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Pitching To Bill Prunty
Editor’s Note: The South Dakota State Amateur Baseball tournament begins Wednesday at Cadwell Park in Mitchell. Perhaps because of baseball’s long history, no other sport seems to have such rich stories and legends. One of the most famous involves Bill Prunty and the home run he hit in the dark to give Claremont the state championship in 1938. But that’s not the only tale about the South Dakota baseball legend. This story is revised from an article former ballplayer Jim Wittenhagen wrote for the July/August 2004 issue of South Dakota Magazine.
By Jim Wittenhagen
Behind every uniform or bat in the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in Lake Norden, there’s a story. Behind the ball Bill Prunty smacked into the darkening sky over Aberdeen one summer night in 1938, there is a legend.
The state championship game between Aberdeen and Claremont was in extra innings, the score tied 4-4. The field had no lights, and umpire Tommy Collins declared that if nobody scored, the game would be replayed the next day. The count was three balls and two strikes on the Claremont slugger. With the crack of Prunty’s bat, everybody knew the game was over, and Claremont had won. The ball wasn’t found until morning light.
Bill Prunty was known to take less orthodox routes to victory. I grew up in Carthage, where Bill later lived and started summer baseball. I was 11 or 12 and the batboy when Carthage played Ramona to see who would go to the state tournament in Watertown. When I handed Bill the bat, he told me, “If he throws a pitch inside, I’m going to get hit.” The third pitch was inside, and Bill turned sideways and the ball hit his elbow. The hit batsman won the game and we were off to the state tournament.
We played six games at state. I got $2 per game for meals, but Bill paid for them. Then Harvey Grapes hit a home run and was awarded five gallons of ice cream from the old Langenfeld Dairy. With ice cream and all that loot, I was the happiest kid in the state.
A few years later, in the 1950s, I was on a pretty good Legion team, and Bill arranged for us to play his team that had won the state tournament. I was pitching, and Bill was at bat. Of course I wanted to strike him out in the worst way, and I was throwing as hard as I could. I lost control and hurled one right at his head. It appeared to hit his bat, but he collapsed.
I ran to the batter’s box, scared to death I’d hurt him. He looked up at me with his baseball grin and said, “If my wife wasn’t in the stands I would have laid there and kicked my legs a couple of times.”