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Just because: Thanksgiving and the birth of indoor baseball

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

MORE: Baseball reasons to be thankful

These days, we mostly associate indoor baseball with the various indignities of Tropicana Field or perhaps the kitsch-irony of the maybe-to-be-razed Astrodome. However, the playing of our baseball in enclosed spaces far predates anything within recent memory. As it so happens, it traces back to Thanksgiving Day, 1887.

Here's an excerpt from a New York Times dispatch dated November 26, 1900 ...

In keeping with that particular era in journalism, there's likely some lore among the truths. With that said, "Say, boys, let's play baseball," is a darned fine flourish, as creation myths go.

As noted later in the article, for that first indoor game, a boxing glove was the ball, and a broom was the bat. The encounter concluded with a score of 41-40, which sounds not like a game for connoisseurs or those with jobs, hobbies, families. Later, proper equipment was introduced, and the game spread beyond the confines of the upper Midwest.

The first sanctioned game of indoor baseball took place in the Philadelphia State Fairground Building on Christmas Day, 1888. In front of 2,000 onlookers, the Downtowners prevailed over the Uptowners by a tally of 6-1, which sounds much more reasonable

By 1891, the aforementioned George W. Hancock, father of this runaway child, had put indoor baseball rules to paper ...

The following photo, of an indoor tilt from 1905, will give you an idea of what such a contest looked like:

(Image: The Design Morgue)

A bit cramped and perhaps haphazard, but slapdash baseball is better than no baseball, as I'm sure you'll agree.

With a larger-than-usual ball, crude bat and conspicuous absence of gloves, indoor baseball was not unlike what we now call 16-inch or "Chicago" softball, which, I can witness, is a stupendous and edifying pursuit.

Anyhow, by 1939 baseball legend Tris Speaker and others were so emboldened as to launch the National Professional Indoor Baseball League, which, as SABR notes, lasted all of 30 days. So that didn't take. However, indoor baseball can be thought of as having two distinct evolutions.

The first and arguably most notable is that it matured into the sport of softball, which these days is, of course, a prominent women's sport at the collegiate level and otherwise harbor to too many avocational athletes to count. In fact, the American Softball Association cites that same Thanksgiving day in 1887 as its sport's point of origin, albeit with details and back-story somewhat different from those noted above.

The other evolution of indoor baseball can be thought of in these visual terms ...

Let us now give solemn thanks for this bounty of space-age baseball, which first crawled from the primordial muck on Thanksgiving Day, 1887.

 
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