*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.
As the World Series gets near, I thought it might be interesting to look at Evansville and baseball.
First, look at this beauty—Bosse Field. It opened June 17, 1915, making it the third oldest professional baseball park still in use in the country, behind only Fenway (1912) and Wrigley (1914). It was named for the then mayor of Evansville, Benjamin Bosse.
If you have not been there, but still think it looks a little familiar—A League of their Own, with Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna was filmed here. It is the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during WWII. They were portraying the Rockford Peaches; this is an authentic uniform from that time, from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as shown in the Library of Congress Magazine July/August 2018, p. 17. The Material Girl famously complained that being in Evansville was like being in Prague, but that is another story…. If you have not seen it, check it out from our library—it is in the DVD section with the call number PN1997 .L4342 2004.
Here’s a quick listing of the 12 teams that have called Bosse Field home:
The two most recent teams to play at Bosse Field were the Triplets and the Otters. “The American Association Evansville Triplets called Bosse Field home from 1970 to 1984. The Triplets were affiliates of the Minnesota Twins in 1970, the Milwaukee Brewers from 1971 to 1973, and the Detroit Tigers from 1974 to 1984. At least three future Hall of Famers played minor league baseball for Evansville at Bosse Field, including Chuck Klein (Evansville Hubs in 1927), Hank Greenburg (Evansville Hubs in 1931), and Warren Spahn (Evansville Braves in 1941).”
One of the better-known Triplets was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who played at Bosse Field in 1975 until he was called up to the Detroit Tigers. His nickname came from his resemblance to the Sesame Street character, Big Bird. “The curly haired right-hander was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1976, when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. But injuries cut short his career, and he ended up spending only five seasons in the major leagues, all with the Detroit Tigers. He was 29-19 with a 3.10 ERA.” Here he is signing an autograph for a young fan back in August 1977.
One of the funny/interesting/shocking? (You pick the adjective) things about Major League Baseball during the 1970’s-1990’s was the appearance of Morganna the Kissing Bandit. She was an exotic dancer who was known to rush the field during (mostly baseball, but not exclusively) games and plant a kiss on a player. Johnny Bench, George Brett (twice), Steve Garvey and Cal Ripken Jr. were all objects of her affection. On June 14, 1978, she visited Bosse Field and surprised Triplets’ pitcher Fernando Arroyo.
Evansville’s own Don Mattingly also got smooched. Mattingly played high school baseball for Memorial High School at Bosse Field in the late 1970s before signing with the Yankees. In point of fact, the official address of the field is 23 Don Mattingly Way.
Since 1995, Bosse Field has been home to the Evansville Otters, an independent Frontier League team. They were the first franchise team to attract more than 100,000 fans in a season. The Frontier League’s 14th Annual All-Star Game was played at Bosse Field. The West Division, in which the Otters play, won that game. That was in 2006, and the Otters won the League championship over the Chillicothe Paints; the Otters won again in 2016.
Interest in baseball in Evansville preceded the building of Bosse Field. In the earliest part of the 20th century, Evansville teams were part of the Three-I League. “The Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League was colloquially known as the “Three-I League”. Formed as a Class D League in 1901, the Three-I became a Class B operation in 1902 and stayed at that level until its demise after the 1961 season. Like most minor leagues of the era, the Three-I went dark for a several seasons during World War I (1918), the Great Depression (1933-1934 & 1936) and World War II (1943-1945). In addition to Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, the Three-I League also included occasional entries from Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. After dropping to only six clubs in the league membership during the 1961 season, the Three-I League folded on January 7, 1962.” On the 1901 scorecard below, the Evansville team was the River Rats.
The title of this blog is obviously a reference to the classic baseball song, famously sung during the 7th inning stretch. It’s the third most song sung after “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” All that we generally hear is the chorus, but the verse tells of a girl who was baseball-mad. When her beau arrived Saturday to take her to the movies, she said no, but you can “take me out to the ball game….” This simple but memorable little song was written in 1908 by a man named Jack Norwich. While riding on a subway in New York, he saw a billboard about an upcoming baseball game, took a scrap of paper, and penned the well-known lyrics. Ironically, Norwich had never been to a baseball game! Although the song was an instant hit, it did not become a part of MLB games until 1934. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
There’s even a slight Evansville connection here. Norwich’s second wife was Louise Dresser, an actress from Evansville. Dresser was her stage name—she was not related to songwriter Paul Dresser or novelist Theodore Dreiser (Paul Dresser’s brother). Her family was friends with Paul Dresser, and it was thought that having the same name would help her career. The ploy worked, and she went on to a successful show business career.
Here’s hoping the semester is going well for you, and that “your” team wins the World Series. Play ball!
Fidrych, 54, dies in apparent accident (AP article April 14, 2009 on ESPN website
Fun While It Lasted: Lively Tales About Dead Teams blog. Three-I League (1901-1961)
Jewish Women’s Archive: Encyclopedia– Louise Dresser 1878-1965. Erticle by M. Alison Kibler.
JUGS Sports: The True Story Behind “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
Library of Congress Magazine July/August 2018 (the entire issue is about baseball)
Reichard, Kevin. “Bosse Field: A century of baseball history.” Baseball Digest online, June 17, 2015.