Dayton Baseball History
Researcher: Todd Hollst

1884-1917

1928-1942

1946-1951

2000 & Beyond

 

1884-1917

The roots of organized baseball in Dayton can be traced back to the years following the Civil War. The Dayton Baseball Club was established in the late 1860’s, and played their games at Bimm’s Park.

The highlight of the early days of baseball in Dayton came on May 26, 1870. The Dayton Baseball Club invited the Cincinnati Red Stockings, led by founder George Wright, to Dayton for an exhibition game. The Red Stockings are known for among other things, as a team that compiled a winning streak of 130 games.

That day in May, the Dayton club was able to hold the Red Stockings to just six runs…in the first inning. Dayton was able to muster nine run that day, however they lost resounding to the Stockings, 104-9.

By all accounts, the first professional baseball team in Dayton played their first game in 1884. The “Gem Citys” were a part of the Ohio State Association, which included entries from Springfield, Hamilton, Portsmouth, Ironton, and Chillicothe. According to early reports, all home games were played on Association Grounds.

In 1889 the Dayton Reds took the field and played in the Tri-State League. They played their games at West Side Park, located on Williams Street, and were operated by a man named Harry T. Smith of Springfield, Ill. Smith lost his investment however and folded the team during the 1890 season, after only 36 games.

Teams from Dayton were known by many different nicknames during the early days. They were the Gem Citys, Reds, Old Soldiers, Veterans, and Aviators. The teams finished first in 1884, 1898, 1900, 1911, and 1914, last in 1909 and 1915. Photo of a 1904 Dayton team

In 1897, the Dayton Old Soldiers played in the Tri-State League. The team took its name from the Veterans Administration Hospital and grounds that was established to care for Civil War veterans. Photo of Soldiers' Home Base Ball Park

On the Old Soldiers team was a player named Elmer Flick, a native of Bedford, Ohio. Flick eventually made it the Major League and played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Bronchos, Philadelphia Athletics, and Cleveland Naps, which became the Indians. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963.

On April 14, 1901, nearly 2,000 Dayton fans were treated to an exhibition game between the Old Soldiers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates won that day 3-2, in 11 innings. The Pirates won that day in part on two runs knocked in by a young player named Honus Wagner. Wagner is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and was inducted in the first class in 1936, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Matthewson, and Babe Ruth.

Another highlight of the 1901 season included back-to-back no-hitters by Clarence Wright. He beat Columbus 9-0 on September 1, and Grand Rapids 2-0 on September 4.

In 1903, the year the Wright Brothers invented powered flight, the team changed its name to the Veterans and began play in the Central League, as part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. The team became Dayton’s first official minor-league professional baseball team.

The Veterans played at Fairview Park until 1913. The team then moved to Highland Park in East Dayton, but the move caused a problem for the Veteran’s fans. There were no streetcar lines to that part of town. However, on opening day 1913, 4,661 fans appeared on Opening Day.

Dayton had an entry in the Central League on and off during the following fourteen years. The league disbanded in 1917 at the start of World War I.

Several players from the Miami Valley area spent time in the Major Leagues.

Editor's note: During this era, the most significant Dayton professional baseball team, the Dayton Marcos were formed.



1928-1942

From 1928 through 1942, with the exception of 1931, minor league baseball had a home in Dayton. In 1928, ‘29, and ‘30, the reestablished Dayton Aviators took to the field after an absence of more than a decade. Those three seasons, the Aviators lost more games than they won, and they dropped out of the league before the 1931 season.

In 1932 baseball returned with a new name, and a new character on the baseball scene. The Dayton Ducks are by far the most well-known and remembered team in Dayton baseball history. The team was owned and managed by a former major leaguer named Howard Elbert Holmes, better known to all as “Ducky” Holmes. Holmes played for one season in the big leagues in 1906 for the St. Louis Cardinals

The Dayton Ducks were part of the Mid-Atlantic League, which included teams from Zanesville, Canton, Springfield, Lima and Akron in Ohio, as well as Fort Wayne, Indiana, Erie, PA, and Huntington, W.Va. The Ducks were affiliated with the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Ducky Holmes was quite the character. On more than once occasion he had run-ins with umpires, and ended up watching the game from the stands after being tossed out. One time he watched from the heights of a light pole near the field and heckled the umpire who had tossed him out of the game

Holmes was also known for many promotional gimmicks, and was the owner of several pet ducks who found their home in a pen behind the grandstands. The ducks were given to Holmes as a gift on opening day 1932.

The Ducks played their home games at North Side Field for three years before moving to Hudson Field. Six players who suited up for the Ducks eventually made it to the major leagues, most notable was a pitcher named Johnny Vander Meer. Vander Meer was an All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds and threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938.

