By Brad Salmen
It was January, 1975. The scheduling committee for the Wright Star League, the precursor to what is now the North Star League, was meeting for the first time.
The previous fall, the Loretto manager had complained about the schedule to the league secretary, who threw his pen at the Loretto manager and told him, “here, smart [aleck], you do the schedule.”
Hence, the scheduling committee. On it were three league managers, and 19-year-old Brian Larson. He’d been put on the committee as a joke.
Though he was just 19, Larson’s reputation for numbers and stats had already earned him the nickname, “Bookie.” He’d been a student manager and statkeeper at Dassel and Dassel-Cokato High School for six years, and had been D-C Saints coach Joe Harmala’s right-hand man for scorebook and stats for two seasons.
Despite being nominated to the committee in jest, Larson took the position seriously, and drew up a league schedule prior to the meeting. When the meeting started, and none of the managers seemed to have any idea on where to begin, he handed out that schedule.
The managers loved it.
Ten minutes later, they adjourned the meeting and headed to the bar. Larson, being underage, headed home.
Ever since that winter meeting 40 years ago, Brian “Bookie” Larson has done the league schedule every year. For the last 18 years, he’s also done stats, record keeping, contracts, bylaws enforcement, and numerous other duties as the North Star League Secretary.
“Baseball has given me a lifetime of memories, and it’s certainly been a fun ride,” said Larson.
Brian "Bookie” Larson, right, has done league scheduling for the North Star League for 40 years, and kept league stats for 18. He is pictured here on Jeff Neutzing Night at Dassel Ball Park in 2012, when Neutzling was inducted into the North Star League Hall of Fame.
Love of the game from an early age
Larson fell in love with baseball early. Like many other kids, his first town team baseball experience was chasing foul balls, and dreaming about being a bat boy.
He got his wish at age five, when the Dassel Kernels let him step in when the regular bat boy missed a game.
“I was on cloud nine,” says Larson. “I got to line up all the bats, and they had the coldest drinking water in the dugout!”
Everything went fine until the later innings, when he was handed a coat and told to take it to the pitcher. Dutifully, he took it and ran to the mound. The pitcher waved him off, so he ran back to the dugout. The dugout hollered to take it to the pitcher. The pitcher waved him off again.
Tears welled in his eyes, as it seemed everyone was yelling at him. Finally, the third base coach told him, “son, don’t give the coat to the pitcher on the mound; give it to the pitcher who is standing on first base.”
“It was not a great way to start my town team baseball career,” says Larson wryly.
From the minute he entered high school in seventh grade, Larson was doing stats. For six years, he was student manager for the football, basketball and baseball teams at Dassel and then D-C High School.
Besides taping ankles, picking up towels, and chalking fields, Larson noticed that the coaches never seemed to have time to keep their statbook up-to-date. So he asked if he could take over, and to a man, they all said yes.
Thus, with a stack of scratch paper (calculators were prohibitively expensive), he was now doing sports statistics. It was not until his senior year in high school that his father bought a calculator for $300.
“Being able to do averages with the touch of my fingers made me the happiest person,” said Larson.
Besides high school sports, Larson always wanted to one day do the stats for the Saints. His day would come at the start of the 1973 season, when Harmala was named Saints manager and offered him the job of statistician.
Larson proved his worth that year. The Saints, who won the league and region playoffs and finished second in the state tournament, were facing Columbia Heights in the state quarterfinals.
Tournament rule stated that for any new hitter that entered the game, the dugout had to call the press box with the change, and the batter had to tell the umpire. Midway through the game, Columbia Heights put in a pinch hitter, who promptly hit a home run.
However, Larson noticed that the batter did not report to the umpire. He told Art Hagen about the infraction, and Hagen told Harmala, who was playing first base. Harmala protested, and after the state board discussed it for a half-hour, the batter was ruled out.
The next batter made an out to end the inning, and the Saints scored three runs in the bottom half en route to a 9-5 win.
“I always referred to Brian as our tenth starter,” said Harmala. “He always knew the stats, and had insight for each situation. Day game, night game, righthanders, lefthanders, away, home ... I give him a lot of credit for our success in those years.”
The following season, 1974, resulted in what Larson called “the shortest playing career in Saints history.”
