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The first Gopher to play major league baseball was ruled ineligible at the U of M for playing summer ball (just like his older brother had been four years earlier). In fact Dinkytown lost so many player to the summer ball rule that the University of Minnesota shut down baseball from 1915-1921.

Pittsburg Press 1912
Pittsburg Press 1912
Pitt Press

From 1915 until 1921 there was no baseball team at the University of Minnesota. In December of 1914 the school senate voted to shut it down. The story of why starts a few years earlier when a pair of brothers in separate incidents were ruled ineligible for playing summer ball. The wavy part of the story though is who these two brothers were.

Title page for the baseball section of The Gopher, 1916. Via U of M.

In 1917 Lorin Solon wrote, "For several years interest in the diamond sport has been decidedly lacking." Why interest had been lacking stemmed from stringent summer baseball rules. At the time players were not allowed to play on any non university team regardless of if they were paid or not. Resulting in the University of Minnesota routinely declaring its best players ineligible. In fact the 1912 season had to be cancelled when only five players made it past the review board. That year Minnesota appealed to the conference to change the summer ball rule, but when the Big Eight (as it was then known) said "or nah" it was inevitable that the program would fold. Who were these players that couldn't resist playing on non University of Minnesota teams? The best two were the Capron brothers.

Comic from The Gopher, 1913, via U of M.

Ever curious about the first Gopher baseball player to play in the major leagues? It's Ralph Capron, and Ralph had an older brother George who may have been even better. George had a better college career than Ralph but it was the younger Capron who made it big.

George demonstrating his drop kick, 1907, via MNHS

George played football and baseball for the Gophers in 1907 and 1908. He was better known at the time as a football plater and his skill was the dropkick field goal, then worth 4 points. In 1907 George made Walter Camp's Third Team All-America list and accounted for 44 of the Gopher's 55 points that season. In baseball George played outfield on pretty good teams, going 16-6 (3-1 in the Big Eight) in 1907 and 17-5-1 (6-2 in the Big Eight) in 1908. He may have gone on to bigger and better things but he was embroiled in controversy in 1908 when he was accused of playing summer ball out of state under a different name. George denied the charge but his career at the U was over. He played for minor league teams in the Northwestern League the Seattle Turks, and Vancouver Beavers.

ACTION SHOT! check it out, the ball is actually on the ground! whoa, #cool, #neat, 1907 via MNHS

Capron the younger played catcher and outfield for Minnesota from 1910-1912. Ralph was a two sport star at the U, also excelling as a halfback in football. In 1911 against Wisconsin, Capron took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. He was set to captain the 1912 team until he was ruled ineligible for playing summer ball. Ralph took this as his chance to drop out of law school and sign on with the National League.

He played outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates (and then the Phillies) and putting up crazy pro numbers -- an incredible 0-3 with a run scored. His playing style was described as "doing Ty Cobb stunts" meaning stealing bases. He had been clocked at the U of M as running the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds (hand timed!). Unfortunately his speed couldn't keep him in the bigs longer as base stealing was a controversial tactic at the time. After playing for the Pirates and Phillies, Ralph signed a minor league contact with the Brewers.

Hold up, there is (slightly) more that makes this story (a little bit) more interesting. In fact Ralph would be picked up by the Detroit Tigers football team in 1920, making him a rare two sport pro athlete and former Gopher.

Pittsburg Press, Sunday May 19, 1912.

Why this summer ball rule screwed over the University of Minnesota and not other teams is completely beyond me. And even more confusing is why after seeing his older brother lose his eligibility Ralph went ahead and did the SAME DAMN THING. College kids, smdh.

Prologue: baseball came back in 1922 when the U of M got it's first Athletic Director and eligibility rules were loosened.