Alex Remneas

This article was written by Jeremy Watterson

Alex Remneas, mistakenly considered by some to be the first Montanan to make the big leagues, was born in Minneapolis before moving to Watson Township, Montana (Great Falls), as a baby.1 After three career games with the 1912 Detroit Tigers and 1915 St. Louis Browns that amounted to 7.2 innings pitched, the “Iron Duke” returned to the playing fields of Great Falls, competing in the city league until at least age 36.

Alexander Norman Remneas, born February 21, 1886, was the third child of a Scandinavian electrician and cabinet maker, Andrew Remneas, and Nicoline Elisabeth Leide. The young family moved to Montana around 1887, and Alexander’s mother died in childbirth the following year. Young Alexander, employed as a messenger boy in the 1900 census, had two older sisters, Mary O. and Jennie Josephine.

Remneas made his first appearance on the ball diamonds of Montana pitching for the Great Falls Elks against the Lewistown White Wings in 1908.2 His first known professional outing came in Helena on July 5, 1909 on the mound for the Boise Irrigators of the Class D Intermountain League. He didn’t make it out of the first inning, beaning three batters as the Senators plated 5 runs, chasing the 23 year-old rookie.3 Remneas was back with a Great Falls town team for 1910, and by 1911 was partner in a local business: the Home Plate Cigar Store on Central Avenue.4

Until ‘Honest’ John McCloskey caught sight of him in 1911, Remneas was having trouble trying to break back in with a team in Montana’s Class-D circuit, the Union Association. Remneas joined the Butte Miners with 90 games left in the season, and McCloskey put him to work in two-thirds of the remaining games, 55 of them.

Soon Remneas’s prowess on the mound got to be a running gag on the team, with scrappy infielder Nig Perrine quipping, “Alex, you pitch today; tomorrow we will send in Remneas.”5 He would contribute 22 wins.6 McCloskey had a thing against blondes, allegedly excoriating “Bums and blondes,” but he did make two exceptions: Christy Mathewson and Alex Remneas.7

Remneas made his second known pro start on the last day of May 1911 with the league president W.H. Lucas in attendance. Working with Truck Hannah, Remneas scattered 7 hits, while giving up just the one unearned run as he pitched Butte past Salt Lake, 5-1. Ten days later, Remneas worked both ends of a doubleheader, losing the first game on a vehemently objected fair-foul call that nonetheless stood in favor of a walk-off win for the Helena Senators. Remneas cruised through the night cap, defeating a Helena high schooler while racking up 11 strikeouts over the twin-billing.8

On June 18 in Butte, Remneas again won both ends of a doubleheader over Boise, walking but a single batter over the 18 innings. The ball cranks of Great Falls got a treat on June 21, as Roswell ‘Rube’ ‘Red’ Hildebrand and Remneas, “the two local youngsters who have been burning up the league with their pitching feats, faced each other.” Hildebrand was born in nearby Ulm in 1889, and been heralded in the papers as the first pitcher to throw a no hitter in his professional debut on April 21. Hildebrand bested Remneas and Butte, striking out eight Miners on the day. Remneas again pitched both games of a doubleheader on July 1, with both ending in walk-off fashion, one for Butte and one for Helena; the split put Butte atop the league standings.9

On July 18 in Salt Lake, Remneas hit his first documented home run, a three-run shot that was the difference in the game. In his next start five days later, Remneas twirled a two-hitter, striking out a season-high 11 Salt Lake Skyscrapers. It turned out to be a highly successful year for the young hurler: the Helena Independent dubbed him as an All-Star at season’s close.10

Scouted by Bobby ‘Link’ Lowe near the tail end of 1911, Remneas was sold with battery mate, Hannah to the Detroit Tigers for $5,000. Remneas could not have been more delighted writing to Detroit owner Frank Navin to say, “if he ever gets a Detroit uniform on it will have to be cut off him.”11

