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Bloomered, Be-Whiskered, & Barnstorming

Posted: May 10, 2024, 6:46PM

Wheeling's Baseball Oddities

During the early twentieth century, baseball was indeed America's game. And Wheeling loved baseball more than most American towns. It was perhaps the most popular form of entertainment in that long ago era before the internet, before cable TV, even before motion pictures were established. Baseball was the Netflix of 1915. And it was an immersive experience. Sure, people listened to games on the radio, but nothing beat hopping on a street car to Fulton or Wheeling Island or Martins Ferry to watch local professional semi-professional, industrial, and amateur teams play the beloved national game, while chowing down on hot dogs and peanuts, sweating profusely, cultivating a sunburn, maybe even skipping school. There was never a shortage of fans. But opponents were sometimes hard to find, especially unfamiliar ones. So it was not uncommon for teams to call other teams out in the newspaper to challenge them to baseball showdowns at a given place and time under penalty of being accused of cowardice. Of course, where there's a demand, entrepreneurial creatives are bound to test out a product to satisfy it. Such was the origin of baseball "barnstorming." And sometimes, weirder was better.

What was Barnstorming?

The Babe and Lou Gehrig, whose team won 8-5, after all the baseballs were lost.[/caption] The average major league baseball salary in 1919 was $4,000, or a little more that $72,000 in 2024, adjusted for inflation. This was good money, but still a far cry from the contemporary major league average of $4.5 million. So, even the best players sought to supplement their salaries by traveling around in the offseason (thereby circumventing the regulatory power of the league) to challenge local teams in exhibition contests, often splitting the gate. Even players the caliber of Babe Ruth participated in the barnstorming, so-called in homage to traveling theater groups that often performed in barns. One of Ruth's teams was called the Bustin’ Babes, while his teammate Lou Gehrig formed the Larrupin’ Lous. Many Negro League teams (often comprised of players as good as or better than white major leaguers) barnstormed year round. And for other skilled players not good enough for the majors (but often close), unconstrained by any league rules or seasons, professional barnstorming might just mean a living wage. As we explained last spring, Pittsburgh's Homestead Grays played many games locally. So popular were they that at least three local "Colored" teams adopted their moniker: the Wheeling Greys, the South Wheeling Greys,  and the Elm Grove Greys. All were successful in local baseball. The Pittsburgh Crawfords were not as prolific, but did play a few local games, including a 5-0 win against the Chicago Giants at Fulton Field in the 1933 "Negro Pro League Title Series." The Crawfords, with an amazing roster that included power hitter Josh Gibson, pitching ace Satchel Paige, and centerfielder Cool Papa Bell, won the series. It's mind-blowing to imagine such legendary players, along with Ruth and Gehrig a few months prior, playing baseball on a field that now houses a trucking company in Fulton. Of course, if a barnstorming team had a gimmick that made them stand out -- one that intrigued fans or fostered a carnival atmosphere -- even better. Even before the Harlem Globetrotters did it in basketball, it was happening in baseball. Could, for example, women play baseball competitively with men? Curiosity sold tickets.

Bloomered Barnstormers: The Bloomer Girls

Rose Gacioch. Courtesy Center for History at the Northern Indiana Historical Society.
“But neither our wives, our sisters, our daughters, nor our sweethearts, may play Base Ball on the field. . . They may play Lawn Tennis, and win championships; they may play Basket Ball, and achieve laurels, they may play Golf, and receive trophies; but Base Ball is too strenuous for womankind, except as she may take part in grandstand, with applause for the brilliant play.” ~ Albert G. Spalding (yep, that one)

Rosie Gacioch played two seasons with Maude Nelson, an Italian immigrant who became one of early baseball's most dominant pitchers. Rosie learned from the best.

