Sunday, January 9, 2011

Indoor Baseball

On Thanksgiving Day in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club on Chicago's South Side George W. Hancock yelled "let's play ball" after a member of the club threw a boxing glove and another member struck it with a broom handle.

Indoor baseball action from 1905

There are two versions of what the members of the club were doing at the time. In a November 26, 1900 article in the New York Times it says members of the Farragut Club were boxing. After the match one of the members playfully tossed a boxing glove toward a spectator. Another member struck the glove with a broom handle and the game was born. The other, more widely-documented version says that members of the club had gathered to hear results of college football games. After the scores were announced one club member tossed the glove and another member hit it with a broom handle.

1897 Chicago Indoor Baseball Team 

However the game really started, it quickly spread throughout the area. Colleges, high schools and clubs all had teams.

The equipment consisted of a soft 17-inch ball and stick-like bat. There were no gloves, and bases were 27 feet apart. As the game spread across the country, some variations occurred in the size of the ball and playing field.

An early1900's Reach Official Official Indoor Baseball 

In 1907 the game went outdoors and was called playground ball, kitten-ball, mushball or diamond ball, depending on the locale. It later became known as softball. By 1910 the indoor game was at a decline because of the growth of basketball. By the 1920s the sports was all but dead. 

In 1939 the National Professional Indoor Baseball League was formed. The league's president was Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. Teams were set up in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Each club would play a 102-game schedule from November to March, and play a championship between the division winners. Several former major leaguers were picked to manage these clubs: Bill Wambsganss (Cleveland), Harry Davis (Philadelphia), Bubbles Hargrove (Cincinnati), Moose McCormick (New York), and Gabby Street (St. Louis). The league was short-lived and it shut down operations after only one month due to lack of fan support.

Al Baschang, who played in the Queens City Indoor League, is the only know indoor player to have played in the majors. In 1912 he played with the Detroit Tigers and in 1918 he played for the Brooklyn Robins. He later went on to manage the Evansville Evans of the Three-I League in 1921 and the Saginaw Aces of the Michigan-Ontario League in 1924.

Below is a look at a few of the different cover styles for the Spalding Indoor Baseball Guides.

Check out some of the uniforms and sweaters these guys wore. I especially like the Spalding jersey.

All of the team/player photos and the guides are from The Library of Congress.

It's pretty amazing to see how the indoor game went on to become one of the most popular participant sports in the United States.