In a game at New Ulm, the Saints started with only eight players, so they put Larson in his tennis shoes in right field.
He was there for only two innings before the ninth Saints player arrived, but during those innings had to memorize what each New Ulm batter did in order to faithfully keep book.
After being replaced in the third (and, unfortunately, before he could register an at bat), Larson went over to the New Ulm dugout to see what he might have missed only to find they had messed up their book. Instead, they ended up relying on Larson’s recollection for their own stats.
“He was an integral part of our team,” said Harmala. “I could trust him to follow through on anything that was ever asked of him. That was the bottom line. He had a love not just for the team and the league, but for the integrity of the game.”
After the Saints disbanded in 1979, Larson was asked to join the Delano team, where he would stay for three years. It was at Delano where he got a chance to really put his statistical analysis to work.
During the 1981 season, the A’s were an inconsistent squad, hovering around .500. Larson told Delano manager Dick Traen that he had a computer program that could pick the lineup using his statistics, and why not try it?
Larson recalls he had attempted to get Harmala to try it for the Saints, but when Harmala saw the computer had catcher Art Hagen (not a swift runner) batting second, he would not discuss it again.
Traen, however, decided to give it a shot. With Larson’s new lineup, the A’s won 10 straight games.
“Never playing town team baseball, I was put in an interesting position behind the scenes,” said Larson. “I got to know what the manager was thinking, what the players were thinking, what the fans were thinking, and being so involved in the league, what the other teams were thinking.
“Even though I did not play baseball I certainly had the chance to live it in so many ways.”
Larson still has a special place in his heart for Traen, who would go on to become the NSL president for nearly 20 years before his death in 2006.
“My fondest memories of North Star League baseball was travelling the back roads of Wright County on Sundays with Dick,” said Larson. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.”
Larson’s devotion to amateur baseball, and to amateur baseball record keeping, did not go unnoticed.
In 1988, he was elected to the Minnesota Baseball Association Board at age 32, the youngest person ever elected to the board. He served on the state board for nine years, and even with his new position, continued his NSL duties.
In 1998, when Herb Koch retired as NSL league secretary, Larson was elected to replace him. If Larson is re-elected to the position again next season, it will mark 19 years, surpassing Ron Meyers (1952-1970) for the longest-tenured secretary.
Koch, himself now in his 10th year as NSL President, said Larson’s dedication is a tremendous asset for the league. He described Larson as persistent and by-the-book, noting a manager might receive a midnight call if he’s delinquent in providing necessary updates.
“He’s one-of-a-kind,” said Koch. “We are very fortunate to have had him for this many years, doing such a great job.”
Bookie’s influence extends beyond just the North Star League, said Harmala.
“Brian is responsible for a lot of area ballplayers being in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame,” he said. “He, Dick Traen and Herbie Koch are the reason why the League is so respected throughout the whole state.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Harmala continued. “For what he’s done for me personally, for the Saints, for the league, and for the game of baseball. We owe Brian a lot.”
40 years at NSL for “Bookie”
Brian “Bookie” Larson has been connected to the North Star League for 40 years, the past 18 of which have been as League Secretary.
His dedication has been recognized with several awards:
• 2000 Won the Mike Downs Award, awarded annually by the Minnesota Baseball Association Board to one person for “outstanding service to amateur baseball.”
• 2005 Elected to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame
• 2009 Elected to the North State League Hall of Fame
• 2012 Elected to the KDUZ Sports Hall of Fame
Larson has also written three books:
• Over 100 Years of Baseball in Dassel
• 65 Years of North Star Baseball
• 75 Years of State Amateur Baseball Tournament
How he got the nickname, “Bookie”
“When I joined the Saints in 1973, the Dassel players knew me but Cokato players never could remember my name so they would say, ‘hey you with the book.’
Our shortstop at the time was Craig Wessman, who had the nickname of Rookie. One day I was sitting in the dugout with Craig, and relief pitcher Tom Lundeen came walking by and said, ‘look at Rookie and Bookie doing stats.’
The nickname stayed within the Saints.
In 1974, the Saints were going to the state tournament and drafted Delano pitcher Dick Traen. He thought the nickname fit me like a glove, and he is the one who made it known to the baseball world, as from that moment on he only referred to me as ‘Bookie.’”