Washington Park Baseball

Location: 1200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis (Marion County, Indiana) 46222 

Installed 2011 Indiana Historical Bureau and Society for American Baseball Research, Negro Leagues Research Committee

ID#: 49.2011.2

Text

Side One:

Here, May 2, 1920, in the first game of the new Negro National League, the Indianapolis A.B.C.s defeated the Chicago Giants. Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston began his career with the A.B.C.s in 1915. Segregation in professional baseball (1887-1947) kept him from playing in the major leagues; he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

Side Two:

Baseball became popular in Indianapolis after the Civil War.  In 1902, W. H. Watkins organized the Indianapolis Indians in the new professional American Association league.  The Indians dedicated Washington Park on April 19, 1905 and won 3 league pennants here. The city’s first night game was played here in 1931, and the park closed at the end of that season.

Annotated Text

Side 1

Here, May 2, 1920, in the first game of the new Negro National League, the Indianapolis A.B.C.s defeated the Chicago Giants.[1] Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston began his career with the A.B.C.s in 1915.[2] Segregation in professional baseball (1887-1947)[3] kept him from playing in the major leagues;[4] he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.[5]

Side 2

Baseball became popular in Indianapolis after the Civil War.[6]  In 1902, W. H. Watkins organized the Indianapolis Indians in the new professional American Association league.[7]  The Indians dedicated Washington Park on April 19, 1905[8] and won 3 league pennants here.[9] The city’s first night game was played here in 1931, and the park closed at the end of that season.[10]

 

During a period of segregation (see footnote 3), both white and African American baseball teams played at Washington Park. Side one of the marker addresses the black Negro National League and side two addresses the white American Association league.

NEGRO NATIONAL LEAGUES (side one)

[1] “Form Colored Ball League,” Lima Daily News, February 17, 1920, 3; “Form Negro League,” Charleston Daily Mail, February 17, 1920, 10; Dave Wyatt, “New Baseball Circuit Opens Sunday,” Indianapolis Freeman, May 1, 1920; “Opens Circuit at Indianapolis,” Chicago Defender, May 1, 1920, 9; “A.B.C.s to Meet Chicago Giants in Two Scraps Today,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1920, 26; “A.B.C.s Get Away to Double Header Victory,” Indiana Daily Times, May 3, 1920; “A.B.C.’s Win Opener,” Indianapolis Freeman, May 8, 1920; Dave Wyatt, “A.B.C. Triumph in First Home Games,” Chicago Defender, May 8, 1920, 16; Jules Tygiel, “The Negro Leagues,” OAH Magazine of History, 7(1) (Summer 1992): 24-27; “Batter Up!: Professional Black Baseball at Indianapolis Parks,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23(4) (Indiana Historical Society, Fall 2011): 26-33; “Negro Leagues Baseball: A Brief History,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

                The Negro National League was created in 1920 by black player, manager, and team owner Andrew “Rube” Foster and “included the top teams from midwestern cities” according to Tygiel’s “The Negro Leagues.” The Lima Daily News and Charleston Daily Mail mention the league’s formation in mid-February 1920 and include the Indianapolis A.B.C.s as one of its eight original teams.

The first season of the league opened on May 2, 1920 in Indianapolis. Newspaper articles in the Indianapolis Star, Indiana Daily Times, and the Chicago Defender report that the A.B.C.s, managed by C.I. Taylor, defeated the Chicago Giants in both games of a double header. An article from an African American newspaper the day before the event described it as “an epoch in local baseball circles, for upon that date what is as near a national baseball league as conditions will allow will be the offering for the baseball fans at Washington Park.” The formation of the Negro National League led the way for other Negro leagues at a time when blacks were prevented from playing in the major leagues. According to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, they “became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.”           

