Jun 5, 2024 - News

Indy's overlooked baseball icons from the Negro League get overdue recognition

The Indianapolis Clowns practice

The Indianapolis Clowns, clowning around in the 1950s. Photo: Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Indianapolis may be closer to getting an MLS team than it is to getting an MLB team, but the Circle City is still home to some of the greatest professional baseball players of all time.

Why it matters: The recent announcement that statistics from the Negro Leagues are being added to the official Major League historical record means long-overlooked Black and Latino players who shattered barriers right here in Indy are finally getting their recognition.

Flashback: The Indianapolis ABCs were founded as an independent team in 1907 before joining the Negro National League in 1920, according to MLB.com.

  • The ABCs, named after the American Brewing Company, had three different iterations in the Negro Leagues. The teams operated from 1920-1926, 1931-1933 and 1938-1939.
  • The Clowns made their pro debut in 1943 as a Cincinnati team and established themselves as the Harlem Globetrotters of the Negro Leagues by mixing baseball and showmanship.
  • After a couple of seasons of splitting time between Ohio and Indiana, the Clowns moved to Indy in 1946 and won three Negro American League titles across 12 seasons.

Indianapolis also had a brief, shared claim of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. During their final season in 1940, the team split their home games between Toledo and Indianapolis as the Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords.

The intrigue: The Clowns also hold the distinction of being the first pro baseball team to sign a woman when they brought on Toni Stone to play second base for a departing Hank Aaron in 1953.

The big picture: MLB responded to the 2020 national racial awakening by elevating the Negro Leagues to "major" status, meaning their statistics and records joined Major League history but didn't overtake MLB records.

  • For more than half a century, records from the Negro Leagues had been kept separate from the MLB and were simply ignored before then.
  • The inclusion of the records from seven leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948 comes as replica jerseys and caps from the era have become popular with a new generation of fans.
  • Negro League players are now in new virtual reality games and in "MLB The Show" series for PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.

Zoom out: The Negro Leagues combined to produce 35 Hall of Famers, per MLB.com.

What we're watching: More decisions in the coming weeks could upend records held by MLB legends like Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

  • MLB is reviewing the statistics to see how many at-bats or innings pitched qualify for new records.

Go deeper: Meet Indy's Negro League legends


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Indianapolis.

More Indianapolis stories