The sports hierarchy in Indiana is well established.
Hoops is king in the Hoosier State, from the youngest youth league to old-timer fans listening to the Pacers on the radio. Auto racing is built into the state’s identity, and in recent years, the success of the Colts has football drawing more and more fans.
Though it doesn’t receive the same attention, Indiana’s baseball legacy is as storied as any in sports. That history has been captured for the public in “Hoosiers Win the Pennant: Indiana Roots of American Baseball.”
The exhibit, opening Sept. 9 at the Indiana History Center, will feature rare items and connections stretching back to the sport’s beginnings. Baseball fans and lovers of history can peruse trading cards of the Indianapolis Hoosiers’ 1914 championship team, as well as a signed baseball by former Indianapolis player Satchel Paige.
Drawings from the 1830s of a baseball-like game are believed to the earliest references to America’s pastime.
“It’s not just baseball, nationwide. It’s very specific to Indiana’s contribution to baseball, which is a very interesting story we wanted to tell,” said Eloise Batic, director of exhibits, research and development at the history center. “It’s a really interesting way to challenge some of the understandings of the game. We always like that, challenging what people have always thought to be true.”
Indiana’s affiliation with baseball stretches back to the game’s beginnings. The state was the site of the first ever major-league baseball game, between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and the Cleveland Forest Citys in 1871.
The 1914 Indianapolis Hoosiers were the champions of the Federal League, one of three major leagues at the time. When the American and National leagues refused to recognize the upstart Federal, the three parties ended up in a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court.
That was the start of baseball’s antitrust exemption, which still affects everything from teams relocating to new cities to free agency.
Johnson County even has its own baseball lore. George Crowe, a Franklin High School graduate, played in the major leagues for nine years. He was a first baseman from 1952 to 1961, splitting his time between the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1958, he even made the All-Star Game.
“There’s this lasting legacy in this state, even with the business applications, on baseball,” Batic said.
The exhibit is drawn from the personal collection of Scott Tarter, an Indianapolis resident and partner at Bose McKinney & Evans law firm.
He had amassed thousands of historic pieces, from gloves used in the late 1800s to baseball cards into the modern era. A lifelong baseball fan, Tarter started his collection as a way to save the unique heritage of the game.
“As I looked for surviving artifacts of this history, I saw many situations where important pieces of this story were being jammed into crowded boxes in attics or basements, or sold by sports memorabilia dealers who had no interest in historic preservation,” Tarter said. “It really motivated me to collect these items and try to preserve them.”
Tarter has agreed to allow the Indiana Historical Society to display some of the more important items in his care.
One is a small English book from 1829 that contains the earliest known description of a baseball-like game. A limited edition reproduction of the first baseball card, dating to 1869, is a highlight among other original 19th and 20th century baseball cards, photographs and illustrations.
A lithograph, or illustration, from 1872 is the earliest known depiction of a baseball game in progress.
“This collection has materials from the 1820s, the 1830s, playing baseball. That’s way before what was commonly thought, that it was first played around the Civil War,” Batic said.
The exhibit also helps debunk the myth that Indiana has never had a professional baseball team. In fact, the state has had five.
Visitors can see programs from the Indianapolis Blues and the Indianapolis Hoosiers, both of which played in the National League in the late 1800s.
Players such as Bud Fowler and Fleet Walker, both black, played games in Indianapolis in the late 1800s.
“There were several players before Jackie Robinson broke the modern-day color barrier, before some of the rules made it impossible for African-
Americans to play organized baseball,” Batic said.
In designing the exhibit, museum officials tried to straddle the line between hardcore baseball fans and the general public. The featured items all try to tell a story of Indiana’s impact and place in the sport, without focusing too narrowly on the minutiae that only long-time enthusiasts would get, Batic said.
“I think we tell that story. This is one of those exhibits that people will really get sucked into the details. Each item is a treasure,” she said.