[2] “Oscar Charleston,” 1900 United States Federal Census, Indianapolis, Indiana, 5B, ancestry.com; “Oscar M. Charleston,” U.S. Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, 1821-1916, M665, Roll 253, ancestry.com;  “Race Riot is Balked by Police,” Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1915, 1; “Charleston on World’s Champs,” Indianapolis Freeman, January 1, 1916; “A.B.C.s to Meet Chicago Giants in Two Scraps Today,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1920, 26; “A.B.C. Triumph in First Home Games,” Chicago Defender, May 8, 1920, 16; John Schulian, “A One-Way Ticket to Obscurity,” Sports Illustrated, September 5, 2005, accessed March 11, 2011; Paul Debono, The Indianapolis ABCs: History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1997), accessed through Google Books; “Oscar Charleston,” Negro League Baseball Museum; “Batter Up!: Professional Black Baseball at Indianapolis Parks,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23(4) (Indiana Historical Society, Fall 2011): 26-33.

                Born in Indianapolis in 1896, Oscar Charleston left home in 1912 at the age of 15 to serve in the Twenty-Fourth Infantry stationed in the Philippines. According to a 1916 Indianapolis Freeman article and resources from the Negro League Baseball Museum, Charleston played baseball in Manila during his time in the service and joined the Indianapolis A.B.C.s in 1915 after returning home. Newspaper articles from that year include him among the A.B.C.s roster as centerfielder. In 1920, the Indianapolis Star reported that he was “known as the black ‘Ty Cobb,’ being one of the greatest colored players the country has ever known.” See footnotes 4 and 5 for more information on Charleston’s career.

[3] “Diamond Dots,” The (Bradford, Pennsylvania) Daily Era, July 30, 1887, 1, accessed NewspaperArchive.com;  “Sports and Pastimes,” The Syracuse (New York)Standard, October 1, 1887, 5, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Sports and Pastimes,” The Syracuse (New York) Standard, October 30, 1887, 4, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Sports and Pastimes,” The Syracuse(New York) Standard, November 10, 1887, 4, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Montreal Keeps Jackie Robinson,” Olean (New York) Herald, January 14, 1947, 6, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Dodgers Commended for Using Robinson,” Dunkirk (New York) Evening Observer, February 6, 1947, 16, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Royals Draw Big Crowd,” Syracuse(New York) Herald Journal, March 17, 1947, 19, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Late News Bulletins,” Syracuse (New York) Herald Journal, April 10, 1947, 66, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Brooklyn President is Commended for Signing Robinson,” Olean (New York) Times Herald, April 12, 1947, 9, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Training Camp Briefs,” Dunkirk (New York) Evening Observer, April 12, 1947, 12, accessed NewspaperArchive.com; “Robinson Reveals Written Threats,” New York Times, May 10, 1947, 16, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers; “Breaking Barriers 60 Years Before Robinson,” New York Times, July 27, 2006, n.p.;  “Breaking the Color Line: 1940-1946,” American Memory, Library of Congress; Steven Goldman, “Segregated Baseball: A Kaleidoscopic Review,” Negro Leagues Legacy, Major League Baseball, accessed April 26, 2012.

                Segregation was not an official policy of the various leagues, but a result of Jim Crow policies.  Therefore putting a specific date on the beginning of segregation and the end of the color line is difficult.  However, in 1887, the International League prohibited the signing of additional black players, officially beginning segregated policy. Some of the lower-level minor leagues remained integrated. Segregation was seriously challenged beginning with the return of African Americans who had fought for their country in World War II.  In 1946, Jackie Robinson began playing for the Montreal Royals, ending segregation in the International League.  In 1947, Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color line for Major League Baseball in the United States. 

[4] “Baseball Star Rated One of Race’s Greatest,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 9, 1954, 1; “The Charleston Story,” Baseball Game Program for Kansas City Monarchs and Indianapolis Clowns, 1954, 7 (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Branch Rickey Papers), accessed at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/robinson/jrprgm007.html; “New Hall of Fame Member Likened to Cobb, Speaker,” Lima News, February 11, 1976, D5; “Oscar McKinley Charleston,” Find A Grave, January 1, 2001; “Oscar Charleston,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Ken Mandel, “Charleston Considered Best All-Around Player in Negro Leagues,” MLB.com.