Remneas and 32 other Tigers reported to their spring camp at Monroe, LA, and he pitched in the first exhibition game of the season for the Tigers against Hattiesburg. ‘Deacon’ Jim McGuire, who was tutoring Tiger pitchers that spring appreciated what he saw. “Remneas has a wide, free movement. He stands nearly six feet two inches and weighs about 185 pounds. He has a world of speed, and his good right arm is sure to hurl them across the plate in the American League this year.”12

The big man garnered even more ink a week before the season’s first pitch, but not for his prowess on the diamond but rather the basketball court. “Five members of the Detroit Tigers are star basketball players,” announced the Duluth (MN) Herald. “[Mike] Maurer and [Baldy] Louden play forwards, Remneas center, [Jean] Dubuc, and [Jim] Moroney guards. This team would make any five hustle.”13

Remneas would make his major league debut and only appearance for the Tigers in the fifth game of the season, an April 15 loss to the White Sox in Chicago. The 26 year-old got pounded, giving up five hits in 1⅔ innings of relief working with the durable Oscar Stanage. Ty Cobb didn’t appear in the game. He had been assigned a room in the hotel next to the railroad tracks, couldn’t sleep, and so he sat in a box along the first base side after threatening to ride the train back to Detroit, which he did the following afternoon.14

Remneas did not make the big league team, but he was released in time to start opening day for the Providence Grays, of the International League (AA). Unfortunately the Newark Indians massacred him, scoring 9 runs on 17 hits. After going 1-5 in 15 appearances, manager George Reed of his hometown Great Falls Electrics bought Remneas’ contract and brought Alex home. He would make it into 13 games for the Electrics, pitching alongside Rees ‘Steamboat’ Williams, the first man born in Montana to make the bigs.15

The pair bookended a doubleheader on Ladies Day at Highlanders Park in Missoula. ‘Bullet Joe’ Bush pitched Missoula past Great Falls in the second game of the twin bill, with Mother Nature contributing an assist as the sky clouded at the end of the game making Bush’s “speed ball look like a buckshot.”16

Remneas pitched a 6-hit shutout of Butte in the last game of 1912, beating Wheezer Dell. Dell, (who was the first player born in Nevada, with the second, Ted Davidson, coming 53 years later) moved to Butte no later than at two years of age, was also often credited with being the first resident Montanan to make it to the majors. Dell debuted for Cardinals exactly one week after Remneas’ single game.

After the close of the 1912 Union Association season, the Great Falls team presented their star leftfielder, Frank Huelsman with a $200 chest of silver. Huelsman had led the circuit with 299 total bases in 130 games. The pitching statistics seemed lost to the ages, but we do know that Remneas appeared in 13 games for the Electrics, who finished 65-54, and 12 games back of Missoula.17

There was talk during the offseason of Remneas managing Great Falls for the forthcoming season as “millionaire manager” Reed would move on to the Three-I League in 1913, but Remneas’s contract was sold to the Denver Bears. After failing to report, Remneas was suspended and sat out the 1913 season. The papers claimed he was making too much money working for Bell Telephone of Helena.18

At the outset of 1914, Remneas and Dell were both offered jobs with the Chicago club of the Federal League by Joe Tinker, but Dell stayed with Seattle, and Remneas chose to pitch for Dillon, Montana.19

After taking two years off from mound work with fast company, Remneas got one more shot in the big leagues breaking camp with the St. Louis Browns in 1915. His last two games in the majors came in April 19 and 21, both losses to the Cleveland Naps, where he appeared in a total of just six innings for manager Branch Rickey. Then he was released to the Salt Lake City Bees. His first appearance in the Pacific Coast League was a good one. On May 14, reunited with his familiar backstop, Truck Hannah, Remneas fanned the first three batters he faced. But by June 19, he was unconditionally released by SLC. Remneas saw action with a second PCL team, the Oakland Oaks, but they too released him on September 18, 1915. It would prove to be Remneas’ last stint in the professional ranks, but the 29 year-old hurler was far from done. He was back with Dillon in time to pitch the Independents past the Butte Black Rocks for the Montana state amateur championship.20

