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On The Road: Gratiot, Wisconsin – Home of the "Babe Ruth of the 1880's"

Small towns fascinate me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town. During my time in broadcasting I spent many hours on two-lane highways driving through small towns around the state of Illinois.

When I head back to my hometown, a small village in Illinois named Annawan, two-lane highways are my usual route. I will take route 78 north through Illinois into Wisconsin and pass through more than a dozen rural communities.

Last weekend I made a pit stop after the IHSA basketball state finals in my hometown. On Sunday, I made my way back into Wisconsin on my rural route. As I was sitting at a stop light (there are only two stop lights my entire three hour trip) I decided to search Wikipedia for a couple small towns I pass through.

Gratiot, Wisconsin was one of those towns. The pronunciation alone is catchy (grash-itt), and almost profane. It is also a picturesque rural town tucked away just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border with a population of 236 residents.

It’s also the birthplace of the “Babe Ruth of the 1880’s,” Abner Dalrymple. Not only was I mesmerized by the nickname, he was a member of the Chicago White Stockings. No, not the White Sox. The White Stockings, the original name of the Chicago Cubs.

Dalrymple’s Major League Baseball career spanned 12 seasons from 1878 through 1891 and hit .288 with 43 home runs and 217 doubles. That home run total seems low by today’s standards, but the slugging Dalrymple led the league in home runs with 11 in 1885, a year after mashing 22 home runs in 1884. His four doubles in an 1883 game is still tied for a Major League record…136 years later.

Milwaukee was the first stop in Dalrymple’s Major League Baseball career suiting up for the Milwaukee Grays for the 1878 season. Following that season, A.G. Spalding of the White Stockings paid $2,500 for Dalrymple’s services. Dalrymple played in Chicago from 1879 through 1886, then the 1887 and 1888 seasons with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

This September 23, 1928 article did an excellent job recapping Dalrymple’s playing days.

Dalrymple passed away in 1939 at the age of 81 in Warren, Illinois, which is located just a few miles south on the Illinois side of the border.

There is also a plaque commemorating Dalrymple’s career at the nearby baseball diamond in Warren, Illinois.

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