Those who know Wheeling's baseball history are familiar with the name Rose Gacioch. Born in Wheeling in 1915, Rose learned her gritty brand of baseball at Pulaski Field on 46th Street in South Wheeling. She was first mentioned in the local papers in 1931 and 1932 as the "girl pitcher" who played for the St. Joseph's P.R.C.U. (Polish Roman Catholic Union) team in South Wheeling, the "district's only girl pitcher" who had made her bones for the South Wheeling Little Cardinals, then played for the Big Leaguers who barnstormed eastern Ohio. She also pitched for the otherwise male Islanders team. Frank Doljack, a former Stogies star, called Rose the best female baseball prospect he had ever seen. After spending two seasons with Maude Olsen's (aka Nelson, one of the stalwarts of women's baseball) Ranger Girls (a barnstorming "Bloomer Girl" team), she returned to Wheeling to play for the Pulaski A.C. [Intell., May 20, 1938]. In 1939, she was pitching for the Glenwood Lunch baseball team. During WWII, while Rosie was actually working as a factory riveter (yes, she was literally "Rosie the Riveter"), Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley famously launched the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League because so many male major league ballplayers were away at war. Rosie tried out at Pulaski, wowed the scouts, made the league, and excelled, becoming one of the league’s best players as a right fielder and pitcher for the Rockford Peaches. A three-time all-star, Rose hurled a no-hitter in 1953 and inspired Rosie O’Donnell’s character in the 1992 feature film, "A League of Their Own." One of the most durable "Bloomer Girl" baseball teams hailed from Boston.[/caption] That part of Wheeling's baseball history is fairly well known, as it should be. But did you know professional women's baseball teams were playing in Wheeling (and all over the country) even before Rose Gacioch was born? And they weren't playing against other female teams like the AAGPBL. From as early as the 1880s, these barnstorming females teams, named for their loose fitting pants (invented by suffragist Amelia Jenks Bloomer as a way to free women from unhealthy corsetts, etc. ), formed all over the country from Boston to St. Louis, in New York and elsewhere. Most usually carried at least one or two male players -- often the pitcher and the catcher -- known as "toppers" who sometimes wore wigs. But Bloomer teams also employed female pitchers, such as 17 year old sensation Jackie Mitchell of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who pitched in an exhibition against Babe Roth, Lou Gehrig of the mighty NY Yankees, striking both legends out. While some baseball historians say it was a PR stunt, Mitchell died believing her accomplishment was legit. Soon after, Commissioner Landis reportedly voided her contract because baseball was too "strenuous" for women. Whether or not any of the barnstorming Bloomer Girl teams were to be taken seriously as baseball competitors seems to have depended on the source. Many local male newspaper reporters delighted in mocking such teams, others took the games seriously. The crowds seemed to flock, and the fact is, the numbers show a mixed bag of wins and losses with a lot of close final scores and a number of lopsided losses. But not all of the Bloomers played at the same skill level.

Wheeling Daily Register May 31, 1901 contained a plea from the New England Bloomer Girls for a game of ball with "good amateur teams."[/caption] The local story of the Bloomer Girls got off to an inauspicious start in May 1901 as the New England based team arrived "over the Ohio River Road. "Many people who expected to see a gilded palace car were disappointed with the cheap looking coach they travel in," the Wheeling Daily Register sniped. Attendance was reportedly small as more people were apparently interested in a murder case at the court house. No score report for the game could be found. Meanwhile a men's team named the "Pink Garters" reportedly changed their team name to the "Aarons base ball club." Bloomers win over Mike Angic's men 13-8. Register, June 10, 1901.[/caption] On June 8, a Sunday afternoon game between the New England Bloomers and the Mike Agnic club was announced for Sisters Island Field (this would later become "Coney Island" amusement park in the Ohio River in what is now North Warwood). The Steamboats Eliza and Buckeye left the wharf every hour to transport fans to the island ballpark. The result was a victory for the Bloomers, who defeated Mike Angic's men 13-8. The play of the Bloomers was said to be a "revelation to the crowd." The night cap on Wheeling Island against the Will Gutman team did not go as well and the relentless sexism the Bloomers would face became evident in the reporting by the Register.

