Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hendrickson to enter Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame

By Con Marshall               
Young left-handed pitcher Dale Hendrickson
One of the Panhandle’s most prominent athletic personalities will be inducted into the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame in Beatrice on Sunday, February 9.  

He is Dale Hendrickson of Kimball, who was a standout baseball and basketball player, coached those sports after graduating from Chadron State College and spent 27 years as a high school activities/athletic director.
Hendrickson, now 83, is one of seven who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which dates back to 1971. It has about 250 inductees, but Hendrickson will be one of just five with ties to the Panhandle.  At least 20 of Hendrickson’s family members and friends have made reservations for the induction dinner and program.

A hard-throwing left-hander, Hendrickson pitched Gering’s American Legion team to a state championship in 1953 when he turned 17.

The next summer he lived in Chadron part-time and pitched for the Elks town team that was perhaps the Panhandle’s best. In June, he also attended the first of 11 baseball tryout camps hosted by major league teams at Modisett Field in Rushville. His name became instantly well-known when he signed a contract with the Milwaukee Braves.
In the summer of 1955 while pitching for the Braves’ farm team in Lawton, Okla., Hendrickson became one of their rising stars. He compiled a 24-8 record, including three playoff victories, and hurled 39 consecutive scoreless innings and 75 innings without permitting an earned run.

He had an impressive 11-2 record the next year at Evansville, Ill., one of the Braves’ top minor league teams; then really drew attention during spring training in 1957 while pitching against the Yankees in an exhibition game.  He struck out Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Skowran in the same inning and fanned Tony Kubek and Gil McDougald later in the game.

Also that spring, he allowed just one hit during three innings against the Dodgers, but after giving up two homers in an exhibition game at Chattanooga, he was sent to the minor league camp.

Each fall when the baseball seasons ended, Hendrickson returned to Chadron State to continue his studies and play basketball. One of these years while back on campus, he took a spin on the motorcycle Gary Tuggle had ridden from his home in Alabama so he could play football at Chadron State. Hendrickson upset the bike and injured his left shoulder.
Despite the mishap, which left a knot on his shoulder, he pitched for Braves’ minor league teams a few more years but maybe not as effectively as before. Altogether, he played seven years of pro baseball.

Chadron State had a baseball team during that era, but because Hendrickson had signed a pro contract, he was not allowed to play that sport in college.  However, he developed into an excellent guard for the Eagles’ basketball teams in the late 1950s. He scored 860 points during his career, even though a couple of the seasons were cut short because he had to report to spring training in February. Hendrickson averaged 12.5 points as a junior and 15.8 as a senior. Both ranked second on the team to his backcourt partner and close friend, Chadron native Jim Hampton.

Hendrickson, who was inducted into the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, had another special link to Chadron.  His wife, the former Gayle Babue, was a 1955 graduate of Chadron High School. They had been married 61 years when she died June 24, 2018.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from CSC in 1960, Hendrickson spent nine years teaching and coaching at Morrill and then 27 years at Kimball, including 24 of them as the school’s activities director before retiring in 1996. Several summers he also coached American Legion baseball.  One of his teams at Morrill won a state championship and another Morrill team and two at Kimball qualified for the state tournament.

The baseball field in Kimball is named in his honor.

Other accolades Kimball conferred on him include Citizen of the Year, Outstanding Service to Youth and Outstanding Community Educator.  The Hendricksons also were the Grand Marshals of the Kimball-Banner County Farmer’s Day parade in 1994.

In addition, he was tabbed the Nebraska Athletic Director of the Year in 1995 and served as the organization’s president.

In 2014, Dale was a guest of honor when Modisett Field in Rushville was rededicated after undergoing a half million dollar renovation.  Apparently, he was the only player who attended any of the 11 camps to sign a pro contract.  Several of the camps drew at least 200 participants.
Hendrickson said he didn’t throw much at the camp, probably because he had pitched for the Chadron Elks the night before the camp started and Eddie Dancisak, the Braves’ chief Midwestern scout and the camp director, already knew about the promising young southpaw and had attended that game.

“About all they had me do (at the camp) was show them my pickoff move,” Hendrickson remembered.  “They offered me a contract and I signed it. I didn’t get much money, but it gave me a chance to play pro ball.”

Attending spring training with the Braves allowed him to mingle with all-stars such as Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews and left him with many other great memories.

Just three players from the Panhandle have been inducted into the state’s Baseball Hall of Fame prior to this year.  They include Gene Leahy, who after being both a standout football and baseball player as a youth living in eastern Nebraska and played fullback on two undefeated football teams at Creighton University in 1918 and ’19,  lived in Rushville more than 50 years and was the primary ramrod of the baseball camps the community hosted. The others are Leo Newell, a Gering umpire, and Gary Neibauer, who grew up in Scottsbluff and pitched in the majors for the Braves four seasons and the Phillies one season from 1969 through 1973.

A member of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, Larry Bornschlegl of Lincoln said more inductions from the West are welcomed, but few, if any, such nominations have been submitted.

Credit for Hendrickson’s nomination goes to Richard Arntz, an Albuquerque resident and a lifelong Braves fans.  About a year ago, while going through the wealth of information about Braves players he had collected, Arntz came across Hendrickson’s material and was impressed.  After discovering Hendrickson had graduated from Chadron State, he contacted the college. 

Much of the information in this story was made available and Arntz used his stash of material to prepare a nomination packet that immediately impressed the selection committee.

Arntz initially planned to keep the nomination a secret, but when it had become evident that Hendrickson would be inducted, the two met last summer in Omaha while Dale was visiting his daughter Tracy and her family there and Arntz was passing through en route to visit relatives in Wisconsin.

Among others who will be inducted Sunday in Beatrice is Johnny Hopp posthumously.  He played in nearly 1,400 games in the outfield and first base for six different major league teams over a 14-year span ending in 1952. A native of Hastings, Hopp spent his final years living in Scottsbluff and died there in 2003.

Also being inducted will be former college standouts Shawn Buchanan and Bobby Mancuso, both of Omaha, and Gene Faszholz of Seward, who spent eight years in the Cardinals’ organization.  The remaining inductees will be long-time coach and manager Bill Fagler of Lincoln and sports announcer Bryan Cook of Beatrice.
(Note:  Our thanks to Con Marshall for sharing yet another outstanding story!)