Monday, July 5, 2010

East Washington Street Park at Indianapolis


Last week my wife and I returned from a trip to Indianapolis where we both spent considerable time doing research at the city's new public library which is located just north of downtown. It is a marvelous facility, not without its problems, but overall it was a rewarding experience being there and I look forward to my next visit there.

The primary goal for my work at Indianapolis was to research the earliest ball park used by the Indianapolis Indians, the city's American Association franchise from 1902-62 (and brought back in subsequent reincarnations of the league). The park was known simply as Washington Park, but in light of the fact that another baseball park was built on Washington Street in 1931, distinguishing the two parks by a term other than merely "Washington" became necessary. The first Washington Park (my current focus) is referred to as East Washington Street Park in Michael Benson's landmark Ballparks of North America (1989) and was the home of the Indians from 1902-04. The second park, in used by the Indians from 1905-31, was also called Washington Park, but its location was west of central Indianapolis and hence is now referred to as West Washington Street Park.

In their essential work, The Magic of Indians' Baseball: 1887-1987, on the history of baseball in Indianapolis, Kim Rogers and David Reddick offer a comprehensive narrative documenting the evolution of the various Indianapolis teams, including their ownership, club leaders, and much more. But they aren't always as exact as would be preferred by those interested in nailing down specific dates. For example, it was difficult to determine just exactly when East Washington Street Park was built. Hence, my research at the Indianapolis Public Library commenced with a search for the answer to that basic question.

It was constructed on railroad-owned property during the winter of 1899-1900 at the intersection of East Washington and Gray Streets, south of Washington. The modest, all-wooden grandstand was built in the southwest corner of the lot, and was bounded on the south by Moore Avenue and the a large railyard. The railroad workers who would saunter by the ball field to watch the Indians practice became known as "railbirds."

The history of this park will be accounted for in a future issue of the American Associaton Almanac, likely during the summer of 2011.

Note: the image is from an original post card in my possession which depicts the park. The prevalence of cigar advertising along the outfield fence indicated a high degree of popularity of cigar smoking in Indianapolis during the turn of the century. It is not known whether the players on the field represent American Association teams or not; however, the appearance of two umpires suggest otherwise, as American Association contests at this time were likely to include one umpire.

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