"The New England Bloomer Girls crossed bats with the Will Gutmans yesterday afternoon at the upper end of the Island. The spectators were surrounded by an impromptu canvas fence [a common practice for many Bloomer teams] about eight feet high. The attendance within the inclosure [sic] was fair, while upon the elevation outside looking down upon the players the crowd was extremely large, and no doubt added zest to the fair player. The score was something like 13 to 1, favor of the Gutmans. Some very clever plays were made, and the loss of the game by the girls can be attributed to such yells as the following from the bleacher: 'Watch the umpire Minnie.' 'Minnie's got a broken wing.' 'The Humane Society out to get after you for hit'n a girl.' 'Oh you woman beater.' 'Say Minnie how much do you make?' She's the best looking girl all right.' 'You ought to be ashamed to play a lot of young girls.' 'Will White's watching you. [probably a reference to major league pitcher and manager William Henry "Whoop-La" White]'"

The New England (Boston) Bloomer Girls. Note the two male players - often the battery. After the loss, things got even nastier for the Bloomers. Under the headline "Naughty Bloomer Girls," four players were reportedly charged with "trespass" by officer Friese when they paid a visit to male friends working at the B. & O. depot. "Unbecoming conduct," the Register reporter called it, heavily implying something more scandalous than parking their "special car" on the B. & O. track. "Some of them are veritable Amazons," the story continued, "and all are of very uncertain age." After Judge Fitzpatrick assessed fines for each defendant, "the girls settled and went back to their car rejoicing." After a rainout in Wellsburg, the Bloomers lost 8 to 7 to an unidentified "local team." Bloomers returned to Wheeling in 1903, in the form of the "St. Louis Stars comprising an aggregation of Blooming Bloomer Girls in Full Bloom" (Register May 23, 1903), losing 8 to 6 to St. Mary's on May 20, then defeating the Pennsboro team 6 to 5 on May 23. They were scheduled to play the Hazel Atlas team, but, unfortunately, no score could be found.  The Star Bloomer Girls team.[/caption] In July 1903, the Register reported an arrest of New York Bloomer girls in Texas for playing baseball in a public park. While in jail they reportedly became "sassy" and "raised a rough house ... They sang up-to-date songs, roasted the jail officials and prisoners, turned hand-springs, stood on their heads, walked on their hands, did high kicking and other startling performances." Though these antics were unfortunately not performed in Wheeling, the fact that the Register printed this national story speaks to the wide-ranging fascination with the Bloomers at the time. New York Bloomer girls were perhaps a bit more animated than most.[/caption] In 1904, the St. Louis Bloomers lost two close games in Woodfield, Ohio, but apparently did not visit Wheeling. In Parkersburg in 1905, the Star Bloomer Girls were reportedly un-Masked since "only four of the Aggregation Wore Genuine Dresses." (Intell. June 3, 1905, citing a Parkersburg Dispatch story) The team, on its way to play in Benwood and Wheeling, was said to be "awful." The male players were reportedly "made up in feminine attire calculated to strike cupid darts into the hearts of men in the bleachers." Another report from Sistersville on June 5 said the score was Windjammers 12, Bloomer Girls 11. Though close, the game was still ridiculed as a "farce" as only four women played. After this additional round of mockery, the Bloomers skipped Moundsville for Fairmont, reportedly disappointing "about half the force at the Fostoria [Glass]" who had taken off work to watch the game. In October of the same year, the Register reported that a local man named Walter "Chick" Venamen had returned home after traveling with a Bloomer Girls team throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and southern Canada. He reportedly had "the time of his life."

Fakes, Fatties, and Farces

The typical "canvas fence" is visible in this Bloomer Girl game.[/caption] In June 1907 the Moundsville “Mound City” baseball team arranged to play the original Boston Bloomer Girls, said to be "touring the country,” at Fifth Street park. The Boston Bloomers reportedly fielded an all-female team with the exception of the catcher. The female pitcher was said to be a “marvel” who had won many games already. The admission fee was a quarter to sit inside the fourteen foot high canvas enclosure. More than 800 paid full admission. The Bloomers lost 18 to 1. Despite the lopsided score, the Register reporter seemed satisfied that the game was real and not a farce, the ladies having played “remarkably well.” Still the writer expressed doubts that the Bloomer pitcher was female, claiming “Her features were decidedly masculine and her manner of delivery, speed and control not at all ladylike.” Nevertheless, the next day in the Intelligencer’s report, the writer claimed the crowd was disgusted because the Bloomers were “Fakes.” At least three were wearing wigs and fans left when the game became “dry,” swearing “roundly that never again will they be taken in as ‘suckers’ by Bloomer Girls, be they from Boston or Wegee.” In a decidedly sexist rejoinder, the Register countered their “trust organ” rival using the headline “(Is It To Laugh).”

