In 2010, a team of professors and students from Ball State University used digital mapping technologies to identify the exact location of Washington Ball Park. Decades of development and change, including the construction of the Indianapolis Zoo, had nearly erased this important part of the city’s past.
Opened in 1905, the park was home to the Indianapolis Indians until 1931, when they moved to Perry (later renamed Bush) Stadium. But Washington Ball Park was home to another important Indianapolis and American story. From around 1917 to 1931, when the Indians traveled for games, they leased the ball park to the city’s independent African American baseball team, the ABCs. During the 1910s, the ABCs (named for their sponsor, the American Brewing Company), rose to prominence and won the 1916 Negro World Series.
In February 1920, the ABCs’ manager, Charles I. Taylor, co-founded and became vice president of the Negro National League. The NNL was a baseball league for African American players during the era of segregation when they were not allowed to play alongside whites. The NNL consisted mainly of Midwestern and some Southern baseball teams, including the ABCs, the Detroit Stars, the Kansas City Monarchs, the Birmingham Black Barons, and many others. Washington Baseball Park was the site of the NNL’s first game on May 2, 1920, where the ABCs defeated the Chicago Giants twice in a doubleheader. By developing star players like Oscar Charleston, posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and insisting that players wear “collars, ties, and shined shoes,” Taylor created a very successful black baseball team whose players became role models for young African Americans.
After Taylor’s death in 1922, however, the team began to struggle, first facing player raids from the Eastern Colored League and also having financial difficulties due to the economy. Disbanding in 1924 and reforming in multiple variants throughout the late1920s, the ABCs made a comeback in 1931. The National Negro League, however, was not able to recover from financial problems and dissolved in 1932--the same year that the Indianapolis Indians abandoned Washington Ball Park for the new Perry (Bush) Stadium.