As with many states, the debate over playing baseball on Sunday was a contentious one in Nebraska. Like many states Nebraska had its share of notorious "Blue" laws. On the books was a law which prohibits "sporting" on the Sabbath day. The question was one of whether baseball was included under the definition of sporting. It is interesting that in the first part of the century no one questioned the meaning of the "Sabbath". The first blue laws were passed in the late 1700's. Pennsylvania passed theirs in 1794. When Nebraska became a state in 1867 the legislature copied other states in crafting its set of Sunday Blue Laws.
In the early 1900's major cities of the midwest rethought the Sunday laws. By 1902, St. Louis and Chicago both allowed Sunday baseball. This led a Nebraska City team to stage a Sunday game. The town had just voted 826 to 16 in favor of Sunday baseball. The local law enforcment did not care about the vote. Ralph Glazier, Frank Mays, Harry Seay, Laud A. Miller, Gust Kurth, Fred Guy, Frank Hamer, Ed Delay and Ben Meyers were arrested. They tried to arrange for a change in venue for the trail but were denied. The case went all the way to the Nebraska supreme court.
In 1903 the Nebraska supreme court reaffirmed a decision originally made in 1893 that outlawed Sunday baseball. The law in question said "Sporting rioting, quarreling, hunting, fishing or shooting" was banned by the law. The law applied to anyone 14 years in age or older and the penalty was a fine of $20.00 and/or 20 days in jail. In their decision the court wrote " There is a reason to believe that the deliberate violation of this law is but the commencement of a series of offenses that lead to infamy. It tends to break down the moral sense of the participants and make them less worthy" The net result was that four players in Nebraska City spent ten days in jail for playing baseball on Sunday.
On July 4, 1905 ten ball players in Fremont were arrested for playing ball on Sunday after a complaint by Mrs. C. C. Beveridge.
In 1907, the owners of the Lincoln Western League team approached various civic organizations about playing some of their games on Sunday. Eventually they decided that it was not prudent to take on those who opposed Sunday ball. However, towards the end of the season they did schedule and play a game on Sunday in Lincoln. Based on a complaint by Rev. Samuel Zane Batten, both teams, Lincoln and Des Moines were arrested. The Des Moines players were fined $1.00 per player and costs by Judge Risser. Ducky Holmes, manager of Lincoln team and the Lincoln players were fined $5.00 each.
In 1908, Sunday ball was forbidden by law in Ohio but the Reds scheduled and played Sunday games without complaint. In 1909, Indiana and Minnesota legalized Sunday ball. In Nebraska, the Omaha MInisterial Alliance and the Beatrice Ministerial Alliance both publically condemned Sunday ball.
By 1910, Grand Island, Fremont and Columbus, in the Nebraska State League, allowed games to occur on Sunday. How they managed this as the state law was still on the books is not particularly clear. Other teams in the league played their Sunday games in nearby towns. Seward played its Sunday games in Staplehurst. In July, Justice Gladwish had the Seward and Red Cloud teams arrested for playing on Sunday in Staplehurst.
Columbus is a good example of the type of dialog that occured in 1910 over Sunday baseball. The discussion started with a meeting at the Congregational Church on April 29th. According to the Columbus paper, about 50 men attended the meeting. It was estimated that about 15 were against Sunday baseball and the rest were in favor of Sunday ball. Rev. Wm Dibble of the Congregational church, D Roush of the First Methodist Church and Wm. Hackerman of the German Methodist Church represented the clergy and President Dan Schram represented the baseball club.
The club indicated that they located the baseball park in a less than ideal area so that the crowd and noise would not impact any of the residential areas of the town. County attorney Hensley was not opposed to playing baseball on Sunday. By the end of the meeting it was concluded that Sunday ball would not face organized opposition. As a result the Nebraska State League scheduled Sunday games for Columbus.
Other teams in the league faced organized opposition to Sunday ball. Their recourse was to either not schedule Sunday games or go to a nearby town where there would be no opposition or a county attorney/sheriff who were not going to enforce the law.