“The criticisms remind one of the fellow who purchased ‘diamonds’ from a street fakir and afterwards denounced the fakir because they were not genuine. The Bloomer girls are no new innovation in the game of baseball. Several such teams have played in this city and in every instance the game was a farce. It was not thought that any person modernized enough to know better than to blow out the gas, would have gone to the game Saturday expecting to see a gilt-edged article of baseball. They should have been satisfied to see the girls prance about the field in bloomers with a ‘Wouldn’t you like to flirt with me?’ air, and if they looked good, accepted the invitation. Instead, many came away loudly protesting that they had been buncoed. Even the Mound City players appear to have been duped. They were entirely lacking in chivalry, playing the game as though they were playing a team of their equals, for championship honors. The girls were not given a chance to run the bases, thus the game was robbed of what should have been one of its most interesting features.”

Perhaps due to this perception, no incarnation of the Bloomers were reported at local ballparks again until four years had passed. In 1911, the Myers Provision team defeated a Bloomer Girls team 11 to 2 with the Register reporter taking the opportunity to, with typical nastiness, mock one of the women players, “fatty” whom he wrote, “if she had slid or if she had laid down and rolled she could have covered the ground much faster,” also implying that she was not a woman. The player’s name was Rosie and she had three of the Bloomer Girls’ seven hits, a solid outing for any ballplayer. On June 4, 1911, The Myers Provision Company team, a men's team from Wheeling managed by Fred Olson, featuring players named Sonnefeld, Hoyt, and Hennen, along with pitcher Minkmeyer, played a game of baseball against the "famous Star Bloomer girls" at Richland baseball park in what is now Warwood. "Before a crowd of 900," The Wheeling Intelligencer noted, "more than attend the Sunday Wheeling games, the Myers Provision Company team defeated the Star Bloomer Girls team yesterday at Richland Park by the one sided score of 16 to 2." The game was called a "farce" as Miss Hattie Kroll gave up "something like twenty hits" while "the bloomers were unable to solve Minkmeyer's curves and when they did hit the pill they were thrown out through their inability to run." After another three years, in 1914, a Springfield Ohio version of Bloomer Girls took on the Wheeling Mold & Foundry team on Wheeling Island on Labor Day. Expectations were high. “It has been noised about town,” the Intell. observed, “ that these girls are … the fastest base ball manipulators of their sex and have a margin on a number of teams of the male population…. They have defeated some of the strongest semi-pro teams in Ohio and Indiana and on their first appearance here will put on a good hard game.” But the Bloomers lost 20 to 3. Under the headline “BIG JOKE,” the Intell. reported small attendance for the “farce.” A year later the Bellaire Athletics defeated the “American” Bloomer Girls 15 to 5 at Sixteenth Street ballpark. Only four women played, including Betty Polen “twirler and first sacker,” whose “playing was nothing less than marvelous.” (Intell. June 14, 1915). At the end of June the Texas Bloomer Girls played the Mound City nine at Fifth Street Park, losing 8-2 in a “farce comedy” and a “poor exhibition of baseball.” Incidentally, that’s one "fake, one "fatty," and four “farces” so far -- if you’re keeping score at home. In October 1915 Benwood’s own Bloomer Girl team challenged the Hill Top Farm Boys to a game of baseball on the Hill Top Farm grounds for the championship of “we don’t know what championship, but nevertheless it is the championship of some place.” (Register, Oct. 10, 1915) There was no report on any result. Five years later, an ad in the Intelligencer beseeched people to “go to Akron and see the Bloomer Girls play.” Sponsored by the Miller Brothers Tire and Factory Company, this version, comprised of office and factory girls, promised to please “with their wonderful ability to play the national game.” In May 1921, the vaunted New York Bloomer Girls directly challenged one of the best local semi-professional clubs, the Bauers, who were previously profiled in Archiving Wheeling. Bauers manager J.J. “Jocke” Jacobucci was said to be considering the offer, which means Drucie Bauer was considering it. But, instead of NY vs. Bauers, the Chicago Bloomers (American Athletic Girls of Chicago) had an August showdown with the other local powerhouse, the McConkeys, or “Macks” and went down to defeat, 7-6 at Tunnel Green. A close game, in defiance of the hyperbolic headline: “Macks Wallop Athletic Girls.” The Bloomers had six hits and the Macks hit nine from Bloomer pitcher Peggy O’Neil. "Wallop" seems a tad inaccurate. On May 31, the Bellaire Athletics defeated the Westinghouse Bloomer Girls of Pittsburgh in a tight contest, 16-12. Both teams used female pitchers “to put the game on even terms.” In 1922, a first: Bloomer vs Bloomer as the North End played Burlington (Ferry) at League Park, with Leona Feeter (“the most remarkable girl ballplayer in the tri-state district”) pitching for Ferry. Unfortunately, the result was not reported. The Westinghouse Bloomer Girls from Pittsburgh took on the Macks in May 1924, losing 14 to 4 at Bauer Park in Fulton. They “would likely beat any girls’ team picked up by females of any section,” the Intelligencer allowed. Leona Feeter re-emerged in June, taking the “hurling slab” for the otherwise male White Sisleys “to even up matters” in a battle with the Westinghouse Bloomers. Unfortunately, the game was rained out. A Powhatan Bloomer Girl team with a male battery was organized in 1926 by Miss Mary Andes. They were searching for opponents in June, however, no games were reported. The last local reference to a Bloomer Girls’ team appeared in the Intelligencer of June 27, 1927 as the “famous Western Bloomer Girls” were scheduled to play the Mound City A.C. team on the high school athletic field. The outcome was not reported. Also in 1927, Maude Nelson brought her Ranger Girls (who would later employ Rose Gacioch) to the Ohio Valley. The Intell. called them: "a mighty good brand of ballplayers featuring the best female pitcher in the country." After winning 3 of 7 games in Pittsburgh, they lost their first OV contest to Windsor 17-6 at Plummer Field in Power, with Miss Watson on the mound. They were scheduled to play the Macks on July 2 with Maude herself pitching. In a passive aggressive preview, the Intell. reported: "She has the reputation of being the greatest woman hurler in the world -- if that means anything." Despite all the hype, no result could be found. Adding up the results we do have, Bloomer Girl teams won 2 and lost 13 to Ohio Valley men's teams. Four of the games, including one against the vaunted Macks, were decided by only one run.

