Hamilton East Public Library logo

My Account

Hours & Location

Get A Library Card

April 04, 2016

Baseball in Noblesville and Hamilton County: The 1880’s

Baseball in Noblesville and Hamilton County: The 1880’s

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With the Opening Day of the baseball season on Sunday, I thought I would look at another era of Noblesville baseball.  In the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the Hamilton County teams acquired a more professional air.  There are stories of pay for players and a more aggressive style of play.  It’s handy that in 1884, the son of the publisher of one of the county newspapers was heavily involved in the Noblesville team.  We have practically a play-by-play account of their season.  They played 18 games, winning 11 of them against teams from places like Indianapolis, Cicero, Pendleton, and Richmond.

Rules and equipment were different in the early days.  At different times, three or seven balls would constitute a walk.  An out could be counted if you caught a ball on the first bounce.  Changes in rules often had to do with the type of equipment people were using.  Although we are not exactly sure of the date of the picture illustrating this post, most of these people were on the team in 1888.  You will notice no gloves, even on the catcher.  There seems to be a lot of hand injuries for the 1884 team.  Their star catcher had to sit out an important game because of sore hands.  The team captain had a severe injury to his little finger from a line drive.  Many years later, a player was reminiscing about the catcher for the Westfield team and said, “He wore but little better than skin tight gloves and it seemed to me that he did his best when his hands began to swell and puff up”.  The newspaper made a lot of jokes about arnica salve for sore muscles.

[blockquote text=’“He wore but little better than skin tight gloves and it seemed to me that he did his best when his hands began to swell and puff up.”’ text_color=’#8dc63f’ width=” line_height=’undefined’ background_color=” border_color=” show_quote_icon=’no’ quote_icon_color=”]

The uniforms in the picture are probably slightly different than the ones from the early 1880’s.  The 1884 team had “English Gray” uniforms.  There are no details on style except that the junior team tried a style of trousers known as “Dude” pants.  I not sure what this is referring to, but it evidently hindered movement.  The articles say that the manager tried them on and had to have the ball handed to him.    In 1889, the team called the Stars had caps and shirts that had broad black and white stripes.

The team names were less creative in the 1880’s than in earlier years.  In 1882, the teams had geographical names – the Hamiltons and the Millwoods (after the town now called Sheridan).  In 1884 the junior team was called the Bondoons (I have no idea what the word means) and in 1889 the Stars again.

1887 baseballIn 1884, the baseball team built a new park on the east side of town.  A lot of care and effort went into it, including the building of comfortable spectator seating and a good high fence.  It was originally paid for by subscription.  The fence was necessary because otherwise people wouldn’t pay to see the games.  Admission in August was 25 cents for gents, 15 cents for boys, and 10 cents for women.  It was lowered later to 15 cents for men, 10 cents for women.  A game in September of 1884 had total gate receipts of $77 dollars, which was a pretty good amount at that time.  However, people would cheat by standing on wagons to look over the fence.  One of the more aggressive players, “Sol” Levinson, managed to get knocked through the fence when he tried to catch a fly ball.  The captain of the team swore he would put an extra nail in each board just for Sol.

We’re not sure about the layout of the field, but we do know what home plate was made of.  It was a two-inch thick slab of marble.  It actually got broken during a casual game when an overweight player missed a swing and sat down hard on it.  Whatever the layout of the field, it was one of the best in Indiana.  The Richmond, Indiana field had a ditch 4 feet wide and two feet deep running beside the base path between second and third base.

We have lists of names of players who were mostly younger men with an average age of around 20.  There is an interesting story about Joseph A. Roberts, one of the team managers from the 1880’s, that was told to me by his grandson.  It seems that Joseph had gotten a name for himself in athletics at the Carmel Academy.  He had played and written about a game called “Shinney”.  At age 31, he had just moved to Noblesville and was setting up his law practice when Elbert Hare approached him about helping with the team.  Roberts demurred, pointing out his need to earn a living.  Hare persisted and swore that all of the players would give Roberts their legal business if he joined them.  He did and was obviously a success since his contribution was remembered 40 years later.

