Talented couple dazzled Range baseball league in 1915

Undated photo of the North Hibbing Baseball Park, probably taken during a Fourth of July game in the 1910s. (PHOTO: Paul Aubin Collection, Hibbing Historical Society)

The belated, perhaps even aggressive arrival of spring this year draws attention to the sport of baseball. For me, baseball season means driving all over hell and back with our son’s travel team. But baseball was an even bigger deal a century ago. And in researching the past, I found a remarkable Iron Range story about a barrier-breaking player and his wife, one of the first female sportswriters in America.

In 1915, locals obsessed over the Mesaba Range Baseball League. There were four teams in the association: Chisholm, Eveleth, Hibbing and Virginia. Each game drew thousands of people to ballparks across the region. 

In fact, these games became major social occasions. City bands played on the fields before adjourning to nearby parks to provide background music. Local politicians and business leaders attended all the games to see the people and be seen. Kids hid in bushes and behind fences, ready to pounce on valuable foul balls. 

Local police actually invested time and considerable physical effort into chasing children who absconded with wayward baseballs. Judge Thomas Brady, manager of the Hibbing team, threatened to arrest any child who tried. These threats barely deterred the practice.

These teams were ostensibly amateur, but this was in name only. In truth, mining companies and village governments joined forces to find lucrative jobs for professional ballplayers who would then play for the local teams. 

Dick Brookins

Dick Brookins in 1910

That’s how Dick Brookins ended up working as a fireman for the Oliver Iron Mining Company while playing third base for the Hibbing Colts. Any one of thousands of pit laborers and underground miners would have loved to scoop coal in a steam shovel for higher pay, but none of them could hit a baseball. 

Brookins, then in his 30s, had been a pro from 1906 to 1910, playing for minor league teams across the upper Midwest, West Coast and Canada. In his prime he might have been a major league prospect, but he could never stay on a team long enough. And the reason why speaks to the injustice that prevailed in segregated American life and baseball at the time.

Dick Brookins looked Black. He claimed Dakota ancestry, but his appearance drew skepticism and scorn everywhere he played. His wife Anna was his childhood sweetheart from the same German neighborhood in St. Louis. Together, they appeared to have an interracial marriage, another scandal. 

Brookins final pro assignment was with the Regina Bone Pilers in the Western Canadian Baseball League. Controversy over his ethnicity led to his release in the middle of the 1910 season. He would never play pro ball again. 

However, his baseball career continued in Hibbing.

Judge Brady was the biggest baseball booster on the Mesabi Range. He desperately wanted to beat Virginia, then Hibbing’s chief rival in the nascent national pastime. Brady scoured newspapers and interrogated tourists looking for the best available players in the country. His efforts sometimes even attracted former major leaguers. When Brady found out about Dick Brookins, he was much more interested in the man’s scouting report than his alleged ethnicity. 

In fact, in a town that was 50 percent foreign born, with thousands of Mediterranean immigrants, dark skin could mean many things. So, even though Range baseball was segregated by rule, enforcement was highly flexible. Brady signed Brookins to play third base, where he anchored the Colts for the next seven years.

But it was 1915 when local baseball fans noticed Brookins’s wife Anna. 

Another image of Brookins

Dick and Anna Brookins based their marriage on baseball. In fact, that’s how they fell in love. As a teenager, Anna loved the game and quickly mastered the strategy and statistical analysis of the sport. Growing up in the same neighborhood with a gifted player like Dick drew them to one another. Anna became a regular presence in the stands of any game Dick played. 

This continued even as they had children and moved around the country. Claude Atkinson, editor of the Mesaba Ore, took note of Anna’s encyclopedic knowledge of baseball from the minors up to the majors. She impressed with her game analysis of pitchers and hitters while sitting in stands. So, he hired her. 

Anna Brookins wasn’t the nation’s first female sportswriter. That honor belongs to Ina Eloise Young, who covered baseball in Colorado City in 1907. But Brookins was certainly among the first women to cover the sport. She might have been the first to do so in Minnesota. 

With two small children in tow, Anna nonetheless offered timely articles about Hibbing Colts baseball, offering clear-eyed assessment of all the players. She took no pity on her husband, chastising him for errors in the field in one article. But when her next child was born, she retired from writing. Perhaps she was just too busy. Then again, in a world where women couldn’t vote yet some might have complained about the female scribe. The next year a male writer took her place.

Anna Brookins

Anna Brookins in her later years (PHOTO: Submitted to Find a Grave Index)

Dick and Anna Brookins moved their family to northern California after a downturn in the local mining economy in the mid 1920s. Dick was getting too old to play ball anymore, but he used the experience he got as fireman for the Oliver to get a job for a railroad near San Francisco. Sadly, he died in an accident in 1933. 

Anna lived the rest of her life as a widow, never again writing professionally. Nevertheless, she would carry beautiful memories of that summer of 1915. That year, her husband played for the Hibbing Colts and she was a groundbreaking sportswriter for the Mesaba Ore.

Another spring arrives and our local teams take the field. As they do, remember that baseball history is American history, and our special place in the world played a part.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 29, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Joe musicg says

    Thanks. Another town memory I did not know was one until now, Let the preservation continue.

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