Nebraska Minor League Baseball
Nebraska State League

Lexington Red Sox
Image courtesy of Lou Profumo

In 1956, "H" bomb tests were being conducted in the South Pacific and soviet tanks were crushing attempts by people in Poland to acquire their independence. Television was changing the landscape of American entertainment and Casey Stengel was managing the Yankees to another World Series championship.

In 1956 the Nebraska State League was revived with eight teams. It was a class "D" league and each team had major league affiliation. The league lasted through the 1959 season. It was a "rookie" league in 1956 and no player with prior professional experience was allowed.

From the end of World War II to 1956 baseball in the small towns of Nebraska was centered around three semi-pro leagues. The Nebraska Independent League, The Pioneer Night League and the Cornhusker League were all active. Team rosters combined local baseball stars, up and coming college players, hired hands and baseball bums. An excellent book on the history and tenor of baseball in small town Nebraska is Take Two and Hit to Right by Hobe Hays . Hobe and his brother played in the Nebraska Independent League and his portrait of the towns, the baseball and the players is the perfect book for the hot stove season.

Originally 12 cities responded to the challenge of having an NSL minor league team. When 8 major league teams responded the field had to be trimmed to 8 cities. Ogallala, Alma, Broken Bow and Norton Kansas were dropped.

The league scheduled games to start on July 1st and end on labor day. Representatives of the league met at the Fort Kearney Hotel in early June and accepted the schedule made up by Harold George, secretary of the league. Horold relocated from his home town of Colorado Springs to Kearney where he set up league headquarters in the Fort Kearney Hotel. Harold was originally from Omaha and had a wide a varied career. He worked for various newspapers, worked in the Cubs farm system and was an executive in the class "A" Western League. Mike Hollinger, who was a former manager of the Kearney Irishmen in the Nebraska Independent League was named president of the League. He ran a bowling alley in Kearney and was well respected by everyone in the area.

Eight umpires were hired for the league. They were housed in Kearney for the summer and traveled with the teams to the various venues.

Holdrege, Lexington and Superior were the only diamonds in the league without a grass infield. North Platte had lost their main ball diamond in a fire in 1955. They built a new park on the north side of town and sodded the infield at Cody Park in the spring of 1956. McCook had a volunteer crew of 25 fans and 15 firemen and they sodded the infield at Fairgrounds Park. Hastings Duncan Field was the premier park in the league with Memorial Park in Kearney running a close second.

Financing was a complicated issue. Revenue and expenses were divided between Major League Baseball, the individual Major League parent clubs and each of the cities baseball organizations.
The original proposal by major league baseball was for the towns to pay $2,500 and provide transportation for each club. Eventually they compromised, with the parent clubs paying for the transportation and the towns committed to selling at least $5,000 in tickets before the season started. Each of the towns in the league agreed to a plan to sell at least 500 season ticket books. Kearney won the ticket contest, selling 760 books, McCook followed with 741. Others included Holdrege 690, North Platte 673, Lexington 665, Grand Island 656, Hastings 632 and Superior 559. The league was owned by Major League Baseball. Season tickets were $10.00 each. The revenue from the first 500 tickets per town went to the league. ($5,000 per city). After that 25% of each season ticket went to the city. Season passes were not honored on opening day and revenue for the day was split between the teams.

Concessions were split 50-50 between the town and the league. The town was to supply the park, groundskeeper and lights. The official score keeper was paid $2.50 per game from the ticket receipts. All player/manager salaries and travel costs were handled by the parent major league club. Yellow Diamond and Continental Motor lines were hired to provide bus service for the teams. Players were alloted $2.25 per day for meals. Since a steak dinner cost a $1.00 in most towns this was considered to be a generous meal allowance.

The league selected the Rawlings baseball as the official ball for the league and the parent club was responsible for providing balls for home games. Kearney station KGFW paid the league $500.00 for radio rights. Kearney will broadcast all Kearney road games.

The season was a success both in the competition arena and with the fans. The league had eight towns with populations from 3,200 to 22,500. The Kearney Daily Hub reported town populations of Lexington-5,000, Superior-3,200, McCook-7,600, North Platte-15,500, Kearney 12,000, Hastings-20,000, Grand Island-22,500 and Holdrege 4,400.

Opening day for the league saw some great performances. Twenty year old rookie Jim Perry struck out 16 McCook batters and put out 21 batters in a row in a three hit shutout victory. He also had two hits for North Platte. Kearney Yankee Deron Johnson had a four for four day at the plate with two home runs. Attendance for the opening games was encouraging with 1,217 at North Platte, 1,643 at Hastings, 1,900 at Lexington and over 2,000 at Kearney for the opening four contests of the season.

The first no hitter was accomplished on August 1st. Phil Mudrock and 18 year old pitcher for Kearney defeated North Platte 11-0. He had 10k's and 5 walks.

