The 1892 Indianapolis Base Ball Club: The Beginning of Change

Owners and executives of the dominant National League and the defunct American Association baseball clubs met in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Bates House hotel from December 15 to December 18, 1891. The purpose of their meeting was to finalize the agreement to amalgamate the eight National League clubs and four of the solvent American Association clubs, to form a twelve-team National League. This new organization was proposed to stay in existence for ten years, to the year 1901. The seasons were to be cut in half, spring and fall, with the winner of each half-season to play  seven, nine or eleven games for the championship (they didn’t explain how this was to be determined); if the same club wins both half-seasons, then it wins the year’s championship.

The new twelve-team National League included the Boston Beaneaters, the Chicago Colts, the Brooklyn Grooms, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cleveland Spiders, the Pittsburg Pirates, the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Phillies of last year’s league; with the Louisville Colonels, the Washington Senators, the St. Louis Browns, and the Baltimore Orioles of the old American Association. Chicago representatives argued for the inclusion of two clubs from that city, but only Albert G. Spalding’s Colts (the future Chicago Cubs) won out. The colorful owner of the St. Louis Browns, German immigrant Chris van der Ahe, was there with his thick German accent to persuade the League to include his team.

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20191125_161956969701532.jpg                                                              Owners conferring

Local clothing store entrepreneur and Cincinnati Reds owner John T. Brush was asked by the Indianapolis Journal sports reporter why the meeting had been held in Indianapolis, and if Indianapolis will host a major league club. Brush answered that Indianapolis was a central meeting site for all the club owners; and that the Indianapolis population was too small to afford to pay for a major league baseball club, but he would see  to it that Indianapolis would get a minor league club. He was as good as his word:

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The stockholders and directors of the Indianapolis club included Roscoe O. Hawkins – lawyer, John C. McCutcheon –  treasurer of the National Card Company, Ford Woods –  Assistant General Freight Agent of the CCC & St. Louis Railroad, Charles F. Meyer – owner of the Meyer Cigar & Tobacco Shop, Albert Lieber – Treasurer of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, P. F. Igoe – bookkeeper, Walter F. C. Golt – Assistant Cashier at the Indianapolis National Bank, Henry Jameson – physician, James H. Rice – loan company owner, Horace Smith, the notary public, a law partner with Hawkins, and John T. Brush – owner of the When Department Store in Indianapolis.

John T. Brush led a colorful life as a businessman/promoter. He was born in Clintonville, New York, on June 15, 1845. He was orphaned at age 4, raised by his grandfather, served in the Civil War, and then went into the clothing store business in New York. He moved to Indianapolis in 1875, and to promote his newly remodeled clothing store he advertised “WHEN?” for its opening date; then stuck with the designation “When” to name his store. To promote his store he had a popular band play on its second-floor balcony, and formed a local baseball team to promote his store and the city.

20191123_1550341450879685.jpg                                                                        John T. Brush

In 1890 Brush bought a share in the New York Giants franchise, and in 1891 purchased the Cincinnati Reds, appointing John McGraw as manager of the Giants and Joe Kelly manager of the Reds. He sold the Reds in 1902 and became majority owner and president of the Giants. Brush remodeled New York’s Polo Grounds in 1911, but died in 1912 of a long-term illness and a bad fall. There is now a John T. Brush Stairway leading to the old Polo Grounds from the bluff above; and Brush was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Honor Role of Baseball” as an executive in 1946.

The Indianapolis club was designated the Hoosiers. Golt was appointed president of the club, Igoe the secretary, and Meyer the treasurer. The players’ home uniforms were white flannel with black trimming and black stockings; for the away games they wore black flannel suits with white trimming and black stockings (they must have gotten really hot in the summer heat!). Season tickets were priced at $20 for 70 games, 50 cents a game for grandstand seats and 25 cents a game for the bleachers. Tickets could be purchased at the Victor Jones’ Cigar Store in downtown Indianapolis.

A new Western League was set up in the spring of 1892 that included the Columbus Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Kansas City Blues, the Toledo Black Pirates, the Omaha Omahogs, the Minneapolis Millers, the St. Paul Saints/Fort Wayne, and the Indianapolis Hoosiers. Players were chosen from those who had not been selected by the National League teams. William “Billy” R. Harrington was chosen to manage the Indianapolis team. He began his career in 1882 when he organized the independent Chicago Blues, and his last appointment in 1891 was with the Milwaukee club of the defunct Western Association.