The next five years saw Remneas as a popular arm-for-hire across the state. In 1919 at age 33 he was so dominant that the local paper asked, “Is Remneas better than ever?”21 He pitched for Great Falls town teams including the Anaconda Mining Company (A.C.M.), known as the Smelter Ingots, Knights of Columbus, Knights Templar, Boston & Montana Mining, and Eagles, as well as neighboring Cascade and Lewiston, Montana. He also made appearances for Montana Power in the Butte City Mines League. Remneas was so good when he joined the Mines League the Great Falls Tribune cracked, “in the meantime some fun may be encountered in the local games with Remneas gone.” He wasn’t any easier on the batters of Butte pitching 19⅔ innings and giving up just 2 runs on 10 hits. Remneas also managed A.C.M. teams in Great Falls and Butte. 22

Alex Remneas married Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Ann Hunter Weise on December 7, 1916, and by the time of the 1920 census was living with stepchildren Laurel and Laverne Weise a few blocks from the log cabin studio of cowboy artist Charles Marion Russell. Also in the year of the census, some of Remneas’s friends filed his name for Cascade County clerk of court. He won handily, both on the ballot and pitching for the courthouse team, but he didn’t seek re-election opting to take an accounting position with the hardware company, Murphy-Maclay.23

Remneas was undefeated in the 1922 Great Falls city league, didn’t walk a batter through July, and led all pitchers with 10 victories.24 In the city championship that year he set a league record by striking out 17.25

In addition to his excellence on the ball field, Remneas was a class 1 handballer playing in national tournaments, an above average league bowler, secretary of the Anaconda Country Club and in 1929 (at age 43), played the best 18 holes of golf at the state Rotary Club golf tournament, posting an 89.26

Remneas was elected Cascade County surveyor in 1922, and by the end of the 1920s he was assistant manager of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, first in Helena and then Butte. While in Butte, Remneas served as Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce athletic committee for five years, and he is credited with being instrumental in bringing intercollegiate football to the copper city. By 1930, Remneas had become state manager of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, a position he would hold for almost a decade.27

In 1939, Remneas was hired as manager of Mountain States T & T of Arizona, moving to their headquarters in Phoenix. But it wasn’t all work and no play: Remneas remained well known enough in collegiate athletic circles that he sat with Dr. Alfred Atkinson, president of the University of Arizona, at a football game against Montana State in December of 1939.28

Remneas would spend the next 36 years in Phoenix; he died there in 1975 at age 89.29 If not a true Montanan, Remneas will always be remembered as one of the state’s all-time great pitchers.

 

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank western states historian, John Wahl for first bringing Alex Remneas to his attention. This biography was edited by Tom Schott and fact-checked by Al Quimby.

 

Sources

In preparing this biography, I relied primarily upon online newspaper archives including The Sporting News offered at The Paper of Record, as well as the Library of Congress hosted Chronicling America newspapers, and the Montana Historical Society online archives. My book with fellow SABR member, Skylar Browning, Montana Baseball History, was also partially excerpted. Additional information was obtained from the player’s file at the Hall of Fame Museum and Library in Cooperstown, NY. Census data was acquired from familysearch.org and findagrave.com.

 

Notes

1 “Alex Remneas Sent to Arizona,” Choteau Acantha, September 14, 1939.

2 “Lewistown to Front,” Fergus County Democrat, August 18, 1908.

3 “Helena and Boise Break Even,” Daily Missoulian, July 06, 1909.

4 “Holly Buys Store,” Daily Missoulian, March 26, 1911.

5 Joe L. Markham, “Alex in 59 of 90 Games,” Choteau Acantha, February 11, 1937.

6 “Season’s Average of the Union League,” Daily Missoulian, October 01, 1911.

7 Joe L. Markahm, “Quick-McCloskey Feud,” Choteau Acantha, July 22, 1937.

8 “Remneas Too Good for Mormon Guests” & “Remneas Pitches Both,” Daily Missoulian, June 1, 11, 1911.

