SABR

Floyd Stromme

This article was written by Terry Bohn.

In the late 1930s the Cleveland Indians had several young, hard-throwing right-handed pitchers in their organization. One was eventual Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Another, who some said threw as hard as Feller, was Floyd Stromme. Like Feller, Stromme was a teenage phenom, and after success in the minor leagues, seemed destined for a long career in the majors. But Stromme appeared in just five big-league games, got caught up in a dispute between the Indians and the commissioner’s office, and was out of professional baseball by the time he was 30 years old.

Floyd Marvin Stromme was born on August 1, 1916, in Cooperstown, a small town northwest of Fargo, North Dakota. His parents were John and Belle (Olson) Stromme. Belle was born in North Dakota. John was born in Norway in 1887 and immigrated to the United States in 1890. Stromme is the Norwegian word for a group of farmsteads, and is derived from the Old Norse “straumr,” meaning current or stream.

Floyd was the middle child of seven born to John and Belle. She died in 1925 when he was just 11 years old, and his father remarried, having two more children with his second wife, Ida (Hansen) Stromme. John died in 1948.

Floyd was an accomplished all-around athlete at Cooperstown High School. In June 1933 he participated in the state high-school track meet, and later that year was named second team all-state as a back in football. He won 15 letters of a possible 16 in high school. But it was on the baseball diamond that Stromme became the most famous teenage athlete in North Dakota.

Stromme began playing for the Cooperstown American Legion baseball team as a 14-year-old in 1931. That summer he pitched his small town (1930 population 1,000) to two wins in the first two games of the state tournament, to advance to the championship game against powerhouse Fargo (population 29,000). Fargo got to Stromme for three runs in the first inning, but at the urging of his coach, he went with his curveball the rest of the way. Cinderella small-town dark horse Cooperstown came back for a 5-4 win over Fargo.

Cooperstown, behind the pitching of Stromme, repeated as state champion the following summer. He won all three games in the state tournament, one of them a no-hitter, and beat Minot 7-3 in the championship game. In 1933 Stromme’s last year, Cooperstown was beaten out in the districts. In three years of American Legion ball, Stromme won 29 of 31 games, striking out 435, including 20 in one game.1

After graduation from high school in 1934, Stromme enrolled at Northwestern University, outside Chicago. He continued to pitch with independent teams back in North Dakota during the summers. At Northwestern, he was not eligible to play his freshman year, but was one of the team’s top pitchers in 1936, when he was a sophomore. He left school after this second year to turn professional.

Professional baseball scouts had known of the hard-throwing teenager for some time, and he was signed by the Cleveland Indians organization in 1936 and assigned to their Class D affiliate in the Northern League, the Fargo-Moorhead Twins. Playing in what was essentially his hometown, Stromme made his debut in Organized Baseball that August. He won two and lost four in 11 games for the Twins the rest of that season.

That fall Stromme crossed paths for the first time with Bob Feller, a future teammate and roommate in Cleveland. In October an all-star team headed by Feller, along with an American League barnstorming team, came to Fargo for an exhibition game. It was expected that Feller would pitch the first few innings, and then be relieved by a local player, either Stromme or his Fargo-Moorhead teammate Charlie Suche. Stromme did not get into the game. He watched from the dugout as Suche came in for Feller in the fifth and pitched the rest of the game.

Stromme had a stellar season back with Fargo-Moorhead in 1937. He had a record of 19-6, including 13 victories in a row at one point. His 2.10 earned-run average led the Northern League and he was selected as the league’s right-handed pitcher on the postseason all-star team. Stromme’s success that season earned him a promotion for the next season to Cleveland’s Class A affiliate, New Orleans in the Southern Association. Stromme went 9-10 with a 4.01 ERA games for New Orleans.

In October 1938 a group of American League players organized by Earle Mack, Connie’s son, came through Fargo on a barnstorming tour. They played a team made up of Northern League and American Association players. Stromme entered the game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and no outs. He struck out two major leaguers and got the third on a weak grounder, and was the game’s winning pitcher. Mack tried to sign him for Philadelphia, only to realize he was already under contract with Cleveland.2

Stromme went to spring training with the Indians in New Orleans in 1939. In February he was labeled a “good prospect” and as “having a chance”; the writer mentioned that manager Oscar Vitt had seen enough of the young right-hander to “get a favorable impression.”3 By March Stromme was still described by Vitt as a good prospect but “not much more.”4 He was one of the last players cut by the Indians to get to the Opening Day roster limit, and was released back to New Orleans.

