Friday, April 22, 2016

An Invitation Game to Circumvent Blue Laws - Let's Play Some Sunday Baseball

Once upon a time it was illegal to have any fun on Sundays.  It was the day of prayer and reverence, and folks throughout America were required to abstain from leisurely activity.  This even included a restriction on professional Baseball teams playing a game on that day. 

How crazy is that, right?

It's hard to imagine a Sunday afternoon in the middle of summer without Baseball.  They go hand in hand, and I dare say that if not for the melding of the two it would be that much harder to get up the next day for the start of the work week.  I think that we as a country and culture need Sunday Baseball, and from what I understand Baseball owners needed it too.

At REA's current Spring Auction they have a vintage letter related to the Brooklyn Dodgers and their battle to emancipate the day (Auction Link Here).

Baseball was still in its infancy.  They were not the financial and economic juggernaut they are today.  Instead, they struggled at the box office, and it became obvious that losing a day that many fans had off was hurting their business.  So they lobbied and pleaded, and soon Sunday Baseball became legal.  But not in New York.  That wouldn't come until 1919.  In the meantime, team owners did their best to get around the rules.  Per the letter written by Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets to part owner of the Yankees Tillinghast L 'Hommedieu Huston on January 31, 1917.
My dear Cap,

What do you think about playing a game on Sunday April 8th along same lines we played October 1st 1916? We could announce we were going to play an invitation game and that invitation would only be issued to those who purchased tickets on Saturday April 7th, this would help our gate on Saturday and be of material assistance in obtaining Sunday baseball. Please advise me your opinion. Enclosed find sample invitation. Presume American League will hold schedule meeting in New York; if so will see you at that time. . . .

Sincerely yours, C. H. Ebbets.
Ebbets was looking to hold a kind-of exhibition game on a Sunday, and I suppose that was a way to circumvent the current Blue Laws in effect.  At the same time, it could help push public opinion their way.

From what I can tell, no such game happened on that date in April 1917, but I did track down some information on the October 1st game that is referenced.  At right is a screengrab from the October 2, 1916 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (p. 20) and it describes the game in question.
"It was a great boost for Sunday baseball," quoth Charles H. Ebbets, the great little petitioner for the Sunday pastime, as he looked over the crowd of 10,000 or more who turned up at Ebbets Field yesterday afternoon to see the Brooklyn Rookies beat by 5 to 3 the Brooklyn Second String, which also contained some first string players.

"They came in free, on invitations given out at pay-as-you-enter games, and they threw back the foul balls," continued the Squire of Flatbush, with bulging pride.  "They caused us less trouble than we have on week days, and I think we will get Sunday baseball for Brooklyn from the Legislature as a result of this experiment and the petitions.  Sign here."

All of which is true.  The crowd was well-behaved and keenly interested.  Its whole moral attitude did not seem to be below that of the same number of persons eating hot dogs and riding on the switchbacks in the Sabbath calm of Coney Island.

As a ball game is was not much, except that both teams illustrated brand new ways to do the wrong thing.  It was hardly to be expected that two teams made up of men who had never played together would make the odd Chicago Cub machine wish it had never been born, and the fans, who came in, as Ebbets said, on invitation, were more highly diverted by the odd angles to the contest.
On a side note, the Dodgers season at this time was not yet over.  They still had an four game homestand left with the NY Giants to play before the end of the year.  The Dodgers were also holding on to an precarious one game lead over Philadelphia in the National League.  They would eventually beat the Giants three games to one to win the pennant and earned the right to face the Red Sox, a team that featured Babe Ruth as a pitcher, in the World Series. 

Below is the boxscore for the invitation Sunday Baseball game in 1916.
(10/2/1916-Brooklyn Eagle, p. 20)

BTW, New York wasn't the last area to legalize Sunday Baseball.  It wouldn't be until 1933 that the game was allowed on Sundays in Pennsylvania.

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