9 “Remneas Wins Two,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 1911; “Hildebrand Beats M’Closkey’s Miners”(quote) & “Butte Gets on top by Even Break with Helena,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 22, July 2, 1911.

10 “Remneas Hits Ball Over Fence and Wins,” “Blankeship’s Men Drop Two Games to Miners,” & “Helena Papers Pick All-Star Ball Teams,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 19, 24, September 15, 1911.

11 “American League News in Nut-Shells,” Sporting Life, February 10, 1912.

12 “First Game of the Season Went to Tigers, 9-2,” Hattiesburg News, March 27, 1912; “Thirty-two Tigers on Training Trip,” Lake County Times, January 30, 1912; “Remneas Goes to Monroe,” Topeka State Journal, February 7, 1912; “Remneas to Dodge Bushes Hereafter,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 18, 1912; “Bits of Baseball,” Washington Herald, August 6, 1911; “Don’t Want Remneas,” Evening Standard, April 8, 1912.

13 Duluth Herald, April 6, 1912.

14 “Plenty of Hits and Runs,” New York Tribune, & “Cobb is Missed by Tigers,” The [New York] Sun, both April 16, 1912.

15 “Take Kindly to Remenas,” The Sun, May 26, 1912; “Great Falls Gets New Man,” The San Francisco Call, July 24, 1912.

16 “Bush is in fine form,” Daily Missoulian, August 03, 1912.

17 “Huelsman Get Silver,” Daily Missoulian, August 26, 1912.

18 Daily Missoulian, October 28, 1912, October 1, 1913; “Reed Likely to Quit Great Falls,” Evening Capital News, October 30, 1912; “Remneas is Suspended,” Evening Standard, March 26, 1913; “News Items Gathered from All Quarters,” Sporting Life, April 5, 1913.

19 “Hester Busy with Building Up Team,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 15, 1914; “Everybody Went to Salmon City,” Dillon Examiner, September 09, 1914.

20 “Baseball Briefs,” Evening Star, April 1, May 15, 1915; “Baseball Gossip,” Bridgeport Evening Farmer, May 17, 1915; “Angels Walk off with the Game,” Ogden Standard, May 14 & Aug 18, 1915; “Condensed Dispatches” & “News Notes,” Sporting Life, June 19, September 18, 1915 “Dillon Wins Championship,” Dillon Examiner, September 8, 1915.

21 “Boost Remneas to Trim Havre,” Great Falls Daily Tribune, June 20, 1919.

22 “Schmutz in Rare Form,” Tacoma Times, May 03, 1916; Evening Capital News, May 12, 1916; “Veterans Did Not Have Show,” Tacoma Times, May 29, 1916; “Great Falls Team Won,” River Press, August 8, 1917; “Independents Meet Smelter Once Meet,” Great Falls Daily Tribune, September 1, 1919; July 5, August 1 (quote), 26, 1922; “Alex Remneas Sent to Arizona” & Joe L. Markham, “Berger Not a Shortstop,” Choteau Acantha, September 14, 1939 & January 13, 1938.

23 “Alex Remneas Sent to Arizona,” Choteau Acantha, September 14, 1939.

24 “Remneas Leads Pitchers with 10 Wins,” Great Falls Tribune, September 17, 1922.

25 Great Falls Tribune, September 11.

26 “Deer Lodge Club Winner Tournament,” Dillon Examiner, June 19, 1929; “Anaconda Plans Record State Golf Tournament,” Big Timber Pioneer, June 17, 1937.

27 “Alex Remneas Sent to Arizona,” see note 23; “New Manager Installed” & “Telephones Subject of Dinner Talk” Dillon Examiner, July 23, 1930, June 22, 1938.

28 Choteau Acantha, December 7, 1939.

29 See note 23 Choteau Acantha, April 11, 1940. Remneas was preceded in death by his wife Bess on March 7, 1964 (Montana Standard-Post, March 12, 1964).