He was banned from Major League Baseball. Then he rebuilt his life in Minnesota and the Dakotas – InForum

ROCHESTER – On a cold October afternoon in 1925, just as baseball’s World Series was about to begin in major leagues, approximately 2,000 baseball fans packed Mayo Field to see the only local appearance of the season by a local favorite – who also happened to be one of them was the more notorious ballplayers in World Series history.

Charles “Swede” Risberg — the former Chicago White Sox player who was banned for life from Major League Baseball after allegedly conspiring with players to pitch the 1919 World Series — pitched for the Rochester semi-pros that day White Sox in a Little Series. Game against the Rochester Aces.

And he didn’t disappoint. Shortly after the referee declared: “Play the ball!” Risberg hit a three-pointer in the first half of the game.

But after struggling in the cold weather and throwing two wild pitches in the third inning, Risberg got off the pitching mound and moved to second base. There he “wowed the stands with a spectacular catch of a hard-hitting drive that bore all the marks of a double,” reported the Post-Bulletin. Despite Risberg’s efforts, the White Sox lost the game and Little Series to the Aces.

Risberg’s popularity — from baseball barnstorming in Minnesota to the Dakotas and elsewhere — was quite a reversal from three years earlier, when his signing with the Minnesota Club had caused some consternation in baseball circles.

“Frequent punches, toughness, excitability, and detachment”

Charles August Risberg was born in San Francisco in 1894 to a Swedish-born docker and a Danish immigrant mother. He survived the great earthquake of 1906, was a star pitcher for his school by the age of 14, and by the age of 17 he was trying his hand at and getting signed by the Pacific Coast League.

After five years in the minor leagues, the Chicago White Sox called Risberg up to the majors in 1917 as a shortstop with a strong arm and a weak bat. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, he was known for his “frequent punches, toughness, excitability, and detachment.” After a game against the Detroit Tigers, he reportedly fought Ty Cobb to a tie.

Risberg, considered one of the best fielders in the league, hit just .203 in his rookie season but improved to .256 each over the next two years, including 1919 when the White Sox were considered the best team in baseball. They were heavily favored to win the World Series against Cincinnati that year.

However, eight of the Sox, including Risberg, were tempted by players offering substantial payouts and allegedly conspired to lose the series in what is known as the Black Sox scandal.

The Sox lost the best-of-nine World Series five games to three. Risberg batted .080 and committed four errors in eight games.

Though only 25 and in his third year with the majors, Risberg was considered one of the leaders of the plan.

His baseball salary in 1919 was approximately $3,500, and his payout for his part in the “Fix” is said to have been $15,000.

A year of investigations followed and the players ended up in a courtroom where they faced criminal charges.

They were acquitted by a jury, but all eight players were given life suspensions from Major League Baseball by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the new baseball commissioner. They had to find other places to play ball.


This 1920 cartoon was running in newspapers nationwide when news broke of the fixing of the 1919 World Series.


“Former Chicago White Sox pitcher signed to play on Rochester team”

In 1921, Risberg and several others of the so-called “Eight Men Out” formed the ex-Major League Stars and stormed through the Midwest, taking on teams in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

At the same time, Risberg’s first wife Agnes filed for divorce. She got custody of her two children.

On May 21, 1923, a small announcement appeared in the Rochester Daily Bulletin: “The former Chicago White Sox pitcher has been signed to play with the Rochester team.” pitch Rochester.


When Twin Cities newspapers raised questions about an alleged cheater playing for Rochester, local fans rallied around the newcomer. “The past is the past,” quoted the Daily Bulletin. “He’s a good ball player and should be allowed to play.”

Risberg repaid loyalty by hitting a home run in his first at bat of the season, and for safety, he also started the game as a pitcher, knocking out 12 batters. Two weeks later on Memorial Day, Risberg played for the first time at Mayo Field, beating 10 batters, including five in a row, in a 7-6 win over Winona.

Risberg’s strong arm had been his calling card as a major league shortstop, but it was a real weapon for a pitcher throwing semipro batters in southern Minnesota. For the 1923 season, Risberg compiled a 20-5 record (with more than 200 strikeouts) as a pitcher. He hit .382.

The following winter, “it was decided that the right arrangements would be made to look after his salary to ensure he was on the Rochester club list this year,” reported the Daily Bulletin.

Meanwhile, on January 12, 1924, Risberg married Mary Frances Purcell, a Rochester dental clerk. They bought a farm in Rochester Township and began raising a family. The Risbergs reportedly sold eggs and other produce from their farm to the Mayo Clinic.