20191123_1542462065499848.jpg                                                         William “Billy” Harrington

The YMCA field on East Ohio St., just inside the city’s limits, was chosen as the club’s home field, and manager Harrington was put in charge of putting the grounds in shape. The grandstand was enlarged from 1000 to 3500 seats, and bleacher seats were added. The turf was scraped and new sod added, but the pitcher’s mound was left bare. There must have been a fence around the field, for during the season onlookers stationed themselves in trees and on roof tops. If women attended the games, a special section was marked off for them to sit. Fans boarded street cars to reach the field for a game, and professional baseball play was supposed to be illegal on Sundays. Peanuts and lemonade were sold for the fans’ refreshment. They played the game with only one umpire, officiating behind the catcher and much maligned by the fans and players. A flag with a  baseball pictured on it was flown from the courthouse roof when a game was to be played at home.

Among the nineteen players who played for the Hoosiers that year was 36 year old William “Old Hickory” Carpenter who had played third base as a left-hander for the Cincinnati Reds from 1882 to 1889. He was nick-named “Old Hickory” because he preferred a bat made of hickory wood. He was an outstanding player, but Indiana was the last stop of his career.  Another player, shortstop Billy Clingman, swung with a bat made from a wagon tongue. 34 year-old Moxie Hengel had been chosen the captain of the team at the start of the season, but he proved to be too alcoholic to play, so 32 year-old Billy O’Brien was chosen instead.

Brush’s Cincinnati Reds played a few pre-season games with the Hoosiers, with the Red’s famous and future White Sox owner Charles Comiskey playing first base; and ” ‘Artful’ Latham is on hand, and will turn his usual triple somersaults over the basemen’s heads for the amusement of the crowd”.

The first game was played on Saturday, April 16, against Milwaukee. The games usually started at 3:30 PM and lasted 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Unfortunately, Indianapolis lost the first eight games. They then beat the St. Paul Saints, but it was too late for manager Harrington who was replaced by Billy Sharsig. Sharsig had founded the Philadelphia Athletics in 1880, joined the American Association in 1882, successfully managed the club several years, but had to sell the club in 1891 when the American Association folded.

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The first series of the Western League’s season ended on June 30, with Indianapolis posting 12 wins and 31 losses. Much was blamed on the poor weather and playing conditions in the springtime in Indianapolis and the poor quality of several of the ball players and low morale. In fact, by the end of the season the players had not been paid their weekly salary for two weeks. But much can be said about the weather; the Indianapolis club had to cancel more games than the other teams because of inclement weather, and the Indianapolis Journal nicknamed them “The Rainmakers”.

20191126_065954490023483.jpg                                                      Suggestions for Today’s Game

Among much horse racing news from Chicago’s Garfield Park, New York City’s Morris Park, the Latonia Race Track in Covington, Kentucky, and bicycle races sponsored by The American League of Wheelmen, the Indianapolis Journal usually devoted one to two columns about the Hoosier’s games. The reporter’s writing could sometimes be very creative. For instance: when the club could not win a game, “The Toboggan is Still Greased, and Indianapolis Plunges Forward.” Or, “the crowd went home with vocal cords hoarse and wobbly as violin strings after lying out in the rain over night;” or “that play fairly took the ginger out of their vertebrae;” and, “his saffron second-base play.” When the club was scoreless, the zeros on the scoring board “began to look like a a troop of ghosts fording a river in single file in a dream”.

The best description was: ” a diminutive kid, about two feet high, bare-footed with a ragged straw hat, ran out and met Mr. O’Brien and offered him his congratulations on that nice base hit. O’Brien took the extended paw, shook it and laughed heartily. The youngster trotted back and resumed his place on the bench, apparently satisfied with the tribute he had paid the genius.”

Sometimes the Journal would add cartoonish sketches to the articles:20191124_025548138294978.jpg

Then there was the batter who “gave the ball a swat that sounded like like a basket of eggs dropping on the pavement from a second-story window.” (a well-used soggy ball?)

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Or the batter who went “down like a consumptive struck with a pumpkin.”

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On July 1st the Hoosiers began the second series of the season amid talk that the Western League was breaking up because the clubs could not pay their debts, and by July 15th they played their last League game. Rumors were swirling around the possibility of new combinations of clubs, new leagues forming, and even that Indianapolis might take Baltimore’s place in the National League, but nothing came of this talk until 1893 when the Western League was reorganized. (This was transformed into the American League in 1901.) Three exhibition games were played with Columbus to benefit the players and to pay their past-due salaries.

Players began to scatter to other solvent Leagues and clubs or civilian jobs even before the Hoosier’s played their very last game. City and college club games would continue to be played in Indianapolis in 1892, but no professional baseball games were played in Indianapolis until 1893 when the Western League was reorganized as a minor league.

Written by Bob Gilyeat, a volunteer at the Indiana State Archives

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