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Nicknamed “Honest John”, the Blues were managed by catcher/left fielder/first baseman John Edgar Clapp. Over the course of his 12 years of professional baseball, Clapp played for eight different teams. For six of those teams, he was the player-manager. Clapp was the starting left fielder for the Indianapolis.

Nicknamed “Honest John”, the Blues were managed by catcher/left fielder/first baseman John Edgar Clapp. Over the course of his 12 years of professional baseball, Clapp played for eight different teams. For six of those teams, he was the player-manager. Clapp was the starting left fielder for the Indianapolis Blues.

Many a (field of) Indy dreamers has hoped for a major league franchise to lead off from the Circle City. For one fleeting year, 1878, the Indianapolis Blues were members of the National Baseball League — the same league that exists today with the likes of the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the LA Dodgers, and others.

According to W. C. Madden in his book “Baseball in Indianapolis,” the Indianapolis Westerns became Indy’s first professional baseball team in 1876. The following year, 1877, the Westerns won the International Association pennant and changed their name to the Indianapolis Blues, in reference to the blue color on their uniforms.

George W. Shafer’s nickname was "Orator" because he was known as a very talkative fellow. Orator had outstanding defensive skills. Four times he led the National League outfielders is assists. He held the MLB single season record for the most assists in 1879 with 50 – a record that held for over 130 years.

George W. Shafer’s nickname was “Orator” because he was known as a very talkative fellow. Orator had outstanding defensive skills. Four times he led the National League outfielders in assists. He held the MLB single season record for the most assists in 1879 with 50 – a record that held for over 130 years.

Then in 1878, the Blues made the jump from the International Association to the National Baseball League — but the team didn’t enjoy the same success they had known from the previous year. That year, the National League consisted of only six teams and the Blues finished fifth among them, with a record of 24 wins and 36 loses. The order of finish was: Boston Red Caps, Cincinnati Reds, Providence Grays, Chicago White Stockings, Indianapolis Blues, and Milwaukee Grays. Unfortunately, the Blues folded after one year, due to insufficient funds to pay the player’s salaries.

Jim McCormick was a right hander who pitched for nine year in the Major Leagues. He was the first Scotsman to play in Major League Baseball. In the pioneer years of MLB, it was all underhand pitching. McCormick won 40 games in 1879 while playing for Cleveland. The highest number of wins for a pitcher in the National League that year.

Jim McCormick was a right hander who pitched for nine years in the Major Leagues. He was the first Scotsman to play in Major League Baseball. In the pioneer years of MLB, it was all underhand pitching. McCormick won 40 games in 1879 while playing for Cleveland. The highest number of wins for a pitcher in the National League that year.

The starting lineup for the Blues consisted of: Sliver Flint C, Art Croft 1B, Joe Quest 2B, Ned Williamson 3B, Fred Warner SS, Orator Shafert RF, John Clapp LF, and Russ McKelvy CF. The pitching staff consisted of: Edward “The Only” Nolan, Jim McCornmick, Tom Healey, and rounding out the roster were Candy Nelson and Jimmy Hallinan.

The team played their home games at South Street Park on the northeast corner of Delaware and South Streets. The property was later used by Big Four Railroad. Presently, the site is a parking lot for Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

In the early years of baseball the rules were slightly different than they are today. For example, players didn’t wear gloves. They “barehanded” grounders, fly balls, and throws to bases to tag runners out. Yes, even the catcher had to “bare hand” the ball.

During the 1883 major league season, Edward Nagle "Ned" Williamson broke the single season record for doubles and home runs. His double record held until 1887, but it wasn’t until 1919 that Babe Ruth broke Williamson’s single season home run record. Unfortunately, Williamson’s baseball career was cut short by a knee injury.

During the 1883 major league season, Edward Nagle “Ned” Williamson broke the single season record for doubles and home runs. His double record held until 1887, but it wasn’t until 1919 that Babe Ruth broke Williamson’s single season home run record. Unfortunately, Williamson’s baseball career was cut short by a knee injury.

Sports Reporter Anton Scherrer wrote a column called “Our Town” for the Indianapolis Times.  In Scherrer’s March 22, 1940 column, he interviewed an early Indy baseball pioneer, Fred Boardman. In 1876, Boardman umpired a Chicago -vs.- Indianapolis game at South Street Park. Scherrer wrote, “Back in those days, the players handled the ball with their bare hands. They couldn’t ‘block’ the balls the way gloved players do today. To stop the ball, they had to ‘go with the ball’ says Mr. Boardman which is why old-time players had more grace and rhythm than the padded players of today. Outside of that, Mr. Boardman finds no fault with modern baseball.”

