History Remembers Morgan Park’s Dzuck Brothers

John Gilbert

Dane Dzuck, first baseman for Denfeld’s JV team, takes a pitch in a cold, windy makeup game at Superior Tuesday. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Dane Dzuck, first baseman for Denfeld’s JV team, takes a pitch in a cold, windy makeup game at Superior Tuesday. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Sometimes karma works better than great planning and execution. For example, The Rustic, our favorite eating place on the North Shore, reopened after a kitchen fire closed the place for four months, and when we heard about it, we made a hasty trip to make sure the barbecued ribs, and the assorted pies, were as good as ever. They were.

Also, the Great! Lakes Candy shop in Knife River awoke from its annual winter hibernation and caught me by surprise. They make the best chocolate, caramel, and assorted candy of anyplace in this world, or beyond, and while driving back from The Rustic, we spotted the sign that it had opened last weekend — although we were too late for the day and will have to make another short trip.

Dumb luck, or good fortune, can also lead to intriguing angles while chasing around to find rescheduled baseball games to attend in search of photos for The Reader. It was cold enough out that I didn’t even feel guilty staying inside to watch Stanley Cup Playoff games, but I’m always looking for a good live ball game. And I noticed that Denfeld was going to play Princeton in a baseball game at Wade Stadium.

I waited until the right time, then suggested to my wife, Joan, that I’d like to catch some of that game. We worked a deal out where I dropped her off to see if she could find any remaining stores at the Miller Hill Mall, then I headed for Wade. I knew I would be late, but even if there was only an inning or so left, I might find a good photo.

When I got there, it was only the fifth inning, and it was 1-0, so I was in luck. After maneuvering around the photo-unfriendly confines of the Wade Stadium grandstand, I shot a dozen or so, and ended up standing behind the Denfeld dugout on the third base side. A fellow standing there was watching with particular interest, and we struck up a conversation.

I asked him if the game just started late, or were they playing a doubleheader, and this was the second game. He said no, this game followed the lopsided Denfeld victory in the Varsity game — which I had missed — and this was the Junior Varsity game.

Not good, I thought. I blew it. We kept talking, mainly because he somehow figured out who I was, and said he wondered if I might show up at the game. He’s a fan, he said, and he enjoys both my auto reviews and my sports columns in The Reader.  He said he likes the intensity I bring to each piece I write, and I told him he had made my day, or maybe my week! He went on to say when he reads my car reviews, he is impressed that I’m really a “car guy,” but then when he reads a sports column, he decides that no, I must be a “hockey guy.”

I thanked him, and said it was possible to be both, but he said he picked up The Reader every week, so it was easy to keep talking to him, even at the risk of hypothermia from last Saturday’s chill. I asked him his name, and he aid David Dzuck, and I asked if he had a son playing, and he said yes, the first baseman, Dane Dzuck. He asked how I got so interested in sports, and I gave him the short version of how my dad was Wally Gilbert, who grew up in Duluth and played third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and also ran, passed, punted and kicked field goals for the Duluth Eskimos, back before either of our time.

He also talked about his love for baseball, and that he used to play, back in the 1970s, for Morgan Park High School, when they had some pretty good teams, and when they had a high school. I told him I was older than he, and I remember all the great Morgan Park teams from the 1960s, as well. He said he goes to as many ballgames as he can, high school, college, and the Huskies. We shared a few stories about things we believe in about the purity of the game, and the competitiveness, and how much we both prefer those hunches and feelings about what was happening are much better than all the computerized analytics of modern baseball.

When I took off, two retrieve my wife from the mall, and escape the cold, I thought about how I had missed out on a few years of good, or great, Northern Minnesota sports action away from the spotlight while I was spending 30 years covering sports for the Minneapolis Tribune. For example, I hadn’t recalled ever hearing the name “Dzuck,” among athletes from the area, and figured he was another case of players from Duluth who grow up with a lifelong interest in baseball, even after suffering through the worst short-season playing time,.

I went home and in the Sunday Duluth News Tribune, which used to be hyphenated, and which contained a booklet with a very neat collection of stories and pages from their vault going back 150 years. They had writers write about each decade through the 20th century, with pages reprinted along the way.

Because someone had sent me a computerized copy of a Duluth sports history, done by the late Bruce Bennett, the News Tribune’s sports editor who hired me out of college for my first sportswriting job another lifetime ago. In it, Bruce had done an exemplary job finding information about all sports, and a special part about the Duluth Eskimos — our own pro football team, which probably makes it the biggest sports story in city history, UMD’s current attempt to win annual NCAA hockey titles notwithstanding. In that portion, Bennett wrote that according to his files, the Eskimos first actual pro game at home at Athletic Park, a playground with about 2,000 bleacher seats se up, near where Wade Stadium is now, they played the Rock Island team, which included the legendary Jim Thorpe.

Bennett wrote that in that game, Wally Gilbert emerged as the hero by drop-kicking a 60-yard field goal for a 3-0 victory, and that he also punted a half-dozen times over 70 yards. One of those, which might have been a quick kick, flew and bounced 100 yards, going out of bounds on the Rock Island 3. Thorpe claimed he had never seen a punt travel that far in his whole career.

Great stuff, Bruce

Now back to the News Tribune’s historic perspective: Great stuff on the Incline Rail device, and on the changeover of the Aerial Bridge from a gondola carrying horse carriages back and forth, to the current rising roadway. Naturally, I was drawn to the 1920s, and 1930s. I read and reread those chapters, and to my astonishment, there was nary a mention of the Duluth Eskimos. This wasn’t a sports accumulation, but all news. Yet the Eskimos, as probably the biggest sports story in Duluth history, deserved some mention amid the news of Grandma’s Marathon and the Dukes bus crash of 1949. Didn’t it?

Then, on Page 29, the four different replicas of Tribune pages from the past had one from Sunday, June 26, 1977. The feature of the page was Esko and University of Minnesota grad Garry Bjorklund winning the first Grandma’s Marathon. But over n the left side of the page, under a story of “Chisox clobber Twins,” there is a headline that caught my eye. It read: “Dzuck star of winning All-Stars.”

When Dave Dzuck and I talked so briefly at Wade Stadium, I learned he had a brother, Dave, and both of them played for Soup Stromme at Morgan Park, one of three sets of brothers Stromme coached there. This story says Don Dzuck of Morgan Park hit a single, double and inside-the-park home run to drive in three runs and lead the outstate All-Stars to a 6-2 victory over the Metro All-Stars in the Lion’s Club annual series at Midway Stadium. The Outstate team, just called Minnesota in those days, swept all three games of the series.

So much for Northern Minnesota ballplayers falling behind their Twin Cities counterparts!

At any rate, when I saw it was Don Dzuck’s brother, Dave, who was the star among stars in that series, then I heard Denfeld was going to make up a JV game against Superior Tuesday afternoon, I drove over to Superior to show Dave Dzuck the historic book. And to prove to him that in the 150 years of historic Duluth News Tribune sports, the Dzuck family of Morgan Park got bigger headlines than the Duluth Eskimos. Dave, who drives a DTA bus, wasn’t at the game, so I missed him. Maybe he’ll see it here.