Basketball in Bloomers

The Bloomer Girl formula was also tried for basketball. On November 25, 1914, the Boston Bloomer Girls basketball team lost 46 to 24 to the St. Clairsville Independents, even with an allegedly “local male player disguised as a girl,” scoring 20 of the 24. The following March, the Bloomered basketeers lost a game to the Martins Ferry All-Collegians at Armory Hall, 38-8.

Be-Whiskered Barnstormers: The House of David

"Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." Leviticus 19:27 "The House of David at Benton Harbor Mich., the cult that decrees whiskers for all male members, still supports a be-whiskered baseball team of considerable class. Four or Five years ago the House of David ball team made an eastern tour and it went over big. It is claimed by teams that played host to them in the East that after each game baseballs had a habit of disappearing regularly. Whether the House of David players hid loose balls in their whiskers is not known. The finger of suspicion was frequently pointed at the luxurious growth of foliage which adorned the House of David chins." -Wheeling Register Sports Columnist Ed Sullivan, May 1926

Founded in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton Harbor Michigan, the House of David was a religious colony to some, a cult to others. Contrary to popular belief, they were not Jewish. Instead, they called themselves, "Christian Israelites" and "Israelite House of David." Rules included a vegetarian diet, celibacy until marriage, no smoking or drinking, and for the men, no shaving or haircuts. This, of course, gave them a rather unusual appearance by Edwardian standards. The colony experimented with innovative farming methods and fruit canning, produced its own electricity, ran an amusement park and zoo, and established a highly regarded orchestra (which played in Wheeling) and jazz band. They also had a baseball team -- a first rate one by barnstorming standards. The team traveled all over the United States and even into Canada and Mexico to play ball, taking on Negro League teams, local semi-pro teams, industrial teams, and even Major League teams in baseball exhibition games that helped fund the church and spread the word. They also invented the hugely popular circus-like baseball juggling  "Pepper Game." Under manager Francis Thorpe, they played winning baseball, with stars like power hitting Jesse Lee "Doc" Tally, Austin "Tex" Williams, Hubert "Hip" Vaughn, Walter "Dutch" Faust, Dwight "Zeke" Bauschke, and Charlie Falkentstein. The famous "Pepper Team" featured Thorpe, Tally, John Tucker, and George "Andy" Anderson.  Babe Didrikson (at left), playing donkey baseball with the House of David. Long story.[/caption] In the late 1930s, they often did their barnstorming with the Kansas City Monarchs, a highly regarded Negro League team. The City of David team (a 1930s spin off) played often against Satchel Paige's All Stars. Satchel himself sometimes pitched for the House of David. The House of David also barnstormed in basketball with Satchel when he was with the Harlem Globetrotters. In the 1930s, the world's greatest female athlete, Babe Didrikson Zaharais played for the Davids.

"The Nationally Known Girl (Southpaw) Pitcher"

Babe was not the only woman to play for the House of David. In 1933, a 19 year old pitching phenom named Jackie Mitchell joined for a short time with her mother as chaperone. Remember her? The bane of Ruth and Gehrig pitched one inning in a game against the major league Cardinals won by the Davids, 8-6. Soon after, having grown tired of the clownishness of the team, she retired. Pitching phenom Jackie Mitchell brought her talents to Wheeling for a day.[/caption] And that seemed to be the end of her story. But a quick search of the Wheeling newspapers revealed something surprising and delightful. It seems in 1934, Ms. Mitchell was brought to Wheeling by Stogie management to pitch an exhibition against the Johnstown team. Her strikeouts of the Yankee "siege guns" had made her a legend. She spent the early afternoon signing autographs at Geo. E. Stifel Co. Store on Main Street, and her evening at Stogie Field "setting the Jawns down with one hit and no runs in the two innings she pitched." Amazing. Incidentally, the Davids also had their own version of Bloomer Girls, the House of David Girls Baseball team, which included six men. Accomplished self-promoters, the Davids traveled with their own lighting equipment and were among the first to play night baseball. They built their own ballpark that was also used by a local amateur team. And yes, they played fairly often in Wheeling, where the local newspapermen delighted in mocking their facial hair with alliterative zeal. Examples include: "bearded boys"; "bearded wonders"; "bearded tossers"; "Bearded Ball Club"; "bewhiskered ball tossers";  "bewhiskered Michigan nine"; "bewhiskered mean from Benton Harbor";  "unshaved baseball aggregation"; "shaveless athletes"; "famous baseball players of the flowing beards"; "long haired wonders"; "Long Haired Gentry from Benton Harbor";  "the hairy tribe"; "luxuriant foliage"; "grow spinach on their chins and are proud of it;" and  "growing whiskers that make them resemble grandfathers rather than ballplayers." Jackie Mitchell signed autographs at Stifel when she visited Wheeling in 1934.[/caption] The strangest comment came from the Register, which wrote: "Restaurants refuse to serve either soup or spaghetti to the Davids to keep from violating the anti-noise laws." Ha ha. Usually after these not-so-witty jibes, the next paragraph would begin with something like: "But they can play ball ..." Well, that they could. In researching local appearances, the number of articles about the founder Benjamin Purnell's legal woes, including sexual misconduct, often outstripped any mention in the sports columns. Purnell died in 1927 at age 66. The colony split into two different factions and baseball teams, such as the Mary's (Purnell) City of David. Both of the teams claimed to be the "original" House of David.

