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Hoosier Daddy: The Uncollected History
2002-12-15 13:26
by Mike Carminati

Hoosier Daddy: The Uncollected History of Indiana Baseball

It recently came to my attention that my little weblog listed on an online publication called Hoosier Review. After a heap of research-actually via one hyperlink on their site-I found much to my surprise that they had nothing whatsoever to do with Canada nor even Bob and Doug McKenzie at all, eh? They're actually based right in the good ole U.S. of A. In one of them newish states called Indiana-see, it pays to read. It seems that Hoosier Review is affiliated with a university there, you see.

Anyway, in tribute to them-or more accurately as a sop to sites for linking to my weblog-we the Mike's Baseball Rants' Players now present a little thing we call the history of Indiana Baseball, and it goes something like this. Indiana's first foray into organized baseball started back in 1867, over 30 years before a Hoosier had ever heard of basketball, let alone a seen a re-run of that Gene Hackman cager movie. It was the tenth anniversary of baseball's first organization, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), founded by the first baseball team, the Knickerbockers of New York (by way of Hoboken-I'm dying again). The NABBP had grown from a local New York metro men's organization of just 16 clubs to sprawling conglomeration of clubs stretching from Massachusetts to D.C. to Tennessee to Kansas.

In 1867, more Midwesterners were being converted to the base ball craze and Indiana was no exception. Five Indiana clubs joined the NABBP: the Resolute of Evansville, the Woolen Mill of Lawrenceburgh, the Lone Star of Anderson, and the Active and Wetsren of Indianapolis. The first contest on record for an Indiana team was held July 1 with the Western club besting the Buckeyes of Cincinnati, 55-40 (scores were a bit higher back then, eh?).

The Westerns ended their season 4-4. They lost July 19 to the National club of Washington, D.C., 106-26. The Nationals were conducting the first "national" tour (essentially an extended roadtrip) in baseball history. This proved a seminal tour that spread interest in the game as the highly successful team traveled. On August 29, the Western club lost to the Cincinnatis of Cincinnati, 34-27. This eponymously-named club would make history two years later as the first openly all-professional baseball team-not that there's anything wrong with it. They would be known as the Red Stockings because of the sartorial splendor that belied the drabness of their actual moniker.

The seeds planted in 1867 by the Nationals' tour took root in Indiana in 1868, with 22 clubs gaining membership to the NABBP. There were nine clubs representing Indianapolis alone. One team began life that year that would prove to be of historical import, the Kekiongas of Fort Wayne, but more on them later. The Active club is the only one for which a championship record exists. They finished 7-8 and featured future star Cal McVey at pitcher, second base, and third base.

The baseball craze in Indiana proved somewhat short-lived as the state's membership in the NABBP fell to only two clubs in 1869. However, one of them was the Kekiongas. Two early wins over the Fort Wayne club (86-8 in their second game and 41-7 in their fourth) helped springboard the Red Stockings to their historic and much-heralded 57-0 record on the year.

In 1870 the Indianapolis club played at Camp Morton Field, charged 25-cent admission, and drew its largest crowd of the year in a 61-8 loss to the Red Stockings. The Keiongas of Fort Wayne started to grow in stature as an infusion of cash and ex-patriot Baltimore players helped buoy the club. They played at Hamilton Field (their home since 1862 and home to the independent Summit Citys since 1862).

Within a year professionalism had torn the NABBP apart. The Knickerbockers led an amateur revolt that lasted only one-year. The resultant organization was dubbed the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players. The professionals formed their own circuit that is now known as the first major league and the forefather of the National League, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the NA). Original they weren't in those days.

The first NA game, i.e., the first major-league game, was played in no other place than Indiana. The Kekiongas had built a state-of-the-art stadium named the Grand Duchess on the site of the old Hamilton Field. On May 4 they played host to the Forest Citys of Cleveland and won 2-0 behind ace Bobby Matthews-who threw a sort of underhand slider and stood but 5'4" tall (Matthews also recorded 297, the most of anyone not in the Hall of Fame, and is one of four men to have held the all-time wins record: Albert Goodwill Spalding, Bobby Matthews, Pud Galvin, and Cy Young).

