Tonawanda News


October 13, 2013

BOOK NOOK: When baseball wasn't allowed on Sundays

Tonawanda News — Whatever your plans for Sunday, stop in the name of the law. Unless it involves churchly endeavors, your agenda may well have been prohibited, about 100 years ago.

And especially if it involved baseball.

In the whimsically titled “Bat, Ball & Bible,” Cortland State professor Charles DeMotte seriously chronicles, at length, the quest of the folks he calls Sabbatarians to keep the national pastime on a six-day-week schedule from one end of the Empire State to the other.

He’s not kidding, folks. On Aug. 6, 1893, the Buffalo Bisons sought to avoid prosecution by playing a Sunday game on Grand Island, virtually uninhabited at the time, and transporting the fandom by steamship. There weren’t enough spectators to today fill a No. 40 bus and while the Herd beat Binghamton, 12-4, they lost a bundle; for baseball on Grand Island, it was one and done.

On July 25, 1904, police intervened and made two arrests when the Herd tried to play at Tonawanda Driving Park.

DeMotte does not include these misadventures, though he does reference the late Bison historian, Tonawandan Joe Overfield. “BB&B” chronicles club owners’ schemes to escape the rundown of the law. Some would schedule a ballpark church service, pass the collection plate a couple of times and then offer the game for free. Others offered free admission but mandated purchase of a scorecard.

Even Ernie Banks couldn’t have played two under those conditions.

The point the professor makes is that it all reeked of hypocrisy. This was way before artificial lighting and a five-day work week, so Sunday offered blue collars their only shot at baseball attendance. Yet pursuits of the privileged, such as golf, tennis and boating, continued with impunity. To DeMotte, that added the insult of mandated activities to the injury of a long week at the grindstone.

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