An American Pastime–Baseball in Ohio

Men and women playing baseball, ca. 1940, via the Ohio Guide Collection on Ohio Memory.
Men and women playing baseball, ca. 1940, via the Ohio Guide Collection on Ohio Memory.
Opening game at Crosley Field between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, April 15, 1941. Via the Ohio Guide Collection on Ohio Memory.
Opening game at Crosley Field between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, April 15, 1941. Via the Ohio Guide Collection.

Today, July 8, we are almost exactly halfway through the Major League Baseball season, which runs from April 3 to October 2 of 2016. What better time to take a look at the history of America’s pastime as it’s played here in Ohio?

The game of baseball has been played in the United States since the 1700s, with different rules being utilized in different regions. The Philadelphia version of base ball – note that the name was separated into two words in the early years – allowed runners to leave the baseline and run all over the field, leading defensive players on a merry chase! It was the set of rules from New York, however, which included a foul ball territory and forced runners to stay on the base line, which prevailed and is still followed today.

Baseball card of Denton T. "Cy" Young when he played for the Cleveland Naps, ca. 1911. Courtesy of the University of Dayton via Ohio Memory.
Denton “Cy” Young when he played for the Cleveland Naps, ca. 1911. Courtesy of the University of Dayton via Ohio Memory.

Major League Baseball came to Ohio in 1866 with the founding of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseballs’ first all-professional team. The team went through several incarnations between its founding and 1881, with the organization dissolving and re-forming in Cincinnati while former Red Stockings players moved to other ball clubs. In 1890, the team name was shortened to the Reds, and the team established itself as part of the National League, for which it still plays today. Cincinnati has won the World Series five times in the championship’s history: 1919, 1940, 1975, 1976 and 1990.

Ohio’s second professional team, the Cleveland Indians, has its origins in Michigan, where it was known as the Grand Rapids Rustlers. After its move to Cleveland in 1900, the team became known as the Cleveland Lake Shores. Over the next fourteen years, the organization went through multiple other names: the Bluebirds, the Blues, the Broncos and the Naps (which some altered to “Napkins” because the team “fold[ed] up so easily”), before finally settling on the Indians. Cleveland’s World Series record shows two wins, one in 1920 and one in 1948.

Ohio baseball is more than just professional teams and large stadiums, however. Baseball is played throughout most of the year by children with dreams of turning pro, adults with fond memories of games of their youth, and everyone in between. On any given Saturday during the summer, a trip to the local ballfield will yield a little league game where the cheering is deafening and, to the players, the stakes are as high as if they played in the Major Leagues. These are the players of the present and the future, and they’re a joy to watch.

If you’re interested in experiencing baseball as it was played in the past, you can do that, as well. The Ohio History Center sponsors its own team, the Ohio Village Muffins, who play according to the rules of base ball as they were in 1860. The all-volunteer team plays against other vintage teams throughout the state, so try catching a game in your area! You can find their schedule here. The Ohio History Center also sponsors a women’s vintage team, the Lady Diamonds, who play in uniforms styled after those worn by women in 1866. You can even become a member of either team!

This summer, head to a ball field and catch a game, whether the players are part of your favorite Major League team or are your favorite kid. We guarantee that you’ll experience plenty of excitement and fun!


Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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