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Esko grave holds ex-Major Leaguer

One of the most eventful years of the 20th century was 1917.

The United States entered World War I, the U.S. Congress gained its first female representative, the Russian tsar lost his throne — leading to creation of the Soviet Union — and Finland capitalized on the chaos of the Russian Revolution by declaring its independence.

Meanwhile, in less weighty matters, such as major league baseball, the Chicago White Sox won the World Series (their last until 2005), Babe Ruth was still a Boston Red Sox pitcher (he didn’t become a Yankee outfielder until 1920) and Ty Cobb won another American League batting championship, his 10th.

And then there was Harry Wolfe.

Harry Wolfe?

He may not have seen much action — just 12 games — but it was recently revealed that Harry (Whitey) Wolfe is buried in Esko, thus becoming the second major league player known to have his grave in Carlton County.

As far as is known, the only other big leaguer buried in the county is William (Nitchie) Cadreau, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe who pitched in one game for the Chicago White Sox in 1910 under the name of “Chief Chouneau.”  Born in 1888, Cadreau died in 1946. His grave is in the LaPrairie Cemetery on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Baseball historian Anthony Bush of Proctor discovered Wolfe’s local connection while conducting research for a forthcoming history of Duluth baseball.

Wolfe, the son of Swedish immigrants, was born in Worcester, Mass., but the year of his birth appears in various places as 1882, 1888, 1890 and 1892. Bush, however, found a copy of his birth record and confirmed it was 1888.

Prior to Wolfe’s brief stint in the major leagues, he played shortstop for the Duluth White Sox of the Northern League from 1914 through 1916. Bush said Wolfe was so highly regarded that the rival Winona Pirates once tried to acquire his services by offering Duluth a quality pitcher plus “a package of cucumber seeds, a peck of apples and a half-dozen paper collars.”

Following the 1916 season, Wolfe was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He appeared in nine games for the Cubs in 1917 and then was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played in three games. In his 12 major league games — mostly as a pinch hitter or late-inning replacement in the infield or outfield — he had 10 official at-bats, two hits, two walks, one run scored and one run batted in.

His final game was on July 16, after which his contract was bought by a minor league club in Richmond, Va., but he opted to return to Minnesota and play for an independent league team in Hibbing. During the next few years, besides a year in the Army, Wolfe played for various teams, including one in Ironton, where he married Georgia Mabel Frazier in 1920.

In the early 1920s, the Wolfes moved to Huntingdon, Ind., where Harry played semi-pro ball, tended bar and managed a bowling alley. He died at a Veterans Administration hospital in Fort Wayne in 1971.

Bush reported that when Harry died, Georgia moved to Cloquet to be near her sister, June M. Johnson (1918-2000) and brother-in-law, Henry E. Johnson (1909-1980). Georgia died in Cloquet in 1995 at age 95 and is buried next to her husband at the Apostolic Lutheran Church cemetery in Esko.

Bush’s account of Wolfe’s life and career was published online at sabr.org (the Society of American Baseball Research) on Feb. 23. The website also has a biography of William Cadreau under the name of Chief Chouneau. It was written by Twin Cities baseball historian Stew Thornley.

Cadreau, incidentally, is believed to be the only person born in Carlton County to reach the major leagues. In his one game for the White Sox — the last game of the 1910 season — he shut out the Detroit Tigers for five innings before being taken out in the sixth after allowing two runs. The Tigers won 2-1 and Chouneau, as he was known, was charged with the loss.

Bush, Proctor High School pitching coach and president of the Duluth-Superior Dukes amateur team, is working on two books, one a history of Twin Ports professional baseball and the other a history of area high school baseball.  His stories have appeared in several publications.

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