Indianapolis Clowns And ABCs Stats Added To Baseball Records

The MLB announced that seven Negro Leagues’ statistics will now be included in their official historical record.
Statues of Toni Stone, Hank Aaron, and Mamie Johnson in the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Justin M. Skiba/Wikimedia Commons

Major League Baseball is now integrating statistics from the seven different Negro baseball leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948 into their official historical record, according to their website. Teams include the Indianapolis ABCs, who were part of the Negro National League from 1920 to 1926, and the Indianapolis Clowns, who were in the Negro American League. 

The other Negro Leagues include: the Eastern Colored League, the American Negro League, the East-West League, the Negro Southern League, and the Negro National League. All seven were recognized as MLB leagues in 2020. 

The Indianapolis Clowns played from 1943 to 1954. The team was founded in the 1930s in Miami as the Ethiopian Clowns and were at first entertainers. They became an official baseball team in 1943, when they moved to Cincinnati and joined the Negro American League. After two seasons, they settled in Indianapolis.  

The Clowns went on to be the one of the most well-known Black teams in the country, though they never won the Negro World Series Championships, in which the top teams from the Negro American League and the Negro National League competed against each other. Following the final Negro World series in 1948—the Negro National League’s last year of existence following MLB integration—the Clowns continued to play in the Negro American League and won the championship title in 1951, 1952, and 1954.

In addition to being a team to beat, the Clowns were known as “comedic geniuses” and were considered baseball’s equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters. During barnstorming tours around the country, basemen Reece “Goose” Tatum (who later played basketball with the Globetrotters) and Richard “King Tut” King played with giant, oversize gloves, and Ed Hamman pitched behind his back or between his legs. The team often played “shadow ball,” which entailed a humorously coordinated performance of pitching, hitting, and fielding—all without a ball.

Additionally, they broke societal norms of segregation and prejudice against women during their time. The Clowns played for Black and white audiences and were the first professional baseball team to hire a woman on a long-term contract to play competitively, Toni Stone. Stone was a second baseman in 1953 and had a batting average of .243. They later went on to sign second baseman Connie Morgan, who previously held a .338 batting average when playing for the all-women North Philadelphia Honey Drippers, and the famous Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who had a win-loss record of 33-8 in her time with the Clowns and maintained a batting average between .262 and .284.

A head-and-shoulders portrait of newly inducted Hall of Famer, Ben Taylor, first baseman of the Negro Leagues. Photo taken from team portrait of the 1915 Indianapolis ABCs.

Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston spent a major part of his career with the Clowns. He started as a batboy for the Indianapolis ABCs as a child, enlisting in the Army at 15. He served in the Philippines, where he continued to play baseball. When he returned to the States at 18 years old in 1915, he joined the ABCs as a player, becoming a three-time All-Star in the Negro National League while moving between several teams. In one year playing for the Saint Louis Giants, he hit 15 home runs, 12 triples, and 17 doubles, stole 31 bases, and had a .437 batting average.

Charleston later managed the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers and then the Clowns. In 1954, he led the Clowns to their 1954 league championship. He tragically died of a stroke at age 57 during the offseason following the championship. 

As a baseball player, Charleston was a top talent, with mastery in defense, hitting, power, and speed. According to MLB records, in 1921, his batting average was above .400. He led the Negro National League in all three forms of extra-base hits, as well as in batting average three times in the late 1920s. He is believed to have hit .326 in exhibition games against white MLB players. His skill has earned him a Top 10 spot in several MLB categories: third in career batting average with .363, sixth in OBP with .449, seventh in slugging percentage with .614, and fifth in OPS with 1.063.

Another of the Clowns’ most famous players is Hank Aaron, “the future MLB home run king,” who made his professional debut as a shortstop and batted cleanup for the Clowns in 1953. 

Antonio Ruiz of the Indianapolis Clowns

Other notable players are Buster Haywood, who later managed Hank Aaron and the Memphis Red Sox; John Wyatt, who was a 1964 American League All-Star and pitched for the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series; Paul Casanova, who went on to play for the Washington Senators, earning an All-Star bid and fielding percentages over .985 for most of his career; and “Choo-Choo” Coleman, who played for the Phillies and the Mets.

The Clowns became the longest-playing Black baseball team, performing in exhibition games until they finally disbanded in 1989. The 1976 comedy The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings starring James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor is loosely based on the Clowns.

According to MLB, there is no official record of the Negro Leagues’ game results. The Clowns’ and ABCs’ current known game statistics were compiled by the Negro Leagues Database after consultation with John Thorn, the official historian for MLB, and other Negro Leagues experts.