Mary Risberg with son Robert.

Contributed / Jeff Risberg

Risberg and Rochester Aces manager Claude McQuillan began training for the 1924 season before the snow had melted.

Born in Rochester in 1888, Claude “Boney” McQuillan was a standout athlete at Rochester High School. He played semi-pro baseball, boxed professionally, and played semi-pro football (for the Green Bay Packers in their pre-NFL days). He later served as mayor of Rochester from 1947 to 1951 and again from 1953 to 1957 (when he died in office).

“Swede and Mack put on some riveting performances to get their arms pumping,” reported the Daily Bulletin on March 28.

The early work paid off: In the season opener, Risberg footed the first hitter he faced, then held Winona without a hit until the ninth inning. During the 1924 season, Risberg won 22 games as a pitcher and hit .361.

But in 1925, the Southern Minnesota League forced the Aces to honor the ban on organized baseball against Risberg. Risberg had to leave the team before the 1925 season.


The Rochester Aces of 1926. Although Risberg played for the team, the photo did not identify individual players.

Post/History Center of Olmsted County

Signing with a semipro team in Montana, Risberg temporarily left his wife and farm in Rochester during the 1925 season to raid through the West.

Then, at the end of that summer, he came back for that one game in front of Rochester fans.

When the 1925 season ended, Risberg returned to work on the farm. He also invested in the Zumbro Auto Company of Rochester. Son Robert was born November 29, 1925 at the Mayo Clinic.

By the spring of 1926, Rochester baseball fans began assembling an independent team that happened not to be hampered by Risberg’s ban from organized leagues.

“Yes, I want to play Rochester this year,” Risberg told the Post-Bulletin. “I want to be around here to take care of my farm.”

When the Rochester Aces opened their season on May 17, according to the Post Bulletin, “it was the ‘Swede’ who progressed on fine form and held the Winona team on five scattered goals.”

However, in late July, Risberg told McQuillan he was leaving the club. Despite winning nine starts out of ten, the Swede “said his arm wasn’t as strong as it used to be,” the Post-Bulletin reported. He played the rest of the summer for a team in South Dakota.


Mary, center, and sons “Mick” (Gerald), left, and Bob (Robert), right. “They loved animals and especially dogs,” says Jeff Risberg, Robert’s son, who lives in St. Paul.

Contributed / Jeff Risberg

Over the next decade he played on teams from Wisconsin to California.

For his part, McQuillan approached two other members of that infamous 1919 White Sox team to replace Risberg. On July 21, 1926, the PB reported that he considered Dickey Kerr, one of the White Sox players not involved in the cheating scandal (he won two games in the 1919 World Series), or Eddie Cicotte, “one of the best” among spitball pitchers that have ever played in the big leagues.” And one of the suspended White Sox players.

“He loved baseball too much to ever stop”

“Baseball was my father’s life,” Risberg’s son Robert told us in a 2006 interview. “Just when he was at the peak of his game, he couldn’t play in the major leagues anymore. He had a rough time with it, but he loved baseball too much to ever stop.”

In 1929, the Risbergs lost everything in the Wall Street crash, Robert said. “Everything he made from baseball was gone,” he told us. “Our home, our farm, our part of the car business. But my dad kept playing baseball and kept working hard.”

Swede and the family slowly moved west, to South Dakota, then to Oregon, finally settling in his native state of California. Swede worked in the timber business for a few years. Well-kept bar in taverns.


From left: Swede, son Mickey, Mary and son Robert in the 1940s.

Contributed / Jeff Risberg

Mary, Sweden’s wife of more than 35 years, died in 1960.

“I remember my mother telling me how wonderful Mary was and what a strong and loving woman she was,” says Jeff Risberg, Robert’s son, who lives in St. Paul. “I remember my father (and I assume his brother) was born at the Mayo Clinic. I also remember hearing that the young family ate a steady diet of pheasants one winter, so much so that my father never liked the taste of pheasants again (but he loved hunting them).”

Swede moved in with his son Robert shortly after Mary’s death.

“Even then, he was watching and listening to every baseball game he could,” Robert said.

Charles “Swede” Risberg died on October 13, 1975, his 81st birthday, in Red Bluff, California. He was the last of the “Eight Men Out”.

He was buried next to Mary in Mount Shasta, California.

Risberg was undoubtedly one of the most talented players to ever take the field at Rochester. Ironically, he only played – and played – in the minor leagues because he had been accused of cheating on baseball’s biggest stage.





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