Sneak Preview: New Baseball History Exhibit Hits Home Run

“Hoosiers Win the Pennant,” opening September 9 at the Indiana History Center, reveals the state’s surprisingly rich legacy in shaping the national pastime.

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Most Hoosiers know there is a professional baseball team in Indianapolis (the Indians—duh). But even many baseball junkies—count me among them—might be surprised to learn that Indiana was home to four Major League teams during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The new exhibit Hoosiers Win the Pennant: Indiana Roots of American Baseball, running September 9 to November 15 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, contains early scorecards, advertisements, and local newspaper articles chronicling these teams and their exploits. It also includes photographs of professional African-American baseball players from the late 1800s, long before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, as well as a picture of women playing baseball in the 1890s, five decades before the movie characters portrayed by Geena Davis and Madonna had a “League of Their Own” during World War II. The items in the exhibit are on loan from a local private collector named Scott Tarter, a business-transactions lawyer and partner at Bose, McKinney & Evans.

More surprises await collectors of baseball memorabilia. I was one of those kids who saved every penny I could get my hands on to buy packs of baseball cards in search of my favorite players, which is why I was so excited by the “tobacco cards” on display, which include many of the earliest such collectibles in existence; once used to advertise tobacco products, they are now among the most valuable baseball cards in the world.

Fans of literature will find early-19th-century books showing that baseball, or “base ball” as it used to be known, existed long before Abner Doubleday was purported to have invented the sport following the Civil War, including children’s readers dating back to 1815 and 1832. The exhibit also includes one of the earliest known color lithographs depicting a baseball game, from 1872.

Among the many other interesting artifacts is a baseball from the late 1800s, which more closely resembles a present-day softball, and a late-1800s bat that weighs about the same as three modern bats combined. Early scorecards that show that the art of keeping score at a baseball game hasn’t changed much in 100-plus years: A 4-3 putout now was a 4-3 putout then as well. And a fascinating series of newspaper articles details how the now-controversial MLB antitrust exemption had its origins right here in Indiana.

While Hoosiers Win the Pennant is focused on baseball, it should appeal to a wide range of visitors no matter their interest level in the American Pastime. With a rich blend of Indiana history, general history, art, and curiosities, the exhibit dispels some myths and legends of the sport and provides a surprising glimpse into the role our state had in its early days.

For more information about Hoosiers Win the Pennant or the Indiana History Center, visit IndianaHistory.org.

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