In 1910, Nebraska City faced considerable opposition to playing its games on Sunday. They did not schedule any home games on Sunday, however in June a pickup game featuring a number of Nebraska City players caused a ruckus. They played the game at the "Driving Park" in front of a large crowd. This prompted a complaint by the Rev. A. J. Koser and a number of the players were arrested for playing on the Sabbath.
Attendance data from the 1928 Nebraska State League season indicates the importance of Sunday ball to the economic health of a franchise. For 1928 the average franchise had three times more fans in the park on Sunday when compared to other days of the week. For example, Lincoln averaged 141 paid attendance on weekdays and 782 fans on Sunday. For many cities Sunday ball meant the difference between solvency and failure.
In 1911, led by Senator Henry Bartling from Otoe County the Nebraska legislature passed a law to legalize Sunday baseball but the governor vetoed the bill. Kearney fans wrote to the legislature in support of Sunday baseball. They wrote in part "We submit that a law prohibiting Sunday baseball is unconstitutional in its motive. It is an attempt to use the power of the state to enforce upon one class of citizens the religious opinions of another class". The legislature tried to override the veto but fell six votes short.
In 1913, the legislature took up the issue once again. The Beatrice Ministerial Association was unanimous in its opposition to the bill. Led by Rev. C. F. Stevens they sent a resolution opposing Sunday ball to each member of the legislature from Gage county. The pastors of the Episcopal, Centenary M. E. church, Congregational, First Christian, Trinity Lutheran, First Presbyterian and First Baptist church were all in opposition to Sunday ball. Interestingly, Rev. L. D. Young of the First Presbyterian church later stated that his church had taken no action on the issue and would not take action until the "proper time comes".
In 1914 the hot issue of the local elections was whether to allow Sunday baseball and whether the town would be "wet" or dry". Papillion went "wet" in 1914. McCook, Anselmo, Schuyler, Blair, Broken Bow, Callaway, Oshkosh, Sterling, Upland, Hebron Eustis, Gibbon, Sterling and Hartington voted to allow Sunday baseball. Norfolk voted to allow both Sunday baseball and Sunday moving pictures. Ashland voted to remain "dry" but voted to allow Sunday baseball. Kearney voted in favor of saloons, for Sunday baseball and to put in street lights along major streets. Beatrice voted against Sunday ball and against Sunday entertainment by 41 votes.
In 1917 the New York state legislature took up the Sunday baseball question without any success. As part of the settlement with the Federal League, the major leagues were still holding the lease to the Federal League park in Harrison NJ. It was a 20,000 seat stadium built for the Newark Peppers. The Yankees, Giants and Dodgers proposed to move one game a week to Harrison and play the game on Sunday. By 1919, New York allowed Sunday ball. Baltimore rescinded their ban on Sunday ball in 1918, but the rules stipulated that no admission could be charged fans going to the games.
A 1929 Fairbury schedule for the Nebraska State League stated that Sunday games scheduled at York will be transferred to Seward. It appears that the Sunday blue laws were still in effect in York in 1929.
Numerous attempts to add an NSL team in Hastings during the late 1920's and 1930's was thwarted by the ban on Sunday baseball. In 1938, the chamber of commerce led a group of baseball boosters to add Hastings to the Nebraska State League. Opposition to changing local prohibition of Sunday baseball caused the group to drop its plans.
The Sunday baseball debate carried into the late 1930's. In Pennsylvania, the Athletics played a Sunday game in 1926. The mayor spoke out against the playing of the game and the controversy wound up in court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against Sunday baseball. The ban on Sunday baseball in Pennsylvania was finally repealed in 1933.
The controversy is one which roils on even today. A few years ago New York catholic Cardinal John O'Connor was critical of Major League Baseball playing games on Good Friday and little league games on Sunday. A recent letter from the Massachusetts Council of Churches urged parishioners to take action to "reclaim the Sabbath" and to "Encourage civic leaders -- mayor, town manager, city council, Board of Selectmen -- to take a fresh look at these developments and their impact on families, society and community life." So it goes.
Sunday Baseball in Pennsylvania
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