Just a few years after the arrival of the first pioneers to Lake County, the name "baseball" was given to the sport which had used posts and stones the player must touch.
Col. Abner Doubleday (1819-1893), who served as an officer during the Mexican War and the Civil War, was first given credit for drawing up the "diamond," but later facts pointed to Alexander J. Cartwright (died 1892) as the originator of that design in 1845. He also drew up the rules which governed the first game between organized teams in 1846, was a charter member of the Knickerbocker baseball club of New York, and also was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The earlier game had few standard rules; the "bases" were four foot posts, and the players were out by having the ball thrown at them! Later, flat stones were used to mark the bases, formed in an oblong, with the batter's position between 1st and home bases. The runner scored when he reached home base, but that was not the position from where he struck the ball.
In 1846 Cartwright's rules limited the team to nine men, but prior to that time 11 or more players were used, and earlier games ended when the first team scored 21 "aces," or runs.
The first uniforms were used by the Knickerbocker team in 1849, and the first time there was a charge for admission (50c) was in 1859 at Long Island, N.Y.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brought baseball play to a halt, with the only games played in the northern army camps. Southern prisoners took the sport back home with them after the war ended in 1865.
Professional baseball was also suspended during World War I (1918), but was encouraged as a morale booster and distraction during World War II (1941-1945).
Baseball rules changed through the years. It was quite a surprise to the Old Timer when he read that baseball was first played under electric lights over 100 years ago, on June 2, 1889, at Ft. Wayne. The first direct 'from the field' broadcast of a World Series game took place Oct. 4, 1922, between the Yankees and the Giants. Night Baseball was introduced to the Major Leagues in 1935 at Cincinnati, Ohio.
Oakland Park, now site of Oak Hill School on Oakley Ave. in Lowell, was the site of popular baseball games for many years. One of those games, according to an article in The Lowell Tribune on Sept. 10, 1905, featured a big game between the Foresters and the Knights of Pythias. Playing for the Foresters were Ralph Trump, Pudy Kelsey, Henry Peterson, Bernard Beckman, Edward Yates, Ike Tuttle, John Berg, Ed Johnson, Clarence Fuller and Earl Pulver. For the Knights of Pythias: Starr Brownell, Ben Lynch, Fred Buse, Dan Lynch, Guy Brownell, Wells Ainsworth, Merrit Johnson, Albert Webb, Lee Dickinson and Dr. Rigg. The umpire was E.N. Gragg.
As a small boy in the 1920's the Old Timer spent many Sunday afternoons at Oakland Park watching Lowell's semi-pro baseball team in action. He was proud to walk a few blocks to the park with his uncle Henry Heiser (and "Poochie," his uncle's fox terrier). The three of us would sit on choice seats (near the popcorn stand) in the new grandstand built by American Legion Post 101, who also used it for Labor Day celebrations, etc.
According to their actual record book, the first meeting of the Southern Lake County Baseball Assn. was held at the Law Offices of Victor K. Roberts on Dec. 11, 1922, with the following members present: Bart Moxell, Dr.P. Rigg, Wm. Tanner, Ben Lynch, Edward Yates, Chas. Nichols, Lewis Wood, R. Spindler, Joe Dinwiddie and Herm Burnham.
Bart Moxell was elected president of the association, Herm Burnham became secretary-treasurer, Ben Lynch was the manager, and Dr. Iddings became the club physician. Members listed later were James Black, Roy Graves, L. Binyon and Herb Wheaton.
Shares in the club were sold for $50.
At their meeting of Jan. 2, 1923, the name "The Lowell Stars" was approved, and plans were made with the Town Board for the use of Oakland Park. They were told that they could use the park every Sunday and Holiday, except Labor Day or when the "Chautauqua" was in town. (The "Chautauqua" was a group from New York, founded in 1874, who put on traveling tent shows, with Sunday School, lectures and concerts).
Players on the Lowell Stars baseball team received pay that varied from $10 to $150 dollars per game. An old document listed the following players: John Clancy, Tim Murchison, Dorsey Kight, Fox Taylor, Bob Stevenson, Delbert Hayden, George Hayden, Hal Kroupa, Chas. Minninger, Cavanaugh, Collins, and James Sullivan. Stevenson played third base and was manager-coach. Tim Murchison is remembered as a fast ball pitcher and a big man who liked to argue with the umpire.
The local baseball association evidently was not a financial success, for in the few years of play, only one game showed a profit. The stockholders had little return, and the association was dissolved.
The Lowell Stars played Elgin, the Hammond Colonials, St. Viators College, Gary Elks, Kouts, Beecher, Hammond, the Red Sox, Peotone, Kankakee, Pullman, and Valparaiso.
The breakup of the local association did not slow down the interest in baseball in Lowell, for many other teams took over the diamond through the years.
In the 1930's a popular team was the "Lowell Sears," so called because it was sponsored by a local department store. Local attorney Victor J. Roberts was the star pitcher for this group. He also pitched for the Indiana University baseball team for three years.
He told the Old Timer that he could only remember losing one game, that to the House of David, a religious community founded in 1903 at Benton Harbor, Mich. whose members wore long hair and beards and were vegetarians.
Elmer Gerner, now of West Commercial Ave., was the star first baseman, and also played for the Cardinals for a time. Problems at home caused him to return to the farm.
For a time, Roberts pitched when Corby Davis Lowell's All-American full back, was the catcher. The list of players also included Herb Gerner, Bill Gerner, Delbert Hayden, Byrl Kenney, Don Yates, Norb Rascher (who played for the University of Notre Dame) and Irvin Guritz.
The old diamond at Oakland Park became (for a few years) the west end of the first lighted football field in the town of Lowell. Many high school football games and night baseball games were played there.
The American Legion grandstand has been gone for years, but teams are still playing at the same site as the fraternal teams, the semi-pro "Lowell Stars," the Lowell-Sears Team, and other organizations.
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