Incidentally, Albert G. Spalding was the winning pitcher that day for Chicago. Spalding was the founder of the Spalding sporting goods company.

Even though the ball was softer “back in the day” than in today’s game, there were still plenty of gnarled fingers.

Frank Sylvester Flint better known as Silver Flint played catcher for most of his years in the Major Leagues. He was 19 when he signed with the St. Louis Red Stockings. Flint spent one season with the Indianapolis Blues in 1878. The following year, he joined the Chicago White Stockings where he played out the rest of his baseball career.

Frank Sylvester Flint better known as Silver Flint played catcher for most of his years in the Major Leagues. He was 19 when he signed with the St. Louis Red Stockings. Flint spent one season with the Indianapolis Blues in 1878. The following year, he joined the Chicago White Stockings where he played out the rest of his baseball career.

Professional baseball wouldn’t surface in Indianapolis again until 1883 when the Indianapolis Hoosiers were formed as an independent team. In 1884, the Hoosiers joined the American Association.

Over the years the Hoosiers moved in and out of various leagues, reorganizing and regrouping. From 1887 to 1889, the Indianapolis Hoosiers made thier way back to the National League. During this time they played their weekday home games at Tinker Park at Tinker Street (now 16th Street) and Tennessee Street (now Capitol Avenue) where Methodist Hospital is located today.

To avoid Blue Laws (a law that restricts or bans certain activities like shopping in observance of religious worship days), the Hoosiers played their 1887 weekend home games at the Indianapolis Park located at New York Street and Arsenal Avenue, and their 1888-89 weekend home games were played at Bruce Park at Bruce Street (now 23rd Street) and College Avenue.

To muck up more confusion about Indy’s reformations and league changes, there were also many minor league teams coming and going during those years.

The 1888 Indianapolis Hoosiers – In 1886, John T. Brush bought the St. Louis Maroons, move them to Indianapolis, and renamed them “Hoosiers”. This was the second major league team to carry the Hoosiers name. The team folded in 1889. Soon after, Brush obtained the Cincinnati Reds in 1891 and owned them until 1902. He also owned the New York Giants from 1890 until his death in 1912. Brush was instrumental in developing the rules for the World Series which are still used.

The 1888 Indianapolis Hoosiers – In 1886, John T. Brush bought the St. Louis Maroons, moved them to Indianapolis, and renamed them “Hoosiers”. This was the second major league team to carry the Hoosiers name. The team folded in 1889. Soon after, Brush obtained the Cincinnati Reds in 1891 and owned them until 1902. He also owned the New York Giants from 1890 until his death in 1912. Brush was instrumental in developing the rules for the World Series which are still used.

It was in 1914 that the Indianapolis Hoosiers joined their last professional league — the Federal League, considered to be the third major league at the time. But the Federal League couldn’t compete with the well-established National and American Leagues, and in 1915 the Federal League folded along with Indianapolis’ last professional major league baseball team.

tommy-mccarthy-of-the-boston-reds-1800s

Caught “bare handed!” During this time period, players did not use baseball mitts.

Of course, baseball continued in Indianapolis. Currently, the Indianapolis Indians (a minor league team) is the triple-A farm team for the major league Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The Indians are the second oldest minor league baseball club in U.S. history, established in 1902. The Rochester Red Wings are the oldest.

There was scant information about the Indy Blues in the usual research repositories. If you have photos, baseball cards or stories of the Blues, please share them with us in the comments sections below!

Guest columnist Don Lorentz is an Indy “lifer”… He was born and raised on the south side of Indianapolis in Southport and now resides on the north side of the city in Nora. Don is a graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington and received a Master’s Degree in New Media from the IUPUI Campus.

10 responses to “Friday Favorite: Indianapolis Makes the Big League by Playin’ the Blues!”

  1. Scott says:

    Don’t forget the Indianapolis ABCs and Indianapolis Clowns. The teams were members of various Negro Leagues from the ’20s to the ’50s. The ABCs employed future Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston and Ben Taylor and the Clowns had an 18-year old Henry Aaron on their roster for a short period of time. By 1966, the Clowns were the last Negro League team in existence, but they continued traveling the world putting on entertaining, Harlem Globetrotter-like shows well into the 1980s before folding in 1988.

