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Mar 25

Sunday Baseball

For many of us Sunday baseball means a game under the sun not the lights. But it was not always so, back in time baseball on Sunday was prohibited.

Laws varied by jurisdiction so some teams could get around the laws by playing in another city or neighboring state. On 11 September 1898, a Sunday, the New York Giants to circumvent the New York area “blue laws” by playing a League game with Washington across the Hudson River in Weehawken. An 8-2 loss for Washington.

Still playing on the Sabbath had its inherent problems. 16 May 1897, a Sunday game, the Washington Senators starters and the Cleveland Indians‘ starters, both teams managers, and the umpire were arrested at the end of the first inning for violating Cleveland’s laws preventing baseball games from being played on Sundays.

Sunday baseball was a type of Holy Grail for baseball owners. Sunday being a day of rest enticed baseball owners with the promise of a large crowd and large profits. Trolley operators around the nation had already taken advantage of this fact by putting amusement facilities on their trolley lines.

For Washington the welcome news to baseball fans occurred on 14 May 1918. The Washington Times on its front page announces, “Sunday Baseball for Washington.”

“The Commissioners of the District after careful consideration lifted the ban on their own accord. The action of the Commissioners is not in response to any request or demand by outside parties. They were not consulted, nor even informed that the new rule was to be issues until its announcement. The reason given was because of the large influx of men in uniform and others drawn together for war work.”

The first major league baseball game[1][1] took place five days later on 19 May. The paper reported on the large crowd. “With perfect weather and the strong Cleveland Indians as the attraction, 15,352 fans paid to witness the first legalized major league contest to be played on Sunday in the Capitol of the United States.”

“In addition to these there were 2,000 soldiers and sailors, the guests of the club, occupying special seats erected in front of the stand and pavilions. Allowing for 400 or 500 others who saw the game without charge, it is possible that close to 18,000 spectators saw Sunday baseball ushered into Washington.”

“President Ban Johnson, boss of the American League, cam all the way from Chicago to see Washington enjoy itself. That he was pleased with everything goes without saying. His smile was contagious after the game.”

“Lest there be the slightest hitch in their inaugural game, President Ban Johnson detailed here his bet umpires. Tommy Connolly, the oldest and wisest official in captivity, worked behind the bat with entire satisfaction; while in the field was the Beau Brummell, Billy Evans.”

“The soldier guests of the club swarmed upon the field; fully a quarter of them sprawled at full length on the cool grass and munched peanuts until the ground looked like that under a circus tent.”

“The right field pavilion was packed to capacity. Most of the left field pavilion was filled. Just a bit far out on the end being vacant. The lower tier of the stand was filled, but a few seats could be found upstairs. The jury box could have seated many more colored brethren.”

Walter Johnson was scheduled to make the start but was still recovering from his eighteen inning victory. So Washington went with Doc Ayers, the Hillsville mountaineer. He turned back the Cleveland Indians for twelve straight innings.”

“”Take him out!” roared the disappointed fans when Ayers was announced to work against Stanley Coveleskie.[2][2] Doc hadn’t even left the dugout then. But when the game ended, Ayers’ name was on very lip. He had fil lEd Johnson’s shoes most acceptably.”

“Of note Husky Larch of the Agriculture team struck out 19 in a Departmental game against the Capitol Publishers on the Monument Grounds. “

The first professional baseball game in the area took place in 1890.[3][3]

11 May, Manager Ted Sullivan asks patrons of Atlantic Park there how they feel about Sunday baseball. He has his eye on a new field neat the Virginia end of the Long Bridge. This gives easy access by rail and steamboat.

10 June, owner Walter Hewitt has made it known that he wants to host ball games on Sunday. The District commissioners met and after fully considering the matter issued the following statement.

“The attention of the commissioners having been called to a notice in the public prints that the Washington Baseball Club prepared to play a game of baseball in this city, the commissioners beg to advise the club through you, as its responsibilities, that such game will not be permitted, and that if persisted in the major of police will be instructed to use such force as necessary to prevent it.”

