The Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Willmar Rails announce the seven-member inaugural class of the West Central Baseball Hall of Fame, headlined by Mike Kingery and Blix Donnelly.
Also included was St. Paul Central graduate Howie Schultz, who played for the Willmar Rails from 1950 to ’54 following a six-year major league career. Schultz played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1943 until being traded to the Phillies early in the ‘47 season after it became abundantly clear that a young man named Jackie Robinson was more than capable of holding down the position.
Fun Fact: The 6-foot-6 Schultz was rejected for military service during World War II because he was too tall.
Mike Kingery graduated from Atwater High School in 1979, and was signed by the Royals that summer. He made his major league debut seven years later on July 7, 1986 and went on to play 819 major league games over parts of 10 seasons with Kansas City, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Colorado, and Pittsburgh. A career .268 hitter, Kingery’s best year by far was the strike-shortened ‘94 season when, at age 33, he hit .349 over 105 games with the Rockies (interestingly, Lamberton, MNnative Bob Gebhard was general manager of the Rockies at the time).
Kingery hit .290 in 24 games versus the Minnesota Twins, including a home run off Les Straker on July 29, 1987. That same season he hit two home runs off 1973 Highland Park graduate Jack Morris.
Sylvester “Blix” Donnelly graduated from Olivia High School in 1932. He spent the next two years working and playing townball. He caught a break in 1934, receiving an invitation to a three-day baseball school at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, and began his pro career the following season in Superior, WI. He was traded to Duluth for the ‘36 season where he went 11-19 with 232 strikeouts in 214 innings.
Donnelly’s minor league exploits, including a 19-strikeout game and three no-hitters, are thoroughly laid out in Gregg Omoth’s essay in the Stew Thornley-edited Minnesotans in Baseball: SABR.org/bioproj…
Perhaps his best minor league season was 1941 when he went 28-6 with class-C Springfield, setting a Western Association record with 304 strikeouts.
After nine minor league seasons, Donnelly made the Cardinals out of spring training in 1944. He came up big for the Cards in an all-St. Louis World Series, pitching perfect eighth and ninth innings in Game 1, and holding the Browns scoreless while striking out seven in the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings of Game 2 to earn the win. The Cardinals won the Series in six games. Over 1,000 people crammed into the Olivia Armory to honor the World Series hero on October 24, 1944 at an event broadcast by WCCO’s Halsey Hall and Cedric Adams.
Donnelly went on to pitch eight seasons in the majors, including 14 appearances with the 1950 National League Champion Phillies. He passed away in 1976 at age 62. Cancer sucks.