base area and they all headed for their dugout which was on the first base side. It was like they evaporated. By that time I'm at second base and Jackie McLeod was at the pitchers' mound and he was carrying a bat. All of a sudden I see all these Cubans, who ran to their dugout, and grabbed bats. So I turned to McLeod and tried to grab his bat but he wouldn't give it to me.
They came running right past McLeod and me and they're heading for Tate who now is in front of our dugout. The closest Cuban to him, I'll never forget his name, was Leopoldo Reyes, shortstop. Well when he came close to Tate, Tate took a full swing at him and hit him right in the head. He went down like he got shot. After hitting him, Tate took off. He ran down the third base line then he cut across -- they had all these portable bleachers -- and he ran through there and everybody is wrestling and grabbing one another.
I saw Tate go down the third base side and two Cubans take off so I took off because I'm chasing them you know. But, they left me in the dust.
Tate, ran all through the parking lot and he ran out to the highway which was about a mile away, a gravel highway. I'm going through the bush, and all of a sudden here's two Cubans. They still had bats in their hands so I'm wrestling with the Cubans and a friend of mine, who sees it all, he was running, tracking us all down so I told him, grab these guys. I've got to take off.
So Tate runs. There was an elevator, a farmer's house and he ran right into the house and the wife was making dinner ... her husband and son were out working in the elevator. Tate ran in the house and the first thing he grabbed was a knife. Well, she ran out of the house to the elevator ... and the husband grabbed a gun and came running back. Here was Tate in there with a ball uniform on. He explained what had happened and said if these guys catch him they're going to kill him. Up come the two Cubans and up come the Mounties.
About an hour later we had to go back and finish the ball game. They put Tate in jail. We finished the game and we won and went back and had to get him out of jail. We were traveling in four cars, five guys to a car, somebody cut the tires on all the cars, but mine.
There was a guy by the name of Bill Cameron, who worked for CFQC in Saskatoon, a real good sportscaster. So, we're driving to Moose Jaw, about midnight and he's talking "Who does that Francis think he is, running around here causing riots, hitting guys over the head with baseball bats, they should take that team and deport them."
Now we play in Moose Jaw the next afternoon, a split doubleheader. In the first game Tate went 5 for 5, his eyes were like saucers, scared to death. There were no faxes in those days, so I get in my car, drive down to the CNR Telegraph. I sent Bill Cameron a telegraph "If you're going to run Curtis Tate out of the country, better run him out real fast, he just went five for five."
So now we have to play that night. We're all in the dugout and a little guy comes up on a bicycle in his little uniform, CNR Telegraph. "Mr. Francis, Mr. Francis". I put my hand up. "I have a telegram for you." I opened it up. It's from Bill Cameron, "Of the five hits that Curtis Tate got, how many are in the hospital?"