Richland’s Season of Blue Baseball: 1906

They were called Blue Laws.  There are a dozen speculations about where that name came from but none of them sound particularly convincing, that’s just what they have been called since the 1600s in Colonial America.

The Blue Laws regulated what you could and couldn’t do on Sunday.  What you couldn’t do was just about anything; what you could do was go to church, that’s it.

The Blue Laws have faded in and out of relevance throughout various eras and decades.  Naturally they were very important and much enforced during the Puritan part of our history.  They made a big comeback in the 1840s, too, when religion swept like an epidemic fever through the frontier: suddenly everyone was quite concerned about what everybody else was doing on the Sabbath Day, and willing to haul them into jail if it was the wrong thing.

In Richland County the Blue Laws were just a quiet backdrop that was commonly accepted as the American way of life all through the 19th century.  On Sundays basically the towns shut down so there wasn’t a whole lot you could do anyhow other than church events.

But then the new century flipped over the calendar and a growing energy built as the Mansfield Railway, Light & Power Company strung wires out to North Lake Park for a roller coaster.  The weekend started to look like it might get fun.

Young people were all excited about Sundays and, since the amusement park had nothing to do with church, a cadre of Clergy got together and shook the law books to drag out those venerable old Blue Laws.  That’s when the war began in 1906.

The Opening Bell

The first battle of the war didn’t amount to much.  The Sheriff was called upon to shut down the roller coaster one Sunday.  The owner went to court Monday, got an injunction and a continuance, and the next Sunday he cranked up the coaster as if nothing had happened.

The ministers decided that their first token offensive was a failure because it targeted the wrong bit of Sunday entertainment…so they retrenched, switched tactics, and went after Sunday Baseball.

Round Two

The second battle in the war against fun took place at League Park in Mansfield at the beginning of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League season, when the Sheriff walked out to the pitchers mound in the 8th Inning and took away the ball.

It was such a shock that the crowd, the Mansfield Tigers, the Youngstown Champs were all just speechless.  They were more confused and hurt than anything, and they all drifted away from the park like they weren’t quite attached to the ground.

League Park in Mansfield was located on the streetcar line that went out to the Ohio State Reformatory. The ballpark was situated west of the intersection of Newman & Wayne Streets, in some acreage that is today occupied by industrial buildings and parking lots.

Round Three

As a precaution, the Mansfield team moved their May 20 Sunday game to Shelby.  They were taking on the Sharon (PA) Steels and the event drew quite a crowd in that new setting.  The game was only into the early innings when Constable Buck marched out onto the field and stopped the game.

It’s not like it was a big surprise.  Everybody in Shelby had been hearing the distant thunder approaching for a month in the sermons from certain churches, and in the posturing of certain city leaders.  Storm clouds were on the horizon all week as baseball fans anticipated a League game in town, and though the weather was sunny and fine that day the first crack of thunder resounded as soon as the Constable set foot on the ball diamond.

The tempest really blew in earnest, however, when the indignant spectators—2000 of them—all rose as one and stormed out of the stands.  It was like a summer flash flood and it swept the lawmen right off the field.

In Shelby, at least, there was not a lot more said after that day about curtailing Sunday baseball.

Sunday May 20, 1906 a crowd in Shelby expressed their opposition to local Blue Laws in a rather definitive manner.
This photograph was published and mailed as a postcard a couple weeks later.

The Shelby ballpark easily accommodated 2000 fans within and on top of its fences.

Round Four

As incensed as the local clergy may have been about baseball fans flouting the Laws of Blue—as defined by the Laws of God—as defined by the local ministers—the simple fact was that lawmen were not going to fly in the face of angry baseball fans without some judge ordering them to do so.  And the judges weren’t issuing any warrants unless some minister actually swore out a complaint.  And for all of their righteous posturing, none of the ministers actually wanted to climb into that tipsy boat.

There were also some very odd political ramifications about the whole battle as well, because the pro-Sunday baseball faction and the anti-Sunday baseball factions very creepily lined up along party lines.  No one wanted to see the other side come out ahead but no one particularly wanted to risk votes in the struggle.  So with both the Democrats and the Republicans stymied, Sunday baseball went on mostly as scheduled all summer long, and the Sheriff just prayed for rain on Sundays.

By the end of July, the 1906 summer season suddenly got unseasonable hot, and correspondingly, as his sanctuary was turning into an oven, the moody Baptist minister got hot under the clerical collar.  (His name was actually Rev. Moody.)  He launched a new frontal attack on baseball, and the teams and fans who seemed to be the only ones having fun in the heat.

The paperwork was filed, the warrants were sworn, and poor Sheriff Baer was handed the order to go clear League Park in Mansfield.  The Sheriff well knew from the Shelby fiasco that he could be walking onto a hornet’s nest, so he quickly deputized a small army of Sunday constables to accompany him, and he devised a blitzkrieg tactic.

They entered the ballpark en masse and quickly nabbed all the Mansfield Tigers and hustled them off the field before anyone could react.  The team lined up in the courthouse and they each paid a $2.50 fine for their crime.  Then they arranged to play all their Sunday games out of town.

A Blue Season

It was demoralizing being harassed about their Sunday morals, and the Mansfield Tigers played pretty lousy ball all through the season of Blue Baseball.  It wasn’t until two years later—when the weather vane of ethical judgment finally turned around in a fresh wind—that the Mansfield team began to win again.

For many years afterward—they were still talking about it in the 1930s—people remembered that 1906 season like a weird dream, and they had to wonder was it all about morality, really?  Here is the final word on that:

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