The Kekiongas quickly became embroiled in controversy. Allegations of gamblers fixing games swirled almost immediately. The Kekiongas began losing on the road after being mobbed following a game against Troy (NY). Finally, the Fort Wayne nine succumbed, withdrawing from the NA in July. Their record stood at 7-12, but the rules dictated that they play at least three against each other team in the league. (The standings were not based on winning percentage of totals wins. Each team was to play five games against each opponent. Whoever won three of those fives would win the series. The team with the most series wins would be champion.) The Kekiongas were forced to forfeit nine games to meet the scheduling requirements. That is why you will find a 7-21 record against their names in the record book.

In 1876, Indianapolis fielded a team in South Street Park. It was named the Capital Citys and at first operated independently. The NL in those days had a rivalry with a long forgotten yet in its day very strong minor league called the International Association (IA). They didn't know at the time that history would see them as a minor league since the term had yet to be coined. In response the NL formed another strong circuit named the League Alliance (LgA). It was loosely based, but if a team succeeded there the autocrat of the NL, William Hulbert, promised that they would be admitted to the soon-to-be senior circuit (he also raided the IA for talented clubs).

Both the IA and the LgA were proving grounds for the National League, but instead of developing players, they developed teams. Indianapolis joined the LgA in 1877. Indianapolis ended the year with a 73-40-8 record and "[t]he Club was admitted to the [National] as the result of having made the best record of any club outside that body," according to the 1878 edition of Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. (By the way, the team was led by a player identified only as Mack in the Guide. Connie Mack was only 15 and wouldn't make it to the majors until 1886, but it does make me wonder. Also, a Terre Haute independent team is mentioned in the Guide.) As they moved to the NL in 1878, they changed names in the process to the Blues. (By the way, the Buffalo Bisons also moved, but from the IA to the NL in 1879 and finished third. With Hall-of-Famer Pud Galvin, Hardy Richardson, and Davy Force, they are considered by many-or at least me-to be the best minor-league team of all time.)

The Blues were aptly named finishing fifth out of six teams with a 24-36 record (17 games behind the Boston Red Caps). The team featured Ned Williamson, the man to hold the single-season home run record for 35 years (with 27) before Babe Ruth broke it, at third. However, it was led by outfielder Orator Shaffer, the man who would lead the NL in adjusted OPS that year. Their pitching staff consisted of ironically named Edward "The Only" Nolan (13-22 with a 2.57 ERA that was well above the league average) and Jim McCormick (5-8), who won 265 games in his career, is the only man in baseball history to have won 20 games in a season while pitching for two different teams Twice (1884 and 1885), and like Bartolo Colon this past season, is one of four men to have ever won at least 10 games with two different teams in one season (1884). By the way, Nolan may have had the first identifying symbol on his uniform in baseball history, and it wasn't a number. Two feathers were placed in his cap for fans to be able to identify him. Nolan will be expelled from the team August 14 for claiming to have to take time off for a funeral that never happened.

The Blues drew poorly all year and relocated a July home series to St. Louis. They play some August dates in Pittsburgh (reportedly on the site of Three Rivers Stadium). Neither attempt does much to bolster attendance.

A number of Blues players sign with other teams for 1879-this is before the proliferation of the Reserve Clause. Ned Williamson and Silver Flint play on an exhibition team dubbed the "Chicagos of 1879". On September 23, they lose to their Indianapolis "teammates", 9-7.

The Blues find themselves $2500 in arrears at season's end. Owner W.T. Pettit withdraws the team from the NL at the winter meetings. They never do settle up completely with their players (distributing $60 per player each in lieu of his outstanding pay).

To Be Continued...

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