                Regarded as one of the greatest players in the Negro leagues, the Indianapolis Recorder reported in 1954 that “only the color line kept [Charleston] out of the major leagues.” Throughout his career, which spanned almost forty years, Charleston played on numerous teams, including the Indianapolis A.B.C.s, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants, and Pittsburgh Crawfords among others. He also managed several teams, including the Indianapolis Clowns, which he coached until his death in 1954. According to a feature by Ken Mandel for the Major League Baseball website and resources from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Charleston had a career batting average well over .300 and over the years he has been compared to some of the greatest white players in the major leagues.

[5] “New Hall of Fame Member Likened to Cobb, Speaker,” Lima News, February 11, 1976, D5; “Baseball Shrine Enlists a Team of Six,” Abilene Reporter-News, August 8, 1976, 5C; “Hall of Fame Inducts Lemon, Roberts, Four Others in Ceremony at Cooperstown,” Berkshire Eagle, August 10, 1976, 9; “Negro Hall of Fame Job is Completed,” Herald-Palladium, February 4, 1977, 14; Nicole Pappas, “Inside Pitch, Oct. 5, 1954: Future Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston Dies,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, October 3, 2011, http://community.baseballhall.org/page.aspx?pid=981; “Charleston, Oscar,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, http://baseballhall.org/hof/charleston-oscar;  “Oscar McKinley Charleston,” Find A Grave, January 1, 2001.

                Charleston died in October 1954. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in February 1976 and formally inducted in August of that year. Fellow inductees that year included Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts, Fred Linstrom, Cal Hubbard, and Roger Connor.          

INDIANAPOLIS INDIANS (side two)

[6] “B.B.C.,” Dawson’s Daily (Fort Wayne) Times and Union, April 22, 1862, 3; “Base Ball Club,” Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, June 29, 1866, 5; “Base Ball Club,” (Cambridge City) Western Mirror, July 26, 1866, 3; “Decatur Items,” Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, March 17, 1866, 3; “Base Ball,” (Cambridge City) Western Mirror, November 22, 1866, 2; “Base Ball,” Indianapolis Daily Journal, July 19, 1867; “Baseball,” Indianapolis Daily Journal, July 27, 1867; Emma Lou Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1977), 702; Frederich Doyle Kershner, Social and Cultural History of Indianapolis (Ph. D. dissertation) University of Wisconsin, 1950, 227-28, 233, accessed WorldCat

According to Thornbrough, Fort Wayne formed a baseball team as early as 1862, but disbanded as members went to serve in the Civil War.  After the war ended, teams formed in many cities, including Indianapolis.  A search of Indiana newspapers in the Indiana State Library and on NewspaperArchive.org confirms Thornbrough’s statements.

[7] “Whitfield Says Indianapolis Will Have a Club,” Fort Wayne Morning Journal-Gazette, February 14, 1902, 4; “Baseball Notes,” Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, February 20, 1902, 6; “Baseball Notes,” Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, March 15, 1902, 17; “A Glorious Victory,” Indianapolis Journal, April 24, 1902, 2; “Hoosiers Win Pennant,” Fort Wayne Morning Journal-Gazette, September 24, 1902, 7; W.C. Madden, Baseball in Indianapolis (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2003); “Batter Up!: Professional Black Baseball at Indianapolis Parks,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23(4) (Indiana Historical Society, Fall 2011): 26-33; “League History,” American Association.

                As reported in “League History,” the American Association formed in 1902 “as an independent minor league for the larger cities in the Midwestern area of the U.S.” The Indianapolis Indians were one of its original members, led by their manager W.H. Watkins. A September 1902 article in the Fort Wayne Morning Journal-Gazette shows that the Indians won the pennant for the American Association that year and includes information about the other teams in the league.