Stromme was 11-7 for the Pelicans in 1939 games and received a glowing endorsement from his manager, Roger Peckinpaugh, who said, “He is going to make us a great pitcher this year. He is a fine boy – just the right kind of disposition and ambition to make good. I haven’t a worry about him.”5 One day he won two games, picking up a victory in relief in the first game of a doubleheader against Chattanooga and pitching a complete-game victory in the second game.

On June 30, 1939, Stromme was called up to Cleveland, and although he remained with the big league club the rest of the season, got into only five games. In his major-league debut, on July 5 against the White Sox in Chicago, he relieved starter Harry Eisenstat after seven innings, and threw a hitless inning, although he surrendered two walks. Three days later, on July 8 against the Browns in St. Louis, Stromme was roughed up for three runs in two relief innings, and was tagged with the loss.

Stromme didn’t get into another game for more than a month. On August 14 he allowed two earned runs in 4⅔ innings in Detroit. After another lengthy stay in the bullpen, he pitched 3⅓ innings against the Boston Red Sox on August 29. His last appearance of the season, and his last as a major leaguer, came on September 19 in Washington and lasted two innings.

In Stromme’s five big-league games, he worked 13 innings, gave up 13 hits, issued 13 walks, and had a 4.85 ERA. He was charged with one loss. Since he was used so infrequently, it was not surprising that Stromme could not maintain sharp control. Stromme managed to get thrown out of a game he wasn’t playing in. On July 28 in Washington, he and Indians pitcher Mel Harder were razzing home-plate umpire Steve Basil from the dugout, and both were ejected. As a testament to what his Cleveland teammates thought of Stromme, they voted him a full share of their third-place winnings.

It was expected that Stromme would be back with Cleveland in 1940. That spring The Sporting News wrote that he “must be considered a good prospect for the next (season).”6 But instead of making the Indians, he was optioned to Buffalo of the International League, which had a working agreement with the Tigers.

Stromme filed a protest and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis investigated. Cleveland was found guilty of “covering up” Stromme, and in mid-July Landis made him a free agent. The ruling stipulated that the Indians or an affiliate could not sign Stromme for three years.7

The Indians reacted to the ruling by attacking Stromme. Cleveland vice president Cy Slapnicka said, “[Landis] just saved me the trouble of giving Stromme his release. … We’re tickled to death to get him off our list. It’s no loss to our club.”8

While his protest was being considered, Stromme pitched the first half of the season in Buffalo. He appeared in 18 games with a 5-9 record in 105 innings. When Landis made his ruling, several minor- and major-league clubs bid for his services. Stromme told a sportswriter he had been approached by the St. Louis Browns as well as minor-league teams Baltimore, Montreal, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.9

The International League Orioles made the best offer, signing Stromme for a bonus of $5,000,10 and he finished the season with them. Baltimore general manager Charles Knapp said, “I can say that we had to outbid good clubs to get him, and they were attractive offers. So ours had to be more favorable.”11 Between Buffalo and Baltimore, Stromme had a 12-11 record and a 3.88 ERA.

After pitching in 14 games for Baltimore in 1941 with a 4-5 record, Stromme was sold to Atlanta in the Southern Association, where he was 1-1. He started 1942 with Atlanta, was traded to Knoxville, and then in 1943 was sent back to Atlanta from Knoxville for cash. He pitched in just four games for the Crackers in 1943 before being traded on May 24, in a multiplayer deal, to Kansas City of the American Association.

Before Stromme even played for Kansas City, he was sent to the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League on option. Stromme went 2-2 for the Oaks the rest of 1943. In 1944 it was expected that he would be returned to Kansas City, but he didn’t want to move his wife and children again, and refused to report. Kansas City gave him permission to arrange his own trade.12 A pitcher named Stan Corbett wasn’t happy in Oakland, but was open to going to Kansas City, so the deal was made.

Stromme was still considered on option from Kansas City, but after he got off to a good start with Oakland, the Oaks purchased him outright for $3,500 in June. He was a .500 pitcher (11-11) with Oakland in 1944, but his 2.57 earned-run average indicated that he had pitched much better than his won-loss record. In 1945 Stromme was the Oaks’ top pitcher, going 16-13 in 218 innings with an ERA of 3.92. He expected to be drafted into the Army, but because of poor vision, he was classified 2-B, and was never inducted.