The Greatest Show on Dirt vs The Ohio Valley

Fred White of the Ohio Valley Inter-City Baseball League was reportedly dickering with House of David manager Francis Thorpe to get the team to the Valley as early as 1922. But there was no contest reported that year. The next year was a different story, as White managed to book the Davids for a July 15 game at League Park in Ferry against the vaunted McConkey nine. The McConkeys staged a 5-run eighth inning rally to win this first ever matchup "in one of the most spectacular games of the season,"  7-6 before an overflowing crowd of 3,000. In 1924, the Davids returned to the Valley to take on the White Sisley team of Martins Ferry, with the bewhiskered ball tossers from Michigan prevailing 8 to 3, again at League Park. The next day, the House of David won again, beating the Shadyside Athletics, 7 to 3. While the baseball teams was not around in 1925, the House of David Orchestra played a dance at the Market Auditorium. The baseballers returned in 1928, losing the Moundsville A.C. 5 to 4. Then in May, the House of David got its rematch with the McConkeys, losing 4 to 2, this time at Bauer Park. Freese had 3 hits for the winners. In 1930, the big game finally happened. The House of David, fresh off a series of games against major league teams in training camps all over the south, was scheduled to play the Wheeling Stogies at Bauer Park. The Davids had just beaten the New York Giants 6 to 3. The Intelligencer's April 28 headline told the tale: "House of David Wallops Smokes Easily 4-1." The Davids outpitched the Stogies with curve ball specialist Paul O'Grady in "midseason" form after the barnstorming trip. This time "wallop" seemed a justifiable verb. The Register carried the Old Alex story in July 1931.[/caption] In 1931, retired 44 year old Major League "bad boy" pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (HOF 1938) joined the House of David , traveling the "kerosene circuit" (the Davids were among the first teams to play night baseball) as a player coach. He was "allowed to shave by special order." For some games, he pitched the first three innings. Old Alex's team was scheduled to play the Stogies on May 5 at Stogie Park in Fulton, with the Smokes pulling a 2-4-3 triple play to defeat the Davids in another nail-biter, 5-4. But according to the Register, Alexander missed the game after injuring his foot on the brass rail of a speakeasy in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The Babe with a fake beard.In 1932, the House of David returned to play Wheeling Corrugating. This time Alexander made the trip, pitching a 1-2-3 first inning, while the team, "kept their whiskers untangled long enough" to win 3-2 before an audience of 600 at Fulton Field. According to reports, Alexander usually left the field and returned to his hotel when his time on the mound ended. "It's baseball, and life is like that," he explained in an interview [Intell., April 15, 1932]. Alexander continued with the House of David util 1935. In 1934, a former (2 year) House of David player named Andy Stravaco joined the Wheeling Stogies and had two hits in five at bats during his first game, appearing, as the Register reported "sans whiskers." Ha ha. In 1935, the Intell. reported that the House of David offered Babe Ruth, who had ended his career playing for the Boston Braves and had just hit his 714th home run at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, $20,000 to play for them without being "required to grow a flowing beard." As a promotional stunt, Ruth was photographed with a fake beard. He did not, however, sign with the Davids. While the House of David baseball squad continued to barnstorm against Mid Atlantic teams in the state and against major league teams during spring training, their appearances in the Ohio Valley trailed off after 1936.

Be-Whiskered Basketball at the Capitol?

 The House of David vs the Harlem Globetrotters.[/caption] In addition to baseball, and like the Bloomer Girls, the House of David also boasted a basketball team. [But] "The Davids will never take up football, the Intell predicted, "Grabbing a handful of whiskers while making a tackle carries too many hazards." Troy Polamalu would probably agree. [ February 1933 Intell ad for the basketball game between the House of David and Wheeling Corrugating.[/caption] In 1933, the House of David basketball team made its Wheeling debut, taking on local champions Wheeling Corrugating. After a screening of the film, "So This is Africa" the two teams took to the "Mammoth" Capitol stage for a 10:30 PM contest. Starting "an assembly of All-American basketball stars," the House of David had reportedly won "96 victories in 102 starts." Corrugating starters included "Gyp" Battles, Lou Modar, Gov Flading, Dick Ralston, and Fritz Vandrey. The Corrugating Foreman won the game 48-47 on the strength of Modar's two last-minute baskets. The House of David team frequently toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. Other barnstorming hardcourt teams included The Terrible Swedes, Cumberland Posey's (Homestead Grays) Iron City Elks, The New York Celtics, and Katie Smith's Celts.