[8] R.L. Polk & Co.’s, Indianapolis City Directory for 1904, 135; R.L. Polk & Co.’s, Indianapolis City Directory for 1905, 143; “Washington Park to be Opened April 1,” Indianapolis News, March 11, 1905, 10; “Washington Park is a Great Ball Field,” Indianapolis News, March 18, 1905; ”Hoosiers Start Work at Washington Park,” Indianapolis News, March 27, 1905, 11; “Opening Contest This Afternoon,” Indianapolis Star, April 1, 1905; “Race for the Pennant Starts at Ball Park,” Indianapolis News, April 19, 1905, 10; “Baseball Season to be Formally Opened April 19,” Sunday Sentinel, April 16, 1905; “Hoosiers Are Ready for Pennant Journey,” Indianapolis Sentinel, April 18, 1905, 11; “Indians Lose the Opening Contest to the Brewers,” Indianapolis Sentinel, April 20, 1905.

                Articles in the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star in March and early April 1905 report that the new Washington Park opened April 1, 1905. The Indianapolis Indians opened their season at the new stadium on April 19, 1905, when they took on the Milwaukee Brewers in the first official league game of the American Association for that year. According to the Indianapolis News, “a great crowd turned out for the launching party and the dedication of the new Washington Park.” City directories show that prior to 1905, Washington Baseball Park was located at 3001 E. Washington St. The new park was listed at 1201 W. Washington St.

[9] “Pennant Winners,” Syracuse Herald, December 31, 1908, 11; “Hendricks, A.A. Pennant Winner, is Minors’ Greatest Manager,” Eau Claire Leader (Wisconsin), September 26, 1917, 2; “Winning Baseball Team Valuable Asset to City,” Indianapolis News, November 27, 1926, 7; “Indianapolis Wins Pennant in American Association Play,” Montana Standard, September 24, 1928, 8; “Year-By-Year Results,” Indianapolis Indians Fans; Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright, “1902 Indianapolis Indians,” Minor League Baseball; W.C. Madden, Baseball in Indianapolis (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 25-26.

                During their time at Washington Park (1905-1931), the Indianapolis Indians won three league pennants playing in the American Association. Newspaper articles confirm their victories in 1908, 1917, and 1928. See “Year-By-Year Results” for the team’s record, winning percentage, and manager(s) each season.

[10] “First Baseball Game by Lamplight at Washington Park,” Indianapolis News, June 5, 1930; “Finishing Touches Are Put on Lighting System at Ball Park,” Indianapolis News, June 6, 1930, 10; “A.A. Baseball Becomes a Light Opera Tonight,” Indianapolis News, June 7, 1930, 14; “Players Take Philosophical View of Night Baseball,” Indianapolis News, June 9, 1930;  “Work to Start on $350,000 Ball Stadium,” Indianapolis Star, May 6, 1931, 1; “Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Klein Would Have Trouble Hitting Home Runs at Perry Stadium,” Indianapolis News, September 4, 1931; “Perry Stadium, Magnificent Monument to National Pastime, Informally Dedicated,” Indianapolis News, September 7, 1931; “Evolution of Baseball in Indianapolis Runs Far in the Faith of Fandom, Parks Ranging from Old South Street Grounds to Half-Million-Dollar Stadium,” Indianapolis News, April 9, 1932; “Ice Cubes Out of North Pole Perry’s Stadium Opening Day,” Indianapolis News, April 12, 1932; ‘Washington Park Memories,” Indianapolis News, January 20, 1982; “Batter Up!: Professional Black Baseball at Indianapolis Parks,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23(4) (Indiana Historical Society, Fall 2011): 26-33.

                Correction: Newspaper articles in the Indianapolis News show that Washington Park hosted Indianapolis’ first night game in June 1930, not 1931 as written on the marker. For information on the lighting system and players’ and fans’ responses to night games, see the June 1930 Indianapolis News articles listed above.

                Despite the addition of the new lights, games stopped being played at Washington Park at the end of the 1931 season. On May 6, 1931 the Indianapolis Star reported that construction of a new baseball stadium was getting underway and that “the present home of the club [Washington Park] will be wrecked, and the site will be returned to the leasor, the Big Four railroad.” Articles in the Indianapolis News in September 1931 describe the informal opening of Perry Stadium, the new home of the Indians, located south of Riverside Park on Sixteenth Street. According to “Batter Up!,” Washington Park’s lights were moved to the new stadium. The first full season of play began there in April 1932.