Stromme started the 1946 season with Oakland, but pitched in just one game. He gave up five hits in three innings against Portland on April 3. On the 14th it was reported that Stromme had pitched for a semipro team in nearby San Mateo called the Moffat Monteca Meatmen. On the 18th he was released by Oakland.

Stromme remained in the Bay area and continue to pitch independent and semipro ball. He pitched for the Meatmen the rest of 1946 and was called “one of the best semipro hurlers in the state.”13 In 1947 Stromme pitched for Ben’s Golden Glows, a semipro club in Alameda, California. In August, in the state semipro tournament, Stromme won all four games he started, including a 5-0, seven-hit shutout in the semifinals, and a 5-4 victory in 11 innings in the final game for the state semipro championship.14

The more that was uncovered about Stromme’s baseball career, the more questions arose. For example, he was just 23 years old during his five games with Cleveland in 1939, hardly enough time for a fair evaluation. Why wasn’t he given another trial by the Indians or some other organization, especially during World War II, when so many teams faced manpower shortages? Were there repercussions from his free agency?

And in his last year with Oakland, Stromme won 16 games, but was released after one game the next season. Was Oakland management upset about his moonlighting with a semipro team? Could he make more money playing semipro ball?

Those questions have never been answered. Stromme had turned 30 years old in 1946 and had three small children. Like many ballplayers with little chance of returning to the majors, he may have decided it was time to move on and get a “real job.” But his children remembered that he enjoyed his baseball career, had no regrets, and was thankful for every opportunity he got.

While playing for Fargo-Moorhead early in his career, Floyd met Deloris Heldman, a waitress in a restaurant he frequented. The couple married in 1937 and had four children, Dianne (1939), Larry (1941), Bonnie (1945), and Ronald (1948). Larry died at the age of 20 while in the US Navy.

After his playing career ended, Stromme took a job driving a vegetable truck in the Bay area. Later he received a job offer near North Bend, Oregon, and he and his family settled in the small town on Oregon’s Pacific coast. When that venture didn’t work out, he went to work as a logger in the Oregon forests. He lost a finger in a logging accident and then worked in a Georgia Pacific lumber mill, retiring at the age of 62.

In his later years Stromme was active in the local Kiwanis club, and he and his wife were members of the First United Methodist Church. He survived a bout of colon cancer. In 1989 they moved to Wenatchee, in central Washington State, to be near his youngest son and daughter-in-law. Four years later, on February 7, 1993, Stromme died in Wenatchee at the age of 76 from pneumonia, a complication of lung cancer.

He was buried at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in Coos Bay, Oregon. Deloris died in 2012 at the age of 92. Before retiring, she worked in real estate and was the president of an escrow company. At her death she was survived by three children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

For his pitching exploits as a teenager back in his hometown of Cooperstown, Stromme was posthumously inducted into the North Dakota Legion Hall of Fame in 2005. In their funeral notices, both Floyd and Deloris requested that memorials be made to the local American Legion baseball program.

Shortly before Bob Feller died, Floyd’s great-grandson, about 8 years old at the time, wrote to Feller asking for an autograph. Feller answered the boy’s letter and said that yes, he did remember Floyd Stromme, and recalled that he was a good pitcher. The letter was framed, and according to the boy’s grandfather (Floyd’s son) was one of his most prized possessions.

 

Sources

http://ancestry.com

http://familysearch.org

http://baseball-reference.com

Phone and e-mail correspondence with Floyd Stromme’s son Ronald Stromme and daughter Bonnie Sperbeck.

Stromme’s file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.

 

Notes

1 “Floyd Stromme Junior Legion Baseball Star,” Cooperstown Diamond Jubilee 1882-1957, 46.

2 Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 3, 1939.

3 Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal, March 3, 1939.

4 Sandusky (Ohio) Star Journal, March 25, 1939.

5 New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 20, 1939.

6 The Sporting News, February 15, 1940.

7 The Sporting News, August 1, 1940.

8 Massillon (Ohio) Evening Independent, July 17, 1940.

9 Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, July 19, 1940.

10 Omaha World Herald, August 19, 1940.

11 Omaha World Herald, August 19, 1940.

12 Oakland Tribune, March 2, 1944.

13 San Mateo (California) Times, April 27, 1946.

14 Oakland Tribune, August 13, 1947.

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