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October 27, 2012

Indoor Baseball League formed in Oneonta in 1912

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The Daily Star

---- — If your favorite team didn’t make it to the World Series this year, take heart, there’s always next year, as the new baseball season will be back soon enough. By this time of year, the bats and gloves have been packed away for the recreational leagues in Oneonta. This wasn’t the case 100 years ago, as the city got its first Indoor Baseball League started.

This time of year, the Asa C. Allison Municipal Building, also known as the former state armory, is abuzz with activity, such as adult volleyball. Back in October 1912, this is where indoor baseball was proposed. Being an armory at that time and home to Company G of the New York National Guard, the men were busy and added baseball as another possible community activity.

The Oneonta Star of Wednesday, Oct. 9 reported how the company’s recruitment was up, plans were being made to attend the presidential inauguration in March, and how they had fared in the recent Military Rifle Tournament in Utica.

“In addition to its regular work,” the Star reported, “the company is contemplating the formation of an indoor baseball league, and a call will probably issued shortly for a meeting of those interested in such a proposition. It is the desire of those back of the movement to organize four teams and to have two games each week throughout the winter, thus permitting each team to play one game a week. It seems likely that the idea will meet with general favor, and that there will be little difficulty in finding available material for the formation of such teams.”

There was favor indeed, as five teams were organized at a general meeting, as reported on Monday, Oct. 21. The first game was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12, and played on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The five teams represented were Company G, the D&H Railroad shops, the D&H clerks, Oneonta High School and a group called The Liberty Club.

Apparently this was not the first venture into indoor baseball in Oneonta. “Opposing teams who came from out of town have required a large guarantee before playing,” it was reported on Nov. 8. “This necessitated heavy expense on the part of the company in order to maintain a home team. The all-city league, however, can be maintained without much expense to the contesting teams, and should prove an attraction to all interested in athletics.”

The first game was played on Nov. 12, and began at 8:15 p.m. Floor admission was 25 cents. For the gallery, the upper level seats of today, it was 15 cents for gentlemen, 10 cents for ladies. The Star described the game as having constant cheering between the fans of Company G and the Oneonta High team, as this was anything but a pitcher’s duel. “Bedlam broke loose,” as John Finley “walloped the ball with a mighty stroke for the winning run.” Final: Company G, 23, Oneonta High, 22.

Indoor baseball, while fairly new to Oneonta, had been around for quite some time, according to Spalding Baseball Guides of 1889-1939. Spalding claims the indoor game was invented in Chicago in 1887.

“Members of the Farragut Boat Club had assembled in the gymnasium hall on Thanksgiving day of that year and an old boxing glove was carelessly thrown around the room. One of the boys took up a broom and batted the glove back to the thrower, when George W. Hancock suddenly exclaimed, ‘Say boys, let’s play ball.’ Thereupon the huge wrestling mat was hauled around to answer for a diamond and a lively game of ‘scrub’ took place, the broom handle having been broken off and used for the bat and the unwieldy boxing glove taking the place of a ball.”

At its conclusion Mr. Hancock gathered the members around him and unfolded a plan that had occurred to him during the game.

“I believe this affair can be worked into a regular game of base ball which can be played indoors, and if you all come down on Saturday night I’ll make up some rules and have a ball and bat which will suit the purpose of the sport and do no damage to the surroundings,” said Mr. Hancock. It was Hancock who was also credited for inventing the game of softball.

Spalding soon after got into the act, creating an “official” indoor ball made of a horsehide cover sewn with linen thread, stuffed with curled hair and wrapped with wool yarn. What was called a No. 0 bat was a handle wrapped with electric tape to prevent slipping.

On Monday: What color was your favorite trading stamp in the early 1960s?

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.