The team played from 1932 to 1942. Ducky Holmes led the team for at least four seasons, and a bevy of other managers handled the rest. The team folded when World War II began, and Holmes made ends meet by running a grocery store in East Dayton. He died on September 18, 1945.


1946-1951

Following World War II, minor league baseball returned to Dayton. In 1946 local business owners Dr. Warren G. Bradford, and concession operator Hy Shumsky established the Dayton Indians. The team played in the Ohio State League as a class D team. On the field they struggled, finishing near the bottom of the standings both years.

In 1948, baseball promotion maverick Bill Veeck who was operating the Cleveland Indians, bought the Dayton Indians. The team became a Class A team in the Central League, and a farm team for the Cleveland Indians. In 1951 the team became a St. Louis Browns farm affiliate.

The league consisted of six teams- four in Michigan (Muskegon, Saginaw, Flint, and Grand Rapids), Charleston, W.Va., and Dayton.

The Dayton Indians played at Hudson Field and fans that couldn’t make it the game were able to listen to the play-by-play action from announcer Les Spencer on WONE radio.

In 1951 the Indians won the Central League Championship by compiling a record of 87-50. The winning team split the championship winnings of $2000. Each player received around $100.

The league however would fold following the 1951 season. Attendance was a problem for many of the league’s teams. Dayton averaged just fewer than 1,100 per game and drew a total of 58,989 paying customers over 54 games. Other teams in the league couldn’t sustain a portion of that. For example, a game in Flint, Michigan, the paid attendance was only 2- a married couple.

The last game for the Indians in Dayton was at Hudson Field on September 3, 1951. They lost to the Charleston Senators 6-3, in front of 720 people.

The Indians finished the season in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They split a doubleheader with their hosts, losing the second game by forfeit. The lights went out at the stadium, and Indians manager Jim Crandall refused to have his team wait around two days for the situation to be fixed. The team got on a bus and returned to Dayton.


2000 & Beyond

The Dayton Dragons: Dragon Mania

After nearly fifty years, forty-nine to be exact, professional baseball returned to Dayton, Ohio. In the spring of 2000, the Dragons became the first professional minor league team to take the field in Dayton since the 1951 Dayton Indians.

While long awaited by many, the return of professional baseball to Dayton was not without a struggle. City officials had been talking about bringing baseball to Dayton as a way to help revitalize the downtown area. However, with the Cincinnati Reds organization so close to the Miami Valley area, questions arose as to whether a team could succeed.

On February 23, 1999, the announcement came. Mandalay Sports Entertainment confirmed that indeed an agreement had been reached and baseball would be returning to Dayton.

On May 3, 1999, Dayton Professional Baseball announced the team would be nicknamed the Dragons.

A Ballpark Like None Other

Now that the city had a team, where would they play?

Once a location was secured in downtown Dayton, construction began on a new state of the art minor league stadium. A design was chosen that would allow fans to be as close to the action as safety would allow (watch out for those foul balls).

On September 14, 1999, construction on the $22.7 million dollar ballpark began. Though workers put in long hours and overcame many obstacles, primarily the weather, the stadium would not be fully completed until after the start of the 2000 season. Still however, completion of such an enormous task in less than a year is impressive.

Let’s Play Ball!

The Dayton Dragons became part of the Mid West League and took the field for the first time at home on April 28, 2000. The Dragons began the Inaugural 2000 season on the road because construction on Fifth Third Field was not complete.

Some of the highlights of opening night included a parade of public officials who helped bring baseball back to Dayton. Also in attendance was Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer and Fifth Third Bank spokesman Johnny Bench, who caught the ceremonial first pitch.

Highlights of the Dragons Inaugural 2000 season on the field included the outstanding play of Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Austin Kearns made it to the big leagues in 2002. He knocked out 13 homeruns, batted .315, and drove in 56 RBI’s in only 107 games. He too has become a permanent addition to the Reds roster. Adam Dunn was moved up to the big show in the middle of the 2001 season and played in 66 games with the Reds. He has become a permanent addition to the big league club.

While the Dragons made news on the field, the real news was made in the stands. The Dayton Dragons managed to sell-out every game of the season. What’s more, they did it before the first pitch of the season was even made. To date, the Dragons organization has continued the streak and have sold-out every game in the team’s short history.

Hey Now, You’re An All-Star

On June 19, 2001, the Midwest League All-star game was held at Fifth Third Field. The Dragons, part of the Eastern Division of the Midwest League, sent four players to the all-star game.

Dragon’s manager Donnie Scott was at the helm, and four Dragon’s players were on the roster. Those players included Randy Ruiz (1B), Wandel Campana (2B), Samone Peters (DH), and Dustin Mosely (P).

The Eastern Division beat the West Division 7-3. Michigan Battle Cat’s slugger T.J. Soto broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning with a grand slam.

 

Researcher: Todd Hollst

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