The Industrial Leagues of Mansfield: 1902-1933

The city’s first wave of substantial industrial employment happened to correspond to the nation’s first wave of enthusiasm for the National Pastime.

Then the city’s next huge wave of immigrant labor corresponded to what is known as ‘the golden era’ of baseball: so balls and bats became the common denominator that united new Americans: speaking different languages, but running the same base paths on the ball field.

In 1907, the Renner-Weber team had men who spoke five different languages or dialects from areas of eastern, southern, and central Europe, but when they all put on the same uniform they were no longer Hunkies or Krauts; they were not Catholics or Protestants or Jews: they were all simply Mansfielders.  And on the day one of them hit the ball out of the park: he was nothing but a hero.  

The true Melting Pot of this city was the Industrial League.

Mr. Renner and Mr. Weber, the founders of Mansfield’s largest brewery, were born in Germany, and their employee baseball team in the Industrial League was similarly made largely of ballplayers who spoke Bohemian, German, Austrian, and Hungarian. Those who were not German were Irish.

First Up

In the 1800s Mansfield was very much a baseball town, with a series of professional teams, an enthusiastic base of fans, and a bona fide League Park.  But by the turn of the century those inter-state leagues were faltering, and baseball fans were left with a haphazard summer of random teams and sporadic games.

So, in 1902 the city’s first industrial league was organized to fill the stands at the ball park.  In that inaugural season there were six teams, and by 1903 interest was so wild that the league baseball news regularly took up an entire Sports Page by itself.

Mansfield News, August 3, 1903

Every sentence on this page is about the Industrial League: August 1903. Inviting everyone to the ballgame, the Mansfield News promised, “Enthusiasm will be unconfined and the fans can yell, howl or cheer just as they feel.”

Aultman Taylor’s first string team 1907

In the beginning years, Shop League ball was played on fields in the Flats: at the Steel Mill, at Ohio Brass; down the street from Mansfield Tire at League Park; or at the Fairgrounds.  Throughout the further decades there were many more parks available, including Tappan Field, Prospect Park, Liberty Park, North Lake Park and Johns Park.  

But the official home of the Industrial Leagues was built on Fourth Street specifically for the factory ball teams.  In 1919, with Prohibition about to be enforced, the chief Industrialists of Mansfield realized that their workers’ primary form of entertainment was about to be taken out of play: the saloons were going to stop selling alcohol.  Hoping to provide an alternative focus for all that after-hours energy, the Davey Brothers, owners of Mansfield Sheet & Tin Plate Co., built a sports complex next to the B&O tracks known for a generation as Davey Field.

Hughes-Keenan at bat, they led the entire afternoon. Ohio Brass came back in the last two innings with 8 runs, however, and took the game 11-10. Davey Field Industrial League circa 1920.  

Right behind that fence, like less than 2 feet behind that fence, is West Fourth Street.

The Aultman Taylor team poses on the Fourth Street ball grounds before it became Davey Field, about 1911-14.

Many Industrial League games were played at the Richland County Fairgrounds on Springmill Street, but it was not a preferred site for baseball because the grandstands were built for viewing horse races and the ball diamond was situated across the track, a distance from the fans’ seats. This photo was taken before a game on a Saturday when the teams staged some extracurricular racing events.

Mansfield Tire team 1914.

League Park was on Newman Street at the end of the Wayne Street streetcar line. It was also within shouting distance of the Mansfield Tire & Rubber Co. factory. The park was built during the 1890s when the city’s professional teams were part of the Ohio State League, the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, or the Interstate League. When those professional teams lapsed, it became home to the Mansfield’s Industrial League.

Sunny Days and Brilliant Nights

For the first decade of Industrial League play, games were scheduled on Saturday afternoons.  As the competition grew and shop teams multiplied, the schedule expanded to include “second shift games.”  In the 1920s, the first shift at factories came to be known as ‘Ace Shift,’ not because they employed the most adroit workers, but because every team had to have their ace pitchers and sluggers off work by 4 PM.

All of that changed in 1933 when Blue Goose Field on Route 430 became the first venue in the city to put up light poles and start hosting night games. 

In the Thirties it was called ‘electric ball.’

The Blue Goose ball field was the only lighted venue in Mansfield for a decade: this photo was taken in June 1938. Located east of town on the Wooster Road (also known at different times as Lincoln Highway, US Route 30, and State Route 430), the ball ground was big enough to host circuses like the “Mighty Sheesley Midway” carnival in 1941.

From the Ohio Brass Observer 1930

The Westinghouse team was known within baseball circles as the ‘Westies.’

Mansfield News July 27, 1924

Off Season

It didn’t take many years before the term ‘Industrial League’ came to encompass far more than baseball.  The factory shops started putting together basketball teams before WWI, playing at the YMCA.  

By far the most popular and populous of all the factory sports organizations were the bowling leagues that went on for more than 60 years.

In the 1950s and ‘60s there was the Industrial Golf League.  In the 1970s it was slow-pitch softball.

Mansfield News April 4, 1920.

Cover of the Ohio Brass in-house news magazine.

Into the Past:

There was a ball field at Liberty Park in 1935 even before the rest of the park was put together, and it was a chief sports field for the Industrial League from the start. The field was lighted in 1948, and after those electrical systems failed in the 1970s, lights were re-placed to Liberty from Arlin Field in 1989.

Without a doubt, the ballfield used by the Industrial League that has survived to our time most intact is at Prospect Park. The backstop was built and the field graded in 1928.

Tappan Field, built behind the factory on Laird Avenue in 1927, was in continual use through the 1970s and had brief revivals in the decades since. Yesterday I went to get a picture of Tappan Field. It had been 20 years since the last photo I took there, and at that time it had not been used in at least two decades, yet the base paths looked clean as if the team had just taken the day off. And the Tappan factory at that time, though empty, still cast its shadow across the bleachers.

Today the factory is long gone and the property is owned by someone who stores dozens of dumpsters in the outfield. I was able to locate the infield by the light poles still standing. The bleachers are all engulfed in many hearty shades of flora, and the backstop sports a dazzling arrangement of poison ivy. I hope some Urban Ruins photographer can capture its pristine descent into green.

One of the great bonds of friendship in a community combining immigrants with natives, that makes friends from strangers, is the alchemy of sweat on the basepaths; of loss behind the plate; of hard-won victory when the outfield races in after the last out.
The men who labored in Mansfield’s factories had Unions to bind their fortunes together, but they had teams to help them act and react as one.
Life is a tough game, but a man doesn’t mind losing at baseball when the game creates the energy that cements neighbors into teammates.

For more background on local Ball Fields:

The Life and Afterlife of Davey Field

Richland’s Season of Blue Baseball: 1906

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