Sweden & America

Baseball: Four Swedes “Go to the Show”

Baseball became “the national pastime” in the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, at the same time as mass waves of Swedish immigrants were coming to this continent. Not surprisingly, many Swedish immigrants took up the game, and four of them reached major league competition: Charles Hallstrom, Eric Erickson, Charles Dickens Bold, and Axel Lindstrom. While Swedish players of golf, tennis and hockey have had great successes in their professional sports, only one of the four Swedish baseball players lasted more than one season in the major leagues.

Charles Hallstrom, a twenty-one-year-old native of Jonkoping, became the first of the Swedish major leaguers on September 23, 1885, when he pitched a complete game for the Providence (Rhode Island) Grays. The Grays, who were the defending National League champions, were in Chicago on the final western swing of a less-than-successful season. With one starting pitcher injured and another suspended, Providence manager Frank Bancroft decided to try pitching Hallstrom, a local Chicago pitcher whom the newspapers called the “phenomenal” Swede and the “Swedish Wonder.” Before 1,300 fans, Hallstrom gave up twenty-four hits in a 16-8 loss to the Chicago White Sox. It was his only major league game. “He was released the next day,” according to Frederick Ivor-Campbell, who chairs a committee of the Society for American Baseball Research that studies nineteenth-century players.

While Hallstrom pitched just one game, Eric “Swat” Erickson played seven major league seasons as a pitcher. Erickson, born in Goteborg in 1882, immigrated as a young child with his family to the Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania area. With many other Swedish immigrants who worked in the area’s furniture industry, Erickson learned to play baseball. He moved as a teenager to nearby Jamestown, New York where baseball was a popular game for Swedes and Swedish-Americans.

Circa, 1912, Erickson began playing for a semi-professional baseball team for $3.00 per game at near-by Celoron, which often played major league teams on exhibition tours. Like many baseball players Erickson spent much of his early professional years traveling with and playing for different teams. From 1914-1917, he pitched for Dallas in the Texas League, New York in the National League, and Detroit in the American League. During the 1917 season, in San Francisco, Erickson won thirty-one of the sixty-two games he pitched, toiling for an amazing 444 innings on the mound. Erickson compiled a 4-7 record pitching for the Detroit Tigers in 1916, 1918, and 1919. He also served in the United States Army during those war years.
Eric Erickson tosses a pitch.
Erickson concluded his career with the Washington Senators, where he compiled a 30-49 record from 1919-1922 while pitching for one of the worst major league teams of the time. Indications of Erickson’s struggles are found in the opening three games of the 1920 season. During the first game he allowed just two runs in fourteen innings, but his teammates scored just one run. In his second game, pitching before Vice President Thomas Marshall, Erickson lost 5-3. In his third game, he lost 3-2 to New York when the Yankees scored three runs in the ninth inning on Washington errors. Nevertheless, Erickson finished with a 12-16 record, batted .227, and hit his only major league home run. (Another highlight of the 1920 season occurred when Leon Carlson, Swedish-American born in Jamestown, joined the Senators and pitched three games.)

After his major league career, Erickson returned to Jamestown where his brother, Harry, served as mayor and where his son Burwin developed into a minor leaguer. “He was very well liked and everybody knew him,” says Erickson’s daughter-in-law Phyllis. Erickson who never visited Sweden after he emigrated, farmed and worked as a shipping clerk until his death in 1965. Erickson was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
Two other Swedes had brief major league careers. Charles Dickens “Dutch” Bold, who was born to William Bold and Ida Peterson in Karlskrona in 1894, played first base in two games for the 1904 St. Louis Browns of the American League. In his time only time at bat, he struck out. After his baseball career, Bold worked in Plymouth, Massachusetts, as a salesman. He died in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Axel Lindstrom, the fourth Swede was born in Gustafsberg, near Sundsvall, and emigrated when he was eight years old. In 1906, he pitched four innings of one game for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League but continued pitching professionally until 1932. He lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, and worked as an umpire until he died in 1941.

More Swedes from the nineteenth-century mass migration might have had the talent for major league baseball; however, many Swedes lived too far away from major league teams. The salaries they earned as farmhands and factory workers were nearly equal to the pay earned by baseball players, a relationship far different than for today’s millionaire athletes.

Dozens of Swedish-Americans, such as Leon Carlson, have played professional baseball; other players have earned the nickname “Swede.” Some of the major league players with that nickname include:
Albin Carlstrom, a shortstop with the Boston Red Sox
Olaf Henriksen, a Danish-born outfielder with the Boston Red Sox
Harry Malmberg, a second baseman with the Detroit Tigers
Charles Risberg, an infielder with the infamous 1919 Chicago Whit Sox
Andrew Hansen, a pitcher with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies
John Johnson, a pitcher with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees

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