The issue to the police, “Ordered: That the major of police is hereby empowered to prevent the playing of a proposed game of baseball by the Washington Baseball Club in the city of Washington on Sunday June 15.” This caused the Washington club to pause and finally to change the locality of the game to the driving park in Alexandria, Virginia.

15 June The headline in the Washington Post,[4][4] “Sunday Ball Games in Washington Not to Be Allowed. INSTRUCTIONS TO MAJOR MOORE A Force Large Enough Must Be Present at Atlantic Park to Prevent Any Desecration of the Sabbath–Commissioner Douglass States His Views in the Matter. The game will instead be played in Virginia.

15 June, a 23-14 win over Wilmington. This is the first Sunday game ever played in the Washington area. The game is played at the Alexandria Driving Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Over 2,000 people are on hand. The grounds were rough making fielding nearly impractical.[5][5] Belden Hill makes three errors out of eight for the team. Peter McCoy who signed with Wilmington, gets the start and loss, he is replaced by Stein.[6][6] Frank Bird and Lew Whistler hit home runs.

A second game is played on 22 June. A 12-4 win over Wilmington.

The game is again played at the Alexandria Driving Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Charles Daniels makes a good effort allowing seven hits and no earned runs. Washington makes five errors, two by Frank Nicholas behind the bat. Fred Underwood gets two hits.[7][7] Dave Anderson gets the loss.

“Charles Daniels of the Washingtons’, seems to be a rank quitter in case he is batted hard, Jerry O’Brien has been “going it” too rapidly and has been indefinitely laid off to pull himself together. Manager Ted Sullivan is trying to secure Jack Wentz, and if he does Jerry O’Brien will be released. President Braden of the association said the failure of Umpire Corcoran to be at the game here on the 19th is because the printed schedule had him in Hartford. Ted Sullivan is always looking for the bright side and hopeful to the last. Owing to the bad conditions of the grounds yesterday the scheduled game had to be postponed. Frank Bird made the longest hit ever seen here last Sunday; the ball went out so far that the twiggy right fielder had reached third-bag ere the fielder caught up with the ball. It was a corking hit, and if it had been on regular grounds would have gone far over the extreme southeast corner of the fence.”[8][8]

The next serious attempt at Sunday baseball took place in 1899.

The Glen Sligo Pleasure Park located just across the District line in Maryland, was a popular suburban resort. It is the place to dine, dance and get away from the pressures of city life in the garden or the Lake at Chevy Chase, especially on Sunday’s.[9][9] The resort was a popular destination and the trolley cars were packed every night.

Late in the season the site was under consideration by the Wagner brothers as just the place to host Sunday baseball games, thus getting around the blue laws in the District. The Wagner’s have been dickering with the big syndicate street railroads in the District to make it possible for fans to travel five miles north of the Capitol building just over the district line to Maryland. The proposed stadium would be 500 feet square with fences and stands built by the railroad company. Special cars carrying 150 people could make the run and will pay a single fare from anywhere in the city. A bicycle track will surround the stadium would be run by Manager Arthur Irwin.

But the plans never came to pass and the ball park in Maryland like the team that was to play there disappeared into history.

[1] A 1-0 Washington win!

[2] Stan Coveleski. He would later pitch for Washington.

[3] The Washington Senators were in the Atlantic association, a minor league.

[4] Washington Post

[5] Line-up, Bader CF, Gleason SS, Bird RF, Whistler 1B, Jordan LF, Hill 3B, Riddle C, Nicholas C, Underwood P

[6] No first name

[7] The Sporting Life will report, “Now that it has been demonstrated that Sunday games will pay the Washington Club, that organization will put the ground at Alexandria into good condition. This of course never takes place.

[8] Washington Sunday Herald

[9] In the early 1900s it was also the place to go to gamble.

*The Flynn’s have written two books about baseball in D.C.