The league had a paid attendance of almost 225,000 for the year with McCook leading the pack in total attendance. In addition, over 50,000 kids free admissions were recorded giving the league an attendance of almost 300,000 for the year. Kearney had the biggest crowd of the year with 3,216 fans in the stands on August 26th. Superior had an attendance of 1,882 on the last day of the season.

Many of the players in the league were attending either high school or college. The league schedule was such that they could return to their studies after labor day. (n.b. in the old days schools typically did not start before labor day.... a sensible idea for a more sensible time). For example, nine of the twenty one regulars on the Kearney team returned to college at the end of the season.
No team seemed to dominate the league during July. In August three different teams held first place for a while. A late surge by Lexington put them in the champions seat with Kearney, Grand Island and McCook all tied for second.

The league had about 250 different players during the season and most of them did not make it out of class "D" ball. Thirteen of the players made it to the major leagues with the Kearney Yankees and Holdrege White Sox each having four future major league players. North Platte and Superior had two future major league players and Hastings had one.

Nebraska State League
Standings 1956
President: Mike Hollinger
Standings Win-- Loss-- GB--- Attendance Manager
Lexington Red Sox (BOS) 41 22 -- 28,293 Danny Doyle
Grand Island A's (KC) 35 28 6 30,915 Art Mazmanian
Kearney Yankees (NYY) 35 28 6 30,943 Randy Gumpert
McCook Braves (MIL) 35 28 6 32,224 Bill Steinecke
Superior Senators (WAS) 34 29 7 22,860 Charles Ray Baker
Holdrege White Sox (CHI) 33 30 8 24,326 Frank "Skeeter" Scalzi
North Platte Indians (CLE) 24 39 17 28,578 Spencer Harris
Hastings Giants (NYG) 15 48 26 28,713 Gene Thompson

BA: Bill Fries, Kearney, .394
Runs:Deron Johnson, Kearney, 70
Hits:Jimmie Hall, Superior, 87
RBIs:Deron Johnson, Kearney, 78
HRs:Deron Johnson, Kearney, 24
Wins:Ted Ellis, Lexington, 11
Richard Allen, McCook, 11
SOs:Gary Peters, Holdrege, 142
ERA:Ted Ellis, Lexington, 1.76

Major League All Star 1964 1967
Gary Peters led the Nebraska State League in strike outs in 1956. The 6'2" lefty from Grove City Pennsylvania was a nineteen year old prospect in the Chicago White Sox organization. In 1957 he moved up to Dubuque then in 1958 he played for Colorado Springs and Davenport. He started the 1959 season in Indianapolis and made his major league debut in September of 1959. He played for the Sox for until 1972. His two best years were 1963 when he was 19-8 and an all star team selection and 1964 when he was 20-8. He had a lifetime record of 124-103.

Deron Johnson led Kearney and the league in runs scored, home runs and RBI's in 1956. The eighteen year old from San Diego was promoted to Binghamton in the Eastern League for the 1957 season. In 1958 and 1959 he was with Richmond. Deron won three minor league home run championships. He debuted with the Yankees in 1960. He played sixteen seasons and had a lifetime .244 average.

Major League All Star 1964 1965
First base was a high point for Superior as Jim Hall was a unanimous choice to the 1956 All Star team. The port side wagon tongue swinger had a .385 average, 15 home runs and led the league in hits with 87 hits on the year. The 18 year old from Mount Holly North Carolina was signed as a free agent by Washington in 1956. He played for six different minor league clubs and spent two years in the service between 1957 and 1962. He made it to the major leagues when he was 25 with the Minnesota Twins in 1963. He played in the majors for eight seasons and an All Star in 1964 and 1965.

Major League All Star 1961, 1970, 1971
James Perry was signed as a free agent by Cleveland. The 6'4" 20 year old from North Carolina made 16 appearances on the mound and had a 7-8 record. He made it to the show in 1959 with the Cleveland Indians. He played for 17 years with four teams. He was a major league All Star in 1961, 1970 and 1971. He had a lifetime 215-174 record.

Hal Reniff was 5-5 as a pitcher for Kearney in 1956. He played for Modesto in 1957 and 1958. Stints at Salem, Greensboro, Amarillo and Richmond followed. He made his major league debut in 1961 with the Yankees and had a long career with the Yanks.

Bob Allen was a 19 year old pitcher from Henderson Texas. He was 7-5 for North Platte in 1956. He was promoted to Fargo for 1957. After playing in Reading, Burlington and Mobile he made it to the show in 1961 with Cleveland.

J. C. Martin was a 20 year old catcher for Holdrege in 1956. He made his major league debut in 1959 and played in the majors for fourteen seasons.

Lexington Red Sox 1956 Grand Island A's 1956
Kearney Yankees 1956 McCook Braves 1956
Superior Senators 1956 Holdrege White Sox 1956
North Platte Indians 1956 Hastings Giants 1956

Nebraska State League All Stars for 1956

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