House of David Imitators

Given their barnstorming success, it's unsurprising that the House of David had its share of imitators. In May 1930, for example, a "Colored House of David" team was schedule to make an appearance against the Hershey Electrics at City Park in Martins Ferry. The Intelligencer predicted this would be "the strongest team to ever to play in the Wheeling district," having won 131 out of 152 games the previous season while fielding former Homestead Grays stars [Jake?] Stevens and Jay Washington. The team reportedly hailed from Clinton Iowa and a record crowd was expected. Unfortunately, no result could be found. Research also did not reveal additional details about this mysterious team, but there are records of a "Van Dyke Colored House of David" team from Sioux City Iowa. They apparently sometimes wore fake beards. The problem is that the Van Dykes were established in 1934. So what of this Clinton Iowa team? The search continues. Barnstorming clearly favored the odd. According to Tim Wiles at the MLB Hall of Fame, “There were teams of fat men, teams of one-legged men, blind teams, all-brother teams." Did any of these come to Wheeling? Stay tuned? But among the oddities were legitimate attempts to share the game with interested newbies.

Barnstorming Japan

Linsly standout Herb Hunter threw right-handed and batted lefty.

Born in Boston on Christmas Day, 1895, Herbert Harrison Hunter enjoyed a brief (39 day) major league baseball career as a versatile infielder-outfielder. Intending to go to West Point and pursue a military career, (and providing our reason for considering him) he attended and graduated from Wheeling's Linsly Military Institute (1915), where he played impressive baseball at first base, attracting the attention of pro scouts. He batted .571 for the Cadets and was also a football star.

Hunter played for the Stogies in 1915.

After a stint with the Wheeling Stogies, Hunter signed with the New York Giants, was traded to the Chicago Cubs, then the Boston Red Sox, then the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hunter played on an American team that toured Japan, where the game was exploding in popularity, in 1920. Members of that team behaved questionably, showboating and bench jockeying, leaving a sour impression on Japanese spectators.

Meanwhile Hunter (who continued to play minor league ball) started coaching college baseball in Japan. The Japanese loved him (he was presented with two ceremonial swords) and invited Hunter to bring a team of American major league players to barnstorm in Japan in 1922. With Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis's blessing, Hunter became a baseball ambassador. His "All Americans" (including Casey Stengel, Wait Hoyt, and Bob Meusel) played in Waseda Japan, Seoul South Korea, and Peking China. They were once again accused of clowning and then allowing a Japanese team to win to spark ticket sales, which was taken as a serious insult by the Japanese. By not taking the game seriously, the Americans had unwittingly violated the Japanese "Spirit of Bushido," or "the way of the warrior," featuring justice, honor, and respect.

Nevertheless, a Japanese college team traveled to New Jersey in 1926 (and again in 1927) to play a team managed by Hunter and other local teams. Hunter took Ty Cobb to Japan in 1928 and Lou Gehrig and Lefty Grove along with Al Simmons in 1931. The latter team went 17-0. In 1934, the Bambino went along to the great delight of the Japanese, but Herb was left out of that trip. Ruth hit 14 dingers as the Americans again went 17-0.

Hunter then took a football squad to Japan in 1935. He continued this sports diplomacy work until 1940 when rising tensions followed by the attack on Pearl Harbor brought a halt to all of it.

Herb Hunter continued to work as an umpire, moving to Florida, where he died as a hotel manager in 1970.  His daughter was named Lindsley Hunter Smith, perhaps in honor of the place where he played his best baseball. Herb Hunter's 1922 All-Stars.[/caption]


Hawkins, J. and Bertolino, T. “House of David Baseball Team.” Arcadia. Images of America. 2000.

Honig, D. “Baseball When the Grass Was Real: Baseball from the Twenties to the Forties, Told by the Men Who Played It.” University of Nebraska Press. 1993.

Lester, L. and Miller, S. “Black Baseball in Pittsburgh.” Arcadia. 2001.

Ritter, L.S. “The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It.”

Harper. 2010. Shattuck, D.A. “Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers. University of Illinois Press. 2017.

Society for American Baseball Research.

Wheeling Daily Register. Various (see text). 1901-1950.

Wheeling Intelligencer Various (see text). 1901-1950.

Whiting, R. “You Gotta Have Wa: When Two Cultures Collide on the Baseball Diamond. Macmillan. 1989.



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