THE EARLY LEAD: The Kings of the Fall: Grand Junction secured state history 80 years ago
By Brandon Hurley
The title of greatest baseball team in Grand Junction history, in fact, does not go to the upstart 2009 East Greene squad.
No, the real boys of summer - they were actually the boys of fall that year, but who’s really splitting hairs? - are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the town’s only state title this year.
The 1939 Grand Junction baseball team triumphantly finished a perfect 12-0 that fall, tearing through the state tournament and capturing an elusive championship, which remains one of it’s kind today.
This story trumps the summer Cinderella run 10 years ago. It even unseats Pam Slock’s trademark jumper and her remarkable 51-point average some 60 years ago.
Only a small group of young men can lay claim to the greatest honor local preps can achieve - champions of Iowa. They’ll forever remain the best team in Grand Junction history, even 80 years later. The local high school became East Greene High school before merging with Jefferson-Scranton a few years back.
Baseball in the 1930s was a game highlighted by dazzling pitching performances.
The “Little Yanks,” as they were dubbed by head coach O.W. Felt, were incredible all season long, tallying 12 straight victories. They outscored their opponents, 120-55, more than doubling their counterparts. An offensive juggernaut, if you will.
What stood out most, was the fact the entire three round tournament was played in a single day. It didn’t seem to wear down Grand Junction, even the slightest.
The eastern Greene County high school battled for supremacy with teams from all over the state, big and small. The Iowa state tournament was part of one fall class, which often produced relatively intriguing competitions. The trusty arm of Dick Allen and the clutch bat of Jack Wirtjes along with Pinky Johnson, Quentin Johnson, James Gross and Leo Allen, propelled Grand Junction into the record books.
“Thus, in a blaze of glory, Coach Felt and his ‘Little Yanks’ end the fall season with a record of 12 victories and no defeats,” read the October 19, 1939 issue of the Jefferson Herald.
“Grand Junction State Champs,” the headline shouted. “Coach Felt’s boys win baseball crown.”
The state tournament was held Oct. 14, 1939 in Eddyville, a southern Iowa town in Mahaska, Monroe and Wapello counties. It is now home to 1,008 people.
The quarterfinal matchup kicked things off with a bang, setting the table for a thrilling day.
Grand Junction pulled off a three-run seventh-inning rally to shock the tournament favorites, Castana (now population 135 in Monona County), 7-6 in the first round of the state tournament. Castana charged out to a 6-4 lead before Grand Junction exploded in the bottom of the seventh, due in large part to the useful bat of Jack Wirtjes, who tied the game with a two-RBI double.
Dave Jewett came to the rescue with a walk-off single, scoring Wirtjes and spring-boarding Grand Junction to the state semifinals. Dick Allen struck out eight batters and earned the win, foreshadowing his even more dominant streak later in the day.
Grand Junction duked it out against Kensett in the Final Four, a town of 260 people today near Mason City.
Dick Allen took the mound yet again, flexing his pitching prowess en route to a complete game, three-hitter, striking out 12 without allowing not a single Kensett run. Grand Junction pulled out the narrow 3-0 victory, aided by Allen’s run-scoring double in the second inning and yet another RBI from Wirtjes.
Allen’s command of the strike zone was quite captivating. He never once allowed a runner to advance past second base, increasing his two-game state tournament strikeout total to 20.
The convincing victory set up a championship matchup with tournament host, Eddyville.
Grand Junction trailed the hometown heroes 2-1 entering the sixth inning before a title-clinching onslaught. Junction scored a trio of runs in the frame, initiated by Wirtjes’ game-tying RBI single, his third straight game with an RBI and fourth RBI of the tournament. The scoring wasn’t done yet, as Leo Allen scored on a throwing error for the go-ahead run, punctuated by Dick Allen’s run on a fielder’s choice. Grand Junction wasn’t out of the clear yet, despite leading 4-2, but with Dick Allen coming into close, things seemed quite alright.
After allowing a lead-off single in the bottom of the sixth, he struck out back-to-back batters and induced a pop out. Allen struck out two more batters in the bottom of the seventh, closing the door on Grand Junction’s only state championship.
Eddyville only managed three hits in seven innings of action. Junior Grey picked up the championship win, tossing five innings of two hit ball, allowing just two runs.
If there was an MVP award back in the 30s, Dick Allen would’ve won in a landslide.
It was quite the run for Grand Junction’s ace, vaulting his hometown squad into legendary status. Allen struck out 24 batters in three appearances (all in a day’s work), picking up a pair of wins, two RBI and a handful of runs scored.
The town of Grand Junction was set ablaze following the championship victory. The Jefferson Herald captured the title clinching sixth-inning quite magnificently.
Some quality writing here, even some 80 odd years ago:
“The sixth spelled defeat for Eddyville, with the thundering crash of the Junction bats resounding over (the) hills of the southern Iowa town.”
Now that paints a picture.
Grand Junction’s title was actually the first high school-sanctioned fall championship on record. The state held fall tournaments through 1985. The larger schools squared off in summer league beginning in 1946.
What a run, what a time. Baseball, America’s pasttime.
Here’s to a dandy celebration Saturday. If you happen to run into former Grand Junction student baseball manager, Dwight “Red Light” Mount, tell him congrats. He’s still around today.