Indoor Baseball, Chicago Style, From 1887

This 1897 image is the earliest known photo of an indoor baseball team.
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

There’s a very interesting article by a fellow named Jeff Nichols in the January 30, 2019 Chicago Reader about the origins of a baseball derivative sport they called “indoor baseball” on the south side of Chicago back in 1887. It is, so far, the best description I’ve ever found on the root causes of the game’s invention and how the regular game of baseball had to be modified to work indoors – in spaces that were never designed to handle the zoom-and-go flight of an actual baseball ~ even in the deadball era.

I already knew that my birthplace home town of Beeville ~ along with several other small South Texas cities ~ had played a game they called “indoor baseball” for a brief time in the early 20th century. I just could not discover or envision how they could have played anything close in resemblance to the real game of baseball in the kinds of very small and limited spaces available to them at the Bee County Fairgrounds.

Nichols’ article answers any serious questions I may have harbored. It was more like stick ball, if the game were being played out in the lobby of a very small hotel.

It’s still a good read ~ and interesting to learn that a very young George Halas, the NFL icon founder and longtime coach of the Chicago Bears ~ along with his older brother, Walter Halas, ~ were two of the south side boys who also helped get indoor baseball off to a somewhat less roaring start.

https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-surprising-chicago-origins-of-indoor-baseball/Content?oid=67100853

The three photos from the article make it seem so much more real as something that actually happened. The first photo at the top features the oldest known photo of an indoor team. The next photo below features the Halas boys. The the last photo below speaks for itself on why indoor baseball never started a wildfire fan base.

 

The 1910 Crane High School team; the glum kid holding the ball in the front row is George Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears. Above George is his older brother Walter, the captain of the team.
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SDN-008471, CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM, CHICAGO DAILY NEWS PHOTO COLLECTION

 

Young women playing indoor baseball in Pilsen
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BHNC_0044_0290_026, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO LIBRARY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

 

Indoor baseball had a few brief runs in Texas during the early 20th century, but it lit no flames in the hearts and minds of Texans either until 1965 ~ when Judge Roy Hofheinz, the Houston Astros, and the Houston Astrodome came along and showed the world what had to be in place for the game of baseball to go viral in its support for the true indoor version.

If you want indoor baseball, you have to play the game in a place that feels like “The Eighth Wonder of the World!”

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

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7 Responses to “Indoor Baseball, Chicago Style, From 1887”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    Houston elementary schools played indoor baseball for several years, and a city champion was crowned.

  2. DAVIS O. BARKER Says:

    Have found references of IB in Texas newpapers well into the Depression-era … about that time, several Tx colleges included it in their PE program … years ago researching something else, I ran across a newspaper story that the original ball used in Chicago was a cinched-up boxing glove … if interested in rules, etc. here is the 1919-20 Spaulding Guide for IB from the Library of Congress …
    https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=segmentof:spalding.00252/%7Csubject:indoor+baseball&sb=shelf-id&st=gallery

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thanks, Davis! ~ Yes. I have the article that references the cinched up baseball glove they first used as an indoor ball. Also, love the rule book you sent me as the 1919-20 Guide.

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    To Shinerbock80 ~ For some inexplicable reason, the system would not allow me to respond directly to your most appreciated comment.

    Question: Do you have any time reference to the era in which indoor baseball was played in Houston schools by a system that led to the determination of a city champion?

  4. DAVIS O. BARKER Says:

    Not finished looking, but I did find reference to a Houston HS league for girls ….
    https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth604509/m1/9/zoom/?q=%22indoor%20baseball%22%20%22houston%20schools%22&resolution=2&lat=6216&lon=1779

  5. gregclucas Says:

    Interesting you used the Chicago example in your story because it was in Chicago that pro football was first played indoors as well. Would have to research, but it might even have been a championship game involving the Bears. Chicago Stadium perhaps? Will try to find more.

  6. gregclucas Says:

    If interested Wikipedia has the full story of the Indoor Football game in Chicago… Search: 1932 NFL Championship Bears beat Portsmouth 9-0 on a field 60yd x 45 yds inside Chicago Stadium.

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