There were certain people who dominated baseball in the county.  You cannot discuss baseball in this area without mentioning the Hares.  Wesley Hare moved here in the 1840’s to start a wagon-building company that is still around today as Hare Chevrolet.  His son, Elbert “Bert” Hare, is mentioned on the very earliest teams in the 1870’s and 1880’s as player and as manager.  He often kept the teams going when there was little public support.  Two of Bert’s sons also played baseball.  One, Willard, was offered a professional tryout while he was going to school in New York.  He turned it down, but in the 1890’s he did play a few seasons on a “Bloomer Girls” team.  This was a women’s team that would put male professional players in at the last innings to add excitement to a game.  Another son was Frank “Bunny” Hare. He was a top football player at IU and was actively recruited by the Indianapolis Indians in 1907.  However, he returned to Noblesville to help build wagons.

A notable player was James “Scooper” Barnes.  He was born in Hamilton County in 1868.  His father was a tinsmith and lived on Cherry Street in Noblesville.  Barnes began playing baseball by organizing his own team in 1882 when he was 14 years old.  They played another team of similar age and, after a 2-0 game, the paper said that it was good to see “…boys play who can beat the Millwoods and Hamiltons – on keeping down the score, anyway”.  Barnes started playing for the Noblesville junior team in 1884 and was called “a cannon ball” and “tricky”.  He later played for the “first nine” and was usually mentioned in the paper for his fielding, which was called “brilliant”.  He played a variety of positions, but was usually in the infield.  His mother died in 1887, but he was back playing the next year.  In a game in 1889 that ended in a score of 17-4, four of the Noblesville runs were his.  In the mid-1890’s, he moved to the state of Washington to work in the lumber industry.  He moved back to Noblesville in 1926 with declining health.  At a player reunion in October of 1926, he was unable to attend, but was still declared “the most finished ball player this community ever turned out”.  He died that December and his funeral was attended by all of his old teammates.

[blockquote text=’..the paper said that it was good to see “…boys play who can beat the Millwoods and Hamiltons – on keeping down the score, anyway.”’ text_color=’#8dc63f’ width=” line_height=’undefined’ background_color=” border_color=” show_quote_icon=’no’ quote_icon_color=”]

Some other players had very notable careers off the field.  Edward Everett Neal was the treasurer of the 1884 team and the only one to play every game in the season.  Later in life, after a short career in local politics, he and his brother Charles bought a local newspaper called the Enterprise in 1911 and started publishing.  In 1914, they bought another paper called the Ledger and published that for decades.

Player nicknames were an important part of the era.  Typical was George “Curley” Stevenson, a third baseman in the early 1880’s and later a team manager.   The 1880’s team picture is a good resource for nicknames.  First base was Vern “Wick” Wicker, a hard hitter who became editor of the Ledger; second base was James “Scooper” Barnes, which I mentioned before.  Shortstop was Charles H. “Anson” Ritchie, who was given his name because of comparisons with Cap Anson, the famous Chicago manager.  Third base was Voss “Yank” Ousler who had probably inherited his nickname from his older brother Frank, who had played earlier.  The pitcher was Johnny “Lefty” Haley who was considered one of the best pitchers in the state, but ended up as a barber in Indianapolis.  Louis “Dickey” Joseph, the catcher, also got his nickname from a professional player.  He was later a very wealthy clothier in town.  “Win” Cartwright was the substitute and a very able fielder who became a printer for the Ledger.  The left fielder was George “Budge” Dalton who was also the best hitter on the team.  I don’t know where he ended up.  Centerfield was Oscar “Reddy” Fisher, all round player and later successful restaurateur.  Lastly, at right field, was Ralph “Stormy” Kane, a good hitter, but who fell down in the outfield.  He had a fairly successful career.  He became a well-known Indianapolis lawyer, served in the Indiana state senate, and argued a case before the United States Supreme Court.  The manager was Milton “Hutt” Hutto, a local tailor.

Prior to 1900, having a black member of a baseball team seems to be common.  Noblesville played Plainfield in 1884 and the newspaper said, “Mr. Kelly, pitcher and captain of the Plainfields, is a colored man, and is well posted in baseball and knows how to take charge of a nine.”  Unfortunately, not all meeting were that pleasant. In June of 1889, the Sheridan and Westfield club met.  Sometime during the game, a black Westfield player named John Bess became angered by the calls and began swearing.  A fight started which escalated from baseball bats to guns and Bess was eventually arrested.  However, he was bailed out by several of Westfield’s leading citizens.