Dakota Datebook

Sunday Baseball

Thursday, May 27, 2010

 

Until 1920, state law in North Dakota did not allow anyone to play organized baseball games on a Sunday. Sunday was to be a day of rest and for church services. However, North Dakotans were said to be “baseball mad” – absolutely mad for playing America’s national game. As a preacher said about North Dakota: “It is baseball seven days of the week, Sunday and Monday alike.”

“In the Dakotas,” declared Reverend R. W. McCullough, “they prefer going to a ball game to going to church. They would go by train, trolley and auto,” traveling miles and miles to see a game. “When they return home, they are so full of the feats of the heroes of the diamond they can think of nothing else.”
Even though there was a law against playing baseball on Sunday, the law was not enforced – except in a few instances. There were several well-established ways to circumvent the law. The usual method was to avoid any semblance of selling tickets, by selling scorecards instead of actual tickets. At some games, the home team passed a hat to collect donations, so that they could testify that they hadn’t sold tickets. At other ballparks, fans had to buy a candy bar in order to see a Sunday game.

Every once in a while, local authorities tried to enforce the Blue Laws that prohibited playing Sunday baseball. One of these crackdowns was announced on this day in 1915 in Minot. The local Ward County States Attorney, R.A. Nestos, issued a warrant for the arrest of seventeen baseball players – the entire Minot team. The players were indicted for playing baseball on Sunday, May twenty-third, 1915, and for having “willfully and unlawfully” broken the Sabbath. The charge included another important point – the Minot team had invited the public to watch the game.

Attorney Nestos instigated the case in order to get the State Supreme Court to rule on the Sunday baseball law. The law was upheld.

Interestingly, another test of the law had taken place in Grand Forks in May, 1912, when eighteen ballplayers were arrested right in the middle of the fourth inning of a Sunday game. When these players were being tried, the Reverend M.N Jorgenson told a crowd outside the courtroom that the “old Blue Laws of North Dakota” were “obsolete” remnants of colonial Connecticut that banned work on Sunday and were not fit for modern times. He called for the repeal of the laws, for other states were legalizing Sunday baseball. He also said that the Sabbath really was Saturday, not Sunday, Biblically speaking. But the law did not change in 1915. Legalization of Sunday baseball came in March of 1920, when voters statewide passed an initiated law. And so, Sunday games became legal – if played between 1 to 6 p.m., if the ballpark was located at least 500 feet from a church.

Likely, the law prevented church windows from being broken, too.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Dakotas Baseball Mad Says Eastern Pastor,” Fargo Forum, July 15, 1911, p. 1.
“State Election Returns as far as Obtainable; Play 1 to 6 O’Clock,” Grand Forks Herald, March 21, 1920, p. 1.

Ticket substitutes in “Sunday Ball May Be Legal,” The Sun [NY, NY], July 4, 1905, p. 5; “Sunday Baseball Illegal,” New York Times, July 4, 1905, p. 12; “Sunday Ball Goes On, Ruse Halting Police,” New York Times, June 26, 1905, p. 12; “All-Americans Stopped,” New York Times, April 10, 1905, p. 7; “Frees Sunday Ball Players,” New York Times, April 11, 1905, p. 7; “Baseball Player Discharged,” The [N.Y.] Evening World, May 29, 1905, p. 2; “Sunday Baseball Is Stopped By Police,” New York Times, May 29, 1905, p. 7.

“Forks Preacher on Sunday Ball,” Fargo Forum, May 28, 1912, p. 6.

Initiated law in “Baseball Repeal Tops Procession But Outcome of Vote in Clouded,” Fargo Forum, March 18, 1920, p. 1; “Regulars Increase Lead in North Dakota,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 20, 1910, p. 13;

July 11, 1915, SUNDAY GAME, Mandan, ND, versus All Nations team. All Nations won the game, 4-1, with John Donaldson pitching five innings and striking out 12 batters; and pitcher Jacobs pitched the last four innings and striking out 3 batters; from Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 11, 1915; Mandan News, July 16, 1915, (Box score)

Nat Strong, a New York baseball promoter, profited from offering baseball games on Sundays in New York City, even though baseball was officially outlawed on the Sabbath day. The fact that the major league teams could not play on the Lord’s Day opened up opportunities for semi-professional teams to make some serious money. There were hazards in these schemes, however, for law officers arrested Manager Strong in 1905, in a crackdown against Sunday baseball. Strong simply posted the $500 bail money and got released from jail, and, oddly enough, the ball game between his Murray Hills team and the Paterson, New Jersey, team of the Hudson River League was played as scheduled.
By 1907, Nat Strong led a movement by the Inter-City Baseball Association to approach New York City mayor George B. McClellan to get legal approval for Sunday baseball games in the city, and the group appointed a committee, with Strong listed among its members. The Sunday baseball issue was not definitively settled until 1919, when Sunday games became legal in the state of New York, and the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants began to play regularly-scheduled games on the Sabbath. Strong, however, was the man who booked games on Sundays from roughly 1903 through 1919 as a part of his business enterprises.

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[1] “Sunday Baseball Is Stopped By Police,” New York Times, May 29, 1905, p. 7.

[1] “Inter-City League Meets,” New York Times, June 11, 1907, p. 8.

[1] “Sunday Ball Brings Joy To N.Y. Fans,” Oakland Tribune, April 9, 1919, p. 12; “Sunday Ball To Start In New York,” New Castle News, May 2, 1919, p. 16; “Sunday Ball Is Certain For N.Y.,” Trenton [NJ] Evening Times, May 1, 1919, p. 22; “Boxing Knockout,” Mansfield [OH] News, April 19, 1919, p. 1; “Sunday Ball Bill Passed,” New York Times, April 8, 1919, p. 17; “Signs Sunday Movie Bill; Sunday Baseball Measure Also Approved By Gov. Smith,” New York Times, April 20, 1919, p. 10; “Advent of Sunday Baseball Draws 60,000 Persons to Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field,” New York Times, May 5, 1919, p. 14, Sports Section.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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