Nokomis second to none in baseball history
The Montgomery County community of Nokomis, population 2389, has the highest number of Baseball Hall of Famers per capita in the nation. In 1981, two local businessmen, Merle (Butter) Wright, a retired sales representative, a former local catcher, and Joe Kempe, a retired printer and baseball enthusiast, saw the significance of this unusual statistic and opened the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum.
At first the museum was nothing more than a couple exhibits in the window of a local restaurant. But 24 years and three buildings later it moved to Nokomis's main street and the collection grew to include thousands of photos and several exhibits.
Central to the exhibit, of course, were the town's three Hall of Famers: "Sunny" Jim Bottomley, Charlie "Red" Ruffing, and Ray "Cracker" Schalk.
"Sunny" Bottomley was born in Oglesby, Illinois, and later moved with his family to Nokomis, where Sunny attended grade and high school. Bottomley worked in the local coal mines while still a lad. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1920, played two years in the minors, and then went to the majors. A "lefty" who played first base, Bottomley had a lifetime batting average of .310, and held the record for many years of earning 12 RBIs in one game. That record has never been broken but was once tied. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Charlie (Red) Ruffing was born in Granville, Illinois. Like Sunny Jim, Ruffing moved to Nokomis with his family while just a kid and attended local schools. He also worked in the local mines and had several toes severed in an accident there. He was a right-handed pitcher who went to the minors in 1923, and on to the majors in 1924. He went to the New York Yankees in 1930, where his status grew both as a pitcher and a batter. He was often tapped as a pinch hitter. One year he led the team in number of games won and in batting average. He played in seven World Series with the Yankees, earning a record of six wins and one loss. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
Ray (Cracker) Schalk was born in Harvel, Illinois, (about 15 miles down the road from Nokomis) in 1892. Harvel did some work as a printer in nearby Litchfield and was signed by Milwaukee, an American Association team, in 1911, and with the Chicago White Sox in 1912. He was a right-handed hitting catcher with the Sox until 1928. Schalk was only 5' 7" tall and weighed 155 pounds. He holds the Major-League record for leading catchers in fielding (8 years), and for put-outs (9 years), as wll as the most put-outs by a catcher in one league, 1,910.
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He caught four no-hit games. On May 11, 1925, before thousands of spectators, he caught a baseball dropped from the Tribune Tower while dressed in a suit. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
Unfortunately, the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum was closed recently after the adjacent building was destroyed by fire. Though the museum facility was unusable, the exhibits and memorabilia suffered only smoke damage. They have since been detoxified and are now in storage. This past March, the museum board decided it would be more economical to raze the museum building rather than to renovate it, and to replace it with a new block construction building. According to the latest issue of the museum's newsletter, "The Bull Pen," the new construction "depends on funds from donations and fund-raisers, as receipts from insurance are woefully short of the amount needed."
Baseball fans are invited to contribute to the museum in the name of their favorite teams. For more information, write the museum at BRS Museum, P.O.Box 75, Nokomis, IL 62075.
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