  2. David Brewer says:

    Great picture of the 1888 Hoosiers. Do you know where that was taken. I really like the grandstand in the background. John Brush was also the owner of the When Store, in what became the Ober Building in 1928. Brush lived on an estate on East Washington Street called Lombardy. It burned under mysterious circumstances in 1905.

  3. mike says:

    Love that picture of the 1888 Indianapolis Hoosiers. Where was it taken? I assume a stadium at the Methodist Hospital site or at the New York/Arsenal site, or at 23rd & College?

  4. JC Indianapolis says:

    I was born and raised in Indianapolis. I have lived here my whole life. We use to go watch the Indianapolis Indians all of the time when I was a kid, but I had never heard about the “Indianapolis Blues”. That is a pretty neat story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Don says:

    Thanks Scott, you’re absolutely right. The Negro League holds a very prominent place in baseball and Indianapolis history, so many great players. When I went on a quest to discover Indianapolis’ first professional baseball team, I decided to follow its timeline. The Negro League is certainly deserving of its own story.

  6. Don says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t know where the picture of the 1888 Hoosiers was taken. The thing that really intrigued me while researching this article, was the discovery of the many stadiums that once existed in the city. I’ve been looking for more information and pictures but so far not much has turned up. If anyone has any information and/or picture please share them.

  7. John Houser says:

    I’ve done some research on the ballpark that existed in what is now the Arsenal Heights Holy Cross neighborhood, at Ohio Street and Arsenal Ave. I believe I’ve seen that picture of the 1888 team as noted to be in front of the old Polo Grounds in New York. I think that Madden got the 1887 park wrong, as it does not appear that the ballpark on Arsenal existed until 1889.

    You can find some of the history of that ballpark and the early football and baseball games played there in this series of articles I wrote in the Urban Times:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/arsenal-heights-civic-league/possible-piece-of-baseball-history-lies-beneath-the-homes-of-arsenal-heights-by-/206513229381867

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/arsenal-heights-civic-league/121-years-ago-new-ymca-athletic-park-made-debut-in-current-arsenal-heights-neigh/207334902633033

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/arsenal-heights-civic-league/major-league-baseballs-last-hurrah-in-indianapolis/218014984898358

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/arsenal-heights-civic-league/baseballs-american-league-began-in-arsenal-heights/228996800466843

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/arsenal-heights-civic-league/arsenal-heights-birthplace-of-indiana-football/241066275926562

  8. Tom says:

    If any readers are interested, the “Federal League Base Ball Park” is shown in the 1914 Sanborn™ fire insurance map set for Indianapolis. It’s in Volume 1. However, it is split with part on sheet number 1 and the remainder in an inset on sheet number 57. These map sheets can be viewed online by visiting the IU Libraries Union List of Sanborn Maps (http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=1002181). Just go to the main page, click on the “G-I” link at the top of the list. Then scroll down to the Indianapolis 1914 Volume listing and click on map numbers 1 and 57. For a broader view of that area, click on the “key” map.

    I was actually looking for something else and happened to see the ballpark on these sheets. It reminded me of this article here at HI. Access to the ballpark was via Oliver Avenue (River Avenue). The park was on the north side of this street, west of Kentucky Avenue. There was a cemetery north and west of the park and a slaughterhouse northwest. An interesting neighborhood!

  9. j. leitner says:

    My great grandfather, Doc Leitner, pitched one season for the Hoosiers. You can read more about him here:
    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=51707467
    The only known baseball photograph of him where he is identified accurately is here:
    https://www.hrvh.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/nyacklib/id/4302/rec/33
    The photo was reprinted in the Journal News on September 30th of 1972, contributed by his daughter, my great Aunt Cele Hanks.
    There is a photo circulating that was cropped from the following photograph and assumed he was the man holding the ball (he was NOT):
    https://www.hrvh.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/nyacklib/id/3737/rec/32
    In this photo he is 3rd from the left in the back row.
    It would be amazing if someone could find a photograph of the Hoosiers with him in it!
    Up until now, all the photos of him (and I have several) were taken in Nyack, Rockland County, New York.

  10. Max says:

    This is so interesting, thanks for sharing!!!

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